State Senate

Progressive Groups Want To Avoid IDC Repeat In Manhattan

From the Morning Memo:

A coalition of progressive groups in New York City is organizing an effort to avoid having former Sen. Bill Perkins’s open seat go to a candidate who would join the Independent Democratic Conference.

The groups — including True Blue NY, Code Blue, Swing Left NY, Indivisible Harlem, Morningside Heights Resistance and All Hands on Deck NY and No IDC NY — plan to review candidates running for the seat and whether they would be potential recruits for the IDC.

“They suggest several ways to vet prospective candidates, including examining the candidates’ funding sources, considering previous contacts with IDC members, and asking about their personal beliefs concerning the role of the IDC in the Senate,” the groups said in a release.

Mindful to the coalition is the victory of Sen. Marisol Alcantara in last September’s primary to replace Adriano Espaillat, who is now a member of the House of Representatives. Alcantara was backed by the IDC and joined the conference when she took office this year.

Perkins won a special election last month to fill a vacant seat on the New York City Council. A special election to fill his Senate seat has been scheduled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo for May 23.

IDC’s Anti-Hate Crime Legislation Passes

Bills that are aimed at curtailing hate crimes in New York passed on Tuesday in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The measures — three bills all together — come after another round of threats directed at Jewish targets in two upstate communities and at the Anti-Defamation League’s New York City headquarters.

The bills would create a specified offense for graffiti hate crime, stiffer penalties for damaging property at a house of worship or cemetery and blocking college groups from participating in a boycott of Israel.

“It is clear from the events across the country that swift action must be taken against those who try to intimidate people based on their ethnic, religious or racial background,” said Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein. “The legislation we passed today will send a strong message that these crimes are taken seriously in New York. I will continue to ensure that law enforcement has the tools to tackle these types of offenses.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month said he is backing $25 million in grants for Jewish Community Centers, schools and other facilities to strengthen security.

Senate GOP: One-House Budget Will Reject Millionaires Tax

Senate Republicans on Wednesday signaled their one-house budget resolution next week will not include an estimated $800 million in taxes and surcharges included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $152 billion budget proposal — including the extension of the millionaires tax, which Cuomo has insisted is key to his spending plan.

The surcharges and tax hikes include motor vehicles fees, Internet sales tax revenue and pre-paid cellphones.

And the conference will reject Cuomo’s proposal to extend a higher tax rate on those who make more than $1 million. Extending tax, due to expire at the end of the year, is backed by Sen. Jeff Klein, the Bronx Democrat who chairs the Independent Democratic Conference.

“Middle-class taxpayers are struggling under the crushing weight of property taxes, income taxes, mortgages and the skyrocketing costs of higher education for their children,” said Majority Leader John Flanagan. “In this environment, these new taxes and fees are the last thing hardworking families want or need. We must make it more affordable to live and work in New York, not less, and that’s exactly what our Senate budget will reflect.”

Cuomo has insisted the tax extension is necessary in order to generate revenue for a middle-class tax reduction set to take effect in the coming fiscal year, which begins April 1.

Assembly Democrats are expected to propose a separate one-house budget resolution that includes increasing taxes for those who make $5 million and more, beyond the straight extension.

Still, Senate Republicans have signaled the extension is the equivalent to a tax increase.

“Our overburdened taxpayers need and deserve relief, and the Senate is rejecting these additional taxes because we are committed to enacting a fiscally responsible budget,” said Sen. Cathy Young, the Finance Committee chairwoman. “We need to make our state a more affordable place to live, work and grow jobs, so that everyone has the opportunity to succeed.”

Senate Republicans last backed an extension of the millionaires tax in 2011 when Cuomo and lawmakers agreed to changes in the tax rates in a year-end special session of the Legislature.

At a cabinet meeting last week, Cuomo called the millionaires tax a “seminal” issue in the budget.

“If you do not extend the millionaires tax, you have a tremendous hole in the budget,” Cuomo said, “and I don’t know how you complete a budget without the millionaires tax.”

With ACA Under Fire, Democrats Push For Universal Health Care

Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday backed a plan that would provide health insurance to all New Yorkers — a proposal they say is necessary as Republicans in Washington move to repeal the Affordable Care Act

“It would be a disaster for New York and the millions of people that currently rely on the Affordable Care Act,” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins at a Capitol news conference. “We have an obligation to ensure that we take action to protect the 3.6 million New Yorkers enrolled in comprehensive coverage through our state’s exchange.”

The health care for all bill, likely a difficult lift to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate, would be paid for with a tax on the rich.

“Fortunately New York has an enormous number of really wealthy people who will contribute a substantial part of the cost and as a result 98 percent of New Yorkers would be spending less than they are today,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried.

Senate Democrats also insist they’ll push to shore up money for Planned Parenthood in New York if the federal government cuts funding — creating another flash point in Albany over women’s health issues. The federal government is legally barred from funding abortion services.

“That’s money I can’t imagine the state of New York couldn’t and wouldn’t make those programs whole,” said Sen. Liz Krueger.

In addition to the creation of a single-payer plan, Democrats would codify the state’s health insurance exchange, which was created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo through executive order. Another bill would bolster the exchange in the event the ACA is repealed.

The proposals come as some lawmakers remain anxious in New York over the impact the state’s finances could take should the measure be repealed. House Republicans are discussing a bill that would potentially provide block grants for the state’s Medicaid program.

“Anything that has the potential to put health care delivery in the state of New York in jeopardy is something that we’re concerned with,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Wednesday.

Heastie expects the Legislature would likely return to Albany if the ACA is repealed to respond.

Not everyone is voicing alarm over block grants. Republican Rep. John Faso in an interview with Fred Dicker on Talk-1300 said the potential changes to Medicaid could help New York when it comes to asking for waivers and amendments.

“The markets are falling apart in many states,” Faso said. “There’s no way we should sit here and let that deteriorate further.”

Republicans, Dems Raise Issues With Property Tax Plan

From the Morning Memo:

There’s bipartisan concern in Albany over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to cut property taxes by pushing county governments to find ways of sharing services.

“The interesting part is local governments have been and continue to share services and it’s not just within county lines,” said Assemblyman John McDonald, a Democrat from the Albany area.

Cuomo’s budget proposal would require counties to work with municipal governments to find ways of sharing and consolidating services, like police, fire or snow plowing. The proposal would then be voted in a public referendum this November. Assembly Democrats may reject the plan outright in their one-house budget resolution while also pushing for more aid to municipalities.

“We will push for more AIM aid because local governments unlike any government haven’t seen AIM increase in probably eight, nine years,” McDonald said.

Republicans, too, are uncomfortable with the plan. Senator Kathy Marchione on Tuesday proposed an alternative plan that does not include the referendum.

“I believe that our local elected officials have already been elected to do their jobs,” Marchione said at a news conference on the issue, “and to put something out as simple as shared services I think that the local governments can certainly make those decisions on behalf of their community.”

The leadership of the state’s largest public workers union says the proposal also raises questions and uncertainty for local government employees.

“What it does is it takes the public employees and uses them as chattel back and forth,” said CSEA President Danny Donohue. “Do they get paid at the higher rate or the lower rate? Do you need as many of them? Where are they going, what’s going on?”

Donohue said forcing consolidated services through a carrot and stick approach is not the right way to go.

“He’s trying to hold a gun to peoples’ heads saying you have to combine these services without asking the people themselves what do you do?” he said.

The Cuomo administration, meanwhile, insists the state isn’t trying to deny local governments of state aid if a cost-savings plan isn’t adopted.

“Local property taxes are crushing New York families and seniors and that’s why the Governor wants to empower them under his plan to cut costs and lower property taxes,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi. “‎Taking it out of their hands preserves an untenable status quo and, frankly, misses the point entirely.”

Peralta Gets A Leadership Post

Sen. Jose Peralta, the Queens Democrat who moved at the start of the year to the Independent Democratic Conference, was given a leadership title on Tuesday.

Peralta will be the vice chairman of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee. The post comes with a $12,500 stipend, a decline from the $14,500 lulu he received as the mainline conference’s whip.

In an interview, Peralta insisted the move wasn’t a financial one — an allegation that had been raised in a New York Post article soon after Peralta moved to the IDC.

“This is not about a pay raise,” he said, pointing to the reduction in the stipend from the previous leadership position in the mainline conference.

“In fact, I took a pay cut,” Peralta said. “I joined the IDC for principles not over a pay raise.”

Peralta said he hoped the post would help him pursue issues such as consumer concerns like prepaid phone cards, utility fees and broadband internet access.

“These are the issues I’m going to be fighting for and, again, from a consumer perspective it’s about trying to insure I can protect the people that I represent,” Peralta said.

The announcement of Peralta’s leadership position in the IDC was coupled with a statement, that largely came down on similar themes:

“I’m actively taking on a new role as vice chair of the Senate’s Energy and Telecommunications Committee to bring to light so many issues in this sector that negatively impact New Yorkers,” he said. “From sham international calling cards that advertise great rates and sneak in fees, ripping off those looking to call loved ones; the need for broadband access for low-income citizens to increase upward mobility in this digital world; and energy services companies hitting consumers with hidden fees, I plan to examine and effect positive change on pressing issues that impact our residents.”

Flanagan Says Talks On Raise The Age Being Held ‘In Earnest’

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to push for raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 in New York and IDC Leader Jeff Klein threatens to resist backing a budget without, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan is not ruling out.

“I think we’re having real, adult discussions on this subject and there are a lot of people pushing, not just the governor,” he said in a brief interview.

Flanagan said Klein — whose eight-member conference is threatening to withhold its votes for a budget that doesn’t include raise the age — is a “thoughtful policymaker” though he conceded a number of issues with the policy are yet to be discussed.

“I think they’re coming down much more in earnest in this juncture, not to say that wasn’t happening to before, but now it has everyone’s attention,” Flanagan said.

Senate Republicans haven’t ruled out passage of the measure before, but have raised concerns over how the policy would be implemented in the court system and whether violence crimes should be included.

Squadron Pushes GENDA Vote

From the Morning Memo:

Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Daniel Squadron is trying to force a vote on the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act in the Republican-controlled Senate, a measure that has taken on more urgency for LGBT advocates in recent weeks.

Squadron on Monday put a notice of committee consideration on the bill, which would provide a variety of legal protections for transgender New Yorkers. The maneuver requires the bill must come up for a vote within 45 days in the Senate.

A renewed push for the bill, known as GENDA in Albany, comes after President Donald Trump’s administration moved to rescind the enforcement of protections for transgender students on the national level.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2015 through executive action announced the state would enforce much of what GENDA would accomplish through the state’s human rights law.

But supports, including Squadron, say the force of law is needed as well.

“As the Trump Administration is attacking transgender students and basic rights more broadly it’s urgent that New York codify the protections the Governor ensured for transgender New Yorkers, and send an important message of inclusion,” Squadron said.

The bill has stalled in the Senate over the last several years, but has passed in the Democratic-led Assembly.

Bill Would Explicitly Block Discrimination In State Procurement

Two Democratic lawmakers are backing legislation that would explicitly outlaw discrimination in the state’s contracting process.

The measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte of Brooklyn and Sen. Brad Hoylman of Manhattan, was initially recommended by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

The bill aims to close what its sponsors say is a loophole in the state law that does not bar discrimination against business owned by minorities, women, LGBTQ New Yorkers or the disabled when it comes to government procurement and contracting.

“If we want to build a brighter economic future, if we want to enhance the vibrancy of our economy, and if want to deliver local, community-level wealth creation, then we need to ensure fairness,” Stringer said. “At a time when the White House wants to turn back the clock on critical protections, it’s more important than ever that we stand up against discrimination.”

Hoylman pointed to the need to provide a bulwark in New York when it comes to the policies being developed under the Trump administration.

“With a federal administration determined to erode protections for thousands of vulnerable Americans, it’s up to the states to lead the way forward. New York has an opportunity to leverage its resources to ensure a seat at the table for all
New Yorkers, regardless of color, creed, sexual orientation, or gender identity,” Hoylman said. “By eliminating this oversight in our Human Rights Law we can send a message that hate and discrimination have no place in our state.”

IDC Wants To Boost Religious Hate Crimes Penalties

Amid heightened concerns over bomb threats and other anti-Semitic acts directed at Jewish targets around the country, the Independent Democratic Conference in the Senate on Thursday proposed a package of bills designed to increase penalties on crimes motivated by discrimination and religious violence.

“This is a country built on the principles of freedom and tolerance, where individuals are welcome to worship freely,” said Sen. Jeff Klein, the IDC leader. “As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, to see this occur in America in 2017 is deeply disturbing and we must send a clear message to anyone who believes that they could strike fear into any religious group: hate will not be tolerated in New York State.”

The measures backed by the eight-member conference include creating a specified offense for hate crime graffiti, boosting the charge from a class A misdemeanor to a class E felony.

The IDC also wants to increase penalties for graffiti motivated by bias on religious property — a measure that has already been approved by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Meanwhile, another bill would block discrimination against religious attire, such as clothing or facial hair.

Another would increase penalties for cemetery desecration, while the IDC also wants to bloc college groups from receiving funding when participating in boycotts of Israel and other countries.

The measures come after a series of bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers in New York, as well as a threat called into the headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League in New York City.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans on Wednesday he plans a brief solidarity and economic development trip to Israel this weekend.