State Senate

ASC: Senate Dems Not Responsible For Failed Pay Raise

The mainline Senate Democratic conference isn’t to blame for the failed effort to see lawmakers have their first salary increase since 1998, Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Tuesday said.

Her defense of the mainline conference comes after Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a meeting with Assembly Democrats blamed both Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats for not agreeing to back a legislative package that could have paved the way for a special session that would have triggered a salary increase.

“Obviously we were not there,” Stewart-Cousins said. “But also we were not at the table negotiating for the pay raise in December. Clearly, we’re not responsible for us not having a pay raise.”

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi called the contention that Cuomo blamed Democrats for the failure to pass a pay raise “a lie.”

“He said the pay raise wasn’t popular and wouldn’t pass the Senate, period,” Azzopardi said.

A transcript of the discussion given to Zack Fink of NY1 shows Cuomo blaming Republicans for failing to come to an agreement and the governor later reaching to Democrats, who he said also did not want to do a deal.

The flare up is the latest in an increasingly truculent relationship between Cuomo and Senate Democrats.

Cuomo told Senate Republicans in a closed-door meeting last week that he could have helped the mainline conference more with campaigning last year to win control of the chamber, but did not.

“The governor and my conference have continued to have conversations,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We want to be the people who are serving New Yorkers who are doing the right thing for New Yorkers. We are clearly just trying to move together.”

Serino Urges Cuomo To Add Combating Lyme To 30-Day Amendments

The ink on the $152.3 billion budget proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a little over a week old, but the calls for adding 30-day amendments are just beginning.

Republican Sen. Sue Serino on Tuesday urged the governor to add efforts to combat Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses to the spending plan.

“With New York at the epicenter of the Lyme Disease epidemic, it is beyond comprehension that the Governor has failed to make it a priority in his Executive Budget,” Serino said. “By refusing to earmark funds for critical resources and research, the Governor once again passed up the chance to play an active role in helping to combat the spread of a disease that has wreaked havoc on thousands of NY families.”

Serino said the budget needs to include critical funding for Lyme programs backed by a legislative task force.

“It is clear that there is a grave need to bolster this kind of critical research, and New York has an opportunity to play a significant role in the light against Lyme and TBDs,” Serino wrote in a letter to Cuomo.

Lawmakers Say They Aren’t Trying To Jam Cuomo On Disclosure

State lawmakers are moving forward with their own effort to seek an advisory opinion on receiving private-sector income, but insisted they aren’t trying to do an end-run around Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s own proposal.

“Not at all,” said Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle. “I think what we care about and what we realize is that members over the years have gotten into difficulty with outside income. This will allow them now to have a formal opinion. It will describe what their activities are and what conditions need to be met so there isn’t a conflict.”

The joint rules resolution would require lawmakers who want to receive outside income seek an advisory opinion from the Legislative Ethics Commission, which is appointed by the Legislature. Cuomo’s proposal in his state budget plan would also include the advisory provision through the LEC, but adds an official from the Office of Court Administration.

“We have the authority to add another member,” said Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco. “It does not include a member of the Office of Court Administration.”

The Legislature over the years has been rocked by scandals involving lawmakers who also received income from outside employment. In the last two years, both legislative leaders in the Senate and Assembly, Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver, were forced from office for their corruption convictions.

“That’s not independent oversight,” said NYPIRG Director Blair Horner of the legislative rule change. “That’s definitely an internal process. They’re entitled to it, but it doesn’t deal with the problems that we’ve seen and the scandals around Silver and Skelos.”

But DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, argued lawmakers have increased the amount of oversight and scrutiny they have received from disclosing outside business interests and finances.

“It’s been talked about for 25 years that I’ve been here,” he said. “Everybody is going to make allegations, everybody is going to have suspicions. Everyone is going to participate in ‘fake news.'”

It’s unclear whether the income disclosure rule would satisfy what Cuomo wants done on ethics in the budget process. Cuomo unsuccessfully sought an amendment last month that would limit outside income for lawmakers by making the Legislature a full-time entity.

“If you take everything together,” DeFrancisco said, “I think it’s an extremely strong message that people make sure they don’t get outside income that conflicts with their outside duties.”

Lawmakers Take Up Higher Ed

From the Morning Memo:

Lawmakers begin their annual review of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s state budget proposal in Albany today with a look at the higher education plan and, most likely, a focus on the proposal to phase out tuition costs for state and city public colleges.

The focus on higher education the first day is a break with tradition, as lawmakers have generally scheduled the first day of the joint legislative hearings on the budget to be “tin cup” day — when mayors and local government officials discuss the impact of the spending proposal on their municipality.

Instead, today will likely have lawmakers scrutinizing Cuomo’s plan to draw down tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools for families that earn $125,000 and less — including the $163 million price tag.

Initially skeptical of the stated cost and whether it was too low, legislative leaders have in recent days suggested the price target is potentially accurate.

“We’re still going through it,” said Speaker Carl Heastie. “I think that estimate is probably a pretty decent one. We see we’re he’s coming from, but we’re still going through it.”

Not everyone is convinced, however, when it comes to the specifics. Assembly Higher Education Committee Chairwoman Deborah Glick called the proposal from Cuomo itself a “a somewhat cynical construct” given the credit requirements for the program.

“People don’t realize free tuition is only available to students who carry 15 credits every semester. You drop below 15 credits, you lose your eligibility. Not just for that semester, but for the bulk of the program,” she said.

“If someone is a freshman, they have an issue, they take a course they’re struggling with, they lose that eligibility for the rest of their college career. It’s a terrible trap door that I hope the governor will rethink.”

Cuomo has made the college tuition plan a key provision in his overall $152.3 billion budget plan, which he has said focuses on the middle class in the state. In rolling out the proposal, Cuomo appeared alongside Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the former presidential candidate who excited the base of the Democratic Party during the 2016 presidential election.

Assembly Counts $830M In ‘Revenue Actions’

The “Yellow Book” analysis of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal released Monday afternoon counts $830 million in “revenue actions” — ie, taxes — in the spending plan.

“The Executive proposes $830 million in new tax actions in SFY 2017-18 including the extension of the current income tax rate for millionaires for three additional years,” the report states. “This would result in an additional $683 million in revenue in SFY 2017-18, growing to $4.5 billion in SFY 2019-20. The Executive also proposes new tax actions that require online marketplace providers to collect and remit sales tax on behalf of all vendors that sell to New York State residents.”

The Republican-controlled Senate released its analysis simultaneously with a lower estimate: $803 million in surcharges aimed at generating revenue.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office earlier in the day declared the Senate interpretation of the budget “a smokescreen” for opposing the extension of the tax.

In an updated statement, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi continued to hammer the Senate GOP on the issue.

“The Senate Republicans’ ‘new tax’ is an extension of the millionaires tax and they’re saying they would rather give a tax break to millionaires than a tax cut to the middle class and increase education funding,” Azzopardi said. “We say New York’s children and middle class matter and should come before the Senate Republicans’ millionaires.”

The Assembly analysis can be found here.

The Senate budget report can be found here.

DeFran: ‘Nothing’s Free’

Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFranciso disputed the charge from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Monday that the Republican conference was practicing “fuzzy math” in its assessment the proposed state budget includes $803 million in new fees and taxes.

“It can’t be fuzzy math because if it’s extending the millionaires tax, that means it’s a new tax,” DeFrancisco said. “It would die automatically if we don’t extend it.”

Cuomo has insisted that extending high rates on wealthy earners is a key piece of his budget, which also includes a $961 million spending increase for education aid and a $163 million plan to phase out college tuition costs at state and city universities for those who earn less than $125,000.

While some lawmakers have debated the state price tag for the tuition plan, DeFrancisco disputed the notion that it’s “free” to New York students in a literal sense.

“I think it’s true if he spends all the money he claims he’s going to spend by people giving people free college tuition, sure, but that’s not free,” he said. “It’s got to be financed in some way and it’s going to come from taxes.”

Keeping the tax rates in place is expected to generate more than $700 million in revenue for the state.

“It’s integral to our budget because he wants to give more free stuff away,” DeFrancisco said. “Nothing’s free.”

The debate over the millionaires tax is expected to be one of the more heated this budget season. Assembly Democrats are pushing for increased rates that could generate more revenue in order to spend beyond what Cuomo is proposing in education spending.

Bonacic Says He’s Open To Millionaires Tax Extension

Republican Sen. John Bonacic is open to extending high tax rates on the wealthy that are due to expire at the end of the year and a cornerstone of the $152.3 billion budget proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“I’m open to it. I am. I am,” Bonacic said in an interview. “By the way, I supported the last extension of the millionaires tax.”

The fight over the tax spilled over on Monday with Senate Republicans charging the governor’s budget would create $803 million in new surcharges. Cuomo’s office fired back, calling such suggestions “fuzzy math.”

But Cuomo has pinned the preservation of the rates on boosting spending elsewhere in the budget, including a $961 million hike in education spending.

Assembly Democrats, meanwhile, have indicated they will push for an increase in taxes in order to go beyond what Cuomo is seeking in school aid.

Bonacic, in the interview, called the millionaires tax debate a “tougher” issue in the scope of overall revenue raisers.

“It’s going to require more in-depth discussions,” he said. “The governor has basically said, You Republican conference, if you don’t do that, we’re going to dramatically reduce public education, which is a sacred cow.”

Generally, Republicans in the Senate have been cool to Cuomo’s tax extender.

“I’m not ready to tell you what the conference will do,” Bonacic said. “I’m stilling dwelling on it.”

Senate: Cuomo Budget Adds $803M In New Fees

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo asserted his $152 billion budget proposal included only one new fee through the Department of Motor Vehicles.

An analysis expected to be released later today by the Republican-controlled state Senate paints a different picture of the spending proposal: $803 million in new surcharges.

By 2021, those fees fully phased in would actually cost $4.5 billion, according to a Senate spokesman.

Cuomo’s budget also includes an extension of the millionaires tax, which is due to expire at the end of the year.

Legislature Introduces Its Own Outside Employment Rule

The Republican-led Senate on Monday and Democratic-controlled Assembly on Friday introduced a rules resolution that lays down its own terms for seeking an advisory opinion for outside employment developed by the Legislative Ethics Commission.

The measure appears to largely mirror what Gov. Andrew Cuomo sought as part of his slate of ethics legislation unspooled in the State of the State this month.

There is one crucial difference, however: The proposed Senate rule is silent on the inclusion of having a member of the Office of Court Administration, such as the chief administrative law judge, be included in crafting the advisory opinion alongside the Legislative Ethics Commission.

The LEC’s composition includes current elected lawmakers appointed by the Senate and Assembly.

Like the Cuomo-backed proposed that was folded into his $152 billion budget proposal sets the threshold for outside employment income at $5,000.

Lawmakers, especially in the Senate, have been generally resistant to efforts that would place limits or bans on outside employment.

Cuomo sought a constitutional amendment in December that would ban outside employment in a special session that failed to coalesce.

A Senate spokesman on Monday said the measure is yet to be discussed within the GOP conference, but a vote could come by Tuesday.

Stewart-Cousins To Attend March For Women In NYC

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins will attend the New York City Women’s March to be held on Saturday, her office said.

The demonstration is one of many that will be in across the country a day after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. A major demonstration will also be held in Washington, D.C.

“New York has always been a beacon of hope and justice. We have been at the forefront of protecting civil rights, women’s rights, public education and American values,” Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “The Women’s March on NYC will send a strong message that we will continue to fight any attacks on these bedrock American principals.”

The goal of the demonstration is meant to provide “solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”