Upstate NY

Hochul Touts Historic Tax Credit Reauthorization

From the Morning Memo:

The state Historic Tax Credit program looked like a potential casualty of this year’s $4 billion deficit when Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled his 2018 executive budget. While the credits weren’t scheduled to sunset until the end of 2019, the governor’s proposed spending plan did not provide for the extension of the program this year.

The governor did propose deferring payments of already approved credits by at least three years. The original budget also would have stayed in line with new federal rules, which pay out the credits over a five-year period instead of one year.

“We’re very conscious about making sure we don’t explode our budget,” LG Kathy Hochul said. “I mean, a lot of other states have become fiscally irresponsible but not here in the state of New York.”

Both the Assembly and state Senate reversed course, however, extending the program until 2025, eliminating the deferrals and decoupling the state and federal rules. Ultimately, Cuomo agreed to have those changes remain in the finished project, which was passed by lawmakers late last week.

“There was some debate about this of course, but this is an area we believe in it as an important instrument to the revitalization of upstate communities,” Hochul said.

The lieutenant governor pointed out there are always challenges in trying to balance a $168 billion budget, but she said the state is very aware of the importance of historic tax credits – specifically to upstate cities like Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.

“This money and these tax credits have been a catalyst for developers to come into areas that have been sort of given up for lost, a lot of rundown buildings that had great architecture but are very costly to rehabilitate,” she said.

Western New York lawmakers hailed this move, and said it will be easier for developers to take on the projects now that there is more certainty about the program’s future.

EPA Says It’s Close To Long-Term Goal Of Hudson Cleanup

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday indicated it was nearing the end of its cleanup of PCB-laden sediment from the Hudson River as the agency announced the public comment period for a second five-year review of the project.

“EPA followed the requirements of the federal Superfund law and used the best available science to conduct this review,” said Acting Regional Administrator Catherine McCabe. “The question that the five-year review asks is ‘do we still think the cleanup decision we made in 2002 will provide long-term protection of human health and the environment?’ Based on the information and data that we have today, that answer is yes.”

The agency in a statement said the cleanup along the river north of Albany is “working as designed” and is “expected to accomplish its long-term goal” of protecting both human health and the environment.

Environmental groups, however, are not fully convinced the cleanup should start to wind down and are pushing for an expansion of the project, first ordered in 2002. The dredging of a 40-mile stretch of the river from Troy to Fort Edward began in 2009 and was completed in 2015.

“The early information that we have for sediment, water and fish is encouraging. In the years ahead, we will collect more data to identify long-term trends,” McCabe said. “While the project was designed to set the river on a course for recovery, we have always explained that the recovery will take many years. It is not possible for the fish to fully recover immediately after the conclusion of dredging.”

The agency does plan to “evaluate next steps” if the data from the review shows the recovery is not occurring as expected.

Mahoney: Public Not As Worried About Consolidation

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney gave a rosy assessment of the push to consolidate and share services, saying in a radio interview Thursday the effort isn’t nearly as concerning for the public as it may be for some elected officials.

“I don’t think there’s a fear in the public maybe the way it’s being described in the conversations at the elected level,” Mahoney said in an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom.

Mahoney, a Republican, is a prominent supporter of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and has been aligned with him when it comes to government consolidation. Cuomo this year backed a plan that was similar to the effort in Onondaga County to find ways of merging governments, potentially to create a metropolitan-style government that subsumes the city of Syracuse.

In the interview, Mahoney acknowledged not everyone is on board with the city-county merger, but said a full menu of consolidation options should be considered.

“I think we’d be better doing it together,” she said. “I would put everything on the table, not simply the back office, but things like information technology, the budget, accounting, but I would put everything on the table.”

At the same time, Mahoney said a merger would reduce competition for finite aid from the state.

“All of that pitting municipalities against each other … all of that goes away if we are one and prioritize as one entity,” she said. “We really can be stronger working together.”

Upstate GOP Senators Call For New Flooding Assistance Program

State Senators are proposing a new grant program to give financial assistance to people, businesses and municipalities affected by flooding caused by high water levels on Lake Erie, Lake Champlain, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River this spring. The Great Lakes Flood Recovery Grant Program would make $55 million in state funding available.

The proposed program sets aside $20 million to be disbursed by Empire State Development Corporation to homeowners, farmers, businesses and not-for-profits. It would be used for flood-related damage not covered by insurance or already-existing state, local or federal programs.

Canandaigua Republican Pam Helming is the bill’s primary sponsor.

“Over the past month, I have witnessed the devastation caused by flooding in our lakeshore communities,” she said. “It has been heart wrenching watching property owners trying desperately to save their homes and to see small seasonal businesses that have been around for generations forced to close just before the start of their busy summer season. As someone who has been on-site and working with our first responders, residents, and officials to load sandbags and survey damage, I am proud of the efforts of all of those in our community who have stepped up to meet this challenge head on.”

The program also would provide $20 million – $1 million each – to counties for infrastructure repairs caused by the flooding, which could include fixing roads, bridges, storm sewers and levies. Another $10 million would be set aside for miscellaneous municipal costs that may not fit in that category.

Finally, counties would be eligible to apply for a $5 million grant pool to fund flood mitigation or flood control projects. A number of other Upstate Republicans have co-sponsored the bill.

“With damages to lake and bay shore communities adding-up and no relief from mother nature in sight, we must secure assistance for homeowners, businesses, and municipalities as soon as possible. There are factors involved in the flooding that we simply can’t control, but we can and should help by launching this program to deliver targeted aid to those who are impacted the most,” state Senator Rich Funke, R-Perinton, said.

The bill was referred to the Rules Committee earlier this week and does not currently have an Assembly sponsor.

Senate Passes Bill For Ride-Hailing By July 4th Weekend

The New York State Senate passed a bill Wednesday which would expedite Upstate access to ride-hailing services. The original legislation, which was passed along with the budget, called for a 90-day period before new regulations went into effect.

Many legislators had noted though, it wouldn’t be in time for the Fourth of July weekend when there’s a historically high rate of drinking and driving. The legislation moves the effective date up by ten days.

“Accelerating this safe, reliable transportation option will make our roads safer and save lives during one of the busiest travel times of the year,” state Senator Michael Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst, said.

Rochester-are Republican Rich Funke said moving up an effective date isn’t all that unusual, either. He said it’s no different with what the legislature is trying to do in expediting funds for municipalities affected by the rising shoreline on Lake Ontario.

“The budget being late, we would have had it before the Fourth of July anyway, so I think this is a really good bill on Senator (Mike) Ranzenhofer’s part,” Funke said.

The Assembly still has to pass the legislation before it can go to the Governor’s office. Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, an Ulster County Democrat, is the sponsor.

Miner Writes To Katko On Tax Concerns

Count Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner among those concerned with the impact of federal tax reform.

In a letter sent to Republican Rep. John Katko, Miner raises two key issues with the proposed package of tax changes as backed by President Donald Trump: Ending state and local deductions and the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds.

On the deduction component, Miner notes 30 percent of Onondaga County alone takes advantage of it.

“This deduction helps keep money in the pockets of our residents, which in turn supports our growing local economy. This tax deduction is an additional incentive to those who make Upstate New York home to continue living in, and investing in, our communities,” she wrote.

High tax states like New York are concerned ending the deduction would hurt taxpayers and the proposal has raised alarms among Democrats and Republicans alike.

As for tax exempt municipal bonds, wrote the end of that arrangement could hamper the ability of investors to purchase them, which in turn would lead to a lack of infrastructure investment.

“This exemption makes bonds an attractive asset for investors looking to diversify their portfolio,” Miner wrote. “Removing this exemption makes it far more difficult to incentivize individuals to invest in municipal bonds and, in turn, for cities to finance our infrastructure.”

Miner, a Democrat, is leaving office at the end of the year and is term limited.

Katko Tax Reform — 4.28.17 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Reformers Praise Syracuse Transparency Policy

The good-government organization Reclaim New York on Thursday praised the transparency steps being taken by Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner.

“At every level of government, proactive citizen oversight is needed to fight against corruption, waste, and abuse,” said the group’s executive director, Brandon Muir. “A strong Open Data policy, like the one the Mayor has proposed, allows citizens to see on demand how their government is operating, and better hold officials accountable.”

Miner, who is due to leave office this year because of term limits, has occasionally been named as a possible candidate for the state Senate or even governor. She has had a strained relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has come under criticism for his own transparency record.

“There is a night and day difference between a government with Open Data standards, and one without them,” Muir said. “That is why Reclaim New York includes such a policy in our transparency indicators, which provide a road map for local governments to become more accessible.”

Sen. Jacobs: Assembly Bill Will Kill Ride-Hailing Effort

From the Morning Memo:

State Sen. Chris Jacobs, a Buffalo Republican, is not pleased with the Assembly ride-hailing legislation that was introduced at the end of last week, saying he believes the intent of the measure is kill the ride-hailing effort in upstate altogether.

In a statement released last night, Jacobs criticized the insurance requirements the Assembly wants for Uber and Lyft drivers, which he says is more than ten times the level downstate drivers are required to have when they have a passenger in their personal vehicles.

“This legislation includes incredibly burdensome insurance provisions, the highest ridesharing taxes in the nation and unworkable regulations that would completely undermine the ability of ridesharing to work in Upstate and Western New York,” the senator said.

Jacobs said individual municipalities should not be expected to design their own regulations, even though some local elected leaders have said they support that idea.

“We have 23 municipalities just in Erie County,” Jacobs noted. “If each one has its own rules and regulations that would make ridesharing completely unworkable.”

Jacobs said the Assembly should go back to the table and pass a more “reasonable” and “workable” bill. The Senate passed its ride-hailing bill more than a month ago, and the governor has indicated he would like to see a solution to this issue – which eluded lawmakers last year – worked out as part of the budget.

Incidentally, New York is now the only state in the continental United States not to allow ride-booking apps like Uber statewide. Wyoming, the only other holdout below the 48th parallel, last weekend legalized the app’s operation following the governor’s signature on a bill authorizing it there.

Remington Arms Layoffs 122 In Ilion

Our colleagues at TWC News in central New York report:

Remington Arms has laid off 122 people from its Ilion site.

This has been confirmed by the village’s mayor who says he was given the news by the plant manager Wednesday.

He was told the layoffs are a result of slow sales.

Mayor Terry Leonard says there are now less than 1,000 people employed at the facility.

Assemblyman Brian Miller, a Republican who represents the area, blamed the gun control law known as the SAFE Act for the layoffs.

“This is upsetting. It’s very troubling that 122 of our neighbors have lost their jobs due to poor economic policies pushed by Gov. Cuomo and Assembly Democrats as well as the SAFE Act,” Miller said. “Make no mistake, there is a direct correlation. My staff and I remain fully committed to helping those affected by layoffs and will assist them and their families in any way we can.”

Syracuse: No Plans To Change Sanctuary City Status

As President Donald Trump’s administration signals its intent to cut off federal funding to cities that have pledged to not coordinated with federal law enforcement on immigrant policies, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner in a statement on Wednesday said she does not plan to reverse course on the issue.

“The resources of the City of Syracuse, including the Syracuse Police Department, are not being used to enforce federal anti-immigrant policies nor are they empowered to do so,” Miner said.

“We do not intend to change this practice and will scrutinize any proposed changes at the federal level thoroughly. I pledge we will continue Syracuse’s commitment to our New American residents, building the trust and relationships our neighbors deserve and continue to treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve. Syracuse is now and always will be a City that bids you welcome.”

The move could hamstring cities that rely on federal funding for a variety of essential services. Attorney General Eric Schneiederman earlier this month provided a legal guidance to cities in New York that have passed measures designed to not coordinate with certain immigration enforcement efforts from the federal government.

Schneiderman in a separate statement questioned Trump’s authority to issue the order, urging him to revoke it.

“The President lacks the constitutional authority to cut off funding to states and cities simply because they have lawfully acted to protect immigrant families — as described in the legal guidance my office issued last week,” Schneiderman said. “Local governments seeking to protect their immigrant communities from federal overreach have every right to do so.”