Cuomo Says He’s Open To Contract Tweaks, But…

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is open to making changes in the labor agreement with the 56,000-member Public Employees Federation, but said this morning any alterations must be revenue-neutral.

Still, he hoped PEF members would reconsider and hold a new vote.

“I don’t have five-year job security,” Cuomo said. “Nobody gets, you don’t have a job no matter what for five years.”

PEF has called for the governor to return to the bargaining table to make changes to the contract. The governor’s team earlier in the week gave no indication it would be open to altering the existing deal.

Cuomo, in his first public comments since the white-collar state employee union voted down a five-year proposed contract, said in a radio interview on The Capitol Pressroom this morning that he was concerned about the “human toll” of the layoffs, which take effect in a matter of weeks.

“Of course I’m open to tweaks. We’re talking about 3,500 people,” he said.

The 2011-12 fiscal year spending plan includes about $450 million in workforce savings. The Civil Service Employees Association already approved a contract with similar terms. But the PEF contract actually includes more savings because their members tend to be better paid.

The PEF contract forged by his administration and the union’s leadership would have included three years of wage freezes, nine furlough days and an increase in health insurance costs. The contract was also unusually long for a labor agreement — five years.

The governor said there were two reasons why the contract was voted down.

“Either option ‘A’ is the members of the union didn’t think I was serious. They thought the administration was bluffing, that there wouldn’t be layoffs. If that’s what they thought, then they were mistaken. I think every action this administration has taken has shown we are serious. So if they thought we were bluffing, we’re going ahead with the layoffs, it wasn’t a bluff.”

Or, it was because some senior members of the union believed they would still receive step increases under the Triborough Amendment, while others would lose their jobs, Cuomo said.

“The second option is that people made a decision that they’d rather see other people laid off then they’d pay a little bit more on their health benefits,” he said.

He added: “People know who are the junior members, they know who are going to get laid off. You can have people who say, why should I get laid off? Lay off the other guy. It’s not in the spirt of the community, but you can see how that’s a pragmatic judgment.”

But Cuomo added that altering the provision, as some have called for, isn’t in the cards right now.

“I think it’s a political non-starter to try to revisit triborough,” he said. “We live in the real here.”

Christie Talk Filling Airtime, Says Man Actually Running For Prez

Republican presidential candidate Buddy Roemer is polling so low he’s not included in the news roundups or the televised debates.

But he’s not surprised that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie takes the lion’s share of the press coverage, he told Curtis Sliwa this morning.

“It’s a game, it’s a business and through it out there we have to pick a great president,” said Roemer, a former Louisiana governor.

There was a renewed round of speculation that Christie would jump into the 2012 presidential race, after Texas Gov. Rick Perry faltered in several debate performances.

Christie didn’t help with that speculation while speaking at the Reagan Library in California. Former Gov. George Pataki yesterday urged Christie to enter the race. But Roemer says this is nothing new.

“It’s happened. Sarah Palin went through this, Michelle Bachman before she entered the race, Donald Trump, Rick Perry and on and on and on. It’s filling air time,” he said.

Here And Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in NYC with no public schedule.

PEF’s so-far rebuffed effort to re-start contract talks with the Cuomo administration could trigger a so-called “me too” clause for CSEA if successful.

The NYT sides with Cuomo in the PEF contract dispute, saying union members should revote and accept concessions. But it also pushes the millionaire’s tax (again).

Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward’s departure comes at a difficult time for the agency.

A whopping 90 percent of Americans think the economy is dismal, a new CNN poll found, and many continue to blame former President George W. Bush.

Former Gov. Mario Cuomo waited until Christmastime to decide against running for president, so why can’t Republicans like NJ Gov. Chris Christie play Hamlet a little longer?

Eugene Robinson is worried about Christie’s health – namely, his weight problem.

Christie has fans on Staten Island.

Voters like Christie’s “regular guy” persona, which causes Mike Lupica to compare him to Ralph Kramden.

Former Gov. David Paterson dropped by Zuccotti Park to visit the Occupy Wall Street protestors.

Paterson called the protest “very well organized” and “pretty peaceful,” adding that his initial belief is the NYPD’s use of pepper spray was “an excessive use of force.”

Protestors are using the “vibe” app to communicate with one another anonymously.

More >

Extras

PEF layoffs are being handled via email, which has not been the case previously. A Cuomo spokesman said: “We are following the standard procedure.”

The Cuomo administration has known for a week that Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward intended to step down, but failed to coordinate with him on the formal announcement about his departure. The story leaked, and the second floor is not happy.

NJ Gov. Chris Christie was in Louisiana today with Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is a Rick Perry backer. (Maggie Haberman warns against making too much of that).

Christie doesn’t get along too well with the Garden State’s two US senators.

Jon Huntsman’s 2012 candidacy might not last much longer – unless he can score an upset win in the first-in-the-nation NH primary.

The presidential contenders are managing expectations in advance of the next FEC deadline at midnight tomorrow.

After busting an SAT cheating ring, Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice is making a push for better exam security.

Mayor Bloomberg will be honored for his role in the same-sex marriage battle by the Human Rights Campaign – the nation’s largest LGBT organization – at a dinner in Washington Saturday night that features a speech by the president.

Upstate county clerks want the DMVs vision test requirement restored. Legislation is being drafted in both houses of the Legislature that would require just that.

The NYC DEP says the Gliboa dam is structurally sound and is de-activating its emergency plan.

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign announcement. The former first couple will be in Little Rock for the celebration.

The House gave quick approval to a stopgap spending bill in a pro forma session.

Russell Simmons sides with the Occupy Wall Street protestors.

The Onion refused to back off its spoof hostage crisis reports.

First Lady Michelle Obama shops at Target.

Ominous skies over NYC.

Dueling Queens GOP Chairs

As expected, the warring factions of the Queens GOP held dueling meetings last night and elected two diffrent party chairmen, each of whom is now declaring himself the true leader of the borough’s Republican organization.

Incumbent Chairman Phil Ragusa’s spokesman, Robert Hornak, emailed a press release shortly before midnight last night, reporting that Ragusa had been “unanimously re-elected” at the “offifical reorganization meeting” held at the Reception House on Northern Blvd.

(“Unanimous” in this case means all of the people who were present, since those allied with the so-called “rogue faction” led by the “notorious Haggerty brothers” – the party’s words, not mine, and it makes them sound like outlaws in a bad Western movie – et al attended the other meeting).

“With 18 Assembly districts throughout Queens, representatives of 12 were in attendance, representing a weighted vote of approximately 58 percent,” the release stated. “Adding in those who tendered proxies but abstained pushed the weighted vote to 62 percent at Ragusa’s meeting.”

“Several longtime loyal African American, Haitian and Hispanic District leaders also attended but were unable to vote for the Chairman due to having been targeted by the opposing faction and knocked off of the ballot during petitioning.”

“With a rogue faction lead by the notorious Haggerty brothers boycotting the meeting in favor of an unauthorized meeting in South Richmond Hill, technically Phil Ragusa won re-election with 100 percent of the vote.”

The party accused the Haggerty faction of ignoring a TRO and holding an “unlawful meeting” at which former NYC Council Minority Leader Tom Ognibene was elected chairman. Hornak noted that “ringleader” John Haggerty is on trial for allegedly stealing $1 million from Mayor Bloomberg during his successful re-election campaign in 2009.

More >

Assembly Democrats Hire Redistricting Consultant

Assembly Democrats have retained a $400-per-hour consultant to analyze and review the redistricting of state and federal legislative boundaries, according to the state Comptroller’s Open Book website.

The majority inked a contract worth up to $143,000 with Allan Lichtman, a profesor of history at American University in Washington, earlier this year. The contract ends in 2014. Lichtman’s compensation is not to exceed $100,000, but he also receives $3,000 in travel expenses and $40,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.

Assembly spokesman Mike Whyland (who, it should be noted, made a copy of the contract available without prompting) pointed out that it was standard operating procedure for Legislature to hire consultants in order to ensure compliance.

In this case, Lichtman’s job is to ensure the new lines comply with federal laws and one-person-one-vote requirements.

Lichtman has also advised Democrats in Illinois and South Carolina, and his a former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Maryland.

It’s not unusual for either parties to retain consultants during the redistricting process, which is both a legally complex and time-consuming issue.

The Daily News reported earlier this year that both chambers retained high-priced law firms for the coming redistriciting round.

Senate Republicans signed a $3 million contract with firm Jones Day and the Assembly, too, retained the firm Graubard Miller and lawyer C. Daniel Chill through 2014 for $1.55 million.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, has vowed to veto lines he deems drawn unfairly, throwing the process to the courts.

PEF To Cuomo: Let’s Negotiate

Public Employees Federation Ken Brynien issued a new call today for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to return to the bargaining table as soon as possible.

Brynien says PEF, a union of mostly white-collar state workers, is prepared to present “new ideas” that can be accepted by the union’s rank-in-file and the administration.

The New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF) is prepared to present to the state new ideas which we believe will lead to a tentative contract agreement that will meet everyone’s needs and our members will ratify.

Although the governor has said he will not change the state’s proposal we remain hopeful we can reach an agreement. The next few days will be critical as we try to preserve state services while meeting the savings the state requires.

The statement comes as the Cuomo administration has started to send out pink slips to nearly 3,500 state workers in the wake of the union rejecting a labor agreement that includes deep concessions. The layoffs take effect in about a month.

Cuomo needs to achieve $450 million in workforce savings in order to keep the budget in balance. Cuomo issued a short statement urging PEF members to reconsider their no votes.

Cuomo’s Director of State Operations Howard Glaser, issued a more pointed statement that blasted the PEF leadership for failing to explain the terms of the agreement.

The governor, so far, has given no indciation he would be willing to re-negotiate a new deal.

Judges Want Pay Raise Plus Perks

New York’s judges are poised to receive a significant pay raise come April after going more than a decade without one, thanks to a recommendation of the Cuomo-formed Judicial Compensation Commission.

But some jurists think the 27 percent increase over the next three years is insufficient, and are urging court administrators to keep in place a $10,000 stipend that was provided to them in recognition of the fact that they had not received a salary hike since January 1999.

(The stipend was initially $5,000 when it was first created in 2007, but was subsequently boosted to $10,000 in 2010).

“We were told that it depends on the budget and we made it clear that we believe it should be continued. Indeed, some of us think it should be enhanced,” Brooklyn Family Court Judge Daniel Turbow told the Law Journal, adding that there will likely be a formal request “within the next couple weeks.”

According to the Journal’s Joel Stashenko, some judges were so unhappy with the commission’s recommendation (they had wanted more; some had suggested as much as $200,000), that they contemplated an Article 78 proceeding.

It wouldn’t be the first time the judges have sued over their pay, but it doesn’t appear there’s sufficient support to get that effort off the ground.

The Office of Court Administration has until Dec. 1 to submit its budget request to Cuomo. Last year, the judicial branch clashed with the executive over its unwillingness to following his lead in making an across-the-board budget cut. Cuomo called out the judges during his budget address.

They eventually yielded to his wishes, which led to curtailed court hours and services across the state.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said no decision has yet been made about the stipends. The salary increase alone would cost $30 million next year (it’s being phased in), and continuing the stipends would add an additional $12 million.

Also still unclear is the cost of Lippman’s proposal that New York try nonviolent teenage offenders in Family Court – something that would require a complete overhaul of how the system treats juveniles.

PEF Exec Board Member Accuses Cuomo Of ‘Religious Insensitivity’ (Updated)

The relationship between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and leaders of the Public Employees Federation deteriorated still further yesterday, when one of the union’s executive board members accused the governor of making “retaliatory attacks” in the wake of Tuesday’s contract failure and acting with “vindictiveness,” “religious insensitivity,” and “disrespect.”

At issue for Beverly Bowen, of Region 9, is the fact that the layoff notices started going out yesterday as Jewish members of the union were preparing to celebrate Rosh Hashanah – one of the holiest days of Jewish year. Very observent Jews will be observing this holiday through Friday, and then will start their weekly observance of Shabbat.

In other words, it’s possible people who are just receiving word that they will be laid off won’t be in the office to get any guidance about how that’s going to work until next Monday.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, this email was not sent directly to me. It was written by Bowen and by her to fellow executive board members and PEF President Ken Brynien. A recipient forwarded it to me – apparently an important distinction that I have been asked to make here, since many state agencies have policies that forbid executive board members from communicating with the press.

“Regardless of the level of observance or the number of Jewish staff that will be effected by this, it was inappropriate and wrong to begin this process at a time when many are not going to be at work today, tomorrow or Friday due to religious observances,” Bowen wrote.

“For those unable to meet today, another meeting will be held tomorrow. Phone calls are going out along with the certified letters informing people of their selection on the list. The lack of respect that this continues to demonstrate to the humanity of our state worker’s is appalling and to me immoral. I could go on about the general unessecary vindictiveness of this entire action, but I’m preaching to the choir here I’m sure.”

“The union is not truly the people’s enemy and as we have said there are many diverse ways to improve the state economy before these drastic measures would be needed…This puts Jewish staff at a further demoralizing and disrespected level. I am NOT diminishing the huge impact that this is having on ALL employees who are targeted.”

“I do feel though that this rush to action/knee jerk reaction that is so typical of this administration could have waited until Monday to happen. Would this have happened on Christmas Eve? Maybe it will. It would be just as wrong then. Dare I wish everyone a sweet New Year? It is my fervrent prayer.”

I emailed Cuomo’s press office this morning to ask if the administration had given though to the fact that these layoffs coincide with the start of what Jews call the “Days of Awe” or the “High Holy Days” – a 10-day period of introspection and repentance that culminates with Yom Kippur. I did not receive a response.

The governor is definitely aware of the holiday. He released a statement on Wednesday wishes those New Yorkers who will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah a “healthy and prosperous” New Year.

Cuomo Turns Down Bill Aimed At Transparency

A bill that state lawmakers said would increase transparency for where state money was going to community-based organizations was vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo late last week.

The bill was aimed at requiring every state department, including the executive, to submit two annual reports on the distribution of funds and grants to community-based organizations — a requirement that Cuomo says is already being addressed.

Though the spigot has supposedly been turned off on these grants, Gannett ably demonstrates that the money continues to flow out of Albany.

In vetoing the bill, the governor said he supports the goals of the legislation, noting that he created the Project Sunlight website as attorney general. But he writes in the veto message that the measure is “unnecessary” because much of the information is already public available.

“In addition, anticipated future reports from the new Statewide Financial System, which is a single financial accounting record and central transaction processing system managed by the Division of Budget, will substantially address the reporting requirement under the bill,” Cuomo wrote, adding that the it is more efficient to use this system, then the one proposed by lawmakers.

Still, the timing of the veto is unfortunate as Cuomo tries to demonstrate that he’s more transparent than his predecessors (he doesn’t control when the Legislature sends him bills to act on).

The governor is sensitive to the idea that his administration has been anything but transparent in its first nine months. Cuomo introduced a website that publishes some details of his daily schedule and opened up the governor’s wing of the second floor of the Capitol.

And while a poll shows that the general public thinks Cuomo has kept up a similar level of transparency if not more so, the reporters who cover him would probably disagree.