Hoyt Resigns (Updated)

And then there were six…vacant Assembly seats, that is.

The state Board of Elections confirms it has certified a vacancy in the 144th Assembly district, which was – up until very recently – represented by Assemblyman Sam Hoyt.

Chain of events: Hoyt quietly sent a letter of resignation yesterday to the speaker’s office, ccing the Secretary of State, who then sent it to the Board of Elections.

Hoyt is a longtime ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In fact, he was one of the few Democratic elected/political officials to back Cuomo during his quixotic gubernatorial primary challenge to then-state Comptroller H. Carl McCall, along with Monroe County Democratic Chairman/Assemblyman Joe Morelle and former Essex County Democratic Chairman Stu Brody.

The WNY political world has been speculating for some time that Hoyt would resign to take a job with the Cuomo administration – an assumption the assemblyman has repeatedly denied.

He has so far responded to neither my email nor my voice mail message seeking comment, so I guess it’s possible he’s resigning for some other reason. Hoyt gave no reason for his resignation, which was effective at 11:59 last night, in the letter he sent shortly after 1 p.m. yesterday.

UPDATE: Hoyt responded to me via text and confirmed he has accepted a “senior position” at ESD. UPDATE2: And here’s a link to the letter in which he explains his decision to the public and recalls the bittersweet circumstances of his election to his late father’s eat.

Hoyt has weathered a number of tough re-elections after he admitted in 2008 to an extramarital affair with a legislative intern. He has been involved in a massive intraparty fight in Erie County that also includes Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steve Pigeon.

State Democratic Party Executive Director Charlie King has reportedly brokered peace among the Erie County Democrats at Cuomo’s request – a move that required the resignation of former county chairman Len Lenihan. I’m not sure if Hoyt’s resignation is also connected to that deal.

If Hoyt is accepting a job with Cuomo, he would be the fourth Assembly member to do so. The others include: Darryl Towns (housing czar), RoAnn Destito (OGS commissioner), and Jonathan Bing (special deputy superintendent of the NY Liquidation Bureau).

There are two other vacant seats thanks to the resignations of Nettie Mayhersohn and Audrey Pheffer (now the Queens County clerk).

So far, Cuomo hasn’t called a single special election for any of these Assembly vacancies or for the seat given up by scandal-scarred ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner, but he is widely speculated to be planning to call them all to be held concurrently with the September primary.

Hoyts Resignation 144th AD_2

Silver: ‘Too Many Unknowns’ To Allow Hydrofracking

Allowing the controversial natural-gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing would be “premature at a minimum,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said in a statement.

The speaker added the state should wait for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to release its own study on the issue before the process is used in New York.

Silver was responding to reports today that a long-anticipated draft report from the Department of Environmental Conservation will recomend that the process commonly known as hydrofracking be allowed, but not in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds.

Silver said in the statement that,

“We would strongly oppose lifting the moratorium. There are simply too many unknowns to risk inflicting long-term, potentially catastrophic damage to New York’s environment and water supply.”

“Any action to lift the moratorium is premature and at a minimum, New York should wait until the EPA completes its own study on hydraulic fracturing before even considering whether the state should permit this type of drilling activity.”

If the reports are true and hydrofracking does indeed move forward, this would be the first major split the Democratic-controlled Assembly has had with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Environmentalists oppose the extraction process because it uses a mixture of potentially dangerous chemicals and water to extract the gas. However, business groups argue that drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region of the Southern Tier could help the economically troubled area create jobs.

The Assembly and the then-Democratic-controlled Senate approved a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing last year, but it was veoted by Gov. David Paterson.

A Relatively Frugal Session

Senate and Assembly lawmakers combined spent less on per diems in 2011 so far than over a similar period last year, according to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Law.

The main factor for the decline: the federal per diem rate slipped in 2011 to $165, down from $171 in 2010.

The request covered the 2011 legislative session, which completed work on June 24. It also covered the same time period in 2010 in order to provide a side-by-side snapshot comparison.

Records from the Comptroller’s Office show the Republican-led Senate spent $516,419 on per diems — a decline of more than $100,000 from the same January through June time period. The Democratic-led Assembly, meanwhile, spent $1.3 million, far less than the $1.5 million spent in 2010 during the same six-month period.

The Assembly’s smaller per diem total also accounts for the five vacancies in the chamber after Gov. Andrew Cuomo plucked lawmakers to join his cabinet.

The biggest total spender of legislative per diems — which are meant to provide legislators with unitemized spending money for room and board when they’re performing legislative duties — was again Democratic Assemblywoman Earlene Hooper.

She spent $18,857 in 2011, down from $22,913 in 2010.

In the Senate, Sen. Kemp Hannon, R-Nassau County, spent the most on per diems, $14,865, a roughly $800 personal increase from last year.

This year’s legislative session ran over four extra days — the Legislature gaveled in a total of 65 days in 2011. Last year, of course, lawmakers were working through the summer to hammer out one of the latest state budgets in history. The spending plan wasn’t approved until August.

This year’s numbers could also change if the Legislature decides to return to Albany, lawmakers hold committee meetings or if Gov. Andrew Cuomo convenes a special session.

Assembly Senate Per Diems — YNN

State To Close Seven Prisons (Updated)

Seven prisons around the state will close, saving $184 million over two years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today.

The closures will impact western and central New York the heaviest, while facilities in New York City will also be shuttered. Unclear is how many jobs will be lost, moved or otherwise impacted by the closures.

The state will close the Buffalo Work Release, Camp Georgetown in Madison County, Summit Shock in Schoharie County and Fulton Work Release in the Bronx.

Three male medium security facilities will also shutter: Arthur Kill on Staten Island, Mid-Orange in Orange County and Oneida.

The plan spares maximum security facilities — a key concern of the unions representing correction officers. Prisoners living in the closed facilities will be moved to other prisons. Many of those prisons are located in state’s northern reaches, where many local economies are based on the facilities being nearby.

The plan calls for a reduction of approximately 3,800 beds, with an estimated savings of $72 million in during the 2011-12 fiscal year, which runs from April 1 to March 31. In the 2012-13 fiscal year, an estimated $112 million will be saved.

Cuomo had sought the closure of nearly vacant facilities, along with the closures of juvenile justice centers he says are under utilized.

“This plan is the result of very careful and detailed analysis and deliberation,” Cuomo said in a statement. “It succeeds in targeting facilities for closure without compromising public safety and will save taxpayers $184 million. We will work closely to ensure impacted areas are given substantial state aid to help them create jobs and transform their local economies. New York will continue to keep the highest standard of public safety and maintain one of the safest correctional systems in the country.”

The Cuomo administration had held the prison closure news close to the vest after the governor intially announced the plan in his Feb. 1 budget presentation. The approved budget includes $50 million in economic development money and tax credits for communities that rely on the prisons as a source of employment and income.
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Skelos On The ‘Great Partnership’ With Cuomo

Making a joint appearance at the signing of the property-tax cap on Long Island, the Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said his relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo was a strong one.

“It’s been a great partnership,” said Skelos, a Nassau County Republican. “We made Albany function in a very positive way. We talked and we listen to each other, which has not happened in the past. In the end, we come to a consensus. To me, this has been a banner year. I’m sort of a freshman majority leader. This partnership is going to continue.”

Skelos has been praised by the Democratic governor for allowing a floor vote on the same-sex marriage legalization bill. Though Skelos voted against the measure, he did vote yes for a religious exemption amendment to the bill, helping clear the way for its eventual passage.

Skelos didn’t always seem to be on the in with Cuomo, however.

Cuomo embraced the property-tax cap proposal put out by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, which kept the 2 percent ceiling, but included a sunset date tied to rent control for New York City.

Skelos wavered on the expiration date before agreeing to the provision. The cap expires in five years; rent control expires in four.

But Skelos and Cuomo were on the same page when it came to approving a budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year without raising taxes. And Cuomo supported Skelos when it came to allowing the so-called millionaires tax — a surcharge on those making $250,000 or more a year — expire.

Cuomo, asked by reporters about his possible presidential ambitions, took the chance to praise Skelos as well.

“I’m patting Dean Skelos on the back and I’m putting my colleagues on the back. We started in January and you want to represent them and you want to represent them well. So that’s something to feel good about,” he said.

The Indy Factor

I spoke earlier with state Independence Party Chairman Frank MacKay for tonight’s CapTon about the role his played in the Senate’s passage last week of the gay marriage bill.

MacKay’s personal endorsement of the legislation was cast as a counterweight to state Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long’s pledge to yank the endorsement of any Republican who voted “yes” on the bill, even though MacKay stressed this issue would not be a litmus test for support no matter how a lawmaker voted.

Interestingly, all but one of the Republicans who voted “yes” already HAD the Indy line. The only one who did not was Sen. Mark Grisanti – the party made no endorsement in that race, choosing not to choose between Grisanti and his Democratic opponent, now-former Sen. Antoine Thompson.

Here are the breakdowns of how many votes the other three received on the Indy and Conservative lines in 2010, respectively: Sen. Steve Saland: 3,986 (I), 7,241 (C); Sen. Jim Alesi: 3,914 (I), 7,970 (C); Sen. Roy McDonald: 4,729 (I), 7,970 (C).

MacKay insisted that the Indy line (now at the WFP’s old Row E, having lost Row C to the Conservatives, thanks to Carl Paladino’s strong performance on the line vis-a-vis Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s performance for the Indys) will attract more votes in 2012 for senators who lose the Conservative line, noting turnout will be higher from Democrats because it’s a presidential year.

As for who convinced MacKay to get involved in this battle to begin with, well, it wasn’t Cuomo.

“There are a lot of folks that aren’t publicly in favor of this, but there are people who really wanted to get this on the table, get this on the floor and see it pass,” MacKay told me.

“Certainly Senator Bruno was somebody I had a great number of conversations with about this, and I thought he made a lot of sense.”

“…Senator Bruno is a very talented political mind, and he has a great feel for this. Who knows the Senate process better than Senator Bruno? But again, I’m going to let each man and woman speak for themselves.”

Cuomo Says Layoffs Will Be PEF’s Fault

Asked about the TU’s report than some 451 pink slips are being sent out today, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the onus belongs on PEF, which has yet to strike a contract deal with his administration.

“We have been working very hard for months to negotiate a deal with the labor unions so no one has to be laid off,” the governor said following a tax cap event on Long Island, attended by NY1′s Grace Rauh, who was kind enough to send CapTon these quotes.

“Those conversations are ongoing. As we’ve said all along, if we can’t reach an accord then there would have to be layoffs. It was part of balancing the state budget back in April.”

It shouldn’t come as any big surprise that the Cuomo administation is moving forward with its layoff plans – minus CSEA members, thanks to a contract deal struck last week by union leaders, which has yet to be approved by rank-and-file members.

The governor made it quite clear that the CSEA agreement would help achieve the $450 million workforce savings included in the 2011-2012 budget, insisting the need for up to 9,800 layoffs would be averted if other unions followed suit. So far, however,

PEF has refused, although it is surveying its members on the CSEA deal.

Asked about the timeline for layoffs, Cuomo said today:

“We are getting closer and closer to the deadline and notices are starting to go out. But it is going to be up to PEF. We reached an agreement with CSEA, which is a very large and powerful union. We reached an agreement and we are hoping the other unions are reasonable like CSEA.”

Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto stressed that what went out today were not, technically speaking, pink slips, but rather the precursor to pink slips in the form of 20-day notices that are required before actual firing is allowed.

Report: State To Lift Fracking Ban (Updated)

The NY Times is reporting, via a breaking news alert, that New York is poised to lift a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, AKA hydrofracking – a controversial method of extracting natural gas from the earth – that was put in place by former Gov. David Paterson last December.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo sustained Paterson’s veto until a report issued by the DEC and then expanded the fracking review in late Mayafter natural gas well blowout in Pennsylvania.

Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto called today’s Times report “baseless speculation” and “premature.”

UPDATE: Just over an hour after the Times posted its news alert, a full story is now available on the Web.

Cuomo administration officials are reportedly discussing maintaining the fracking ban inside the NYC and Syracuse watersheds. It’s unclear when there will be a public announcement and what – if any – mitigations will be recommended.

The DEC’s draft recommendations were expected to come out tomorrow. However, DEC Commissioner Martens hedged on that this week, telling reporters: “We’re still working on it, so stay tuned for later in the week whether we’re going to meet the deadline or not.”

A version of the report, which Martens said is “in the production process,” is expected to be delivered to Cuomo, but potentially not released to the public.

The deadline for this report has been pushed back on several occasions.

AG Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against the federal government in May after officials turned down his request for further study of fracking in the Delaware River Basin Commission.

This week, one of the nation’s largest natural gas companies, Chesapeake Energy, confirmed it had received a subpoena from Schneiderman’s office. The AG is seeking information about what the company – and a handful of others – has disclosed to investors about the dangers of fracking.

Democrats Target Grimm On Medicare

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching an automatic calling campaign against GOP lawmakers who are backing the Republican plans for Social Security and Medicaid.

The only New York Republican on the list is Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm, who Democrats are targeting for his support of the controversial Medicare plan introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Debt talks in Washington remain stalled after President Obama called on Republicans to consider some tax increases or reductions in tax credits in order to pay down the national debt. Looming in the background is the possibility that Congress will not vote to raise the debt ceiling, forcing the U.S. to default for the first time in history.

Here’s the script of the robocall:

Hi, this is Clare calling on behalf of the DCCC. What does Congressman Michael Grimm have against seniors?

First Grimm voted with his Republican leadership to end Medicare while protecting subsidies for Big Oil and tax breaks for billionaires. Now, they are trying to privatize Social Security.

Republican leaders’ scheme to gamble the Social Security that seniors worked a lifetime to earn on Wall Street is way too dangerous. One bad market could wipe out years of savings, putting generations of retirees at risk.

Call Congressman Michael Grimm at (718) 351-1062 and tell him not to gamble Social Security on Wall Street.

UFT Radio Ad Touts Layoff Aversion

The United Federation of Teachers is celebrating a New York City budget that averts education layoffs in a new 30-second radio spot set to air through the weekend and into early next week.

In the spot, President Michael Mulgrew credits community leaders and parents for successfully opposing the threatened 4,200 layoffs in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s budget.

The script:

This is Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers.

For months, parents, teachers, elected officials and community leaders fought back against threats of teacher layoffs. And you made a difference.

There is still work to be done, but thanks to you, the teachers will be there when school opens. Community leaders, parents and the UFT will be there too. Standing together for our schools and a strong future, for ALL New Yorkers.

The ad can be heard here.

The city approved its budget late last week, which includes plans for not replacing 2,600 teachers who plan to quit or retire by the end of the year.