AFL-CIO: Why Reform Pensions?

The AFL-CIO is questioning Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to move ahead with a pension overhaul plan next year while the current fund is achieving a 14.6 percent rate of return — one of its best returns in years.

The Democratic governor told The New York Times that he would seek changes to the state’s pension system next year. Cuomo did introduce a less generous Tier VI proposal that would save $90 billion over more than a generation.

But as the AFL-CIO points out, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced the same day as the Times piece that the pension fund is running at a higher rate of return than initially forecast, making them wonder why Cuomo is persuing the reform at all.

“It is interesting to note that on the same day the media is reporting that Governor Cuomo has made limiting retirement benefits for new state and city workers his top priority next year, it has also been announced that the Common Retirement Fund achieved a 14.6% rate of return for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. At the very least, this certainly calls into question the need for so-called “pension reform”. It also begs the question: Why do middle class working men and women, particularly public employees, continue to be targeted for sacrifice, in light of the fact that a new pension tier, Tier V, was signed into law less than two years ago.”

To be fair, fiscal watchdogs have long decried the unsustainability of the pension system, saying it’s built on a house of cards that could tumble at any moment. Cuomo’s long-term goal for the pension fund could be to scale-back costs over years.

The Cloud On Cuomo’s Horizon?

Former Senate Finance Committee secretary Abe Lackman agrees with the congratulatory chorus singing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s praises for the unusually successful 2011 legislative session, but also warned about a “cloud” looming on the governor’s horizon.

“I think if there’s one cloud I would focus on going forward it’s whether the budget holds together for the remainder of the year,” Lackman said during a forum in NYC yesterday co-hosted by City Hall News; its sister publication, The Capitol; and Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs.

“…There are a lot of unknowns. One is: You’ve got $2.5 billion worth of Medicaid cuts. A lot of those cuts have not been identified yet. We’ll find out pretty soon.”

“We’re also going to find out for the first time how the June PIT revenues are. We’ll know that in two weeks. And we don’t know what’s going to come out of Washington with the debt cap in terms of yet another round of cost-shifting from the federal government to the state government.”

The forum, moderated by Adam Lisberg, editor of City Hall and The Capitol, and yours truly. It was sponsored by REBNY. The title: “Making History: Putting Albany’s 2011 Legislative Session in Prespective.”

Also on the panel: Ken Shapiro, former chief counsel to Assembly Speakers Stanley Fink and Mel Miller; John Cahill, former secretary to ex-Gov. George Pataki; David Nocenti, former counsel to ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer; and Charles O’Byrne, former secretary to ex-Gov. David Paterson.

It was a pretty lively – and unusually candid – exchange. A lot of fun.

Cuomo Bill Signing Tour

Governor Andrew Cuomo is making 3 stops across the state today, holding ceremonial bill signings of the law making texting while driving a primary offense.

Following the event in Buffalo, he answered questions from reporters about several topics including the administrations transparency in light of an accident at Darien Lake, a potential breach in the Great Lakes Compact by the state of Ohio, and hydrofracking.

The Governor also addressed a Buffalo News report that the administration has begun collecting taxes on cigarette sales by Indian tribes to non-natives.

“The courts have allowed us to enforce the law, and we are, and we are doing it aggressively,” Cuomo said. “We are doing everything we can under the law. It has been a long delay, but we are going to be making up for it.”

Biz Council Report: Fracking Aids Economy

A report from the research arm of the state’s largest business lobby found that allowing high-volume hydraulic fracturing would help grow the economy in the jobs-starved upstate region.

The study, issued by the Public Policy Institute, found that in Pennsylvania, where certain fracking is allowed, gained 4,355 jobs in Pennsylvania. In New York, these sectors combined saw only 42 new jobs.

The controversial natural-gas extraction process involves blasting a mixture of chemicals and water underground. Though business groups, especially the energy industry, say the process can aid jobs growth, environmentalists fear the process could damage the water table.

The Department of Environmental Conservation released its draft environmental impact study of the process commonly known as hydrofracking earlier this month and the report goes to a public comment period later this summer.

Business groups have been pushing for a permitting process in order to allow high-volume fracking in the Marcellus Shale region of the Southern Tier, a potentially rich source of natural gas.

“This report details the long lasting economic impact that Marcellus Shale development can bring to New York’s Southern Tier,” said Heather Briccetti, acting-president & CEO of The Business Council in a statement. “As the Department of Environmental Conservation focuses on the environmental aspects of Marcellus Shale exploration, it is important that New York also consider the economic impacts. The report stresses that a balanced approach to natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale will lead to thousands of new jobs, real property tax benefits and increased tax revenue.”

Drilling for Jobs What Marcellus Shale Could Mean for NY

Bishop Raises $358K+, Has $755K+ On Hand

Rep. Tim Bishop had what his aides called a “record-breaking” second fundraising quarter, raking in $358,939 to bring his on-hand tally to $755,697.

The Democratic Long Island congressman’s spokesman said Bishop is now in “the strongest financial position he has ever been in at this point in the political cycle,” putting him “on very strong political footing to continue to hold his seat.”

“Congressman Bishop will be able to go toe-to-toe with anyone the Republicans nominate, especially an outsourcing millionaire who has already been rejected by Suffolk County voters,” Bishop spokesman Jon Schneider said.

“Tim Bishop will have the resources to talk about protecting Medicare while outsourcing millionaire Randy Altschuler is too frightened to let voters know how plan to end Medicare as we know it.”

Bishop more than doubled his receipts from the $138,000 he raised in the corresponding quarter in the last cycle, according to Schneider. Additionally, he raised $34,360 in unitemized contributions, tripling the $11,000 in unitemized contributions from the second quarter in 2009.

As I reported earlier today, Altschuler, who came within several hundred votes of ousting Bishop last fall, just over $257,000 in the latest quarter and has $265,337 on hand to fuel his second attempt to defeat the congressman.

Altschuler, who still “owes” himself $500,000 for his close – but ultimately unsuccessful – 2010 race against Bishop, took in all of that cash within the month of June.

Unlike in 2010, the Conservative and GOP leaders in Suffolk County appear united in their support of Altschuler this time around, but he still might face a primary challenge from another Republican contender who missed the mark last fall, George Demos.

Diaz Attacks GOP Supporters Of SSM

Bronx Senator Ruben Diaz is accusing the four Republican Senators who voted in favor of same-sex marriage of trading their votes for max contributions from NYC Mayor Bloomberg. In a press release he just sent out, he writes:

It appears that State Senators Stephen Saland, Mark Grisanti, James Alesi and Roy McDonald sold their votes to the Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg for $10,300 each.

At least this is the impression and feeling everyone is getting by reading the city newspapers that two weeks after their vote, Mayor Bloomberg, who previously declared his intentions to support and help finance any senator who would vote in favor of gay marriage and complied with his edict, sent a check to each one of them for the maximum amount allowed by law.

If this is not a quid pro quo, please tell me what this is?

Now, to be fair, Mayor Bloomberg has providing campaign funding support for the Senate Republican conference in the past, and the conference has not always delivered on his agenda. So it is a little bit of a stretch to call it quid pro quo.

Diaz goes on to suggest that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman aren’t living up to their pledge to clean up Albany in this case, because they are doing nothing to investigate this donation.

You can read his entire release after the jump.
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Altschuler Raises $257K, Gets Help From Cantor

Businessman Randy Altschuler raised just over $257,000 in the latest quarter and has $265,337 on hand for his second bid to oust Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop in NY-1.

Altschuler, who still “owes” himself $500,000 for his close – but ultimately unsuccessful – 2010 race against Bishop, took in all of that cash within the month of June.

Additionally, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will be in Long Island later this month (on July 24, which, ironically, is the same day same-sex marriage becomes legal in NY), to help Altschuler raise more money. Rep. Peter King will be on hand for that luncheon, too.

Altschuler came within a few hundred votes of beating Bishop last year. He was slowed by a hard-fought, three-way GOP primary that also included George Demos and Christopher Nixon Cox (son of state GOP Chairman Ed Cox).

Demos has expressed interest in running again next year, too. But Cox, who recently wed Andrea Catsimatidis, daughter of supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis, has not mentioned another congressional run.

It appears, however, that Conservative and GOP leaders are lining up behind Altschuler – even Suffolk County GOP Chairman John Jay LaValle, who split with him very publicly and backed Christopher Cox last fall.

Some believed LaValle’s change of heart had something to do with Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s party switch and short-lived gubernatorial run, but he and Ed Cox denied that.

Bishop has also been focused on raising campaign cash. He sent out an appeal last month casting himself as the un-Anthony Weiner. His latest FEC filing is not yet on-line.

Altschuler Cantor July 24 2011 Luncheon

Skelos: ‘No Decision’ On Senate Return

The Senate does not appear likely to return to Albany any time soon – at least not as long as the PEF contract remains up in the air.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos told Susan Arbetter on the Capitol Pressroom he sees no reason to bring his members back to Albany, even though his house failed to pass the health care exchange bill approved by the Assembly.

Advocates maintain that without an agreement in place this summer, New York will miss federal deadlines to qualify for up to $100 million to set up the exchange. But Sen. Kemp Hannon, the Senate’s point man on this issue, said last month that the Senate actually has until Sept. 30 to make a decision.

Deputy Senate Majority Leader Tom Libous told me in a separate CapTon interview that will air tonight the Senate is unlikely to return to Albany until the fall. (Unless, of course, the governor calls for an extraordinary session sometime before then).

Skelos said the 2011 legislative session is “basically over with,” adding: “I’m sure at some point we will be back to do some clean-up work but when that’s going to be, there’s been no decision.”

“The CSEA contract, we certified that,” the majority leader said. “Now, of course, it’s subject to approval by the membership.”

“The PEF contract has not been agreed upon. So, at some point, if there is an agreement, we would have to come back and pass legislation approving it. But again, those negotiations are going on, and there’s no reason to speculate when we would go back when there’s no contract.”

As for speculation at the end of the session – right around the height of the same-sex marriage fracas – that his leadership post was in danger and perhaps even challenged outright, Skelos had this to say:

“There an awful lot of tabloid journalism out there. Sometimes when things are functioning well, some members of the press, whether it’s TV, radio or print, they like to stir up controversy.”

“Our conference is working well together. You can see from a governmental point of view, things were done and they were done on time…we have record fundraising for our campaign committee, individual members, and that’s people responding positively to what they saw in Albany: Functioning government.”

Siena: NYers Split On Hydrofracking, Approve Of 2011 Session

New Yorkers were heartened by the results of the unusually productive 2011 legislative session, with 48 percent saying state government appears to have become less dysfunctional.

Half of voters – including a majority of Democrats, independents and voters from New York City, and a plurality of voters from upstate and the downstate suburbs – said the session moves the state forward in the right direction.

Favorability ratings for the Assembly and Senate, while still in the negative, rose significantly in the last month. And Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s rating remains sky-high – 71-21, up slightly from 68-21 percent last month.

Cuomo’s job performance rating also rose slightly to 58-40, up from 55-41.

Only among conservative voters does Cuomo’s favorability drop below 60 percent, and even they like him: 59-35. Similarly, conservatives are the only group with a majority giving Cuomo a negative job performance rating.

That likely has something to do with the governor’s successful push to legalize same-sex marriage in New York. But overall, 46 percent of voters said the change moves the state in the right direction.

New Yorkers are less sure about a controversial issue looming for Cuomo: Whether hydrofracking should be allowed in the Marcellus Shale.

Statewide, 45 percent of voters favor DEC’s recommendation that the fracking ban be lifted, while 43 percent oppose it.

By a 54-33 percent margin, voters statewide said they’re more inclined to trust hydrofracking opponents rather than supporters. That view is held by 53 percent in NYC, 54 percent in the downstate suburbs and 55 percent upstate.

New Yorkers generally don’t like the speculation about Cuomo moving on to bigger and better things.

At least 80 percent of voters from every party and region saying all this White House talk is premature and Cuomo should focus on his responsibilities as governor.

More bad news in this poll for President Obama. His favorability has slipped to its lowest level since last December, 57-39, down slightly from 59-38 percent last month,

SNY0711 Crosstabs

Here And Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo holds the first of three ceremonial signings of the driving-while-texting ban law outside Buffalo (Orchard Park, 11 a.m.)

There will be two others near Watertown (Dexter, 12:45 p.m.) and Poughkeepsie (Salt Point, 2:30 p.m.)

Mayor Bloomberg and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver open the first section of the two-mile East River Waterfront Esplanade near South Street Seaport at noon. (Lower Manhattan is Silver’s district).

In a wide-ranging interview with the NY Times, Cuomo again touts his 2011 legislative successes, but says they’re due to factors that aren’t “necessarily replicable.”

The governor admits he’s already at odds with the Legislature over redistricting and says his top priority for next year will be pension reform.

Former top legislative aides and secretaries to past governors say Cuomo has a lot to be proud of during his first six months, but his budget could pose a problem going forward.

Meanwhile in Washington, there’s still no debt deal, and President Obama abruptly walked out of talks.

Tough choices lie ahead for the Obama administration if the president and congressional leaders can’t reach an agreement by the debt ceiling deadline of Aug. 2.

As promised, Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have undermined his property tax cap.

The Post and DN are thrilled by that decision.

It was the first significant veto of Cuomo’s short tenure.

The first gay couple to legally wed in New York will do so next to Niagara Falls in the wee hours of July 24. The local mayor will officiate.

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