Mandate Relief May Prove Tricky

Finding the correct formula for relieving the local governments and school districts of burdensome state mandates may probe difficult as lawmakers try to work out a deal that would pave the way for a property tax cap.

But information on what mandate relief might be in the final product is hard to come by. Local government lobbyists say they’ve been kept in the dark.

But we’ve heard from some sources who say procurement language, freeing up governments and school districts to make purchases from a broader range of vendors, could be in the mix.

At the same time, local governments have recently suggested language that would allow for reducing the cost Medicaid spending, but there’s no indication that measure has been included in the final measure.

In the words of one local government lobbyists, the outlook on the mandate relief and its specifics remain fuzzy at best.

Some form of mandate reduction is needed in order for key suburban lawmakers in both parties and both houses to support a 2 percent property tax cap as being proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos cited the mandate relief issue as an unresolved matter, making it unclear on when a vote on the property-tax cap will be held.

Sources: Ex-NARAL President Pleading Guilty To Felony

Former NARAL Pro-Choice NY President Kelli Conlin, once an iconic and powerful figure in New York Democratic circles, has cut a deal with the Manhattan DA and will plead guilty to a felony charge of falsifying documents later this afternoon, two sources with knowledge of her plans confirm.

Conlin will plead to a Class E felony in connection with a five-month investigation into financial misconduct while she served as the head of NARAL. The terms of the deal call for probation and no jail time, which makes sense, since Conlin does not have a record.

She also will make restitution to her former employer. The amount is “sizable,” according to one source, who pegged it just short of six figures.

Conlin was fingerprinted earlier today. In keeping with protocol, those prints were sent to Albany for identification confirmation prior to her appearance in court and the entry of her plea. Manhattan DA Cy Vance’s office declined to comment, but he has moved pretty fast on this one. It was just last week that I heard a grand jury had convened to take testimony on this case.

There’s still the possibility of civil charges. The AG’s office, which has jurisdiction over nonprofits, also was looking into this case. AG Eric Schneiderman recused himself, however. His father, Irwin Schneiderman, was a longtime NARAL contributor and board member.

Also, NARAL was a big political backer of Eric Schneiderman dating back to his Senate days. Conlin was a key surrogate for him during the AG’s race last fall.

Conlin’s decision to plea is a blessing for NARAL, which would not have fared well having its dirty laundry aired in public. Now the organization can put this ugly incident behind it, no doubt something its donors will appreciate. Also, since this isn’t an election year, NARAL has sufficient time to regroup and regain its status as a must-obtain endorsement for Democratic candidates in New York.

As you’ll recall, Conlin abruptly resigned her post last January without providing any explanation for her departure.

In mid-February, we aired a CapTon exclusive report on a forensic audit conducted for NARAL that had uncovered evidence of extensive financial misconduct by Conlin, dating back at least to 2008 and perhaps even longer.

The audit, conducted by the accounting firm Marks Paneth & Shron, detailed numerous questionable charges on NARAL credit cards by Conlin between 2008 and 2010, including $5,709 worth of high-end clothing at Giorgio Armani and Barney’s and a $17,000 reimbursement on a Hamptons summer rental where Conlin stayed in the summer of 2009.

Silver: I’ve Seen Gay Marriage Draft Amendment, It’s ‘Acceptable’

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver emerged from the three-way meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to say he has seen a draft of the chapter amendment for religious exemptions on same-sex marriage and it’s “acceptable.”

Silver also said his chamber would vote on the amendment to the same-sex marriage bill only after Senate Republicans take up the measure. The Democratic-led Assembly approved the marriage bill last week with a vote of 80-63 – one of the lowest margins in the measure’s history. That was the fourth time the bill had passed in the chamber.

The fact that language exists for religious carveouts on the bill is a signal that the measure could move forward in the Senate, where the measure is deadlocked 31-31.

Several Senate Republicans, including Sens. Andrew Lanza, Kemp Hannon and Steve Saland, have huddled with the governor to develop religious exemption language that is broader and stronger than the current incarnation of Cuomo’s bill.

The goal is to prohibit religious institutions and organizations from being sued for not serving same-sex couples. Advocates and Cuomo have contended all along that the same-sex marriage bill is a civil matter and that enough protections are already enshrined in the Human Rights Law.

Skelos: SUNY Vote Could Come This Afternoon, Rent And Mandate Relief Still An Issue

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos emerged from another leaders meeting with the governor and Assembly speaker, which he said went, “exceptionally well.”

However, it seems there has not been much progress made on the major issues such as rent control and mandate relief–sticking points between the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate.

However, Skelos said other issues have been resolved, such as the SUNY 2020 program, which he expects to begin voting on in the Senate as early as this afternoon. He also stated the leaders have found common ground on what’s called, “Article X,” which is New York’s power plant siting law.

PEF Still Waiting To Hear From Gov

Looks like the state’s #2 public employee union is not ready to follow CSEA’s lead and agree to a new contract deal. The Public Employees Federation just released this brief statement essentially saying they are still waiting to negotiate with the Governor’s office.

The New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF) continues to wait to hear back from the state’s negotiating team on the status of the union’s contract offer.

Earlier today, the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) announced it has reached a tentative contract agreement with the state.

PEF stands ready to meet with the state’s negotiators to reach an agreement that balances the needs of our members, as well as the needs of the state.

The statement is on message with what PEF President Ken Brynien told us earlier this week when he suggested that Andrew Cuomo’s presidential ambitions might be derailed if he doesn’t have union support.

“His father tried to run for president, or at least made noise about it. Didn’t quite get there. And it could be because he didn’t have full support of labor… I don’t know. He’s got time today. I’ll sit down with him now if he wants to talk, and I bet the other union leaders would too,” Brynien told Liz on Monday.

“I know there’s a lot going on with the gay marriage thing and the rent control thing and all the other things that are going on in the state. But when you’re in that position, when you’re sitting in the governor’s seat, you’ve got to be able to juggle all these thing at once.”

Source: LGBT Advocates Will ‘Go Crazy’ On Senate GOP Without Gay Marriage

As will-they-or-won’t-they speculation about the Senate gay marriage vote reaches a fever pitch at the Capitol, a source working closely with the Cuomo-estimablished New Yorkers for Marriage Equality coalition is warning the backlash against GOP lawmakers will be unlike anything seen before if a bill fails to reach the floor and pass.

“The equation has shifted this year,” the source told me in an email sent earlier today. “There is far more peril for them if they don’t do the vote than if they do.”

“They better wake up and realize what will come down on them if they blow this: If we don’t get marriage done this time, everyone knows it’s the fault of the Senate Republicans. They will have to contend next year with very unhappy major donors, a furious and politically sophisticated advocate community, disappointed Democrats and Independent voters back home, and a governor who never forgets.”

I asked if the governor himself would exact retribution from Senate Republicans by coming out against them in 2012, or, at the very least, openly pushing to help the Democrats reclaim the majority – a move that got former Gov. Eliot Spitzer in hot water when he took office in 2009 with the GOP still in power.

“I can’t speak for the gov, but the advocates and their big donor friends will go crazy,” the source replied. “They demonstrated what they could do in 2010. They are ten times stronger now, and they have strong voter support in these swing districts.”

Recall that LGBT donors poured more than $1 million into the Senate Democrats’ campaign coffers back in 2008 in hopes that flipping the chamber into their hands would improve the chances of seeing a gay marriage bill past. We all recall how that turned out – not such a great investment.

Last cycle, the LGBT money went to targeted races, with donors spending to assist or oust specific candidates in hopes of tipping the yes-no balance in their favor. They succeeded with replacing a number of “no” voters, including Hiram Monserrate, Frank Padavan, and Bill Satchowski, but also lost a few “yes” voters like Antoine Thompson and Craig Johnson.

Batali Cooking Up Same-Sex Marriage Support

Here’s celebrity chef Mario Batali chatting with reporters about his efforts to lobby senators to vote “yes” on same-sex marriage – a feat he performed in his trademark shorts and kitchen rubber clogs (neon orange, worn with orange, green and yellow plaid socks).

“I think it’s important that liberty and justice for all is where we live, and the ideas that there’s liberties that have been retained or denied access to anybody, we’re all New Yorkers,” Batali said.

“We’re all about freedom, we’re all about opportunity. We’re all about everything being in the right place. It’s inassailable and indisputable. I’m going to talk to anybody who will listen to me, but hopefully, we’ll find some of the few – five or six people that we really need to turn over on the other side. I’m not sure they want to talk to just a cook. I’m merely a cook who happens to be a New Yorker.”

One of Batali’s handlers said he took a break from a vacation at his Pine Plains home to come to Albany today. Apparently, he has been here before for events at the Egg, but has never partaken of any of the fine dining establishments located within an easy walk of the Capitol. He was planning to eat lunch out today, according to CapCon, but no word so far on where he ended up.

Cuomo To Unions: Follow CSEA, Avoid Layoffs

Gov. Andrew Cuomo just put out his own press release announcing the tentative 5-year contract deal he has reached with CSEA, with comments that largely echo his statement in the union release – with one notable exception.

See if you can spot it. Here’s Cuomo’s statement from his own release:

“I applaud CSEA’s leadership for their hard work to reach this deal which is a win-win for CSEA members and the State of New York. This tentative contract, if adopted by the other bargaining units, means layoffs needed to achieve needed workforce savings would be avoided.”

“CSEA members are the backbone of state government, responsible for delivering services to 19 million New Yorkers. I commend the union and its leadership for making a significant contribution to help get the state’s fiscal house in order and making the shared sacrifices these difficult times require. Working together, we will turn this state around and get our economy moving once again.”

Here’s his comments in the CSEA release:

“I applaud CSEA’s leadership for their hard work to reach this deal which is a win-win for CSEA members and the State of New York. I commend the union and its leadership for making a significant contribution to help get the state’s fiscal house in order and making the shared sacrifices these difficult times require. Working together, we will turn this state around and get our economy moving once again.”

Got it? There’s nary a mention of layoffs in statement No. 2. Interesting. I’m not sure if that means CSEA members balked at the idea of being used as a wedge against their union brethren, or the governor simply chose to send a stronger message with his release.

CSEA Announces Tentative Contract Deal

The Civil Service Employees Association has reached a tentative agreement with the Cuomo administration that includes zero pay increases and furloughs in the first two years along with increases of between 2 percent and 6 percent in health care coverage premiums for 66,000 executive branch employees.

The union said the deal “balances shared sacrifice and respect.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo commented the union and it leaders “for making a significant contribution to help get the state’s fiscal house in order and making the shared sacrifices these difficult times require.”

CSEA President Danny Donohue echoed Cuomo’s statement, insisting that these are not “ordinary times.”

We saw this coming down the pike when CSEA members did not participate in the PEF-led statewide protests earlier this week of the administration’s threatened 9,800 layoffs. At the time, a union spokesman said contract talks had reached a “critical” juncture.

The question now is: Will the other unions – PEF, Council 82 etc. – follow CSEA’s lead and get what they can while the getting is good? Because this deal sets a benchmark, and it’s unlikely the governor will move significantly from here.

CSEA Tentative Agreement_NewsRelease-2

Black And Latino Lawmakers At Odds With Cuomo

Assemblyman Karim Camara, the newly-minted chair of the Black, Puerto Rican Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus, called an “emergency” meeting this morning to discuss the rent laws/property tax cap portion of the “big ugly” deal, about which many downstate Democrats of color are particularly upset.

With tenant advocates like Michael McKee accusing Gov. Andrew Cuomo of selling out on this agreement (oddly, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is so far not bearing the brunt of the blame), these lawmakers are huddling to determine whether or not they’ll be able to hold their collective nose and vote for the bill – whenever it gets printed and shows up on the floor of the respective legislative houses.

It could be a problem if the Democrats decide to vote against the bill – particularly in the Senate. (We’ve already seen the minority kill a rent extension once). But with the IDC members’ support, it’s likely the GOP won’t have any trouble this time because majority members are very bullish on the tax cap.

The problem here, however, appears to go much further than the rent laws. One caucus member told me the governor’s entire relationship with the black and brown communities is now “in question.”

“You know, this session in the view of many has been a disaster for the black community,” this lawmaker said. “No millionaire’s tax. Dramatic cuts in education and a weak renewal of the rent laws.”

“Our communities expected more under a Democratic governor and we failed to get it. The future of the relationship is uncertain…The question that a lot of people are asking is: What have our communities gotten under this governor. The answer to that question will shape the future of the relationship.”

The governor’s relationship with the black and Latino communities is something of a sore spot dating back to his ill-fated 2002 gubernatorial primary challenge of then-state Comptroller H. Carl McCall, New York’s first major party black candidate for governor. (Cuomo dropped out one week prior to the primary election, and McCall ended up losing to the Republican incumbent, Gov. George Pataki).

McCall ended up being one of Cuomo’s biggest supporters/surrogates during the 2010 campaign and even defended him when some questioned whether he would be able to challenge then-Gov. David Paterson, the state’s first black governor. (Paterson ended up dropping out of the race, so Cuomo was spared having to go through with that).

McCall also stepped up to defend Cuomo when he came under fire for the all-white statewide ticket in 2010. As you’ll recall, this issue came to a head at the Democratic convention in Rye when the news broke that Cuomo had picked then-Rochester Mayor Bob Duffy to be his LG running mate. The Rev. Al Sharpton complained vociferously, and Cuomo responded with a pledge to make his administration the most diverse in New York history.

Several months into the governor’s tenure, he found himself fending off questions from Latino lawmakers about the lack of high-level appointees from their community in his administration. Cuomo tapped Cesar Peralas to serve as state Secretary of State, timing the announcement of that selection to correspond with the annual Somos conference in Albany.