Breslin: My Brother’s Retiring, Not Me

Albany County Executive Michael Breslin may be stepping down, but his brother Sen. Neil Breslin says he isn’t going anywhere.

“I’ve never been more excited to run again. I look forward to getting back in the majority and look forward to running again and campaigning again,” Breslin told me this afternoon.

And he’s got no interest in seeking his brother’s job.

“I did see a mention of that, I have no interest in running for county executive,” Breslin said.

The lawmaker faced a difficult re-election campaign last year in an anti-incumbent season.

After facing a spirited challenge from Luke Martland, he was pulled over by State Police, but not charged after passing a sobriety test. He went on to win the general election in November by a wide margin. Update: A reader, I think correctly, points out that Breslin won re-election by a 54-40 percent margin, which is not exactly a wide margin for a Democratic incumbent.

‘Good-Faith Negotiations’ Needed To Pass Tax Cap, Cuomo Says

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a tacit, albeit somewhat non-committal endorsement of negotiations for tax cap.

“We must pass a real, meaningful property tax cap for the people of the State of New York. I understand that it takes a good faith negotiations to get that done in a democratic process.”

Recall that Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is worried any negotiations on the proposal between the governor and the Assembly would result in a “watered down” version of the governor’s own proposed 2 percent cap. He reiterated that concern today at a news conference calling on the Assembly to approve the governor’s cap.

Cuomo has said previously that negotiations are needed to get the cap in place.

DeFran: Maybe Silver Should Ask Silver About Tax Cap

After today’s news conference became slightly unruly as Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and others repeated several times that the Senate passed the governor’s property tax cap back in January, Finance Chairman John DeFrancisco jumped in to explain who he thinks is really to blame for stalled progress on the bill.

“The governor wrote the bill that the senate passed,” said Sen. DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse).

“The sponsor of the identical bill is the Speaker of the Assembly. Who’s not going to negotiate with whom? I would think that the Assembly Speaker would talk to the Assembly sponsor, maybe while he’s shaving, and say ‘I want to support your bill’ because we’re one in the same.”

Cuomo Vetoes Phantom Member Items (Updated)

A reader flagged the fact that Gov. Andrew Cuomo quietly signed 22 line-item vetoes of the budget deal he struck with the Legislature earlier this month.

A Budget Division spokesman confirmed the vetoes, informing me that 16 of them are for “reappropriated member items that didn’t actually exist” worth some $6.7 million.

Curious. Here’s how I understand this: The 2011-2012 budget deal did not include any new member items, but did contain about $136 million worth of pork-barrel spending that was appropriated in years past but hasn’t yet gone out the door.

Last year, as you’ll recall, Gov. David Paterson vetoed about 6,900 worth of member item grants – painstakingly putting his signature to each and every one. Somehow, 16 of those vetoed member items found their way into the budget bills passed by the Legislature just shy of the April 1 deadline.

As a rule, the governor does not include member items in his executive budget proposal. Instead, it falls to the Legislature to add them in. So, does the administration think state lawmakers were trying to slip something by them here?

No, I was told. This was characterized to me as “fairly inconsequential technical clean-up items” that had to be vetoed because “nothing existed to be reappropriated.” Make of that what you will.

UPDATE: Apparently, not all of those vetoes were benign. I just received a press release from legal services and housing counseling providers decrying the governor’s nixing of $1.5 million to fund foreclosure prevention services.

According to this release, the money “was put in the budget by the Assembly Majority in a last ditch effort to keep the program alive through the end of the state fiscal year.” Note of irony: Cuomo has a long-standing background as a housing advocate and also served as HUD secretary in the Clinton administration.

Veto 1-22

Senate GOP: Did You Hear They Passed The Tax Cap? (VIDEO ADDED)

Senate and Assembly Republicans held a news conference this afternoon to reiterate — multiple times to the point of ad nauseum — they did, indeed pass Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2 percent cap on property taxes.

In fact, the repetition of that fact — the Senate approved Cuomo’s bill on Jan. 31 — occurred even on answers to questions about whether mandate relief should be included in the final passage of the cap.

Skelos, as he has said before, said he does not want to negotiate the cap, fearing it would be watered down.

“If it waters down the bill, no,” he responded to a question about negotiating a bill with Cuomo and the Assembly.

“We passed it, and we believe and hope the Assembly will pass it,” Skelos added.

Asked if mandate relief should be paired with the tax cap, of it it should at least come first, Skelos responded: “Let me just reiterate on Jan. 31 the Senate passed the property tax cap, the governor’s program bill. We are sticking with the governor.”

Republicans also unveiled an online petition urging the Assembly to take up the measure. Assembly Minority Leader attempted to push through the tax cap by adding it to the rent regulation expansion that passed the chamber on Monday, but the amendment failed.

The news conference included a collection of business lobbyists who said the ball was firmly in the court of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan.

“It needs to be put out on the floor, it needs to get it there for an up or down vote,” said Brian Sampson, the executive director of the pro-business Unshackle Upstate.

Skelos and his 32-member majority have come under increasing pressure to negotiate the cap in light of a story in Newsday quoting Suffolk County Republican Sen. John Flanagan, who said a cap may not clear this year because of a lack of mandate relief.

It is unlikely that a cap as proposed by Cuomo would be able to pass this year in the Assembly. Cuomo himself has said he would be willing to negotiate a cap.

Lawmakers Plan Nuke Safety Meeting (Updated)

Sens. David Carlucci, a Hudson Valley Democrat, along with Republicans Greg Ball and George Maziarz (a WNYer who chairs the Energy Committee), plan to hold a hearing Thursday in Stony Point to discuss contingency plans in the event of a nuclear crisis.

“The Indian Point nuclear power plant, which sits within two miles of two intersecting fault lines has the highest risk of an earthquake causing its reactors core damage in the United States,” Carlucci said in a statement.

“To ensure the safety of the 20 million people who live within the 50-mile peak injury zone, Senator Maziarz, Senator Ball and I will be holding a hearing focused on detailing plans and precautions in the event of a natural disaster.”

UPDATE: We’ve just learned that the hearing has been postponed to May 12 due to “scheduling conflicts” on some speakers. Carlucci said the date was delayed so the trio could “provide ample time for the agencies around the state who are responsible for our safety to be able to attend.”

The disaster in Japan has revived talk in New York about the safety of Indian Point, located in Westchester County along the Hudson River. New York has several other facilities in the Rochester region.

But it is Indian Point and its proximity to New York City that has heightened the concern. Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington to discuss safety at the plant with federal officials and secure a plan to have top regulators visit the plant later this year.

Evacuating the area around Indian Point has been deemed a near impossibility in the event of a major catastrophe and meltdown. However, the plants owners, Entergy, have insisted the plant remains well-guarded in the event of a disaster.

Top Silver Aide Fuleihan Departing

Dean Fuleihan, a 33-year veteran of the Assembly who has served as Sheldon Silver’s right-hand man – if not an outright extension of his brain – for the entire duration of his speakership (which started in 1994), is departing his post at the end of the month, multiple sources confirm.

A formal announcement will be made by the speaker at the Assembly Democrats’ closed-door conference later today. Fuleihan is not leaving for another job. But he’s also not retiring and is considering a number of options, I’m told.

He’ll likely keep his hand in government, but is not yet sure about his next move.

Silver will also be announcing internal shuffling to fill the considerable gap that Fuleihan will leave behind. The new team – and there will be more than one person stepping up to take over Fuleihan’s duties – will include the elevation of Matt Howard, who has helped Fuleihan with budget negotiations over the past decade.

I can’t really overstate the significance of this. The news will undoubtedly send shockwaves through the Capitol. (Actually, that has already started as word of Fuleihan’s imminent last day is starting to leak out).

For as long as I have covered Albany, there was Dean and there was Shelly. The concept of the Assembly majority without Fuleihan is going to take some getting used to.

Fuleihan started working for the Assembly back in 1978 under then-Speaker Stanley Steingut. Fueled on endless cups of coffee and the ability to function at high levels on very little sleep, he has been the Assembly Democrats’ point man in every budget negotiation I can remember, and I’ve been covering the Capitol on and off since about 2000.

More >

Corwin Talks Debt In New Ad

Republican Congressional Candidate Jane Corwin has a new ad out positioning herself as the candidate who is serious about dealing with debt and deficit. It’s obviously trying to play off of the current debate under way in Washington.

This is Corwin’s fourth ad. Two of the first 3 focused on issues, while one of her ads attacked her main rival Democratic Kathy Hochul as a puppet of Nancy Pelosi.

Hochul fired back in an ad, suggesting that Corwin was mud-slinging Albany politician.

DiNapoli: More Than 100 Schools Seek Reserve Fund Use

On the heels of deep budget cuts for local education aid, 101 school districts around the state are asking Comptroller Tom DiNapoli permission to dip into their Employee Benefits Accrued Liability Reserve funds in order to offset.

“School districts are unable to use EBALR funds until my office certified the surplus amount,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “We moved quickly to help those districts that plan to use these funds to save jobs and maintain educational programs.”

The districts have a total of $147.8 million in their EBALR funds.

The fund is money set aside for accrued vacation and sick time that goes unused.

The districts are taking the advice of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was able to cut $1.2 billion in education aid for school districts in order to close a $10 billion. The governor wanted school districts to cut overhead, pay for administrators and dip into reserve accounts.

DiNapoli said that despite using the reserves, districts are still in a difficult situation.

“Even with the use of these funds, school districts still have painful choices. And using up reserves now could put school districts in a precarious position next year. School districts without enough excess EBALR funds must now rely on their undesignated fund balances, tax increases or budget cuts to fill the hole left by state aid cuts. I have directed my auditors to continue to help school districts get their finances in order and to look for cost savings to help district officials deal with these difficult times.”

Steiner Sets Waiver Review Process For Walcott

As NYC Schools Chancellor-in-waiting Dennis Walcott is making the rounds in Albany today, state Education Commissioner David Steiner announced the screening panel that will consider the waiver Walcott requires to formally do the job.

The nine member panel will meet April 13 to consider Mayor Bloomberg’s formal request for Walcott’s waiver.

Education Law allows the commissioner to grant an exception or waiver to the precise preparation and experience required by law for a superintendent’s certificate.

Specifically, the commissioner is empowered to grant a waiver to an “exceptionally qualified” candidate who does not meet all the graduate course or teaching requirements in law if he finds that the candidate has “exceptional training and experience” which are the “substantial equivalent” of such requirements.

Steiner’s decision to grant a waiver to Walcott’s predecessor, Cathie Black, was controversial and done only on the condition that a No. 2 be appointed who had academic experience.

(That No. 2, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, will be staying on the the Walcott era).

Even the make-up of the panel that considered her waiver application was questioned and Steiner’s decision was challenged – and upheld – in court.

Unlike Black, a magazine publishing executive with zero education experience, Walcott has a master’s degree in education and social work and also some teaching experience (he taught kindergarten in Queens for two years).

Bloomberg has said he expects this waiver will be granted in due course and without much fuss. Steiner, whose departure was announced the same day Bloomberg axed Black, did not set a timeline for the consideration of Walcott’s waiver, but said he is “mindful of the need for prompt action.”