Flanagan ‘Surprised’ By Lazio’s County Exec Trial Balloon

CapTon’s Nick Reisman caught up with Sen. John Flanagan today to get his reaction to Rick Brand’s report that former Rep./2010 gubernatorial contender Rick Lazio is considering a run for Suffolk County executive now that incumbent Steve Levy has been forced to the sidelines.

Flanagan, who is considered a frontrunner for the GOP nod, but has not yet announced his intentions, said he was “as surprised as a bunch of people” to learn of Lazio’s potential interest in the job, but tried to put a more-the-merrier sping on things.

The senator said he considers Lazio a viable candidate and confirmed that he’s indeed still mulling the race himself. Candidate screenings are scheduled to start this week.

So far, Suffolk County Treasurer Angie Carpenter is the lone announced GOP contender. (The Suffolk County GOP was the first to endorse Lazio’s gubernatorial bid, but then jumped ship to join state GOP Chairman Ed Cox in backing Levy, leaving some bad blood between the county committee and the ex-congressman).

Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone is considered the likely Democratic candidate. He has been fundraising for some time now, and is expected to announce his candidacy April 27.

Libous: Sorry, But They Aren’t Linked

As Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver today reiterated the semi-linkage of the property-tax cap to rent control laws, Deputy Senate Majority Leader threw some cold water on the idea that the two issues are related.

“I don’t think, and I’ll say this again, I know the speaker has said time and time again that they’re related or they’re linked together,” Libous said. “I don’t think they’re linked at all.”

In way, however, the two issues have become linked.

The Democratic-led Assembly is unlikely to take up the 2 percent cap on property taxes, which was proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and approved by the Senate.

At the same time, the Assembly is now passing a bill that enhances rent regulations for New York City, as well as re-approving rent control through 2016 — which the Senate probably won’t take up in its current form.

Libous said his Senate conference was yet to put together a rent control bill.

“We don’t have a bill now, obviously. We’re going to see where this takes us,” he said. “We knew the Assembly was going to come out with some sort of rent expansion bill, but we’ll see where this takes us.”

Silver: No Linking Tax Cap, Rent ‘Per Se’

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver this afternoon said a cap on property taxes and linking rent regulations were not linked but suggested that a 2 percent cap as proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo wasn’t too low of a ceiling.

Silver, asked at the end of the news conference if he felt the cap as proposed by Cuomo was too low, said it was not.

“I don’t think 2 percent is too low,” Silver said.

The Democratic-led Assembly is expected to vote on and pass a host of rent regulation expansions, measures the GOP-controlled Senate likely won’t support.

Senate Republicans have said they support re-approving rent control laws, due expire June 15. Unlike rent control, there’s no expiration date for the tax cap and, as a result, no real sense of urgency to pass the 2 percent cap in the Assembly as the Republicans in the Senate did on Jan. 31.

It is highly unlikely the 2 percent cap without exemptions (dubbed a “hard cap” by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos) would pass in the Assembly, where Democratic lawmakers fear the effect the cap would have on school districts. Republicans have said they would not compromise on the cap by either raising the ceiling or including more exemptions.

Silver, at the news conference, also fell back on the familiar line that the tax cap and rent control laws are related philosophically because they keep peoples’ homes affordable.

“There’s no linkage per se,” Silver said at a news conference unveiling an expansion of rent regulations. “But those who would argue we need rent regulations, we need the property tax cap, they’re both about keeping in their homes.”

Schumer Urges Caution On Debt Reduction

Sen. Chuck Schumer weighed in on the next big battle looming in Washington, D.C. – reducing the nation’s ever-growing debt.

“Let me say this: I think to say you’re not going to pay the nation’s debt is playing with fire,” Schumer said during a swing through Buffalo this afternoon.

“That could risk a recession or depression. Because if the credit markets say they’re no longer going to buy US bonds, or they raise the interest rate dramatically to buy them because they don’t think we’re going to pay back our bonds, it could create big, big trouble.”

“So I would urge both parties and all sides: Come together now on a long-term agreement, but don’t threaten you’re not going to pay the debt. That’s like a family saying: I’m not going to pay the debts that I inucrred.”

President Obama is poised to deliver a speech on debt Wednesday.

On the 11th-hour budget deal, Schumer said he wanted to make sure there’s “shared sacrifice,” so the middle class doesn’t bear the brunt of spending cuts, adding: “That’s what we tried to do in this.”

Some of his colleagues in the lower house – including Rep. Paul Tonko – disagree. The Capital Region Democrat said on Fox News that “trillions” are being cut from the middle class.

Rochester’s New Mayor, Officially

Rochester Mayor Thomas S. Richards signed his oath of office today, which means he is now officially the successor to former mayor-turned-LG Bob Duffy.

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Richards briefly held this post once before. He was elevated from corporation counsel to acting mayor after Duffy’s depature and swearing in to his state-level position until mid-January when he resigned amid questions about whether his candidacy in the pending special election would violate the Hatch Act.

Thanks to that move by Richards, Rochester ended up having three mayors in as many weeks. He subsequently won the March 29 special election and got right down to business, which included, naturally, an appearance on CapTon.

Richards is show in this photo distributed by his office with Maria Oliver, secretary to the Director of Communications/Notary Public and City Council President Lovely A. Warren.

According to a press release, Richards is Rochester’s fourth elected mayor since the city transitioned to a strong mayor form of government in 1986.

The city will conduct an inauguration ceremony celebrating Richards’ swearing-in on Friday at City Hall. The public is invited to attend the event, which will take place at noon, April 15, in the City Council Chambers, 30 Church St.

Most Of IDC Supports Team Onion, Valesky On The Fence

Senators Jeff Klein and Diane Savino are standing by their conference colleague and “Team Onion” Captain, David Carlucci, in the battle to choose the state’s official vegetable.

Without hesitation, Sen. Savino (D-Staten Island) shouted, “onion” when asked if the entire Independent Democratic Conference had taken a unified position on the issue. She went on to point out that sweet corn, the onion’s main competitor in this contest, is technically a grain and, “you can’t cook italian food without onions.”

Sen. David Valesky (D-Oneida) chose not to take a position. Due to soil conditions, champions of sweet corn typically hail from the Western New York while onion advocates reside in the Hudson Valley.

It’s possible Valesky is trying to remain geographically neutral as to not offend vegetable enthusiasts from either end of the state.

Spinola: CSNY’s Effort ‘Not Over’

ICYM last Friday’s CapTon, REBNY’s Steve Spinola told me the pro-Cuomo Committee to Save New York has “more than half” of the cash it raised for the budget-battle-that-wasn’t and plans to spend it to support the governor’s post-budget agenda – at least the parts with which its members agree.

“We’re not going away,” Spinola said. “We’re running some ads right now and we’re prepared to run additional ads between now and June.”

CSNY, which aimed to raise about $10 million to help the governor, is very keep to see the passage of a property tax cap and mandate relief. It also will seek to block any post-budget efforts by the Assembly Democrats et al to revive the so-called millionaire’s tax.

Spinola confirmed the committee will NOT be advertising on the issue of rent control, which the governor wants to strengthen and extender past its June 15 expiration date.

REBNY, along with other members of the business community, has accepted that the rent control laws will continue to exist, but differs with Cuomo on the strengthening question.

IDC Wants Independent Audit Of MTA

The Independent Democratic Conference is calling for an outside audit of Metropolitan Transportation Authority with the hope it will shine some light on whether the deeply unpopular commuter tax should be repealed.

“There’s a reason to look toward cutting or repealing the MTA payroll tax,” Sen. Jeff Klein said.

“But I think the only effective way we can look at the MTA payroll tax and really look at it seriously, but I think the first step to repealing it is by taking a hard look at the payroll tax.”

Sen. David Carlucci, a Rockland County Democrat, who is sponsoring the measure, said an audit would “tame the MTA.”

“It seems like whatever happens, there is never enough money,” he said. “The amount we’re paying in taxes is far outweighed in terms of services they we’re receiving.”

The measure, which does not have an Assembly version, would seek an outside auditing firm to open the books of the MTA, which the conference charges has been subject to “questionable accounting practices. \

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Mr. Fix-It

Newsweek is running an on-line feature on advice from 20 experts on how to fix “broken” governments, which includes everyone from Mayor Bloomberg (who thinks LIFO repeal is the next big thing) to DN owner/publisher Mort Zuckerman to ex-Obama administration Budget Director Peter Orszag.

And clocking in at No. 11: David Paterson, former governor of the great state of New York. His proposal to save government: “Real pension accounting. ”

“Controversial accounting standards have allowed state pension funds to appear more solvent than they are,” Paterson argues. “The effect: delaying the day of reckoning, making state fiscal crises much worse than needed.”

“The blame should not be put on public workers: we should not treat the product of a lifetime of work as partisan jujitsu. Congress can solve this problem by prohibiting states from estimating pension growth beyond the last three years of actual pension growth or state revenue growth.”

“Overestimating returns, which has landed 48 states in huge deficits, would then cease.”

If I remember correctly, GOP state comptroller contender Harry Wilson argued that the pension numbers being presented by his Democratic opponent, incumbent Tom DiNapoli, were overly optimistic.

DiNapoli refuted that…and he also won in a squeaker last fall.

Tonko: Budget Taking ‘Trillions’ From Middle Class

U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, a Democrat from the Albany area, said on Fox News today that the federal government’s spending cuts have come out of the middle class.

Tonko, a former assemblyman and chief of NYSERDA, said entitlement programs should be reduced, particularly in areas of fraud.

“Of course we’re always looking for efficiencies and cut waste and abuse. But suffice it to say if we’re taking trillions from the middle class, you’ve cut spending, but it’s coming out of the hide of the middle class.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta of New Hampshire, said the country can’t afford to continue spending at a rate that keeps in heavily in the red, adding: “This is about reducing the debt deficit. No one in country believes a $1.6 trillion deficit is good public policy.”

Here’s the exchange: