Lawsky Wins Senate Nod For Financial Services Department

Ben Lawsky, a veteran of the Andrew Cuomo’s attorney general office and gubernatorial office, won confirmation to lead — and by default shape — the new Department of Financial Services.

The agency combines the departments of Banking and Insurance as a regulatory agency, part of Cuomo’s plan to reorganize and “right-size” state government.

Lawsky, a New York City resident, most recently was Cuomo’s chief of staff.

“There is no one better suited to take on the task of leading this new department than Ben Lawsky,” Cuomo said in statement. “Ben’s deep understanding of complex markets, evolving financial products, and consumer protection uniquely enables him to safeguard investors while maintaining a vibrant marketplace in New York. Ben has been devoted to public service for his entire career and I am glad that he will continue to serve New Yorkers in this capacity.”

Lawsky’s job will probably be a daunting one. He’s being charged with forming the new agency as scrutiny increases on the business practices of Wall Street. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating the causes of the mortgage crisis.

Lawsky told me in an interview last week that he’s got to strike a balance between regulation and ensuring businesses can prosper in New York.

Skelos: ‘Three Way Agreeement’ On Cap, But…

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, said in a statement following the news conference today with the legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo that a three-way agreement had been achieved, but differences remain on a expiration date and “minor technical issues.”

“Almost four months ago the Senate passed the hard property tax cap legislation proposed by Governor Cuomo,” Skelos said. “Since then, Senate Republicans have advocated every day for the enactment of a strong property tax cap. Other than the sunset provision and minor technical issues, we have reached a three-way agreement on a bill that achieves our goals and includes 95 percent of the bill we already passed and will finally put the brakes on skyrocketing property taxes.”

Skelos said during the news conference that there was a “broad” agreement on the cap between his conference, the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Cuomo.

Earlier in the day, he suggested that linking the tax cap to rent control laws for New York City would remain up for negotiations, noting there’s three weeks left in the session.

Full release is after the jump: More >

Empire Center’s McMahon Likes What He Sees In Cap

It’s a little surprising to hear the Empire Center’s EJ McMahon actually praise a fiscal measure in Albany, but that’s what he’s doing today.

McMahon, the director of the business-backed think-tank, said the proposed cap by the Assembly contains few exclusions, even if the growth in pension costs above 2 percent is carved out of the measure.

“I think it’s a good deal, it’s a tax cap,” McMahon said.

He compared the proposal to what Massachusetts has in place for capping local and school property taxes, saying that while it might not be the toughest in the nation as suggested by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the proposal remains fairly tight.

“The way they constructed the partial exemptions for pensions is very limited,” he said. “The thing that concerned me is they would pass a piece of paper with the title tax cap and then say well, it’s better than nothing and it wouldn’t be. But the essential elements as I understand them in the draft that I’ve read, but the way the pension exclusions are constructed it’s very partial and it’s not an enormous loophole.”

Corwin Campaign: Impound Paper Ballots (Updated)

Not at all surprising, since the outcome of today’s special election in NY-26 could be very close indeed. I reported yesterday that there are about 6,400 paper ballots out, which includes military and overseas ballots and absentees.

UPDATE: The Buffalo News has a more in-depth report on this. Corwin’s campaign received a court order that prevents the race from being certified this evening. There will be a show-cause hearing on Thursday – at the earliest.

26th CD Impoundment Order

Cuomo: Sunset Date Main Sticking Point

In a Red Room news conference in the Capitol, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this afternoon that the main sticking point in finalizing a tax cap is setting an expiration date.

“We have an agreement on that cap, on the parameters,” Cuomo said.

No date has been set as a proposal, but under the provisions of the Assembly bill that Cuomo is now embracing, the cap’s expiration would be tied with extendning rent-control laws for New York City.

But that’s not exactly how Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, sees the issue.

When asked multiple times if there was a deal on the tax cap and to describe which aspects of the proposal the GOP conference supports, Skelos stuck to a one-line script.

“We will have a tax cap this year,” Skelos said.

Before the question-and-answer session with reporters, Skelos suggested this was a major step forward in getting a cap in place, calling it “a great day.”

Meanwhile, Cuomo also parsed the meaning of spokesman Josh Vlasto’s quote that a temporary cap would be a “non-starter.”

“Never said, sunset. Was it a temporary law would be a non-starter? Not the same thing,” Cuomo said.

Later Cuomo clarified his position, saying that he was opposed to a “temporary” meausure.

“If this was a temporary law, I would be against a temporary law. Temporary is we’re going to do it for one year, we’re going to do it for two years, we’re going to do it for three years. I would be against a temporary law. This is not a temporary law. This is a law, like rent regulations, which will come up for reevaluation, recalibration, on a periodic basis that makes sense like the rent regulation laws.

Higgins Lauds Hochul

Democrats and Republicans are already playing the expectation management game in NY-26, with both sides noting (perhaps the only thing they can actually agree on) that special elections are both unpredictable and volatile.

Republicans, including Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, are rejecting the suggestion – embraced by both the Democrats and the media, to varying extents – that the results of today’s election should be seen as a referendum on the House majority and, more specifically, the controversial Medicare overhaul proposal authored by Rep. Paul Ryan.

Many Democrats are saying that NY-26 will be a harbinger of what’s to come in 2012 when there will be a re-match for control of the House – with new district lines and President Obama’s re-election bid further complicating an already complex situation.

But Rep. Brian Higgins, who represents the neighboring NY-27, took a more balanced approach during a CapTon interview last night, suggesting a number of factors are actually at play today – not the least of which is the strength of the Democratic candidate, Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul, who has run a very good, albeit not flawless, campaign.

Higgins refused to take the bait when I asked if he’s worried he might end up having to face Hochul in a primary after the district lines are redrawn. (Recall that many people believe NY-26 might not even exist for much longer), saying redistricting is a concern for another day.

“I think like any election there are a number of variables,” Higgins said. “The Ryan plan is certainly one, the third party candidate on a Tea Party line is another.”

“But also, as I mentioned at the outset, the quality of the Democratic candidate. Kathy Hochul has an outstanding reputation both locally and statewide. She’s gone against governors in her own party. There was a proposal that people statewide get a new license and Kathy helped lead a statewide fight to make that voluntary, thus saving taxpayers in New York about $130 million.”

NYSUT Blasts Cap Proposal

The state United Teachers issued a scathing statement in response to the unveiling the Assembly’s proposed property tax cap proposal, saying it would “devastate” schools.

Taking a cue from Gov. Andrew Cuomo calling the cap the most stringent in the country, NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi said the cap would hurt poor and vulnernable students.

“New York would be devastated by the toughest cap in the nation at a time when its public schools have suffered three years of the toughest cuts to education,” said Iannuzzi in a statement. “There’s no question this strikes at the heart of the educational needs of the most vulnerable students, especially children of color and children who live in poverty.

The NYSUT response can’t be good for the Assembly. Both the union and rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers have been historic allies against a cap. NYSUT has always proposed a “circuity-breaker” solution to the cap, which would tie income to property taxes as an alternative.

However, earlier today, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the circuit-breaker fix isn’t completely dead and should remain under consideration.

Pataki Launches Anti-Obama Ads In NH

Former Gov. George Pataki, who has said he isn’t planning to mount another White House bid in 2012, nevertheless is sounding an awful lot like a potential candidate.

The New York Republican is using his newly created PAC, No American Debt, to launch an ad campaign in New Hampshire – home to the first presidential primary – and assailed President Obama during a speech in the Granite State, saying he “has the worst fiscal record of any President in the history of our country.”

Speaking to participants in an ECON 101 Town Hall Meeting sponsored by New England College in Henniker, NH, Pataki expressed disappointment that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels decided not to run next year and criticized the current GOP field, saying:

“Any Republican serious about being president needs to have a strong plan to deal with the debt. I thought Governor Daniels would’ve really added to the conversation.

“…“It’s not just the President. Whether it’s Newt, Mitt, or someone else every Republican who wants to be President has to have a serious plan to solve the debt.”

Remember: Pataki has kept his finger in the political game since he declined to seek a fourth term in 2006, opting instead to explore a never-realized presidential bid. He ran ads in key states in the 2010 cycle – including NH and others that play a significant early role in picking White House candidates – that called for repeal of so-called “Obamacare”.

The former governor used a different PAC, Revere America, to run his campaign against health care reform. He left Revere America back in February.

Here’s the text of the ad, which will run in NH through June 13 – the date of the GOP presidential debate.

(Pataki voiceover): Both parties got us here. Reckless spending. Record debt. When Barack Obama’s bipartisan Commission chartered a path, he ignored it. When Republicans offered a plan, he attacked it. His proposal? Raise taxes. And cut spending – somewhere, someday. That’s no plan. We must do better. Join us. You know we can do the right thing. Every generation of Americans has.”

Silver: Tax Cap And Rent, Unlinked No More (Video Added)

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said this afternoon that the issues of the tax cap and rent control for New York City are “inextricably” linked to each other.

The comments came as Silver introduced a measure that would cap property taxes at 2 percent, but exclude pensions. And the bill would expire at the same time rent control laws expire for New York City.

“We will join the two,” Silver said of passing a tax cap along with rent-control laws, which are due to expire on June 15. “These two are inextricably linked in terms of passage.”

He also called passing a cap without an expiration date a mistake.

“I think taking out the sunset would be a mistake,” Silver said. “We don’t, you know, we do hundreds of bills with sunsets. We’re never sure we’re doing the right thing. We always want the opportunity to review.”

He also said there’s no three-way deal between his chamber, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Republican-led Senate so far.

“I’m glad to hear today of his support for the proposal that we put forward,” Silver said of the governor.

Senate Republicans released a statement earlier saying they would review the legislation, but called its introduction a positive step.

CWA Endorses Same-Sex Marriage

The Communications Workers of America District 1 (CWA), the state’s largest telecommunications and media union, with more than 150,000 members, today added its voice to the chorus calling for the passage of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage before the 2011 legislative session ends next month.

“It’s time for New York State’s Legislature to pass marriage equality legislation,” said CWA VP Christopher Shelton. “We are one of the most diverse unions in the state, representing workers in telecommunications, government service, education and countless other fields.”

” While our members come from many different backgrounds, we are united in our belief that all loving and committed New Yorkers should be able to marry the person they love.”

CWA is a major player in the labor-backed Working Families Party. (I believe the union’s political director, Bob Master, is still a WFP co-chair).

The party, as you’ll recall, endorsed Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2010. The governor accepted the party’s nod and ballot line only after it was cleared of wrongdoing in the US attorney’s probe involving its for-profit arm, Data & Field Services, and its leaders signed on on his fiscally conservative “New New York Agenda”.

CWA is just the latest in a list of unions that has come out for marriage. Tomorrow, there will be a labor event for marriage equality at 10 a.m. on the steps of City Hall in Lower Manhattan.

AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes will kick off the press conference with RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum, (who is openly gay and just came out in 2009), UFT President Michael Mulgrew, Teamsters Local 237 President Gregory Floyd, and affiliates of the NYC Central Labor Council.

The labor leaders will be joined by ESPA Executive Director Ross Levi and former Miss America and AFTRA Eastern Regional Vice President Kate Shindle.