AQE: ‘Unequal Opportunity = Unequal Results’

The Alliance for Quality Education is laying the groundwork to fight the education aid cuts expected on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget, arguing a significant reduction in funding will worsen the existing divide between wealthy and low-income school districts.

“Governor Cuomo has warned that he plans to make large cuts to education,” the report states. This is on top of $1.4 billion cuts last year – the largest cuts in the history of the New York State.”

“Will large cuts two years in a row improve our schools or undermine schools that are succeeding and increase educational inequity?”

In a (not so, apparently) unusual development, the AQE has teamed up with NYSUT in the impending battle over public school aid.

The well-funded statewide union is providing the school advocacy group with $425,000 over the next four months to pay for staff in several counties across New York – many of which are represented by marginal senators.

The cash will also pay for mailers, rallies, door-to-door campaigns and phone banks to pressure lawmakers to reject Cuomo’s cuts.

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NRA Lobbyist Slams Gun Control, Calls Senate GOP ‘Firewall For Freedom’

The NRA’s top federal lobbyist, Chuck Cunningham, minced no words in attacking two New York lawmakers who have proposed gun control measures in the wake of the Tucson tragedy – Reps. Pete King (a Republican) and Carolyn McCarthy (a Democrat) and Mayor Bloomberg – while praising the Senate GOP for blocking bills to restrict access to firearms.

Cunningham, who will be delivering the keynote speech later today at the 2011 Sportsmen and Outdoor Recreation Legislative Awareness Day, reiterated the NRA’s key platform: Guns aren’t the problem, but the people who own them can be, adding: “We don’t want criminals or crazy people to own guns.”

To that end, Cunningham maintained, the NRA has supported efforts to improve background checks and keep weapons out of the hands of people who intend to use them for something other than hunting or personal protection, while at the same time fighting hard to block measures that would be it harder for law-abiding people to purchase guns.

Cunningham belittled McCarthy, the Long Island congresswoman whose husband was killed and son seriously injured in the LIRR shooting. McCarthy has introduced a bill to ban high-capacity magazines of the type used by the LIRR shooter, Colin Ferguson and the Arizona shooter, Jared Loughner.

He also took a shot at Bloomberg, for whom gun control is a signature focus. The mayor called on President Obama to focus on gun control in tonight’s State of the Union address.

“Our opponents have, you know, become so unpopular and gun control has become so unpopular that very few people other than (McCarthy) will appear in public with the Brady Bunch,” Cunningham told the Post’s Fred Dicker on TALK 1300 AM WGDJ-AM.

“…(Bloomberg) has plenty of money to spend and a lot of snow to shovel and apparently he had a problem in Manhattan with that.”

Cunningham called King’s call to make it a federal crime to carry guns within 1,000 feet of federal elected officials and judges “silly,” adding:

“As if crazy people and criminals are suddenly going to stay outside the 1,000-foot perimeter….there’s still laughter in D.C. over that one.”

Cunnginham called the Senate GOP a “firewall for freedom” that has prevented gun control bills (like, say, the microstamping measure championed by Bloomberg) from becoming law in New York.

Political Gunplay

The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association’s annual so-called “legislative awareness day” (really, a PC version of a lobby day) takes place at the Capitol today amid a renewed call for more stringent gun control laws in the wake of the Tucson tragedy.

This issue is also playing out on the national stage. Advocates, including Mayor Bloomberg, who was joined yesterday by the family members of 34 shooting victims, are calling for President Obama to make gun control a focus of his State of the Union speech tonight.

The president does not seem inclined to heed that call. He’s reportedly planning a broad-brush speech that shies away from specific policy pronouncements and instead focuses on big picture themes of the economy and bipartisanship with an eye toward his own re-election effort in 2012.

Overall, it appears there’s little appetite either in Washington, D.C. or Albany for revisiting the gun control laws, but the Arizona shooting has heightened the sensitivity surrounding this already highly charged topic.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb is insisting the second-annual 2011 “Sportsmen and Outdoor Recreation Legislative Awareness Day” isn’t focused on guns, even though the keynote address will be delivered by Chuck Cunningham, director of political affairs for the National Rifle Association.

Kolb’s press release described Cunnginham as a “leading voice in the conservative movement,” noting he has also worked at both the Christian Coalition and the National Right to Work Committee.

“Chuck Cunningham is a public policy expert who has dedicated his life to defending our Constitutional freedoms,” said Kolb, who is a member of the NRA, NYSPRA, the Shooters’ Committee on Political Education and Safari Club International.

“I’m proud to have him join us for this year’s must-attend event.”

On the other side of this issue in Albany is Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, a Long Island Democrat, who released a statement saying she hopes today’s gun lobby day will “focus on advancing sensible legislation that will keep the public safe by preventing guns from getting into the hands of the mentally ill, criminals, and terrorists.”

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Here And Now

President Obama will focus on the so-called “muddle-through” economy in his State of the Union address and also issue a call for bipartisanship to the divided Congress.

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, will deliver the GOP response.

The US Supreme Court justices are trying to decide whether to attend tonight’s speech.

House Republicans will push for a spending cut to 2008 levels, which would be devastating to NYC.

Mayor Bloomberg and the family members of 34 shooting victims urged Obama to talk about gun control in the SOTU.

The Post is unmoved.

Today’s Sportsmen and Outdoor Recreation Legislative Awareness Day will not focus on guns, according to Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, although the keynote speaker is the NRA’s political director.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has a buildup of fluid on her brain – a potentially dangerous condition.

The tax cap battle rages on at the Capitol.

Steve Kornacki thinks Rudy Giuliani’s latest flirtation with a presidential run ” indicate either a streak of profound cynicism or a complete and perhaps final detachment from reality.”

NYC’s first chief digital officer is 27 years old and will earn $115,000 a year.

The Christmas weekend blizzard cost the MTA $30 million it can ill-afford.

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Alesi Bows To Pressure, Drops Suit

Well, that didn’t take long.

After widespread criticism from both fellow Republicans and Democrats, Sen. Jim Alesi has decided to drop the lawsuit he filed against a couple on whose property he trespassed three years ago, severely breaking his leg in the process.

“Recently, I filed a personal injury lawsuit for injuries I sustained on a home construction site nearly three years ago,” the senator said in a statement sent from his Senate office this evening.

“I filed the suit without regard to the anxiety that it would cause the homeowners, the builders or the community where we live, and I’m sorry for that.”

“With that in mind, I’ve decided to withdraw the lawsuit and hopefully move on and do the job I was elected to do.”

Considering the storm this has sparked, I’d hazard a guess that the damage is done here, regardless of the senator’s change of heart. He might have a tough time winning re-election in 2012, assuming he runs at all.

Cuomo Nixes Circuit Breaker

Gov. Andrew Cuomo put the kibosh on the Senate Democrats’ proposed property tax cap circuit breaker, which has also been endorsed by a number of taxpayer advocacy groups.

“A circuit breaker is a different purpose, a legitimate purpose, but it is just different from a property tax cap across the board,” Cuomo told reporters this afternoon.

“I believe the state needs a property tax cap. I believe in fiscal discipline for the local governments. And I believe that applies to all taxpayers. Regardless of income. I believe taxes are too high in New York, and we are chasing people from their homes, all across the board.”

“…The rate of spending is unsustainable, it is just a fact,” the governor added later. “You look at the rate of increase and you can’t sustain it. Either on the state level or the local level.”

“(A) circuit breaker would say you can’t sustain it for some people. I say: No, you can’t sustain it for any people. Any people. And that is why I am for an overall property tax cap as opposed to a circuit breaker. Also, I think it is a powerful statement for this state to make.”

Cuomo also talked a bit about the “dramatic” ethics reform he’s working on with legislative leaders, although he didn’t offer much in the way of details on that, other than to say: “Is dramatic reform hard to accept and hard to pass? Yes. And we are working through it.”

The governor said he doesn’t think there will be any “surprises” in his budget, but did reveal that it is “not going to be just about the numbers.”

“It’s about the point in time,” Cuomo said. “It’s about where we are, and I believe this is a point in time where we have to change – fundamentally – our behavior.”

Extras

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is keeping on MTA Chairman Jay Walder and Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward.

Rahm Emanuel will appeal a judge’s residency ruling that is blocking him from running for mayor of Chicago.

Bloomberg hired NYC’s first “chief digital officer,” Rachel Sterne, who has a report due in 90 days.

Former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is the new chairman of Education Reform Now’s board.

Newsflash: Mayor Bloomberg isn’t fully in touch with what it’s like to be poor.

Rep. Nan Hayworth to business laders: “Government doesn’t create jobs, you do.”

Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani is a nervous Yankee fan.

ArtVoice found “strange doings” in former Sen. Antoine Thompson’s campaign account.

Sen. Greg Ball will livestream the first Veterans Committee meeting he’s chairing tomorrow at 1:30 p.m.

Brady Center VP Dennis Henigan hopes the president “makes history” on gun control in the SotU.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino might get sued.

Cuomo has a fan in GOP Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer.

Close Clinton friend Gov. Ed Rendell doesn’t think Hillary Clinton is really as done with politics as she claims.

Rasmussen shows Mitt Romney leading Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is starting the 2012 cycle as one of the Democrats’ safest incumbents. GOP consultant Ryan Moses said any challenger needs to get in the race ASAP.

Bloomberg’s whereabouts during the Christmas weekend blizzard made news in Bermuda.

Musical Chairs (UPDATED)

Embedded below you’ll find a seating chart proposed by Senate Minority Leader John Sampson for his Democratic conference, which the Democrats’ counsel, Shelley Mayer, sent to Secretary of the Senate Frank Patience last Friday.

This is not how the chairs were arranged when senators arrived in the chamber for session this afternoon. Why? Well, as Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif told me: “The Independent Democrats requested that they be seated together. We accommodated their request.”

This sparked a mini pissing match between the majority and minority, led mostly by Sen. Tom Libous and Sen. Dan Squadron, and won by the GOP, thanks to a ruling by (Democratic) LG Bob Duffy, who was presiding.

The trouble started when Sen. Eric Adams played the race/sex card, suggesting Sens. Suzi Oppenheimer and Ruth Hassell-Thompson had been someone dissed by being bumped from their seats and denied resources because they’re female and/or black.

Libous promptly got his back up, saying any suggestion that there has been discrimination involved in the transition moving the Democrats out of the majority and the Republicans back in is “an insult.”

“We have organized the office move the best way we know how, very similar to the way it was done two years ago,” Libous said. “…We’ve given you more space that you gave us. We gave you additional offices on the ninth floor.”

“…I have to stand here with my colleagues and listen to you degrade our leader and degrade us for not being fair with racial overtones? Never sir, never. I resent the racist remarks. No one on this side of the aisle represents those remarks at all. I am hurt by that.”

There was a point of order on the floor submitted by Sen. Neil Breslin, the deputy minority leader who deposed Independent Democratic Conference ringleader Sen. Jeff Klein.

Breslin said the purpose was to get the minority and majority leaders to “rise above petty politics and get together” to determine things like seating, committee assignments and resource allocations.

This all stems from a series of letters exchanged over the past several weeks by Sampson and Majority Leader Dean Skelos (who I don’t believe was in the chamber for this fight) over who has control of and/or responsibility for the four IDC members. Click here, here and here to read the correspondence.

In the end, Duffy sided with the Republicans, who argued that the Senate rules afford them the power to control the chamber – including when it comes to determining who sits where. Squadron appealed the ruling, but to no avail.

As soon as the fight was over, the Senate adjourned until tomorrow afternoon. No substantive issues were addressed.

UPDATE: Here’s video from today’s session. It starts with Sen. Neil Breslin at about the 41-minute mark.

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Cuomo’s Health Commish Sails Through Senate

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s health commissioner pick, Dr. Nirav R. Shah, was unanimously approved by the state Senate today, making him the first confirmed agency head of the new administration.

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The remarks on the Senate floor – from both Republicans and Democrats – were overwhelmingly positive. Glowing even. He was, according to CapCon’s Rick Karlin, lightly grilled earlier today by members of the Senate Health Committee, although they unanimously recommended his confirmation.

While acknowledging that Shah undoubtedly has his work cut out for him, with a sizable chunk of the $10 billion worth of spending cuts anticipated in Cuomo’s budget likely to come from the hides of Medicaid and education aid, the senators lauded the 38-year-old Buffalo native for his impressive resume and familiarity with upstate.

Shah, who was seated with his family in the Senate gallery, received a standing ovation following his confirmation by voice vote. He was very smiley – we’ll see how he looks when the executive budget comes out on Feb. 1.

The new health commissioner is a Battery Park City resident who is currently attending physician at Bellevue Hospital Center, associate investigator at the Geisinger Center for Health Research and assistant professor of Medicine in the Section of Value & Comparative Effectiveness at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Shah replaces Dr. Richard Daines, who served as DOH commissioner during the Spitzer and Paterson administrations.

Sampson’s McMillan Moment

Failed gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillan and his signature “rent is too damn high” tagline continues to reverberate through NY politics.

Here’s footage of the Senate Democrats’ post-property tax relief press conference Q-and-A with reporters. Look for Senate Minority Leader John Sampson saying that property taxes in NY are “too damn high.”