Dems To Libous: We Gotta Come Back

Senate Democrats are taking issue with Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous’s reluctance to return to Albany.

Libous, R-Binghamton, told Gannett earlier today that he didn’t see a need to immediately convene the Legislature, unless Majority Leader Dean Skelos or Gov. Andrew Cuomo say otherwise.

But Democrats point to the need to create a health-care exchange in order to receive federal funding, part of the health care overhaul signed into law in 2009. Republican lawmakers have grumbled that the exchange is a step toward helping enact “Obamacare” — using the parlance conservative activists.

Meanwhile, Democrats are also holding out hope for the creation of independent commission for legislative redistricting, but lawmakers running that process have said there isn’t enough time to develop a non-partisan panel in time for next year.

Here’s a statement from Democratic spokesman Michael Murphy:

Despite what some will have you believe our work is not done. Most New Yorkers would agree that there is still a lot to be accomplished before we pat ourselves on the back, whether its ensuring New York gets its fair share in federal health care funding or that we implement independent redistricting, something over 76% of New Yorkers want.

Lawmakers Begin Port Authority Pile On (Updated)

Lawmakers are not reacting well to the news broken late yesterday that Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie are backing a toll hike for Port Authority bridges and tunnels.

Though the toll increases are smaller than the steep raises the authority’s leadership initially called for, the episode has once again put the financially troubled PA in an unflaterring light.

Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island, quickly introduced a bill that would require the Port Authority to hold two hearings in the counties impacted by the proposed toll increase.

Meanwhile, Sen. David Carlucci, a Rockland County Democrat, said in a statement that increasing tolls would be “crippling” to families.

“At a time when New York families are really struggling financially, a toll hike on the bridges that residents of Rockland and Orange counties use every day to commute to work is crippling, he said. “Residents of my district who commute to the city daily for work will now be forced to pay an additional $450.00 dollars a year to cross the George Washington Bridge. That means the average commuter from my district is paying
$2,850 a year to get to work. Much like the job killing MTA payroll tax, this additional burden on New Yorkers is literally driving people and businesses out of New York State.

He added that a “bright spot” was Cuomo and Christie pushing for an audit of the PA’s finances in order to determine how the authority was brought to this point.

Earlier Thursday, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Charles Fuschillo of Long Island issued a statement saying the leadership of the Port Authority needs to be evaluated given the toll proposal, financial troubles and overtime audit from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

Update: U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm goes further, saying he’s “outraged” that Cuomo would seek a toll hike. He doesn’t mention Christie in the statement.

“I am outraged that Governor Cuomo and the PANYNJ have failed to listen to the voices of people of Staten Island and are moving forward with the toll hikes. As I have said from the day the tolls were announced, this toll increase will not just empty the pockets of every hard-working resident of Staten Island, but kill our jobs and businesses. The announcement that the multinational shipping line APL Limited is leaving the New York Container Terminal is proof – and at a time when the terminal has plans to expand and create more high paying jobs on the island. I refuse to let the Port Authority declare Staten Island ‘Closed for Business,’ and will continue to fight this toll hike and every proposed annual increase. Staten Islanders will not be the bailout for the Port Authority’s debt, mismanagement, and overspending. We deserve some relief.”

Koch Robos For Turner (Updated)

Ah, to hear the dulcet tones of Edward I. Koch

The former New York City mayor, who crossed party lines to endorse Republican Bob Turner in the special election to replace Anthony Weiner, recorded a robocall knocking Democrat David Weprin for trying to “scare seniors.”

Here’s the script:

“This is former Mayor Ed Koch.
“I’m calling set the record straight on something.
“David Weprin is making phone calls trying to scare seniors. They’re NONSENSE. Weprin should be ASHAMED of himself.
“Bob Turner is running for Congress to PROTECT your Medicare and Social Security.
“It’s why I ENDORSED BOB TURNER for Congress.
“If anyone tries to scare you with LIES about BOB TURNER, tell ‘em ED KOCH told them to KNOCK IT OFF.
“BOB TURNER is the BEST candidate for senior citizens in this race.
“Don’t believe anything else.
“Send Washington a message: Vote for Bob Turner for congress on September 13th.
Bob Turner is supported by Rudy Giuliani, the Liberal Party and me.”

Update: Here’s a response from the Weprin side on the “lying” statement from Koch.

“In a pathetic attempt to confuse voters, Bob Turner is lying about his plan to privatize Medicare and Social Security. Bob is telling seniors he really doesn’t want to cut Social Security and Medicare, but he thinks they don’t read the newspaper. Brooklyn and Queens voters already rejected Turner once, and he’s giving them even more reasons to send him packing once again.”

The Turner campaign insists the Republican would “protect” Social Security and Medicare. Turner said he would vote no on the controversial budget plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, which takes a big ax at social services spending.

Ed Koch Scolds David Weprin from Bob Turner for Congress on Vimeo.

DiNapoli Plans Ticket Audit At State Fair

Most politicos come to the annual State Fair in Syracuse to eat meat on a stick, fried dough and shake a few hands.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli apparently goes to the fair to audit.

As the New York State Fair launches a new electronic ticketing program, DiNapoli announced today he would begin an audit of the program to ensure reliable reporting of ticket sales.

The program uses electronic wristbands and bar-coded cards (similar to going to big concert event, I suppose) rather than paper tickets.

“With a million visitors coming through the gates for this historic annual event, we want to make sure this Midway ticketing method is viable,” DiNapoli said. “It’s our job to ensure the fiscal integrity of the New York State Fair.”

The fair starts next Thursday and runs through Sept. 5. And, as a shameless plug reminder, the CapTon team will be at the fair next week for a special on-location show.

On Vacation, But Still Signing Bills

Gov. Andrew Cuomo may be taking a little R and R (and fishing for striped bass in the process), but he’s still signing dozens of measures into law.

His office on Thursday released a list of mostly uncontroversial measures he signed into a law on Wednesday, the same day his vacation officially began.

Cuomo is using an “autopen” which electronically produces his signature on the bills.

Among the bills signed this week with Cuomo’s electronic John Hancock is cavalcade of issues that no one really knew were issues, including prohibiting the possession, sale, or transportation of bear gallbladder. No, really.

Other bills signed into law include:

S5137: Authorizes industrial development agencies to finance automobile racing facilities

A2502A: Requires applicants to complete a master’s degree or higher to obtain a license in physical therapy

A6324B: Relates to penalties for sale of alcohol to minors by licensed barbers

Gov. David Paterson famously broke out his autopen signature last year when he line-item vetoed hundreds of lines of legislative spending last year. Paterson made a point of signing a few of those vetoes personally, however.

Here And Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is still out of the office and somewhere in NYS with no public schedule.

He was sufficiently reachable last night to release a joint statement with NJ Gov. Chris Christie in support of what will be one of the biggest Port Authority bridge and tunnel toll hikes in NYS history.

Under the governors’ plan, tolls on the PA Hudson River crossings would rise $1.50 next month for drivers paying with E-ZPass, and then go up 75 cents in each of the following years until 2015, for a total increase of $4.50.

These bumps are lower than what the PA originally sought. Said one NYC lawmaker: “They probably thought they could get away with putting the $4 out there and then they could come and rescue everybody.”

The Staten Island Advance is disappointed with this outcome.

According to Port Authority records, roughly two out of every 100 cars driving over bridges and through tunnels pass through the gateless EZPASS toll lanes without paying, costing the PA $6.8 million in 2010.

Yesterday, Cuomo was fishing for striped bass as he signed a bill to continue the commercial ban on catching the popular fish.

Mayor Bloomberg urged elected officials to put aside politics for the official 9/11 10th anniversary commemoration.

“We’re not going to let anything get in the way of reminding us what happened that day,” Bloomberg said. “It’s much too solemn an event, and I’m sure Governor Cuomo and Governor Christie understand that.”

Tom Golisano is preparing to go to war over the assessment on his vacant Victor mansion yet again – just as he has done every year since 2006.

More >

Cuomo, Christie Agree On PA Toll Hike

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have agreed to a toll hike on Port Authority bridges and tunnels while also calling for an audit of the agency’s $7.2 billion budget, outlining their reasons in a joint letter released this evening.

According to the letter sent to Port Authority Board Chairman Dave Samson and Vice Chairman Stanley Grayson, drivers using E-Z Pass will be hit with a $1.50 hike, bringing the total toll to $9.50 during peak hours. Cash-paying motorists will be dinged for an extra $.50.

Fares for the PATH train would grow to $2, up from $1.75.

In exchange for the toll hike, the two governors will call for an audit of the Port Authority’s finances. The governors write that up to $5 billion in costs savings have already been identified.

The toll hike proposal comes after the authority floated the idea of raising tolls even higher. The original proposal would have raised tolls for E-Z Pass drivers on bridges and tunnels from $8 to $12 and from $8 to $15 for drivers who use cash.

Both Cuomo and Christie write in the letter that they found the steeper toll increases irresponsible. But they write that given the dire financial straights the authority is in, a toll increase in some form is necessary.

“While we do not want to see any toll increase, given the crisis facing the Port Authority and its finances, and the potential safety and economic risks to commuters and businesses, an increase cannot be avoid,” they write. “However, in this economy climate, a toll and fare increase can only go forward if coupled with a stringent audit of the Port Authority practices that led to the fiscal mismanagement that made these increases the only financial solvable solution in the first place.”

The much steeper toll proposal notwithstanding, criticism of the authority has grown in recent days after Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released a report that found sky-high overtime costs have accrued by employees over the last several years.

Earlier today, Sen. Charles Fuschillo, the Senate Transportation Committee chairman, said he wants Cuomo and Christie to review the PA’s management in the wake of the toll increase, fiscal problems, overtime and the reports of problems plaguing the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.

And calling for toll increases must be a bitter pill for both Cuomo and Christie to swallow. Both governors have tried to lay claim to cautious fiscal conservatism. Though they have different styles, they’ve sought to avoid broad-based tax and fee increases like this one.

Governors Letter to PANYNJ

Extras (Updated)

Eliot Spitzer on the S&P downgrade: “It was a political analysis.”

NJ Gov. Chris Christie is not interested in pistols at dawn with Mayor Bloomberg, but does disagree with the 9/11 anniversary event line-up.

Bloomberg: “This is for the families, the first day…I do not expect an enormous number of elected officials.” (VIDEO, at about 3-minute mark).

The DMV busted 51 commercial drivers for obtaining multiple driver’s licenses by using fake names, Cuomo announced (while on vacation at an undisclosed location in NY).

Christie and Cuomo might issue a counter-offer to the Port Authority’s bridge and tunnel toll hike plan, which board members will vote on tomorrow.

UPDATE: The two governors reportedly will announce support for a $1.50 hike for EZPASS users, plus another .50-cent surcharge for cash-paying drivers, on the condition that the Port Authority submit to an audit of its $7+ billion budget.

Bloomberg says Bloomberg LP treats its employees “probably as well, if not better, than any company I’ve ever seen.”

State Housing Commissioner Darryl Towns will undergo evaluation for potential alcohol abuse and is likely to plead guilty to something less than DWI.

Connecticut state workers had a change of heart about the contract they rejected two months ago.

A Queens College professor suggests NYC’s challenge of the 2010 Census is ill-founded.

More hydrofracking-related subpoenas from AG Eric Schneiderman.

Sen. Joe Lieberman and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will help NY-9 candidate David Weprin raise campaign cash on Aug. 31.

A Texas man wants to know: Have you had sex with Gov. Rick Perry?

Former President Clinton discusses his veganism.

Extending the 60-day hydrofracking public comment period is a possibility.

The Obama administration will undertake a case-by-case review of illegal immigrations facing deportation and allow many without criminal records to remain in the country.

Downright hilarious.

Martens: AG Subpoenas ‘Perfectly Appropriate’

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said after the close-door hydrofracking panel met today that it was “perfectly appropriate” for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to seek more information about the energy industry’s claims of natural gas reserves in upstate New York.

Schneiderman issued subpoenas to the three big natural gas companies to determine if they misled investors about energy claims.

And he said he had no qualms about Schneiderman’s ability to defend the state in a hydrofracking-related lawsuit, despite the new attorney general scrutinizing the controversial natural-gas extraction process.

“I think the attorney general obviously wants the industry to disclose properly and if he’s subpoenaing information toward that end, it’s perfectly appropriate,” he said. “And that is not DEC primary concern. Our primary concern is to conduct this activity in a way that’s safe and safeguards New York’s natural resources. I don’t have any concerns about the attorney general representing us. He obviously wants this industry to disclose properly and that’s the information he’s seeking.”

As to why the meeting was held in private, Martens pointed out that it wasn’t subject to the open meetings law. He added that the panel of state lawmakers, environmentalists and industry officials needed a chance to have a free exchange of ideas of how best to regulate hydrofracking.

Maragos: GOP 2012 Field Is ‘Balanced And Middle Of The Road’

Republican Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos and his 2012 target, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, both attended the Delaware County Fair today, but they (sadly) did not cross paths.

Gillibrand is pitching her “Made in America” grant proposal, which is part of a larger proposal she says will help stimulate the NY economy and grow jobs. Maragos, not surprisingly, thinks giving away more federal cash at a time when the government needs to cut spending is a misguided idea.

I asked the comptroller in an interview that will air on CapTon this evening for his assessment of the current 2012 GOP field, particularly in light of the fact that having someone conservative atop the ticket will not likely help his case (assuming he gets onto the ballot to challenge Gillibrand next fall) in Democrat-dominated NY. His response:

“I’m not sure you can make that accusation. I think a number of the candidates, I think the press in some instances, tends to highlight some of the more conservative positions that they take.”

“But on the whole, a number of the – certainly the leading candidates – are balanced and middle-of-the-road. That, I think will be very appealing to New Yorkers…I prefer not to, you know, comment individually. But I think collectively as a team, as a group, I think they’re a very capable group that will make an excellent alternative to what we have right now.”

The “I prefer not to comment individually” line came in response to my inquiry about Rep. Michele Bachman. Earlier in the interview, I noted that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has said he doesn’t believe in global warming (and also, as it turns out, thinks evolution is a “theory” with some “gaps in it”).

Maragos doesn’t seem too sold on the global warming data, either, although he didn’t come right out and say it’s all a big hoax.