Silver Only ‘Minor’ Tweaks Needed On Tax Cap

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told me during a CapTon interview that will air this evening that he believes only a few “minor details” have to be changed in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tax cap bill, and he is not “necessarily” wedded to the idea of exempting pension costs.

Silver said he found Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ sudden willingness to negotiate on the tax cap “very encouraging because I think that there are a few minor details that have to be changed in that tax cap.”

The speaker continued to be nebulous about when, exactly, he might introduce his own version of the tax cap bill, and also did not specifically address what might be exempted from the cap. He did, however, say there should “not be exemptions on pensions, per se.”

“There should be exemptions on things that are, you know, surprises, in effect, to the districts,” the speaker said. “Things that grow out of proportion. Not because of things they did or prior commitments that have been made. And, you know, a few things like that, and that’s it.”

The speaker confirmed in a Buffalo News interview that his house is pushing for the cap to sunset. Although he refused to be nailed down on a specific time frame, he did say it should last longer than three years.

Rep. Allen West Robos ‘Critical Tea Party Alert’ For Corwin

It’s tough to imagine a better Tea Party surrogate than Rep. Allen West, the retired Republican US Army Lt. Col. elected to represent Florida’s 22nd CD last fall.

West is trying to put to rest the fight out in NY-26 over which candidate can legitimately claim the Tea Party mantle, coming down squarely on the side of Assemblywoman Jane Cowin with a robocall that is being sent to about 30,000 households across the district.

West is one of 20 military veterans in this year’s House freshman class that have endorsed Corwin’s congressional bid. Here’s the script of his call, which can also be heard here:

“This is Lieutenant Colonel and Congressman Allen West with a critical Tea Party alert.”

“Jane Corwin is the only endorsed Tea Party candidate and the only candidate who will stand up to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and their out-of-control spending agenda. Our national debt is out of control. And it’s simple – we need Jane Corwin to be a part of the Majority in the House of Representatives to bring fiscal discipline back to Washington, DC.”

“Furthermore, Jane’s opponents have only one goal, and that is to scare seniors. Jane will be a fighter on Capitol Hill to preserve Medicare for our future generations.”

“I call upon each one of you, for both your children, and your grandchildren and our nation’s future – Elect Jane Corwin on May 24th. Jane is truly who we need at this critical time in our republic’s history. Thank you very much. And God Bless America.”

NYSUT Launches “Students First: The Reality Tour”

In a not-so-veiled reference to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “People First” campaign, a coalition of education advocacy groups are launching the alternative “Students First: The Reality Tour.”

From their release:

“In six simultaneous events across the state, parents, students and teachers organized by the Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action of New York and New York State United Teachers will launch a statewide “Students First: The Reality Tour.” The purpose of the tour will be to tell the stories of the local impacts of the $1.3 billion state cut to public schools. Data summarizing statewide and local cuts in teachers, programs and other will be released. AQE will release a video presenting testimonials on the impact of the cuts from districts statewide.”

All events are being held Thursday in Buffalo, Rochester, Watertown, Troy, Albany and Yonkers.

Cuomo is traveling the state to stump for his big 3 goals: gay marriage legalization, an ethics overhaul and a tax cap. The last item has the eternal ire of education groups, who say it will unfairly hurt school, and point to mandated cost-drivers such as pensions and health care placed on schools.

Earlier today, NYSUT issued a statement cheering for the millionaires tax revival in the Assembly. However, Cuomo, speaking in Lake Placid, agreed with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in declaring the issue over.

Hochul Asserts Her Independence, Swipes At Corwin

ICYMI: Kathy Hochul told me during a CapTon interview last night that the Republican effort to portray her as a puppet of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is a “distraction” and insisted her record demonstrates an ability to think independently of her own party’s leaders.

Specifically, Hochul cited the fact that she spoke out against then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s ill-fated effort to let illegal immigrants get driver’s licenses just five months after he appointed her to the post of Erie County clerk. She then sought to pivot the conversation back to her topic of choice: Medicare.

“All this distraction about leadership down in Washington, no one’s talking about it…I’ve been all over this district, not one person has raised this. They’re more afraid of the Medicare issue, the proposal in Washington to decimate Medicare.”

“Those are the words of the Wall Street Journal, not my own: End Medicare as we know it. So, it’s the end of the game here, and they’re just trying to throw everything but the kitchen sink at me. And it’s not working.”

Hochul took a swing at Corwin at the end of the interview, saying she would have chosen to fire a taxpayer-funded staffer who got into an alleged tussle with another candidate, (Jack Davis), while moonlighting as a tracker. I asked if she believes this whole mess was actually a set-up, as the Davis campaign insists, and she replied:

“That’s between them and the Jack Davis campaign. That’s their battle…When you watch any ads that come out against me, the Corwin campaign is obviously masterful at clipping video and using it inappropriately. So I think you’ve seen a lot of evidence of that in this campaign.”

Cuomo On Gay Marriage: ‘I’m Doing Everything I Can’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, speaking in Lake Placid today for his “People First” tour, defended his strategy on same-sex marriage legalization, saying that he was doing everything he can to put a bill before the Senate by June.

You know, I think it is a critical issue, I think it is an issue where the people of this state have evolved on this issue. A majority of the people in this state now approve of marriage equality. We’re making progress. I’m doing everything I can. We’ll see. We’ll keep our fingers crossed. I’m cautiously optimistic. We had a very good and different session, legislative session, in the last few months.

Some gay marriage advocates have charged that Cuomo’s support of same-sex marriage is merely trying to score political points and criticized the governor’s decision to not put a bill before the Republican-led Senate unless the votes are available.

Cuomo said last week he wouldn’t introduce a program bill that would fail and have a “replay” of 2009, when gay marriage bill failed in the Senate, 38-24.

This time around, and with Republicans in control, a coalition of gay marriage advocates are trying to persuade fence-sitting senators to approve the bill. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in Albany on Tuesday to personally lobby in favor of the issue.

Cuomo, speaking to reporters, also seemed to dial back his rhetoric of slamming lawmakers.

“We’re making progress in Albany that we haven’t made in years and I want to keep that spirit going,” he said.

Who’s Losing Their Job In The Courts?

The state court system has provided a list of which positions are being cut, showing a concentration of job losses in the New York City boroughs.

The courts cut 600 jobs today, which Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and CSEA blamed on the cuts in the approved 2011-12 state budget.

Lay Offs,Court

NYSUT Praises Millionaires Tax, Skelos Declares It Dead

Getting to this a little late, but the state United Teachers union is applauding the revival of the millionaires tax in the Assembly, even if it’s not going anywhere in the Senate.

“In every corner of the state, New Yorkers, after carefully examining the difficult choices made by their school boards, voted ‘yes’ in near record numbers on school budgets to ensure students and education programs did not suffer further harm,” NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi said. “Voters showed they value public education, support their local schools and recognize that teachers and other employees have, too, sacrificed in order to preserve programs and jobs. The state – and the wealthy — must do their part, too.”

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos told reporters earlier today that the millionaires tax debate is “over.” His office went further this afternoon, having the Long Island Republican declare in a statement that the issue is “dead.”

The personal income tax surcharge is dead. It died at the end of March, when the Legislature approved a new state budget that did not extend it; a position supported by Senate Republicans and by Governor Cuomo.

I caught up with Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari, D-Cohoes, Albany County, who defended the introduction of the tax, even if it appears to be a political point to score.

“We have to stick to our principles,” he said.

Ball Backs ‘Leibell Laws’ Ethics Reform

Sen. Greg Ball, R-Putnam County, announced today he was backing a package of ethics overhaul measures aimed at preventing public bribery and fraud cases and a bill that would strip public officials convicted of a felony from receiving public pensions.

Ball noted that the laws are aimed at his old bete noir, former Sen. Vincent Leibell, a Republican who held Ball’s current Senate seat and resigned in December in the face of felony corruption charges of tax evasion and obstruction of justice.

Leibell was sentenced to 21 months in prison last week.

“Though limited, some public officials selfishly use their offices for personal gain, these anti-corruption safeguards will act to stem the corruption plaguing the public’s image of elected officials,” he said. “It’s time to cleanup Albany’s playpen of money laundering.”

Perhaps it’s a Freudian slip or a simple spelling error, but in his news release referred to the bills as “Leibell Laws” — the same phrase Sen. Dan Squadron used on Fred Dicker’s show. But later, Ball refers to them several times as “Liebell Laws.” Either way, point taken.

Skelos Meets With Cuomo, Has ‘Great Discussion’

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues his march through the state — and taking some swipes at the Legislature along the way — Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos asked the governor to model the legislative process after the budget talks.

“I suggested to him that the model we used to get the budget down on time was one of civility and working together and having frank discussions and understanding each person’s issue,” Skelos said, adding that he and Cuomo had a “great discussion.”

Cuomo’s People First tour includes pushing his top three agenda times for the rest of the legislative session: the tax cap, ethics and gay marriage.

Still, it’s fair to say the budget process that resulted in the first on-time spending plan and spending reduction in years is very different than the legislative sausage-making in Albany.

First, the governor has less power to get what he wants in the budget than he does in legislation. Senate Republicans, also, were largely lined up with the governor on spending cuts and his zero tax increase pledge.

At the same time, Cuomo’s goals like gay marriage and ethics overhaul have seemingly put him at odds with Skelos and the Republican majority.

Skelos Shoots Down Millionaires Tax: ‘It’s Over’

Not surprisingly, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos quickly shot down the Assembly’s revival of a millionaires tax extension, calling the issue all but dead.

“It’s over with. There’s not going to be a millionaires tax, a so-called millionaires tax passed,” he said.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced the re-introduction of the tax proposal late Tuesday — reviving a battle that was had during the budget. Both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republicans opposed the measure, saying it amounted to a tax increase.

Silver, in a statement Wednesday, said the tax was needed in order to offset cuts to education. Liberal lawmakers had hoped that once the full impact of the $1.2 billion in cuts were felt to education, support would gather for the surcharge.

However, Skelos told reporters this afternoon that with 93 percent of school budgets being approved Tuesday, the tax was the wrong approach.

“We’ve seen with these school budgets 93 percent pass with the understanding that the (property tax) cap is potentially coming. I don’t think taxing and now increasing spending is necessary.”