Ex-Senate GOP Aide Joins Gay Marriage Push (Updated)

John McArdle, a former top Senate GOP staffer who retired last fall after 29 years on the public payroll to become a consultant, has signed on to help the new coordinated campaign for the legalization of gay marriage in New York, sources familiar with his plans confirm.

Technically speaking, McArdle will be working with another former Senate majority staffer, Mike Avella, who is now a lobbyist representing the Gill Foundation’s political arm, Gill Action. He starts Monday.

McArdle will assist with PR and strategy, with a focus on the very GOP members on whose behalf he used to spin LCA members like myself silly.

This seems terribly ironic, and it is – to an extent. But it’s not really so surprising when you consider the fact that McArdle’s old boss, former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, who once referred to homosexuality as an “abnormal lifestyle,” experienced a conservsion on this subject back in 2009.

This is all part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ramped-up effort to get gay marriage passed in the Senate, where it failed back in December 2009 in a 38-24 vote. At the time, not a single Republican voted “yes”, even though advocates insisted on multiple occasions that were up to five GOP senators willing to do so.

Three Democratic senators who voted “no” last time around – Buffalo’s Bill Stachowskil; and George Onorato and Hiram Monserrate, both of Queens – are now gone, all replaced by “yes” voters (Sens. Tim Kennedy, Jose Peralta, and Mike Gianaris, respectively).

A staunch Republican “no” vote – former Queens Sen. Frank Padavan – has been replaced by Democratic Sen. Tony Avella, a certain “yes”.

UPDATE: I’m reminded another Democratic “yes”, Sen. David Carlucci, replaced a Republican “no” last fall, the late Republican Sen. Tom Morahan.

At least four others who voted “no” in 2009 – Democratic Sens. Shirley Huntley and Joe Addabbo, both of Queens; Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Carl Kruger and Republican Sen. Jim Alesi, who hails from the Rochester area – are now on the fence.

Other Republican senators advocates plan to target include: Gregory Ball of Putnam County, Andy Lanza of Staten Island, Mark Grisanti of Buffalo and the Capital Region’s Roy McDonald,

The Return Of East River Tolls

A reader noted the quiet introduction of a bill yesterday by five Senate Republicans that would exclude seven suburban counties from paying the controversial MTA payroll tax enacted as part of the 2009 bailout plan to rescue the perennially cash-strapped downstate authority.

No big surprise there. The Senate GOP – particularly Sens. Greg Ball and Lee Zeldin, who are sponsoring this measure along with Sens. John Bonacic, Bill Larkin and Steve Saland – have been talking about repeal of this onerous tax for some time now.

But, as CanTon viewers who recall my recent interview with Zeldin might recall, there has been an open question about how the Republicans would propose to replace the $1.3 billion in annual revenue generated by the tax.

(Actually, I guess the hole would be slightly smaller, since the five NYC boroughs would still have to pay. The counties included are: Putnam, Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Suffolk, Dutchess and Nassau).

Some advocates have suggested the return of Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal to make up the difference, although that would only generate an estimated $400-$500 million. (It’s also worth noting that the mayor’s revised PlaNYC, which he unveiled today, doesn’t include the pay-to-drive idea).

But these five senators decided to go in a different – albeit equally controversial – direction, reviving the call to toll the East River bridges in NYC. That includes the following spans: Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, and Queensboro (or, officially speaking, the Ed Koch Queensboro).

As you’ll recall, Richard Ravitch, who was the architect of the MTA bailout plan long before he was tapped by former Gov. David Paterson to serve as LG, initially proposed tolls on the East River and Harlem River bridges as a means of preventing fare hikes, and he was practically run out of town on a rail.

The outer borough lawmakers put their collective foot down, and the tolls were left out of the bailout plan by the Senate Democrats, who were in charge of the chamber at the time.

Pataki: No Debt, No Presidential Run

Former New York Gov. George Pataki told Sean Hannity on Fox News last night that he was more or less ruling out a run for president in 2012.

The Republican is launching a new group, No American Debt, and has more than $1 million in financial support for the organization.

“I’m not running for president, I think this is an extraordinarily important issue. Sean, I’ve been around politics long enough to say, ‘Never say never.’”

Pataki, a three-term governor, has flirted off and on about running for GOP nomination, but has never taken the plunge for a full-on campaign.

Here’s some video of the interview:

Bloomberg Takes On Another Tobacco Suit

Mayor Michael Bloomberg today launched a new federal lawsuit against tobacco sellers he says has been operating a bootleg cigarette ring on the Internet.

“Illegal cigarettes cost our City and State billions of dollars, through increased health care costs and by cheating law abiding small businesses out of customers and cheating taxpayers out of much needed tax revenue,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “We will continue working with our partners in the federal government to protect the public health and fiscal health of our City and State.”

The suit targets retailers in Kentucky, California, and Michigan operating under the name Cigarettes Direct 2U.com who the mayor charges have shipped more than four million packs of cigarettes to city residents without paying for the necessary city tax stamp. The company operated seven separate websites, according to the suit, filed in U.S. District Court today.

The lawsuit seeks to recover $19.5 million in lost revenue, Bloomberg’s office said.

This isn’t the first suit Bloomberg has filed against online tobacco retailers. The mayor filed suit last year against King Mountain Tobacco Company after the retailers failed to pay city taxes.

Filed Chavez Complaint

Who Will Cuomo Pick To Lead The APA?

In honor of Earth Day on Friday, we’re taking a look at the possible changing face of the Adirondack Park Agency — a zoning and land use oversight agency that operates within the Blue Line of the country’s largest state park.

Established by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, it is a super planning board charged with preserving the sprawling wilderness.

But the park is also home to an estimated 135,000 year-round residents, some of whom chafe under the strict regulations and rulings issued by the APA. The population is dwindling and aging, while businesses struggle to gain a foothold within the park.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be able to appoint five new board members this summer — four of whom must be full-time Adirondack residents.

“We haven’t always seen eye to eye with the in-park members of the board, but I think most of them have been people we can talk to and work with,” said Scott Lorey, the legislative director of the Adirondack Council.

Though the agency has been heavily criticized by property-rights groups and business owners, environmentalists say the APA has been leaning in the opposite direction in recent months.

“From our point of view, the board seems to be making some decisions favoring land owners and seem to be favoring private development, which seems to have us concerned,” Lorey said. “But they haven’t gone to the point of no return at this point. I think they’re still able to make good decisions and protect the environment.”

The full story airs Friday.

Buerkle Defends Tax Stance (Updated)

Syracuse YNN’s Bill Carey caught up yesterday with Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle to get her reaction to the twin radio ads (one from the DCCC, the other from the House Majority PAC) attacking her “yes” vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget and opposition to the president’s call to increase taxes on the rich.

“My job is to represent the people who live in this district,” the freshman congresswoman replied after a town hall meeting.

“My position about taxes is we don’t have a taxing problem in this country, we have a spending problem in this country. We don’t need to raise taxes. We need to stop spending…I’ve not heard anyone complain that their taxes are too low.”

Buerkle insisted she hasn’t really heard from any NY-25 residents who want to see wealthy residents get taxed at a higher rate – a proposal she deemed a “different philosophy” than her own.

UPDATE: Buerkle is getting some support from the group 60 Plus, the self-described “conservative alternative to the liberal AARP”, which is running “thank-you” ads for three New York House members (Reps. Chris Gibson in Ny-20 and Richard Hanna in NY-24 are also beneficiaries) who voted in favor of the Ryan plan. You can hear that ad and read its text here.

Shah To Address GNYHA Annual Meeting

State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah will speak at the Greater New York Hospital Association’s annual meeting in NYC next Thursday, the organization announced today.

Shah will be joined by Dr. Atul Gawande, a Harvard Medical School professor and staff writer for The New Yorker who will discuss “overcoming the cost and complexity of health care” – two topics that are a frequent focus of his writing.

Shah will be talking about “the changing face of health care in the context of the recently enacted New York State budget,” which dovetails nicely into the topic of GNYHA President Ken Raske’s speech: “How hospitals must do more with less in an era of fiscal austerity and unprecedented health care reform.”

GNYHA, as you’ll recall, was invited by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to participate in the Medicaid Redesign Task Force along with its health care workers union partner, SEIU 1199.

This was widely hailed as a very shrewd political move by Cuomo, who successfully neutralized two of the most hard-hitting special interests from the annual budget battle by turning them into allies instead of combatants.

Both 1199 and GNYHA ended up getting something in exchange for signing off on Medicaid reforms. The union saw a living wage for home health care workers while the hospitals got the creation of a medical indemnity fund for neurologically impaired infants that is expected to dramatically reduce their insurance costs in the long term.

More >

Dems Running All Over Buerkle’s Votes

Here’s the sound and text of House Majority PAC’s new radio ad targeting GOP freshman Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (NY-25) for her vote in favor of Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget plan, which Democrats insist will “end Medicare as we know it.”

Jimmy V. points out on CapCon that the Republicans are questioning the veracity of this spot and also noting that Ryan’s proposal wouldn’t impact any seniors currently on Medicare.

Interesting aside for inside baseball types: I received this information from Ryan Rudominer, a former DCCC staffer who worked on ex-Rep. Scott Murphy’s successful campaign against Assemblyman Jim Tedisco in the 2009 special election in NY-20.

Rudominer and several others from the DCCC are now working on this PAC, one of several independent expenditure operations the Democrats launched to counter the wave of GOP-supporting outfits that dominated the 2010 cycle.

VO: “Ann Marie Buerkle says her favorite hobby is running. But she’s been running way too fast in the wrong direction.”

“Because Buerkle just voted for the Republican budget that raises the share of the tax burden on the middle class. And Buerkle’s plan threatens to end Medicare as we know it. That’s right, end Medicare as we know it. It even increases seniors’ prescription drug costs.”

“We’re not done yet. Buerkle’s budget cuts taxes by trillions for big corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Congresswoman Buerkle even said:

BUERKLE: “I have a real problem with taxing the rich because they make a certain amount of money.”

VO: “Ann Marie Buerkle. She likes to run. But come election time…look out! She won’t be able to outrun her record.”

“Paid for House Majority PAC. thehousemarjoritypac.com Not authorized by any candidate or candidates committee. House Majority PAC is responsible for the content of this advertising.”

Yonkers Mayoral Hopeful: Drug Test Top Officials

Yonkers Republican mayoral candidate John Murtagh would seek random drug screenings for city officials including the mayor, deputy mayor and other city officials.

The drug tests would also be applied to Board of Education employees and workers who operate machinery and drive city vehicles.

“If a Yonkers employee is driving a public vehicle or performing in a ‘high risk’ job, the public reasonably deserves to know that the City is doing what it can to ensure that drugs and alcohol are not an issue,” Murtagh said in a statement. “Yonkers has an excessively large fleet of ‘take-home’ cars, and the City has a responsibility to make sure their drivers are sober and safe. Let’s not wait for some tragic accident to pass this bill; let’s do the smart thing and pass it before a tragedy occurs.”

An employee testing positive would be censured and brought before the Board of Ethics. An employee who refuses would be subject to dismissal, according to the proposed legislation.

Tedisco: In Honor Of Earth Day, Dump Paper

On the eve of Earth Day, Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Saratoga,  is renewing his call for the Legislature to go paperless.

“On Earth Day, as Assembly members, we can do our part to reduce the Legislature’s carbon footprint and save taxpayers money by unsubscribing from the Legislative Digest and scores of other paperwork that’s already accessible online,” Tedisco said. “Hundreds of thousands of pieces of paper are needlessly printed each year by the Legislature, much of it going unread and tossed into landfills. This is no way to treat Mother Earth or taxpayers funds.”

Tedisco is trying to eliminate the paper used by the state’s paper-happy Legislature, which often stacks multiple-foot-high bills on lawmakers’ desks.

Tedisco raised the issue during the budget debate, appearing with a huge stack of spending bills on his desk. The lawmaker determined it costs the state $13 million to print the paper bills.