SAGE Reccds Unlikely This Session

The much-heralded Spending and Government Efficiency Commission, created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to undertake the first top-to-bottom review of state government in 80 years, will not be making any “right-sizing” recommendations to the Legislature before the session ends on June 20.

SAGE, which got off to a very late start. The 20-member commission was created by executive order in January, but didn’t get all its appointees or even meet until May.

So far, it has held just two meetings. A scheduled get-together on May 27 at which members were expected to vote on a handful of proposals to send to the Legislature was called off.

The budget approved by the Legislature shortly before the April 1 deadline did include some consolidations, most notably the creation of an uber-Financial Services Department that will be headed by Cuomo’s former chief of staff, Ben Lawsky.

But it appears a more far-reaching consolidation effort won’t take place now until next year. That makes sense, considering the governor already has his hands full trying to negotiate his top three policy priorities – ethics reform, a property tax cap and the legalization of same-sex marriage.

I discussed the delay on CapTon last night with former Sen. Mike Balboni, who is a member of the SAGE Commission. He told me:

“The budget provided for spending authority for any costs associated with the operations of the commission, and the committee members were associated shortly thereafter. That, of course, left little time in this calendar, but we are making great progress in examining all the issues.”

“…Frankly, the vehicle for this used to be the constitutional conventions, which of course New York has said we’re not going to do that anymore. And given the talent of the folks on the commission, their wide breadth of experience and their insight, I think it’s also taking time to get all those insights packaged in the right way that we can provide useful recommendations for the governor and the Legislature.”

Engel Campaign Hires Spano’s Lobbying Shop

U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel’s campaign has retained the services of former GOP state Sen. Nick Spano’s lobbying firm Empire Strategic Planning, according to a filing on the Commission on Public Integrity’s website.

It’s not clear from the filing what Spano and company will lobby the state for on Engel’s behalf. However, it’s likely that the firm will focus on the upcoming redrawing of legislative boundaries, which must be completed by 2012.

According to the contract filed with the CPI, Empire Strategic Planning will be paid $5,000 a month, for a total of $60,000.

The contract took effect May 1 and runs through April 30 of next year, around the time that new districts for state and federal offices must be drawn.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and good-government groups want an independent panel to redraw the lines. The Senate, over the objection of Democrats, approved a constitutional amendment to create and independent commission, but that would be in place until 2022.

In the past, lawmakers have redrawn the lines to the benefit of incumbents. Cuomo has vowed to veto any lines that are not drawn by an independent commission.

Other federal officeholders, like Rep. Joe Crowley, have hired lobbying firms to become involved in the redistrcting battle.

Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group said retaining influential lobbyists is another sign that the commission needs to be in place.

“The fact that one of the factors that goes into redrawing district lines is how much money incumbents are willing to spend on lobbyists is yet another sign that the system is in desperate need of reform,” he said.

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O’Donnell Pitches Again On Gay Marriage

With just nine remaining days scheduled in the 2011 legislative session, Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell is again hitting up members of his conference to sign on to his bill that would legalize same-sex marriage for gay New Yorkers – including himself and his partner, John Banta.

The Manhattan Democrat mentions Banta in a memo that he sent to his fellow Democrats yesterday, noting that they have been together for three decades and would simply like to be among the “thousands” of people who receive a “civil license (that) has nothing to do with religion” every year.

O’Donnell and Banta held an engagement party back in May 2009 when the gay marriage bill passed for the second time in the Assembly. It first passed on June 19, 2007. (This timeline is fixed).

All told now, the marriage bill has passed three times in the Assembly – twice in 2009.

Recall that there was a bit of a extraordinary/ordinary session issue in December 2009 when the bill died in the Senate, which forced the Assembly to basically redo a vote on the same piece of legislation. This is not something Speaker Sheldon Silver wants to have to do again.

O’Donnell introduced his bill when it became clear Gov. Andrew Cuomo had no plan to send his own program bill to the Legislature even though he’s spearheading an effort to get the Senate to pass a marriage measure before the session ends on June 20. Cuomo has said he doesn’t want to see a bill go to the floor in the Senate if it’s just going to fail again.

Silver hasn’t yet committed to bringing O’Donnell’s bill to the floor, although he hasn’t ruled out doing so before his members leave Albany for the summer if the governor doesn’t send something first.

Republicans have been suggesting for a while now that the Assembly Democrats, who now number 99, don’t have enough votes to pass this bill a fourth time – even with a handful of “yes” voters in the minority conference. Silver, O’Donnell and LGBT advocates have refuted that allegation, but I guess we won’t know until the votes are tallied – if things get that far.

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Weiner To Reporters: I’m Getting Back To Work

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner sent a missive to reporters camped out his office, saying in no uncertain terms he was tired of answering questions about whether he sent a lewd tweet to a Washington state woman.

Weiner gave a stilted press gaggle on Tuesday, in which he said he wanted to focus on other issues.

Today, the Democrat also reiterated that he didn’t send the tweet. However, he has said in a MSNBC interview that he didn’t know if the photo in question was actually him or not.

Here’s his statement:

“Good morning. Yesterday from 1 o’clock to almost ten o’clock I sat down and did interviews with anyone that wanted. Answered questions extensively. I made it very clear I did not send the picture, that my Twitter account had been hacked and this prank apparently has been successful. But after hours, almost 11 hours of answering questions any that anyone wanted to put, today I’m gonna to have to get back to work doing the job that I’m paid to do. So I appreciate your patience and understanding and if I can do anything to make you more comfortable while you sit out here in the hallway please let me know. Thank you.”

NYers For Marriage: Momentum Is Building

The coalition of advocacy groups pushing for same-sex marriage legalization are seizing on today’s Quinnipiac survey that showed 58 percent of voters back the measure.

The number is virtually the same from a poll that same-sex marraige groups have touted in the past, which they say is a sign that critical mass is building for the issue.

“Momentum for marriage is building every day, and today’s poll shows exactly who is driving that momentum – the people of New York State,” said Marc Solomon, National Campaign Director for Freedom to Marry. “Combined with the steadfast leadership of Governor Cuomo, we are confident that the record support of New Yorkers will carry us over the finish line and give loving and committed couples the freedom to marry.”

We’re tracking were Senate lawmakers stand on the issue with this handy interactive map, showing eight legislators either remain on the fence or won’t say how they’ll vote.

Here And Now

Weinergate Day 6

The tabloids had a field day with the Congressman’s comments during yesterday’s media blitz.

NYPost’s John Podhoretz thinks Rep. Weiner is a bad liar.

DN’s Michael Daly thinks Weiner is embarrassed.

And the DN’s editorial board still has questions.

Newsday’s Dan Janison thinks Weiner will be hurt politically by this.

Is an ethics reform deal coming today?

Seems unlikely as there is no bill language being circulated.

Gov. Cuomo, Speaker Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos all seem confident that something will get done before the end of session.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and former Comptroller H. Carl McCall are at the capitol today pushing for a set tuition increase plan. (no link)

Speaker Silver says his conference may support the idea.

Cuomo is receiving much praise for pulling out of the federal Secure Communities program.

The administration left the door open for coming back to the program, saying “until the numerous questions and controversies regarding the program can be resolved…”

NY Post thinks AG Eric Schneiderman is pursuing a “radical environmental agenda” by suing the Feds over failure to study the impact hydrofracking would have on the Delaware River Basin.

A North Country town has repealed it’s “English-only” law after pressure from the AG.

Comptroller DiNapoli’s office is holding up a $70 million highway construction project in the Hudson Valley over complaints over an “unusual” labor agreement.

Both the Comptroller and IG Ellen Biben are now looking into alleged wrongdoing at the SUNY Research Foundation.

Rep. Brian Higgins says Democrats spirits have been lifted with Kathy Hochul’s victory in NY-26.
More >

Quinnipiac: 58% Of NYers Support Same-Sex Marriage

Popular opinion for same-sex marriage continues to tick up in the polls. A Quinnipiac survey out this morning found that 58% of NYers support the passage of a bill legalizing gay marriage. Only 36% are opposed to the measure. Back in April, the numbers were 56% – 38%.

Brian Ellner from the Human Rights Campaign took the news as a rallying cry for passage of a bill, saying “popular support for marriage equality keeps breaking records. Let’s get this done.”

It wasn’t all roses for gay marriage advocates. The poll also asked what legislative priorities were important, and only 51% felt legalizing same-sex marriage was “very” or “somewhat” important. In comparison, 82% felt that ethics reform was important, and 79% consider a property tax cap important.

Quinnipiac also polled other top legislative priorities, including a tax cap and rent regulation. The numbers were virtually identical. 60% want a hard tax cap at two percent as was proposed by Governor Cuomo. 30% oppose it. On rent regulation, voters want the laws extended 62% – 31%.

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Extras

Rep. Anthony Weiner to MSNBC’s Luke Russert: “I can’t say with certitude” if the man in the lewd photo is him.

I will say that we are trying to figure out exactly what happened – whether a photograph was manipulated that was found on my account. Whether something was dropped into my account, whether a photograph was partially in my account.”

Weiner did say with certitude that he didn’t Tweet the photo in question to a young woman in Seattle.

Rep. Louise Slaughter defended Weiner, attacked Andrew Breitbart.

The House Democratic leadership wasn’t pleased with Weiner’s media blitz today.

The techie take: “(T)he case of the crotch controversy seems easy to dismiss as an instance of user error.”

Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle has a Democratic challenger (not Dan Maffei – yet).

Donald Trump warns he could change his mind on 2012 if “I’m not happy with what I see.”

Jimmmy Vielkind’s gut tells him Sarah Palin’s tour will take her to Saratoga.

Former Rep. Eric Massa is using his leftover campaign cash to cover his legal bills.

OCA spokesman David Bookstaver is selling deer hunting clothing and aprons.

Redistricting reform advocates haven’t given up hope yet, but admit their chances of seeing something passed this session are slim.

NJ Gov. Chris Christie is headed to Iowa to attend an education summit.

The NJ State Police insist flying Christie to his son’s baseball game didn’t come at any additional cost to the taxpayers.

The Legislative Ethics Commission’s timing was questioned.

NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn proposed $75 million worth of education cuts to avert teacher layoffs.

The number of teachers who have to get laid off might be smaller than originally believed due to retirements.

Eliot Spitzer says Bernie Madoff epitomizes “an era of irresponsibility.”

Mayors will determine the fate of the entire world, according to Bloomberg.

Non-celebrity New Yorkers pronounce their support for legalizing same-sex marriage.

Skelos: Ethics Deal Could Come Thursday

As details of a possible ethics package were made known today, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said this afternoon that an ethics agreement could be announced as early as Thursday.

“I think there’s an opportunity to get it done tomorrow, but we’re going to get it done before this session is over,” he told reporters.

“We’re working on it,” he added. “There’s a process that the Legislature goes through. A lot of people were not optimistic we would have an on-time budget.”

He also said that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s vow to use a Moreland Commission to investigate legislative wrongdoing and conflicts of interest plays little role in the negotiations and that it was unlikely to come to that.

“I don’t know whether he’s threatening or if he’s just stating a fact. This is right to say it. I don’t believe we’re going to come to a Moreland Act,” Skelos said.

And, as other GOP legislators have said, he raised concerns that an ethics commission should be bipartisan.

“It has to be fairly done,” he said. “No side whether its Republican or Democrat legislative whatever should have the ability to go gotcha.”

IG Asks For End To External Audit By SUNY (Updated)

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher this afternoon caleld for special meeting of the Board of Trustees in order to discuss the system’s Research Foundation the same day Inspector General Ellen Biben announced she would audit the organization.

At the same time, Biben has asked SUNY call off an external audit, which is looking at Research President John O’Connor, the alleged no-show job to Sen. Joe Bruno’s daughter Susan and the American Ditchley Foundation — a move that Zimpher embraced.

Earlier this month, the Commission on Public Integrity alleged O’Connor gave Bruno a “no-show” consultancy job. O’Connor is asking Biben to open an investigation into the CPI, including leaks to the press and its handling of ethics inquiries.

Here’s the full statement:

“Upon consultation with the chairman of the Board, SUNY is calling for a special meeting of the SUNY Board of Trustees on Friday, June 3, to discuss an outside expert’s report on the Research Foundation and its relationship with the University.

“Separately, SUNY has been asked by the Inspector General to cease pursuing an external audit or any other audit activity surrounding John O’Connor and the Ditchley Foundation. The Office of the Inspector General has informed us that they will undertake a review of these and other matters. We fully endorse this action, find it eminently responsible, and pledge our total cooperation.”