Senate Democrats To Cuomo: Get Out Your Veto Pen

A group of Senate Democrats are mailing Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging him to back up his vow to veto new legislative boundaries that were not drawn by an independent redistricting commission.

Sen. Martin Dilan, a Brooklyn Democrat who led the Legislature’s redistricting effort when the Democrats were in the majority, was the main writer of the letter, which was also sent to Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

From the letter:

To underscore our commitment to this shared vision, we strongly support your decision to veto any district lines drawn without the fair and objective criteria contained in your legislation. We commit to oppose any effort to override your veto if such an effort is advanced in the Senate. Put simply, we will not vote to override your veto.

Senate Republicans are balking over the governor’s plan to create an independent commission to redraw boundaries for state and federal offices in time for the 2012 elections. Skelos, speaking to reporters earlier today, said he was uneasy about the Legislature losing the power to draw the boundaries.

“I don’t believe you can delegate away the authority of the Legislature to some other entity,” he said.

He also noted that the Republican-led Senate approved a constitutional amendment for an independent commission, a move derided by good-government groups because it would not realistically take effect until 2022.

Reform advocates said today they had recruited a law firm to fight for an independent commission.

Redistricting Override SignOn to Cuomo 4-6-11-1

On Medicaid? Gives Us Your Palm Print, Please

A Democratic-Republican team up of two state lawmakers wants to install new technology in hospitals in order to fight Medicaid fraud.

Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, a western New York Republican, and Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera, D-Bronx, are calling for a measure that would install biometric technology in hospitals, doctors offices and medical clinics around the state with the goal of clamping down on fraud.

The technology is able to analyze and recognize DNA, fingerprints and other biological characteristics. The measure would require millions of people to provide the information in order to get prescriptions filled.

As Tom Precious of The Buffalo News points out, the bill could have civil liberties implications.

But Ranzenhofer, in a statement, said the measure would put effective limits on those trying to con the system, noting that the cost of Medicaid at nearly $54 billion a year drives up the cost of local property taxes.

“County governments are forced to spend almost all funds raised by property taxes on Medicaid due to sky-rocketing expenditures and there is no doubt that fraud is a major driving force behind these costs. At current levels of up to $5 billion per year, New York cannot afford to ignore this issue. Fraud prevention technology is the only practical mechanism to stop Medicaid fraud, abuse and overutilization of services,” Ranzenhofer said.

And both legislators said the measure would save millions and the technology is relatively cheap.

“New York will spend over $54 billion dollars last fiscal year on Medicaid and experts predict that 10% or over $5 billion is fraudulent charges to the state’s health insurance for the poor, disabled, and elderly. Before we start cutting billions of dollars in vital services for our children and most infirmed elderly, we need to cut out billions of dollars in fraud. We have the technology to do it. Now we need the leadership to implement that technology,” River said in a statement.

Cuomo Expects ‘Brisk Dialogue’ On Cap

Gov. Andrew Cuomo predicted today the property tax cap debate between his office and the Senate and Assembly will be “brisk” in the coming weeks.

Speaking to reporters at the news conference swearing in Kenneth Adams and Darrel Aubertine, Cuomo said the tax cap, along with an ethics bill and an extension of rent regulations are priorities for the rest of the year.

“There’s always room for negotiations, this is Albany, the property tax cap is a priority,” the governor said.

Asked later about Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ comments that a negotiation over the cap could result in a weaker bill than the governor’s 2 percent proposal, Cuomo said he would stick with his proposal on the cap.

“Are there different opinions on the cap? Yes. And have you new facts and different circumstances on the cap? Yes. I understand there will be a brisk dialogue and I’m ready for it.”

Earlier today, Skelos said he hoped Cuomo would hold firm on his original proposal for the cap, which would limit annual increases in local property taxes at 2 percent or the rate of inflation.

Here’s Cuomo’s responses to questions about the cap:

Defending Schneiderman’s Right To Defend

Civil rights groups and Assembly Democrats are rushing to defend AG Eric Schneiderman’s right to fight for the prisoner counting law he championed while serving in the Senate that is now the subject of a lawsuit filed by some of his former Republican colleagues.

During a Red Room press conference this afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state will definitely defend the change, which was made as part of the 2010-2011 budget. But he also suggested Schneiderman might not be the best person to represent the state in this case.

“We haven’t worked out who defends it,” Cuomo said. “The attorney general’s office would normally defend an action like this. I know in this case the attorney general was involved in the legislation himself, so we have to sort through those issues.”

(Recall that Cuomo has more than a passing interest in this lawsuit, since it challenges his right as governor to make policy through budget extender bills).

Around the same time Cuomo was speaking to reporters at the Capitol, the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, Community Service Society of New York, and Citizen Action of New York issued a statement decrying the Senate GOP suit, calling it a “politically-motivated challenge (that) puts at risk one of the greatest civil rights accomplishments of the last decade in New York State.”

“Fortunately, there is no person who is more familiar with this issue or better prepared to defend this important civil rights victory than New York’s Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman,” the groups said.

“We give him our full support in defending this statute to ensure that this year’s redistricting process does not once again dilute the votes of communities of color.”

Schneiderman also received support from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who reiterated through his spokesman, Michael Whyland, that the law is indeed constitutional and that it’s “absolutely appropriate” for the AG to defend it – regardless of the role he played in its passage.

Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who has become a spokesman for redistricting reform thanks to his experience of being drawn out of his own district after the last Census, also issued a statement in support of Schneiderman, calling the lawsuit “a transparent attempt to breathe life into the prison industrial complex.”

Redistricting Reform Groups Recruit Law Firm For Backup

Representatives from groups calling on the Legislature to pass redistricting reform received some pro bono help from a New York City-based law firm in hopes of refuting the Senate majority’s claim that an independent commission would be unconstitutional.

“The creation of an independent commission tasked with the development of redistricting plans does not violate the separation of powers doctrine because the commission itself does not enact the actual law,” said Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey, as it was written in a memo by the law firm, Weil, Gotshal and Manges, LLP.

The coalition of groups known as ReShapeNY also noted that a growing number of Assembly Democrats support Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s redistricting reform bill, but acknowledge there is still not enough momentum to move the bill in either house.

“New York State is closer than it has ever been in its history to changing the way redistricting is done,” said NYPIRG’s Blair Horner.

The governor’s program bill has stalled in the Senate. But the GOP majority recently passed a constitutional amendment, which leaders say clears up any confusion of the Legislature’s authority in drawing district lines.

“I don’t believe you can delegate away the authority of the legislature to some other entity,” said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. “We’ve taken the right approach with a constitutional amendment and let’s move on to other issues.”

Report: UB2020 Summit Scheduled

The Buffalo News’ Tom Precious reports the UB2020 summit Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledged to host in the Queen City after the key WNY initiative failed to make it into the budget passed last week by the Legislature will be held during the first week of May.

Sen. Mark Grisanti said the governor called him this morning, asking him to gather names of people from Western New York – including university and union officials – to attend the gathering. The panel also will include including Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat who has opposed the UB2020 plan.

Officials from SUNY at Stony Brook, which is interested in piggybacking onto the UB plan, may also be on the panel, said Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican.

“It’s a positive sign,” Grisanti said.

Word of the summit came as Glick, an influential lawmaker, expressed concerns about the UB2020 plan in a memo to her Assembly colleagues.

Precious notes Cuomo has signaled support for the UB2020 plan, but there’s concern about broadening it out and letting all SUNY schools set their own tuition levels.

‘The Census Is Senseless’ (Updated)

The Prison Policy Initiative has launched a campaign to end so-called “prison gerrymandering,” the practice of counting incarcerated individuals in the facilities where they’re doing time rather at their last known place of residence.

This practice was changed in New York last year thanks to a measure championed by then-Democratic majorities in both the Assembly and Senate, included in the 2010-2011 budget and signed into law by then-Democratic Gov. David Paterson.

Now that the Republicans are back in control of the Senate, they have challenged this change in a lawsuit filed Monday in state Supreme Court in Albany.

The suit alleges the switch was unconstitutional for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it was done via a budget extender bill.

That, of course, raises the stakes in this battle to a new level, since Gov. Andrew Cuomo used the extender bill threat pioneered by Paterson to force the Legislature to do an on-time budget deal with him or risk the possibility of a government shutdown.

If Cuomo no longer has that option available to him, then he’ll lose considerable power during the budget negotiation process.

In the meantime, the whole question of prison gerrymandering is a complicated one. The Prison Policy Initiative explains it thusly, which is fairly apt, albeit with an obvious slant (UPDATE: A reader offers some additional context by noting this clip is from the HBO show “Oz”):

No Negotiating Tax Cap, Says Skelos (VIDEO ADDED)

Negotiating Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2 percent cap on property taxes would ultimately weaken the bill, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos told reporters this afternoon.

Skelos, asked about the possibility that the cap wouldn’t be made a reality this year because of a lack of mandate relief, reiterated that the Republican-led Senate approved the measure Jan. 31.

Everybody has the right to express their opinion. I said, this I don’t know how many times, if the governor wants to negotiate it, or the Assembly wants to negotiate it, that means they want to water it down. So we’ve passed the hard property tax cap and we hope that the governor just like he did on opposing the continuation on the income tax surcharge, I hope he convinces the speaker to pass our property tax cap, which is the governor’s property tax cap.

Speaker Sheldon Silver told us earlier today that the tax cap bill was still under consideration and was being negotiated.

Cuomo’s bill would cap property tax increases at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.

“We’ve been working very closely with the governor and I think very effectively,” Skelos said. “All I know is we passed the governor’s program property tax bill and we’re very happy that we did. I would hope the Assembly and the speaker will take up the bill.”

NYSUT To Honor Cuomo’s Ex-Wife

….and that would be kerry Kennedy, of course.

The teacher’s union, which has been at odds with the governor since the 2010 campaign (recall that it did not endorse him) and battled him on budget cuts, is poised to presdent Kennedy tomorrow night with the Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service.

That award is described by NYSUT in a press release as “the union’s most prestigious award recognizing special contributions made to public education in the United States.” Shanker was a NYSUT co-founder and longtime AFT leader.

“Kennedy will be honored for her work in establishing the Speak Truth to Power human rights curriculum, which in conjunction with NYSUT, was introduced in schools throughout New York state in November,” the release explains.

“Through lesson plans developed by classroom teachers, the curriculum introduces students to human rights defenders from across the globe. Based on Kennedy’s book of the same name, the Speak Truth to Power curriculum ultimately aims to encourage students to abandon the role of ‘bystander’ and, instead, work to affect positive change in the world in which they live.”

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Conservative Party To Assembly: Pass The Tax Cap

Mike Long might be Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s best friend these days.

The state Conservative Party is calling on the Assembly to Cuomo’s cap on property taxes, a measure that has already been approved in the Senate in a memo released today.

We urge the Members of the Assembly to pass the real property tax cap immediately. The NYS budget has passed with cuts to the programs that receive funding from real property taxes and while there is no safeguard for real property owners this year (the effective date of this proposal is 2012) those who plan budgets must have the maximum amount of time to plan.

It’s one of several moves, including mailers and robocalls, that the party has done on behalf of Cuomo’s efforts since he took office. Long was an uneasy supporter of Republican Carl Paladino’s gubernatorial campaign after initially supporting Rick Lazio.

But it might not be the Assembly that needs convincing to make a cap on property taxes law. Though the Senate has approved the bill way back in January, there’s an evolving theory that Senate Republicans would be hesitant to support a cap, given the impact it would have on municipalities who still must contend with costly state mandates.

Senate Education Chairman John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, said a cap would likely not be achieved

this year without a bill for mandate relief.

Sen. Greg Ball, a Hudson Valley Republican, denied that was the case in a radio interview this morning. Ball also accused the governor’s office of playing politics with the issue.

“The state Senate majority conference is 110 percent committed to a property tax cap,” he said. “What’s happening is a little bit of politics from the governor’s office, they are trying to see a softening of a cap. We are committed to a hard line cap.”