Would Lawmakers Trade A Raise For Pay Diems?

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Tuesday said he would be in favor of overhauling how per diems are allocated if it meant getting a pay raise for his members.

His comments echoed the sentiments of Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who also backs per diem reform as a way to achieve the first legislative pay hike since 1998.

Now, rank-and-file lawmakers are adding their voice.

Democratic Assemblyman Karim Camara on a Capital Tonight interview said he would certainly support a pay increase from the base $79,500.

While not the top issue facing lawmakers, Camara said the hike is due given the dedication the job requires.

“I know it’s something that causes great controversy, but when you think about the fact the Legislature hasn’t had a pay raise since 1998… when you think about the dedication, people who are involved in the local communities, people involved know it’s not a part-time job,” Camara said. “It’s hard to argue against a group of people for not having a pay raise for close to 20 years.”

It remains to be seen whether lawmakers would be called back for a special session of the Legislature before the end of the year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo would probably seek some form of a pay increase for his commissioners, whose salaries are set by statute as well.

“I’m not sure,” Camara said when asked about a year-end session. “As they say in Albany, it doesn’t happen until it happens.”

Nature Conservancy Campaigns For Lake Ontario Management

From the Morning Memo:

The Nature Conservancy is undertaking a $250,000 ad campaign aimed at boosting a management plan for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

The campaign is supporting what’s called “Plan 2014″ that is being billed as an update to regulations governing water levels for the lake.

The current management plan has Ontario’s water levels and the flow of the St. Lawrence River regulated by the Moses Saunders Dam, which is part of a joint U.S.-Canada agreement dating back to 1952.

The problem for environmental groups and some local government officials is the current water-management configuration has damaged more than 64,000 acres of wetlands.

Supporters of the new regulatory water management system, developed by the International Joint Commission of Canada and the U.S., say it will provide a more natural level of water for the lake and increase hydropower production at the dam.

The plan has its opponents, however, including local officials who represent areas on the southern shore of the lake.

Rep. Chris Collins, a western New York Republican, is concerned the new management plan would especially harm residents who live in Orleans, Wayne and Niagara counties where the fear is the new water levels would erode shorelines and damage existing fortifications.

The management plan must still be approved by officials at the U.S. Department of State before it can be implemented.

To that end, the Nature Conservancy, along with a coalition of organizations, is countering the opposition with a radio and digital ad campaign to boost support for the proposed regulations.

The group, along with a coalition of environmental organizations, business leaders and members of parties — including Democratic Rep. Bill Owens and his successor, Republican Elise Stefanik — are in support of the effort.

The Nature Conservancy has also hired the PR consulting firm SKD Knickerbocker to help run its campaign efforts.

“Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River are two of our regions most important natural resources,” according to the group’s 30-second radio ad, which warns the lake is “at risk.”

“They supply healthy drinking water and our essential for our local recreation, electric power, commerce and hundreds of local businesses.”

Also in support of the plan is Republican Sen. Joe Griffo from the Utica-Rome area and Tony Collins, the president of Clarkson University and a co-chair of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.

Duffy To Take Helm Of Rochester Business Alliance

Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy will become the next CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance at the start of the new year, the organization announced on Wednesday morning.

Duffy starts his new job Jan. 5.

 In replacing retiring CEO Sandy Parker with Duffy, the RBA is getting a former mayor of Rochester who has close ties with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, now entering his second term.

“I would like to thank the Rochester Business Alliance Board of Directors, executive committee, and search committee for their confidence and for providing me with this outstanding opportunity,” Duffy said in a statement this morning. “I have always had immense respect for Rochester Business Alliance and its work advocating for business and the community at large and providing valuable services to its members. I look forward to returning home to Rochester and working as part of the great RBA team.”

Duffy has been nothing if not loyal to Cuomo over the last four years, and has helped direct economic development efforts on the administration’s behalf.

Cuomo, too, gets another ally in the upstate business community, which the governor has courted through tax policies and economic-development programs.

At the same time, Duffy could help shore up support for Cuomo in Rochester, a city that has felt miffed over the attention given to its neighbor to the west through the “Buffalo Billion” economic development program.

Cuomo has said he plans on a major upstate economic development push in his second term.

Duffy chose to not run for a second term, and was replaced on the Democratic ticket by Lt. Gov.-elect Kathy Hochul.

The development is not a surprising one.

Duffy had reportedly expressed interest in the top post at the Rochester Business Alliance last year, raising speculation that he would leave the administration early.

However, Duffy stayed for a full term, even as Parker put off her retirement by a year.

Here and Now

Happy Wednesday!

Governor Andrew Cuomo is in the New York City area with no public schedule.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is in Washington D.C., where he will participate in a Politico breakfast conversation with Mike Allen at the Hyatt Regency.

At 8:45 a.m., District Attorney Cyrus Vance sponsors 5th annual Financial Crimes and Cybersecurity Symposium, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 33 Liberty Street, Manhattan.

At 10:30 a.m., The Empire Center for Public Policy holds forum entitled “The Road Ahead: Renewing New York’s Highway Infrastructure” State St. and Lodge St., Albany.

At 11 a.m., The Assembly Committee on Children & Families and the Assembly Committee on Oversight, Analysis, & Investigation holds a roundtable to examine the needs of caseworkers in child protective investigations, Room 104A, LOB Albany.

At 1 p.m., The New York Immigration Coalition, in collaboration with partners, will announce new resources to help immigrant communities prepare for new or expanded programs and avoid immigration scams, in anticipation of an administrative relief announcement from President Obama, New York Immigration Coalition, 137-139 West 25th St, 12th Floor, Manhattan.

At 2 p.m., Former Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch is the keynote speaker at Discussing Detroit: a panel looking at the potential ripple effects of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history and what it might mean for New York, Albany Law School, 80 New Scotland Ave., Albany.

Ravitch will also be a guest on Capital Tonight at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.

At 2:45 p.m., Mayor Bill de Blasio participates in Panel Conversation at Center for American Progress’s Second Annual Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.

At 5:30 p.m., Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee meeting, Home of Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer and Lee Smith, 9 Inverness Road, Yonkers.

7 p.m. – New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and New York City Councilman Paul Vallone will attend a Clinton Democratic Club meeting, Trattoria 35, 213-15 35th Ave., Queens.

Headlines …

For those who deal with [Cuomo's] office, the big question is less a matter of who moves out, but who moves in, either from down the ranks or outside the administration. (Paywall)

In a combustible blend of oil and politics, the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected legislation Tuesday night aimed at forcing completion of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

New York’s two U.S. senators Tuesday night helped defeat a bill to authorize construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast, striking a blow against a member of their own party.

Bill de Blasio loves to preach about “diversity” and “equality” and “inclusion.” Now, Latinos are demanding he deliver on that promise — or else.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the rank-and-file police union are at odds over a union-backed bill to increase disability pensions for officers.

A “fight to the death” is looming in Albany over extending city rent regulations that are scheduled to expire in June, advocates warned Tuesday outside City Hall.

Two Thousand Fourteen will be seen as the year that New York City replaced the San Francisco Bay area as the capital of weird politics.

More >

Cuomo Deploys National Guard To Deal With WNY Snow

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has deployed the state’s National Guard to aid in the ongoing snowstorm that’s slammed Buffalo and western New York.

“We are deploying the National Guard to ramp up efforts to keep Western New York residents safe and to assist storm recovery efforts in any way possible,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Travel bans and advisories remain in effect, and I urge drivers to stay off the roads so that our state agencies and the National Guard can assist those that need help.”

The state is mobilizing 150 soldiers and airmen, along with 7 Bobcats, 10 dump trucks and five Humvee trucks.

The soldiers are coming from the 152nd Engineer company in Buffalo and the 827th Engineer Company in Horseheads.

Airmen being deployed are coming from the 107th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

Travel bans are also in effect in Lancaster, West Seneca, South Buffalo, Cheektowaga and Hamburg. Under the ban, driving is prohibited.

For wall-to-wall coverage of the ongoing snowstorm in the western New York region, be sure to check out our colleagues at Time Warner Cable News Buffalo.


After an Election Day that featured a wave of new voting restrictions across the country, data and details about who cast a ballot are being picked over to see if tighter rules swayed the outcomes of any races or contributed to the lowest voter turnout in 72 years.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Tuesday that the Legislature could take up a number of issues if it returns before the end of the year — including an infrastructure investment package using funds from the bank-settlement-driven surplus that’s now worth more than $5 billion.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he’s open to reforming the state’s oft-criticized system for reimbursing lawmakers’ lodging and food costs for days they’re in Albany.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito today called on President Barack Obama to take “swift and decisive” action on immigration — without an uncooperative Congress.

New York City voters approved 71 percent to 26 percent of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, but give him an 49 percent to 36 percent job-approval rating, a Quinnipiac University poll released today said.

Mayor de Blasio’s overall approval rating among voters has roughly stayed the same during the controversy surrounding his embattled aide Rachel Noerdlinger, but the racial divide over his job performance has widened, according to a new poll.

Beginning next year, city officials said on Monday, [abandoned payphones] will evolve into something deemed far more practical: thousands of Wi-Fi hot spots across the city, providing free Internet access, free domestic calls using cellphones or a built-in keypad, a charging station for mobile devices and access to city services and directions.

A total of 150 National Guard soldiers and airmen have been dispatched to western New York to help respond to a massive band of lake effect snow in the Buffalo area, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday.

Attorney Eric Schneiderman today issued several tips to help New Yorkers avoid snow-removal scams this upcoming winter.

The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday night on whether to consider legislation to end a once-secret National Security Agency program that systematically collects records of Americans’ phone calls in bulk.

A group of researchers sent a letter Monday calling on the leaders of 60 top universities to reject a sexual assault survey that, the researchers warn, could interfere with the federal government’s efforts to combat sexual assault on campus.

Two days after the third trespassing case this year on the Brooklyn Bridge, state lawmakers introduced a bill today that would increase the penalties for trespassing on high-profile structures.

Charter school advocates on Tuesday called on the state to increase facilities funding for charters, highlighting a little-noticed provision in new pro-charter legislation that only provides additional resources for new or expanding schools.

The state-appointed fiscal monitor of the East Ramapo school district wants a legislative intervention that would give an appointee veto power over the board’s “bad decisions.”

Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee said on Tuesday she plans to introduce legislation that would give a state appointee power to override decisions made by the East Ramapo school board and superintendent.

Richard Ravitch played a key role in pulling New York City back from the financial brink in 1975 and now, nearly 40 years later, the watchdogs working to make sure Detroit stays on the straight and narrow after bankruptcy will be hearing doses of his brash and blunt advice.

Ravitch will also be on Capital Tonight Wednesday at 8 p.m. (and again at 11:30 p.m.) 

The top spokesperson at the Pentagon put distance between the Defense Department and a top executive at Uber Tuesday.

Governing Magazine has named Ulster County Executive Mike Hein a top public official of the year.

The Philae space probe was powered down earlier than expected, but not before an instrument discovered an organic compound that was first detected in the comet’s atmosphere, the Wall Street Journal exclusively reported Monday.

Oh, and today, San Francisco’s mayor was a dog.

Advocacy Group Calls on State To Update 8 Year Old Building Codes

A coalition of organizations is calling on the state to update its building codes from the current 2006 regulations.

BUILD SAFE NY, a coalition of more than two dozen organizations dealing with building construction and safety, released a statement supporting an update Tuesday.

It’s a boring topic, but a change in building codes has the potential to significantly increase building safety statewide – but comes with a few strings attached.

Those strings are mostly financial. An updated set of codes means more regulations for buildings both commercial and residential. Changes must also be made to already existing buildings.

But despite the cost, supporters say the codes will improve the safety and sustainability of buildings old, and new.

“This is something that truly affects every single person,” Dottie Harris, Vice President of State & Local Government Relations for the International Codes Council, told State of Politics.

The International Codes Council is an association that creates and recommends an updated set of codes every three years. The codes are used in all fifty states in the U.S., and the District of Columbia.

While other states have stayed on track with updating their systems every three years, New York hasn’t approved a new set since 2010. Even then, they instituted the 2006 codes instead of the 2009. Harris says state officials were on track to put the 2012 codes in place, but by the time they got around to it, the 2015 codes were already in the works.

The 2015 codes have since been released (yes, it’s 2014 now), and according to Harris, are set to be put in place by August 2015. On behalf of the ICC, she testified at a State Fire Prevention and Building Code Council meeting today on the regulations.

It’s that body – comprised of a variety of officials from a variety of disciplines and regions statewide – that will ultimately approve the regulations. Since it’s an administrative function, the legislature actually has no say on whether the codes are approved or not, Harris says. They only need the nod from the council and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

And a lot has changed since 2006 that Harris says requires an update. For example, one new regulation requires flood vents in buildings statewide. Those vents are designed to prevent a total structure failure in situations like Hurricane Sandy, or just ordinary flash flooding.

“I think that’s why the codes are so important, and keeping them up to date, there’s always a balance,” Harris said.

That balance is the cost. Among the larger changes in the 2015 codes are regulations to improve weather preparedness, fire protection, accessibility and energy efficiency. You can see a few of the details in the PDF below.

The codes, themselves, are actually based on suggestions from the public. But, the process of choosing which codes to include isn’t a walk in the park. The ICC takes a look at the cost versus the benefit of a code change, as well as the effect it may have on the environment.

Part of that analysis includes implementing a 90-day transition period between the current regulations and the new, to give property owners enough time to make necessary changes.

There is no hard deadline for the codes to be approved, but as mentioned before, August 2015 is when supporters hope to see them active.

2015 ICC Codes

No Decision On Casino Siting Expected By Friday

Members of the board that will decide where to place up to four casinos won’t have a decision when state gaming regulators meet on Friday, according to a letter released this afternoon.

“We are scheduled to meet again this upcoming Friday, November 21. We expect to be able to make a decision at our next meeting,” wrote Kevin Law, the chairman of the casino location siting board to state Gaming Commission Chairman Mark Gearan.

Law is referring to the next scheduled meeting after the meeting that comes this Friday, according to the state Gaming Commission.

The panel — which is composed of Law, former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, Paul Francis, Dennis Glazer and Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz — has heard presentations over the last several months from developers who want to build resort-style casinos in three regions of the state north New York City: The Catskills/Hudson Valley, the Capital Region and the Finger Lakes/Southern Tier.

There are nine casino proposals all together.

The decision as to which developer and casino company will receive the licenses comes as the casino and gambling industry in the northeast has apparently cooled in part to a high concentration of casino sites in neighboring states.

11.18.14.GFLBLtrGearan by Nick Reisman

Silver: ‘Fine’ With Overhauling Per Diem System

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Tuesday indicated to reporters in Albany he would be open to changing how per diems are allocated to state lawmakers, possibly as a way to achieve a pay increase for the Legislature.

“I’m fine with that,” Silver said when asked about reforming the per diem system.

The current system was created as a reform in order to limit lawmakers overstating how much they should be reimbursed for working on taxpayer time.

But the per diem system has come under scrutiny after lawmakers linked to corruption scandals — including cases involving Assemblyman William Scarborough and former Assemblyman William Boyland.

“There’s a number of ways to do and obviously I’m open to suggestions as to how we would do it,” Silver said.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos on Monday in Albany said he would be open to linking a pay hike to per diem reform as well.

Both Silver and Skelos are backers of increasing the base pay for state lawmakers, which currently stands at $79,500. Lawmakers have not received a pay increase since 1999.

Any pay increase would likely have to be considered in a special session of the current lame-duck Legislature before the end of the year and newly elected lawmakers take their seats.

What remains to be seen is what Gov. Andrew Cuomo would want from the Legislature in exchange for signing off on a pay increase. Cuomo would likely come under pressure from advocates for a minimum wage hike and the Dream Act, but also could use the issue to gain leverage for approval on infrastructure projects and spending of a multi-billion surplus.

Add Another $315M To The State’s Surplus

The state’s surplus — fueled in large part by massive financial settlements — just got $315 million larger.

The Department of Financial Services on Tuesday announcement its latest enforcement action that includes a $315 million penalty levied against the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi.

The bank was accused last year of conducting transactions with Iran, Sudan and Myanmar. But in the process of the investigation over the transactions with the sanctioned countries, a misleading report from the bank’s consultant was sent to regulators that hid evidence of the transactions.

A state investigation found the bank sought to pressure accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers that removed signs of the transactions from a report that had been sent to the Financial Services Department.

“BTMU employees pressured PwC into watering down a supposedly objective report on the Bank’s dealings with Iran and other sanctioned countries, thereby misleading regulators,” said DFS Superintendent Ben Lawsky. “It is clear that we – as a regulatory community – must work aggressively to reform the cozy relationship between banks and consultants, which far too often has resulted in shoddy work that sweeps wrongdoing under the rug.”​

Regulators said the bank requested that PwC edit out original warning language in a report that would ultimately be submitted to state regulators and included a passage that offered misleading language to state the opposite of what happened.

The employees of PricewaterhouseCoopers who were involved in crafting the misleading language are now retired and the accounting firm is conducting reforms of how it handles such reports.

This is the second time Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi has paid a large settlement to the state.

In June 2013, the bank paid a $250 million settlement for its transactions with the sanctioned countries.

Before today’s announcement of the Tokyo Mitsubishi fine, the state’s surplus was estimated at $3.6 billion.

The order can be viewed here.