The Anti-Climax Of The PACB Vote

From the Morning Memo:

There was little resistance to approving $485.5 million in economic development spending for the under-investigation Buffalo Billion program at a meeting of the Public Authorities Control Board.

The meeting itself, which included more reporters (some of whom were attending attending their first PACB meeting ever in the anonymous, cubby-like room on the first floor of the Capitol) than actual members of the board dwelled for about five minutes on the spending proposal before the board signed off on it.

And the lone sitting lawmaker to attend was Republican Assemblyman Joe Giglio.

Assembly Democrats did call for greater oversight of the spending, including monthly reports as well as updates on the number of jobs being created for the amount of money that’s being spent.

Still, like most things in Albany that are built up as a key event, the moment itself was anti-climatic one, save for the fleeting moment in which reporters trailed an attorney from the Empire State Development Corp. asking his name.

The money being approved was not wholly surprising, either, given the comments from state legislative leaders in the run up to the vote of the need to keep the project funded.

The money is disbursed for the RiverBend project, site of the 1.2-million-square-foot SolarCity factory in western New York, a key piece of the Buffalo Billion.

Keeping the status quo for the program in place is a victory for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose signature plan for aiding western New York’s moribund economy has been under fire from federal investigators over the last month.

Speaking with reporters in Syracuse on Wednesday at around the same time the vote was taking place, Cuomo insisted the project should move forward amid what he termed a limited investigation.

“This is a major effort the state is running that is working extraordinarily well and is vitally important to upstate New York,” Cuomo said. “There is no reason to stop investing in upstate New York, to hurt the upstate economy, because a couple of people may or may not have done something wrong.”

Initially the meeting was scheduled for last week, but was postponed due to scheduling issues, according to state officials.

House Majority PAC Looks for NY Pick-Ups

From the Morning Memo:

The House Majority PAC, the leading super PAC that aims to assist the Democrats in retaking control of Congress, is feeling optimistic about its chances in New York this fall, suggesting in a new memo that at least six GOP-held seats could be flipped in the general election.

“Multiple Republican incumbents and challengers are finding their already-precarious political prospects diminishing even further as they struggle with a damaging party brand, a toxic presidential ticket-mate, and increasingly prove themselves out of touch with their own districts,” the PAC’s executive director, Alixandria Lapp, wrote in the memo being released today.

The districts in play, according to the PAC, are: NY-1, NY-19, NY-21, NY-22, NY-23, and NY-24. Two of those – NY-19 and NY-22 – are open seats, thanks to decisions by their current Republican occupants, Rep. Chris Gibson and Rep. Richard Hanna, respectively, not to seek re-election.

Lapp notes that despite the big win by presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump in New York’s April presidential primary, he’s still polling far behind his fellow New Yorker, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, in general election head-to-head match ups.

And, according to those same polls, Trump’s favorability ratings are in the dumps. (Then again, so are Clinton’s, so perhaps that’s not the best data point to be citing).

Not all GOP candidates have wholeheartedly embraced Trump. Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin – a top Democratic target – has endorsed him, but another Republican whose district is in play this fall, freshman Rep. John Katko, of Syracuse, has declined to do so, saying the billionaire developer has to “earn” his vote.

The House Majority PAC, which was founded in 2011, has already placed airtime reservations for this fall targeting NY-1 and NY-24, though a dollar amount wasn’t immediately available. The PAC is weighing its options for further investments, a spokesman said.

In the 2012 cycle, in which Democrats won three competitive House races – including two pick-ups – the House Majority PAC spent more than $2 million, all told.

According to Lapp, the PAC this year plans to “play a significant role in helping ensure victories in House races across the Empire State.”

Time Running Short For Any Ethics Deal

From the Morning Memo:

The clock on the legislative session is winding down, and yet there’s been little to no public progress made on ethics or campaign finance reform in Albany. Lawmakers say it’s getting late in the year to reach a deal.

“I would say right now my optimism is low because we’ve had the entire session here to do something specific,” said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb.

Time is running short in Albany, with 9 legislative session days to go before lawmakers leave the Capitol for the rest of the year and focus, in most cases, on running for re-election.

But signs of any agreement on ethics reform, at least for now, appear elusive.

In the state Senate, lawmakers are at odds over proposals to ban unlimited donations from limited liability companies. A bill that would have done so was bottled up in a committee earlier in May.

“I never say never, otherwise why would I get up in the morning and come back here so, there’s always room for hope and a chance,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan. “I’ve continuously said all year why are we wasting the crisis of corruption? Why aren’t we fixing ourselves?”

In the Assembly, meanwhile, a constitutional amendment to strip corrupt officials of their pensions was approved last year, but that version differs from what was passed by the Senate. Lawmakers there are growing frustrated the amendment will ever pass.

“There’s several version of pension forfeiture bills out there,” said Assemblyman Dan Stec, a Republican from Queensbury. “I’m at the point now where any of them is better than doing none of them. It may be one that is yet to be even drafted.”

For his part, Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans a roll out of ethics reform bills over the next several days. He released eight different versions of a bill to close the LLC loophole on Tuesday.

“We’ll talk about income limits. We’ll talk independence,” Cuomo said. “Then we’ll talk about term limits, but we have a full agenda.”

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Nassau County and New York City. The Legislature is not in session.

Vice President Joe Biden is in New York City today for a a roundtable discussion on cancer. He’ll also attend a fundraiser at a private residence for Sen. Russ Feingold and receive an award and deliver remarks at Intrepid’s 25th Anniversary Salute to Freedom Gala.

A fuller calendar of the day’s events appears at the end of this post.

Headlines…

A 33-year-old man was killed and three other people were wounded when gunfire broke out during a rap concert at Irving Plaza in Manhattan last night, sending panicked concertgoers streaming for the exits, the police and witnesses said

A state control board approved $485 million in funding to complete the SolarCity project in Buffalo, although not without imposing additional scrutiny over how the money is spent in the months ahead.

Assembly representatives requested additional oversight measures of the project, including monthly updates on the project from Fort Schuyler Management Corp. — a development arm of SUNY Polytechnic Institute — as well as the Empire State Development Corp. board and the PACB.

SolarCity’s huge upfront costs are the main reason why the company regularly loses money. It recently reported a $215 million quarterly loss at a time it earned only $113 million, and analysts don’t expect the company to become profitable anytime soon. Its growth depends on its ability to raise cash from investors.

Legislation eliminating the state “tampon tax” is now in the hands of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who plans to sign it into law. The bill eliminates feminine hygiene products — including tampons, pads and sanitary napkins — from the 4 percent state sales tax, and would also have the effect of wiping out any country sales taxes on the products.

Just in time for mosquito season, the state is launching an ad blitz to remind New Yorkers about the dangers of the Zika Virus. Cuomo’s office announced an “aggressive” campaign involving TV, radio and online ads as well as billboards and bus and subway signs.

Convening his task force on the heroin epidemic, Cuomo told Staten Islanders that he expects to get laws passed this session to address the deadly addiction that many New Yorkers have become all too familiar with.

The governor is taking on both the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries in his effort to curb the state’s surge in heroin and opioid addiction.

Cuomo says a new task force will analyze the State Fairgrounds in Onondaga County to determine if there would be an economic benefit to privatizing the fairgrounds, either partially or in full.

Billy Joel and Cuomo talk about their shared love of pasta, boating and “feeling anonymous” in a new interview with Beach magazine. The governor, who interviewed his longtime singer/songwriter friend, also revealed his the godfather to Joel’s daughter, Della Rose, who turns 1 in August.

The legislative effort to return control of NYRA to private hands left the starting gate with a bill filed by GOP Sen. John Bonacic that conforms to some, but not all, of Cuomo’s demands. One of the main differences centers on the number of appointments the governor would get on the association’s newly configured board of directors.

Bonacic wants to replace the current 17-member NYRA board with a 15-member board, with eight of the appointments controlled by the association and four of the appointments controlled by the state government. Two additional seats would be reserved for horsemen’s and breeders’ organizations, and the final seat would be filled by the association’s chief executive.

Legislation was crafted in both the state Senate and Assembly this week that would allow the sites to resume operations in New York with oversight from the state Gaming Commission. Sponsors of both measures said they are optimistic a final agreement can be reached before the Legislature ends its session on June 16.

In a move aimed at dampening the impact of “broken windows” policing, the New York City Council passed bills to create a civil process for some of the most common low-level infractions observed by police officers, including public drinking and public urination.

Elected officials are demanding NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio cough up records on pending deed restrictions, such as one that resulted in four investigations into the sale of a Lower East Side nursing home. “We’re all frustrated,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said.

De Blasio has been ducking for cover while getting battered by probes and negative polls. The mayor hasn’t answered questions from the City Hall press corps in more than a week and he wasn’t even in town over a three-day weekend while visiting his brother in Seattle.

More >

WNY Small Business Owner Announces Congressional Bid

A Western New York small business owner plans to challenge Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, this fall. Republican Sally Schratz, a lifelong Amherst resident, said she believes the government needs to change its path.

“Instead of electing a lifelong politician funded by the lobbyists and special interests, it’s time for a new voice for Western New York, someone who has the proven skills to get the job done, stand up for hardworking taxpayers, implement common sense solutions, and most importantly, someone who will empower citizens rather than government,” she said.

Schratz and her husband own Bing’s restaurant in Amherst and she’s served as a member of the town board. She’s came close to unseating an incumbent county legislator in 2009 but lost by a wider margin in the 2011 rematch.

Higgins has been a member of Congress since 2005 and was challenged by Conservative radio host Kathy Weppner in 2014.

 

Klein And Moya Write To Feds On Herbalife

Two state lawmakers on Wednesday released a letter to federal regulators urging they include sweeping reforms to multi-level marketing companies like Herbalife in order to prevent them from taking financial advantage of consumers.

The letter from Sen. Jeff Klein and Assemblyman Francisco Moya to the Federal Trade Commission comes as regulators are nearing a resolution to an ongoing investigation into the company’s business practices.

Klein has introduced a bill that would push multi-level marketing companies like Herbalife to document and disclosue retail sales to those participating, but are not in a distributor network. The companies would also be required to to release average annual income and commissions earned by independent distributors.

“Herbalife should also be required to disclose to the public where nutrition clubs are located and provide regulators proof that these businesses comply with state and federal labor laws. Additionally, rewards designed to incentivize recruitment (e.g. Production Bonus) and the product purchasing requirements that encourage so-called inventory loading should be removed immediately,” Klein and Moya wrote in the letter.

Lawmakers have expressed concerns over the company’s business practices, considering they have operated nutrition clubs in minority neighborhoods as a way of taking advantage of low-income people.

FTC Herbalife Letter by Nick Reisman

Extras

The State Department’s inspector general has sharply criticized Hillary Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, saying she had not sought permission to use it and would not have received it if she had.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said he is still not ready to endorse Donald Trump, despite reports that he is about to back the businessman as the Republican presidential nominee.

A majority of New York City voters believe Mayor Bill de Blasio does favors for his political donors, a new Quinnipiac poll found.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he had no input into SUNY Polytechnic Institute awarding $100 million in contracts to his top campaign contributor in Central New York, COR Development.

Cuomo said he will seek bids from private companies to run the New York State Fair or to jointly run the fair with the state.

Bart Schwartz, the former federal prosecutor hired by Cuomo to investigate potential fraud in the state’s Buffalo Billion program, has retained New York City PR firm Montieth & Co.

The NYC Council passed a series of criminal justice reforms to sharply curtail the punishments for low-level offenses such as littering and peeing in public, an overhaul intended to help unclog the courts and jails of the nation’s largest city.

Three years after scandal forced the Assembly to overhaul its sexual harassment policy, victims of the old system say their careers are still suffering and wonder whether the new one will protect other women like them.

Clinton contemplated vice presidential running mates (not really) on The Ellen Show.

Carl Paladino on Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren: She’s “from that pot smoking generation that’s hallucinating at times off the planet.”

Cuomo told residents of opioid addiction-ravaged Staten Island that he considered the present-day heroin epidemic worse than the crack epidemic that tore through predominantly nonwhite New York neighborhoods during the 1980s.

Mount Sinai Beth Israel will close its existing hospital and replace it with a much smaller facility, significantly reducing the number of hospital beds in lower Manhattan.

State Assembly candidate Dean Hart plans to show up at the Nassau County Democratic Party’s nominating convention at the Cradle of Aviation in Garden City tonight with a live donkey — the symbol of the Democratic Party.

A bill sponsored by Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco would increase the fine for littering on a highway or adjacent land from $350 to $700. Conviction on a second offense would cost a person $1,400, up from $700. A same-as version of this measure is stuck in the Assembly Transportation Committee.

ICYMI: Here’s the LCA show response offered last night by the Upstate Democratic Women’s Caucus, (an entity created by Susan Arbetter), in which yours truly has a cameo.

Driving upstate with actor Viggo Mortensen, who (did you know?) is a Watertown High School and St. Lawrence University graduate.

Cuomo: No Reason To Stop Investing In Upstate Because Of Investigation

The investigation into economic development spending should not hinder further investment in key projects, Gov. Andrew Cuomo insisted while in Syracuse on Wednesday.

Cuomo’s comments come as the state Public Authorities Control Board this afternoon approved $485.5 million in spending for a key project in the Buffalo Billion program, which is under federal investigation.

Cuomo in his comments to reporters, indicated the investigation was limited in its scope to a handful of individuals, believed to be lobbyist Todd Howe and former gubernatorial aide and confidant Joe Percoco.

“This is a major effort the state is running that is working extraordinarily well and is vitally important to upstate New York,” Cuomo said. “There is no reason to stop investing in upstate New York, to hurt the upstate economy, because a couple of people may or may not have done something wrong.”

No has been arrested or charged, but the swirling investigations have led to lawmakers calling for increased oversight of how economic development money is being spent in New York. Assembly Democrats indicated today at the PACB meeting they wanted to take a broader role in oversight of Buffalo Billion spending.

The Buffalo Billion program has been a signature push for western New York’s economy undertaken by Cuomo since his first term as governor. SUNY Polytechnic, which has been a key entity for economic development spending in the program, is being probed by the state attorney general for potential bid rigging.

Cuomo, for his part, pointed to the hiring of a “top shelf” former prosecutor, Bart Schwartz, to review and investigate Buffalo Billion contracting.

“You have questions raised about the conduct of several individuals,” Cuomo said. “That’s now being investigated by the U.S. attorney. We also started our own internal investigation by a former prosecutor.”

Assembly Seeks New Oversight For Buffalo Billion Spending

The Assembly Democratic conference was able to gain new oversight requirements for spending under the Buffalo Billion economic development project.

Some of the new requirements were spelled out by the Democratic conference’s proxy at the Public Authorities Control Board meeting on Wednesday afternoon following the approval of $485.5 million in spending for a key project in the program, which is under federal investigation.

That oversight includes a review by a third party, said to be Bart Schwartz, the independent investigator hired by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

A proxy for the Assembly Democratic representative on the board, Fiscal Studies Deputy Director Ashley Ryle, laid out the conference’s concerns with the spending:

“We are being called upon to authorize a substantial sum for a project that has generated a great deal of public interest, and its success is integral to providing economic opportunity in Western New York, and the state as a whole,” she said, according to prepared remarks.

“Therefore, as a condition to our approval, the Assembly requests that FSMC and/or the beneficiary company provide updates to the ESD Board on a monthly basis, regarding the overall progress being made on the project, and adherence to the terms and conditions that are stipulated in the funding overview. ESD shall monitor all approved and disapproved expenses. Extending this further, we request that PACB be updated monthly on similar terms, to ensure the public has faith in–and the appropriate level of information on–this critical project.”

The Assembly is seeking clarified meeting materials to more accurately reflect the agreement and limit the expenditure of public funding to the SolarCity project at RiverBend with not additional beneficiaries without PACB approval.

At the same time, the conference wants a clearer articulation for the consequences for failing to meet jobs and investment goals under the program.

Assembly Dem Women Take Over New York

… At least in their rebuttal video for last night’s LCA Show.

Here it is, featuring upstate Democratic women in the Assembly (and Capital Tonight’s Liz Benjamin in a cameo):