Barclays To Pay NY $485M Fine

Federal and state banking regulators have hit Barclays with a $2.4 billion fine for its role in manipulating spot trading in the foreign exchange market and New York is due to receive $485 million from the penalty, the Department of Financial Services on Wednesday announced.

“Put simply, Barclays employees helped rig the foreign exchange market,” Department of Financial Services Superintendent Ben Lawsky said in a statement. “They engaged in a brazen ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ scheme to rip off their clients. While today’s action concerns misconduct in spot trading, there is additional work ahead.”

It is the latest fine levied against a financial giant that will come on top of multi-billion dollar settlements that provided the state with a windfall spent in a variety of areas, including shoring up the state Thruway Authority and a $1.5 billion economic development competition upstate.

In April, Deutsche Bank receive a $2.5 billion for manipulating interest rates, with New York receiving $600 million of that settlement money.

Westchester County Republican Terrence Murphy this morning called for the Deutsche Bank settlement funds to go toward both mandate relief and infrastructure investment.

“Clean water is perhaps the most basic and essential service government can provide,” Murphy said in a statement. “Albany has told the towns in my district they need to come up with $400 million worth of improvements to scrub phosphorous out of New York City’s reservoirs, yet they haven’t spent a nickel on this unfunded mandate. We know that the tax cap cannot be effective over the long-term without mandate relief, and now that we’ve voted to make it permanent, I’m pushing fundamental mandate relief for our communities.”

Morelle Backs Cap Extension, But With A Sunset

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle in an interview said he supports keeping the property tax cap largely as it is, but not making the measure permanent.

Giving legislation like the ceiling increase on local property taxes an expiration or “sunset” date in Albany parlance allows lawmakers to review it periodically.

“I’m actually a big fan of sunsetting more legislation than not simply because as circumstances change, it gives you an opportunity to make adjustments and amendments as time goes on,” Morelle, a Rochester-area Democrat, said.

The Republican-led Senate on Tuesday evening approved an indefinite extension of the cap, which was first signed into law in 2011 and has been imposed on local governments and school districts since 2012.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the property tax cap’s champion in 2011, also backs a permanent extension of the measure.

The tax cap is not due to expire until next year, but it is linked to the extension of rent control for New York City, which is due to end in June.

While the Senate re-approved the tax cap, the Democratic-led Assembly backed its own version of rent control extensions for the city that also strengthens the regulations.

Assembly Democrats, meanwhile, are more hesitant to back a permanent extension of the property tax cap and have called for some changes to the cap, as well as a renewed push for more state aid and relief from mandated state spending.

Morelle backs changes that he called “primarily technical in nature” but added the approval of the cap shouldn’t be linked to more mandate relief.

“I’m comfortable with it standing alone and I think it stands by itself and makes great sense,” he said.

Advocates Counter Cuomo On Criminal Justice Reform

From the Morning Memo:

In recent days, the governor has stepped up his efforts to get the Legislature to pass his criminal justice reform package before the session ends, even going so far as to publicly goad them through a letter published on The Huffington Post.

But lawmakers are getting an entirely different message from progressive advocates and family members who have lost loved ones to police violence.

What Cuomo views as a threat – going his own way if the Legislature doesn’t act by appointing a special prosecutor to handle cases of individuals who die at the hands of police – is exactly what the advocates want, and so they are urging lawmakers to ignore the governor’s call for action.

“What we are telling legislators at the state level is to not act on the independent monitor proposal because what the families are calling for, and what we think the next step should be, is a special prosecutor in these cases,” Jose Lopez, a lead organizer with Make the Road New York, said during a CapTon interview last night.

“We would prefer the legislature to not act so that the governor can act on his promise to the families.”

Lopez said the families don’t like Cuomo’s independent monitor idea, which creates a drawn out process for getting to a special prosecutor – if, in fact, one is appointed at all.

In short, what Cuomo wants to do is have the monitor review cases after they have played out at the local level and come to what might be seen as an unsatisfactory conclusion – likely a “no bill” decision by a grand jury, like we saw in the Eric Garner case.

If the monitor determines that a special prosecutor is warranted, then he or she would make that recommendation.

Lopez said the families and their allies would prefer the immediate appointment of a special prosecutor – preferably the state attorney general – which is what AG Eric Schneiderman himself has advocates.

They made that preference clear during a recent meeting at the Capitol with Cuomo, and received his assurance that their desire would be realized if the Legislature failed to act.

I asked Lopez if he believes Cuomo will indeed keep his word on this issue, noting that in the past, some of the governor’s promises – like a pledge not to sign a politically-driven redistricting plan, or to push hard for campaign finance reform – have not been realized. His response:

“I can only hope that if he sat in the room across the table from eight families who lost their sons and daughters at the hands of police violence who are saying: This is not about our sons and daughters. This is not retroactive. We’re doing this for future New Yorkers who we may lose, and their moms and their dads. If he sat in that room and told those mothers he would act, I would hope that he does.”

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City with no public schedule. He said last week he would take some “personal time” as his girlfriend, Sandra Lee, recovers from breast cancer surgery.

The Assembly is in session at 10 a.m., the Senate at 11 a.m.

At 7:30 a.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio appears live on CBS This Morning to discuss the historic opening of One World Observatory. The show will be broadcasted from the top of One World Trade Center in advance of the observatory’s public opening on May 29.

At 8:40 a.m., NYC Councilman Ben Kallos, joined by PS 290 kindergarten and 1st grade students, will announce planned pesticide legislation, P.S. 290, 82nd Street between 1st and 2nd avenues, playground in back, Manhattan.

At 8:45 a.m., LG Kathy Hochul speaks at New York State’s First Cancer Prevention Summit, Midtown Hilton, 1335 Ave. of the Americas, 2nd Floor Ballroom, Manhattan.

At 10 a.m., Hochul speaks at a rally being held prior to the fast food wage board’s first public meeting, sidewalk at 75 Varick Street
(Between Grand and Watts Streets), Manhattan. A similar “Fight for $15″ rally will be held outside the Senate chamber on the Capitol’s 3rd Floor).

From 10 a.m. to noon, Cuomo’s Nail Salon Industry Enforcement Task Force hosts an information forum for salon owners and workers about new and existing industry regulations, counsel Alphonso David; Secretary of State Cesar Perales; Deputy Secretary of Labor Elizabeth de León Bhargava; NYC Public Advocate Letitia James; nail salon owners and workers will attend, New York Public Library, 455 Fifth Ave., Manhattan.

At 11 a.m., the fast food wage board meets for the first time, 75 Varick St., 7th floor, Manhattan.

Also at 11 a.m., Sen. David Carlucci, president of the state Conference of Italian-American State Legislators, will be hosting a briefing with the Italian Counsul General, Natalia Quintavalle, Room 124, state Capitol, Albany.

At 6 p.m., the NYC Department of Education holds a public meeting on educational policy, 883 Classon Ave., Brooklyn. (Schools Chanellor Carmen Farina will attend).

Also at 6 p.m., Monroe County Republican Chairman Bill Reilich and the Monroe County Republican Committee will be endorsing candidates for the 2015 election, Radisson Hotel Rochester Riverside, 120 East Main St., Rochester.

Headlines…

Gov. Andrew Cuomo dressed in scrubs and accompanied his longtime girlfriend, Sandra Lee, into the operating room yesterday, where she underwent a double mastectomy as part of her treatment for breast cancer. In a statement after the surgery, Cuomo said Lee was doing “as well as can be expected.”

As Assembly Democrats finalized their changes to the state’s new teacher evaluation system, state Senate Democrats called for passage of an education package that also includes evaluation fixes. The calls come with just 13 session days left on the legislative calendar.

The Democrat-controlled state Assembly approved legislation to extend and strengthen city rent regulations, setting up a battle with the state Senate.

The Assembly majority has decided to prioritize strengthening rent regulations, opting to take the path of least resistance on mayoral control, passing a law extending the power for three years – not the seven years originally proposed, let alone the permanent extension NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has sought.

Schools budgets were overwhelmingly approved in WNY, though turnout was – as predicted – quite low, and has been dropping since the 2 percent tax cap was enacted.

A coalition of business groups argue the four-year-old cap has saved New York taxpayers an estimated $7.6 billion since it first took effect. The Senate Republicans passed a bill introduced by new Majority Leader John Flanagan to make it permanent.

Cuomo’s end-of-session priority list apparently does not include the DREAM Act, through it does include the education tax credit he initially linked – unsuccessfully – to DREAM during the budget battle.

The Los Angeles City Council approved a $15 an hour minimum wage, prompting de Blasio to say New York needs to follow suit.

Public housing residents are wary of de Blasio’s plan to turn around the financially-troubled NYCHA.

The search for a new Buffalo superintendent is on, and already members on both sides of the board’s ideological divide are collecting names and recruiting potential candidates.

Lancaster School District voters, angry about the abrupt retiring of their mascot, tossed out two incumbents who voted to do away with the mascot that was beloved by many and deemed racist by others.

More >

Senate Approves Permanent Property Tax Cap

Senate Republicans on Tuesday approved a permanent extension of the state’s cap on local property tax increases as a debate is expected to heat up in the coming weeks over the measure.

The bill to extend the cap indefinitely was approved 47-13.

“By permanently continuing the cap, we will bring certainty to taxpayers, help them keep more of their hard-earned money, create good jobs, and grow our economy for the future,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said in a statement. “The Assembly and the Governor must help us take the next step and make the current property tax cap permanent.”

First approved in 2011, the cap does not expire until next year, but it is considered linked to the re-approval of rent control regulations for New York City and outlying areas, which is due to sunset by June 15.

The measure limits tax levy increases at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.

The vote in the Senate coincides with school districts across the state putting their budgets before voters, as well as the release of a report showing $7.6 billion in savings from the cap.

Assembly Democrats this afternoon approved their own preferred version of a rent control extension which strengthens the regulations and ends the practice of vacancy decontrol.

Democratic lawmakers in the chamber have spoken in recent months of making alterations to the cap as well as approving new measures aimed at reducing state-mandated spending.

Local government advocates, too, have called for reducing Albany-imposed spending on the local level.

“Making the property tax cap permanent without providing mandate relief is not sustainable,” said Stephen Acquario, the executive director of the New York State Association of Counties. “We are putting a Bandaid on a broken leg. The tax cap is great for bringing attention to high property taxes in New York State, but it does not fix the problem. We can and must do more.”

A permanent tax cap is backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who introduced the measure in 2011 and has railed against property taxes in the state.

Cuomo’s additional efforts to induce lawmakers to pass a version of the so-called “circuit-breaker” that ties tax increases to a households income have faltered in the last two budget proposals.

The governor was able to have lawmakers back a program — which he termed a “freeze” — that provided rebates in an election year to homeowners whose taxing districts budgeted within the cap.

Extras

Hillary Clinton has broken her 28-day streak avoiding the press. Following a campaign event in Iowa, the Democratic presidential candidate meandered over to the rope line to greet the media answering a total of six questions from reporters.

Clinton called on the State Department to “expedite” the release of the records from her time in office after news that it might take until January to publish the cache recently turned over by her office.

American Crossroads released a new web ad calling out Clinton for refusing to answer more questions and for dodging those to which she has agreed to respond.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced it had begun a special inspection at Indian Point Energy Center following a transformer failure that sparked a fire in the plant’s nonnuclear section earlier this month

Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city, voted to increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020, in what is perhaps the most significant victory so far in the national push to raise the minimum wage.

New York officials are banning all feathered fowl from all fairs across the state this year, a reaction to the latest outbreak of avian influenza.

Cuomo wore a “neat tie” underneath his scrubs to attend to his girlfriend, Sandra Lee, during her breast cancer surgery. “If it’s possible to look red carpet-ready in scrubs, they were THAT couple.”

Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized both Democrats and Republicans for failing to boost the nation’s infrastructure.

Thank super lawyer Alan Dershowitz — at least in part — for Rep. Charlie Rangel suddenly reversing his decision to skip Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s contentious March 3 address to Congress.

AG Eric Schneiderman announced his office would use $1.2 million in money from its myriad settlements with large financial institutions to stem the city’s ballooning homelessness crisis.

Sen. Jose Rivera has added a selfie stick to his infamous collect of recording equipment.

NYCHA plans to offer private developers a chance to build mixed-income towers on underused parcels to stabilize the agency’s finances and create apartments for poor tenants.

Mark J Tierno, the president of Cazenovia College for the past 15 years, is leaving to take a new job as president of MacMurray College in in Jacksonville, Ill.

A personal account of the deadly Amtrak derailment by NY Obsverer reporter Jill Jorgensen.

Buffalo is about to participate – in a small way – in a growing national trend that gives residents a direct vote on how a slice of their tax money is spent.

Rep. Kathleen Rice has passed her first bill as a member of Congress, a measure that would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to give preference in awarding contracts to companies with high concentrations of veteran employees.

Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student who carried a mattress around the school all year to raise awareness of campus sexual assault, attended her college graduation ceremony today while carrying the mattress.

Hundreds of Yonkers education advocates said at the Capitol today that the district needs an additional $26 million from the state to avoid a Board of Education plan that would cut all sports, limit supplies, reduce special education and eliminate as many as 200 staff members.

EITC Remains A Question For Assembly

The passage of a bill meant to spur donations aimed at benefiting private and public schools remains problematic for the Democratic-led Assembly, Speaker Carl Heastie on Tuesday told reporters.

“I still think the conference is where it is. It still has some members that support it,” Heastie said at a news conference this afternoon. “It’s an unwritten rule, but it’s a rule: This is a governmental body and majority rules. I’ve been very clear that if we don’t have a majority of Democrats to pass a bill, we’re not going to bring to the floor.”

Opposition continues in the Assembly even as supporters point to the dozens of lawmakers from both parties who have signed on in support of a version of the legislation, which would provide a tax credit to those who donate to public schools or to a scholarship program that benefits a private or parochial school.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this move has been promoting his latest version of the bill, which provides up to a $150 million in tax credits.

Cuomo has urged supporters of the measure to contact lawmakers, especially in the Assembly, directly. Meanwhile, tax credit backers released today a pair of TV ads supporting the legislation. NYSUT has its own radio ads airing for the next 10 days.

But Heastie indicated he won’t be be swayed by the public push.

“I don’t care what campaign goes on publicly,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Assembly plans to move forward with a package of changes to the education policies approved in the state budget, which will be directed at altering deadlines for implementing new teacher evaluation criteria as well as reforms to the controversial Common Core education standards.

“We are probably going to be looking to advance that pretty soon,” Heastie said. “We kind of wanted to defer to the experts and take the right amount of time to implement the system.”

It will be unlikely that lawmakers can get Cuomo, who championed the reforms in the budget, to back the changes.

“The governor knows where we are and our concerns,” Heastie said.

Assembly Extends, Strengthen Rent Control Regulations

The Democratic-led Assembly on Tuesday approved its version of extending rent control regulations for New York City and the surrounding area, though a broader deal with Republicans in the Senate still must be hashed out.

The Democratic version of the bill would extend rent control through June 15, 2019 and end the practice of vacancy decontrol of empty dwellings.

Other measures aimed at strengthening rent regulations were included as well that are unlikely to be backed by GOP lawmakers in the chamber.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie acknowledged at a news conference the bill remains under negotiations with Senate Republicans.

“I think, for us, we’ll put together what we think is needed, what the city needs,” Heastie said at a news conference. “It’s difficult for me to speculate on just because it’s now John Flanagan whether they’re going to change who they are or change their negotiating. We’re just going to make our case why we should get the Senate to pass the bill.”

Rent control, along with an extension of the 421a tax abatement remain under discussion as the legislative session begins to wind down.

Questions remain over the tax abatement, as it played a role in the scandal surrounding former Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who stepped down this month and was replaced last week by Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican.

At the same time, rent control is tied to the existence of a cap on property tax increases, which impacts suburban and upstate counties. Tax cap supporters want the measure extended indefinitely.

Heasite would not say whether he backed keeping the cap, due to expire next year, and the rent control entwined together.

“That’s something that’s on their list,” Heastie said of Senate Republicans, “and we’ll see what happens when we discuss this.”

Indeed, keeping the cap in place remains a key priority for Senate Republicans, many of whom represent districts outside of New York City.

One of the two Republican lawmakers who represent New York City, Brooklyn Sen. Marty Golden, stressed rent control remains under discussion (a third GOP conference member, Sen. Simcha Felder, is a Democrat aligned with the Republicans in the Senate).

“We’re still in negotiations,” Golden said. “I believe it’s going to take another few days before we’re in a place where we can discuss the bills.”

As for vacancy decontrol, Golden said it is doubtful that will change.

“Vacancy decontrol — I don’t see it being ended at all,” he said.

Senate Dems Submit ‘Legislative Solutions’ To Budget’s Education Measures

Senate Democrats introduced on Tuesday a package of measures designed to alter the education policy changes included in the state budget last month.

The measures reflect a growing effort in both the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly to address the growing dissatisfaction over the budget agreement that included a new teacher evaluation plan as well as make it harder for teachers to obtain tenure.

“Quite frankly, I’m proud Senate Democrats voted against these changes,” Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.

Among the changes being proposed by Senate Democrats:

-End the linkage of school aid to school districts adopting the new evaluation measures

-Create an “advisory council” that would review the annual performance review plans

-Restore more local control over the student achievement metric when it comes to developing teacher evaluations

-Establish a community school grant program

Lawmakers in both chambers are also in virtual agreement the Board of Regents will not be able to meet the June 30 deadline to develop regulations for the new evaluation criteria and are trying to push that deadline back.

“I can tell you, the theme no matter where you are is the same: The changes won’t help our students,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We have to agree, our main goal is helping our students.”

Senate Democrats are once again taking a more aggressive approach with the Cuomo administration on school reform as the governor himself continues to push measures opposed by the statewide teachers union, NYSUT.

Sen. Mike Gianaris, the deputy minority leader, said in an interview on Monday with NY1 that Cuomo’s education push this year was comparable to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s policies toward labor.

Still, Senate Democrats aren’t completely opposed to all of the governor’s education measures. Seven Democrats in the chamber last voted for the tax credit when it was before them this year, including Stewart-Cousins.

“There’s never been a conference position on it,” Stewart-Cousins said of the EITC. “Several of our members have voted for and several have voted against, I expect it will continue in that fashion.”

She added she was yet to review the repackaged measure introduced by Cuomo this month.

One insider with ties to the Cuomo administration scoffed at what they saw as a disconnect.

“We all know that Mike Gianaris will say anything to get on TV, even if it’s nonsensical special interest talking points that put him at odds with his own leader,” the insider said.

Cuomo backs a lifting of the state cap on charter schools as well as the education investment tax credit, which is aimed encouraging donations to public schools and scholarship programs for private and parochial schools.

State Pays Out $1.8 Million for Bruno Legal Expenses

The state paid $1.8 Million in legal fees relating to the defense of former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno in April, the state comptroller’s office said Tuesday, and there may be more to come.

That’s about three-quarters of the $2.42 Million Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office approved to be paid out back in December. The remaining $600,000 was rejected by the comptroller’s office for a host of reasons, included in a letter sent to Bruno’s attorneys last month.

According to the letter, about $161,000 of that total was unreasonable or inappropriate. The rest – $445,000 – was unexplained or undocumented.

Bruno has since re-submitted documents that could allow at least some of the latter part to be cashed out. According to the comptroller’s office, that’s currently under review.

After his acquittal in May of last year, Bruno said publicly he would seek as much as $4 Million from the state to be reimbursed for his legal troubles. He was ultimately granted more than half of that, but about $1.6 Million short.

Bruno was accused of acceping millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks during his time as a state official. He was originally convicted on corruption charges in 2009, but was ultimately acquitted on all charges last spring.

Here’s a full list of rejected legal reimbursements from the state comptroller’s office:

Bruno Preliminary Disallowances