M/C Employees Upset With Latest Cuomo Veto

The organization that represents non-unionized state workers designated management/confidential employees knocked Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest veto to a bill that would create a commission to study salary increases for those workers.

In his veto message issued last night, Cuomo pointed to the 2 percent salary increase approved for so-called M/C workers in June and that any pay commission should, once again, be dealt with in the context of the state budget planning.

“Since taking office, my administration has implemented longevity and merit increases for various grades of managerial or confidential employees and has planned for other increases in the near future,” Cuomo wrote in the veto message. “But given the state’s traditional managerial role in this policy area and the unbudgeted costs that could be imposed as a result of this legislation, such a restructuring of compensation is better raised in the context of the state budget process.”

But M/C workers under the umbrella group Organization of Management Confidential Employees, believe that the formation of the compensation panel would resolve then longtime issue of pay disparity and prevent future cases in which those workers go without pay increases.

“These M/C employees, who are responsible for ensuring the smooth functioning of the state government, must be compensated fairly and equally, as was promised in statute,” said Barbara Zaron President of OMCE.

Martens Staying Put

After presiding over a seemingly endless review of fracking in New York and weathering considerably criticism for the delay in a decision, it would be hard to blame DEC Commissioner Joe Martens for wanting to take a break.

Martens, a former president of the Open Space Institute and widely respected environmentalist, has served as head of the DEC since January 2011. (He was one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s early appointees).

Back in November, there was a rumor that Martens’ would soon be departing his post, replaced by outgoing Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti, who lost his re-election bid to Democratic Senator-elect Marc Panepinto.

There was some logic to that idea. Grisanti chairs the Senate’s Environmental Committee, and also earned a big chit with the governor when he crossed party lines as one of four GOP senators to vote “yes” on gay marriage in the summer of 2011.

Cuomo declined to endorse Panepinto in the fall elections, but that didn’t help Grisanti, who was in a tight spot after losing the GOP primary and trying to seek re-election running just on the Independence Party line.

Despite whatever political favors Cuomo might still owe Grisanti, the DEC float was quickly shot down by an agency spokesperson, who said Martens had no plan to give up his job.

And apparently, the end of the fracking hasn’t changed his mind.

“I have no plans,” Martens said with a laugh when I asked him during a CapTon interview last night about his future.

“If I was going to leave, I would have left before this decision came out, because this took a lot of work.”

“And I just want to say I have to tip my hat, not only to DOH staff, but to DEC staff, who for – some of them six years – have been studying this issue exhaustively,” the commissioner continued.

“The draft supplemental generic environmental impact statements we put out reflected an enormous amount of work on the department and its staff, and I have to tip my hat to them.”

Despite Martens’ intent to stick around, the steady stream of top Cuomo administration officials heading for the door before Term II continues, however.

Capital NY reports that the latest departure will be that of State Labor Commissioner and former Assemblyman Peter Rivera, who submitted his retirement papers to the state comptroller’s office on Dec. 4. His retirement takes effect at the end of the year.

Quiet Casino Winner: HTC

There was a host of obvious winners and losers following yesterday’s announcement regarding the awarding of three of four available upstate casino licenses.

But there was another, far less obvious winner, too: The New York Hotel Trades Council, otherwise known as HTC.

The small but scrappy and political potent union has standing labor agreements with all three of the casino projects that got the green light from the Gaming Facility Location Board.

That means the 32,000-member HTC is poised to significantly increase its upstate footprint, which is now almost entirely in NYC.

A source familiar with the three casino projects said the union is likely to gain more than 3,000 members – a 10 percent increase in its ranks, which would be almost unheard of in the modern labor movement.

HTC stood to gain even more jobs if one of the Orange County projects had been approved.

But that would have been a little to close for comfort, competition-wise, to the existing Resorts World slot parlor at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens, which is staffed by more than 1,000 HTC workers who just won a major living wage ruling last fall.

The upstate casino HTC members aren’t likely to get the same deal, which doubled the salaries of Aqueduct workers overnight. But they will likely get a quite lucrative arrangement that would be “transformative” in rural areas, the source said.

HTC currently has seven unionized hotels in the Capital Region, and has been trying to expand. These three casino deals will help accomplish that goal, and undoubtedly increase the union’s clout on a number of levels.

HTC didn’t lobby for any specific casino bid, according to his source. The process was simply too difficult to (ahem) game out.

It did, however, work hard (and spend big) to get the constitutional amendment that allowed for the expansion of non-Indian-run casino gambling expanded in New York.

The union also successfully pushed for so-called “labor peace agreement” language to be included in the initial casino bill.

Cuomo’s Casino Victory Lap

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who pushed hard to get Las Vegas-style casinos legalized in New York as a key component of his plan to revive the upstate economy, plans to visit the three communities that emerged victorious yesterday in the battle for gaming licenses.

Cuomo’s press office just released his itinerary for the day, and it includes visits to Schenectady, Sullivan and Seneca counties. His schedule is as follows:

- At approximately 10:30 a.m., Cuomo will be in Schenectady – site of the Rivers Casino & Resort project at Mohawk Harbor. He’ll appear at Proctors Theater at 432 State St.

(It’s worth noting that Proctors does not believe it will be negatively impacted by this project because it doesn’t have a performance space).

- At approximately 12:30 p.m., Cuomo will be in Sullivan County, site of the Montreign Resort Casino. This event will take place at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on Hurd Road.

- At approximately 2:30 p.m., Cuomo will make his third and final casino-related appearance in Seneca County, future home of the Lago Resort & Casino. He’ll be at the Finger Lakes Regional Airport on Martin Road.

Cuomo has repeatedly gone out of his way to insist that he had no influence over the selection of the casino license recipients, who all spent big on lobbying and campaign contributions throughout the selection process.

The governor made a similar claim regarding the decision – also announced yesterday – not to allow fracking in New York, saying he relied on the expertise and recommendations of his health and DEC commissioners.

Of course, no one who knows this governor and his hands-on approach to governing is buying these claims.

And it appears the governor is more than willing to fete – and take some credit for – the casino decisions now that they have been formally announced.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s press office has not yet released his public schedule. But he’s expected to make an appearance in Sullivan County, which won one of three casino licenses yesterday.

DFS Superintendent Ben Lawsky is in Washington, where he will deliver remarks on the new, revised, proposed BitLicense framework for regulating virtual currencies, as well as broader trends and issues in payments technology, Bipartisan Policy Center, 1225 Eye St. NW, Suite 1000.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is also in DC today. He will travel there after attending a Compstat meeting at 1 Police Plaza and a retirement breakfast for Nancy Bunche, house steward of Gracie Mansion. In Washington, the mayor meet with DNC leadership on New York City’s bid to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

At 10:30 a.m., NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will appear in “Scrooge: A Christmas Story,” put on by the East Harlem Repertory Theater Company at Lehman College, the Bronx.

Also at 10:30 a.m., NYC Public Advocate Tish James, who chairs the Commission on Public Information and Communication, will hold a hearing to discuss ways of increasing public access to governmental information and data, 1 Pace Plaza (Pace University, Aniello Bianco Room, enter at 3 Spruce St., Manhattan.

At 11 a.m., outgoing state Education Commissioner John King delivers remarks to education department staff, Chancellor’s Hall, SED, 89 Washington Ave., Albany.

Also at 11 a.m., Monroe County Clerk Cheryl Dinolfo naturalizes 48 new US citizens, County Office Building Legislative Chambers, Room 407, 39 W. Main St., Rochester.

At 11:30 a.m., Sen. Jeff Klein unveils a new report on “Toxic Tidings: chemicals of Concern in Children’s Products”; 250 Broadway, 20th Floor, Room 2009, Manhattan.

At noon, Sen. Marty Golden joins family and friends of Pietro Joseph Scarso, a 5-year-old boy fighting Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, to highlight a public awareness campaign; 9321 Ridge Blvd., Brooklyn.

At 1 p.m., Chobani will be donating one million cups of Greek yogurt to New Yorkers in need this holiday season, 669 County Road 25, New Berlin.

At 1:30 p.m., Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz and others call on NYC leaders to provide space for Success Academy middle schools; City Hall Steps, Manhattan.

At 3 p.m., Rep. Chris Gibson will attend the ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for state Supreme Court Justice Lisa Fisher, Greene County Courthouse, Catskill.

At 6 p.m., the Dutchess County GOP hosts a holiday cocktail party, Christo’s, 155 Wilbur Blvd., Poughkeepsie.

Also at 6 p.m., members of the NYC Panel for Educational Policy hold a public meeting; Q. 450 Long Island City High School, 14-30 Broadway, Queens.

Also at 6 p.m., the Westchester County GOP and County Executive Rob Astorino co-chost a holiday party, Westchester Manor, 140 Saw Mill River Rd., Hastings-on-Hudson.

At 6:30 p.m., former Manhattan GOP Chair Dan Isaacs is scheduled to host a holiday party, Metropolitan Republican Club, 122 East 83rd St., Manhattan.

Also at 6:30 p.m., Assemblyman Karim Camara will moderate an Emergency Youth Town Hall on Police Brutality, 180 Remsen St., St. Francis College, Founders Hall Auditorium, Brooklyn.

Also at 6:30 p.m., Congressman-elect Lee Zeldin hosts a victory/holiday party, the proceeds of which will be used to retire his NY-1 campaign debt, The Luordo residence, 2 Hunters Way, Nissequogue, Long Island.

At 11:30 p.m., de Blasio appears on “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central. (This interview was pre-taped).

Headlines…

After six years of review, New York finally has an answer on fracking in the Marcellus Shale: No.

New York is the first state in the US to ban the controversial natural gas drilling technique.

The fracking decision did little to change how Gov. Andrew Cuomo is viewed. Drilling opponents were thrilled with the move and praised him, while supporters insisted it was political motivated and lambasted him.

Cuomo – a famously hands-on governor – appeared to try to wash his hands of the fracking decision, insisting it had been made not by him, but by his health and DEC commissioners. (No one was really buying that).

The fracking decision is likely to help repair the governor’s relations with the left wing of the Democratic Party, which backed Fordham Law Prof. Zephyr Teachout against him in the September primary. Teachout issued a statement praising the decision.

You can read the DOH report on the public health impact of fracking, which was two years in the making, here.

The New York Times weighs in: “This was not an easy decision, but it was the right one.”

The Journal News called the decision “wise.”

When Conklin, N.Y., town supervisor Jim Finch heard the news, he began drawing up plans to secede from the state. “I’m serious,” said Finch, who oversees a town of some 5,000 people on the Susquehanna River just a few minutes’ drive from the Pennsylvania border. “New York City determines policy in the Southern Tier? That’s baloney.”

Rep. Tom Reed called the fracking decision “devastating” for the Southern Tier, which didn’t get one of four available upstate casino licenses, either. Sen. Cathy Young called it a “punch in the gut” for the region. (Both lawmakers are Republican).

Cuomo said he will work to develop an alternative economic plan for the Southern Tier region that is now cut off from the fracking industry after the state decided drilling was too risky.

A $300 million casino and resort planned for an old industrial site along the Mohawk River in Schenectady got the initial green light as one of three gambling centers to be licensed by New York state.

Orange County, a coveted potential casino location due to its proximity to New York City, drew the most bidders but received no licenses, even though the projects there would likely have been the most profitable in the state.

“We concluded that a license award to any of the six Orange County proposals would present too great a risk of precluding success to Sullivan or Ulster County,” said Gaming Facility Location Board Chair Kevin Law. “We also concluded that granting licenses to two casinos within the Catskills would negatively impact each other.”

The recommendation to license a casino in Sullivan – the heart of the once-bustling “Borscht Belt” resort region – will test the premise that blackjack and craps can breathe new life in an old summer haven known in its heyday for families, mostly Jewish, arriving packed in station wagons to enjoy fast-talking comedians and other entertainment, a la “Dirty Dancing.”

The awarding of a casino in Seneca County drew ire from Tioga Downs owner and applicant Jeffrey Gural, who said: “Bad day? I think the Southern Tier just got wiped out economically.” Lago developer Tom Wilmot said he plans to start construction ASAP.

More >

Cuomo Vetoes M/C Pay Commission Bill

Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have created a commission to assess pay increases for non-unionized state workers designated management/confidential employees.

As he has in a veto of a previous version of the bill, Cuomo wrote the discussion of pay increases for those workers — commonly referred to as “M/C” employees should be dealt with in the “context of the state budget process.”

Cuomo also added in the veto message that his administration in June previously approved 2 percent increases for management/confidential employees — the first raises those workers had seen a salary bump since the onset of the financial crisis.

There are roughly 12,000 state workers with the M/C designation.

“Since taking office, my administration has implemented longevity and merit increases for various grades of managerial or confidential employees and has planned for other increases in the near future,” Cuomo wrote in the veto message. “But given the state’s traditional managerial role in this policy area and the unbudgeted costs that could be imposed as a result of this legislation, such a restructuring of compensation is better raised in the context of the state budget process.”

The veto comes as the Cuomo administration moves to reclassify about 1,000 members of the Public Employees Federation as management/confidential positions.

Cuomo’s veto message is below (it is number 550).

Veto Messages – 526-568.pdf by Nick Reisman

Extras

The US will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years.

Pope Francis, who celebrated his 78th birthday today, played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal.

A group opposing a new casino in the Finger Lakes is strongly considering suing the Gaming Commission to halt the Lago Resort & Casino development in Seneca County.

Jeff Gural, owner of both Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs racinos, said the people of the Southern Tier were “screwed” by the casino and fracking decisions.

Senate Deputy Republican Leader Tom Libous, of Binghamton, is very upset about the treatment the Southern Tier received.

As promised by acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, the agency’s public health review is now online.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave himself cover on fracking – and climate change – which may come in handy should he still harbor White House ambitions.

Attorney Tom West, who represented a gas company and landowner who sued to overturn local zoning bans, doesn’t expect a lawsuit bonanza in response to the fracking decision.

NYC’s leading Democrats – including Mayor Bill de Blasio – hailed the Cuomo administration’s decision not to allow fracking in the Marcellus.

Anti-fracking activist and actor Mark Ruffalo is happy.

A bill intended to enhance financial accountability at the Port Authority was sent to Cuomo, giving him until Dec. 27 to act on the measure before it becomes law.

After months of intensifying pressure to address rampant brutality and corruption at Rikers Island, de Blasio toured the troubled jail complex – his first visit since taking office.

New York City says it has ended its longstanding practice of sending 16- and 17-year-old inmates to solitary confinement for breaking rules.

The late David Garth’s relationship with the Cuomo family was “frequently adversarial.”

Several aviation and rail projects in Western New York will benefit from $26.8 million in statewide funding announced by Cuomo.

De Blasio is scheduled to meet with people who have been protesting the Eric Garner decision, and says they must “denounce violence.”

Fifty-seven percent of New Yorkers want the protestors – even those who are nonviolent – off city streets, a new Q poll found.

The same poll found 61 percent of voters support AG Eric Schneiderman’s call for his office to be given the power to handle cases in which unarmed civilians are killed by police.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s scheduled deposition in a federal lawsuit brought by two sexual harassment victims of former Assemblyman Vito Lopez has been postponed, raising the specter that a settlement in the case could be near.

Rep. Peter King really does not like his fellow Republican, Sen. Ted Cruz, calling the Texas lawmaker “one big self-inflicted wound.”

Cuomo professed ignorance of his administration’s effort to reclassify some 1,000 PEF workers, and also of the MC pay raise commission bill sitting on his desk.

A group of Tompkins County renewable energy experts say there’s no need for a proposed natural gas pipeline between Freeville and Lansing, and they’re planning to lobby against the project.

New York Medicaid program spent $193.2 million during the first six months of 2014 on Sovaldi, the controversial Hepatitis C drug that carries an $84,000-per-patient price tag.

Success Academy founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz will slam the de Blasio administration tomorrow for what she claims are delays in presenting plans for turning around 247 failing schools and for finding locations for 16 charter schools.

Despite Jeb Bush’s decision to flirt with a 2016 run, Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone is sticking with NJ Gov. Chris Christie.

Cuomo: Lawmakers Have ‘Greatest Incentive’ On Pay Hike

Gov. Andrew Cuomo would not quite declare public financing and long-sought ethics reform legislation dead on arrival in Albany, but he acknowledged that now is the time in which lawmakers have the “greatest incentive” — a salary increase — and still won’t do it.

“I think this is the moment where in some ways — the greatest incentive for them to do it was now and with the greatest incentive they will not do it,” Cuomo said at a cabinet meeting today.

Cuomo has said he’s sympathetic to the push from state lawmakers, primarily in the state Assembly, to receive their first pay increase since 1998. Their salaries currently stand at $79,500.

But Cuomo has used the moment to demonstrate the difficulty of getting both the Assembly, controlled by Democrats, and the state Senate, which will be under Republican control next month, to create a public financing program for political campaigns or place limits on outside income for state lawmakers.

It’s a bit of jujitsu on the part of a governor who is frustrated with liberal critics and ethics reform advocates who have knocked him for not pushing hard enough on their issues while also side-stepping the politically fraught pay raise issue.

Cuomo said the pay increase, which would impact the new session of the Legislature due to be seated come January is “probably the single item they want most and wanted most in four years.”

Cuomo insisted today that he’s negotiating in good faith, but more or less indicated a special session to deal with ethics reform and a pay raise is highly unlikely.

The governor also lamented what he sees as essentially a Catch-22: He could give them the pay hike, but settle on ethics legislation, which would be the third reform package passed since he’s taken office as governor.

“What I could do is get whatever I can get and give them a pay raise,” he said, adding that he would be criticized for the move.

Skelos Blasts Cuomo, WFP Praises

In a rare moment of public criticism, Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos on Wednesday blasted Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s move to ban hydrofracking in the state, saying the decision was based on politics, not science.

Meanwhile, the labor-backed Working Families Party, which has emerged as antagonists of the governor over his centrist positions on economic issues, praised the move.

Though Skelos’s statement eschews mentioning Cuomo directly, but is nevertheless critical of the ban, which will be formally in place next year.

“Today’s decision follows a years-long review conducted by the Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health and yet there was little additional information presented that we didn’t already
know,” Skelos said. “Despite protests to the contrary, it appears that politics, not science, shaped this decision.”

The statement reflects the GOP conference’s support — especially held by Sen. Tom Libous of Binghatmon — for the controversial natural gas extraction process. But the statement also comes after Cuomo was criticized by Skelos in a previous statement, suggesting the governor was not negotiating in good faith.

Meanwhile, the WFP, currently at odds with Cuomo over a variety off issues stemming from the elections as well as public financing, praised the decision.

“Kudos to Governor Cuomo for listening to his NYS Public Health Commissioner and putting reason, science, and public well-being before greed,” the WFP said in a statement

Three, Not Four, Projects Awarded Casino Licenses

The state’s gaming facility location board on Wednesday recommended three casino projects in three different regions of upstate New York receive a potentially lucrative license to open a casino resort that includes table-top gaming.

The state’s recommendation — which is expected to be formally approved by gaming regulators — does not include a fourth gaming license after the facility location board concluded fourth resort would not be economically viable.

The location siting board recommended: Schenectady’s Rivers Resort and Casino at Mohawk Harbor, Lago Resort in the Finger Lakes region community of Tyre and Empire Resorts Montreign Resort in Sullivan County.

The decision shut out Orange County, which had been competing with several bid proposals, including a massive resort complex that would have sought to draw in New York City tourists.

Officials at the gaming facility location board determined an Orange County casino would have “cannibalized” a competing casino in the Catksills.

By the same token, a second Catskills casino would not have been economically viable either, Board Chairman Kevin Law said at the announcement in Albany.

The determination also shut out the state’s Southern Tier region, a jobs-starved area of the state which also today learned the state would move to formally ban high-volume hydrofracking. Tioga Downs CEO Jeff Gural, who had sought to transform his struggling racetrack into a casino resort, had raised the possibility of the facility closing if a casino license had not been awarded.

The recommendations from the facility location board is the culmination of a process that began in 2012, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo first proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow for non-Indian commercial casinos in the state.

Cuomo had initally sought a massive resort casino complex at Aqueduct in Queens, a project that ultimately apart.

The governor then turned his focus on making casinos a tool of upstate economic development.

After voters approved an amendment to the state’s constitution expanding casino gaming, lawmakers approved enabling legislation that set the first phase of casino construction to be north of New York City in regions where there is not an Indian-run casino.

But just as New York got into the casino business, questions arose over whether the northeast casino market was reaching a saturation point as the economic troubles of casinos in Atlantic City became apparent.

Cuomo, meanwhile, insisted today he is playing no role in the casino siting process, insisting at a cabinet meeting the recommendations from the siting board were made without his involvement.