Moody’s: Restraints In School Aid Needed For Spending Cap

New York’s budget gap stands at $400 million if spending is capped at a 2 percent increase, but school aid would also have to be limited to a 3.6 percent hike as well, an analysis by Moody’s released on Friday found.

Without the cap in place, the budget gap is about $3.1 billion in the fiscal year beginning April 1, a 25 percent decline from previous projections.

But the education growth complicates the picture given the formula-based benchmark tied to personal income growth.

If education aid increases by 6.1 percent, the revised benchmark of personal income growth, the budget gap grows by $500 million. The Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo does have the ability to approve school aid lower than that benchmark, however. The index is not meant to be a hard cap, but essentially created a floor for education spending increases.

Cuomo has pledged once again to cap state spending at a 2 percent increase over last year, directing his agency chiefs earlier this year to submit budget proposals with the cap in mind.

Carrot And Stick Approach Possible For Pay Raise

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday in a radio interview pointed to a little-noticed codicil in the legislation that could lead to the first legislative pay hike in 20 years.

The measure provides for the Legislature to meet performance benchmarks as a pay increase is phased in, including the passage of on-time budgets as well as other reform provisions, such as a ban on outside income.

“The Legislature has performance as one of the criteria for the raise,” Cuomo said in an interview on WAMC this morning. “It talks about timely passage of the budget, it talks about reforms. I’ve said quite publicly that yes there should be a raise and yes, there should be reforms.”

Those performance benchmarks would also be tied to the pay increase not just for lawmakers, but also Cuomo’s department and agency commissioners, who also have not received a salary hike in recent years. Cuomo has long decried the lack of a pay hike for his cabinet, which he said has made it difficult to attract new talent to the state.

In many instances, departments are led by those with the title of deputy or executive deputy in order to have a salary not set by state statute.

Lawmakers earn a base pay of $79,500, though many earn more with legislative stipends for leadership and committee posts.

“I do believe they deserve a raise as I’ve said repeatedly,” Cuomo said in the interview. “I do believe there should be reforms. I do believe there should be a banning of outside income like the Congress, like the New York City Council, because I do believe that is a fundamental conflict of interest.”

The pay commission is set to release its report by Dec. 10. If lawmakers do not act after that by the end of the year, the recommendations are set into law.

Senate GOP To Decide Future Of Conference

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Republicans will meet today to determine the future course of its conference as they prepare for life in the minority: Either keep John Flanagan leader or go potentially with an upstate member like Sen. Cathy Young.

Flanagan is seeking re-election with a smaller and far more diminished GOP bloc in the state Senate after the party lost key races on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley on Election Day.

Young has the public backing of a handful of upstate legislators who did not back Flanagan’s first push for majority leader in 2015, when he replaced the scandal-scarred Dean Skelos.

Republicans haven’t had an upstate resident lead them since Sen. Joe Bruno’s tenure, which ended in 2008.

Conservatives have chafed at the leadership of Long Island Republicans, which they allege has created a relationship with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo far too amenable on issues like spending, taxes, the minimum wage and gun control.

But Cuomo’s relationship with Senate Republicans in the last several years has soured as Democrats appeared likely to gain a working majority in the chamber and the governor faced pressure from liberals to help the party gain power.

Nevertheless, Flanagan could still be re-elected leader later today. He has the backing of Sen. Fred Akshar, a Binghamton Republican who had been considered a potential successor.

Buffalo Budget Problems?

From the Morning Memo:

The Buffalo mayor and comptroller appear to be at odds over the state of the city’s financial situation.

Comptroller Mark Schroeder released a report Thursday claiming the city operated at a $23 million loss during the last fiscal year. He said in order to fill the gap, the administration once again tapped into reserves.

Schroeder has consistently criticized the mayor’s balance for having a structural imbalance and said there aren’t anymore unassigned funds to dip into if revenues fall short for the current budget.

 “The city has squandered more than $107 million of its reserves in the past eight years,” he said. “The reserves at a such a low level right now, there won’t be enough to fill budget deficits moving forward.”

The Mayor’s Office, however, maintained the year end financials did not include any gaps or use of reserve funds that weren’t anticipated. It claimed if not for the loss of $7 million in casino revenue from the Seneca Nation of Indians, the city would have been in the black this year.

“As we have stated many times, we are confident that there will be an end to this impasse shortly and that we will receive the monies that are owed to the City. Any surplus funds will be redeposited into the Unassigned Fund Balance,” city spokesperson Mike DeGeorge said. “We also disagree with the assertion that any City funds have been ‘squandered’. We remain a stronger, smarter, safer City that continues to grow and provide quality services and greater opportunities for all of our residents.”

The Seneca Nation claimed it has fulfilled its obligation in a revenue sharing agreement with the state. It has not made a payment since Spring 2017 and the dispute is currently in arbitration.

The other cities where Seneca casinos operate, Niagara Falls and Salamanca, have also complained the loss of revenue has hurt their bottom line.

The Nation, which recently elected a new president, was not immediately available for comment.

Here And Now

Good morning and TGIF! Much of New York received its first significant snowfall of the season. Good luck with the morning commute.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany, with nothing public scheduled.

At 10 a.m., The Assembly Judiciary Committee holds a public hearing on electronic filing of court papers, Assembly Hearing Room, 250 Broadway, Room 1923, Manhattan.

Also at 10 a.m., “The Brian Lehrer Show” features NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who will take callers from listeners, WNYC.

At 11 a.m., Suffolk County Legislator Bill Lindsay III, state Sen.-elect Monica Martinez, Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino and others attend the groundbreaking ceremony of the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Navy SEAL Museum, 88 West Ave., West Sayville.

Also at 11 a.m., Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh holds a press conference with several community partners to welcome DocuPet, a municipal pet licensing service, and celebrate the opening of its U.S. headquarters, DocuPet Office, AXA II, 235 Harrison St., Syracuse.

Also at 11 a.m., “The Capitol Pressroom” features state Sen. Fred Akshar and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, WCNY.

At 11:30 a.m., the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation holds a public hearing on recycling, Roosevelt Hearing Room C, Legislative Office Building, second floor, Albany.

Headlines…

The snow hitting New York City during the afternoon in New York City turned into a real problem for people driving home.

There’s a looming budget crisis for the MTA as steep fare increases and service cuts are possible.

U.S. prosecutors, by accident, revealed they are preparing to indict Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Republican leaders in Washington want to avoid a debate over funding a border wall and a government shutdown, but President Trump remains a wildcard.

The Food And Drug Administration is moving toward a ban on menthol cigarettes, removing nearly a third of the cigarettes sold on the market.

The razor-thin recount in Florida’s U.S. Senate race is heading to a manual recount.

First Lady Melania Trump says she “remains committed to tackling” online bullying even though she has been criticized for it.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered election workers to recount all ballots by hand in the state’s tight race for US Senate, a move that Democrats hope will uncover thousands votes in an urban areas that tabulating machines may have missed.

The SUNY Board of Trustees appointed Dr. Mantosh Dewan as interim president of Upstate Medical University.

On Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued to defend the multi-billion dollar deal, funded by New York taxpayers, to have Amazon bring 25,000 jobs to Long Island City in Queens.

Amazon’s move to Long Island City is, not surprisingly, creating a surge of interesting in Queens real estate.

Gov. Cuomo’s administration says it will not have to seek legislative approval for the tax breaks for Amazon through the public authorities control board.

Cuomo’s administration also sought to paint a rosy picture with the number of jobs Amazon is expected to create as it justifies the tax incentives.

Cuomo signaled he remained wary of a single-payer health care bill some lawmakers hope to pass next year with Democratic control of the Legislature.

The state is steering $250 million toward SUNY Poly, an investment that comes months after its former president was found guilty of bid rigging.

Former U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch has joined the transition team for New York Attorney General-elect Tish James.

Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon, says he’s remorseful over the murder and used hollow-point bullets to ensure he wouldn’t suffer.

The state Assembly held a hearing on election reform on Thursday, focusing mostly on bringing early voting to New York.

Republican candidates across New York suffered big losses on Election Night. The GOP stronghold of Staten Island tossed out the city’s lone Republican representative in Washington. Democrat Max Rose will take Dan Donovan’s place in Congress.

An historic beacon of freedom in New York Harbor is on the move. The Statue of Liberty’s original torch has been kept inside the pedestal since 1984.

New results are finally starting to come in for the 22nd Congressional District race. So far, at least, it’s shaping up to be good news for Democrat Anthony Brindisi, who held a small lead over incumbent Republican Claudia Tenney on election night.

State lawmakers and executive branch commissioners should receive a boost in their pay, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a radio interview on Thursday.

ROC the Future released its sixth annual State of Our Children report card Thursday and the data shows some modest gains when it comes to early education.

Members of the Rochester City Schools’ Board of Education responded to the findings and recommendations issued by Dr. Jaime Aquino just one day after the report was issued.

The Rochester police officer charged in police brutality case of Christopher Pate pleaded not guilty.

Close to 20 families from across Chautauqua County are registered with the homeschool co-op for the fall semester, which runs through mid-December. They meet weekly inside the Barker Library in Fredonia.

A Long Island school district is setting a two-package limit on ketchup.

Extras

Cesar Sayoc, the Florida man accused of sending pipe bombs to prominent Trump critics, pleaded not guilty to charges carrying a potential mandatory penalty of life in prison.

Stopping short of its threatened ban on flavored e-cigarettes, the Food and Drug Administration said that it would allow stores to continue selling the products, but only from closed-off areas that are inaccessible to minors.

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said he is requesting the death penalty for five people suspected of involvement in the killing of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Istanbul.

House Democrats determined to oppose Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s second speaker bid will release a signed letter indicating they have gathered enough support to deny her the 218 votes needed to win the gavel in January – a move they say would complicate her path and force discussion about her stepping aside.

Donald Trump Jr.’s lavish trip to India to sell his family’s luxury condominium projects cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $100,000, documents obtained by The Washington Post show.

Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti, who was busted in LA for domestic violence, has blamed his arrest on far-right conspiracy theorist Jacob Wohl.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares announced he will no longer prosecute the two lowest tiers of marijuana possession cases.

A $238,000 study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) will follow more than 10,000 medical marijuana patients in New York over the next two years to see if their opioid use drops.

State taxpayers will fork over another $4.8 million to help seed a film industry in Syracuse, where New York has already spent more than $16 million on a film hub that is used only sporadically.

New Yorkers may have to start digging deeper into their pockets to ride the subways starting this March, when the MTA will likely raise fares by 4 percent.

As prominent businessman Louis Ciminelli faces a possible prison sentence being handed down in a couple weeks for his role in the Buffalo Billion corruption scandal, friends and family are coming to his defense and pleading for leniency in the form of no time behind bars.

Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former state Attorney General Robert Abrams are two of the five co-chairs Letitia James tapped to oversee her transition to the state’s top legal post.

Clarkstown Councilman Peter Bradley has apologized, again, for comments that his critics call anti-Semitic (and even supporters said were “stupid”) and that the Congers resident admitted “hurt people.”

Parents worry Amazon’s arrival in Long Island City will strain Queens schools that are already bursting, but also hope the company will bring students new opportunities for training and tech jobs.

The Business Council of Westchester is disappointed that it didn’t win the Amazon sweepstakes, but is bracing for a ripple effect of the Queens development.

The man who killed singer John Lennon in 1980, Mark David Chapman, told a parole board he feels “more and more shame” every year for gunning down the former Beatle outside his Manhattan apartment in 1980. (He did not convince members to release him, and is up again in August 2020).

A top aide to the billionaire liberal mega donor George Soros called for Facebook to conduct a thorough investigation of its lobbying and PR work following a New York Times report.

NY Unemployment Falls To 4 Percent

The state unemployment rate dropped slightly in October to 4 percent, tying its lowest recorded level for the first time since May 1988.

Unemployment fell from 4.1 percent in September, according to the Department of Labor, with the number of jobless claims dropping from 397,600 to 387,700.

Year to year, the state’s unemployment rate has dropped from 4.7 percent since October 2017.

Nationally, the unemployment rate remains lower at 3.7 percent in October, which was essentially unchanged from the previous month.

“New York State’s labor market continued to expand in October as the State added 22,600 private sector jobs to reach a new, all-time high employment count. At the same time, the statewide unemployment rate fell from 4.1 percent to 4.0 percent in October, matching its lowest level on record,” said Division of Research and Statistics Director Bohdan Wynnyk.

Reed Says He’d Back Pelosi For Speaker Pending Rules Changes

Republican Rep. Tom Reed on Thursday signaled he would be willing to cast a vote for Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi for speaker if she is willing to take up rules reforms his Problems Solvers caucus has backed.

The bipartisan group is backing a 10-point package of changes meant to bolster the power of individual lawmakers in the House and push legislation that has the backing of both Democrats and Republicans.

The changes would include the requirement that a three-fifths supermajority would be needed for any bill brought to the floor through a closed rule. Another would hasten the consideration of a bill that’s been formally co-sponsored by two-thirds of the members in the chamber.

Reed represents one of the more conservative areas of the state in the Southern Tier and parts of western New York. He defeated Democratic candidate Tracey Mitrano earlier this year.

Pelosi served as speaker from 2007 and 2011. She remains deeply unpopular with both conservatives as well progressive groups who have pushed for a change in the Democratic leadership in Congress.

Cuomo: State Lawmakers Deserve A Pay Raise

State lawmakers and executive branch commissioners should receive a boost in their pay, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a radio interview on Thursday.

Members of the state Legislature could receive their first pay increase since 1998 based on the decision of a commission that is also considering a salary hike for commissioners in Cuomo’s administration.

Lawmakers earn a base pay of $79,500, though many earn more with stipends for leadership posts.

“They come to Albany, they’re away from their family for days on end, they make tremendous sacrifices,” Cuomo said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom.

“And I know it’s not popular to say, but I believe they deserve a raise. I believe there should be reforms also, but I do believe they deserve a raise. I believe my commissioners, the senior level positions, to be competitive, to get the quality you want, you have to raise the salaries, many of which haven’t been adjusted in 20 to 25 years. And you want quality in government, and you want to be able to attract people, you know, many of the people who I attract now, frankly, they have to be in a position where they’re financially independent.”

Cuomo has previously said this month that he also wants lawmakers next year to make the Legislature a full-time job and ban outside income.

Cuomo: Single Payer On State Level Unlikely

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an interview on WCNY on Thursday once again said a single-payer health care program would be best devised on the federal level and questioned the financial viability of such a program on the state level.

Advocates for a single-payer health care measure, known as the New York Health Act, were buoyed this month by the flipping of the state Senate to Democratic control after years of the measure not gaining a floor vote under the Republican majority.

But questions remain over how New York would pay for the program, estimated to cost about $150 billion. New York’s budget alone is about $170 billion with state and federal spending combined.

“I have a lot of great ideas of Christmas gifts that I want to get, but then I have to deal with the reality of the cost in the budget,” Cuomo said in the interview on The Capitol Pressroom. “Single-payer health plan, for example: Conceptually I think it’s the right way to go in. I believe it’s more feasible financially on the national level. No state has been able to finance the transition costs.”

The Democratic conference will have as many as 40 members in the 63-seat state Senate. But the lawmakers themselves will represent a diverse array of districts, from New York City to the Hudson Valley, as well as western New York and Long Island — districts with constituents that could flinch at large-scale tax hikes.

Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is expected to become the new majority leader, has said she is not supportive of increasing taxes.

But the new Democratic Senate is expected to quickly pass an array of measures that have stalled in the chamber, from a bolstering of abortion protections in New York, to voting reforms and the DREAM Act.

On health care, Cuomo has been supportive of codifying aspects of the Affordable Care Act into state law, such as the health exchange that currently exists through executive order.

“There will be rhetorical desire to do things,” Cuomo said. “Governmentally there will have to be a reality test to get all things to fit in the budget.”

Cuomo’s budget office has once again singled he will keep executive branch spending in the budget to a less than 2 percent spending increase.

“The question will be: Do we all agree on the concept? Yes. How do we do it? And the how is as important as the desire,” he said. “That’s what we will have to work through.”