Capitol Tidbits…

Since resigning the speakership earlier this year, Assemblyman Sheldon Silver has kept a low profile. He quietly joined the Education Committee in the Assembly, and then last week he introduced a bill – his first as a rank-and-file member.

I caught up with the former speaker as he chewed on cashew nuts outside the Assembly chamber earlier today. Silver said his bill would provide a maximum $500 credit to parents who pay tuition for parochial or private schools. Sources say Silver has been trying to rally support for the bill from other members in the chamber. Silver views it as a solid alternative to the discussion taking place about the Education Investment Tax credit; which was dropped from the budget earlier this week.

“The idea is to help parents who pay tuition,” Silver said. “It gives THEM the credit directly instead of some well-heeled donor. It’s an alternative to the EITC.”

It was a very Shelly moment.

Assemblyman Keith Wright then walked over to us, and explained to Silver that he and I attended the same high school. (Just a quick hint – the assemblyman and I are not the same age).

Silver paused a moment, reached into his cup for another cashew, popped it into his mouth and murmured through a wry smile: “I’m not impressed.” Then he turned his back and slowly sauntered away.


On Saturday, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio attended the SOMOS conference here in Albany. I had the distinct pleasure of driving up here to cover it. Last month, when de Blasio attended caucus weekend, which I also covered, he made very little news. But on Saturday night. he not only took the stage at precisely his allocated time to speak, which was 8 p.m., he actually took a shot at Gov. Andrew Cuomo on education.

Cuomo has repeatedly been pointing out that certain schools are “failing,” and therefore need to be taken over by the state in some form of receivership. The mayor strongly disagrees with this move, and has been voicing his criticism – in increasingly shapening tones – for some time now.

“Don’t call our children failing or our schools failing if you haven’t even tried to invest in them,” de Blasio said at Somos.

Today, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, chair of the Assembly’s Education Committee, took issue with that. Surprisingly, the Queens Democrat defended the governor, with whom she – not to mention many of her assembly majority conference colleagues – have not been seeing eye-to-eye on a lot of topics this budget season.

“The mayor doesn’t help the city of New York when he does it in outside speeches on Saturday when they know discussions are happening,” Nolan said. “The mayor would be better off leaving it to his professional people, like (NYC Schools Chancellor) Carmen Farina. I think the governor has made a good faith effort to respond to the city’s concerns about struggling schools. And if I were the mayor, I’d probably just say ‘thank you.'”

Perhaps there is still some lingering anger there over the mayor’s support for Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie over Nolan to succeed Silver as speaker earlier this year. But that would be crazy, right? Because politicians never hold grudges.

***UPDATE*** Mayor de Blasio’s people point out that the mayor was specifically referring to the state’s continued failure to properly fund schools under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. That decision by the state’s highest court has been ignored for years, and advocates for public education argue that is precisely why certain schools continue to fail.

It’s a fair point.


Senate Republicans Close With Cuomo On Education Reform

Senate Republicans and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are close to an agreement on education reform issues in the state budget, but the Democratic-led Assembly remains another matter.

Majority Leader Dean Skelos on Tuesday said his conference is “just about there with him” on education issues following a lengthy closed-door conference on the issue.

At this point, state lawmakers and Cuomo are considering the creation of a commission that would develop teacher evaluation criteria.

It’s unclear what the final composition of the panel would be and what their purview would be.

“Now it’s really about the commission, the composition of the commission and really want their charge would be in terms of finalizing education reform,” Skelos said.

It also remains undetermined if the panel’s recommendations would be immediately acted up on or have to be approved by the Legislature, he said.

“They would come up with recommendations to the Legislature and the question is whether we would vote for it or whether they would implement what they recommend,” Skelos said.

Cuomo is continuing to press on with most of his initial education reform agenda, though a lifting of the statewide cap on charter schools is being left for later in the legislative session.

Assembly Democrats remain at odds with Cuomo on a variety of education issues, including a school receivership proposal as well as an effort to reform teacher tenure and the evaluation procedures for teachers.

“On the Senate side we have had very good conversations on education,” Cuomo said this afternoon. “The Assembly side is still discussing the issue.”

Cuomo Meets With Senate For A ‘Good Conversation’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republicans met privately for about an hour on Tuesday afternoon to discuss ethics reform legislation in the state budget.

Cuomo took the unusual step of traveling to the third floor of the Capitol to meet with Republican lawmakers in their offices as the GOP conference remains skeptical over a proposal to disclose private legal clients of state lawmakers.

“I understand their issues,” Cuomo told reporters after the meeting. “We’ve been talking about it now for a number of weeks. We have an ethics agreement with the Assembly, which demonstrates it can be done.”

Cuomo added he had a “good conversation” with Republican lawmakers even as disclosure remains a “sensitive area” for lawyer-legislators.

“You should also remember this issue has plagued Albany for about 50 years,” Cuomo said.

The meeting takes place a week after Cuomo and Assembly Democrats agreed on a package of ethics reform measures in the state budget ranging from disclosure to pension forfeiture and travel per diem disbursement.

But the disclosure concerns and their scope have taken center stage for Republicans in the state Senate.

Cuomo is pushing the ethics legislation following the arrest of now-former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges that stem from legal referrals masked as bribes, according to prosecutors.

“Members brought up some of their concerns and it’s mainly client confidentiality,” Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos told reporters, adding, “The main issue is how far do we go and also protect client confidentiality because that is very important.”

Cuomo has insisted that lawmakers must include ethics legislation in the budget or he won’t agree to a broader spending plan.

But Skelos this afternoon signaled both sides were willing to make an agreement on the ethics issues.

“We all realize there’s give and take if you’re going to get a result,” Cuomo said. “That’s where the discussions are right now and we’re going to continue.”

Senate Republicans did not mention any of their own reform proposals aimed at the executive branch when meeting with the governor, Cuomo and Skelos said.

Klein: Ethics ‘Most Important Issue’

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein on Tuesday called ethics reform legislation “the most important” issue in Albany.

He added that if an agreement is reached on ethics reform legislation, broader deals could be reached on the budget, due next week.

“I think ethics reform is probably the most important issue we’re going to be dealing with,” Klein said in an interview. “I understand if we get it done, everything kind of flows from there.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week announced Assembly Democrats backed his disclosure and per diem reform proposals along with a constitutional amendment to expand pension forfeiture.

Senate Republicans, however, have reservations over the disclosure of private business clients and have proposed alternative financial disclosure rules aimed at the executive branch.

Klein himself has proposed the creation of a full-time Legislature by banning outside income of state lawmakers.

At the same time, Klein stepped away from his Bronx law firm where he had been a partner.

“I put my money where my mouth is,” he said.

Ethics reform legislation was re-injected into the Albany budget debate this year following the arrest of former Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges.

While Cuomo’s office has indicated a number of measures have fallen off the budget negotiating table, the governor reiterated that he won’t support a budget agreement without ethics reform (Cuomo has referred to this as “approving” a budget, which the governor does not actually do).

Still, Cuomo’s ethics push with the Senate Republicans comes as he still must convince Assembly Democrats to go along with his education reform proposals.

“I’m hopeful we all can come together and can come up with a plan to deal with all the problems we have in Albany,” Klein said. “I don’t think we can forward unless we come up with a plan to address ethics in Albany.”

Shifting Tactics, Pro-Education Tax Credit Forces Re-Air Dolan Ad

A day after supporters released a television ad pushing for the approval of the education investment tax credit, the spot is being swapped out for last year’s commercial featuring Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

The swap comes after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office in a statement indicated that both the tax credit and the DREAM Act are falling off the table in the budget negotiations.

The size of the purchase — which organizers say is substantial — remains the same and the ad will air on Time Warner Cable News, NY1, Capital Region broadcast and New York City cable.

The Dolan ad first aired last year and is more pointed in its tone and script on the issue.

“Governor Cuomo has assured us that he would fight for an innovative plan to help these students,” Dolan says. “But when the state budget was done, we were left out.”

Injecting Dolan back into the debate over the tax credit comes as both forces for the measure as well as those in favor of the DREAM Act are making a last-minute push to have them included in the budget talks.

The tax credit is meant to encourage donations to public schools and non-profit scholarships that benefit private schools.

The DREAM Act would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

Both measures were linked together by Cuomo in his state budget proposal. Senate Republicans oppose the passage of the DREAM Act, while some Democrats in the Assembly have been skeptical of the tax credit, which is opposed by the state’s teachers unions.

Heastie’s Price

From the Morning Memo:

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his two-way ethics reform deal last week with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, there was some head scratching in the CapTon office.

It was clear enough what was in it for Cuomo.

His agreement with Heastie was a clear attempt to box in Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, whose GOP conference has been unwilling to bend on certain aspects of the governor’s reform proposals – most notably, the disclosure of outside income and client lists.

But what was Heastie’s motivation for cutting a side deal with his fellow Democrat, angering Skelos and looking, let’s admit it, a little bit weak in the process – especially after the photo of the now-infamous hug appeared on the governor’s Flickr page.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the new speaker was getting out of his agreement with Cuomo, other than some gubernatorial goodwill, which doesn’t generally go that far (or last that long) at the Capitol.

Yesterday, however, it became clear what Heastie’s price might have been, as word started circulating around the Capitol that certain elements of Cuomo’s heretofore “my way or the highway” education reform plan had been dropped during ongoing budget talks.

The situation remains far from perfect for Heastie’s members, especially those – like Queens Assemblyman Francisco Moya – who have been pushing very hard for the DREAM Act to be included in the final budget deal, and are not at all happy that both DREAM and the Cuomo-linked Education Investment Tax Credit have been pushed off the budget table to be addressed at a later date.

Cuomo is still pushing for some of his education agenda – including an overhaul of the teacher evaluation system, a plan to deal with so-called “failing” schools (though there’s a compromise in the works on that), tenure reform, teacher performance bonuses and teacher scholarships.

“If those reforms are passed, the governor will support a significant funding increase,” Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa said in a statement released yesterday afternoon.

DeRosa also made it clear (ahem, Senate Republicans) that Cuomo is sticking to his guns when it comes to ethics, saying: “The governor has stated repeatedly and clearly that ethics reform was a top priority and that he wouldn’t sign a budget without ethics reform. Nothing has changed.”

But it’s clear now that Cuomo is not willing to let hangups over education policy be the cause of a late budget.

As Zack Fink noted on State of Politics yesterday, the governor got out-worked this budget season by the teachers unions – a longtime political ally of the Assembly Democrats – which had a dramatic impact on public opinion. Several polls have now shown New Yorkers siding with the unions over the governor when it comes to forging education policy.

The same polls showed voters prefer significant education – and ethics – policy issues handled outside the budget process. And they found Cuomo’s job approval rating has taken a hit, though that’s fairly standard for governors embroiled in highly charged budget talks.

What’s more, as Siena poll spokesman Steve Greenberg noted on CapTon last night, unlike in previous years, in which the state Democratic Party or the now-defunct Committee to Save NY spread Cuomo’s message, there was no pushback this time to the unions – with their well-orchestrated social media campaign, statewide rallies, billboards and TV ads – by either the governor or his allies.

The reality is that education reform was Cuomo’s top priority this year – even dating back before his successful 2014 campaign for re-election to a second term – until it wasn’t, thanks to Assemblyman Sheldon Silver’s corruption scandal, and US Attorney Preet Bharara’s ominous “stay tuned”.

Cuomo felt the need to respond to these developments – hence his newfound focus on ethics reform as this year’s top budget priority.

What we’re looking at now is an extremely active post-budget session, with everything on the table – from the charter cap and DREAM/EITC to the NYC rent laws and mayoral control over the NYC school system, both of which sunset early in the summer.

Stewart-Cousins Questions Budget Linkage

From the Morning Memo:

As key policy matters in the state budget appeared to drop away on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins questioned how effective it was to link measures together in the proposal.

On Monday, it became clear that the DREAM Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants, and the education tax credit, meant to spur donations to public schools and non-profit scholarship programs, was falling off the negotiating table.

Both measures were yoked together under the theory that Republicans in the Senate had to pass the DREAM Act to get the tax credit they desired and vice versa in the Democratic-led Assembly.

“This package situation which the governor had had success with previously doesn’t work anymore,” Stewart-Cousins said in an interview. “We saw it with the Women’s Equality Act and now this coupling of two very, very different issues. I don’t believe they should have been coupled. I’m happy they are no longer coupled. Obviously they are important to each of the populations.”

Knitting various issues into a budget or policy debate is a time-tested method for Albany lawmakers and governors.

But at times, linkage can actually be poison pills for the passage.

And this year, it became apparent that state lawmakers had tired of Cuomo’s strategy.

Cuomo’s 30-day budget amendments doubled down on this strategy, linking funding to the tuition assistance program to the DREAM Act and the tax credit’s passage as well.

Advocates for both measures are now urging Cuomo to uncouple both items and have them pass separately.

Meanwhile, Stewart-Cousis in the interview pointed to Monday’s Siena College poll that showed 85 percent of voters surveyed believe she and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb should be included in the closed-door budget talks.

“I would bring a perspective that women often bring to these rooms,” the Yonkers Democrat said. “I would talk about raising the minimum wage. I would talk about in a way that is meaningful and lifting people out of poverty.”

Senate’s MMA Bill Advances To Third Reading

From the Morning Memo:

A bill in the Senate that would legalize mixed-martial arts in New York has advanced to its third reading on the Senate calendar.

The measure, backed by Republican Sen. Joe Griffo, has passed multiple time sin the GOP-led Senate in previous years.

But the bill is moving forward this year after supporters of MMA legalization have renewed hope after one of the bill’s main proponents, Speaker Sheldon Silver, lost his gavel following an arrest on corruption charges.

Newly elected Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a past sponsor of MMA legislation in his chamber, has said he will defer to his conference on whether there will be a vote on the bill.

Opponents of the bill, which include labor and women’s groups, have cited the sport’s violence in opposing legalization in New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not closed the door on MMA legalization, saying he is interested in the potential economic impact of the sport.

Cuomo met privately on Monday with UFC star Rhonda Rousey, who was in Albany to lobby for the bill.

Legal Aid Society Endorses Raise The Age

From the Morning Memo:

The Legal Aid Society has endorsed the effort to raise the age of criminal responsibility, but not without questioning some aspects of the proposal.

In the main, the group backs the effort to increase the age for trying a persona as an adult to 18 in the state, a move that is called “long overdue.”

But the group is skeptical of provisions that deal with 16- and 17-year-olds in legal trouble.

“The Governor’s bill, while not complete in its recognition of 16 and 17 year olds as adolescents, goes a long way in accomplishing long overdue reform. And while this is a significant first step, we are disappointed that under this bill Youthful Offender adjudications will be utilized as a predicate crime,” the group wrote in a memo being released later today.

Memo in Support of Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility %283 23 15%29 %282%29 by Nick Reisman

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany with no public schedule.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is in the city with no public schedule.

At 10 a.m., NYS Broadband Program Office Director David Salway discusses Cuomo’s New NY Broadband Program, Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension Building/4-H Fairgrounds, Education Center, Harrington Room, 12690 State Highway 31, Albion.

At 10:30 a.m., clergy members and education activists from around the state will deliver 800+ petition signatures to Cuomo calling for “full and fair” school funding ($2.2 billion in additional state aid), governor’s office, 2nd Floor, state Capitol, Albany.

At 11 a.m., the Senate Labor and Social Services committees hold a joint public hearing examining ways to address issues affecting families in the workforce, on the agenda: paid family leave, childcare subsidies, facilities enrollment, and dependant care tax credits, Hearing Room A, LOB, Albany.

At noon, AARP members deliver hundreds of postcards from constituents urging Senate Energy Committee Chair Joe Griffo to push for inclusion of an independent utility consumer advocate as part of the final state budget, Utica State Office Building, 207 Genesee St., Utica.

At 12:30 p.m., Syracuse Police Chief Fowler and NYSAN Director Niedzielski-Eichner join former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for a live webcast to discuss the importance of afterschool programs and the unmet need for affordable, quality care. The National Afterschool Summit can be seen here:

At 1:30 p.m., Assemblyman Joe Lentol; Justin Kalifowitz, co-founder of NY is Music; Maya Kremen of Local 802; musicians, producers, and music industry professionals from across New York call for inclusion of a music industry tax credit in the budget, Million Dollar Staircase, state Capitol, Albany.

At 2 p.m., as part of her five-borough effort to #ShattertheStigma around mental health, NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray will team up with Health Commissioner Mary Bassett and Chiara de Blasio to announce the launch of NYC Teen Text, a new mental health resource for teens, Millennium Brooklyn High School – 2nd Floor Library, John Jay Educational Campus, 237 7th Ave., Brooklyn.

At 3:20 p.m., a delegation of community and Jewish day school leaders, as well as Jewish day school students, from Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island and Staten Island, in Albany to appeal for passage of the Education Investment Incentives Act, will be recognized on the Assembly floor, state Capitol, Albany.

At 6 p.m., Assemblyman Peter J. Abbate, Jr. holds a $300-a-head fundraiser, The State Room, 100 State St., Albany.

Also at 6 p.m., Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci holds a $50 per person fundraiser, The Fort Orange Club Library, 110 Washington Ave., Albany.

Also at 6 p.m., Assemblyman Joseph Saladino holds a $400-a-head fundraiser, Bongiorno’s Italian Restaurant, 23 Dove St., Albany.


In a late-afternoon statement, Cuomo Communications Director Melissa DeRosa dropped hints that the governor would sign a budget that lacked key education initiative pieces like the DREAM Act and the Education Investment Tax Credit – proposals that continue to divide the two majority legislative conferences. She doubled down, however, on Cuomo’s pledge to reject any budget deal without ethics reform.

“The key education reforms are dealing with the epidemic of failing schools, improvement to the teacher evaluation system, tenure reform, teacher performance bonuses and scholarships to attract new teachers. If those reforms are passed, the governor will support a significant funding increase,” DeRosa said.

Tom Precious: “The administration statement, offering threats and olive branches of sorts, served one purpose: It signaled areas of the budget likely still open, from a proposed increase in the minimum wage to the $1.5 billion upstate fund.”

Assemblyman Francisco Moya, a Democrat from Queens who sponsored the DREAM Act, released a statement accusing Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of being motivated by “xenophobia” and “lack of foresight.” Moya called on Cuomo to “show true leadership” and bring Skelos back to the table to negotiate this measure.

Alternate methods of teacher evaluations are under discussion at the state Capitol, including a “matrix” or “grid,” which include a variety of “boxes” or categories for measuring educators’ performance.

Hours after a joint letter calling for the extension of mayoral control in NYC was issued by the unlikely alliance of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, state Republican leaders and Cuomo’s office signaled that the issue would be put off until after the state budget was finalized, opening the door to months of protracted negotiations.

Top music industry executives and songwriters banded together in a last-minute push for a $25 million tax credit designed to help save the industry in New York. They want the credit included in the state budget deal.

With no comment or debate, the New York state Gaming Commission signed off on a plan to seek bids on what would be a fourth upstate casino yesterday – the same day that a new study indicated that tax revenues nationwide from such facilities are slowing.

Ronda Rousey, the UFC’s world bantamweight champion, met separately yesterday with Cuomo and top lawmakers, making the pitch for the state to lift its ban on professional mixed-martial arts bouts. Also a model and an actress, Rousey squeezed in a trip to the state Capitol – her third overall, but first since 2013 – between appearances on “The View” and Tuesday on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon”.

The long-time head of the Dominican Day Parade, Nelson Pena, will be ousted under a deal with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman after a probe found financial improprieties, officials plan to announce today.

More than two years after the New York Cosmos proposed a 25,000-seat soccer stadium, hotel and retail complex at Belmont Park, inaction by state officials has prompted the team to consider alternative locations for the $400 million privately funded project.

A state Supreme Court justice has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a state teachers union in an attempt to force the state to scrap its property tax cap and tax freeze.

More >