Nick Reisman

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Comptroller’s Office: MTA Must Change

Deputy Comptroller Kenneth Bleiwas told a Senate committee today that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority needs to reform its finances as it faces a $250 million budget gap in 2012.

In testimony before the Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee, said the ever-increasing fare hikes, including the MTA’s plans to increases fares by 7.5 percent starting in January 2013 won’t cover future deficits.

From his testimony:

These increases are occurring at a time when taxpayers can least afford it. Even if the MTA achieves all of its stated objectives, it still forecasts a budget gap of nearly $500 million in 2014.

Bleiwas also decried the latest round of state budget cuts, and warned the MTA could be in trouble if federal dollars are curtailed. However, he also said Chairman Jay Walder has started the process of streamlining the notoriously onerous MTA bureaucracy.

“Balancing the operating budget will not be easy, but the focus must be on reducing costs by improving efficiencies and eliminating waste,” Bleiwas said.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are mulling plans to repeal the much-despised commuter tax imposed on suburban counties that receive commuter rail service from the MTA.

The tax was a hot topic during the 2010 elections. A repeal of the tax, which targets payrolls, could help retain GOP gains in Long Island and Hudson Valley Senate districts.

Cuomo Tax Cap Wins Praise From — GASP! — Paladino

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to cap taxes is winning praise from an unlikely source: former GOP gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino.

The Buffalo businessman’s former campaign manager Michael Caputo is circulating an interview with an online outfit called Tea Party Works, that has Paladino credit his former foe for pushing the issue.

“Circumstances have changed. Our position is that we want to reel everything back and make this government much smaller than it is. The people in charge right now are not going to do that. If this is all we can get out of them right now, get it out of them! That’s what you have to do until you have the strength to take charge and implement your own program. We’re not there now,” Paladino said in the interview. “You have to learn how to win, you have to take positions that are winnable. Otherwise, people are going to become frustrated and they’re going to disappear – and the effort will die.”

Paladino’s compliments come as Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to travel the state promoting his 2 percent cap on property taxes, which has passed the Republican-led Senate. An alternative bill is apparently in the works in the Democratic-controlled Assembly, which may include exemptions and an expiration date.

Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto on Thursday quickly shot down the idea of letting the cap expire after 3-5 years.

And the warm and fuzzies from Paladino to Cuomo are in stark contrast to the comments the Republican made on the 2011-12 budget, which he blasted.

“The only way your going to help our economy is creating jobs. Nothing in that document so far that I have seen creates jobs,” Paladino told WGRZ-TV.

Schneiderman Takes On Video Rental Fees

No really, they returned the movie.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman today announced a 46-state settlement with the remnants of Hollywood Video over late fees being charged to millions of customers who were dinged with big credit card bills after the company declared bankruptcy.

“Imagine applying for a mortgage only to find your credit report is tarnished because of a video rental late fee you didn’t even owe,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “This settlement will provide important safeguards to protect consumers against abusive debt collection practices and will ensure that consumers will not have their credit harmed as a result of any outstanding fees claimed to be owed to Hollywood Video or Movie Gallery.”

Hollywood Video and its parent company Movie Gallery are in the process of liquidating following the success of outfits like Netflix and streaming movies on cable television.

Schneiderman said the settlement impacts about 200,000 New York residents. According to the settlement filed in bankruptcy court on Thursday, consumers will not have their credit impacted by late fees and, in case where a customer may owe a fee for a product the company can only charge the lesser amount.

NYers United For Marriage: Because Your Mother Said So

With Mother’s Day right around the corner, New Yorkers United For Marriage, a coalition of advocacy groups trying to legalize gay marriage year, announced the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays will be joining the effort.

The release sent out by the coalition includes a statement from Republican Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, whose son is gay.

“Every mother wants her children to be treated respectfully. My son has known discrimination because he is gay. This prejudice actually affects our whole family as we witness the intolerance while we know the American promise is for liberty and equality,” said Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward. “This is the year to bring the rights and protections in our Constitution to every member of our society. This is theyear to pass the Marriage Bill and end discrimination in New York State.”

The group, which includes The Empire State Pride Agenda, Freedom to Marry, The Human Rights Campaign, Marriage Equality New York and Log Cabin Republicans is running a statewide campaign to quietly lobby the Legislature in order to legalize same-sex marriage this year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who wants gay marriage legalized once the regular session ends in June, plans to begin traveling the state with his cabinet officials in order to build popular support for the measure.

A bill that would have legalized gay marriage failed in the Senate in 2009, 38-24. But since then, several of the lawmakers who cast “no” votes have left office and others — including Democratic Sens. Joe Addabbo and Shirley Huntley — said they are on the fence.

NYSAC Voices Tax Cap Concerns

As lawmakers in the Assembly quietly discuss an alternate property tax cap, the state Association of Counties released a report today that found local governments would have trouble living within a 2 percent limit without some major-league mandate relief.

NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario said today a “carve-out” needs to be done for counties because mandated spending for health care, pensions and debt service have gotten too large.

Though Acquario supports capping property taxes, he said word of changes being put forward by Assembly Democrats won’t get to need to reduce costly required spending.

“I think disingenuous by the state not to take responsibility for the programs that they are creating and mandating in the state,” he said.

Acquario also predicted the cap as proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — a 2 percent or rate of inflation ceiling — would have to be altered before it’s made law.

“The governor has advanced legislation — it’s unworkable. It doesn’t work in its current form, but things are to be negotiated. Nothing gets introduced in Albany and passes as is.

Avella Revives Call For Millionaires Tax

Queens Democratic Sen. Tony Avella said today he will re-introduce the adjusted tax on those who make more than $1 million, reviving a contentious debate from the budget season.

“While we were recently able to pass an on-time and fiscally responsible budget, our pragmatic approach to closing the budget gap has caused extreme hardship in the form of cuts to schools, health care, energy and environmental programs and a drastic reduction in the state workforce,” Avella said in a statement.

“With this in mind, we must constantly be searching for responsible ways to increase revenue in order to ease that pain of these cuts.”

He estimates the tax would bring in $41.6 billion in revenue for the state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo opposed the reinstatement on a tax surcharge for those who make $200,00 and higher, a sentiment shared by the Senate Republicans, a measure that was due to expire at the end of the year.

Democratic legislators, who opposed deep cuts in social services and education spending to close a $10 billion deficit, tried to alter the tax by introducing a “true” millionaires tax on the highest income earners.

But the proposal did not make it into the final budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which began April 1. Cuomo had insisted on passing a budget without tax increases.

Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, Orange County, made an aborted attempt at introducing a millionaires tax in his chamber, but that move was quickly snuffed out by GOP legislative leaders.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said after the budget was approved that a millionaires tax wouldn’t be out of the question later this year.

State Lobbying Soars Passed $200M

The amount of money spent lobbying state government soared passed $200 million in 2010, according to the state Commission on Public Integrity’s annual report issued today.

The report found $213.4 million was spent on lobbying, an steep increase from the $197.8 million spent in 2009. Of that, $29.8 million was spent on advertising, up from $6.1 million in 2009. At the same time, lobbyists are also gaining strength in numbers. The commission reported 6,659 lobbyists representing 4,091 clients, compared to 5,887 lobbyists in 2009 representing 3,499 clients.

That severely outnumbers the 212 state lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate.

The main issue drivers in 2010 included selling wine in grocery stores and a failed property-tax cap. It’s also important to note that it was an election year.

As usual, it was a good year for the high-powered lobbying shop of Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, LLP, which reported $10.6 million in receipts and reimbursed expenses. They were followed by Patricia Lynch Associates, the firm run by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s ex-aide, which reported $8.1 million.

2010 Annual Report

Obama, Giuliani Meet With NYPD

Obama Ground Zero

After meeting with New York City firefighters, President Obama and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani met with members of the New York City Police Department.

Here is the full transcript of his remarks.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, listen, everybody, the — I’m not here to make a long speech. I am here basically to shake your hands and just to say how proud I am of all of you.
Obviously we had an important day on Sunday. The reason, what is important, was because it sent a signal around the world that we have never forgotten the extraordinary sacrifices that were made on September 11th. We’ve never forgotten the tragedy. We’ve never forgotten the loss of life. We’ve never forgotten the courage that was shown by the NYPD, by the firefighters, by the first responders.

My understanding is all of you were there that day. And I know you’ll never forget. I know it’s hard to fill the hole that occurred as a consequence of you losing folks who you had worked with for so long. But what, hopefully, this weekend does is it says we keep them in our hearts; we haven’t forgotten; we said what we — we did what we said we were going to do; and that Americans, even in the midst of tragedy, will come together, across the years, across politics, across party, across administrations, to make sure that justice is done. More >

Kolb Urges Cuomo To Keep Tax Cap As Is

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb today urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to keep pressure on Democrats in his chamber to pass the property-tax cap as is, without alterations.

“New York has never been closer to having a property tax cap. In the Assembly, we are only 25 Democrat votes away from the tax cap passing. Think about that: if 25 Democrats join with our Members, our state will finally have a tax cap. If Governor Cuomo takes his statewide tour to Assembly Democrat Majority districts – and the media lets homeowners in these communities know where the Member truly stands – I am confident the property tax cap will pass this session,” Kolb said in a statement.

The Canandaigua, Ontario County Republican’s statement comes as Cuomo begins his statewide tour in favor of the 2 percent cap, along with pushing for gay marriage legalization and an ethics overhaul.

Cuomo’s office shot down the rumored proposal to have a temporary cap from the Assembly Democrats, who may be seeking a measure that would expire within 3-5 years.

Kolb also said in his statement that Cuomo should tout the original proposal that passed the Senate in January.

“The Governor should make it perfectly clear to New York taxpayers who actually supports the property tax cap – and who doesn’t. Our Assembly Republican Conference supports the property tax cap, is on record as voting for the Governor’s property tax cap bill, and has been leading this fight since 2007,” Kolb said.

Diaz Calls For El Diario Boycott

In the wake of its editorial in favor of gay marriage, Sen. Ruben Diaz is calling for a boycott of the influential Spanish-language newspaper “El Diario.”

In a letter to the newspaper’s parent company CEO Monica Lozano, the Bronx Democrat said he would call for the boycott at his May 15 rally for “traditional” marriage.

Diaz, one of the most outspoken opponents of gay marriage in the Senate, writes in the letter that he is informing Lozano of the boycott plans “as a mere courtesy.”

The El Diario editorial in favor of same-sex marriage this week caught many by surprise. It comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a coalition of pro-gay marriage advocacy groups, along with business community officials, push the issue.

Monica Cl Lozano169-1