Nick Reisman

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NYSUT Launches “Students First: The Reality Tour”

In a not-so-veiled reference to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “People First” campaign, a coalition of education advocacy groups are launching the alternative “Students First: The Reality Tour.”

From their release:

“In six simultaneous events across the state, parents, students and teachers organized by the Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action of New York and New York State United Teachers will launch a statewide “Students First: The Reality Tour.” The purpose of the tour will be to tell the stories of the local impacts of the $1.3 billion state cut to public schools. Data summarizing statewide and local cuts in teachers, programs and other will be released. AQE will release a video presenting testimonials on the impact of the cuts from districts statewide.”

All events are being held Thursday in Buffalo, Rochester, Watertown, Troy, Albany and Yonkers.

Cuomo is traveling the state to stump for his big 3 goals: gay marriage legalization, an ethics overhaul and a tax cap. The last item has the eternal ire of education groups, who say it will unfairly hurt school, and point to mandated cost-drivers such as pensions and health care placed on schools.

Earlier today, NYSUT issued a statement cheering for the millionaires tax revival in the Assembly. However, Cuomo, speaking in Lake Placid, agreed with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in declaring the issue over.

Cuomo On Gay Marriage: ‘I’m Doing Everything I Can’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, speaking in Lake Placid today for his “People First” tour, defended his strategy on same-sex marriage legalization, saying that he was doing everything he can to put a bill before the Senate by June.

You know, I think it is a critical issue, I think it is an issue where the people of this state have evolved on this issue. A majority of the people in this state now approve of marriage equality. We’re making progress. I’m doing everything I can. We’ll see. We’ll keep our fingers crossed. I’m cautiously optimistic. We had a very good and different session, legislative session, in the last few months.

Some gay marriage advocates have charged that Cuomo’s support of same-sex marriage is merely trying to score political points and criticized the governor’s decision to not put a bill before the Republican-led Senate unless the votes are available.

Cuomo said last week he wouldn’t introduce a program bill that would fail and have a “replay” of 2009, when gay marriage bill failed in the Senate, 38-24.

This time around, and with Republicans in control, a coalition of gay marriage advocates are trying to persuade fence-sitting senators to approve the bill. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in Albany on Tuesday to personally lobby in favor of the issue.

Cuomo, speaking to reporters, also seemed to dial back his rhetoric of slamming lawmakers.

“We’re making progress in Albany that we haven’t made in years and I want to keep that spirit going,” he said.

Who’s Losing Their Job In The Courts?

The state court system has provided a list of which positions are being cut, showing a concentration of job losses in the New York City boroughs.

The courts cut 600 jobs today, which Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and CSEA blamed on the cuts in the approved 2011-12 state budget.

Lay Offs,Court

NYSUT Praises Millionaires Tax, Skelos Declares It Dead

Getting to this a little late, but the state United Teachers union is applauding the revival of the millionaires tax in the Assembly, even if it’s not going anywhere in the Senate.

“In every corner of the state, New Yorkers, after carefully examining the difficult choices made by their school boards, voted ‘yes’ in near record numbers on school budgets to ensure students and education programs did not suffer further harm,” NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi said. “Voters showed they value public education, support their local schools and recognize that teachers and other employees have, too, sacrificed in order to preserve programs and jobs. The state – and the wealthy — must do their part, too.”

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos told reporters earlier today that the millionaires tax debate is “over.” His office went further this afternoon, having the Long Island Republican declare in a statement that the issue is “dead.”

The personal income tax surcharge is dead. It died at the end of March, when the Legislature approved a new state budget that did not extend it; a position supported by Senate Republicans and by Governor Cuomo.

I caught up with Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari, D-Cohoes, Albany County, who defended the introduction of the tax, even if it appears to be a political point to score.

“We have to stick to our principles,” he said.

Ball Backs ‘Leibell Laws’ Ethics Reform

Sen. Greg Ball, R-Putnam County, announced today he was backing a package of ethics overhaul measures aimed at preventing public bribery and fraud cases and a bill that would strip public officials convicted of a felony from receiving public pensions.

Ball noted that the laws are aimed at his old bete noir, former Sen. Vincent Leibell, a Republican who held Ball’s current Senate seat and resigned in December in the face of felony corruption charges of tax evasion and obstruction of justice.

Leibell was sentenced to 21 months in prison last week.

“Though limited, some public officials selfishly use their offices for personal gain, these anti-corruption safeguards will act to stem the corruption plaguing the public’s image of elected officials,” he said. “It’s time to cleanup Albany’s playpen of money laundering.”

Perhaps it’s a Freudian slip or a simple spelling error, but in his news release referred to the bills as “Leibell Laws” — the same phrase Sen. Dan Squadron used on Fred Dicker’s show. But later, Ball refers to them several times as “Liebell Laws.” Either way, point taken.

Skelos Meets With Cuomo, Has ‘Great Discussion’

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues his march through the state — and taking some swipes at the Legislature along the way — Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos asked the governor to model the legislative process after the budget talks.

“I suggested to him that the model we used to get the budget down on time was one of civility and working together and having frank discussions and understanding each person’s issue,” Skelos said, adding that he and Cuomo had a “great discussion.”

Cuomo’s People First tour includes pushing his top three agenda times for the rest of the legislative session: the tax cap, ethics and gay marriage.

Still, it’s fair to say the budget process that resulted in the first on-time spending plan and spending reduction in years is very different than the legislative sausage-making in Albany.

First, the governor has less power to get what he wants in the budget than he does in legislation. Senate Republicans, also, were largely lined up with the governor on spending cuts and his zero tax increase pledge.

At the same time, Cuomo’s goals like gay marriage and ethics overhaul have seemingly put him at odds with Skelos and the Republican majority.

Skelos Shoots Down Millionaires Tax: ‘It’s Over’

Not surprisingly, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos quickly shot down the Assembly’s revival of a millionaires tax extension, calling the issue all but dead.

“It’s over with. There’s not going to be a millionaires tax, a so-called millionaires tax passed,” he said.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced the re-introduction of the tax proposal late Tuesday — reviving a battle that was had during the budget. Both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republicans opposed the measure, saying it amounted to a tax increase.

Silver, in a statement Wednesday, said the tax was needed in order to offset cuts to education. Liberal lawmakers had hoped that once the full impact of the $1.2 billion in cuts were felt to education, support would gather for the surcharge.

However, Skelos told reporters this afternoon that with 93 percent of school budgets being approved Tuesday, the tax was the wrong approach.

“We’ve seen with these school budgets 93 percent pass with the understanding that the (property tax) cap is potentially coming. I don’t think taxing and now increasing spending is necessary.”

Lawsky Talks Industry Regulation vs. Industry Promotion

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pick to lead the new Department of Financial Services, Chief of Staff Ben Lawsky, said this morning that he is seeking a balance between regulating the state’s financial industry and making sure jobs stay in New York.

Lawsky’s nomination to become the department’s first commissioner was approved by the Senate Insurance Committee this morning. He goes before the Senate Finance Committee next week and will then have to be confirmed by the full Senate.

The agency combines the departments of insurance and banking, part of Cuomo’s overall plan to reshape state government. The initial proposal was to call it the Department of Financial Regulation, which would have included merging the Consumer Protection Board as well.

After concerns were raised by industry officials, the consumer protection aspect was dropped and the name was changed to Financial Services. Lawsky said a major component of the department would be consumer protection.

“I think that’s the challenge, for every regulator, is to find a balance between regulation and enforcement,” he told reporters after the meeting. “I think every regulator whether it’s the SEC or the fed has to deal with that. It’s different than just being a prosecutor.”

He added, “At the same time making sure that we’re protecting consumers, which is actually good for businesses because if consumers trust the industry they’re do more business with the industry.”

Silver: Cuomo Should Bash Senate, Not Assembly

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said in an interview on Talk 1300-AM this morning that Gov. Andrew Cuomo should be training his criticism on the Senate, not the Legislature as a whole, calling the broad-bush anti-lawmaker approach the governor had adopted in his “People First” tour inappropriate.

“The only problem I have with the governor is when he goes around the state he talks about the Legislature when he should talk about the Senate,” Silver told The Post’s Fred Dicker.

Cuomo is traveling the state promoting his big three agenda items for the rest of the year: The 2 percent tax cap, ethics overhaul and same-sex marriage.

The governor has stepped up his criticism of the Legislature, saying both the Assembly and Senate have been too beholden to special interests, while also stressing that he’s not singling out any one lawmaker in particular. (He even went so far as to say that “many” legislators are actually “good people”).

Silver said in the interview that the criticism of the Assembly is unfair because he continues to be “in virtual agreement” with Cuomo on ethics reform, which will likely be include the requirement that lawmakers reveal the sources of their outside income.

“To go out and say we are not there, we the Assembly are not there,” Silver said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate. He should make that distinction.”

Silver again said his clients at personal-injury firm Weitz and Luxenberg have no business before the state.

On the tax cap, Silver suggested Cuomo should be also taking about the plan to extend and expand rent control and rent regulations for New York City during his statewide tour (the governor is in Lake Placid today).

The governor did release a video on Tuesday saying the issue needs to be dealt with soon or warned a crisis would be created.

“Both of those issues are the same issues: it’s about keeping people in their homes,” Silver said of the tax cap and rent control.

(There’s that allusion to linkage again…just sayin’).

With Deep Cuts, School Budgets Pass

School officials announced this morning that more than 93 percent of school budgets across the state passed, despite deep cuts and cuts to programs and staff — the second year education officials have been forced to either raise taxes significantly or make cut back on spending.

The state School Boards Association and state United Teachers union, not surprisingly, had different takes.

“Voters realized that school officials did all they could to limit spending and taxes this year,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer.

Meanwhile, union officials knocked Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for a 2 percent cap on property taxes and seized on the renewed push for a millionaires tax, which Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said would be re-introduced.

“The choice to give millionaires tax breaks while cutting funding to education will result in thousands of layoffs for middle-class professionals and diminished opportunities for students,” NYSUT Executive Vice President Pallotta said. “Our students deserve better. The state needs to do its fair share and stop passing along the pain to students and local taxpayers in order to please the wealthiest and most privileged in our state.”

The average tax hike in school districts was 3.4 percent, above the 2 percent cap that Cuomo has proposed. The approved 2011-12 state budget cut more than $1.2 billion in education spending. The governor said schools can live with the state spending cuts without raising taxes by slashing overhead.