Nick Reisman

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Posts by Nick Reisman

Schools, Localities, Can Live Within Tax Cap, Cuomo Says

Though school districts across the state are, on average, facing a 3.4 percent increase in their tax levies, Gov. Andrew Cuomo insisted that most can live within his proposed 2 percent cap.

“I think it is a question of fiscal discipline and fiscal control,” Cuomo said.

The governor, who wants to cap property taxes at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, said that putting a ceiling on local and school taxes would result in a hard look, and ultimately a reduction, in spending.

“That’s what a property tax cap does,” he said.

Cuomo went down a list of showing that when the state increases spending on school education, the local property taxes went up as well.

“If there is more money, they will spend more money,” Cuomo said.

The state Education Department released their annual property tax cap report card today, finding that though many school districts have reduced spending over the previous year’s budget, most are raising taxes outside of the 2 percent cap that Cuomo wants to see passed.

The pro-business Unshackle Upstate released a “white paper” report today trying to debunk the criticisms of the cap, including the concerns of its negative impact on school districts and local governments.

Cuomo: Obama Right To Release Birth Certificate (Video Added)

President Obama was right to release his “long-form” birth certificate in order to show conspiracy theorists they were wrong, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference this afternoon on auditing the Long Island Power Authority.

The governor, an early Democratic supporter of Obama’s primary rival Hillary Clinton (whose campaign is where, arguably, the birther theories originated as Politico pointed out), said the release today of the birth certificate was a good move and not a defensive act.

“I think from the president’s point of view he was right, it shows he was right. It shows there’s nothing to this and all the political forces who wanted something out of this were wrong.

“They want to focus on the real business of this country,” he added, speaking of the administration.

Asked what if he thought developer and possible presidential candidate Donald Trump forced Obama’s hand by discussing the conspiracy theory that Obama wasn’t really born in the U.S., Cuomo demurred.

“I don’t know,” the governor said, who is on the long list of Democrats and Republicans who has received campaign donations from the reality-show host. “I don’t know what the conversation is in Washington.”

Cuomo is not attending the Obama fundraiser due to be held in New York City tonight.

Asked if Obama was being hurt in a larger sense by the poor economy and high gas prices, Cuomo said presidents are often blamed — sometimes unfairly — for a nation’s finances.

Main Street: New WIGS Campaign ‘Simply a Joke’

The Last Store on Main Street, a coalition of business groups opposed to the selling of wine in grocery stores, released a statement knocking the new campaign by the New York League of Conservation Voters, saying the argument they’re now pushing is a joke.

From spokesman Michael McKeon:

The idea that putting 4,500 people out of work, stunting the growth of small wineries and increasing underage drinking is some how a means of saving farmland is simply a joke. This plan would in fact hurt small wineries that rely on wine stores to get their products to consumers, potentially putting more farmland at risk.

New Yorkers like wine – we rank second among states in wine consumption. Unfortunately, too often New Yorkers reach for wines from outside New York. The best way to help New York wineries, and retailers, and to preserve farmland, is to educate consumers about the great wines we make in New York and promote New York wines.

The legislature has rejected WIGS over and over again, and we are confident they will see through this latest phony argument as they look for new ways to promote New York wines.

WIGS backers are trying to get a wine in grocery stores provision approved this session and were disappointed it didn’t make it into the final budget plan passed in March.

The group unveiled a new campaign today, saying that selling vino in places other than liquor stores would help preserve the state’s farmland.

Cuomo Cabinet Meets, Says Little (VIDEO ADDED)

The first full cabinet meeting of the Cuomo administration was held this morning for about 90 minutes, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo laid out his legislative priorities for the rest of the year.

But administration officials emerged from the close-door huddle with little to say or report back. Several officials used the phrase “upbeat” to describe the meeting.

Not present at the meeting was Secretary of State Cesar Perales, who is traveling out of the country. A full list of the attendees is after the jump.

The session marked the first time the governor met with commissioners and other top-level appointees since Jan. 1. It was also the first time most administration officials met together since they were confirmed or appointed by Cuomo.

“It was a terrific meeting,” said Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens. “It was inspiring. The governor talked about his confidence in all of us, obviously and what his aspirations going forward both for the legislative session and beyond. It was a totally upbeat meeting. I think as he’s been saying from the start, it was totally important to getting a budget on time.”

Ask by the gaggle of reporters gathered what was specifically discussed, Martens deferred.

“I don’t want to go through the particulars he went through with us, but I think many of you know his legislative priorities.”

Former Schenectady mayor and newly minted Canal Corp. director Brian Stratton also said little.

“You got the sense that we were all on the same time and that we would all be working together,” he said. “You all know what the governor wants. He wants us to work together as a team.” More >

WIGS Backers Change Tactics

Supporters for wine in grocery stores, disappointed that their-long sought provision was not included in the 2011-12 state budget, are regrouping with the hope of having the measure approved by the end of session in June.

The New York League of Conservation Voters is sending out “action alerts” to senators and assembly members calling on them to support the selling of wine in supermarkets, a move that is opposed by small business groups.

Supporters are also trying to reframe the debate over the issue, saying it will help preserve the state’s shrinking farmland acreage. Ten percent of the revenue, they said, would go toward preserving farmland.

The conservation league points out that there’s a backlog of farmland preservation projects around the state. The pot of money meant to preserve agricultural areas has also shrunk over the last several years.

Here’s the letter that’s being sent to lawmakers.

Farms generate $5 billion per year for New York State’s economy. However, over 613,500 acres of farmland were lost between 1997 and 2007, and New York is currently losing one farm every 3.5 days

Protecting our farms also means protecting our food supply, open spaces and public health. As a member of the New York League of Conservation Voters, I am urging you to support allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores as a way to help protect New York’s farms.

A recent study commissioned by New Yorkers for Economic Growth and Open Markets found that the proposal to sell wine in grocery stores would create over 6,000 new net jobs, raise hundreds of millions of dollars through franchise fees and generate $71.1 million annually through sales taxes on additional consumption.

I support dedicating 10 percent of the projected proceeds generated by the sale of wine grocery stores to:

* Fully fund the backlog of approved farmland protection projects, and

* Honor future commitments to farmland protection.

I believe that the revenue generated from the sales of wine in grocery stores is an ideal source of financial support for New York’s farms as it is a no-cost, revenue-generating solution that will also create jobs in wineries and related industries.

Please help grow New York’s economy by protecting local farms.

Thank you for your consideration.

Unshackle Addresses Tax Cap ‘Myths’ (Updated)

The folks at the Rochester-based Unshackle Upstate, a coalition of business organizations that back Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2 percent cap on local and school property taxes, released a white paper today giving a statistical breakdown of why a cap is needed.

But the paper also was used to address the “myths” and criticisms of Cuomo’s proposal, which has passed the Republican-led Senate, but faces a tougher climb in the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

The paper aims to debunk concerns over the cap hurting poorer school districts, the criticism that a cap would allow for 2 percent annual tax increases and that the teacher-union supported circuit-breaker solution.

Cuomo’s cap would limit annual property tax increases at 2 percent or the rate of inflation. Localities would be able to exempt themselves from the cap if voters approve a specific referendum.

“This white paper demonstrates that escalating property taxes negatively affect all New Yorkers,” said Unshackle Upstate’s Executive Director Brian Sampson. “From the cost of electricity to the price of groceries, property taxes are a part of everything we consume. By enacting a 2-percent tax cap, homeowners will be able to save more money and private-sector businesses will be able to create desperately needed jobs.”

The backers of Cuomo’s cap might have reason to worry. Though the Senate approved the cap, there’s lukewarm support for it in the Assembly, where many Democrats represent New York City. Though Silver has said he wouldn’t mind a 2 percent cap, he said that some exemptions may be needed.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have been accused of not truly wanting a cap over concerns that municipalities would be hurt by ever-increasing state mandates.

Update: It’s pointed out that Senate Republicans spent a good part of the last week before legislators’ spring break refuting that claim. Sen. John DeFrancisco of Syracuse made mention that the hold up is Speaker Sheldon Silver, not them.


Levy Hits Back At Post Story

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is hitting back at a New York Post story this morning critical of Police Commissioner Richard Dormer’s handling of the Long Island serial killer investigation, calling it “unfounded and untrue.”

The story claimed Levy was “furious” with Dormer over releasing details of the investigation and for “bungling” the inquiry, adding that he was about to lose his job.

In his statement, Levy, who is not running for re-election this year following a probe from the Suffolk County district attorney’s office over his campaign fundraising, said it was unsurprising that Dormer would be looking for a new job by the end of the year.

Today’s New York Post article regarding Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer is unfounded and untrue. The rumor also was unequivocally refuted by the county executive in statements given to The Post, which chose to give greater credibility to an unnamed source than to the Executive branch’s official statement.

The County Executive has not fired or asked the Commissioner to resign and is extraordinarily happy with the work of the Commissioner and the department.

It is not surprising that anyone in the administration might be exploring job opportunities after December 31.

Cuomo Releases Hevesi-Inspired Pension Reform Plan (Updated)

A week after former Comptroller Alan Hevesi was sentenced to 1-4 years in state prison, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has released a reform proposal aimed at stomping out corruption in the pension fund pool.

The new guidelines address an issue raised by Jim Odato’s column in the TU on Monday, which pointed out many of the safeguards put in place by the state Insurance Department in the wake of the Hevesi scandal were temporary.

“It is long past time that we learned the lessons of the Hevesi case and made permanent changes to our system that will stop the culture of corruption,” Cuomo said in a statement. “In case after case in the pension fund investigation, we saw the systemic abuse of the pension fund by public officials and those seeking quick profits at the expense of taxpayers. Our mission now must be to protect public and taxpayer dollars from being further abused by elected officials who misuse their office and violate the law.”

Hevesi, a Democrat, plead guilty to using his office in a massive pay-to-play pension fund scheme. Hevesi received millions of dollars in trips and gifts in exchange for favorable investment in the fund. The scandal also led to the conviction of Hevesi’s longtime political fixer, Hank Morris, as well as five other people.

Among the proposals:
· A permanent ban on elected officials, lobbyists and all placement agents, whether paid or unpaid, which have been a source of conflicts of interest with the pension fund.

· Impose a higher standard of conduct: The new regulation will prohibit (1) improper relationships between pension fund officials and an investment firm’s personnel or agents, (2) “revolving door” employment by investment firms of former public pension fund officials and employees, and (3) improper gifts by investment firms to public pension fund employees and officials.

· A prohibition on firms that make contributions to the Comptroller: The regulation will also ban investment firms that directly or indirectly make campaign contributions, charitable contributions, or gifts to the Comptroller.

Cuomo also plans to introduce a measure that would prohibit a state employee convicted of a felony from receiving their pension. The Hevesi conviction was a feather in Cuomo’s cap just as he was leaving to the attorney general’s office to be sworn in as governor.

Update: Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who hasn’t been on the best of terms with the governor — Cuomo did not endorse him during the campaign — issued a statement noting that placement agents have been banned since 2009 in his office.

Comptroller DiNapoli banned placement agents in April 2009. As long as he’s Comptroller, that ban will stay in effect. The Comptroller welcomes today’s regulations, and he continues to advocate that his placement agent ban – along with the pension forfeiture bill he proposed earlier this year and his other pension reforms – be made into law.

Senate GOP: 14,000 For Tax Cap

Senate Republicans are touting 14,000 signatures collected so far supporting the 2 percent cap on local property taxes.

Recall that the petition drive began April 12, as Republican lawmakers tried to push the reset button the debate that they were unwilling to negotiate on a cap with Assembly Democrats.

Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif said the results showed New York voters want the cap.

“New Yorkers are sick and tired of paying the highest property taxes in the nation, and they are reacting positively to our efforts to cap their property taxes. All we need now for the cap to become law is for the State Assembly’s Democrat majority to join us in passing it.”

The cap, as proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and approved by the Senate GOP, would cap local property taxes at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Republicans have been accused of not willing to debate or negotiate on the cap, because they fear the impact a cap would have on local governments, but prefer to keep the issue alive by passing a measure that stands no chance of being approved in the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, has said he would back a 2 percent cap, but one that includes some exemptions.

Liz B. spoke to one-time GOP gubernatorial candidate and former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso last night, who, despite all the talk of a gay marriage bill and an ethics package this week, believes a cap is still possible.

Avella and Stavisky Blast Toll Plan

Sens. Tony Avella and Toby Ann Stavisky are knocking the revived plan to toll East River bridges in New York City — Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, and Queensboro.

As you may recall, Senate Republicans introduced a bill earlier this month without little fanfare that would exclude the seven suburban counties from paying the much-despised MTA payroll tax meant to shore up revenue for the transportation authority that provides commuter bus, rail and subway service of metro New York.

Those counties include Putnam, Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Suffolk, Dutchess and Nassau.

But as an alternate means of raising revenue is a plan to toll the East River bridges, affecting outer borough commuters.

That’s offended Avella and Stavisky, both Queens Democratic lawmakers.

From their joint statement:

Tolls are a tax, and Middle Class families can’t afford to keep paying more while getting less in return. The legislation proposed by Long Island and Upstate Senate Republicans to place tolls on the East River bridges will adversely affect commuters, small businesses and working families in outer-borough communities who have very limited access to public transportation.

The plan was initially offered by Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch, who wanted the tolls as a way of keeping down fare hikes. But then, as now, outer borough lawmakers cried foul.

Here’s their full statement: More >