Nick Reisman

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Cuomo Dings Senate Democrats

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday at a press conference took both veiled and direct swipes at Democrats in the state Senate who have been critical of his administration.

The governor’s relationship with Senate Democrats has been strained since top lawmakers there had criticized a now-shelved project for Amazon to bring up to 25,000 jobs to Long Island City tied to $3 billion in incentives.

At the same time, three Democratic lawmakers — Sens. Alessandra Biaggi, Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou — blasted Cuomo for holding a fundraiser in March amid the budget talks, even as several Democrats, including those legislators themselves, had held fundraising events during the negotiations.

Cuomo was critical of Biaggi after The New York Times reported the Bronx freshman was in an argument with Sen. Kevin Parker. Biaggi in the discussion noted she had backed Parker amid calls for an Ethics Committee investigation into a tweet he had sent to a Senate Republican spokeswoman, Candice Giove, telling her to “kill yourself.”

The governor during the question-and-answer session was asked by NY1’s Zack Fink, who had reported last week that Biaggi quashed an investigation, about the incident.

“You cannot drop an investigation as a personal favor to another member,” Cuomo said. “That violates your fundamental responsibility. On those facts, yes, and that’s why I don’t want to comment on it any further because there may be a subsequent investigation.”

Senate Democrats, including lawmakers in the room at the time, deny Biaggi formally moved to block an investigation into Parker’s behavior.

“No investigation was ever dropped,” said Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy on Twitter. “Incident was handled by leadership. Member was talked to and was made clear he had to take steps to ensure this would never happen again.”

Meanwhile, Cuomo took a less direct shot at Sen. James Skoufis, who has come under criticism for introducing a bill backed by the online rental site Airbnb. The bill is opposed by the Hotel Trades Council, which has pointed to an Airbnb-supported independent expenditure committee supporting Skoufis’s election.

Cuomo’s remarks came in the context about the effectiveness of publicly financing campaigns.

“You can almost track an interest that has a connection to a piece of legislation in Albany to an IE that is a multi-million dollar expenditure on that behalf,” Cuomo said. “I don’t think there’s any difference between Airbnb and 32BJ and charter schools or REBNY or the teachers unions, but this is where the money is coming from and it’s coming for a very specific purpose.”

Cuomo Moves To Expand MERIT Program For Gold Star Families

The state will move to expand an existing scholarship program that covers the cost of a public college and university education for Gold Star families, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday at a news conference.

Cuomo will expand the program through executive action, a move that comes after the Higher Education Committee in the Democratic-led Assembly this month blocked a Republican-sponsored bill to do the same.

“Military service is more than just the active military member, I believe the entire family is in service,” Cuomo said. “We thank you and we applaud you and we are all in your debt.”

Democratic lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly had in recent days moved to back legislation that would have accomplished the same goal, with the measure taking effect after the passage of the next state budget in April 2020.

But Cuomo on Wednesday said he wanted the expansion to take effect immediately.

“I don’t want to send any misimpression for veterans families that there isn’t anything but total support for them,” Cuomo said.

The bill being blocked led to a political backlash for Democrats in the Assembly. President Donald Trump tweeted his criticism about the episode and Republicans in both chambers decried the development.

Republicans pointed to the passage of the DREAM Act in the budget, which provides access to state tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan cheered the development of the MERIT expansion.

“Families of individuals who paid the ultimate price will have their lives changed forever as a result of their sacrifice,” Flanagan said. “As a state, this is the least we can do to honor their service, their commitment and their bravery, and to make life just a little bit easier for their sons and their daughters.”

The MERIT program provides up to $24,250 for on-campus students to family members and dependents of military members who died while in combat or in preparation for combat. The expansion would include Gold Star families who have had service members die while serving in any capacity in the military.

Assembly Democrats had pointed to the fiscal implications of the bill passing outside of the budget. In the past, Cuomo has vetoed bills for that reason, including twice striking down a measure that would expansion pension benefits for veterans who are public employees. Cuomo eventually approved that measure.

But Cuomo said the MERIT program warranted “a special exception.”

“There was a tremendous outpouring from veterans and their families across the state when the bill was set aside,” Cuomo said.

DiNapoli: NYC Economy Continues To Boom

New York City’s economy continues to be a strong economic engine, according to a report released Wednesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

The city’s employment level reached 4.55 million jobs last year, the highest level evver.

In the 10 years since the economic recession of 2008, New York City added 82,0400 jobs, more than every state in the country outside of California, Texas, Florida and New York itself.

The technology sector has also increased by 80 percent to 142,600 jobs.

The report released Wednesday comes after Amazon decided to back away from a project to bring up to 25,000 jobs to Long Island City in Queens, which would have been linked to $3 billion in tax credits and other incentives.

“New York City is experiencing its largest and longest job expansion since the end of World War II and the city has been the driving force behind the state’s employment gains,” DiNapoli said. “While job growth remains strong, there are national and global risks that could affect the pace of future growth.”

In the current expansion, there are 91,200 jobs being added each year, with business services, tourism and health care sectors making up 60 percent of the growth in the last 10 years.

Wall Street, however, remains smaller than it did by 4 percent since 2007.

Overall, the unemployment rate fell from 10.1 percent in October 2009 to 4.1 percent last year.

Immigrants make up 42 percent of the workforce and their unemployment rate is below the overall city rate.

Bingo Bill Advances

From the Morning Memo:

A bill in the state Senate that would expand the frequency of bingo games senior citizen groups can hold is progressing, the bill’s sponsors on Tuesday said.

The bill would allow senior citizen groups to hold up to two bingo games a week, an expansion from the current law, which restricts playing Bingo games to 15 days during any calendar year.

The measure is limited to so-called “free” Bingo games, with prizes capped at $10 per game and $150 in total distributed throughout the day.

“Bingo is a recreational activity long enjoyed by seniors,” the bill’s sponsors wrote in a memo of support. “It helps to break down the walls of isolation through social interaction. The scheduled activity gives them a reason to get up, get dressed and leave their apartment or room. It increases both their physical and mental activity. It brings a bit of excitement to their day.”

The bill was approved earlier this month in the state Senate, where it is backed by Sen. Toby Stavisky. It is yet to pass in the Assembly, where it’s sponsor by Assemblyman David Rosenthal.

What The MERIT Scholarship Does

Last week, Democratic lawmakers in the state Assembly voted to block a Republican effort to expand tuition assistance for family members and dependents of those who died while serving in the military.

The incident led to firestorm of criticism, including a tweet from President Donald Trump and, in recent days, Democratic support for the measure.

As lawmakers pointed out, New York already provides tuition aid to Gold Star families through the The Military Enhanced Recognition Incentive and Tribute Scholarship program.

Here’s a quick rundown of the program, the bill and the controversy:

1. What does MERIT currently do?

The scholarship in the current 2018-19 school year provides up to $24,250 for students living on campus. Students who commute can receive up to 15,750. The scholarship provides assistance for in-state tuition costs, room and board and allowances for books, supplies and transportation up to the average cost at SUNY Colleges.

Students who qualify for the program must be studying at an approved college in New York, have graduated from high school in the United States, be enrolled as a full-time student, and not be in default of any state or federal student loans.

2. Who qualifies?

The scholarship currently applies to family members or dependents of those who have died or became severely and permanently disabled as a result of their military service while in a combat zone or died as a result of preparing to enter a combat zone, or those who are classified as missing in action.

3. What does the bill do?

There are multiple versions of the bill, but in essence all would expand the existing scholarship to Gold Star families who have had a military member of the family “die in the performance of his or her official duties.”

4. Why the controversy?

Republicans in the state Assembly are in a virtually powerless minority in the Democratic-dominated Assembly. This makes it difficult for any of their bills to get to the floor for a full vote in the chamber without Democratic help. Republicans at a meeting of the Assembly Higher Education Committee last week sought a vote on their bill to expand the MERIT scholarship program. The bill was defeated, with Committee Chairwoman Deborah Glick noting the measure was being considered after the state budget and has a fiduciary impact. Lawmakers have in the past approved bills with a financial impact on the budget, opening them to gubernatorial vetoes.

Pushing controversial bills is a common tactic for the minority conferences, especially in the state Senate, where so-called “hostile” amendments can force majority party lawmakers to take tough or embarrassing votes.

In the aftermath, Republicans blasted Democrats for blocking the legislation, pointing to the recently approved state budget that provides access to tuition assistance programs to undocumented immigrants. President Trump on Twitter also took up the cause after the news made national headlines, in many instances not noting the existing MERIT program.

5. What’s going to happen next?

Democratic Sen. John Brooks has introduced legislation in the state Senate that would virtually do what Republicans sought in the Assembly: Expand the MERIT program. The biggest difference for Brooks’s bill is that it would take effect on April 1 of next year, presumably when the next state budget is in place, satisfying concerns the measure would not be paid for after passing. Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week signaled his support for the proposal.

Rockland County Takes More Steps To Contain Measles Outbreak

Rockland County officials on Tuesday unveiled new plans to combat the ongoing measles outbreak, including a ban on those diagnosed or exposed to the illness from being in public places for up to 21 days.

The new orders, issued by County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, come as a separate measles outbreak has occurred in Brooklyn. The orders were also issued as Rockland County’s state of emergency declaration has been challenged in court and is undergoing an appeal.

The order covers public spaces both indoors and outdoors and bars the person from going anywhere there is a public assembly for any period of time, with exceptions for receiving medical care, emergencies or court appointments.

Another order would bar students who have not demonstrated proof they have received the measles vaccine from attending school.

“I have the authority from the State DOH to exclude those children who are not up to date on their immunization,” Ruppert said. “With this outbreak, I am implementing further exclusions of students without evidence of proper MMR vaccination effective immediately. This is addressed to the school administrators and principals.”

State lawmakers are considering legislation that would end the religious exemption for being excluded from being vaccinated.

State Officials Survey New Yorkers On Data Privacy

Consumer Protection officials in New York have launched a survey meant to determine how New Yorkers feel about data privacy issues, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Tuesday announced.

The effort is part of a broader effort by the Cuomo administration’s Department of State and Department of Financial Services to investigate reports that Facebook has accessed personal information of its users.

“In the Digital Age nearly every New Yorker has an online presence and consumers are an important resource for identifying ways to make the internet safer,” Cuomo said. “This survey will provide policymakers with important insight into data privacy issues that will inform our efforts to create effective policy that prevents online companies from misusing or abusing personal data.”

The survey asks respondents about how many smart devices they have in their homes, which operating system are being used and whether they know how to access privacy settings on social media, apps and browsers.

Consumers are also asked to describe what personal information they believe is being collected, stored or sold by social media outlets.

“As our investigation into online data privacy continues, this survey will provide needed feedback to gauge how our policies and regulations should evolve,” said Secretary of State Rosanna Rosado. “I urge everyone to take a few minutes to fill out the survey so that we can better understand New Yorkers’ everyday personal privacy concerns.”

NY-21: Stefanik Has $630K In Cash On Hand

Rep. Elise Stefanik raised more than $360,000 in the first fundraising quarter of the year, bringing her cash-on-hand total to $630,000, her re-election campaign on Tuesday announced.

Stefanik’s E-PAC, an organization founded to elect more Republican women to office, raised nearly $280,000 since it was relaunched at the start of the year, beating a $100,000 goal.

“While I remain focused on constituent service and on addressing a full array of legislative challenges affecting our District, I’m grateful for the generous campaign support across the North Country,” Stefanik said. “Supporters in each of our 12 counties know my record of putting our District first, and of delivering results for our small businesses, our veteran and military service members, our farmers, and for our families.”

Democrat Tedra Cobb, who lost to Stefanik last year, announced on Monday she would again seek to the Democratic nomination in the North Country House district.

Cuomo: One World Trade To Be Lit In Honor Of Notre Dame

One World Trade Center in New York City will be lit with the colors of the French flag on Tuesday in honor of Notre Dame after a devastating fire there destroyed the cathedral’s ceiling and spire and heavily damaged the structure.

“Our hearts ached as we watched a devastating fire ravage one of the world’s most sacred and celebrated religious monuments,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “The Notre Dame Cathedral’s centuries of history, art and iconic architecture are irreplaceable, and we are deeply grateful to the brave first responders who worked diligently to extinguish the flames and save portions of this significant piece of French and Catholic history.”

French officials believe the structure itself will be saved as a major restoration project gets underway.

“New York stands in solidarity with the people of France and Catholics worldwide who are mourning this tremendous loss,” Cuomo said. “Today, I am directing that One World Trade Center be lit in the colors of the French flag as a tribute to the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral.”

Charter School Critics: Raising Cap DOA

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to raise the cap on charter schools.

But going through the briar patch that is the opposition to any effort to do so would be difficult.

“It’s not something we are considering,” said Michael Whyland, a spokesman for the Assembly Democratic conference.

The New York State United Teachers union was similarly opposed.

“Handing money over to charter schools takes money away from public schools,” said NYSUT spokesman Matt Hamilton.

“Rather than talking about lifting the charter cap yet again — resulting in more public spending on privately run schools — the conversation should center on legislative reforms that mandate greater transparency and public accountability for the charter school industry. New York educators will be watching closely throughout the rest of this legislative session to see who aligns themselves with greedy corporate charter interests and who stands with public school children who deserve better from Albany.”

It’s not clear why Cuomo is now seeking to raise the cap, though the student limit was reached just last month in New York City.

And it’s not clear where leverage could be applied: Lawmakers in the state budget agreed to extend mayoral control of New York City schools, albeit with some changes.

Cuomo’s campaigns over the years have received the support from the wealthy backers of charter school networks as the state’s teachers union has been supportive of Democratic candidates in the state Legislature.

But fights over charter schools, protracted battles over co-location, and teacher evaluation criteria, have faded in recent years from the discussion at the Capitol.