Nick Reisman

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Assembly Lawmaker Wants A Beer And Wine Tax

From the Morning Memo:

A bill that would place new taxes on wine and beer sales would raise $260 million meant for addiction prevention and recovery programs.

That bill, backed by Assemblyman Michael DenDekker, would add 3 cents to the price of a 12 ounce can of beer and 2 cents per glass of wine. Ten cents would be added to the price of a shot.

“Substance abuse of any kind is deeply troubling, but addiction to alcohol has proven particularly damaging not only because of its corrosive effects on physical and mental development but also because of its role as a gateway drug,” DenDekker said.

“Alcohol users, particularly at younger ages frequently try other controlled substances while under the influence of alcohol. Predictably, patients addicted to opioids, cocaine and other mind altering substances began their history of substance abuse with alcohol since it is the most commonly available and society acceptable drug Americans are exposed to. Thus, I believe that alcohol is the gateway drug, and any serious initiative that aims to curb the effects of substance abuse must place alcohol use and addiction as a top priority.”

DeDekker said the revenue generated by the tax would “literally double” the availability of existing programs for treatment.

The bill comes as lawmakers are also debating whether to legalize marijuana in the state, with revenue proposed to bolster mass transit in New York City, aid communities impacted by tough drug laws and to study the effects of cannabis use.

Long Island Six Reaffirm Backing Of Permanent Tax Cap

From the Morning Memo:

The six Democrats who represent the state Senate on Long Island in a joint statement on Wednesday reaffirmed their backing a permanent property tax cap, saying they would continue to push for the measure through the state budget process.

The state Senate approved a standalone version of the bill in February; the Assembly is yet to take up the measure.

“Providing tax relief to Long Islanders is our top priority and, therefore, the inclusion of the permanent tax cap in the final budget is essential,” the lawmakers said in the statement. “Importantly, our conference, lead by Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, included this provision in our one-house budget resolution, and we will continue to fight for its enactment in the coming weeks.”

The statement from Sens. John Brooks, Jim Gaughran, Anna Kaplan, Todd Kaminsky, Monica Martinez, and Kevin Thomas comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly stumped around the state for the issue, which he said is needed even more after a $10,000 limit was placed on state and local tax deductions.

Supporters of a permanent tax cap, meanwhile, also point to Amazon’s decision to back out of a project in Queens that would have tied $3 billion in tax incentives to the creation of up to 25,000 jobs.

The cap doesn’t expire until next year, but has been linked in the past to rent control regulations for New York City, which sunset in June.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in an interview Wednesday with WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom said the issue is still under discussion, but added the tax cap itself is no danger of expiring.

The cap for Cuomo is a key economic achievement from his first term. He said this week he would not be willing to consider changes to the cap such as no longer setting the limit to the rate of inflation or making it easier to override.

Stewart-Cousins Talked To Cuomo About ‘Disparagement’ Of Senate Dems

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins spoke with Gov. Andrew Cuomo after Sen. Zellnor Myrie blasted what he said was the governor’s criticism of her, suggesting they were gender and race-based.

Stewart-Cousins, speaking with reporters after a joint budget conference meeting, said she did not believe Cuomo’s criticism was racially charged or due to her being a woman. But she did raise a broader issue she had with Cuomo’s “disparagement” of Senate Democrats.

“I didn’t have a concern about any of these things,” she said. “I had a concern about a constant sort of disparagement of the conference that I addressed.”

Cuomo and Senate Democrats have had an increasingly rocky public relationship. Cuomo lashed out at the conference earlier this year when Amazon pulled the plug on a planned project in Queens that would have created up to 25,000 tied to $3 billion in tax incentives.

Cuomo blamed the conference for nominating an Amazon critic to a board with potential veto power over the deal.

Cuomo further rankled Senate Democrats this week when he suggested they were not yet accustomed to governing in Albany. Senate Democrats gained power for the first time in a decade in November.

Stewart-Cousins, meanwhile, said the conversation, taking place just as the budget season begins a more intense phase this month, allowed things to “move forward.”

“I think it’s important that we are all focused on making sure that we are serving the people of New York state,” she said. “We’re moving forward.”

In a statement, top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa in a statement also indicated the governor’s office was ready to move on as well.

“The whole episode was absurd,” said DeRosa, the secretary to the governor. “Our sole focus is getting things done for New Yorkers and we will challenge any governmental or political position that undermines that or stands in the way of progress.”

Top Cuomo Budget Aide Throws Cold Water On Downstate Casino Expansion

The top budget advisor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday came close to ruling out an expedited time frame for downstate casino licenses, pointing to fees the state would have to pay out to upstate casino operators.

There are currently four commercial casinos operating with licenses from the state in upstate New York. Legislation allows for downstate licenses to be issued by 2023. But some racino operators are making an effort to see that expiration date be moved up.

Operators of racinos in Yonkers and at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens have held preliminary discussions with lawmakers about the potential of issuing downstate licenses.

But Budget Division Director Robert Mujica pegged the fees for upstate casinos that would have to be paid in order to end the exclusivity to be at $300 million.

“We don’t have the resources to open up the casinos downstate and also pay the upstate casinos,” he said a news conference on the state budget talks.

“I know there’s been some conversations out there, but right now we’re not proposing expanding gaming in New York City and the fiscal reality is that the revenues from that would be far in the out years, anyway.”

More broadly, industry observers have raised the concern that the addition of up to three casinos in New York City could lead to an even larger glut in the northeast gambling market.

Nassau County Moves To Opt Out Of Marijuana Sales

Nassau County Laura Curran on Wednesday announced support for opting the county out of retail marijuana should lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agree to a program this year.

Nassau County would be the largest municipality so far to move toward not allowing retail sales even as the legislation remains up in the air in Albany.

“Local governments have a right to make a decision,” Cuomo said during a stop in Suffolk County on Wednesday.

“Different regions have different situations. Long Island is one situation, Buffalo is another situation. I believe in giving local governments the right to make the decision.”

Cuomo’s proposal allows local governments to opt out of marijuana sales, which he said was key to giving the legislation some flexibility for local elected officials.

“Frankly, to me, that’s one of the most appealing pieces of the legislation is that it would leave it to the localities to make the decision rather than some bureaucrats in Albany saying this is what we think you should do,” he said.

Curran’s announcement was praised by Smart Approaches To Marijuana, a group that is opposed to retail marijuana sale legalization.

“Commercial pot isn’t a boon for tax revenue or those seeking social justice. It just creates another predatory industry targeting minority and low-income communities to enrich Pharma, Big Tobacco and Wall Street investors,” the group said in a statement.

Cuomo Admin Signals Reverse On Medicaid Cuts, Knocks Legislative Budgets

Top officials in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration on Wednesday signaled plans to reverse support for cutting the growth of Medicaid spending by $550 million in the state budget this year, citing President Donald Trump’s federal budget proposal released this week.

At the same time, top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa and budget director Robert Mujica knocked the proposed budget resolutions by the state Senate and Assembly as unrealistic for seeking increases in spending.

The budgets proposed by Trump and state lawmakers are largely aspirational documents. Members of Congress have said Trump’s budget is “dead on arrival” and stands little chance of becoming law.

Nevertheless, the Cuomo administration said it would treat the Trump plan as “serious as a heart attack.”

“After SALT and what happened there, we’re going to take this very seriously, we’re not going to take it lying down,” DeRosa said.

Cuomo last month amended his $175 billion budget to include a $550 million slow down in spending for Medicaid. The proposal was opposed by both hospital systems in the state as well as the politically influential labor union, 1199SEIU.

But Mujica pointed to the federal budget action as requiring the state to “relook” at his own budget given the Trump proposal to curtail Medicaid spending.

“We have to now work to shore up the hospitals and nursing homes and the health care side of the budget,” he said.

It’s not clear where the money to shore up the health care spending would be drawn. Mujica indicated the money would be taken from elsewhere in the budget.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on Wednesday worked to pass one-house budget resolutions that sought more money for health care and education aid than what Cuomo has sought.

DeRosa criticized the spending proposals for being in “fantasy land” and pointed to the looming economic troubles some economists have projected for next year.

“They were completely irresponsible,” she said of the budget proposals from state lawmakers. “The numbers don’t add up. We want to ground the conversation back into reality.”

Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Speaker Carl Heastie, tweeted in response: “Everyone is entitled to their own wrong opinion.”

Heastie: Tax Cap Isn’t Going Anywhere

The Democratic-led Assembly’s budget resolution to be approved later today does not include a permanent extension of the state’s cap on property tax increases.

Don’t read too much into that, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Wednesday morning in an interview with WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom.

Heastie in the interview noted the cap does not expire until next year. At the same time, the cap, which limits property tax increases at either 2 percent or the rate of inflation, is unlikely to be repealed.

“I don’t envision a scenario where it isn’t in effect,” he said in the interview.

But the cap in the past has been tied to rent control regulations, which are due to sunset in June.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for a permanent extension of the cap included in a final budget agreement.

He is stumping for the issue today in Westchester County and on Long Island. Cuomo has said that making the cap permanent is especially key now given the $10,000 limit the federal government has placed on state and local tax deductions.

“I want to make the property tax cap now permanent because I want to be able to say to homeowners, to businesses, feel confident,” Cuomo said at the Suffolk County event. “This government is working with you and we’re not going to increase your taxes, you’re in the right place, we know that there’s instability but stay where you are, we’re going to get through this. We’re going to make the property tax cap at two percent permanent so you can bank on that. That’s what we’re going to do.”

The state Senate in February approved a permanent extension of the tax cap as a standalone bill.

Advocates Still Searching For Bail Reform

From the Morning Memo:

Advocates for criminal justice law changes are still waiting to see a legislative deal that would end cash bail for many charges.

Neither the Assembly or Senate budget resolutions this week contained the measure. That could be good news for supporters of ending cash bail, however, as the Legislature works toward an agreement outside of the budget.

“Neither the Senate nor the Assembly included bail reform proposals in their one-house budgets, so legislative leadership must pass meaningful bail reform immediately and before April 1st,” said Rena Karefa-Johnson, the New York state criminal justice reform director of the group “There is no time for more excuses, delays, or broken promises. Our current system has wreaked havoc on poor, black and brown communities, undermined the presumption of innocence and wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.’

Lawmakers for the last several weeks have been trading language on potential deals for cash bail. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he would not sign off on a budget agreement without a cash bail plan in place.

Push Made For Boosting Road Reimbursement

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers are seeking to boost the rate of reimbursement for 38 cities that maintain arterial highways for the first time in 32 years.

The provision, included in the Assembly’s budget resolution released this week, would add $12.7 million in funding for maintenance reimbursement to maintain state-owned roads.

The current reimbursement is 87 cents per square yard; lawmakers want to see that rate increased to $1.87 per square yard.

“Infrastructure always seems to be the buzzword until you get to the actual budget,” said Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, a Democrat from Queens. “So I’m hopeful this year will actually put money in and help out these local cities.”

The funding is being sought by the New York Conference Mayors, which wrote a letter this week urging state officials to include the funding increase in a final budget agreement.

“Cities and their residents should not be punished for participating in a cooperative program with the state,” noted Peter A. Baynes, the executive director of the New York State Conference of Mayors. “We instead urge the state to uphold its end of this partnership and provide reimbursement based on the current cost of road maintenance.”

Bellone Takes To Facebook To Push End To SALT Cap

E68078A0-138C-478A-8E71-AF6B490EA4ECFrom the Morning Memo:

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is ramping up his push against the federal government’s $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions.

The Democratic county executive on Tuesday is set to launch a pair of Facebook ads highlighting the issue.

The ads, part of his bid for re-election as he seeks a third term, come as Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to head to Long Island later on Wednesday to discuss the issue.

The ads urge supporters to sign an online petition, with another highlighting Bellone’s testimony to the Internal Revenue Service urging them to allow New York’s use of charitable contribution entities as a workaround vehicle for the SALT cap.