Albany

Hundreds Of New Jobs Are Expected At Upstate Ports Thanks To Offshore Wind

New York’s investment in offshore wind will likely mean hundreds of new manufacturing jobs for the Capital Region, according to Alicia Barton, President & CEO of NYSERDA.

Here’s why: Offshore wind turbines are massive. According to General Electric which manufactures them, a single blade is longer than a football field.

Many turbine elements cannot be manufactured on Long Island and New York City where offshore wind farms will be based because of population density and the cost of real estate. Also, some components are too big to travel on the state’s roadways.

This is where the Ports of Albany and Coeymans come in: Both are affordable, roomy and adjacent to the Hudson River.

The state’s Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act (CLCPA) mandates a total 9000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2025, enough to power 6 million households. In July, the state awarded the first two contracts toward the 9000 megawatt goal, totaling a record 1700 megawatts.

Empire Wind is owned by Norway’s Equinor; Sunrise Wind is owned by Denmark’s Orsted and US-based energy provider Eversource.

While offshore wind is relatively new in the U.S., it’s well-established in Europe. Both Equinor and Orsted are now looking to re-create their European supply chains on this side of the pond.

Barton explained to Spectrum News that because New York has “signaled” such a strong investment in offshore wind through the CLCPA, and because the state is centrally located on the mid-Atlantic coast, New York could become the “center of gravity” for wind power and its supply chain hub.

While some hiring for the supply chain has already begun, the bulk hiring will begin in 2020 at both the Ports of Albany and Coeymans, where the companies plan to build secondary steel components including stairs and platforms, and gravity-based foundations for wind turbines, respectively.

Barring unforeseen barriers, Empire and Sunrise Wind are expected to be operational by 2024.

Concerns

But large projects like these are fraught with hurdles both expected and unforeseen.

First, the projects will need a multiple permits, the denial of any one of which could mean a delay.

Offshore wind projects are also costly, at least initially, something the Empire Center’s Ken Girardin has pointed out here.

But that view was challenged by former DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, the Director of the NY Offshore Wind Alliance, who responded to critics this week in Crain’s, writing:

“The State’s contract for the first two large-scale projects will add less than a dollar a month to New York ratepayer’s bills. But because offshore wind uses no fuel, it will result in health-related savings of $700 million dollars, will generate $3.2 billion in port and infrastructure-related investments and put 1,600 people to work in various high paying jobs.”

Critics also argue that the cost of wind power has been made even more expensive in New York by a requirement that awardees include project labor agreements in all contracts. The issue has so alarmed Brian Sampson, President of the Empire State Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, that he has asked State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to look into it.

“We have contractors in New York that are very familiar with offshore wind projects. The project labor agreements put them in a position where they will not bid that work even though it’s their tax dollars that are paying for it,” he told Spectrum News.

Which is not to say that ABCNYS has a problem with renewables.

“Everybody supports the development of green energy. It’s good for New York. It’s good for the taxpayers. It’s good for the environment,” says Sampson.

“However the State of New York, which already subsidizes the cost of wind energy is going to make the situation much worse by forcing contractors to sign a PLA, thus eliminating potential bidders. And as we know when you reduce competition the price of the project will always go up.”

Other concerns around offshore wind include the Trump administration’s ambivalent reception, NIMBY, and the slow pace of renewable development in the state.

State Lawmakers To Assess Early Voting

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers today will hold a public hearing assessing the first year of early voting in New York.

The hearing, to be held in New York City, comes amid turnout of less than 2 percent of eligible voters before Election Day, according to the state Board of Elections.

At the moment, there’s no way to tell if this is a baseline level of turnout given the first year the law was in effect. At the same time, advocates expect turnout to be far higher in early voting next year amid a presidential race.

Still, there are issues lawmakers may want to tackle in the new year ahead of Election Day 2020, including insuring voting machines are working adequately during the period of early voting as well as placing polling stations in population centers, where there is no current guarantee that’s the case.

Much of early voting was left up to county Board of Elections to implement and funding was at issue over the summer in the weeks leading up to the first early votes being cast. Expect concerns over early voting as an “unfunded mandate” to be raised again next year.

Unshackle Upstate Survey Finds Businesses Are Pessimistic About 2020 Session

Businesses surveyed by Unshackle Upstate reported the main concerns for them heading into the 2020 legislative session are, in a way, evergreen ones: Taxes, mandates and state spending.

The group on Monday released a survey of 100 businesses in New York on the issues affecting them in this year’s session of the Legislature and what might be coming down the road in 2020.

For this year, businesses cheered the permanent extension of the state’s cap on property tax increases. They were not pleased with a measure designed to fight climate change by shifting the state to renewable sources of energy in the coming decades.

A majority of the businesses surveyed were pessimistic about the coming session, and a similar majority said they knew of someone who has left the state for better economic opportunities.

“Looking back at 2019 and seeing the road ahead in 2020, it’s clear that Upstate employers are concerned about what’s happening in Albany,” said Michael Kracker, executive director of Unshackle Upstate. “Taxes, mandates and other obstacles are hurting job growth and driving New Yorkers to other states for economic opportunity. Addressing these concerns and improving our business climate are critical to the future success of communities throughout Upstate.”

For 2020, businesses say they were most concerned with proposals to increase the minimum wage again, a single-payer health care proposal and an expansion of the prevailing wage.

“New York’s harsh business climate drives up costs for existing businesses, and makes it more difficult to attract new investment,” Kracker said. “We need Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders to recognize this reality and advance policies that will get the Upstate economy moving in the right direction.”

Updated: Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office responded.

“Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York State has added 1.2 million private sector jobs with growth in every region – leading to an all-time high in total private sector jobs – while lowering taxes for every New Yorker, including the lowest manufacturers tax rate since 1917, and the property tax cap that was made permanent this year has already saved taxpayers $25 billion,” said spokesman Jason Conwall. “We will continue to build on these advancements and invest in Upstate to create more jobs and economic opportunities for New Yorkers.”

The survey results released by the group can be found here.

Roger Stone’s New York Impact

Way back in 2005, when I was a know-nothing intern, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno floated a mystery candidate for governor.

Bruno, who was about to become the last Republican standing statewide in New York with George Pataki’s retirement after three terms as governor, wasn’t thrilled with the candidates already under discussion: Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso.

Bruno’s mystery candidate turned out to be Donald Trump, who never did launch that campaign for governor of New York.

But about a year or so later, Bruno would formally turn to Trump ally for political advice: Roger Stone, the flamboyant political dirty trickster and natty dresser. Stone on Friday was found guilty in his case stemming from lying to lawmakers about his contact with WikiLeaks, witness tampering and obstructing a congressional investigation.

Stone has been a fringe character in New York politics for years. He would resign as Bruno’s consultant in 2007 after he was recorded threatening the father of then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer. But ultimately Stone would get something of the last laugh over Spitzer, spreading the unverifiable claim that the governor wore knee-high black socks in encounters with high-end escorts.

But this was the rub with Stone: He was seen as a colorful character, with virtually every profile legally required to remind us about his Nixon back tattoo. He had also drawn a reputation as a bully.

It was the sort of odd bodkin bailiwick Stone would hang his bowler on during the Spitzer-Paterson years in New York. He emerged in 2010 as an advisor to Kristin Davis, the alleged Manhattan madame who was among the cavalcade of unusuals running for governor that year.

Stone, due to his commitment for the Davis campaign, did not work for the campaign of Republican nominee Carl Paladino, who instead turned to Michael Caputo, a Stone friend and protege. Caputo was kicked out of the Stone trial earlier today.

Caputo very much came from Stone’s world, having worked as his driver and a political consultant in his own right.

Caputo had later tried to make another run at Trump running for governor in 2014 against incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo, another campaign that didn’t launch.

Warren County Urges Delay In Criminal Justice Measures

County officials in Warren County on Friday backed a resolution urging the delay of the implementation of changes to the state’s criminal justice laws that are set to take effect in the new years.

The county, located at the border of the Adirondack Park, is one of the first to pass a resolution raising formal concerns with the end of cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies as well as new discovery law requirements.

The resolution backed by the Board of Supervisors urged that “the fundamental responsibility of governments to protect the vulnerable in society demands that the shortcomings of these laws be remedied prior to their effective date” of Jan. 1.

Republican lawmakers around New York in recent weeks have held news conferences also urging the delay a delay of the measures taking effect.

Local prosecutors have also urged state lawmakers to back more funding for discovery law changes, which require a faster processing and turnover of evidence to the defense in criminal cases. Attorney General Letitia James has called the changes, in essence, an unfunded mandate for her office and district attorneys.

Assembly Codes Committee Chairman Joe Lentol on Thursday said the laws should take effect as planned, but did not rule out funding for areas that are in need, such as pre-trial services.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has defended the funding issues, pointing to the savings reaped for local governments by a decline in the number of people residing in local jails.

“New York State is creating a more equitable justice system as we eliminate cash bail for minor offenses, speed the time to trial, transform the discovery process, raise the age of criminal responsibility, decriminalize marijuana, and invest in indigent defense,” said Freeman Klopott, a spokesman for the state Division of Budget.

“There is no question resources are available for the implementation of these critical reforms as the State invests more than $300 million to support them and local governments will recognize hundreds of millions of dollars in annual savings from a declining inmate population.”

R519 2019 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

NYSUT Names New Director Of Legislation

From the Morning Memo:

The New York State United Teachers union is filling a key legislative role ahead of the 2020 session.

The union has named Alithia Rodriguez-Rolon its director of legislation, a role that will have her supervising and managing NYSUT’s team of representatives for the Legislature, analyze legislation and shape formal legislative positions for the group.

Rodriguez-Rolon has worked as a legislative representative since 2014, working as the director of state government affairs for the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. Before that, she lobbied on behalf of the state Department of Health and the New York State Nurses Association.

“Alithia is a fierce advocate for our public schools, colleges and hospitals,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta in a statement.

“I’m looking forward to working alongside her and NYSUT’s entire legislative team during the 2020 session to advocate for policies that benefit our students and their families and hard-working unionists across New York.”

IG Report Finds Persistent Pattern Of Sexual Harassment And Abuse By Ex-Open Government Official

For years, the state’s leading authority on open government laws would advise reporters, editors, students and members of the general public on how to file for public records and their rights to attend a public meeting while writing briefs asserting the right of the public to know what their government was up to.

But at the same time Robert Freeman was being praised as an ally and advocate for the press in New York, he was the subject of complaints by women, dating back to at least 2003, surrounding allegations that he would kiss women, download inappropriate images to his work computer and send emails to female students and journalists that made them deeply uncomfortable.

Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro on Thursday released a report detailing the numerous allegations against Freeman, the former executive director of the Committee on Open Government, who resigned earlier this year after a report at The Journal News in Westchester County complained about his inappropriate behavior, which state officials had known about for years.

The report details years of behavior — ranging from asking a woman for a kiss to sending emails telling a journalism student if he wanted to touch her — dating back to at least 2003.

Freeman had been the subject of formal and informal complaints over the years, and had been investigated by the New York Department of State. An editor at the Democrat and Chronicle sent a letter to Freeman admonishing him for having a conversation with a reporter that left the woman uncomfortable.

“Mr. Freeman habitually engaged in sexual harassment of multiple women over many years,” Tagliafierro said.

“Given the stature Freeman attained during his tenure as executive director, his role as the sole authority on government transparency, and the power dynamic he repeatedly promoted, many of the women who spoke with my office said they believed it would be futile to report his misconduct. However, there are now multiple pathways for reporting such behavior and my office stands ready to assist anyone who believes they have been victimized by state employees.”

Freeman occupied a unique position of trust for reporters navigating the state’s Freedom of Information Law and Open Meetings Law. He was often referred to as an unfettered expert open records laws and was a reliable person to contact for advice.

But after his firing in June, numerous allegations by women, both co-workers, students and journalists surfaced, according to the report.

Freeman was asked voluntarily to testify to the inspector general about the allegations. He declined.

dos-freeman-1789.040.2019-alb-report-11.14.19 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Lawmakers Want Legal Fund For Survivors Of Childhood Sexual Assault

State lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly on Wednesday announced support for a measure that would create a civil legal services fund for the survivors and victims of childhood sexual assault.

The bill is meant to be a companion measure alongside the Child Victims Act, approved earlier this year, which makes it easier for childhood sexual abuse survivors to file lawsuits.

The fund is meant to help childhood sexual abuse victims afford legal counsel or if private law firms are reluctant to take on cases that did not occur in an institutional setting. The measure is meant to assist non-profit entities that provide legal services on behalf of victims and survivors as well as those who may come forward in the future.

The bill creating the fund is backed by Sens. Jim Gaughran and Alessandra Biaggi and sponsored by Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou and Assemblyman Charles Lavine.

“This year we passed landmark legislation to give long-awaited justice to countless victims of child sex abuse,” Gaughran said.

“Unfortunately, many victims are now facing barriers to pursuing justice against their alleged abusers. I am proud to work side-by-side with these brave victims, including my colleagues Senator Biaggi and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, to establish a legal fund to ensure that every victim of child sex abuse has access to funding for legal services to seek the justice they deserve.”

Total Property Tax Levies Rise Slightly In New York

From the Morning Memo:

The total amount of money raised in property taxes by local governments increased by 2.4 percent this year to a total of $36.6 billion, according to a report released Tuesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

The report found the majority of that revenue, nearly $23 billion, was levied by school districts.

County governments collected $6 billion in property tax levies, about 16 percent of property taxes in the state.

Property taxes in the state are capped at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Local governments can vote to override the cap, which has been in place since 2012.

New Yorkers pay some of the highest property taxes in the country and the highest as a percentage of home value. Still, the last decade has led to a slower growth of tax levies statewide.

The report found that from 2017 to 2019, property tax levies grew the most in cities, 6.1 percent. In towns, the levies grew 4.4 percent. School district leaves have grown an even 4 percent.

During that same time period, home values have grown the fastest in western New York and on Long Island.

Rensselaer County Clerk Moves Forward With Green Light Law Challenge

Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola says he’s undeterred by the failure of Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns’s lawsuit against the measure known as the Green Light law.

And he’s forging ahead with his own: Filing an injunction this week to block the measure from taking effect. Merola hopes his challenge will have more success.

Last week, a federal judge tossed Kearns’s lawsuit challenging the Green Light law, a measure that allows undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses, finding he does not have standing in the case.

“Fifty-one county clerks are doing DMV business across the state,” Merola said in an interview. “We run over 100 DMV offices. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t have more standing than the county clerks.”

The county clerks who run local motor vehicle offices have pledged to not enforce the law if it is allowed to stand by the federal courts. Merola insists he won’t issue driver’s licenses to those he believes are in the country illegall.

“There are county clerks that are adamant they will not do it,” Merola said. “Maybe the state will do it on its own, but I know the clerks are really fighting backing.”

Supporters of the measure, including New York Attorney General Letitia James, believe the measure is constitutional and will withstand legal scrutiny. They argue the law is necessary for public safety and to allow undocumented immigrants to drive to work and take their kids to school.

Merola, meanwhile, does not want the law to take effect on Dec. 14 if legal challenges are ongoing.

“I think that date has got to be pushed back,” he said. “There has been no correspondents between the state DMV and the clerks. I think that date is unrealistic right now.”

And Merola says he and his fellow county clerks have reached out to President Trump’s administration to voice their concerns about the law.