Albany

State Lawmakers Warned Against Marijuana Legalization

The group Smart Approaches to Marijuana on Monday released an open letter by former Rep. Patrick Kennedy warning lawmakers in seven states to not support legalization bills.

“The commercialization of marijuana is a policy that results in devastating consequences for families, public health, and public safety,” Kennedy said in a statement. “If lawmakers can see beyond the fabric of lies being woven by the marijuana industry’s well-heeled lobbyists, they will see marijuana legalization efforts for what they are: addiction-for-profit companies looking for the next big payday. We must put public health and safety – and our kids – ahead of the interests of Big Marijuana.”

New York lawmakers were among the recipients of the letter from Kennedy, as well as legislators in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut and Illinois.

A provision that would have legalized marijuana’s distribution and sale was not included in the state budget agreement last month as lawmakers disagreed over how the revenue should be used as well as over traffic safety concerns.

In letter, Kennedy pointed to recent research finding links between marijuana use and mental illness.

“The industry also frequently targets disadvantaged communities as its profit centers,” the letter states.

“In Los Angeles, the majority of pot shops have opened in primarily African-American communities and in Colorado, where pot shops outnumber McDonalds and Starbucks locations combined, they are disproportionately located in similar areas. And arrest disparities continue while less than one percent of the industry is minority-owned. This is supposed to be social justice?”

Lawmakers who back marijuana legalization in New York plan to make another push for the bill in the post-budget portion of the legislative session.

JCOPE: Uber Spent $5.9M In Lobbying Expenses In 2018

Lobbying and ethics regulators in a report released Thursday found the ride-hailing company Uber Technologies, Inc. spent $5.9 million lobbying both state and local governments in New York, the highest expenditure for any entity in 2018.

The annual report from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics revealing key lobbying data, finding a combined $261.2 million was spent seeking to influence legislation in the state last year.

Uber has emerged a major lobbying force in state and New York City politics as it provides input on transportation policy like congestion pricing and ride hailing services.

Second to Uber, the politically influential labor union 1199 SEIU spent $3.7 million and the Greater New York Hospital Association spent $3.6 million.

Lobbying overall remains a robust industry, with expenses growing by $21.2 million between 2017 and 2018.

Total compensation for lobbying as steadily increased since the beginning of the decade. In 2010, lobbyists reported $164 million in expenses. It’s increased each year, growing $234 million in 2018, an increase from $221 million in 2017.

2018 Annual Report Compiled Final41019 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Report Finds New Yorkers Aren’t Leaving Because Of SALT Cap

From the Morning Memo:

A report released this week by the credit rating agency Moody’s found the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions is not the cause of people fleeing the high-tax states most affected by the provision.

The report examined out-migration patterns from California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York, finding those who are leaving those states are doing so for traditional reasons: Job opportunities elsewhere and demographic trends.

“Job opportunities and demographic trends, more so than tax rates, influence relocation from one state to another,” said Marcia Van Wagner, a Moody’s VP-Senior Credit Officer. “That said, the $10,000 SALT cap will be widely felt for the first time this tax season, and could spur some out-migration from high-tax states.”

Still, a low-tax state, Florida, remains a popular destination for New Yorkers. Fourteen percent of the people who moved out of New York headed south to the Sunshine State in 2017, with about 10 to 12 percent of the people leaving Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey also moving there.

“Florida’s low taxes are likely one contributor to its popularity,” the report found. “Generally speaking, however, taxes are not the prime driver of interstate relocation decisions. Job opportunities, climate and housing costs (including property taxes) are primary considerations. Movers also consider the quality of services provided by their destination states.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has railed against the cap on deductions for state and local taxes, calling it an unfair attack on New York and other Democratic-leaning states. He’s met multiple times with President Donald Trump to discuss the issue as well as members of his administration.

Cuomo also blamed the SALT limit for a revenue decline seen at the end of last year. At the same time, he warned against raising taxes on the rich, worried they could easily depart the state.

While Florida is attracting some wealthy residents, they aren’t going to low-tax states overall.

“Florida has net in-migration from virtually every other state in the nation, including by some new wealthy residents,” Moody’s found. “Researchers have found a correlation between millionaires’ moves to Florida and the tax differential between Florida and their home state. But the wealthy are not drawn to other low-tax states disproportionately, suggesting that low taxes alone are not sufficient to attract wealthy domestic movers.”

Amid Measles Outbreak, State Lawmakers Say Children Should Be Vaccinated

Measles outbreaks in Brooklyn and in Rockland County in recent weeks have spurred state lawmakers to push for legislation that would end religious exemptions for vaccinating children.

“I think the state of New York needs to act decisively,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan. “This problem is only growing. We need to seriously examine the issue of non-medical exemptions. Should someone be able to endanger another adult child because of a purported religious belief?”

On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency amid a measles outbreak in Brooklyn, mainly affecting the Orthodox Jewish community.

“There’s no question that vaccines are safe, effective and life-saving,” De Blasio said in a statement. “I urge everyone, especially those in affected areas, to get their MMR vaccines to protect their children, families and communities.”

Hoylman’s bill ending religious exemptions hasn’t been embraced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In a radio interview with WAMC on Tuesday morning, Cuomo said there was a “First Amendment issue” with requiring vaccinations.

“It’s a serious public health concern, but it’s also a serious First Amendment issue,” he said. “And it is going to be a constitutional legal question. Do we have the right — does society, does government have the right to say you must vaccinate your child because I’m afraid your child is going to infect my child, even if you don’t want it done and even if it violates your religious beliefs. That’s an issue that’s going to be legally questionable and I’m sure it’s going to go down that path.”

Hoylman disagreed, pointing to court rulings on the issue.

“You do not have a First Amendment right to endanger other peoples’ children because of your religious belief,” he said. “The Supreme Court has ruled on that very question.”

Hoylman said that in part he believes religious exemptions have been used as a loophole.

“If you’re basing it on some sort of bunk that you’re reading about on the Internet being peddled by hucksters, that’s not acceptable,” he said. “You’re putting my children and everyone else’s children at risk.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters government should play a role in ensuring children are not spreading disease.

“I think when other children are around other children and it can raise a health concern, I think it is the government’s responsibility to be aware of it,” he said. “Whether there’s constitutional issues or not, I do think it’s the government’s responsibility to make sure children are not spreading infectious diseases.”

He said, “Me, personally, I do think children should be vaccinated.”

Supporters Of Driver’s Licenses For Undocumented Immigrants See Different Political Landscape

From the Morning Memo:

More than a decade ago, a proposal that would have extended access to driver’s licenses for undocumented New Yorkers foundered, a political headache-turned-disaster for then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Sen. Luis Sepulveda believes the political landscape, however, is different in 2019. Advocates for the proposal are better organized. Democrats have comfortable majorities in both the state Assembly and the Senate.

And supporters are focusing on the argument that driver’s licenses for undocumented New Yorkers is good for safety and for the economy.

“The undocumented immigrant drivers contribute a vast amount of money to the state’s GDP to local taxes, state taxes,” Sepulveda, a Bronx lawmaker, said in an interview.

He estimated the fees in the first year alone for expanding driver’s licneses will yield the state $26 million.

“If you talk about it economically, if you talk about it safety, it’s a no-brianer for us to do,” he said.

The issue could come to the forefront of the post-budget legislative session, which runs through June in Albany.

Still, opposition will likely remain. Some county clerks whose offices operate motor vehicle departments want an exemption, which Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said would oppose.

“No, if we were to pass a law, I don’t think there should be any exemptions,” he said.

At the same time, suburban lawmakers may balk at the proposal, exposing similar fissures seen over changes to the state’s criminal justice laws.

“We’ve worked well with the Senate, the Senate leadership,” Heastie said. “But when things are issues of importance, we have to talk to our members.”

Cahill To Become Top Aide To Cardinal Dolan

From the Morning Memo:

John Cahill, the Republican former candidate for attorney general and ex-secretary to Gov. George Pataki, is set to become the chief of staff and special counsel to Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

The position is a newly created one for the New York City Archdiocese. In a letter, Dolan described the post as one that will involve “coordinating the legal and communications response” for the archdiocese for both legislative and legal matters as well as providing support for reforms following the church’s sexual abuse crisis.

“The Archdiocese of New York is fortunate to have a man of John Cahill’s experience and expertise to assist us in fulfilling our mission to serve God’s people through our pastoral, educational, and charitable efforts,” Dolan wrote. “I look forward to working closely with him and receiving his wise counsel and input.”

Cahill’s appointment comes as the legislative session in Albany has been a mixed one for the Catholic Church as lawmakers have approved measures like the Child Victims Act, a bill meant to make it easier for survivors and victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits, a bill the Catholic Conference ultimately endorsed.

The church was staunchly opposed to the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, a bill designed to strengthen the state’s abortion laws.

But the church has also been supportive of Democratic efforts to defend and protect undocumented immigrants with measures like the Dream Act and has endorsed efforts to fight climate change.

Metropolitan Public Strategies Picks Up Awards

From the Morning Memo:

An anti-Airbnb campaign put together by Metropolitan Public Strategies won a Pollie Award this month, recognizing the work of political consultants across the country.

The anti-Airbnb effort was part of the Share Better Coalition’s push against the online booking website backed by the Hotel Trades Council.

The firm was recognizing with a Silver award for “Best Television Ad for an Issue Advocacy Campaign.”

The firm won a total of four Pollie Awards, including three for its work in Florida as part of Broward County’s successful push for a transportation bond initiative.

“The AAPC Pollies are a unique recognition in our industry because it’s from your peers, the people we compete and collaborate with each and every day,” said Ken Lovett, Metropolitan Public Strategies senior vice president for communications and Albany director. “We couldn’t be more proud on behalf of our talented team and loyal clients.”

Health Care Expenses ‘A Significant Challenge’ For School Districts

The cost of providing health care has outpace growth in spending, foundation aid and inflation for school districts, a report released Monday from the Association of School Business Officials found.

The report, which examined the growth of health care costs over the last five years, found the expense grew from $5.8 billion in 2013 to $7.1 billion in 2018 — a 9.9 percent hike in overall school spending. At the same time, the cost of health care has far outpaced the rate of inflation, jumping more than 6 percent in the 2017-18 school year.

“With the constraints of the Tax Cap and $3.4 billion in Foundation Aid still due, unsustainable growth in health care costs could force some districts to choose between funding an employee benefit or educational programs for students,” the report found.

The tax cap limits the amount of money school districts and local governments can raise in property taxes to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. State lawmakers in the budget last week moved to back a permanent extension of the measure, which was due to sunset next year.

And aid from the state is not making up the difference.

“The impact of health care cost increases often surpasses the entire state aid increase school districts receive,” the report found.

New York Lawmakers Want To See Trump’s Tax Filings

From the Morning Memo:

New York lawmakers today will step up their efforts to force President Donald Trump to release his tax returns.

Assemblyman David Buchwald and Sen. Brad Hoylman will rally at the Capitol for a bill that would make disclosure of up to five years’ worth of tax information by the president, vice president and statewide elected officials.

The rally comes a week before taxes are due in the United States and as Democrats in Washington are preparing to subpoena for the president’s taxes.

“High level elected officials, particularly those who run government departments or are next in line to be a chief executive, hold an especially important place within the public trust,” the bill’s memo states. “For a representative democracy to run well, the public must have confidence that our elected officials work on the people’s behalf.”

By tradition, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, as well as Comptroller Tom DiNapoli have annually released their state and federal tax filings to reporters for public view. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, during his time in office, also made his tax filings public.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, now a presidential candidate for the Democratic nomination, has also posted her tax filing online.

The president so far has bucked a tradition for presidents dating back to Richard Nixon’s time in office.

Todd Howe, Lobbyist-Turned-Witness, Gets Probation

Former lobbyist Todd Howe will not serve any time in prison for his role in a pay-to-play bribery scheme that ensnared a former close aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the ex-president of SUNY Polytechnic.

Howe, who became a star witness for the federal prosecution in the government corruption cases against Joe Percoco and Alain Kaloyeros, on Friday received five years probation.

In addition to the bribery and fraud charges, Howe was accused of embezzling $1.7 million from his employer, a powerful Albany law firm.

Howe’s work as a government witness was not without bumps in the road. He was arrested in February 2018, accused of attempting to bilk his credit card company out of a night’s stay at the Waldorf Astoria, leading to a night spent in a Manhattan jail.