Albany

Early Voting Survey Finds Common Concerns

From the Morning Memo:

Voters who cast their ballots early for the first time this year in New York identified areas of improvement in a survey released on Tuesday by the League of Women Voters.

The survey of 1,791 voters conducted by the good-government organization found some common complaints about early voting: Polling sites need to be better located, accessibility remains a concern, poll workers need to be trained on new equipment and technology, and there’s a lack of public transit options. Signage for where to vote at the polling locations could also be improved as well.

At the same time, voters in five counties said they were asked to show their state identification, which is not a requirement under state law.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of those who participated in the survey, 93 percent, said they would vote early again and a similar number said they were able to easily find information about early voting.

Participants in the survey voted in 54 counties and at 239 polling sites.

The 12-question survey from the group comes as state lawmakers may seek tweaks to the state’s early voting law next year ahead of the 2020 election.

In the first year, unofficial early voting turnout stood at 1.9 percent — a number officials hope will rise next year in a presidential election.

Public Campaign Financing Proposals Get Mixed Reviews

From the Morning Memo:

A good start. A half step. A missed chance.

Those are the broad reactions to a state commission’s recommendations for a $100 million system of publicly funded political campaigns, part of an effort to rein in the state’s existing system of high donor limits that advocates have long feared buy influence in Albany.

The public financing commission on Monday voted on the specifics of the program, which include:

-Small donations of $250 or less would receive public matches
-State residents would have their donations matched with public dollars at a 6-to-1 ratio for statewide candidates
-In-district residents would have a tiered match when contributing to a candidate, 12-to-1 for the first $50, 9-to-1 for the for next $100 and 8-to-1 for the final $100.
-Public funds would be capped at $7 million statewide
-Donations to statewide candidates would be set at $18,000.
-Donations to state Senate candidates are to capped at $10,000; $6,000 for Assembly.

For good-government advocates, the likely final product isn’t everything they wanted.

“Unfortunately, the recommendations approved today stray into areas that are unrelated to the commission’s purpose and public financing,” said Larry Norden of the Brenna Center, who nonetheless pointed to the recommendations as a move that would “bring more New Yorkers into the state’s democracy, as donors and as candidates” if adopted.

Reinvent Albany’s Alex Camarda, meanwhile, said the statewide donor limits were set far too high.

“Unfortunately, while better than the abominable status quo, the Commission’s proposal does not reduce the dominance of big money enough to earn Reinvent Albany’s support,” the group said in a statement.

And the League of Women Voters worried the proposals would ultimately aid those already in office.

“The complex small donor matching system proposed by this commission in some ways may be seen to be designed to favor incumbents,” the League of Women Voters said.

“The League believes that much lower campaign contribution limits for all candidates and parties and better enforcement are necessary for any new public financing system to function as intended and fix how elections work in this state.”

The commission itself was a compromise, agreed to earlier this year by the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo amid pressure from advocates to create a public financing system for campaigns statewide, similar to the model in New York City.

Advocates saw this year as key for doing so given Democratic control of both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in a decade.

Criminal Justice Reform Battle Deepens

The criminal justice law changes set to take effect early next year have fallen under increasing scrutiny from opponents as supporter seek to bolster the new measures with an ad campaign touting the benefits.

The fight over the reforms — laws that will end cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies as well as require a faster processing of evidence for defense teams — has been more pointed in recent weeks, even more so than the days leading up to legislative votes earlier this year.

For supportive Democrats and criminal justice law reformers, the bills are meant to keep people from languishing in local jails. Republicans, law enforcement officials and local prosecutors, however, are concerned with the added expense of the laws taking effect, as well as the potential for dangerous people to be let back on the streets.

On Monday, Republican Sen. Jim Tedisco and Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara unveiled legislation meant to delay the implementation and would add more judicial discretion to the bail law changes.

“The so-called reforms that ultimately passed were done in haste in the flurry of passing a state budget without getting input from the criminal justice experts who will have to implement the law,” Tedisco said.

“The bi-partisan bill that Assemblyman Santabarbara and I have put forth aims to begin to rebalance the scales of justice and provide judges with more discretion to keep the public safe. Our representative democracy is based on three equal branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. Discretion has always been an important part of the judiciary as it relates to issues of danger and safety for the protection of our citizenry.”

Meanwhile, the advocacy New Yorkers United For Justice on Monday announced it had launched a seven-figure ad campaign to tout the changes — portraying them as a needed and long-overdue reforms. The campaign comes amid the push back to changes from some lawmakers and law enforcement officials.

“Opponents are deliberately misleading the public with fear. Fortunately, we have the truth on our side. Our campaign will dispel their misinformation and educate New Yorkers about why and how criminal justice reform makes New York a safer and fairer place to live,” said NYUJ Chief Strategist Khalil A. Cumberbatch.

“Those who seek to roll back recent reforms are really defending the indefensible – a dysfunctional system that denies people due process, jails them for low-level crimes even before they’ve had their day in court, and treats the rich better than the poor, all to the detriment of public safety and basic decency. Change is long overdue.”

3 Challenges Facing Albany In 2020

From the Morning Memo:

The 2020 legislative session is shaping up to be a deeply challenging one for state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

There are holdover issues from the current year, like legalizing marijuana and the byway created by the public health concerns surrounding vaping usage.

It’s an election year and money has gotten tighter. There will be a push to spend more on education, but also close a Medicaid gap.

In a way, the concern is a simple one: Keep spending down and not resort to broad-based tax increases in an election year.

The ingredients are there for a difficult year. Here are three broad challenges Albany will face in 2020.

1. A $6.1 billion budget gap.

This is, arguably, the biggest budget challenge Gov. Andrew Cuomo has faced since he took office and inherited a $10 billion budget gap.

And while the budget gap that year flowed from the relatively simple issue of revenues not meeting targeted spending, this budget for the coming year will be starkly different.

As outlined by the midyear budget report released (past its deadline) on Friday, the state faces a $6.1 billion shortfall fueled in large part by a gap in Medicaid spending.

Meanwhile, budget gaps are expected to grow in future budget years to the largest since the economy entered a recession at the end of the last decade.

On top of it all, Cuomo has indicated he will again seek to keep spending below a 2 percent increase.

The governor’s budget office has blamed the Medicaid problems on three issues: A rise in the minimum wage, more people receiving Medicaid support and a pullback in increased federal funding.

The Empire Center, a fiscal watchdog think tank, says the blame should be carried by the administration itself and the poor decision surrounding Medicaid spending in the last two years.

Meanwhile, it’s not entirely clear what the plan is for closing the gap, other than delaying billions of dollars in spending.

The Citizens Budget Commission called the details outlined in the report “one part gimmick and one part delay.”

“Developing and implementing a plan to solve the entire budget problem need not be done entirely within the Medicaid program,” the group said in reaction to the report. “Other portions of the budget also should be considered, including mistargeted school aid and unproductive economic development programs.”

The Division of Budget, as the report outlined, pointed to a cost-savings plan that is in the works.

“When this administration implemented the Medicaid Global Cap in 2012 to rein in years of unsustainable spending, we curbed costs to meet it,” said Freeman Klopott, a spokesman for the Division of Budget.

“With increased utilization and medical inflation nationally creating a structural imbalance, the Division of the Budget and the Department of Health are once again developing a cost-curbing plan that will be described in the Executive Budget to be introduced in January and continue high-quality care for more than six million New Yorkers.”

2. A different calendar.

The legislative calendar is being upended for the first time in a generation by an early primary, moved by state lawmakers earlier this year to line up with the congressional party primaries.

It means lawmakers will front load their days spent in Albany to the start of the year and into the spring in order to be done with business by early June.

Previously, the legislative session runs until the end of June. The Legislature is still more or less spending the same amount of time at the Capitol, but the days will be bunched together.

On the surface, this seems like a silly one. But state government is a tradition-bound place. And changes to tradition can cause a stir.

Lawmakers, many of whom are facing stiff progressive primary challenges, will have to balance their workload in Albany with campaigning back home.

3. Political crosscurrents.

In the end, this is what will inform all of actions taken in 2020: All 213 legislative seats are up for election set against the backdrop of what will no doubt be an intensely white hot presidential race on the national level.

For the last several election cycles, we’ve gotten a taste of what campaigning in the post-2016 era is like: Progressives are eager to challenge Democratic incumbents who they feel represent the status quo.

Democrats hold comfortable majorities in the state Assembly and state Senate, but the real challenge to incumbents in the party isn’t from Republicans necessarily, but there own party.

New York Communities for Change, a progressive advocacy group, is already running digital ads challenging Long Island Democrats in the state Senate, many of whom flipped Republican seats a year ago. The effort has led to a rebuke from their fellow Democratic conference members, including prominent progressives in the chamber.

Still, after the end of the Independent Democratic Conference, progressives are seeking ways to funnel their fury and energy.

There will be calls to further tax the rich, which Cuomo is reluctant to do. There is going to be a push once again to create a single-payer health care system.

On top of this, several lawmakers are seeking to move up in government, seeking open congressional seats across the state.

The lesson of Joe Crowley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez remains seared in the backs of many lawmakers’ minds. Every progressive challenger wants to be the next giant slayer. No one wants to be the next Joe Crowley.

Lovett To Become MTA Senior Advisor

From the Morning Memo:

Ken Lovett, a veteran former state Capitol reporter-turned-communications consultant is heading to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Lovett is set to become a senior advisor to MTA Chairman and CEO Pat Foye starting on Monday.

“I’m pleased to welcome Ken Lovett as Senior Advisor,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye in a statement. “Ken brings a wealth of experience to the MTA and will be an invaluable asset in navigating the intersection of state government, policy and transportation.”

Lovett, a Long Island native, is a former Daily News bureau chief, New York Post reporter and reporter for Ottaway News Service among other news outlets. Earlier this year, he left The News to become a senior vice president for communications and Albany director for Metropolitan Public Strategies.

“With the MTA at a crucial point in its long history, joining the organization at this time is an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Lovett said.

“I’m excited to work with Chairman Foye and the entire dedicated and talented MTA team to help pass a critically important capital spending plan and implement congestion pricing to ensure we can undertake the needed improvements that will allow us to deliver a transit system the entire New York metropolitan region deserves.”

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