Legislature To Meet 61 Days In 2019

The Legislature will meet for 61 days in 2019, according to a schedule released on Wednesday by lawmakers.

The session will formally begin Jan. 9 and run through June 19.

Democrats will control both the state Senate and the Assembly for the first time in a decade over the next two terms.

2019 New York State Legislative Session Calendar by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Kaloyeros Receives 3-1/2 Years In Prison

Alain Kaloyeros, the former president of SUNY Polytechnic who made the Capital Region a landmark for high tech job creation and was found guilty of rigging economic development bids, was sentenced on Tuesday to 3-1/2 years in prison.

Kaloyeros is the latest person to be sentenced in a sweeping bribery and fraud case stemming from the Buffalo Billion, an economic development program created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as a means of reviving the moribund western New York economy.

His attorneys in a statement released after the sentencing said he plans to appeal.

“While we are entirely respectful of the jury trial system, we firmly believe that Alain Kaloyeros is an innocent man,” said attorneys Reid Weingarten and Mike Miller.

“Alain committed no crimes in connection with his work on the Buffalo Billion program in Buffalo and Syracuse. He attempted at every stage to make sure that the people of the State of New York got the right contractor for the right job at the right price. Alain will be appealing his conviction.”

In addition to Kaloyeros, prominent developers Joseph Gerardi, Steven Aiello and Louis Ciminelli were also found guilty in the bid rigging case and were sentenced earlier this month between 28 months and three years in prison.

In a separate by related case, Joe Percoco, a former close aide to the governor, received six years in prison, while lobbyist John Galbraith Kelly received 14 months in prison.

Cuomo himself has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

His sentencing comes after a host of prominent figures in New York state politics, academia and business defended Kaloyeros and urged leniency.

With his vanity license plate “Dr. Nano,” Kaloyeros had always cut an eccentric figure in the Albany area, becoming a one-man focal point for the development of a massive nanotechnology school adjacent to the University at Albany campus. At one point, he was the highest paid state employee, a status state officials argued was worth the money given his ability to attract business to the state.

Kaloyeros would host President Barack Obama there and received bipartisan praise from governors and state lawmakers who wanted to share credit for the success.

The Capital Region became a hub for high-tech jobs due in large part to an infusion of state cash and tax breaks, giving rise to the GlobalFoundries complex in Malta.

When Cuomo took office, he sought Kaloyeros to replicate the success in other upstate cities, including Buffalo.

In a radio interview with WAMC on Tuesday, Cuomo noted Kaloyeros was picked in part because of his long track record in the Albany area.

“Dr. Kaloyeros served five governors here in the Capital District, he must have worked for 20 years,” he said. “I’m a former DA, I’m a former attorney general, ADA and I believe in the justice system, and let the justice system operate. And I believe in the outcome.”

After the arrest of the developers, Percoco and Kaloyeros, lawmakers called for changes to the oversight of economic development contracts and reforms to the procurement process.

The Cuomo administration instituted its own internal oversight controls after the review of an outside consultant.

Flanagan: Pay Commission Has Overstepped

The commission on compensation of state elected officials “significantly overstepped” when it approved pay raises for state lawmakers and a cap on their outside income, Republican Senate leader John Flanagan said in a statement.

“The committee was never tasked with making any determination on that matter, and should not have made one. By doing so, they alone are deciding who is eligible to run for public office in New York and who is not,” Flanagan said in a statement on Tuesday. “Additionally, previous efforts to cap outside income were advanced via a constitutional amendment, and therefore, if challenged, this effort would likely be ruled unconstitutional.”

The commission’s report would raise the pay of state lawmakers to $130,000 in the coming years contingent on the passage of state budgets by April 1, which Flanagan also criticized.

“On top of that, I have concerns over tying future adjustments in pay to passage of on-time budgets,” he said. “Timely and responsive budgets are always the goal, but this so-called “reform” is an inherent conflict of interest that runs contrary to the separation of powers that should exist between the Executive and Legislature.”

The commission also backed an outside pay cap for lawmakers of 15 percent of their legislative salary as well as end to the stipend system.

Flanagan will remain majority leader until the end of the month after which Democrats will hold a majority in the chamber. Lawmakers can let stand the report or convene to overturn in it a special session before Jan. 1.

For now, several legislative sources have said it’s unlikely that lawmakers would overturn the recommendations of the commission, which would scuttle their first pay raise in 20 years.

Pay Panel Report Outlines Income Limitations

State lawmakers will be limited from receiving significant outside income from a range of activities, including employment in most private-sector jobs, corporate board membership, teaching and royalties, according to the new stipulations laid out by a compensation commission’s report released Monday.

At the same time, the phased-increases would be tied to budgets being approved before the start of the state’s fiscal year.

The report comes several days after the panel, led by former and current comptrollers, announced it would back pay hikes for the Legislature, statewide elected officials and commissioners in the governor’s administration.

But the pay hike for lawmakers, reaching $130,000 in the next three years, will be paired with a cap on outside income of 15 percent of their legislative pay.

The commission does allow for exceptions such as the practice of medicine and military service as well as additional pay from the state.

The report also cuts back on the number of lawmakers who receive stipends or “lulus” for leadership posts, limiting the additional pay to the Assembly speaker, majority leader of the Assembly, the speaker pro tempore, the chair and ranking member of the budget-making Ways and Means committee and the Code Committee chair and ranking minority member.

In the Senate, stipends will be limited to the majority and minority leader as well the deputy majority leader, Finance Committee chair and ranking members.

Some lawmakers will be grandfathered in should the loss of their stipends lead to a pay cut despite their base salary growing next year to $110,000.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s salary will increase as well, but lawmakers must approve that through a joint resolution. Under the recommendation, his pay grows to $250,000 in the coming years.

“I have not yet read the report in full,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement.

“As I review it, I will be guided by the principles of the sanctity of independence and respect for the legislative branch which are embedded in the New York State Constitution. Above all else, as a new legislature is about to be seated, these principles must be maintained.”

Carl McCall, a former state comptroller and the chairman of the SUNY Board of Trustees, discussed the report in detail in an interview to air on Capital Tonight this evening. by Nick Reisman on Scribd

DA Association Sets Aside Lawsuit Over Conduct Commission, For Now

The District Attorneys Association of New York has agreed to set aside a lawsuit challenging the creation of a prosecutorial conduct commission as lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo negotiate changes to the law approved earlier this year.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares, who announced plans to sue over the creation of the commission soon after it was approved by the Legislature, announced a stipulation agreement had been reached with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature that will halt the legal challenge as the negotiations over the amendment to the law proceed.

But if no compromise on the changes to the commission is reached by the end of June 2019, typically the scheduled end of the legislative session, the lawsuit will move forward.

“The stipulation agreed upon by all parties to this lawsuit and so ordered by Judge David A. Weinstein speaks for itself. In lay terms the legislation is frozen in place and will not take effect January 1 pending action of the legislature and the Governor. Should the legislature and the Governor not act, or again enact an unconstitutional statute the litigation will proceed. We hope that will not be necessary,” said Soares, the DA association president.

The signed agreement announced Monday by Soares requires lawmakers to make a “good faith” effort to keep the district attorneys up to date on the progress of the talks.

The conduct commission, meant to provide oversight of prosecutors in New York, was approved at the end of the 2018 legislative session with a bill that united criminal justice reform-minded Democrats and Republicans who have been skeptical of the power of locally elected district attorneys.

The commission is partially modeled on a panel that oversees the conduct of the state’s judiciary. Unlike that panel, the prosecutorial conduct commission cannot remove district attorneys; a power reserved for the governor in the state’s constitution.

Cuomo approved the legislation in the summer, but with some caveats. In a separate signing statement, Cuomo outlined multiple concerns with the bill, including a majority of the commission being composed by the Legislature, the requirement that active judges serve on thus expanding the role of the Court of Appeals and the potential for the release of sensitive investigatory information to the public.

Changes to the final measure are likely based on an agreement with the Assembly, Senate and the governor’s office, Cuomo said at the time.

CPCStip by Nick Reisman on Scribd

More Details Expected On Outside Income Limits

From the Morning Memo:

A special commission will limit how much money state lawmakers can earn outside of the Legislature, capping their non-legislative salaries at 15 percent of their public-sector income.

But there are more questions that were raised by the pay commission’s determination to limit lawmaker pay, a move the commission insisted will have the same force of law behind it as the hike in legislative salaries to $130,000 in the next several years.

It’s not clear if the commission, nevertheless, has the legal authority to make such a move.

A report to be released later today is expected to spell out the details of what an outside income limit can mean in practical terms. Can a business be transferred to a spouse? Will passive income through, say, investments count toward the cap?

Already, the limit is stoking concerns among lawmakers who have jobs on the side in addition to their work as legislators.

Limits to how much lawmakers earn outside of the Legislature have long been called for, with good-government advocates pointing to legislators who collect a public salary and also hold nebulous “of counsel” positions at law firms. The ostentatious practice withered a bit after the arrests and convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, both of whom had jobs at law firms.

Allowing lawmakers to keep full-time jobs is a tacit acknowledgment the Legislature is an historically part-time job, even lawmakers’ workload has, over the last decade, risen to that of full-time responsibilities for constituent services when they aren’t in Albany.

The “part-time” Legislature is a throwback to a more agrarian society, when farmers and lawyers could meet and legislate, with up to six men sharing a single office and rotary phone. The six-month, January-to-June legislative session calendar is virtually built around a farmer’s planting and harvesting schedule.

Lawmakers in recent years have held jobs that reflect a broader stratum of society, be it dentists, veterinarians, pharmacists or even active duty reservists.

The outside income limit could lead to some soul searching: Give up the moonlighting work or retire from the Legislature?

Liberal Groups Push For End To Real Estate Donations

From the Morning Memo:

A coalition of liberal groups in a letter to be released on Monday called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers to no longer accept real-estate donations as an extension of rent control for New York City looms next year.

“As the housing crisis spirals out of control, voters want to know: whose side are you on?” wrote the groups, which include the Working Families Party, the Democratic Socialists of America and a host of tenants groups.

“We, the undersigned groups, call on you to reject any and all campaign contributions from all donors tied to the real estate industry from this day forward, and to prioritize passing comprehensive campaign finance reform to ensure tenants’ voices aren’t drowned out by big money.”

At the same time, the groups also pushed for an end to the ability of one donor to give virtually unlimited funds through a web of limited liability companies, commonly referred to as the LLC loophole while also enacting a system of publicly financed campaigns.

The letter pointed to the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference and the loss of all but two of those lawmakers in the state Senate Democratic primaries as a cautionary tale.

“From the IDC to the the U.S. Congress, we saw Democrats and Republicans that side with landlords lose their seats to candidates that rejected tainted contributions from the real estate industry,” the groups wrote in the letter.

Democrats next year will have control of both chambers of the Legislature and are expected to pass measures like public financing of campaigns and other campaign finance reforms.

Cuomo has been supportive of the bills and has said a Democratic-controlled state Senate will enable their passage.

“For years the governor has proposed public financing and closing the LLC loophole, while also twice strengthening rent laws, ‎creating a tenant protection unit and enacting an unprecedented $20 billion affordable housing and anti-homelessness program,” said Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo.

Pay Hike’s Reforms Backed By Good-Government Advocates

From the Morning Memo:

Good-government groups largely backed Thursday’s decision by a compensation commission to increase the pay of state lawmakers and statewide elected officials over the next several years, pointing to the reforms that are due to come along with it.

The pay commission backed a 63 percent increase in pay for the 213 members of the state Senate and Assembly, boosting their pay from $79,500 to $130,000.

The pay hike is coupled with an end to stipends for most leadership jobs in the Legislature as well as a curb on lawmakers earning money outside of the Legislature, capping private-sector pay at 15 percent of their public salary.

Both of these were proposals backed by good-government advocates, as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“The Commission has done an excellent job of balancing the public interest against the very real need to raise lawmakers’ pay,” said Susan Lerner of Common Cause.

“Common Cause/NY supports the commission’s recommendations to tie any pay raise to a ban on lulus and a limit on outside income. The public needs to know that the people representing them are there to serve them only, and no one else.”

Reinvent Albany had largely backed the changes as well, adding the pay increase, the first in 20 years, will help attract and retain talent.

“The limitations on outside income and stipends are long needed reforms to move New York toward a more effective and ethical government,” the group said.

“We hope the Committee’s actions today are the beginning of more reforms to come in ethics, campaign finance and voting that will fully restore confidence and integrity in New York State government.”

But not everyone was thrilled. NYPIRG’s Blair Horner told reporters Thursday there should also have been similar limitations on outside pay for the executive branch, where the governor is set to receive a pay boost to $250,000.

“They tackled some of those issues in terms of outside income,” Horner said. “But they didn’t tackle any of the others. So we’re disappointed. We think it’s flawed. We think the commission so go further.”

Commission Approves Pay Raises For NY Pols

Elected officials in New York are in line to receive salary increases for the first time in decades based on the recommendations approved Thursday by a compensation commission composed of current and former comptrollers.

The pay commission backed pay raises for the governor, the lieutenant governor, attorney general and state comptroller as well as the 213 members of the state Assembly and Senate as well as cabinet officials in the governor’s administration.

At the same time, the compensation commission backed limits to how much lawmakers can earn in the private sector, placing a cap of 15 percent of their public salary. The commission also backed ending stipends or “lulus” for most leadership positions in the state Assembly and Senate.

The outside income limit would take effect at the start of 2020.

It’s not clear if the commission itself, approved by the Legislature and governor earlier this year to review the salaries of elected officials, can institute such change without another vote of the Legislature. The law creating the commission did link legislative pay to unspecified “performance” of the Legislature.

Under the recommendations outlined on Thursday, the governor would be paid $250,000 by 2022, up from the current $178,000. The salary would be phased in to $225,000 in 2020 and $250,000 in 2021. Lawmakers would also receive a phased-in hike from $79,500 to $130,000 by 2021.

The lieutenant governor’s salary would reach $220,000 in 2021, growing from $151,500 to $190,000 in 2019, $210,000 in 2020.

The legislative pay raise will begin to take effect in January, reaching $110,000. Their base pay would then go to $120,000 in 2020.

Once fully phased in at $130,000, the Legislature and governor would be the highest paid in any state in the country.

The commission also backed increases for the state comptroller and attorney general, increasing gradually from $151,500 to $220,000 by 2021. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli abstained from voting on the pay raise for his office.

The median household income in New York is $62,909.

For lawmakers, the pay raise would be the first pay raise in 20 years. Pay hikes for lawmakers have long been tied up in politics, with the last salary increase linked to an expansion of charter schools and a reform that stipulated lawmakers would not be paid while the budget was left unapproved after the start of the new fiscal year.

In subsequent years, pay raise pushes have fallen flat. Judicial pay, which had been increased in tandem with legislative salaries, was decoupled from this process and subjected to a pay commission.

The legislative pay commission was formed as a means of removing politics from the matter, but also insulating lawmakers from taking a vote for an issue that is likely anathema to voters for a Legislature known for its parade of corruption arrests in recent years.

Still, lawmakers have been increasingly vocal about the need for a pay raise. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told the pay commission last week that many of his members face middle class financial concerns, such as student debt, caring for children and aging family members.

Stewart-Cousins Says Senate Dems Will Back Outside Income Limits

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a statement on Thursday said her conference next year will advance legislation aimed at limiting outside income for state lawmakers.

Her statement comes as a commission examining compensation for statewide officials and members of the Legislature will meet for the final time later today and issue a report next week on whether to grant lawmakers their first pay raise in 20 years.

“I recently discussed my views on salary increases with each of the legislative pay commission members, and I was clear that a raise for New York State legislators is appropriate following twenty years of no increases,” Stewart-Cousins said in the statement.

“For many years, the Senate Democratic Conference led the fight on ethics reforms against staunch Republican opposition, and forced a vote on our gold standard outside income bill modeled after Congress. That vote was unanimously supported by our conference members at the time. Now that we will be in the Majority, my Senate Democratic colleagues and I continue to support that legislation and expect to secure its passage in the upcoming Legislative Session. We will also continue to advance other crucial reforms.”

Lawmakers earn a base pay of $79,500 and many earn more with legislative stipends for leadership posts and committee chairmanships.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said any pay hike for the Legislature should be paired with a limit or ban on private-sector income for the Legislature.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said he is open to limiting outside pay, but does not want to link it to any pay raise for lawmakers.