Albany

The Amazon Clause

A provision tucked into an omnibus budget bill would give the governor the authority to remove a member of the Public Authorities Control Board if they are not voting within the defined scope of the law that created the board.

Think of it as the Amazon clause in the budget.

The provision was included in the revenue bill of the budget after Sen. Mike Gianaris earlier this year was nominated to the Public Authorities Control Board, the entity that had potential veto power over tax incentives for Amazon to bring up to 25,000 jobs to Long Island City in Queens.

Gianaris was a critic of the project, which Amazon ultimately back away from amid opposition at both the local and state level in New York.

Cuomo blamed Senate Democrats for Amazon’s decision to pull the plug on the project and the governor viewed Gianaris’s nomination as the provocation that ultimately led to its failure.

Cuomo this month read a portion of the law creating the board that stipulated members must only consider the financial feasibility of funding a project.

The budget provision stipulates that if a PACB member does not vote based on the law, they could face removal.

“As the appointing authority, the governor has the full discretion to immediately remove a member of the board he or she finds to be acting, or threatening to act, beyond the scope of such member’s legal authority set forth herein,” according to the bill language.

How The Public Campaign Financing Panel Would Work

State lawmakers are poised to approve a budget provision that would create a commission to develop and implement a system of publicly funded campaigns.

The commission will be composed of nine members: Two appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, two appointed by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, two appointed by Speak Carl Heastie and one appointees each for the two minority leaders, Brian Kolb and John Flanagan.

The ninth member will be jointly appointed by Cuomo and the legislative majority leaders, and without an agreement on that final member, the commission may not come into being. The commission wil not have a chairperson. It will be governed by a majority vote.

The commission will determine:

-The ratio of public matching funds to small dollar contributions
-Limits on how much public funds can be disbursed on a office
-Contribution caps under the program
-Compliance regulations under the program
-Resources considered required to administer and enforce public financing, as well as whether a new agency is needed
-When the program would take effect
-How fusion voting — i.e. candidates running on multiple ballot lines — could be altered or eliminated.

Lawmakers are setting aside $100 million annually to fund the program.

A report from the commission will be made available to Cuomo and lawmakers by Dec. 1. The findings, adopted by a majority vote, would be binding and each member must provide a written reason for their determination. Lawmakers would have until Dec. 22 to overturn any of the recommendations.

The creation of the panel is the most significant step forward in creating a public financing system for campaigns yet after lawmakers created a pilot program for the comptroller’s race in 2014 that ultimately fizzled.

Still, advocates for publicly financed elections have not been pleased with the proposal, especially over the concerns about the ratio of public matching funds up in the air.

Cuomo And Lawmakers Agree To $175.5B Budget

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced after midnight Sunday morning that a $175.5 billion budget has been agreed to that increases education spending by $1 billion, permanently caps property tax increases and creates a new funding stream for mass transit in New York City that will include tolls for entering Manhattan.

The agreement also includes a plan to end cash bail requirements for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.

And lawmakers have agreed to create a commission that will have the binding authority to implement the public financing of political campaigns.

The budget agreement was announced hours before state lawmakers are scheduled to begin voting on budget bills introduced late last week. Lawmakers discussed the final piece to the budget puzzle on Saturday night: A provision that would lead to the creation of a commission to publicly fund political campaigns.

“From the beginning, I said we will not do a budget that fails to address three major issues that have evaded this state for decades – the permanent property tax cap, criminal justice reform and an MTA overhaul including Central Business District Tolling,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“I also said this budget must be done right – meaning it must be fiscally responsible and protect New York from the federal government’s ongoing economic assault on our state. I am proud to announce that together, we got it done.”

Here’s what’s in the budget:

Education

The budget will increase total education aid to $27.9 billion in New York, a 3.8 percent increase of $1 billion. The budget will direct the majority of the extra money — 70 percent — to poorer school districts as proposed by Cuomo. The school districts will be require to show how they will provide appropriate funding to certain schools considered to be in greater need.

Campaign Finance

A commission will be created to have the binding power to implement a publicly funded campaign system for both statewide and legislative races. The budget sets aside $100 million annually. The panel will have until Dec. 1 to release a report to determine how a public financing system ould work, including eligibility, financing limits and contribution limits for participating candidates. The report will have the force of law unless lawmakers change it within 20 days.

Criminal Justice

The budget will end cash bail requirements for those charged with misdemeanors as well as non-violent felonies. Police officers must issue appearance tickets to people facing charges for misdemeanor or class E felonies rather than custodial arrests. The budget also includes changes design to ensure a speedy trial for defendants as well as a provision meant to ensure defendants have access to evidence pre-trial.

The MTA

Tolls will be charged south of 60th Street in Manhattan through the installation of electronic tolling devices. A six-member panel will be created to create a framework for tolls, exemptions and credits. Tolls will only be charged once a day and implementation will not begin until Dec. 31, 2020. The congestion pricing plan will bring in $15 billion for mass transit and go toward capital funding.

At the same time, the agreement includes a new property tax surcharge on the sale of high-end homes worth more than $25 million and the collection of internet sales tax revenue. Combined, both moves will give the MTA an extra $10 billion for capital expenses.

Health care

Portions of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, will be codified into state law, including the state’s health exchange, which now exists through executive order. The budget also mandates coverage for in-vitro fertilization and egg freezing.

Environment

Lawmakers and Cuomo have agreed to spend an additional $500 million on clean water projects. As previously reported, the budget will ban plastic bags statewide with some exemptions for bags purchased in bulk, as well as a 5-cent fee on paper bags. The Environmental Protection Fund will receive a $300 million boost.

New York will fund 2020 Census efforts for $20 million, money meant to ensure a complete count, especially of less visible communities.

The budget require new safety regulations for limousines, plus increased penalties for violating the law following a deadly crash last year in Schoharie.

And new guarantees to ensure the rights of labor unions to collectively bargain was included in the final agreement.

The budget is a document that largely was one Cuomo had sought when he announced his agenda in January. Democratic control of both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in a decade has led to some flare ups between the governor and lawmakers over progressive issues and a $2.3 billion revenue shortfall provided an added challenge this year for policymakers.

With Budget Almost Done, Focus Turns To Public Financing Of Elections

State lawmakers on Saturday evening were briefed on the creation of a commission that would implement the public financing of elections and other election law changes, such as curtailing fusion voting in New York, according to sources with knowledge of the talks.

The proposal on the table would make public financing of elections mandatory, with the commission issuing a report by Dec. 1 to determine how to implement the new system.

The proposed commission is the final component of a $175 billion budget agreement for the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo as deals have been apparently reached on changes to the state’s criminal justice laws, such as limiting cash bail for many charges and enacting a permanent cap on property tax increases.

“The only remaining open item is public financing,” Cuomo said in a statement early Saturday evening.

“Many Senators and Assemblymembers have pledged their support for public financing for years. However now the choice is real. Political rhetoric and supporting an issue is easy when a politician knows it can’t pass anyway.

A deal would come as advocates had hoped a Democratic-controlled Legislature would be supportive of public funded campaigns. But the proposal has hit a snag in the Democratic-led Assembly, where lawmakers have raised concerns over the effect public financing would have in the super PAC era of politics and the fines that would be potentially levied for violations.

Advocates have ratcheted up the pressure on lawmakers and Cuomo in recent weeks to have the measure included in the budget.

Cuomo added in the statement that lawmakers “must provide results and make it reality.”

“That has been the case with public financing for many years as the Republican Senate opposed it. But today legislators must provide results and make it a reality. There are no scapegoats or excuses. Some legislators oppose public financing and I respect their opinion. However, many more legislators have unequivocally pledged support and now they must act. New Yorkers deserve truth and clarity and now they will have it on this important issue. New Yorkers are watching and will now know whether their elected officials are truly progressive or great pretenders.”

Lawmakers had planned to spend Sunday voting on budget bills previously introduced and aged. But details on key provisions such as creating a financing plan for mass transit in New York City, as well as the criminal justice law changes, were not available as of Saturday night. It’s likely many provisions will be mashed together in an omnibus bill known in Albany parlance as a “big ugly.”

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan took note of the late hour for the budget talks, calling publicly financed campaigns “welfare for politicians.”

“It is appalling that at this late hour, Governor Cuomo and the Democrats in the state Legislature are contemplating using a half-a-Billion taxpayer dollars to pay for their negative television commercials and annoying robocalls,” he said.

Where Things Stand In The Budget

The state budget is due to pass in about two days.

State lawmakers are spending the weekend in Albany to work out the final details on the $175 billion spending plan that will determine how much the state will spend on education, health care and how to change its criminal justice laws.

Here’s an update on where things stand on key issues that are yet to be locked down.

Education spending

The Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are likely to approved an increased in direct aid to schools and will likely be higher than the $338 million increase in aid the governor proposed in January.

“It is certainly going to be an increase,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “You all know how important the funding is in my conference for schools. I don’t have a final number.”

A permanent property tax cap

Cuomo wants to extend the state’s cap on property taxes permanently. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Friday confirmed there would be bill language dealing with the cap, but did not offer any details.

“Property tax cap will be in there,” he said. “You’ve got to read the bill.”

Stewart-Cousins suggested some version of the permanent tax cap would be included.

“My conference has been supportive of the tax cap,” she said. “I think that’s probably going to be there.”

Ending cash bail

Lawmakers are close to a deal that would end bail for many charges, Heastie on Friday said. Some lawmakers and advocates want to go further, though others have pushed back over public safety concerns.

“We want to continue to have the conversation on what to do on the most serious of crimes,” Heastie said. “But I’d say about 85 percent of the population will now be looking at a cashless bail system. The Assembly, the governor and the Senate have all agreed we want to continue to a path for a totally cashless bail system.”

Funding mass transit

A deal is also yet to be reached on funding for bolstering mass transit in New York City, particularly the troubled subway system. The budget will likely include a multi-pronged approach of tolling in Manhattan, an internet sales tax and a real-estate transfer tax, abandoning a pied-a-terre tax for second homes worth more than $5 million.

Public financing of campaigns

Lawmakers are still working out a deal on an issue that in the middle part of the week flared up into a heated feud between recently elected legislators and the governor’s administration. It’s not year clear what form that will take.

Stewart-Cousins called that “an important conversation.”

9 House Dems Call For Public Financing In New York

Democratic House lawmakers on Friday in a letter to New York elected officials urged the creation of a system of publicly financed campaigns as state lawmakers continue to negotiate the budget.

The letter, signed by Reps. Jerry Nadler, Adriano Espaillat, Antonio Delgado, Carolyn Maloney, Eliot Engel, Hakeem Jeffries, Nydia Velazquez, Kathleen Rice and Gregory Meeks, argues that including the public financing system is a a “show of good faith” that the influence of deep-pocketed donors can be taken out of politics.

“Together you can work toward rebuilding democracy in New York, and establishing a foundation for federal elections in the future,” they wrote.

An agreement on publicly financed campaigns remains elusive in the final days of the state budget negotiations. This week, tensions flared over the issue as a group of three lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo of hypocrisy for holding a fundraiser in mid-March. The governor’s office fired back, noting two of the legislators who raised the issue also held fundraisers during the three-month budget season.

Assembly Democratic lawmakers have raised concerns with the effect a public financing system would have in the super PAC era as well as the potential for fines levied for violations.

03.29.18 Signed Nys Fair Elections Letter (1) by Nick Reisman on Scribd

New York Is Banning Plastic Bags: Here’s What You Need To Know

New York lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have agreed to a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags and a fee on the use of paper bags.

Here’s what the you need to know about the deal in the state budget.

When does this ban take effect?

The ban will take effect in about 11 months, March 1 of next year. This will presumably give retailers and shoppers enough time to shift away from plastic bags and begin to offer and use bags that are considered multiple use.

Are any plastic bags exempt?

Yes. Budget language made public Thursday evening shows a number of plastic bag ban exemptions, including bags use to contain uncooked meat or fish, bags used to package bulk items like fruit, vegetables, grains or candy, bags used to deliver newspapers to subscribers and bags use in bulk at the point of sale.

Trash bags are also exempt as are food storage and garment bags. The plastic carryout bags used by a restaurant or pub as well as bags used to carry prescription drugs will not be covered by the new law.

What is the fee for paper bags?

Shoppers will be charged five cents for each paper bag they use. Out of that, three cents will be put toward the state’s Environmental Protection Fund. The other two cents will go toward a local government.

Can the fee be avoided?

In part, yes. A local government, such as a county government, must affirmatively opt in to receive the revenue from the fee. People who receive support from the supplemental nutritional assistance program, or SNAP, are also exempt from the fee — an attempt to satisfy concerns the fee is considered a “regressive” tax.

What kind of bags can be used?

The budget defines reusable bags as those that are “made of cloth or other machine washable fabric that has handles” or a “durable bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse.”

Why is this happening?

Environmental groups have long pushed for a ban on single-use plastic bags, worried that their proliferation is contributing to water and ground pollution as well as choking marine wildlife. Several local governments have moved in recent years to ban plastic bags and install a fee on paper bag usage. New York City attempted a plastic bag fee that state lawmakers and the governor ultimately reversed. Cuomo later created a commission to determine the best method for addressing the issue statewide.

EnCon Officers Protest Consolidation Push

From the Morning Memo:

Environmental conservation officers are protesting a consolidation with the state forest rangers, a reclassification that could lead to a pay raise for the rangers, but consternation for a labor union.

The move, coming as part of the state budget, would essentially reclassify forest rangers as environmental conservation officers, considered by the Conservation Officers Association an upgrade in civil service classification.

“While we have deep respect for our Commissioner and the officers in the Division of Forest Protection, we are disappointed that the agency has put forward a request that mischaracterizes the training and expertise of a division that has an entirely separate mission,” the labor group wrote in a memo to the Robert Mujica, the state budget director for Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Environmental conservation officers had been raising concerns with the reclassification due to the training and safety skills needed to hold the title.

The association in a statement went further, calling the move an effort to grant “a title without any of the responsibilities that define the important work of Environmental Conservation Officers.”

“State workers are supposed to earn their pay raises based on the jobs they perform, not off the backs of other workers that perform separate and distinct duties,” said William Powell, the associate director for the NYSPBA EnCon Superior Officers local.

“The Civil Service Commission has previously denied the Rangers an upgrade based on their work, and this title re-allocation is a back door approach that circumvents the civil service process as a whole; the same process that tens of thousands of state workers rely on for a fair result.”

Powell added, “It’s a disappointing commentary on the state’s priorities that will do nothing to expand or improve environmental enforcement. New York State is under ongoing threat especially as the federal government continues to rollback protections. We need to be making real investments in EnCon, not papering over the problem with slick political solutions”

Immigration Coalition Hopes For Liberty Defense Funding Reprieve In Budget

The New York Immigration Coalition in a statement Thursday evening called for a restoration of $10 million in funding for the Liberty Defense Project, an effort that is meant to provide legal support services for those facing deportation.

“It is inexplicable that as the Trump administration continues its assault on New York’s communities, our State leaders are ripping away its lifeline for legal defense and protection against deportation,” said the group’s executive director, Steven Choi.

“It is a complete sham for our leaders – Governor Cuomo, Speaker Heastie and Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins – to say they stand up to Trump on behalf of our immigrants – and then remove the very assistance that protects New Yorkers from Trump’s deportation force. The final state budget must include funding for the Liberty Defense Project, so that every immigrant New Yorker has access to legal counsel and assistance. Words of solidarity from the State Legislature and Governor Cuomo aren’t going to cut it – we need everyone to put their money where their mouths are.”

The call comes as New York City Council lawmakers announced an agreement that would provide $1.6 million for immigration attorneys who handle deportation cases.

The money is meant to ease a backlog of immigration cases in New York City courts.

“The Liberty Defense Project has helped more than 30,000 immigrant New Yorkers facing removal and other immigration proceedings. We are fighting to make sure that critical legal services for immigrant families are properly funded. Politics cannot get in the way of keeping families together,” said Assemblywoman Catalin Cruz, the first lawmaker elected to have dreamer status. “What is vitally important is that immigrant legal services are given the resources necessary to protect our communities.”

Paper Bags May Soon Cost 5 Cents

A tentative agreement in the state budget will eventually lead to a 5 cent fee charged for a single-use paper bag as part of a broader effort to ban plastic single-use bags in New York.

Revenue from the fee will be split two ways: Three cents of every bag will go toward the Environmental Protection Fund, with the rest going toward a local government, which would have to opt in affirmatively to receive the revenue.

Several county governments already have bag bans and fees in place.

The agreement is likely to be included in a broader ban on plastic bags statewide in the budget due to pass by Sunday.