Albany

Both Sides Of Amazon Debate See Vindication In Q-Poll

From the Morning Memo:

New York City voters like having Amazon building an office complex in Queens, but are weary of $3 billion in tax breaks being given to the company in exchange for up to 25,000 jobs.

That was according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday — giving ammunition to both sides in the debate over the company’s plans for New York City.

For supporters of the plan, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, it was a vindication that social media isn’t reflective of the public sentiment at large. A majority of voters, 57 percent in New York City, like the idea of Amazon coming to Long Island City in Queens.

But opponents of the plan pointed to the skepticism the tax incentives, an issue that split voters. The incentives only kick if the company can prove the jobs were created.

“New Yorkers are making clear they agree that too much inequality exists in our communities and giving billions of taxpayer dollars to trillion dollar corporations makes things worse, not better,” said Sen. Mike Gianaris and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, two prominent opponents of the deal. “It is also clear that the more people learn about the deal, the less they like it.”

The lawmakers have also not signaled they’ll back off from plans to pursue oversight of the deal or file a legal challenge against it.

Reinvent Albany’s Pay Raise Compromise

The good-government Reinvent Albany’s road map for the first legislative pay raise in 20 years would reshape how state lawmakers in New York are paid.

Currently, members of the Legislature earn a base salary of $79,500 while also earning per diems for official legislative business as well as stipends for leadership posts and committee chairmanships.

The Reinvent Albany proposal would end this system:

-Increase the Legislature’s take-home pay by 50 percent, bringing the current pay to $120,000.
-Restrict outside income to 15 percent of what lawmakers would earn, coming out to $21,750.
-Overhaul per diems by capping them aggregate at $175 per day multiplied by the number of session days, plus one extra day for each week of the session.
-Increase the pay of agency and department heads by 50 percent, or create more flexible salary bands.
-End stipends for all lawmakers accept for the Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker.

Under this proposal, top lawmakers would earn $145,000.

“Statewide electeds, lawmakers, and agency commissioners deserve a significant raise,” said Alex Camarda, the senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany. “But compensation changes should also include major restrictions on outside income, virtual elimination of lulus, and caps on per diems.”

A commission led by former and current comptrollers will determine this month whether lawmakers will receive their first legislative pay hike since 1999.

Lawmakers are facing calls to ban or limit private-sector pay. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said he’s open to the idea, but said it would not be appropriate to link it to a pay raise.

Healthcare Association Of NY Lays Out Single Payer Complications

There are broad-based policy and political complications with single-payer health care, Healthcare Association of New York President Bea Grause told the Rockefeller Institute last week.

Grause in a talk at the think tank pointed to the failure of similar legislation in Vermont, a bill that ultimately failed to pass. She pointed to the need to recruit primary care doctors as well as the math surrounding potential savings for single payer.

The single payer bill in New York is facing renewed discussion as Democrats next month will assume majority control of the state Senate. The measure has been approved multiple times in the state Assembly.

“We have a lot to talk about in 2019 — certainly single-payer will be part of that,” Grause said. “I hope as part of that conversation we talk not just about whether or not to publicly finance healthcare, but to have a deeper and a richer conversation around, ‘What are we actually financing and is it meeting the needs of 19 million New Yorkers?’”

The full talk can be found here.

DiNapoli Audit Finds Hazardous Material Oversight At SUNY Lacking

An audit released on Monday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found two flagship campuses of the State University of New York failed to properly monitor or restrict access to hazardous materials like nitrate teterahydrate and arsenic oxide.

The report found the campuses, the University at Buffalo and Stony Brook, found weak or lacking controls over who has access to or can buy the hazardous materials. The materials are used in both classroom and for non-classroom purposes.

“Rules to safeguard dangerous substances were not always followed at SUNY campuses,” DiNapoli said. “Weak oversight of hazardous materials could jeopardize the health and safety of students and campus communities. SUNY needs to do a better job to ensure these items are kept under lock and key.”

At five other schools that were part of the audit, the campuses at Plattsburgh, New Paltz, Polytechnic Institute, Oneonta, and Cobleskill, no internal control weaknesses were found, but auditors did see room for improvement, such as being able to gain access to labs and prep rooms without a key or assistance from school officials.

Both Oneonta and Cobleskill had completed and updated emergency response plans.

SUNY in a response letter said it would continue to provide “guidance and support” to campuses on the risks of hazardous materails.

“As there is no higher priority than the Safety of our Campus Community, the campuses will also continue to identify and assess the risks associated with hazardous materials and waste, design effective controls to mitigate those risks, and proactively prepare for emergencies, and balance those needs with the need for appropriate documentation and controls on purchasing systems,” the SUNY letter stated.

The full audit can be found here.

A Generation Of Pay Raise Politics

From the Morning Memo:

It’s been nearly 20 years since state lawmakers saw their last pay raise in New York, but the logjam could break this month pending the decision of a commission composed of current and former New York comptrollers.

But the pay raise itself has been tied up in politics for nearly a generation — a mechanism used to extract reforms from lawmakers and sharply opposed by voters.

Pay raises were last approved by Gov. George Pataki as lawmakers agreed to expand charter schools in New York and adopt a provision that they would not be paid if the state budget wasn’t finalized. The measure was meant to end budgets being approved after the April 1 start to the fiscal year, an intention that never really worked.

Since then, a potential boost in legislative pay has taken a backseat in Albany. Not helping the argument with the public was a steady drumbeat of corruption arrests of both rank-and-file lawmakers as well as top leaders in the state Senate and Assembly.

Nevertheless, legislative pay has remain a sore point for lawmakers especially in the New York City area, where many grapple with a higher cost of living. That was among the arguments made last week by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie — a proponent of increasing legislative pay.

At the same time, the recent churn in the Legislature has been attributed in part to the higher pay on the New York City Council.

But the council has two reforms: Term limits and limits to outside income.

Heastie expressed a willingness to support changes to how much money lawmakers can earn in the private sector, though insisted nothing be linked to a pay hike.

The commission itself was sold publicly as a way of removing the politics from the decision making process itself of the pay increase. Previously, judicial compensation had been linked to legislative pay increases. The mechanism was decoupled with a judicial pay compensation board of its own.

When the pay commission last met, a parallel push was underway for a year-end special session that never materialized. No pay raise came.

NY Farm Bureau Awaits Farm Bill Passage

From the Morning Memo:

Congress could make a decision on the Farm Bill before the new year.

The 2014 Farm Bill expired on Sept. 30 amid congressional gridlock, but an temporary extender has held the legislation in place. This came much to the dismay of struggling farmers nationwide, from all sectors of agriculture, ranging from cattle to dairy to soybean production.

Disagreement around SNAP specifics, or the food stamp program, largely concerned differences in Republican and Democrat determinations on work requirements–not to mention, SNAP accounts for the most expensive portion of the bill. Decisions on crop insurance, subsidy eligibility and forest management similarly need smoothing out.

In a statement on Thursday, New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher:

“New York Farm Bureau is pleased that Congressional leaders have reached a consensus on the 2018 Farm Bill ahead of the current Farm Bill’s lapse at the end of this year. While we have yet to see specific details, we are hopeful that final passage of the legislation will give farmers some reassurance moving forward that critical risk management tools will be in place as they plan the best they can for next year.

“Improvements to the dairy safety net, the continuation of important conservation programs as well as support and research programs for New York’s specialty crop producers are much needed in this tough farm economy. The Farm Bill is an investment in our food system. It helps farm families weather some unpredictable conditions and provides consumers the reassurance that we will continue to have a strong, affordable food supply in this country. We encourage our Senators and Representatives to support the compromise legislation.”

New York farmers have been particularly concerned with tariff impositions, especially in light of the state’s close proximity to, and trade relationship with Canada.

Sexual Harassment Working Group Heartened By Potential Hearings

A committee composed of women who are victims and survivors of sexual harassment while working in state government on Thursday cheered the potential for hearings on the issue in Albany.

Senate Majority Leader-designate Andrea Stewart-Cousins in an interview Wednesday with WNYC indicated a push for new measures to combat sexual harassment as well as public hearings.

“We will be able to have the hearings and see what we need to do, if anything, to strengthen the laws,” Stewart-Cousins said in the interview.

The Sexual Harassment Working Group has for nearly a year called on lawmakers as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo to back hearings to address how the state can combat sexual harassment and misconduct.

“The illumination of the breadth and depth of sexual harassment in New York State is long overdue. Victims across all industries deserve to be heard; workers across New York deserve to know their elected officials are ready and willing to listen,” the group said in a statement.

“We are excited to work with the Senate, Assembly, Governor, and all state officials in improving protections against sexual harassment, and we look forward to the legislature scheduling public hearings very soon.”

Democrats in January are poised to take control of the state Senate for the first time in a decade.

Lawmakers and Cuomo did agree to a slate of sexual harassment law changes, but the working group has pointed to further concerns that need to be addressed.

Pay Panel Sympathizes With Lawmaker Salaries

Attracting fresh talent. It’s a full-time job to already. Going 20 years without a pay increase would make anyone mad.

Those are arguments that have been advanced over the years by state lawmakers who have pushed unsuccessfully for a salary hike.

And those are arguments that have a sympathetic ear from the four-man panel that is considering whether lawmakers should receive a compensation bump, their first since 1998.

“There is a lot of emotion attached to this and we’re just trying to do the right thing,” said New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. “I’d like to think this commission can throw away the last 20 years and start fresh.”

The panel, composed of Stringer, former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, former state Comptroller Carl McCall and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, met for just under an hour on Wednesday in Albany for the second of three public hearings assessing pay for lawmakers, cabinet commissioners and department chiefs as well as statewide elected officials.

Three of four — Stringer, DiNapoli and McCall — have served in the state Assembly and Senate, where they remain popular figures.

Lawmakers in New York earn a base pay of $79,500, though many earn more with legislative stipends known as lulus for committee posts and leadership jobs. The base salary ranks third among state legislatures, behind California and Pennsylvania.

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

But state lawmakers are also paid less than those who serve on the term-limited New York City Council, a disparity that some have pointed to amid the recent churn in the Legislature.

The pay panel was devised as a way to remove the issue from the plates of lawmakers and the governor. But lawmakers became incensed when Cuomo sought to link the previous iteration of the pay panel to holding a special session that never materialized and talk of a salary increase was tabled.

Cuomo in recent weeks has said lawmakers should curb their outside income from private sector jobs, a move that has in the past received a lukewarm response from the Legislature.

“It’s my point of view that’s an appropriate reform,” DiNapoli said. “The extent to which this committee has the ability to impose something like that I think is open to question, but it’s something that should have been done a long time ago.”

Cuomo has also long spoken of the need to increase salaries for department heads, which are set by statute. Many cabinet-level departments are now led by executive deputy commissioners in part because holding a commissioner title would mean a step down in pay.

That concern, too, has drawn sympathy from the panel.

“It’s very difficult to attract talent and you need talented people to carry out the significant responsibilities that fall on public officials in New York,” McCall said. “I think there’s a consensus there should be an increase for commissioners.”

A determination from the pay commission is expected in December.

Peralta GoFundMe Campaign Hits Goal

From the Morning Memo:

The death of Democratic state Sen. Jose Peralta last week at 47 brought a sad coda to the end of the year in New York politics and for that of his family.

But those who knew Peralta came to provide some help.

A GoFundMe campaign quickly reached its goal on Sunday of raising $25,000 to help Peralta’s family cover memorial service and visitation expenses. As of Monday morning, the effort has raised $34,360.

And who gave, too, is a sign that even the rough and tumble of the New York political world can be put on hold for a family in need.

Peralta was a member of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference, a bloc of Democrats who had allied themselves with Republicans in the state Senate. The IDC dissolved earlier this year, but six of its eight former members lost their primary bids, including Peralta.

The fight over the IDC, stretching over the balance of the decade, was one of the more heated and politically fraught ones in state politics.

All that was set aside for the day.

In addition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $10,000 contribution, the GoFundMe campaign received donations from IDC critics like Sen. Gustavo Rivera and Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell. Republican Marc Molinaro, the GOP nominee for governor, also gave, as did Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is likely to become the next majority leader in the Senate.

The Parkside Group, the firm associated with the mainline conference of Democrats, also donated.

There were countless others, including Peralta’s former colleagues in the IDC and staffers who were on both sides of the fight.

Mario Cuomo would often talk about the “family of New York.” It can often resemble a dysfunctional family.

But for a day, the things can divide New York can be set aside.

Democrats Plan New Year With Long-Bottled Up Bills

Democrats for the first time in a decade will have full control of state government, holding a large majority in the state Senate that will enable them to pass a variety of bills long-sought by liberals.

“What we agree on is so overwhelming and what we will get done is so overwhelming it’s going to be transformational for this state,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday during a stop in the Bronx.

And the list of what could get done in the first few weeks of the 2019 legislative session is a long one.

Top Democratic leaders in the state Senate and Assembly have signaled they will move to pass measures meant to strengthen abortion rights in the state, create a system of pre-Election Day early voting in New York, make it easier for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits, enhance protections of transgender New Yorkers and provide college tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants as well as new gun control legislation.

“We are going to make rapid, remarkable change,” Cuomo said. “All of those issues that have been bottled up for years that the conservatives would not pass by ideology.”

Cuomo has long blamed Republican control of the state Senate for the failure of key progressive legislation in Albany — a complaint his liberal critics say rings hallow when he was also able to pass gun control measures and the legalization of same-sex marriage while the GOP held power.

“I couldn’t get it passed because the conservatives just wouldn’t pass it,” Cuomo said, “and they wouldn’t pass it for years. We can now get all those things done.”

For Republicans, it’s adjusting to a new reality in the minority of both the state Assembly and now the state Senate.

“I think the governor is doing something great, I’ll say so,” said Sen. John Flanagan, who will hold the minority leader post. “Now, I’m scared to death about what’s coming.”

Republicans say Democrats also have to show they will be able to handle the day to day work of running the state.

“Now that they’ve been given the mantle of governing, I will match my ability to articulate our positions with anybody,” Flanagan said. “We’re ready to go right at it.”

The 2019 legislative session begins in January and runs through June.