Assembly

Assembly Budget Would Hike Taxes On The Rich

The budget proposed by the Democratic-led Assembly would add an income tax surcharge on the ultra wealthy in New York as well as second homes.

The budget proposal, introduced over night, is a non-binding resolution the Assembly is expected to take up on Wednesday for approval.

But the plan is also a roadmap for where lawmakers want to take their budget negotiations this month with their fellow Democrats in the state Senate and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The Assembly plan would add three additional tax rates for those who make more than $5 million as lawmakers seek more funding for major items in the budget, including direct aid for education.

For those who earn between $5 million and $10 million, the tax rate would be set at 9.32 percent. Those earning between $10 million and $100 million would have a tax rate of 9.82 percent.

The tax proposal would increase rates on those who make more than $100 million to 10.32 percent. The top bracket in New York currently pays an 8.82 percent rate.

The state Senate, which Democrats gained controlled over in November, is not expected to propose a similar tax increase.

Cuomo, who has railed against the cap on state and local tax deductions set at $10,000 by the federal government, has said he would oppose tax increases as well. New York generates a significant portion of its revenue from personal income taxes on the very wealthy.

The Assembly also signaled its support for a so-called pied-a-terre tax, or an additional surcharge on second homes worth more than $5 million. Cuomo in recent days has said he would support the tax in order to shore up for the MTA as part of a broader plan to limit fare increases and make capital improvements to the transit system.

At the same time, the Assembly budget would add taxes on car rentals outside of the metropolitan area in order to fund mass transit in upstate New York.

Mel Miller, Former Speaker, Dies At 79

Former Assembly Speaker Mel Miller died on Friday at age of 79.

Miller, a lawmaker from Brooklyn, served in the Assembly for 21 years, including his five final years in office as its speaker.

“During his time in the Assembly, he fought so every person in our state would be counted – both by exercising their right to vote, and being counted by the census,” Speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement.

Heastie pointed to Miller’s support for education and community colleges, as well as support for gun control legislation.

“He created the Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise to promote equality of economic opportunities. Mel fought to get New York’s students a quality education, including major increases in state aid to education and community colleges, and helped modernize the New York City school system. He championed toxic tort legislation to allow victims of diseases caused by exposure to chemicals the ability to seek damages. Under Mel’s leadership, the Assembly was the first legislative body in the nation to debate an assault weapons ban,” Heastie said.

Miller was convicted of fraud in 1991 and left politics. The conviction was later overturned on appeal.

Where Things Stand In The Budget

From the Morning Memo:

The state Assembly and state Senate today will unveil their one-house budget resolutions — essentially roadmaps for where state lawmakers want to take the negotiations with the governor over the spending plan due at the end of the month.

The proposals are aspirational documents that do not have the force of law. But in a process that can be opaque and lack transparency, it’s a public starting point for the Legislature, and act as a counterweight to what Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed.

And this is also a different kind of budget year under Cuomo, with lawmakers seeking to assert more authority over how money is spent.

Here’s a look at where things stand with three weeks to go until start of the new fiscal year:

Education

The education battles in the budget in recent years have been about policy: How teachers and principals should be evaluated, whether the cap on charter schools should be increased, how long to extend mayoral control of New York City schools. This year, the fight is primarily shaping up to be about money. Lawmakers, has they have typically done in the past, want to increase spending. But this year, many are newly emboldened to push for even more money than Cuomo has proposed. They’re backed by education advocates who have long called for adding $2 billion in spending in direct aid for schools. And those advocates have allies like Sen. Robert Jackson in office. Cuomo earlier this year countered with a proposal that would change the state’s funding formula, seeking to help poor, underfunded schools within districts.

Health care

The governor all but dared lawmakers to pass a single-payer health care bill when speaking to The Atlantic. Cuomo has said he would support a single-payer bill on the federal level, but is skeptical how it would work for New York, which is increasingly becoming cash-strapped. The bill’s sponsors insist a single-payer program for the state would ultimately save money by reducing a costly private insurance bureaucracy. Amendments to Cuomo’s budget last month included proposals to slow the growth of spending under Medicaid. And Cuomo wants to bolster the Affordable Care Act by enshrining the measure into state law, such as the state’s health insurance marketplace.

Property tax cap

The state Senate last month passed a standalone bill that would make the cap on property tax increases a permanent one. The provision does not expire this year, but has historically been linked to rent control regulations for New York City. Those are set to sunset, and Cuomo has signaled he wants to include both in a final budget agreement. The Assembly is yet to take up a tax cap bill and the chamber has in the past included members supportive of making changes, such as no longer capping increases at the rate of inflation. Those changes have been sought by teachers unions and local government advocates. Nevertheless, the vast majority of school districts and local municipalities have been able to budget within the cap since it was first approved in 2011.

Marijuana

The issue is increasingly becoming a cross section of the budget: Health, criminal justice reform, local control, even mass transit, are being effected by it. Both legislative budget proposals are expected to include a version of a program that would legalize marijuana. Lawmakers want to allow people to be able to grow small amounts of the plant; Cuomo envisions a plan that would create a commercial retail structure regulated similarly to alcohol. Cuomo also wants local governments to be able to opt out of marijuana retail and use some of the sales tax revenue generated to pay for mass transit in New York City. Lawmakers have said they want the money to be prioritized for communities effected by stiff drug laws.

The MTA

A congestion pricing plan is increasingly becoming just one component of a very complex plan that could also include marijuana sales tax revenue, collecting sales tax on out-of-state online purchases, and even a tax on second homes worth more than $5 million, as well as tolls below 61st Street in Manhattan. At stake is finding a dedicated funding source for mass transit and the MTA in New York City in order to begin the costly process of fixing and improving the city’s subways while also reducing the glut of car traffic. Suburban lawmakers, as they have done in previous congestion pricing iterations, have raised concerns with impact of the proposal on their constituents and want some form of buy-in, such as more money for commuter rail services like the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North.

Campaign finance

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie last week announced the votes aren’t there in his chamber just yet for the public financing of campaigns. This led to something of an outcry from the progressive advocates, including Zephyr Teachout, who had hoped an all-Democratic Legislature would lead to the program’s approval. The Senate is expected to include public financing in its budget plan. Cuomo wants public financing, along with lower donor limits and a ban on corporate contributions in the final budget agreement.

The legislative dynamic

It’s very different this year with a large Democratic majority in the state Senate. A lot of policy that would still be left outstanding — gun control, abortion rights, LGBT issues — have already been take up. Meanwhile, the relationship between lawmakers and Cuomo has been an increasingly truculent one given the fallout of the failed Amazon project in Queens and the lingering discontent over the results of a pay raise commission. Cuomo’s ace in the hole for resolving the budget remains the phase in of a pay increase that would not go into effect if the budget goes past the April 1 due date. Lawmakers, however, insist this isn’t a factor in the budget talks.

Heastie: Votes Aren’t There Yet For Public Financing

The votes in the state Assembly’s Democratic conference to create a public financing system for campaigns aren’t there yet, Speaker Carl Heastie said Friday in New York City.

The Democratic-led Assembly has approved measures in the past that would create a small donor matching system using public money while Republicans, who generally opposed the legislation, controlled the state Senate.

This year, Democrats control both the state Assembly and state Senate with large majorities, making public financing more likely.

Still, Heastie said there are concerns with the proliferation of independent expenditure committees and a budget crunch and the measure lacks a necessary majority of the majority to gain a floor vote.

“I think the members want to discuss it, but I’d say right now with the concerns on IEs, problems with the city’s campaign finance system, also with a shortage of money, I think they want to have the discussion, but I’d say right now there are not 76 members who want to move forward within the next few weeks of the budget,” Heastie said.

Lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014 created a public financing pilot program for the state comptroller’s race. Democratic incumbent Tom DiNapoli did not participate, his Republican challenge Bob Antonacci sought matching funds, but did not qualify.

Cuomo this year once again included public financing in his budget proposal, due at the end of the month. Cuomo also wants lower limits on campaign donations and an end to corporate contributions.

The advocacy groups who have pushed for public financing in prior years sought to apply some pressure after Heastie’s comments.

“For weeks, New Yorkers have been clamoring for a change in the way campaigns are funded in town halls, grassroots lobby visits and emails and calls to their elected officials,” said the pro-public financing group Fair Elections For New York.

“Historically, the Assembly Democrats have supported people-powered elections anchored with a small-donor matching system. ‘Fair elections’ is the policy that will really shake up the status quo, and thus the real test of the new Albany. Passing this legislation now, in the budget, is the best chance for New York to once again lead the nation by having a campaign finance system that gives everyday New Yorkers as loud a voice as the wealthiest donors. We hope the Speaker will reconsider and that the Speaker, Governor and Senate Majority Leader will refuse to accept a budget without ‘fair elections.’”

Working Families Party State Director Bill Lipton, meanwhile, praised the passage of HR1 in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives that sought new campaign finance limits.

“Progressive champions in Congress are taking a momentous step by passing campaign finance reform with a small donor match — it’s time for New York to follow their lead,” Lipton said.

“For too long, New York’s weak campaign finance system has allowed wealthy donors and corporate interests to dictate the political process and drown out the voices of working New Yorkers. We stand with the organizers and community residents fighting to pass small donor matching and limit the corrupting influence of big money in our state politics.”

Peoples-Stokes: Marijuana Legalization Can Be Done In Coming Weeks

From the Morning Memo:

The legalization of marijuana in New York can be accomplished within the coming weeks, the bill’s main sponsor in the state Assembly said Thursday in an interview.

“It is complicated, but it is a complicated topic that’s been out there for the last six years,” said Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. “Sometimes the longer you wait, it doesn’t mean the problems go away. I think it’s something that we should try and get done within the next couple of weeks.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signaled he wants to have the issue dealt with in the state budget, due at the end of March, warning that if it doesn’t pass, the measure would be “in trouble” of getting accomplished this year.

Cuomo wants to use revenue from marijuana sales in New York City to shore up mass transit in New York City, part of a broader plan that includes congestion pricing tolls and a sales tax on out-of-state online purchases. Cuomo in recent days has also raised the possibility of a tax on second homes worth more than $5 million.

Peoples-Stokes said she was not against using money for mass transit in New York City, but like Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the first priority should be aid communities affected by drug laws.

“I think in some ways could be given some consideration, but that’s only after we have assured a fair amount of resources to invest in communities negatively impacted by mass incarceration and the war on drugs,” she said.

Nearly 34 Percent Of State Lawmakers Will Have To Divest Outside Income

Drop the outside salary or drop out.

Nearly 34 percent of the Legislature’s 213 state lawmakers will have to divest their private-sector income within the year or leave office, according to a report released on Thursday by the good-government group Common Cause.

State lawmakers had their outside pay capped at 15 percent of their public sector income, which now stands at $110,000 based on the decision of a pay commission made late last year.

“It’s common practice for Albany lawmakers to take second or even third jobs to earn extra money — and execute power — while working on the taxpayers’ dime,” said Susan Lerner, the organization’s executive director. “But not any more. Lawmakers deserve a raise, and New Yorkers deserve elected officials who work only for them. End of story.”

The changes, which include an end to most stipends for legislative leadership jobs, have not been taken well by lawmakers with jobs in the private sector.

Sen. Tom O’Mara, an attorney in private practice, is considering a lawsuit to challenge the pay commission’s findings. A fiscally conservative group, the Government Justice Center, has already filed suit to challenge the outside pay limits.

Those in favor of allowing private-sector employment argue it’s important for lawmakers to have one foot in the real world. One lawmaker, Assemblyman Gary Finch, owns a chain of funeral parlors. Another, Assemblyman John McDonald, is a pharmacist. Sen. Fred Akshar, a retired undersheriff, recently started a private-eye and security business.

Critics, however, point to the potential for corruption of having essentially “two masters” — the taxpayers and an employer who may seek to influence public policy.

The report, based on financial disclosure information collected by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, found nearly half of returning Republican lawmakers have outside income, with 26 percent of returning Democratic lawmakers having outside pay.

More than half, 56 percent, represent downstate districts.

The wealthiest lawmakers are Republicans George Amedore in the Senate, who reported earning more than $600,000 and Stephen Hawley in the Assembly, who reported more than $400,000 in outside pay.

Heastie Says Bail Reform Is Being Talked Through

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters on Tuesday the commitment to criminal justice reforms — either in the state budget agreement or otherwise — is there to have the issues dealt with this session.

Lawmakers are eyeing changes to measures that would ensure a speedy trial, ending solitary confinement in many instances and ending cash bail for some charges.

“As I’ve always said, with a Democratic Legislature, I don’t feel as pressed on policy,” Heastie said. “The commitment is there.”

But differences among Democratic lawmakers have extended the debate over the details of the legislation. Ending cash bail remains a particularly complicate topic.

“When you’re looking to have a new system, one, you have to educate people on the problems of the old system,” Heastie said. “We’re just talking through things.”

He noted most people in the general public have little understanding of how bail works or why it needs to be changed.

“I think most people view it as a pre-determination or a way to I’d say remand people,” Heastie said. “It’s part education, where do you go, and educate people on the changes.”

The issue remains a personal one for the speaker, calling it a key concern for him. Process-wise, he views it like the push to legalize marijuana when it comes to either a deal for the budget or as a standalone piece of legislation.

“It’s one of the most important things in my speakership, criminal justice reform,” he said. “If it can happen in the budget, great.”

Lawmakers Approve Bill Requiring Locked Storage For Guns

State lawmakers on Monday approved legislation that would requiring the locked storage of firearms — a long-sought bill for supporters of gun control in New York.

The bill, part of a string of gun control measures approved in recent weeks in the 2019 legislative session, applies to gun owners with children under the age of 16 in their homes.

“It’s so important that we protect kids from handguns,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan. “When children are in homes with handguns, statistics show they are more likely to be injured or killed by those guns.”

Republicans contended, however, the bill puts gun owners at risk of reaching a firearm when its needed most, such as during a home invasion.

“It just assumes that gun owners can’t be trusted to have guns in their own home,” said Assemblyman Dan Stec, a Republican who represents the North Country. “It’s a constant erosion of Second Amendment rights geared at hassling law-abiding gun owners.”

The bill now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his approval.

Lawmakers previously this year approved a bill that is meant to restrict gun access for the mentally ill as well as a ban bump stocks, devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to mimic automatic fire, as well as a bill that would extend the waiting period to buy a firearm from three days to up to a month.

Heastie: No Interest In A Late Budget

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo raises the possibility of a late spending plan this year, potentially as leverage over the phase in for a legislative pay hike, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Monday insisted that won’t be the case.

“That’s not anything we’re interested in doing,” Heastie said.

He also downplayed the rift between legislative Democrats and Cuomo, who over the weekend could not come to an agreement on a revenue forecast for the state, a decision that will now be handed to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. That decision is expected on Tuesday.

Heastie would not go as far as Senate Democrats have claimed when saying that Cuomo walked away from the negotiating table over the revenue forecast, which covers a two-year period.

“The message is there is no resolution,” Heastie said. “We couldn’t come to an agreement. It’s just a part of the budget process.”

At the same time, Heastie was similarly unperturbed by Cuomo’s suggestion that the legalization of marijuana would be “in trouble” if not dealt with in the budget, where the governor typically has more leverage.

“At this point I’m not giving up,” he said. “We’re still week away from introducing our resolution, so there’s still plenty of time.”

The budget is expected to pass by March 31, the end of the state’s fiscal year.

Biz Groups Push Back On Opioid Tax

A letter sent Monday by a coalition of business groups to top lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly urged them to oppose the latest version of an opioid tax in the state budget.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month re-introduced a version of the tax as part of his $175 billion spending plan after a similar measure in last year’s budget was struck down by a federal court.

The tax, meant to tackle heroin and opioid addiction, is expected to bring in $100 million.

But the business groups, including NFIB, Unshackle Upstate and the Business Council, argue the tax would only be passed on to consumers and could raise prices as a result.

“Any tax policy that raises costs on the healthcare supply chain of New York State is bad for all aspects of the healthcare system,” they write in the letter.

“But increased healthcare costs would have a significant impact on our state’s economy as a whole, as employers would pay more for their employees’ healthcare coverage and consumers of legitimate opioids would have to spend more out of their own pockets. Not to mention the effect that this tax could have on the bottom line of healthcare facilities, some of the largest job creators in communities throughout the state.”

The full letter can be found here.