Cuomo Admin: Don’t ‘Politicize’ Tax Disclosure

A top advisor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday in a statement said elected officials at all levels of government should disclose their tax filings, but warned against a politicized process as state lawmakers seek to force the release of President Donald Trump’s New York returns.

“Transparency and disclosure is vital, but tax return privacy is also important and we should not politicize the process — however Governor Cuomo believes elected officials on all levels should be prepared to release their taxes if they enter public service and he would include state and local, as well as federal officials, in any legal revision,” said senior advisor Rich Azzopardi.

Lawmakers on Monday pushed for the passage of a bill that would require the disclosure of up to five years’ worth of filings for the president, governor, lieutenant governor and other statewide officials. Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul have by tradition released their tax returns every year in April.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters the measure would be discussed in closed-door conference last month, but did not outwardly embrace the legislation.

“I know there’s a nationwide desire to President Trump’s tax returns,” Heastie said.

Single-Payer Supporters Say Push Will Continue

From the Morning Memo:

The effort to create a single-payer health care system is continuing to move forward after the passage of the state budget that included the codification of aspects of the federal Affordable Care Act into state law.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried in an interview last week said the measure was never intended to be part of the budget, in part due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s opposition to a state-level version of the bill.

“Certainly there are people who raise concerns and we’re going to be working to accommodate those concerns,” said Gottfried, the Assembly Health Committee chairman. “It was never part of the budget, we never tried to make it part of a budget bill, partly because we didn’t have the governor on board. We hope to bring that about.”

Cuomo has been skeptical of the single-payer proposal in large due to its cost and could double the size of the state budget. The bill’s supporters point to that figure being based on a previous version of the bill and the program itself would eventually reduce overall costs for health care.

The 2019-20 budget included the codification of the state’s health care marketplace, an exchange in which New Yorkers can purchase health insurance at reduced rates. The marketplace, created after the passage of the ACA, had previously been created as an executive order by Cuomo following opposition in the state Senate, under Republican control at the time.

The budget also expanded coverage requirements for egg freezing and in vitro fertilization.

Bronson Optimistic For Prevailing Wage Agreement Post-Budget

After a push to expand the state’s prevailing wage requirements fell out of the budget agreement this week, Rochester Assemblyman Harry Bronson hopes there will still be time to reach a deal in the remaining three months of the legislative session.

“We had a lot of positive conversation,” Bronson said in an interview this week. “We were able to have discussions about directions we might go that will help not only workers get the prevailing wage they deserve and our constitution requires, but also do it so it’s beneficial in the workplace as well for the construction companies.”

Lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo negotiated a provision that would have expanded prevailing wage laws to any project that receives public funding. “Open shop” construction entities opposed the idea over cost concerns and the effect it would have on non-unionized workers.

Bronson said the measure stalled in part because of the varying complexities of the construction industry and the cost of projects in different sectors — commercial, affordable housing, mixed use or solar.

“Those dynamics vary on the overall cost of the construction project,” he said. “So, we’re trying to come up with a compromise that will meet the needs of both the developers as well as the workers.”

Lawmakers Want To End Religious Exemption For Vaccinations

From the Morning Memo:

Local and state lawmakers are pushing for a bill that would end non-medical exemptions for childhood vaccinations amid a measles outbreak in the Hudson Valley.

The legislators, Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz, Sen. Brad Hoylman and New York City Councilman Mark Levine rallied for the issue on Thursday and touted a bill that would narrow exemptions as some parents have sought to prevent children from being vaccinated on religious grounds.

Seventeen states allow vaccine exemption on philosophical grounds; New York does not. Lawmakers argue the religious exemption is being applied broadly by anyone seeking to not vaccinate their child.

“A direct correlation can be drawn between recent outbreaks of measles and the growing number of non-medical vaccine exemptions,” Hoylman said.

Many of the measles cases have been found in Rockland County’s ultra orthodox Jewish community as hundreds of cases have been reported in recent months. Rockland County officials have sought to control the situation by declaring an emergency, and banning non-vaccinated children and teens from public areas.

“It is essential that we eliminate all except medical exemptions to school vaccine requirements,” Dinowitz said.

“There are many individuals who are claiming a religious exemption, but in reality are exercising a philosophical objection to vaccination. We cannot let a small number of people dictate public health policy in New York State. While I fully support free expression and freedom of religion, I believe that the assertion of religious freedom should not be allowed to infringe on the rights of others or to endanger the lives of others, especially children.”

Fahy Wants To Expand Plastic Bag Ban To Restaurants

Days after lawmakers approved a measure in the budget banning plastic bags statewide, Assemblywoman Pat Fahy wants to expand it.

Fahy on Thursday announced she would introduce a bill that would ban restaurants from distributing single-use plastic bags.

The bag ban in the state budget exempted restaurants, as well as businesses like dry cleaners, from the ban.

Fahy called the exemption for restaurants “too big an environmental loophole to ignore.”

“New York’s decision to ban single-use plastic bags from grocery stores shows that our state is once again ready to carry the mantle of environmental leadership,” she said.

“However, the plastic bag provisions included in the budget can go one-step further in minimizing the more than 23 billion plastic bags New Yorker dispose of each year. Further reducing plastic pollution requires that the state target all major contributors, not just grocery stores.”

The plastic bag ban also includes a 5-cent surcharge for paper bags. Fany wants retailers to be able to retain 2 cents of the paper bag fee to cover the cost of bags one year after implementation.

Currently, the bag ban has 3 cents diverted to the Environmental Protection Fund and 2 cents to local governments that opt in and distribute reusable bags to low-income shoppers.

“For mom-and-pop small businesses and brick and mortar stores currently operating on small profit margins,” Fahy said.

“Even a small alteration in the fee collection following predicted behavioral changes such as this would provide business owners both predictability and flexibility. Our Main Street businesses are often leaders in community and environmental responsibility. Towns and cities throughout the state would be well-served by remitting this fee directly back into the local economy.”

Assembly To Push For Statewide Rent Control

The Democratic-led Assembly in the post-budget session will seek to extend rent control regulations outside of the New York City area, Speaker Carl Heastie on Tuesday said.

“I think there’s support within the conference to do universal rent control,” Heastie said. “As an Assembly, we don’t want to seem like we care about the tenants just in New York City.”

Rent control regulations for New York City and surrounding communities is due to sunset at the end of June. Democrats, who control both chambers, are likely to embrace a push for ending vacancy decontrol, a move that Gov. Andrew Cuomo in December said he supported as well.

Heastie said the Assembly will be “laser-focused” not just the renewal for New York City, but statewide.

“I think there’s 20-something years worth of history with rent regulation that has been spoken about and talked about and fixed,” he said. “It’s going to be a huge focus of ours for rent regulations across the state.”

Q-Poll: Most New York City Voters Oppose Congestion Pricing

A majority of voters in New York City oppose the creation of a congestion pricing plan and more than half also believe it won’t effectively reduce traffic, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday.

State lawmakers on Monday approved a budget that sets in motion the first-in-the-nation tolling plan for entering Manhattan south of 60th Street.

The move is meant to raise capital bonds to help bolster efforts to upgrade mass transit systems in New York City.

But voters in New York City, by a 54 percent to 41 percent margin, oppose the tolling plan. Voters by a similar margin, 52 percent to 40 percent, are doubtful it will reduce traffic.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week praised lawmakers, specifically Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, for agreeing to the plan, despite decades’ of opposition to the proposal.

Opposition to congestion pricing is highest in the Bronx, where 64 percent are against it. On Staten island, voters oppose it 52 percent to 43 percent.

Meanwhile, 61 percent of New York City voters support Cuomo and other elected officials to urge Amazon to reconsider its scuttled project to open a campus in Queens. In that borough alone, 58 percent of voters are supportive; 34 percent are not.

The poll conducted from March 27 to April 1 surveyed 1,077 New York City voters and has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.

Peoples-Stokes Ready To Try Again For Marijuana Legalization

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes isn’t giving up on the push for the legalization of marijuana in New York.,

The Buffalo Democrat in an interview on Tuesday said she will be meeting with advocates to discuss the issue and “strategically plan on how we’re going to make that happen.”

The legalization of marijuana fell out of the budget talks amid concerns from lawmakers over traffic safety and how to direct revenue to communities affected by stiff drug laws.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a press conference on Sunday indicated he wanted to keep the issue alive in the post-budget session, a process in which the governor typically has less leverage with lawmakers over how legislation is ultimately shaped.

“It’s encouraging to know the governor still is interested on working on the topic,” Peoples-Stokes said. “I’m not sure it was a holdup. There was an agreement on things conceptually, but there was not an agreement on how to articulate that language in legislation.”

Cuomo had sought to use some of the revenue from sales tax on marijuana to offset costs for upgrading New York City’s mass transit systems.

Marijuana legalization supporters had also sought aid for communities of color with the revenue. Peoples-Stokes said she wanted that revenue to be recurring beyond the time she eventually leaves office.

“We’re talking about two generations of negative hits on communities,” she said.

Talks Continue For Ending Cash Bail For Budget

State lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued to negotiate ending cash bail for non-violent charges in New York, with the hope of still getting it approved in a final budget agreement, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Thursday said.

The cash bail proposal is one of three major criminal justice law changes lawmakers and Cuomo are seeking, along with changes to discovery procedures for evidence and ensuring a speedy trial.

Cuomo and Senate Democrats have sought to include a public safety provision in a final deal that weighs “dangerousness” and whether they would qualify for bail. The Assembly, meanwhile, has focused on whether a person is considered a flight risk.

“We’re trying to come up with a compromise or to work on it and maybe to continue to work on it and we’re in the midst of trying to figure that out,” Heastie said.

Initially lawmakers had hoped to have the measure approved outside of the state budget. But talks have progressed a higher levels for a deal.

“I do think we want to do something in the budget,” Heastie said.

Heastie Seeks To Lower Temperature On Campaign Finance Rhetoric

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie defended lawmakers who hold fundraisers during the state budget negotiations and urged a lowering of the temperature surrounding the debate over campaign finance reform.

“I think we should really be trying to work together at this point, not point fingers, not try to say everything in this business is corruptive and corrupted and I think that brings a negative view to our constituents,” Heastie told reporters on Thursday. “I’ve never in my life, me personally, never let a contribution motivate what my ideals and principles are.”

The comments, the most expansive he’s given to date on the issue, come a day after three state lawmakers sharply criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo for holding a fundraiser earlier this month. The Cuomo administration has fired back, pointing to the fundraisers lawmakers hold during the first three months of the year when the spending plan is being negotiated.

The blow up over the issue also coincides with advocates pushing to overhaul the state’s campaign finance laws and create a system of publicly financed campaigns.

Heastie to reporters outlined the problems his Democratic conference has raised with the proposal, including the cost, which Heastie called “real money” in the context of a budget that lawmakers want to use as a vehicle for funding health care and college tuition assistance.

“When you talk about real dollars and people say $60 million is a drop in the bucket, that’s twice the amount of money that we’re trying to close in the TAP gap,” he said. “This is going to be a costly proposition and it’s unfair for people to minimize $500 million over four years.”

Lawmakers are also concerned with fines as well as competitive elections outside of New York City, where there is a public financing system for elections.

“The city is different than the state,” he said. “Everything that works in the city of New York doesn’t work in the state.”

Heastie confirmed he spoke with one of the lawmakers who criticized Cuomo on Wednesday, Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou.

“She and I had a conversation and it went fine,” he said.

The criticism from the lawmakers — three recently elected progressive lawmakers — came as something of a cherry bomb dropped in the middle of the often delicate negotiations surrounding the state budget, which is due Sunday.

Lawmakers on Thursday insisted the talks were continuing on a good track to get the spending plan accomplished by the weekend.