Post-Budget, Attention Could Turn To Driver’s Licenses And Immigration

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heasite on Wednesday night posted to Twitter his chamber will “look to advance” driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants living in New York.

Supporters of the legislation hope that with Democratic control of the state Senate, the measure stands a better chance of passing after its failure a decade ago under Gov. Eliot Spitzer

“Senate and Assembly Dems should come together and support our immigrant families in This budget cycle,” Assembly Marcos Crespo wrote on Twitter.

County clerks who administer motor vehicle departments have expressed opposition to the legislation, and Republicans have sought to inoculate them against lawsuits should the refuse to issue the licenses.

The proposal under Spitzer was a political failure, tripping up then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and opposed by Democrats like then-Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul, now the state’s lieutenant governor.

But advocates believe sentiment has changed on the issue over the last 10 years, calling the license issue a practical necessity for insuring drivers regardless of their immigration status. Hochul has shifted her position to one of support.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signaled he would sign the legislation if approved by the Legislature.

Substituting Pied-A-Terre For Real Estate Transfer Tax

A pied-a-terre tax is out, a real estate transfer tax is in.

The hunt for revenue for New York City’s mass transit has led lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to try multiple combinations of congestion pricing through tolling for entering Manhattan, the legalization of marijuana and closing a loophole for out-of-state internet purchases.

But the marijuana piece proved too complicated, at least for now, in order to secure the revenue.

That led Cuomo to abandon that for a tax surcharge on homes worth more than $5 million deemed to be second residences. Then complications arose for that, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Tuesday said.

“It’s just the ease of the transaction of you want to sell me one of the $5 million properties you have rather than someone using a residence a secondary residence,” Heastie said. “It’s just not as easy to play games if you do a real-estate transfer.”

That could lead, however, to further complications. There’s some talk of having the properties be taxes for sales at $3 million. Heastie added the revenue would be “roughly” the same and the tax would be phased in.

But the budgeting of that is still complicated for the broader MTA overhaul. The budget is due Sunday.

After NJ Failure, Advocates Hold Out Hope For Marijuana Deal

Advocates for the full legalization of marijuana in New York are not deterred by the failure of the effort in New Jersey as New York lawmakers this week set their budget in place.

“I think all that we learned from Jersey is New York can do it first,” said Kassandra Frederique of the Drug Policy Alliance during a rally at the state Capitol’s War Room. “We can do it first and we can do it better and we are asking our leadership to stand up to that challenge.”

The Drug Policy Alliance, along with those who are seeking to expand the marijuana business in New York, remain hopeful a final deal can be included in the state budget. However, that’s appearing increasingly unlikely as the issue is not currently dominating the budget talks.

At the same time, the failure of the bill in neighboring New Jersey does not provide more incentive for the legislation.

Gov. Andrew Cuuomo has said repeatedly he hopes the marijuana measure would be included in a final deal, but several weeks ago substituted the revenue from sales tax for a property tax surcharge on second homes worth more than $5 million in order to fund mass transit in New York City.

Still, Frederique of the Drug Policy Alliance said that with a Democratic majority in the Legislature, the measure can get accomplished in the budget.

“I think that we have the best chance right now, politically, everyone knows is the budget process,” she said. “Right now we feel that kicking the can down the road is not good for us as community members.”

Lawmakers Want To Crack Down On Robocalls

State lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled legislation designed to crackdown on robocalls, blaming the federal government for failing to act on the issue.

The legislation would require the use of software designed to block unwanted calls, spam calls or calls from robodials meant to scam people out of money.

“There isn’t an issue I hear more about from constituents than the proliferation of robocalls,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman, the Democratic sponsor of the bill. “These calls aren’t just annoying—they’re dangerous, and often used to defraud unsuspecting consumers, seniors, and vulnerable New Yorkers.

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin carries similar legislation in her chamber.

The measure announced by Hoylman on Tuesday would apply to both landline and cellphones after a proliferation over the last several years of robocalls.

The lawmakers blamed the federal government and the FCC for failing to act on the issue. At the same time, the lawmakers were confident the bill would apply to robocalls dialed out of state and ultimately not apply to robo-dialed calls informing the receiver about something important.

Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou said older people, especially immigrants, have been unduly affected by the calls.

“Unwanted and predatory robocalls have long plagued New Yorkers and continue to surge in volume over the past few years,” she said. “Robocall scams have also become more advanced, targeting seniors or immigrants in their native language and defrauding them of millions of dollars.”

Public Campaign Financing Supporters Mobilize

From the Morning Memo:

Supporters of creating a system of publicly financed elections are pushing back against efforts to kick the provision out of the state budget.

The New York AFL-CIO on Monday in a statement called on lawmakers to not include a public financing measure in the final budget agreement, questioning the cost of the proposal and uncertainty surrounding the state’s finances.

Advocates quickly swung back. The group Fair Elections New York called it “a drop in the budget bucket” — at most $60 million out of a $175 billion budget plan.

“In recent days, exaggerated cost estimates for a system of public financing of elections have been floated from some corners as attempts to undermine the policy, stall reform and maintain the status quo,” the group said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat running for the party’s presidential nomination, also tweeted her support for the New York measure and linked to an op/ed written in support by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

“Public financing of elections is the single best solution to reduce the undue influence of big money in our politics,” she wrote. “And New York could be on the road to #FairElections this week! Hope this passes in the state budget.”

And 32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa on Twitter wrote that he disagreed with the AFL-CIO’s position.

“Working people across NY would greatly benefit from having a stronger democracy to build a more just economy across downstate & upstate,” he said.

Advocates had spent Monday meeting directly with state lawmakers on the issue. Still, it’s not clear if the effort will be enough to overcome the skepticism in the state Assembly, where some lawmakers have raised concerns with the effect of independent expenditure committees, or super PACs, and the potential of fines levied under a public campaign financing system.

AFL-CIO: Budget ‘Is Not The Time’ For Publicly Financed Campaigns

The state AFL-CIO in a statement on Monday said it is opposed to creating a system of publicly financed campaigns at this time in the state budget, pointing to the state’s finances and the questions raised by the cost of the program.

Cilento in his statement said the issue “should continue after the budget is passed.”

“That said, fair elections and improving ballot access has been, and remains a priority for the NYS AFL-CIO,” he said.

“Earlier this year an entire package of reforms the NYS AFL-CIO supported was passed including; closing the LLC loophole, early voting, removal of barriers for voter registration and alignment of primary election days and times. A constitutional amendment to enact vote-by-mail remains in the works, as well as other measures. These unfinished election reforms should be reviewed post budget and in the context of longer- term planning. In the meantime, we should focus on the priorities noted above.”

The statement from President Mario Cilento amounts to a body blow for the provision to be included in the budget, due on Sunday.

“Our elected officials are currently struggling with the dire budget needs for public education, higher education and restoration of health care cuts,” Cilento said. “The state, New York City and our local governments have massive transportation, housing and infrastructure needs. We are fighting to restore cuts to municipalities, child care and many other programs that working families rely on. On top of that, federal funding for all of this is less certain than ever and given that the budget deadline is upon us, we believe that pubic financing needs to be postponed.”

The statement is also helpful for the state Assembly’s Democratic conference, which has raised concerns over the last several weeks surrounding the effect of super PACs and penalties under a public financing system for campaigns.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had included a public financing provision in his 2019 agenda, and the Democratic-led Senate included it in its one-house budget resolution.

Supporters of public financing for elections had hoped a Democratic-controlled Legislature would be willing to take up the bill given the previous Republican opposition to the measure.

Lawmakers and Cuomo in 2014 agreed to a pilot program for the state comptroller’s race. Republican Bob Antonacci failed to qualify for matching funds; Democratic incumbent Tom DiNapoli did not participate.

One possibility was a memorandum of understanding to be included in the budget this year to agree on a framework for public financing without funding the program.

Heastie Says Assembly On Board With Congestion Pricing

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie emerged from a lengthy closed-door meeting with his Democratic conference on Monday to announce his chamber would be able to back a congestion pricing plan in the state budget.

Details for the plan, such as tolling below 61st Street in Manhattan as well as potential carve outs for low-income people and some Manhattan residents, must still be worked out.

“We’re at the point where the Assembly members understand the need to fund the MTA,” Heastie said. “We still have some details to work out but I would say the Assembly is ready to go forward on congestion pricing. I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t think I had the votes.”

The proposal is part of a broader overhaul plan backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his $175 billion spending plan. Cuomo wants to raise capital to fund mass transit improvements, with tolling in Manhattan a piece of a larger funding stream that also could include a property tax surcharge on second homes worth more than $5 million.

Historically the Assembly had been skeptical of a congestion pricing plan, which has stalled for more than a decade in Albany.

But the MTA and especially the New York City subway system has hit what many believe to be a crisis point for updating and improving existing rail lines.

The budget is due to pass by Sunday.

Advocates Phone Lawmakers For Public Campaign Financing

An advocacy group pushing for the creation of a public campaign financing program on Wednesday launched an effort to boost the issue with state lawmakers, having supporters make phone calls and text messages to members of the state Senate and Assembly.

The calls are being organized by Stand Up America, a member of the broader Fair Elections coalition that’s called for the passage of public financing this year.

“We have until April 1st to get campaign finance reform in the final NY budget,” the group wrote in an email to supporters. “Wealthy special interests will no doubt spend the next eleven days trying their hardest to convince our representatives they need big-money donors more than they need us, their constituents.”

The call campaign came as Democrats in the Senate held a public hearing on the issue.

But the Democratic-controlled Assembly is viewed as the main battleground for public financing. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Wednesday after a meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said some lawmakers remained concerned about the effect independent expenditure committees could play in a public financing system.

Assembly Bill Creates A Maternal Mortality Review Board

The state Assembly has approved a bill on Wednesday that would create a Maternal Mortality Review Board meant to review the death rates of new mothers and develop a way to combat the issue.

“The Assembly Majority recognizes the seriousness of the disparities that exist in health outcomes for pregnant women in New York,” said Speaker Carl Heastie. “By developing review boards and an advisory council, we can identify the root causes of this issue and develop meaningful strategies to achieve better and more equitable outcomes for all women.”

A similar proposal was included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2019 women’s agenda.

The bill would create the panel that would assess causes of death, factors leading to death and how it could have been prevented for women giving birth or about to give birth.

The board would include health care professionals and experts who have studied the issue of maternal deaths, as well ass mothers in areas considered to be medically underserved that also havve high rates of maternal mortality.

At the same time, an advisory council would be created to make recommendations on policy changes and best practices.

New York’s maternal death rate is 30th out of 50 states, and experts say the issue is worsened by racial and ethnic disparities. Black women are four times more likely to die during a pregnancy and childbirth compared to white mothers.

“Every woman deserves the best possible care for themselves and their newborn, and it is time for New York to address the high maternal mortality rate that has existed in our state for far too long,” Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner, the bill’s main sponsor, said. “This legislation is a critical step toward doing just that.”

Campaign Finance Reform Supporters Tout Swing District Polls

From the Morning Memo:

A group that’s backing campaign finance law changes is touting a new poll of key House districts in New York that found support for creating a system of publicly financed campaigns.

The poll by Global Strategy Group found support for the proposal in the 11th House district on Staten Island, the 19th district in the Hudson Valley, both represented by Democrats, and the Republican-held 22nd district that stretches from the Southern Tier to western New York.

“Republican, Democratic, and independent voters in swing districts across the country, including in New York, want to get big money out of politics, and they support a publicly-fsWwdinanced small dollar matching system to make sure it happens,” said Tiffany Muller, the president of End Citizens United.

“In fact, 90 percent of these voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports clean elections, including small dollar matching, a remarkable consensus across party lines.”

The 11th, 19th and 22nd congressional districts were hotly contested House races last year, with Democrats Max Rose, Anthony Brindisi and Antonio Delgado defeating Republican incumbents.

The poll comes as state lawmakers in Albany are debating a public campaign financing program for New York elections. The proposal has hit a snag in the Democratic-led Assembly, however, after Speaker Carl Heastie said the measure lacks the necessary conference support to bring to the floor for a vote amid concerns over how the system would be regulated.

ECU Clean Elections Poll Memo – F03.18.18 by Nick Reisman on Scribd