Andrew Cuomo

Nassau County Moves To Opt Out Of Marijuana Sales

Nassau County Laura Curran on Wednesday announced support for opting the county out of retail marijuana should lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agree to a program this year.

Nassau County would be the largest municipality so far to move toward not allowing retail sales even as the legislation remains up in the air in Albany.

“Local governments have a right to make a decision,” Cuomo said during a stop in Suffolk County on Wednesday.

“Different regions have different situations. Long Island is one situation, Buffalo is another situation. I believe in giving local governments the right to make the decision.”

Cuomo’s proposal allows local governments to opt out of marijuana sales, which he said was key to giving the legislation some flexibility for local elected officials.

“Frankly, to me, that’s one of the most appealing pieces of the legislation is that it would leave it to the localities to make the decision rather than some bureaucrats in Albany saying this is what we think you should do,” he said.

Curran’s announcement was praised by Smart Approaches To Marijuana, a group that is opposed to retail marijuana sale legalization.

“Commercial pot isn’t a boon for tax revenue or those seeking social justice. It just creates another predatory industry targeting minority and low-income communities to enrich Pharma, Big Tobacco and Wall Street investors,” the group said in a statement.

Cuomo Admin Signals Reverse On Medicaid Cuts, Knocks Legislative Budgets

Top officials in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration on Wednesday signaled plans to reverse support for cutting the growth of Medicaid spending by $550 million in the state budget this year, citing President Donald Trump’s federal budget proposal released this week.

At the same time, top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa and budget director Robert Mujica knocked the proposed budget resolutions by the state Senate and Assembly as unrealistic for seeking increases in spending.

The budgets proposed by Trump and state lawmakers are largely aspirational documents. Members of Congress have said Trump’s budget is “dead on arrival” and stands little chance of becoming law.

Nevertheless, the Cuomo administration said it would treat the Trump plan as “serious as a heart attack.”

“After SALT and what happened there, we’re going to take this very seriously, we’re not going to take it lying down,” DeRosa said.

Cuomo last month amended his $175 billion budget to include a $550 million slow down in spending for Medicaid. The proposal was opposed by both hospital systems in the state as well as the politically influential labor union, 1199SEIU.

But Mujica pointed to the federal budget action as requiring the state to “relook” at his own budget given the Trump proposal to curtail Medicaid spending.

“We have to now work to shore up the hospitals and nursing homes and the health care side of the budget,” he said.

It’s not clear where the money to shore up the health care spending would be drawn. Mujica indicated the money would be taken from elsewhere in the budget.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on Wednesday worked to pass one-house budget resolutions that sought more money for health care and education aid than what Cuomo has sought.

DeRosa criticized the spending proposals for being in “fantasy land” and pointed to the looming economic troubles some economists have projected for next year.

“They were completely irresponsible,” she said of the budget proposals from state lawmakers. “The numbers don’t add up. We want to ground the conversation back into reality.”

Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Speaker Carl Heastie, tweeted in response: “Everyone is entitled to their own wrong opinion.”

Advocates Still Searching For Bail Reform

From the Morning Memo:

Advocates for criminal justice law changes are still waiting to see a legislative deal that would end cash bail for many charges.

Neither the Assembly or Senate budget resolutions this week contained the measure. That could be good news for supporters of ending cash bail, however, as the Legislature works toward an agreement outside of the budget.

“Neither the Senate nor the Assembly included bail reform proposals in their one-house budgets, so legislative leadership must pass meaningful bail reform immediately and before April 1st,” said Rena Karefa-Johnson, the New York state criminal justice reform director of the group FWD.us. “There is no time for more excuses, delays, or broken promises. Our current system has wreaked havoc on poor, black and brown communities, undermined the presumption of innocence and wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.’

Lawmakers for the last several weeks have been trading language on potential deals for cash bail. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he would not sign off on a budget agreement without a cash bail plan in place.

Cuomo And Port Authority Want 737 Max Grounded

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton in a joint statement Tuesday evening called on federal aviation regulators to ground Boeing’s 737 Max 8 following a crash this week in Ethiopia killing 157 people.

The crash has led to European Union officials to bar the plane from being used by air carriers; the Federal Aviation Administration is yet to take action.

“We recognize that federal law places responsibility for air safety decisions on the federal government,” Cuomo and Cotton said in the joint statement. “But more than a dozen governments around the world have already grounded the 737 Max, and the FAA should urgently consider the basis on which those governments have acted — and move decisively to assure that the public’s safety is protected.”

Boeing officials have insisted the Max 8 model is safe to use, with the company’s top executive calling President Trump this week after he tweeted that planes are becoming “too complex to fly.”

Cuomo Spars With Lawmakers In Budget Talks

With three weeks to go before lawmakers are scheduled to vote on budget bills, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is openly sparring with lawmakers over the details of the negotiations and the areas of disagreement on criminal justice law changes and the legalization of marijuana.

Cuomo in a radio interview Tuesday morning said it was unlikely that lawmakers would agree to a marijuana legalization plan in the budget and reiterated there was a wide divide between legislators on issues like ending cash bail.

Cuomo also lashed out at Senate Democrats, suggesting their lack of experience in budgeting has led to them seeking more spending.

“They have not governed, especially on the Senate side,” Cuomo said. “They’re political and politically, they want to say yes to everyone.”

At the same time, Cuomo has cast doubt on Senate Democrats’ desire to see a permanent tax cap extension and campaign finance law reforms.

That led to a rebuke from Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

“I don’t even know why he’s saying that,” she told reporters. “First of all, you’ll be seeing our one-house bill. A lot of these things are there. We passed a lot of what he’s said are his initiatives. I think it’s ‘SDDS’ — Senate Democratic derangement syndrome at this point. I don’t understand what the problem is. He seems to be looking at our conference differently.”

But top lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate disagree, saying they are close on key issues and, with time to spare in the talks, it’s too early to suggest what will and won’t be in the budget.

Cuomo has over the last two days sought to define the budget not quite as an austerity document, but one that should be mindful of a potential economic downturn.

At the time, he has drawn multiple lines in the sand for the final agreement to include an end to cash bail for many charges, the public financing of campaigns and a permanent property tax cap.

“The big question is going to be the fiscal integrity of their budget proposals,” Cuomo said on Tuesday in an interview with WAMC. “Again, it comes back to the economy and the fiscal intelligence of where we are.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie didn’t agree with the claim made by Cuomo that issues like marijuana wouldn’t be included in the final agreement.

“I wouldn’t say conversations have been shut down,” he said. “I would not say there’s a large space between. I believe the commitment is there.”

Parsing Public Campaign Financing

Public financing of campaigns is necessary to be included in a budget agreement, but is “complicated” by the number of people who would run in legislative elections, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Monday.

Cuomo at a Capitol press conference noted the 17 candidates in the February election for public advocate in New York City.

“Part of public finance is it makes it easier for people to run, which is a good thing and part of the purpose of public finance,” Cuomo said. “Seventeen candidates, when you have public finance. You know, so start to factor it out, you have about 213 state legislators. How many candidates will you have? Let’s say the person runs on multiple lines.”

He threw out the hypothetical of multiple primaries on a Democratic, Working Families, Independent and Reform Party ballot lines.

“How many races are we potentially talking about? How much does it cost?” Cuomo said. “Who’s doing the compliance on all these issues? The Board of Elections? Which has nowhere near this capacity now. What is the effect of the multiple lines and multiple races? Do you fund all those multiple lines in the primary and then all those multiple lines in the general? So it’s necessary, it’s right, but it’s complicated.”

Does this mean he would be supportive of ending fusion voting?

“Fusion voting has not come up,” Cuomo said.

The state Democratic Committee, backing an effort supported by the party’s Progressive Caucus, approved a non-binding resolution ending fusion voting. The resolution was approved over the objections of some Democratic lawmakers as well as the Working Families Party.

Cuomo added, “the multiple lines complicates the public financing.”

This appears, potentially, as the embryonic stages of offering a trade: Ending fusion voting in exchange for public campaign financing.

At the same time, Cuomo offered something of an exit ramp for public financing when it comes to identifying a source of revenue.

“I think there has to be public financing in this budget. It’s another issue I’ve been talking about for seven years,” he said. “Now could you say we’ll identify the financing, we’ll write a law that commits to it but we’ll figure out the compliance, the details, the lines afterwards? You could probably do something like that if you couldn’t get it all done. But I believe you have to commit to it in the budget.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie last week told reporters the necessary votes for the public campaign financing, which has been approved in the chamber before, were yet to reach a majority of the Democratic conference.

Seeking Criminal Justice Law Changes, Cuomo Says He’d Take Heat

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday had a message for lawmakers concerned with whether criminal justice law changes like ending cash bail should be in the budget: He’d take the blame.

“It will be true. Blame me. The governor said he would not do a budget without criminal justice reform,” Cuomo said. “If we didn’t have a budget, my school districts wouldn’t get money. The governor insisted on putting it in the budget.”

Holding up his right arm at a press conference, Cuomo added, “Blame me. Guilty.”

State lawmakers are yet to come to an agreement on criminal justice law changes such as cashless bail for some charges, ensuring access to a speedy trial and curbing the use of solitary confinement. Local prosecutors and police departments have raised concerns with the details of the legislation, though lawmakers last week were confident the legislation can be approved before the budget is negotiated.

Still, criminal justice advocates who have sought changes this year were hopeful that with a Democratic majority in the state Senate, the measures stood a great chance of passing.

Cuomo, however, said there are still pressures on legislators.

“The concerns don’t go away just because you elected Democrats,” Cuomo said. “The district attorneys still call up and say I have a problem. The sheriffs still call up and say I have a problem.”

Cuomo offered to personally speak with smaller groups of lawmakers, which he has done before on other measures, most notably during the legalization of same-sex marriage.

“I’ll take the blame,” he said. “See, when it’s in the budget it allows everyone to say, it wasn’t me, it’s the governor. Let’s be honest: That’s what the budget allows you to do.”\

Cuomo Says He’s Not Confident Marijuana Will Be In Budget

An agreement to legalize marijuana in New York is unlikely to be accomplished this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Monday, pointing to a “wide divide” over the details in the Legislature.

“I am no longer confident marijuana will be done by the budget,” Cuomo said. I believe it is essential to get done by the budget.”

The legalization of marijuana has raised concerns from some lawmakers over safety impacts, while others want to see criminal justice law changes, such as the expunging of records for those convicted of low-level offenses.

“There is a wide divide on marijuana,” he said at a press conference at the Capitol. “I believe ultimately we can get there. I believe we must get there. I don’t believe we get there in two weeks.”

The process is moving too slow for an agreement to be reached, Cuomo said.

“The rate of progress does not suggest it’s going to happen,” Cuomo said.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said he is open to either the program being approved in the budget or taken up in the post-budget portion of the session, which runs through June.

Cuomo had called previously to use some of the sales tax revenue to raise funds for the battered mass transit system in New York City. Cuomo in recent days has signaled he would be open to tax on second homes worth more than $5 million, known as a pied-a-terre tax

“You can’t do a budget without a funding stream for the MTA,” Cuomo said. “So, if you don’t have marijuana, you need something else. What else can you do besides marijuana? Pied-a-terre tax.”

But that is only estimated to raise $29 billion in revenue, short of the $40 billion the MTA has called for in its capital plan. Cuomo said that shortfall would have to be made up with efficiencies in the MTA’s budget or another funding source.

Cuomo Says He Opposes Loosening Tax Cap

Changes that would potentially weaken the state’s cap on property tax increases are opposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as he seeks a permanent extension for the measure first approved in 2011.

Cuomo on Monday in Albany reiterated his push for a permanent cap on local property taxes, which are among the highest nationally in New York.

But making changes, such as no longer linking the cap to the rate of inflation or requiring a simple, 50 percent majority of a board or vote to approve budget overriding the cap should not be part of any deal, he said.

“If they want to lower the cap, I would be open to discussions,” Cuomo said, flanked by business leaders, including former Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy. “If they want to raise the cap? No.”

Local government lobbyists and teachers unions over the years have sought to make changes to the cap with little success. They have also called for a reduction in required state spending; Cuomo’s administration has pointed to the slow growth rate in Medicaid has one of the more significant efforts on mandate relief in recent years.

Nearly all school districts and local governments have generally complied with the tax cap, with the vast majority approving budgets that limit tax increases.

But adding to tension for property taxpayers has been the $10,000 limit on state and local tax deductions, Cuomo said, pointing to a $2.3 billion revenue shortfall.

The state Senate in February approved a standalone version of the tax cap bill; the Assembly is yet to follow suit. But Cuomo indicated the Senate’s bill was not a serious attempt at making the measure permanent, given there was no matching legislation in the Assembly.

“The tax cap is a no-brainer if you’re thinking about just your constituents,” Cuomo said.

The tax cap does not expire until next year, but it has been historically linked to rent control regulations, which are scheduled to sunset at the end of June.

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.