Andrew Cuomo

Mujica Sounds Note Of Caution On Budget

The top budget advisor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday urged a cautious approach to the state budget this month amid the predict by some independent economists of a recession starting as early as next year and no deal reached on a revenue forecast for the state.

The statement also comes as the Democratic-led Senate and Assembly submitted higher revenue forecasts than projected by Cuomo’s $175 billion spending plan.

It’s fairly typical for lawmakers to project more available money than the governor during the budget negotiations. But Cuomo has been additionally concerned given the impact of the $10,000 cap on federal and state tax deductions.

And this year, lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement with Cuomo for projected revenue, throwing the decision to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

“The revenue forecast is an essential starting point for the State budget, and the Senate, Assembly and Executive do not agree on a revenue estimate, with the Senate insisting on much higher revenues than the Assembly or Executive,” Budget Director Robert Mujica said in the statement “By law, we now turn to the Comptroller for a binding revenue estimate.

“While the budget discussion always has differing political priorities and opinions, facts are still facts and numbers are still numbers and the numbers must govern a legitimate budget. The Governor has said getting the budget done on time is important but it is more important to get the budget right. Because of our record of prudent budgeting, we have never had to do a mid-year budget correction, and we are not about to start now.”

The budget is expected to pass by March 31.

Democratic lawmakers this year may feel emboldened to push for more spending for education and health care, and back higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for it.

Cuomo has been opposed to tax increases given the SALT cap and the ability of the wealthy to move their money elsewhere.

Updated: In a joint statement, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said it was “unfortunate” an agreement couldn’t be reached on the revenue forcast with Cuomo.

“It remains the intention of both the Assembly and the Senate to reach a fiscally responsible, on time budget that meets our priorities,” they said.

Cuomo Says Marijuana Legalization ‘In Trouble’ If Not Included In Budget Deal

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an interview with WNYC said the legalization of marijuana should be done in the state budget agreement expected to pass by the end of the month.

If not, the provision may be “in trouble” of being accomplished this session, he said in the interview.

“Marijuana I believe should pass, will pass,” Cuomo said. “If we don’t get it done by the budget, it’s in trouble.”

Lawmakers and Cuomo have differing proposals for the legalization of marijuana. Cuomo wants to create a single regulatory entity that would oversee the retail and medical cannabis industries as well as hemp production.

Lawmakers want to allow people to grow small amounts of marijuana, a provision the governor did not include.

The legalization of marijuana is also likely to be paired with changes to criminal justice laws and an expunging of records for low-level offenses.

Cuomo wants to use a portion of the sales tax revenue generated in New York City as part of a plan to shore up funding for mass transit. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie believes the priority for the money should be placed on communities that have been impacted by drug laws.

Heastie told reporters this week he remains open to having the issue agreed to in the budget or taken up in the latter half of the legislative session, which runs through June.

Cuomo’s War With The Grassroots

In a radio interview on Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo claimed to not know of the advocacy group Make The Road New York.

This stretched the credulity of WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, who asked about the organization’s opposition to the Amazon project in Long Island City.

“First, who is Make The Road, Brian?” Cuomo said.

“Who is Make The Road? I can’t tell you exactly the individuals, but it’s a prominent grassroots political organization. Do you want to characterize them?” Lehrer responded.

“No, I don’t know who they are,” Cuomo said. “That’s my point.”

Cuomo has been at long simmering odds with the variety of advocacy groups that have sought to sway public policy in Albany. If it isn’t Make The Road, it’s the Alliance For Quality Education, an advocacy group that has pushed — and likely in the governor’s view, unfairly badgered — for more education funding.

These groups took a more aggressive posture last year, backing Cuomo’s Democratic primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon.

Sometimes these tensions boils over.

A lengthy statement released under the name of the governor’s budget director Robert Mujica accused the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union of having “deployed several ‘community based organizations’ (which RWDSU funds) to oppose the Amazon transaction as negotiation leverage” in order to organize workers at Whole Foods, which Amazon owns.

This is almost certainly referring to Make The Road New York and Communities For Change. Both groups between 2011 and 2016 received more than $1 million in combined funding from RWDSU and its parent union United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

Both groups and RWDSU have a long history of working together: In the early aughts, the organizations worked together to prevent grocery store wage theft and other workers’ rights efforts.

Make The Road’s opposition to Amazon’s project is also rooted in its advocacy as a predominantly immigrant and Latino organization. Amazon has contracts with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which has become a flashpoint for progressives in opposing President Donald Trump’s administration and immigration policies.

“Like most unions, we have supported many groups and politicians over the years whom we believed would advance the interests of our members,” said Chelsea Connor, a spokeswoman for RWDSU. “That’s why even the Governor himself has asked for and taken our money. All of our contributions have been part of the public record and transparent, in alignment with shared values, and have resulted in huge wins for working people, including passing paid sick leave, banning on-call scheduling, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and much more.”

Make The Road in a statement after the WNYC interview called Cuomo’s feigned ignorance “baffling.”

“As the Governor well knows, we are 23,000 immigrant, black, and working-class families living in Queens, throughout New York City, and in Westchester and Long Island,” said Blanca Collaguazo, a member of the group.

“For more than two decades, we have led efforts to defend and expand the rights of workers, tenants, and immigrants. Our families are at the front lines of defending our communities against anti-worker corporations, displacement from our neighborhoods, and Trump’s attacks. We oppose the Amazon deal because it would give our tax dollars to a corporation that violates workers’ rights, partners with ICE, and whose arrival will dislocate long-term tenants of color in Queens like me. And we are committed to holding all elected officials, including the Governor, accountable when they betray our community’s values and needs.”

More broadly, Cuomo has over the years sought to damper the influence of these groups and their ability to get into the press without much critical mention of their funding through a network of groups with 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) status.

In his January State of the State address, Cuomo hinted at efforts to stem that flow of money.

“You have dark money that makes a number of contributions to a number of 501(c)s—which are tax exempt,” Cuomo said. “They get the tax deduction—and then contribute it to the 501(c)(4). These loopholes make the entire campaign system fraught for a lack of integrity. You want to talk about franchising individuals who now feel disenfranchised—a corporation a large contributor with a $10 million check can buy an election and nobody knows who he or she is. First of all, it’s a tax fraud. And the State Department of Tax and Finance has to get on the stick and do its job. Second, we have to pass laws that clean up this system and close these IE loopholes.”

Cuomo Pledges To Take Central Role In Amazon Approval As He Tempers Expectations

The saga over Amazon coming back to New York is turning into Abba’s “Take A Chance On Me.”

New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has insisted in the last several days, is still free.

Nevertheless, Cuomo is tempering expectations that Amazon will change its mind, even as he pledges to take a direct and personal role in wooing the company back and keeping them here.

“They’ve given no indication that they would reconsider,” Cuomo said Friday morning in a radio interview with WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “So I think the point was more not that Amazon would change it’s mind. I don’t think that they do. But the truth should be known. This was a national story and it has damning consequences for New York.”

The Partnership for New York City, along with a coalition of labor unions and business leaders published an open letter in The New York Times to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos asking that he reconsider the decision to pull the plug on the agreement.

Cuomo in the radio interview on Friday characterized the opposition to the Amazon proposal as part of a “small, vocal minority.”

At the same time, Cuomo said the letter was meant to tell other businesses that New York’s economic climate is beneficial for them.

“That was petty politics that governed the day,” Cuomo said the Amazon deal. “It was a mistake, it was a blunder. We want business, we’re open for business.”

Cuomo would not say if he had spoken on the phone directly with Bezos, but said the company faced “a little culture shock” with the New York opposition.

Critics of the deal questioned the $3 billion in tax incentives that would have been tied to creating up to 25,000 jobs. At the same time, Amazon’s stated opposition to unionizing its workforce drew further criticism.

But Cuomo on Friday continued to knock the opposition to the Amazon project. At one point in the interview, Cuomo seemingly claimed to not be aware of Make The Road New York, a largely Latino advocacy organization with ties to the labor union RWDSU.

Cuomo’s budget director last week had blasted RWDSU for funding opposition to the Amazon project amid efforts to unionize its workforce at Whole Foods.

Cuomo also called the legislative opposition “irrelevant” given his plan take a centralized role in the approval process. It’s not clear how Cuomo would be able to accomplish this.

“At this point they are irrelevant,” he said. “There are other ways we can get it done.”

He added: “I will get the state approvals done. I understand the local politics. I will get the state approval done. They should check that off the list.”

Cuomo Still Believes Marijuana Legalization Will Be Addressed This Year

From the Morning Memo:

Despite speculation that the legalization of marijuana in New York could be detached from the budget and perhaps not even pass this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo still believes the issue will be decided this session.

Cuomo included a marijuana legalization measure in his executive budget proposal, and has also included revenue expected to be generated by that legalization in the congestion pricing/MTA overhaul deal he announced earlier this week in conjunction with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The governor would not say for certain that the issue would necessarily be decided by the April 1 budget deadline, but he’s holding out hope that it’s still a possibility.

“We want to make sure if we go this direction that it’s only people of the appropriate age, that safeguards are in place, that it’s regulated,” he said during a press availability in the Buffalo area yesterday. “So it’s something the state, I believe should do but should do correctly.”

The governor has said he and legislative leaders are continuing to have discussions about the details of how legalization would work.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who has championed this bill for years, recently said there was still a long way to go to reconcile her proposal with what the governor has put on the table.

There’s also an anti-legalization effort that has been growing across the state in recent weeks, as opponents suggest the state is rushing to a conclusion on a very thorny issue. They cite potential problems with driving-while-high, and the negative impact marijuana can have on the developing brains of teenagers.

Cuomo pointed out this is the first year he has taken on the issue of legalization for recreational use in earnest, and indicated he’s in no rush. (It wasn’t all that long ago that the governor said pot is a gateway drug and shouldn’t be legalized beyond highly regulated medical use).

“This has only been an idea that has been broached this year,” he said. “So it’s not going slowly at all. Some people would say it’s going too quickly, frankly. But it is an issue that I believe will be decided in this cycle.”

Moody’s Takes Cautious View Of Congestion Pricing Deal

From the Morning Memo:

The credit rating agency Moody’s is taking a cautious approach toward the deal between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor for congestion pricing and the re-organization of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Cuomo this week announced he and de Blasio had reached an agreement to back congestion pricing that would lead to tolls south of 61st Street when entering Manhattan by car — shoring up revenue that would go toward mass transit.

The agreement also included a re-organization of the MTA’s office functions.

In an analysis, Moody’s said more details were needed, aside from approval by the Legislature. The report pointed to planning and construction being necessary to adopt the tolls, so implementation could be delayed. And the plan doesn’t include details on how the construction costs of tolling would be allocated.

“Although the announcement solidifies political and financial support, proposals to reform MTA’s organization and oversight will not necessarily reduce the management complexity that has complicated prior fare increases and capital program approval,” the report found.

“Many details remain undecided, highlighting the risk the final plan could complicate the MTA’s ability to adopt timely fare increases and capital plans. The plan proposes to centralize various agency-level operations into MTA headquarters and to authorize ‘design build’ capital project delivery, which would create important savings opportunities for operations and capital projects.”

Cuomo Works To Lure Amazon Back To New York

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and range of business, political and labor leaders are pushing for Amazon to reconsider its plan to back away from a project in New York that would have created 25,000 jobs tied to $3 billion in tax incentives.

The business-backed Partnership for New York City in an open letter released Friday and addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos implored the company to move forward with the project, writing that Cuomo “will take personal responsibility for the project’s state approval.”

Signing on to the letter included two Democratic members of Congress who represent New York City: Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Max Rose.

The letter, first reported by The New York Times, comes two weeks after Amazon announced it was pulling the plug on a planned expansion in Long Island City, Queens, amid opposition from elected officials and some labor union leaders.

“I’ve had many conversations with Amazon,” Cuomo told reporters on Long Island on Thursday. “I hope that they reconsider. Up until now, we haven’t seen any change in their position.”

The scuttled deal has led to a war of words between the governor and his fellow Democrats in the state Senate. Democrats nominated a prominent critic of the project, Sen. Mike Gianaris, to a board that would have veto power over it.

Democrats last week withdrew Gianaris from consideration and nominated Sen. Leroy Comrie. Cuomo in a radio interview with WAMC on Thursday morning complained that reporters had not asked Comrie about his position on the Amazon deal. Hours later, the letter to Bezos was made public.

“It would be helpful if the state Senate said they would approve it,” Cuomo said on Long Island.

The letter in large part appears meant to reset what had been an increasingly contentious debate over the project, despite public polls, including an independent survey by Siena College, showing broad statewide support for the proposal.

“We know the public debate that followed the announcement of the Long Island City project was rough and not very welcoming. Opinions are strong in New York—sometimes strident. We consider it part of the New York charm! But when we commit to a project as important as this, we figure out how to get it done in a way that works for everyone,” the letter stated.

It’s not clear, however, if Amazon would find a different location for its project or if the labor union opposition — driven by organizations like the RWDSU — would continue to press back against it. Amazon executives told elected officials they would oppose any effort to unionize its workers.

Cuomo last week lashed out at RWDSU for opposing the deal, claiming without evidence the union had sought to fund protests and demonstrations against the deal amid an effort to unionize workers at Whole Foods, a grocery chain the company purchased.

“I have always been clear that I support job creation and was disappointed with Amazon’s decision and hoped they would reconsider,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. “I have also repeatedly indicated my willingness to work with Amazon in the best interests of our state and affected communities. It is clear that this process exposed serious flaws in our economic development programs that need to be reformed for future projects.”

The Coming Budget Fight

Revenue is drying up, the economy may lurch into a recession within the next three to five years and state lawmakers who ran on a platform of boosting education spending and creating a single-payer health care program are emboldened to push for both measures.

Oh, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature have driven into a detour to feud first about pay reform measures and later the failure of the Amazon deal for Queens.

In a cluttered state budget year, Marie Kondo may even have trouble finding joy in it.

Cuomo fired an opening volley of sorts on Thursday while on Long Island, calling for any budget agreement to include a permanent extension of the state’s cap on property taxes. He also wanted to see through the phase in of middle-income tax cuts approved last year.

To business leaders at the event, Cuomo urged them to take a deep breath: “Calm down, feel stable with what we are doing in the state of New York.”

He sought to enlist Senate Democrats on Long Island and in western New York to be “warriors for tax fairness.”

Meanwhile in Albany, state lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee heard sobering analyses from economists on the likelihood of the economy falling into a recession within the coming years as the effect of the 2017 tax cuts begin to recede and trade policy complicates the economies overseas.

This is in line with Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s warning that policymakers should plan now for economic hardship ahead.

Cuomo’s budget update this month included plans to slow the growth of Medicaid spending and the close three prisons amid a declining inmate population.

But in the Legislature, lawmakers continued to signal they will dig in on key areas of concern, which just happen to be the most expensive areas of the budget. To pay for it, tax increases on the rich would be likely. Cuomo has said in multiple different ways he doesn’t want to that to happen, pointing to the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions.

Only state lawmakers who ran on issues like spending more on schools will want to push more for education aid — at least $1.2 billion in the budget in order to satisfy education advocates that have long called for the boost in direct money.

The Assembly Health Committee on Thursday advanced the single-payer bill that was re-introduced last year.

“The legislation would impose more than $250 billion in new taxes and force all New Yorkers to use a use a single government-run health insurance program controlled by unaccountable Albany bureaucrats,” read a statement from the Realities of Single Payer, an advocacy group opposed to the measure.

Supporters of the single-payer measure say the program would ultimately save the state — and taxpayers — money given that it would overhaul a costly system.

The state Assembly and Senate, both now led with large Democratic majorities, released differing revenue forecasts, but not surprisingly projected more money than what the governor estimates. The Assembly projected about $900 million above Cuomo’s estimate, Senate Democrats pegged the figure at $456 million.

But the close and productive working relationship between Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has led to whispers at the Capitol that both chambers could team up on a budget plan themselves.

Heastie didn’t tip his hand when asked about it with Stewart-Cousins at an unrelated press conference.

“We’re together. We’ll have some variances,” he said. “You’ll probably see a lot of common ground between the two houses.”

It’s not necessarily all doom and gloom.

The state’s economy remains largely robust, almost entirely due to the economic expansion in New York City.

An analysis by the New York Federal Reserve found unemployment is “at or near record lows” across most of the state while business sentiment has rebounded.

Upstate New York, however, continues to lag.

Cuomo Says He Wants Criminal Justice Reform In The Budget

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a radio interview Thursday listed criminal justice reform among the issues he wanted to deal with a state budget agreement due at the end of next month.

Lawmakers and Cuomo are negotiating provisions that would curtail cash bail in many instances, reforms that are meant to ensure a speedy trial and the end of the use of solitary confinement.

Cuomo also proposed this month closing three state prisons due to a declining inmate population.

Lawmakers had planned to tackle some of the criminal justice law changes earlier this month, but the details of the legislation proved to be complicated.

Criminal justice reform is further complicated by a push to legalize marijuana, with Cuomo and lawmakers advancing differing proposals. The Legislature envisions a plan that would allow for the growing of small marijuana plants; Cuomo wants to have a retail industry.

At the same time, marijuana legalization has faced some opposition from lawmakers who worry about traffic safety.

“If it can be done in the budget, great, but we want to make sure we do it right,” Speaker Carl Heastie said on Thursday. “I think it’s the same place it was when I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago.”

Heastie has said the revenue generated by marijuana taxes should be prioritized toward communities impacted by drug laws.

“I think we both agree along with the bill sponsors that community investment must be the first objective of financing,” he said.

With Revenue Faltering, Cuomo Predicts Difficult Budget Year

The state budget this year will be “the most challenging” spending plan due to slowing revenue, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday in a radio interview.

“This budget is really going to be about the numbers and in many ways it’s the most challenging budget that we have faced,” Cuomo said in the interview with WAMC.

Cuomo has blamed the federal tax provision that caps state and local tax deductions at $10,000 for a revenue shortfall of about $2.3 billion.

The revenue dip also occurred amid a roller coaster end of the year for Wall Street, a main driver of the state’s economy, amid broader concerns the economy would slow down in 2019.

The slack revenue forecast has led Cuomo to urge Democratic lawmakers in the state Legislature to take a more cautious approach on spending in the budget.

“This budget is really going to be a challenge on the numbers and we have to be smart,” Cuomo said. “They often accuse Democrats of showing love by giving money. The Italian grandmother gives food as a proxy for love. Democrats like to show attention with more money, more money, more money.”

Cuomo this month introduced amendments to his budget that would close three state prisons amid a declining inmate population and slow the rate of growth in Medicaid spending.

But lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly are likely to push for more education aid in the budget as well as a tax increase on the rich, which the governor has said he opposes.

“It would be fiscally irresponsible, I believe, if we’re not going to be cautious on what’s going to happen with this economy given the numbers,” Cuomo said.