Democrats

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

NRCC Targets 4 NY Dems Over Impeachment Split

The race for 2020 is already well underway, and not only when it comes to the White House. The political machines on both sides of the congressional aisle are already ramping up and taking aim at their respective targets in the next election cycle.

The NRCC today announced a series of digital ads running in 55 target districts across the nation that highlight the division in the Democratic Party over the question of whether to pursue an effort to impeach President Donald Trump.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this week in an interview with the Washington Post Magazine that she is not in favor of impeachment because it’s too divisive, and, in her opinion, the president is “not worth it.”

This put the speaker at odds with more activist/progressive members of her conference, though the man in charge of the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, has also said he doesn’t want to make any moves in the impeachment direction unless there’s substantial Republican support to do so.

The NRCC has seized on this issue, pressuring marginal members to pick a side, or, as the committee’s chairman, Tom Emmer, put it in a press release:

“The socialist Democrats in Congress need to definitively state if they will stand up to the baseless attempts to impeach our president or if they will once again roll over for the extremists running their caucus.”

In New York, the ads, which will be running through the recess week while members are home in their districts, are directed at four members, three of whom are freshmen: Reps. Anthony Brindisi (NY-22), Antonio Delgado (NY-19), Max Rose (NY-11) and Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18).

Here’s the Delgado ad, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, the script doesn’t differ.

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.

Lawmakers Seeking Education Boost ‘Staying Positive’

The state lawmakers who are pushing for a boost in direct school aid this year that education advocates have long sought don’t want to hold up the state budget over the issue.

For now.

“Everyone wants to have an on-time budget, that’s a given,” said Sen. Robert Jackson, a Democrat elected last year who has been a prominent booster for the education funding hike, a Capitol press conference on Tuesday. “But we’re not going to pass an on-time budget that’s a bad budget for the people of New York state.”

Jackson was part of an initial lawsuit in the last decade for increasing state aid. Education advocates want to increase school spending by $2.1 billion in order to satisfy the terms of a lawsuit settled during Gov. George Pataki’s administration.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also pointed to the annual education increases he’s supported in previous budgets proposed and approved during his time as governor.

But for supporters of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the money hasn’t been enough.

“We hope we can reach agreement with the governor. We’re staying positive,” Jackson said. “But we’re ready to do whatever we have to do to make sure our children receive an opportunity for a sound, basic education.”

Complicating matters for lawmakers who want to see the funding increase is a disagreement over how much revenue the state will have, a decision that is now being handed to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli after the Legislature and Cuomo could not come to an agreement.

Cuomo has urged caution on the budget, pointed to the possibility of the economy slowing down as early as next year. Cuomo has also raised the possibility of a budget going passed the start of the state’s April 1 fiscal year, putting pay raises for elected officials and cabinet commissioners in doubt.

But Democrats in the Legislature feel especially emboldened this year given the party’s new and large majority in the state Senate.

“Ultimately that’s what having a Democratic majority is about,” said Sen. Jessica Ramos, “showing that we’re unified in producing for our kids,”

Bill Would Bar State Contractors From Campaign Donations

From the Morning Memo:

The Democratic-led state Senate today will take up a bill meant to restrict campaign contributions from companies seeking state contracts.

The bill would restrict donations from prospective state vendors when responding to requests for proposals and to six months after winning a state contract. It would also bar donations from those lobbying to create a “procurement opportunity.”

Penalties of up to $10,000 or 200 percent of the contributions value would be assessed if the measure becomes law.

The bill would be a significant piece of contracting reform for the state and was proposed in the wake of the arrest of upstate developers who had been accused of being part of a bid rigging scheme as part of the Buffalo Billion economic development project.

The developers were donors to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s campaign, though the contributions themselves were not at issue during the trial.

Cuomo proposed a similar ban on contributions from vendors and prospective contractors in his budget plan released in January.

Cuomo earlier this year proposed a ban on corporate contributions, lowered contribution limits and contracting reform that restores the comptroller’s authority to review contracts worth more than $250,000.

At the same time, Cuomo announced during his State of the State address the state would require new legal certifications for contracts.

“Any state agency that is assuring or issuing a grant has to certify that there was no occlusion, there was no political interference,” he said.

The bill being considered today by the state Senate has the backing of good-government groups, including Reinvent Albany.

“The recent trial related to the Buffalo Billion projects resulted in convictions of corporate executives, campaign contributors and senior executive officials who conspired to rig the bids for the state’s largest economic development projects, and revealed the need for reforms to the state’s contracting process,” the group wrote in a memorandum of support.

Bellone To Unveil SALT Plan

From the Morning Memo:

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone today will unveil a five-point plan meant to curb the effect of the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions for suburban property owners.

The push is meant to provide a restoration of tax deductibility for homeowners on Long Island, where the cap is having an impact.

The actions include the creation of a charitable reserve fund for taxpayers to contribute to and ultimately seek a deduction.

At the same time, Bellone wants to bolster the Long Island housing market by allowing student loan debt repayment to be considered part of a household’s income when determining eligibility for housing, while also proposing a reduction and freeze in mortgage fees.

Other efforts include launching a website to provide information on the deduction cap, an economic study of the effects of the $10,000 limit and a renewed effort on the federal level to repeal the provision.

Bellone last year announced the formation of coalition of suburban county executives pushing for a repeal of the SALT cap, which was part of the 2017 tax overhaul.

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.

Jacobs: State Dems ‘Overwhelmingly’ Pass Fusion Voting Ban Resolution

The state Democratic Party today voted in favor of a resolution calling for an end to so-called “fusion” voting, striking the first blow against minor parties in New York that could eventually lead – should the Legislature heed this call – to a significant change in the state’s political landscape.

State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs, who was confirmed today to return to that post, said the vote in favor of the ban was “overwhelming,” though, in a strange twist, the party’s progressive caucus, which initially put the resolution forward, voted earlier in the day to table it.

“They started to get a lot of pressure from the (Working Families Party) and certain members looked to table it because they thought it would be a tight vote, and so we should wait until the state committee has electronic weighted voting, which we are preparing to do in September,” Jacobs said.

According to Jacobs, the motion to table in the progressive caucus initially failed, and then subsequently passed by one or two votes. The executive committee, however, decided to move forward with the vote, and that vote eventually took place after everyone who was interested in debating on the matter was allowed to have their say.

Because the party does not yet have an electronic voting system in place, Jacobs said he decided to run the vote as follows: He asked everyone who was in favor of the fusion voting ban to more to one side the the room and hold up their proxies, while those against it were asked to do to the other side of the room and do the same.

There were about 35 or 40 people on the “opposed” side, and some 150 on the “in favor” side, Jacobs said. The proxies on the “in favor” side also vastly outnumbered those on the other side, he recalled.

“I wanted a true outcome, and in my conversations with everyone I said, ‘Let’s not play games and waste the body’s time,'” Jacobs said. “Everyone was respectful and considerate, and I think everybody – win or lose – had a good feeling about the process.”

The resolution passed by the party is non-binding. Only the state Legislature can pass a bill that would end the practice of fusion voting, which allows cross endorsements of candidates by parties of which they are not officially members – something allowed in just a handful of states.

Jacobs said there is no bill currently pending to end fusion voting, to his knowledge, but he believes the Senate and Assembly should heed the recommendation of the state Democratic Party.

“They are the governmental arm, and we are the political arm,” he said. “They have to make the law, and the political arm has to give them their impression and their view, and that’s what we did.”

“They should take seriously the recommendation of this body,” Jacobs continued. “They have to understand that the view of this body is there are a lot of reforms and improvements that need to be made regarding the minor parties. It’s a serious problem. And the voices you heard in today’s debate made clear that county chairs with competitive races – not Manhattan, where you can’t find a Republican if you search around for three days – places where there are really competitive races…those committee people were very clear that they would do far better without fusion voting than with it.”

Jacobs said that Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner pointed out during the meeting that last year there were only eight circumstances in which minor party lines gave a victory to a legislative candidates – five Senate seats, and three Assembly seats. In every one of them, according to Zellner (as cited by Jacobs), the Republican candidate won – something the state chairman called an “important and compelling piece of information.”

As we have been reporting, the Working Families Party had been pushing to have today’s vote derailed, and also accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo of behind behind it in an effort to retaliate against the WFP for backing his failed primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, in the 2018 Democratic primary.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi earlier today insisted to me that a fusion voting ban is not something the administration has given serious thought to, and emailed the following statement:

“I know they were humiliated in last year’s governor’s race, but that’s no excuse to ‎run around spreading lies and ranting about conspiracies. It’s both sad and a bad look.”

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.

WFP’s 11th Hour Push for Fusion Voting

From the Morning Memo:

As state Democratic Party leaders make their way to Westchester this morning – weather permitting, as the Hudson Valley bore the brunt of the latest winter storm – the Working Families Party is making a last-ditch attempt to head off at the pass a resolution that would support the ban of fusion voting in New York.

The WFP is highlighting the fact that it received support over the weekend for its crusade to keep fusion voting from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who recently announced his second White House bid.

Sanders, who was backed by the New York WFP in his 2016 presidential bid, tweeted yesterday morning:

“We must preserve New York’s fusion voting system because it gives more voice to voters. I support the @WorkingFamilies Party’s efforts to protect this system, which gives voters a stronger voice in elections and in government.”

Another sign of support came from the state’s current progressive darling, Queens/Bronx Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who retweeted a tweet initially posted by Brooklyn Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who said a “fusion ban would only divide and weaken our movement.”

In addition, the WFP is circulating a letter signed by 340 elected officials from around the state, appealing to the governor and legislative leaders not to kill fusion voting.

“As Democrats, we especially note the role that the Working Families Party has played over the last two decades,” the letter reads. “Many of us have run and won our seats with their support. Moreover, WFP played an essential role in helping to end Republican-IDC control of the New York Senate in the 2018 election.”

As we reported last week, incoming (or rather, returning) state Party Chairman Jay Jacobs confirmed the party’s progressive caucus is pushing for a vote today on a resolution in favor of doing away with the practice of allowing minor parties to cross-endorse candidates, which are then able to tally all the votes they receive on any ballot line to count in the final results.

Frequently, minor party lines can mean the difference between winning and losing for candidates running in close elections.

New York is one of just a handful of states in the nation that allow fusion voting, and the practice has been challenged at one time or another by a variety of people for years – including Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The WFP has made no secret of the fact that it believes Cuomo is behind this latest push to end fusion voting, and is doing so in retaliation for the fact that the party backed a failed primary challenger – actress/activist Cynthia Nixon – against him last September.

But Cuomo administration – and, FWIW, Jacobs himself – insist the governor has nothing to do with this effort.

Ultimately, it is the Legislature and the governor, not the party, that will decide whether fusion voting stays or goes by taking up a bill to address the matter. So far, noting has been formally put on the table at the state Capitol.

But the budget talks are just getting underway, and the WFP is worried something will be quietly slipped into the final deal at the last minute. Hence, this full court press effort.