Dems Point To MERIT Program For Gold Star Families, Open To Expanding It

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill in a lengthy statement on Friday said he would support legislation meant to provide expanded tuition assistance to the children of veterans who have died while serving in the military.

But at the same time, Cahill criticized Republican lawmakers for pushing the bill this week, calling the effort a plan to “score political points” against Democrats.

The issue came to a head this week as Republicans in the state Assembly sought to press a bill that would do the same and the measure was blocked in a committee. But Cahill points to existing benefits for Gold Star families called the MERIT program, which provides four years of full-time tuition support for the spouses, children or financial dependents of a military member who died in a combat zone or preparation for one.

Cahill pointed to a bill that would expand the program to include families of military members who died outside of combat or training. He called efforts by Republicans “a shameful propaganda campaign” that ignored the original program.

“It would in fact expand the MERIT award beyond Gold Star families to include the survivors of those who died in the military outside of a combat zone or in preparation for entering a combat zone,” Cahill said. “The spirit and goal of this measure are laudable. It surely deserves and will get our complete review.”

And the news coverage generated by the push by Republican Assemblyman Steve Hawley, Cahill said, did not help.

“For these politicians to confuse and drag these families into their quest for attention is simply reprehensible,” Cahill said.

“As soon as the false publicity around the Hawley bill was circulated, old wounds were re-opened.  The brother of a young man who gave his life in Vietnam called my home early Wednesday morning from Florida under the mistaken belief that I voted against funding of the MERIT program.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Even though the recent state budget contained several items I did not favor, it included laudable programs like MERIT and unlike Mr. Hawley and his cohorts, I supported it.”

In a separate statement, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, the Higher Education Committee chair, called it irresponsible to call for new spending outside of the agreed-upon state budget. But she also said she was open to changes as well.

“I am proud that the Assembly Democrats have fully funded the MERIT scholarship for children of military personnel that have been killed in combat for over 15 years,” she said. “I look forward to reviewing ways to continue to support our Gold Star families in the years to come.”

Holyman Wants Bill Giving Benefits To Discharged LGBT Veterans

A bill sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman would provide state benefits to veterans discharged due to their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Hoylman called for the passage of the measure as the military’s ban on transgender troops serving in the military goes into effect on Friday.

“Trump’s transgender military ban is nothing short of state-sponsored discrimination,” Hoylman said. “This is a cruel, arbitrary policy that only dehumanizes our transgender service members, who deserve our respect, and jeopardizes our national security.”

The bill, known as the Restoration of Honor Act, would apply to veterans discharged due to sexual orientation or gender identity and is sponsored by Democrat David Buchwald in the Assembly. The measure was introduced after the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, allowing veterans who were previously discharged access to state veterans benefits.

“If Washington won’t stand up for the dignity of transgender Americans, it is up to New York to set an example,” Hoylman said.

Stewart-Cousins To Syracuse

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins today will be in Syracuse, an upstate city where Democrats have sought to make in-roads for the Legislature.

Stewart-Cousins’s stops will include a trip to the future home of the Onondaga County STEAM School, a roundtable discussion with local elected officials and remarks to a meeting of the Democratic Rural Conference at night.

Accompanying her on the trip will be Syracuse Democratic Sen. Rachel May, who defeated Sen. David Valesky, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, in a primary last year.

“Education is the great equalizer in our society and the new Onondaga County STEAM School will be an amazing asset for a new generation of Central New York students,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement.

“I commend Senator Rachel May on her leadership and advocacy for the new STEAM School in Onondaga County as well as for the entire Syracuse Surge initiative. With leaders like Senator Rachel May in the Senate Majority, we will continue to improve the economic strength and quality of life for Central New York communities.”

The upstate swing for the Yonkers Democrat comes as lawmakers are on a two-week break from Albany following the passage of the state budget.

NY-19: Delgado’s Campaign Marks First 100 Days

The congressional campaign of Rep. Antonio Delgado on Thursday marked his first 100 days in office with a 2-minute video highlighting the town hall events he’s held around the 19th district.

“Antonio’s commitment to listening to the people of this district hasn’t wavered since we elected him to be our voice in Washington,” his campaign wrote in an email to supporters. “Instead, he held 11 town halls in his first 11 weeks in office — one in each county of our district. He knows that this seat doesn’t belong to him — it belongs to all of us.”

Delgado last year unseated Republican Rep. John Faso in the Hudson Valley House district, which is considered one of the top-tier battleground seats in the state.

Suffolk County Exec Won’t Take Established Minor Party Lines

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced Thursday he will not take any ballot lines of the established minor parties in his bid for a third term.

The move is meant to make a statement in support of ending fusion voting, the practice of candidates running on multiple ballot lines.

Nevertheless, Bellone is still expected to potentially run on a created or “grassroots” ballot line that’s allowable under the fusion system.

“The corruption that County Executive Bellone has fought against in Suffolk County — personified by former District Attorney Tom Spota and Conservative Party Leader Ed Walsh — has been empowered by fusion voting,” Bellone spokesman Jason Elan said.

The move also comes after state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to the creation of a commission that will examine the state’s election laws, including how to implement a system of publicly funded campaigns and evaluation fusion voting in New York.

Bellone was re-elected in 2015 to a second term with the Working Families and Independence party ballot lines.

Cabán Soaks Up Progressive Nods

From the Morning Memo:

Tiffany Cabán’s bid for Queens district attorney in recent weeks has received nods from forces in progressive politics in the multi-candidate race for the Democratic nomination in June to replace the retired Richard Brown.

On Monday, Cabán was endorsed by actress, advocate and former gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, who hailed her work as a public defender, which “offers a unique and powerful vision for how we create a justice system that prioritizes stability and public safety.”

On Tuesday, it was the Working Families Party to endorse Cabán’s nomination.

“The Working Families Party has been fighting hard to pass bail reform, legalize marijuana, and win speedy trials — and with Tiffany Cabán, we can continue this fight to build a justice system that works for all of us,” said WFP State Director Bill Lipton.

Cabán is in an increasingly crowded field for the nomination, facing Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilman Rory Lancman and Judge Greg Lasak.

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:


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.


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.


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,”