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.

State Dems To Vote On – And Pass? – Fusion Voting Ban

The state Democratic Party on Monday will take up a proposal, pushed by its progressive caucus, to support a ban on fusion voting – something a number of elected officials and key party leaders, including returning state Party Chairman Jay Jacobs, are pushing.

In a telephone interview this afternoon, Jacobs confirmed that the ban on fusion voting will indeed be on the table when committee members gather in Westchester next week to conduct a variety of business, including electing him to return to his position as state party chair, for which he was recently nominated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Jacobs has made no secret of his dislike for fusion voting, which exists in a very small number of states, reiterating during our conversation that he believes it has made electing Democrats on Long Island more difficult. He particularly singled out the state Independence Party, with which he has been warring for years, citing its tendency in the past to cross-endorse Republicans (at least when it comes to state legislative and congressional races).

I pointed out that the Democrats seemed to manage just fine in the last election cycle when it came to getting their candidates into office, with six newcomers ousting long-entrenched GOP incumbents. In those cases, the Working Families Party, long an ally of the Democrats when it comes to cross-endorsements, (again, at the legislative and congressional levels), provided support.

“That’s the one piece, of course, that’s always been the fly in the ointment (in the debate over fusion voting),” Jacobs said of the WFP and how it would be negatively impacted if fusion voting were to end in New York. “We’ll have to take a look at that.”

There’s also the question of whether an end to fusion voting would be a boon to the Green Party, which has long held a no-cross-endorsement policy. Faced with the possibility of voting for a mainline Democratic candidate or a Green candidate, disgruntled liberals, of whom there seem to be more and more these days, might choose the latter, increasing the chances of the Greens playing a spoiler role in close electoral contests.

“There are always consequences that are unintended that you have to consider, there’s no question about it,” Jacobs acknowledged. “The decision comes down to whether or not you’re worse off now than you will be later. It’s never a zero sum game. You have to look at what the costs are and what the benefits are. That’s the analysis many are going to be doing.”

I asked Jacobs if the fusion voting ban vote is being pushed by the governor, who has been extremely at odds with the WFP since the party backed his unsuccessful primary challenger, actress/activist Cynthia Nixon, last September.

He insisted that is not, in fact, the case, and ending fusion voting is something that county chairs have been discussing for some time, though if this proposal makes it to the floor for a vote and isn’t tabled, it will be the first time it is voted on by committee members.

“Listen, I’m not going to discuss what I talk to the governor about or what I don’t at any point,” Jacobs said. “I’m not here on this matter taking direction from the governor; I will tell you that.”

“There will be times I’m sure he’ll weigh in and ask me to help him with this or that. But this is one time the issue has been brought to the forefront by the progressives, and county chairs have long talked about it. We as a party have to determine what our position is. My guess is if we vote on a ban for fusion voting, that will upset some people and make other people happy.”

Jacobs, who is also chair of the Nassau County Democratic Party – a position he intends to keep along with his state post – said he will formally make his position known on this issue on Monday. He would not predict an outcome to the vote, should the measure actually move forward, and said he’ll be taking the temperature of county chairs as they gather in Westchester.

He did make clear, however, that he personally is interested in seeing this measure move forward and not be tabled. There are a few other, more procedural, resolutions that will also be put forward for consideration, including moving the party to an electronic voting system – an investment that would likely cost several thousand dollars, but would also be considerably faster than the current voice vote system.

Delgado Endorses Ryan For County Exec

Rep. Antonio Delgado on Wednesday endorsed his former rival for the Democratic nomination Pat Ryan in his bid for Ulster County executive.

“It is my true pleasure to endorse Pat Ryan for Ulster County Executive,” said Delgado. “I’ve gotten to know him well over the last few years and it’s clear he has the dedication and vision to make a real difference in Ulster County. From his time serving our country in Iraq to starting his own business, he knows how to bring people together around a common goal. He’s the leader our community needs to invest in our future and grow our economy, leaving no one behind.”

Ryan was among the candidates who vied for the Democratic nomination last year for the 19th congressional district. Delgado ultimately won and defeated Republican Rep. John Faso.

Ryan is now running for the open county executive post after Mike Hein was nominated to become commissioner of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

“Since the moment he took his oath of office, Congressman Delgado has been a powerful voice for Ulster County’s working families in Washington,” said Ryan. “From fighting for small businesses to standing up against the Trump administration’s disastrous government shutdown, Antonio has brought refreshing new leadership to our district. I was proud to rally behind Antonio following the congressional primary last year, and have come to know him well as an intelligent and dedicated public servant. I’m excited to work together with Antonio to grow our local economy and tackle the challenges facing Ulster County families.”

A Challenge For Molinaro

From the Morning Memo:

The executive director of the New York Bridge Authority resigned on Friday, and days later became a Democratic candidate for Dutchess County executive.

Joseph Ruggiero, first appointed to the executive director post at the authority in 2010 by Gov. David Paterson, said in a statement released Monday afternoon that “an opportunity has presented itself to me outside of the Authority that I am excited to pursue.”

That opportunity is to launch a challenge to Republican Marc Molinaro for county executive. Molinaro unsuccessfully ran for governor last year as Gov. Andrew Cuomo secured a third term.

The Dutchess County Democratic Committee later on Monday announced Ruggiero had secured their backing in his bid to unseat Molinaro.

“I’ve lived in Dutchess County my entire life and have a full understanding of the challenges facing our residents,” he said in a statement. “Whether it’s rising energy costs, increasing property taxes, a mounting county fiscal crisis or just making ends meet around the kitchen table, I know what families are dealing with in Dutchess County.”

Prior to serving at the Bridge Authority, Ruggiero was a town supervisor in Wappinger and as a deputy comptroller.

Molinaro’s most recent campaign finance report filed last month for his county executive campaign showed $2,334 in cash on hand. His gubernatorial campaign account reported $1,265.

Suffolk County Personnel Director Steps Aside Amid Standoff

From the Morning Memo:

The personnel director in Suffolk County has formally resigned amid a standoff with County Executive Steve Bellone.

Alan Schneider last week was replaced by Bellone as personnel director, which has wide-ranging appointment powers in the county. Several town supervisors, including Bellone rival Rich Schaffer, had signaled plans to file legal challenge over the removal.

Bellone’s office, meanwhile, had moved to hire an outside counsel to investigate behavioral complaints in the office.

By Monday afternoon, Schneider had formally resigned.

“I have accepted the resignation of Mr. Schneider,” Bellone said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the County Legislature to continue reforming the Department or Civl Service and our county government.”