State Senate

Republican Bill Would End Film Tax Credits

A bill introduced this week by Republican Sen. Bob Antonacci would phase out the state’s $420 million film tax credit program.

The measure comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday suggested he would be open to rolling back the tax credits in exchange for boosting education or health care spending in the budget.

Antonacci, a freshman Republican from the Syracuse area, wants the program eliminated entirely.

“The overwhelming majority of project recipients would have filmed in New York without this credit,” the bill’s memo states. “In addition, it disproportionately favors New York City. This legislation offers the alternative of a phase out of this tax credit.”

The tax credits have gone toward a number of prominent New York-based productions and post-production projects.

But tax credits for businesses themselves have come under renewed focus after the failed deal to bring 25,000 jobs from Amazon to Queens which were tied to $3 billion in tax breaks and other incentives.

Cuomo’s floating of the tax credit rollback for the film industry may be a way of goading Sen. Mike Gianaris, a Democrat who prominently opposed the Amazon deal and whose district includes Silvercup Studios.

In Search Of Found Money In The Budget For Education

Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a news conference on Tuesday floated the idea of cutting the state’s $420 million film tax credit program if it meant bolstering either education or health care spending in the budget.

But Sen. Robert Jackson, a Democrat from Manhattan who has sought to increase direct aid to schools by more than $1 billion in this year’s budget, did not embrace that idea during an interview Tuesday on Capital Tonight.

“I think they need to look at everything,” Jackson said. “But the bottom line is the film tax credit, when you talk about the industry in New York City and New York state, that’s working very well. All you have to do is ask all the people involved in that.”

At the same time, Jackson was hesitant to back an increase in taxes on the rich as called for in the Assembly’s one-house budget resolution approved earlier this month, but indicated a tax hike would be needed only if “absolutely necessary.”

“There is a millionaires tax already,” he said. “The Assembly said we have to raise more money. Here’s the bottom line: Let’s try to deal with what we have now and if absolutely necessary in order to give our children a sound basic education, then we need to consider that. In my opinion, nothing is off the table.”

Jackson said the money in the budget for more school aid can come from somewhere, but said it should be up to the governor’s budget director to figure that out.

“There’s always several billion dollars hidden away from the governor,” he said. “It’s already there. If I was the budget director, then I could tell you that.”

Stewart-Cousins Says She’s Open To New Sexual Harassment Hearings

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Tuesday said she was supportive of holding more hearings on sexual harassment as backed by lawmakers and advocates.

“There is some concern that the voices of some folks upstate, some groups that have actually been successful in combating sexual harassment have not been heard, so I’m certainly open to that,” she said.

Stewart-Cousins is the latest lawmaker to be open to more hearings. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Monday said he was similarly supportive of doing so, as are lawmakers who led the February hearing.

A group of advocates who are victims and survivors of sexual misconduct in Albany have called for more hearings, including one in Albany and another in New York City.

Lawmakers are assessing a wider range of legislation to combat sexual harassment and assault and want to review how the issue effects workers in variety of industries.

Former Prosecutors Back Discovery Law Changes

More than 100 former prosecutors have signed a letter that backs changes to evidence discovery procedures in New York courts.

The measure, backed by Sen. Jamaal Bailey, is one of a trio of major criminal justice law changes lawmakers and advocates are seeking, including ending cash bail for many non-violent charges as well as speedy trial changes.

“We became prosecutors to help society hold people accountable for crimes that were committed,” the letter, released by Citizen Action, states.

“We took seriously our personal responsibility in that position to assure due process and fairness as core principles embedded in the United States Constitution. While we operated within a legal structure that did not require us to immediately provide important information, like police reports and technical evidence, to the accused or their attorneys, we know that this is unfair. A fundamentally fair criminal process must be balanced.”

The proposal would enable criminal defense attorneys the ability to review evidence earlier in a case before the trial begins.

Former prosecutors signing onto the letter included those who have worked in Dutchess, New York, Bronx, Kings, Richmond, Ulster, Albany, Erie, Rockland, Broome, Queens, Nassau and Monroe counties, as well the Southern District of New York, the Eastern District of North Carolina, and Harris County, Texas.

Long Island Senate Democrats Outline Budget Goals

From the Morning Memo:

The Long Island Six have faced pressure over congestion pricing and Amazon, but the Democratic conference is highlighting where the half-dozen suburban lawmakers agree: The state budget.

The Democratic lawmakers who represent Nassau and Suffolk counties in the state Senate over the weekend outlined a package of propels they want to see included in a final budget agreement, including a $1.2 billion increase in direct aid to schools, a full restoration in direct aid to local governments and $150 million more in spending for local road improvements.

At the same time, the Democratic lawmakers touted the inclusion of a property tax cap on the conference’s one-house budget proposal approved as a standalone bill earlier this year by the Senate.

And the lawmakers want to include a Reassessment Relief Credit, aimed at suburban homeowners, which would provide tax relief to those who meet the same eligibility requirements as the STAR program.

“Hardworking Long Islanders deserve a budget that eases their tax burden and improves services,” said Sen. Todd Kaminsky.

“Our Senate Majority is committed to a permanent tax cap, increasing school aid and road funding, adding billions of dollars for clean water infrastructure, and holding the MTA accountable. Over the next two weeks, we will work diligently to bring Long Islanders a great budget they can be proud of.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has cast doubt on the spending proposals backed by both chambers. The Senate’s plan did not include a tax increase on the rich to generate revenue for the extra spending.

Cuomo’s top budget aide, Robert Mujica, called the proposal from the Senate “wholly incredible” due to spending gaps in the plan.

Republicans Call For Farm Labor Hearings

A pair of Republican state lawmakers on Friday called for hearings to discuss a bill that would create new labor laws and protections for farm workers.

The measure would bargain collectively, grant them disabilitiy and unemployment benefits and set an eight-hour workday.

But the bill has long been opposed by entities like the New York Farm Bureau, which worries the requirements would further cripple struggling farms in the state.

Sen. Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie wrote the legislation’s “profound consequences” need to be discussed in statewide hearings.

“We urge you to schedule hearings across every agricultural region of New York State,” they wrote in the letter. “Every voice that deserves to be heard should have the chance to provide direct input: every farmer, Wevery fruit and vegetable grower, every agribusiness, small business owners, representatives of the hospitality and tourism industry, local government officials, community leaders, and all others for whom the Act stands as a threat to short- and long-term quality, strength, and sustainability.”

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Democratic Sen. Jessica Ramos, has said she plans to visit farms and meet with farm workers to discuss the legislation.

Stewart-Cousins: No Regrets Appointing Gianaris To PACB

It wasn’t the appointment to the Public Authorities Control Board, but the process itself.

That was the message on Thursday by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins when asked about the defeated project to bring Amazon to Long Island City in Queens, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has laid at the feet of Senate Democrats.

“I believe if the process had been better, I believe we would have had a better outcome,” she said in an interview on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.

Amazon pulled the plug on the project, which could have brought up to 25,000 jobs tied to $3 billion in tax credits and other incentives, to New York City. The deal was scuttled after Stewart-Cousins nominated Sen. Mike Gianaris, a critic of the project, to a board that would have had veto authority over the tax incentives.

But Stewart-Cousins had no regret backing Gianaris for the board, calling it a logical move. She added she would have taken similar action for any Democratic lawmaker with a major project pending in their district.

“My pick was my deputy who, by the way, represents that particular district, it was a recommendation. It was not a direct appointment,” she said, noting the governor never formally approved the appointment.

“Everybody was asking questions and they were excluding from the process during almost two years of a process that got inked before anyone knew.”

Gianaris’s nomination was later withdrawn after the deal was shelved. Stewart-Cousins later nominated Sen. Leroy Comrie for the post.

Stewart-Cousins: ‘Extremely Close’ On Criminal Justice Changes

State lawmakers “are extremely close” to forging a deal on criminal just law changes that include ensuring a speedy trial, changing how evidence during discovery is handled and a curtailing of cash bail, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said Thursday in a radio interview.

“We are extremely close, extremely close in the discovery, in speedy trial, a lot closer on bail,” she said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “We understand that what we do is going to impact the lives of so many people incarcerated. So we want to get it right. We want to make sure it really reforms the criminal justice system in ways that will protect the innocent and make sure that people who should be in jail are in jail.”

This is contrary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s public comments that the Legislature is far apart on the issue that he wants included in a final version of the state budget, due at the end of the month.

Stewart-Cousins, as well as legislators who want to see the changes made this session, have said they are trying to take their time in order to get the details “right” on the issue — satisfying both criminal justice advocates as well as prosecutors and law enforcement officials who raised concerns.

Meanwhile, the legalization of marijuana in the budget appears to be increasingly falling out of the talks.

“I’m interested in making sure that whatever we do we do it in a way that makes sense,” Stewart-Cousins said Thursday. “Obviously this is a new industry for us, it would be a new market for us. This is not a rush to make sure this just gets done.”

Long Island Six Reaffirm Backing Of Permanent Tax Cap

From the Morning Memo:

The six Democrats who represent the state Senate on Long Island in a joint statement on Wednesday reaffirmed their backing a permanent property tax cap, saying they would continue to push for the measure through the state budget process.

The state Senate approved a standalone version of the bill in February; the Assembly is yet to take up the measure.

“Providing tax relief to Long Islanders is our top priority and, therefore, the inclusion of the permanent tax cap in the final budget is essential,” the lawmakers said in the statement. “Importantly, our conference, lead by Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, included this provision in our one-house budget resolution, and we will continue to fight for its enactment in the coming weeks.”

The statement from Sens. John Brooks, Jim Gaughran, Anna Kaplan, Todd Kaminsky, Monica Martinez, and Kevin Thomas comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly stumped around the state for the issue, which he said is needed even more after a $10,000 limit was placed on state and local tax deductions.

Supporters of a permanent tax cap, meanwhile, also point to Amazon’s decision to back out of a project in Queens that would have tied $3 billion in tax incentives to the creation of up to 25,000 jobs.

The cap doesn’t expire until next year, but has been linked in the past to rent control regulations for New York City, which sunset in June.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in an interview Wednesday with WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom said the issue is still under discussion, but added the tax cap itself is no danger of expiring.

The cap for Cuomo is a key economic achievement from his first term. He said this week he would not be willing to consider changes to the cap such as no longer setting the limit to the rate of inflation or making it easier to override.

Stewart-Cousins Talked To Cuomo About ‘Disparagement’ Of Senate Dems

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins spoke with Gov. Andrew Cuomo after Sen. Zellnor Myrie blasted what he said was the governor’s criticism of her, suggesting they were gender and race-based.

Stewart-Cousins, speaking with reporters after a joint budget conference meeting, said she did not believe Cuomo’s criticism was racially charged or due to her being a woman. But she did raise a broader issue she had with Cuomo’s “disparagement” of Senate Democrats.

“I didn’t have a concern about any of these things,” she said. “I had a concern about a constant sort of disparagement of the conference that I addressed.”

Cuomo and Senate Democrats have had an increasingly rocky public relationship. Cuomo lashed out at the conference earlier this year when Amazon pulled the plug on a planned project in Queens that would have created up to 25,000 tied to $3 billion in tax incentives.

Cuomo blamed the conference for nominating an Amazon critic to a board with potential veto power over the deal.

Cuomo further rankled Senate Democrats this week when he suggested they were not yet accustomed to governing in Albany. Senate Democrats gained power for the first time in a decade in November.

Stewart-Cousins, meanwhile, said the conversation, taking place just as the budget season begins a more intense phase this month, allowed things to “move forward.”

“I think it’s important that we are all focused on making sure that we are serving the people of New York state,” she said. “We’re moving forward.”

In a statement, top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa in a statement also indicated the governor’s office was ready to move on as well.

“The whole episode was absurd,” said DeRosa, the secretary to the governor. “Our sole focus is getting things done for New Yorkers and we will challenge any governmental or political position that undermines that or stands in the way of progress.”