State Senate

Senate Democrats Add $1.2B For Foundation Aid

The budget resolution unveiled on Tuesday by Senate Democrats would add $1.2 billion in direct aid to schools — a figure long sought by education advocates in New York.

Senate Democrats also signaled support for the legalization of marijuana as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the chances of an agreement over the details of the program are unlikely to met in a final budget agreement by the end of the month.

Senate Democrats also want a modification of Cuomo’s proposal for boosting funding for mass transit in New York City,, including an additional $3 billion in operating aid for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as well as more funding for a mass transit system in western New York, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to begin a metro rail expansion project.

The Senate had previously approved a permanent extension of the state’s property tax cap, and also proposed in its budget to restore direct aid to municipal governments.

And the Senate Democrats backed a plan banning plastic bags, while also proposing a fee on paper takeout bags.

“Our budget plan will move New York State forward and use taxpayer money responsibly,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.

“The Senate Majority budget proposes campaign finance reforms, a permanent property tax cap, additional AIM funds, protections for grassroots advocates, support for congestion pricing, and more important plans to move New York forward. Additionally, state government must ensure all New York students have access to a high quality education, and the Senate Majority proposal will help advance that goal by providing funding increases in our education system. The Senate Majority, together with our Assembly Majority colleagues, are committed to passing an on-time, responsible, and effective budget.”

Senate Republicans Knock Tax Increases In Budget Swirl

Republicans in the state Senate Tuesday criticized the proposed tax actions in the budget talks amid discussions of raising revenue through closing a loophole in sales tax collection for online purchases, a property tax surcharge on second homes of the wealthy and as well as tolls in Manhattan.

“I used to think ‘Escape from New York’ was just a movie – but with a million New Yorkers leaving the state in the last ten years, it appears that fiction has become reality,” said Sen. Rich Funke. “The cause of this exodus is clear. Whatever the purpose, New Yorkers simply can’t afford another penny in taxes.”

The budget resolution being advanced this week by the state Assembly add an additional surcharge on the very wealthy, increasing rates on those who make $5 million and above.

Republicans have reason to latch onto the issue. GOP lawmakers pointed to the last Democratic majority a decade ago approving a payroll tax on suburban residents in order to bolster mass transit spending in the New York City region.

The payroll tax became part of a broader election year talking for Republicans in 2010, who returned to power later that year.

“Outmigration is a real problem in New York State, and the only way to stop it is to end the fascination with new taxes and higher spending,” said Sen. James Seward, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee in the Senate. “I am hearing from a growing number of people who are on the verge of being forced from their homes, farmers forced to sell their herds, and small business owners who are closing their doors because they simply can’t afford New York’s out-of-control taxes.”

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.

Advocacy Groups Challenge LI Officials Over Economic Development

Advocacy groups that had opposed the Amazon project in Queens challenged Long Island officials on Friday to change how the state operates its economic development programs.

The groups, Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change, have been aligned with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which had sought to organize workers at the Amazon-owned Whole Foods grocery chain and were vocal opponents of the deal.

The groups gathered outside of the office of Sen. Todd Kaminsky, recently called the “dean” of the Long Island Democratic delegation by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, urging a change to economic development.

The groups also wrote a letter to Kaminsky, Democratic Long Island senators and the Nassau and Suffolk county executives pushing them to change the approach.

“At a time of rising income and wealth inequality, Long Island needs and deserves a better model of economic development for the future,” they wrote. “We urge you to support policies that will increase investment in good jobs on Long Island, robust local hiring programs, real affordable housing, and open new paths to the middle class for struggling Long Island residents and families.”

Cuomo had sought to reverse Amazon’s decision to pull the plug on the Queens project, part of a $2 billion tax incentive plan linked to the creation of 25,000 pledged jobs over the years.

The delegation in response released a joint statement:

“We strongly believe Amazon could be a great partner for the region and we will continue to support projects that encourage job growth and economic prosperity for the constituencies we represent.

Voters can rest assured that not only on this issue, but our entire legislative agenda, prioritizes the interest of Long Islanders, and it is important to clarify that the needs and concerns of Long Island residents are vastly different than those of New York City residents.

We stand firm in the belief that by working together, we can find a solution that will allow us to work with Amazon and local stakeholders to make sure that the community, residents, and employees’ concerns are addressed in a way that is mutually beneficial for all.

Kaminsky Says Mangano Shows Need To Empower DAs

The corruption conviction on Friday of former Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano is an example of how local prosecutors should be empowered to tackle wrongdoing by elected officials, Sen. Todd Kamsinky said in a statement.

Mangano was accused of accepting bribes from a restaurant owner, while his wife received a “no-show” job from the businessman.

“Today’s verdict is a sad reminder that for too long elected officials have used their positions to enrich themselves at the expense of the public they were meant to serve,” Kamninsky said.

“This should also be a reminder that federal prosecutors cannot be expected to bring all of the necessary corruption cases in New York, and that state prosecutors need to be given the tools to help police the political landscape. In Albany, it is high-time for a white collar reform agenda that will allow DAs to hold elected officials accountable, something that is too rarely seen.”

Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, represented the federal government in the corruption case against former Sen. Pedro Espada.

Bill Would Fully Erase State’s Death Penalty

From the Morning Memo:

New York’s death penalty has been effectively suspended since 2004, when the state’s highest court ruled it unconstitutional.

But a bill introduced Thursday by Sen. Brad Hoylman would end it entirely by outlawing it completely and eliminating references to the death penalty in state law.

“The death penalty is racist, arbitrary, and inhumane,” Hoylman said. “The New York Court of Appeals ruled capital punishment to be unconstitutional in 2004, but the language enabling it remains in state law to this day. I’m proud to introduce legislation with Senator Brian Kavanagh to finally repeal New York’s death penalty statute, and remove it from the books forever.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last year announced he would support efforts to strike the death penalty from state law — a move that came as Pope Francis declared “inadmissible” to Catholic teachings. He included the provision in his budget proposal this year.

Cuomo’s father, Gov. Mario Cuomo, vetoed efforts to reinstate the death penalty a dozen times as governor amid political pressure from supporters of capital punishment.

In 1995, Gov. George Pataki signed legislation in favor of the death penalty; the state Court of Appeals ruling led to the last remaining inmates on death row to have their sentences commuted to life in prison.

Bill Would Create Petition Process For Public Hearings

The state Senate on Thursday approved legislation that would create a system for triggering a public hearing during the rulemaking process by public agencies.

“More public input in agency decision-making will help government make better decisions,” said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris. “This proposal would empower New Yorkers to force a public discussion of important proposed regulations before they are decided. I urge my colleagues in the Assembly to pass this important measure so policy-making can benefit from more public input.”

The bill would require state agencies to hold public hearings once 125 or more New Yorkers formally request one through a petition. At the same time, agencies would also be allowed to livestream and teleconference the hearings.

The provision is similar to laws in California, Arizona, New Hampshire, Idaho, Illinois, and Utah.

Nearly 34 Percent Of State Lawmakers Will Have To Divest Outside Income

Drop the outside salary or drop out.

Nearly 34 percent of the Legislature’s 213 state lawmakers will have to divest their private-sector income within the year or leave office, according to a report released on Thursday by the good-government group Common Cause.

State lawmakers had their outside pay capped at 15 percent of their public sector income, which now stands at $110,000 based on the decision of a pay commission made late last year.

“It’s common practice for Albany lawmakers to take second or even third jobs to earn extra money — and execute power — while working on the taxpayers’ dime,” said Susan Lerner, the organization’s executive director. “But not any more. Lawmakers deserve a raise, and New Yorkers deserve elected officials who work only for them. End of story.”

The changes, which include an end to most stipends for legislative leadership jobs, have not been taken well by lawmakers with jobs in the private sector.

Sen. Tom O’Mara, an attorney in private practice, is considering a lawsuit to challenge the pay commission’s findings. A fiscally conservative group, the Government Justice Center, has already filed suit to challenge the outside pay limits.

Those in favor of allowing private-sector employment argue it’s important for lawmakers to have one foot in the real world. One lawmaker, Assemblyman Gary Finch, owns a chain of funeral parlors. Another, Assemblyman John McDonald, is a pharmacist. Sen. Fred Akshar, a retired undersheriff, recently started a private-eye and security business.

Critics, however, point to the potential for corruption of having essentially “two masters” — the taxpayers and an employer who may seek to influence public policy.

The report, based on financial disclosure information collected by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, found nearly half of returning Republican lawmakers have outside income, with 26 percent of returning Democratic lawmakers having outside pay.

More than half, 56 percent, represent downstate districts.

The wealthiest lawmakers are Republicans George Amedore in the Senate, who reported earning more than $600,000 and Stephen Hawley in the Assembly, who reported more than $400,000 in outside pay.

Gallivan, GOP Lawmakers Call For Cuomo To Lift North Carolina Travel Ban

State Senator Pat Gallivan, R-Elma, is asking the governor to rescind a 2016 executive order which banned non-essential state travel to North Carolina.

He said 13 student athletes from SUNY Geneseo, SUNY Brockport and SUNY Cortland are participating in the NCAA Division III Swimming Championships in Greensboro in two weeks. However, due to the executive order, they would not be able to stay in the Tar Heel State while they compete and would have to make accommodations and commute daily from a neighboring state.

“This is not only a distraction for the athletes and their coaches; it puts them at a competitive disadvantage and could have a negative impact on their performance,” Gallivan wrote in a letter to the governor. “The additional travel required will also add to the overall cost for attending the tournament.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, signed the executive order in response to North Carolina’s so-called Bathroom Bill or H.B. 2 which, in part, forced transgender individuals to use restrooms that corresponded to the sex identified on their birth certificates. The legislation also banned local governments from instituting and enforcing their own non-discrimination ordinances.

In March 2017, North Carolina lawmakers, facing pressure from the NCAA, repealed the transgender bathroom portion of the law. It was enough for the college sports governing body which lifted its own boycott of events in the state, however many gay rights activists called the compromise a “fake repeal.”

“In New York, we do not support blatant discrimination, bigotry and bias.” Cuomo Senior Advisor Rich Azzopardi said. “Standing up for equality is not a fad and as long as this anti-LGBTQ law remains in effect, New York tax dollars are not going to be spent there.”

Gallivan pointed out the governor said in reference to New York State’s deal with Amazon, that putting political interests first was innapropriate. He said it is also true in this case.

“It is unfair to make a political statement on the backs and lives of these student athletes who have worked so hard to reach this level of competition,” Gallivan said. “We should be celebrating their achievements, not punishing them for something they have no control over.”

Azzopardi pointed out the executive order does not ban competition in the state – just the use of taxpayer money. Three other GOP lawmakers, state Senators Rob Ortt and Daphne Jordan and Assembly Member Marjorie Burns, joined Gallivan at a press conference at the Capitol today.

Gallivan Letter by Ryan Whalen on Scribd

Stewart-Cousins Says Agreement Can Be Reached On Bail Changes

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins downplayed to reporters on Wednesday the disagreements between Democrats her chamber and the Assembly over criminal justice law changes, such as ending cash bail.

Stewart-Cousins met with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie earlier in the day, a sign that the relationship between the two legislative leaders remains a productive one.

But the bail changes have been a sticking point over the last several weeks.

“I have confidence we will get to the right answers,” she said. “We just want to make sure we do it right. These things have been wrong for a very long time.”

Like Heastie, Stewart-Cousins said it was easier to negotiate with Democrats who back the same goal, even if they differ on specifics, such as which criminal charges would apply.

“To me, it’s always easier when you’re working with a group of people that understand the same issues in the same way,” she said.

Looming over the talks, in part, is the broader budget. Lawmakers would be able to put their own stamp on the bills if passed outside of the budget, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has more leverage.