State Senate

Amid Amazon Saga, Senate Republicans Point To Tax Cuts

Republicans in the state Senate Wednesday laid blame on their Democratic colleagues for the Amazon deal falling through in Queens, saying the failed project hurt all of New York.

“New York state — the message that’s being sent right now to business? We’re closed for business,” said Sen. Pam Helming.

Senate Republicans announced support for a package of tax cuts aimed at creating jobs, primarily for small businesses in New York. The cuts would be in contrast to the billions in tax breaks New York spends on targeted investments for job creation, often with large corporations.

“We actually believe that by cutting taxes and changing how business is done in New York, that will stimulate economic development,” said Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan.

Republicans proposed a paring of energy taxes as well as a small business tax cut worth $495 million. They also want to make the state’s cap on property taxes permanent.

The GOP conference lost its majority last year in a landslide that gave Democrats 39 seats in the 63-member chamber.

The Amazon deal fell through amid opposition from Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Mike Gianaris, a critic of the deal who was nominated by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to a board that could have wielded veto power over the project.

“I think the taxpayers have a significant buyers’ remorse,” Flanagan said. “Certainly a lot of promises were made and every single one of them was broken at break-neck speed.”

Stewart-Cousins told reporters she had no regrets nominating Gianaris to the board.

“When it came to an appointment, I certainly wanted to recommend that a voice from the community be on that board,” she said.

She also defended the different views Democrats in the Senate held on the Amazon project. Some suburban lawmakers had supported the plan.

“I don’t think there were any fault lines between suburban and city members,” Stewart-Cousins said. “The reality is we’re all legislators. We all represent districtrs and we all represent the interests of New York state simultaneously.”

The deal’s failure has, however, led to a split between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Democratic lawmakers. Senate Democrats insist they were merely exercising oversight of a major economic development deal.

Stewart-Cousins: No Regrets Nominating Gianaris To PACB

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Wednesday said she has no regrets nominating Sen. Mike Gianaris to the Public Authorities Control Board, the action that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has blamed as the final straw for Amazon pulling out of a project in Long Island City.

“When it came to an appointment, I certainly wanted to recommend a voice from the community be on the board,” she said. So no, I have no regrets. As I said, it’s a recommendation. The governor could accept or not.”

Gianaris was a prominent critic of the Amazon plan, which would have linked $3 billion in tax credits to the creation of up to 25,000 jobs in the coming years.

The company ultimately pulled the plug on the project, citing the ongoing political scrutiny of the project, which included efforts to unionize Amazon’s workforce in New York.

The board Gianaris was appointed to would have had veto power over the deal’s tax incentives. Senate Democrats last week nominated Sen. Leroy Comrie in Gianaris’s place on the board.

Senate Republicans this week proposed ending the unanimous vote requirement for projects at the board to a simple majority.

Bill Would Ban Flavored Liquid In E-Cigarettes

A bill that would ban the sale of flavored liquids used in e-cigarettes cleared the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday as the Legislature moves forward with bills that crack down on the relatively new industry.

It now goes to the full Senate for a vote.

The bill bans the distribution and sale of flavored e-liquid and e-cigarettes that contain e-liquid.

“E-cigarette flavors like fruit punch, gummy bear, and cotton candy are Big Tobacco’s irresponsible, cynical ploy to hook a generation of young New Yorkers on nicotine,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman. “They are getting away with it. In December 2018, researchers sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that in 2018, 1.3 million more high school students tried vaping than in 2017. That increase was so significant, it marked the largest-ever rise in the use of any substance recorded in the survey’s 44 year history.”

The bill is sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal.

With Congestion Pricing, Long Island Dems Want More For The Suburbs

Democrats who represent Long Island districts in the state Senate said in a joint statement on Wednesday that the proposed congestion pricing plan skews too heavily on bolstering subways in New York City and called for more funding for commuter rail that services Suffolk and Nassau counties.

“We cannot support the proposal in its current state and are happy to meet with any party to address these concerns,” the lawmakers said. “We remain ready to help craft a formula that Long Island commuters will find advantageous.”

The statement from Sens. John Brooks, Jim Gaughran, Anna Kaplan, Todd Kaminsky, Monica Martinez, and Kevin Thomas came a day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio backed a congestion pricing plan that would toll drivers who come into Manhattan south of 61st Street.

The move would bolster subways and also draw revenue from the sales tax on marijuana sales as well as out-of-state internet sales tax.

The opposition also comes after Cuomo singled out the Long Island lawmakers, particularly Kaminsky, for not doing more to push back against opposition to the failed Amazon project in Long Island City.

“As the representatives for millions of Long Island commuters, it is our responsibility to ensure that any congestion pricing plan is not funded on their backs without substantial benefit,” the lawmakers said. “We are generally supportive of the concept of decreasing the reliance on automobile trips to New York City, while at the same time protecting the environment and easing congestion in Manhattan’s Central Business District. However, yesterday’s proposal raises troubling concerns.”

In addition to funding for the Long Island Rail Road, the lawmakers pointed to the RFK Bridge not being given a toll exemption or offset, arguing that this leads to a “double toll” for Long Island drivers.

At the same time, the Capital Review Committee should be composed of Long Island representatives as well.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins backed her members on the move.

“I look forward to working with my Long Island Delegation to ensure that the needs of Long Island are met,” she said. “Clearly, there is a need for a dedicated stream of revenue to fix the crumbling MTA but any fix must benefit all parts of the MTA.”

Updated: Cuomo’s office responded in a statement from senior advisor Rich Azzopardi.

“If the Long Island senators want representation on the Capital Committee they should tell their leader, Senator Stewart-Cousins, to appoint a Long Islander as her representative to the Capital Committee,” he said. “Also, since our congestion pricing plan doesn’t set funding levels for the subways vs. commuter rails, we have no idea what they are talking about.”

Bill Would Require Charter Schools To Provide Feminine Hygiene Products

From the Memo:

The Democratic-led state Senate today will vote for a bill that would require charter schools to provide free feminine hygiene products.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, is meant to build on a requirement in the 2018-19 state budget that public schools provide feminine hygiene products in public schools for grades 6 through 12.

An Assembly same-as version of the bill is sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal.

“This was a groundbreaking step, showing New York State recognizes that menstruation should never bar a student from academic or extracurricular opportunities,” the bill’s sponsor memo states.

The bill adds charter schools to the hygiene products requirement, covering grades 6 through 12 as well.

“It is critical that menstruation, a natural biological function, does not serve as a barrier to opportunity for any students of menstruating age in New York State,” the memo stated.

Amazon Fallout Continues

It’s been two weeks since Amazon announced it would pull out of a planned project for Queens that would have tied $3 billion in tax incentives to 25,000 jobs.

The background music that is the Amazon controversy continued to play in Albany on Tuesday after lawmakers returned from a mid-February break.

Senate Republicans unsuccessfully sought a hostile amendment that would have restructured how the Public Authorities Control Board functions. The little-known entity was thrust into the spotlight this month after Sen. Mike Gianaris, a critic of the Amazon deal, was recommended by Democrats in the state Senate to sit on the board.

The Republican amendment, rejected by Democrats, would have changed the threshold for approval at the board from a unanimous vote to a simply majority.

“Every single Senate Democrat showed New Yorkers that they were not ready for prime time when they chased Amazon and its 25,000 jobs out of town, and today Democrats are reaffirming their ‘New York is closed for business’ stance by refusing to relinquish the very veto power that killed Amazon,” said Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan. “The Republican Conference offered a common sense solution to create a more deliberative and fair process.”

Senate Democrats over the weekend recommended the appointment of Sen. Leroy Comrie to the board in Gianaris’s place.

Kaminsky: Road Safety Package Needed Before Cannabis Is Legalized

Long Island Sen. Todd Kaminsky is not prepared to back the legalization of marijuana without bolstering traffic and road safety first.

“Right now I’m very concerned that we’re moving along one track with marijuana legalization and not having a comprehensive road safety package with funding for drug recognition experts, other ways to detect, education so people know it’s not safe to drive,” Kaminsky said on Tuesday.

Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor who now represents a suburban district in Nassau County, has spoke with law enforcement officials in other states where marijuana laws have loosened in recent years.

“The amount of young people who think it’s OK to drive while high is scary,” he said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier in the day proposed new funding plans for mass transit in New York City, with part of the proceeds from the sale of commercialized marijuana going toward transportation.

But marijuana legalization is complicated in part by the criminal justice reform aspect of the legislation as well. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters he would prefer revenue from taxing marijuana go toward communities impacted by drug laws.

Kaminsky, meanwhile, is not ruling out ultimately backing marijuana legalization.

“I think it’s possible to do both, but we need to see that effort made,” he said.

Bill Would Boost New York-Grown Holiday Products

From the Morning Memo:

New York-grown agricultural products used to celebrate the holidays — think Christmas trees, pumpkins — could get a boost with a bill being considered later on Tuesday by the state Senate.

The measure, backed by Democratic Sen. Jen Metzger, is meant to promote New York’s holiday themed farm products. The measure can cover wreaths, but also turkeys, apples and honey used during the holidays.

“I am committed to working with our state’s farming communities to take advantage of economic opportunities,” Metzger said. “This legislation that we will pass today is a smart way to further promote New York products that are used during popular holidays. This will be a welcome boost to many different producers, such as our tree farms, where we currently rank fourth in the nation.”

New York currently has a robust tree farm industry. There are 875 tree farms in the state, ranking fourth nationally, that harvest roughly 275,000 trees a year.

Senate Dems Plan Long Island Transit Hearing

Democrats in the state Senate on Friday will hold a public hearing on transportation issues facing Long Island.

The hearing is one of several events the Senate is holding around the state. Last week, a public hearing was held on transit issues facing New York City.

Additional hearings will be held in the Hudson Valley, Syracuse and Buffalo.

“During our first transportation hearing in New York City, we listened to the concerns and priorities of many riders who rely on New York’s transit networks every day, as well as the transportation agencies and management who oversee them,” said Sen. Tim Kennedy, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. “It is clear that significant improvements need to be made in order to sustain these aging systems, and we’re committed to addressing these issues and working collaboratively to find solutions. We look forward to continuing this important dialogue with ridership on Long Island this week.”

Long Island is a politically key region of the state, especially for the Senate. Democrats now hold six of the nine Long Island Senate districts.

Rozic-Gounardes Bill Would End ‘Severe Or Pervasive’ Threshold

State lawmakers on Monday announced legislation that would end the use of the “severe or pervasive” standard in determining sexual harassment cases.

The bill, sponsored by Democrats Nily Rozic in the Assembly and Andrew Gounardes in the state Senate, is the first major piece of legislation to be announced after this month’s hearing on sexual harassment in the state Legislature.

The use of severe or pervasive in sexual harassment cases was criticized by survivors and victims of abuse who testified at the hearing, arguing that it fails to cover a range of misconduct.

“The flawed ‘severe or pervasive’ standard of sexual harassment has arbitrarily denied justice for far too long,” Rozic said in a statement. “As we work to strengthen our sexual harassment laws, the first step is to ensure that standards set are up to date and well defined.”

Gounardes called the use of the threshold “outdated, arbitrary, and entirely subjective.”

“By lowering this impossibly high burden of proof, we are unequivocally defining what constitutes harassment and finally fighting back against a legal framework that has protected perpetrators and denied survivors justice for far too long,” he said.