State Senate

In Amazon Aftermath, Kaplan Decries ‘Celebration’

The victory lap taken by the opponents of Amazon’s proposal for Queens was decried in a statement Friday by a freshman Long Island Democrat.

In a statement, Sen. Anna Kaplan, who chairs the Senate Commerce, Economic Development, and Small Business Committee, said the decision by the company to pull out will have a “devastating impact” on the state’s ability to attract companies.

“There should be no celebration in a loss of opportunity for New Yorkers, nor celebration in the loss of economic activity which would have gone a long way towards providing the improvements to local infrastructure we sorely need,” she said. “We can’t afford to let perfection be the enemy of progress, nor allow politics to rise above the people’s best interest.”

The statement comes after the state Senate, now controlled by Democrats, nominated Sen. Mike Gianaris to a board that could have had veto authority over the tax credits and incentives Amazon was being offered to go to Long Island City.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has blamed Democratic lawmakers for the deal being scuttled. The governor’s office, through spokeswoman Dani Lever, lashed out at Sen. Todd Kaminsky, the senior-most Democrat from Long Island in the chamber, for not doing enough to bolster the project.

“Senator Kaminsky cowered when he should have shown courage. Now all of Long Island suffers,” she said.

“The Dean of the Long Island delegation, Senator Todd Kaminsky, should have fought for Long Island’s economic interest when the State Senate aborted the Amazon plan by placing a stalwart Amazon opponent on the government approval board to pander to the local socialists.”

The proposal statewide was broadly popular, according to a Siena College poll released earlier this week.

State Senate Plans Transit Hearings

The Democratic-led state Senate on Wednesday announced plans to hold five public hearings on mass transit issues facing New York statewide.

The first hearing will take place next Tuesday in Manhattan, presumably focusing on the troubles facing the New York City subway system.

The rest will be held in the Hudson Valley, Buffalo, Syracuse and on Long Island. No dates have been given for those just yet.

The hearings will focus on the management of the MTA, issues facing ridership and upstate funding.

“Improving New York’s outdated and crumbling transit systems is a crucial challenge that we must meet,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “These hearings will ensure that New Yorkers throughout the state will be able to share their priorities and discuss these important issues directly with their elected leaders. I commend Senators Kennedy and Comrie for organizing these hearings and working with their Senate Majority colleagues to improve our state’s infrastructure, MTA, LIRR, Metro-North, Bee-Line Bus, Metro Rail, NFTA, CDTA, RTS, Centro, CEATS, C Tran, and other mass transit systems.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year is pushing a plan for congestion pricing in order to bolster the MTA’s funding as well as an overall of the authority’s structure.

Biaggi: Sexual Harassment Hearing Just The Beginning

Lawmakers on Wednesday in Albany will hold the first-of-its-kind hearing on sexual harassment in state government, featuring testimony from former workers who have been harassed, assaulted and abused.

The hearing is likely just step one, Sen. Alessandra Biaggi said on Tuesday, saying there’s a possibility for more hearings as lawmakers craft new policies and bills to respond.

“It’s going to take more than one hearing or more than one day and that’s OK,” she said. “I think we have to ready for that. I think we also have to be OK with being uncomfortable because this an uncomfortable topic to talk about and it’s going to make a lot of people feel uncomfortable and that’s OK.”

So far, about 30 witnesses are expected to testify at the hearing, though the weather could prevent some people from attending. Witnesses will have 10 minutes to testify, not including follow-ups from lawmakers.

In addition to survivors and victims, expert testimony will be given from attorneys and others.

Among the changes Biaggi wants to explore is unifying sexual harassment reporting in the Legislature.

“There’s overlap and we’re just one body,” she said. “Right now, it’s very unclear.”

The hearing is being held in large part due to efforts by the Sexual Harassment Working Group, a panel of former aides who had worked for the Legislature and are victims and survivors of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

“The goal of the hearing tomorrow, which is incredibly important to highlight, is not have a trial, but to hold a hearing and to make sure we are informed as a Legislature how we can update our policies as well as our statutes,” Biaggi said.

Gallivan Elaborates on Constitutional Amendment Proposal

Last week state Senator Pat Gallivan, R-Elma, introduced a constitutional amendment which would block the governor from including non-fiscal policy proposals in his budget.

The Republican cited the increased use of the budget as a tool for Governor Andrew Cuomo over the years, but acknowledged the practice has been utilized by Republicans and Democrats over the year. In fact, it was GOP Governor George Pataki who was challenged in court, and the landmark decision served to essentially broaden executive power.

The ruling was reinforced when Governor David Paterson was challenged years later.

“Their ability to insert policy was upheld and so the end result is something that the framers of our Constitution I don’t think had in mind,” Gallivan said. “Our Constitution and court decisions give the governor the upper hand when it comes to budgeting. It’s not a legitimate check and balance and we all know that our three branches of government, they’re in place to provide a check on each other and it’s not a level playing field and that ultimately is a disservice to citizens.

The state senator said his proposal simply correct the issue so there is a “legitimate check and balance.” The constitutional amendment process in New York is a difficult one which requires passage in two consecutive legislative sessions and then approval from the general public via a statewide referendum vote.

As for whether Gallivan truly believes he can navigate the amendment through that path, he said it’s his job to make the case. He said he’s not bringing it up because Democrats control the Capitol right now.

However, he said Governor Cuomo has “perfected” the practice. Gallivan pointed specifically to reforms to teacher evaluations and marijuana as issues that were included and the budget and he believed should’ve been discussed separately and on their own merits.

He said it also takes away from the budget process, because instead of focusing strictly on numbers and funding, lawmakers are distracted by policy agendas. Finally, he said it essentially forces the legislature to pass a budget even if it disagrees because if the April 1st deadline passes, Cuomo can send them a take-it-or-leave-it budget that could include policy matters.

Gallivan said because of the court rulings, a constitutional amendment is the only viable option for change.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office said this amendment has already been tried and “wholeheartedly rejected by New Yorkers.” He pointed out, in 2005 the measure went to a referendum vote and lost by a nearly 2-1 margin.

Lawmakers Seek End To Amazon-Size Deals

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers have introduced a bill meant to create a national effort that would prevent competition for taxpayer-subsidized bidding wars for major companies like Amazon seeking to relocate to new states.

The bill, backed by Assemblyman Ron Kim and Sen. Julia Salazar, is being picked up in other states, including Connecticut, Illinois, Florida, Arizona, among others.

The bill, known as the End Corporate Welfare Act, would create an interstate compact ending large incentive packages, essentially creating a truce in the bidding war for major projects with states piecing together tax break offerings for companies.

“Economic development spending in New York is fundamentally broken, and despite the poor results of these policies, we persist in offering corporations blank checks without any accountability mechanism,” Salazar said. “With this interstate compact, we will stop the race to the bottom that companies have used to pit the working classes of different states against each other.”

The measure comes as Amazon plans to bring up to 40,000 jobs to Long Island City in Queens tied to $3 billion in tax incentives. The plan, which is being split with northern Virginia, came after a nationwide search for Amazon’s new campus.

A Siena poll released Tuesday found a majority of New York voters, 56 to 36 percent, backed the Amazon plan, including by a 23-percentage point margin in New York City.

“When municipalities and states bend over backwards for the chance to give billions to mega-companies, we all lose,” Kim said in a statement. “In the last few decades, corporate welfare has extracted untold amounts of resources from our communities, money that could have been used to boost affordable housing, improve transportation infrastructure, and adequately fund our public school systems.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday once again defended the deal, calling it a major boost for New York and a signal the state was entering the tech economy.

Cuomo added a potential “tipping point” for the company was the nomination of Sen. Mike Gianaris, a critic of the deal, to a board that could have veto power over the project.

Flanagan: Don’t Cut AIM Funding

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan in a statement Monday said he was oppposed to the proposed cut in direct funding to local governments as outlined in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget plan.

The cuts affect local governments that do not overly rely on AIM funding as a significant source of revenue.

But mayors, in Albany today for the local government budget hearing, have watered the cuts could lead to increased taxes or cuts in services.

“Governor Cuomo likes to brag about controlling spending and bringing sanity to the state’s finances, but balancing the budget on the backs of hardworking local taxpayers isn’t really balancing the budget at all,” Flanagan said. “It’s a shell game played by politicians who would rather force others to make the difficult choices that they should be making.”

Adding to the anxiety for some local government officials has been the state’s cap on property tax increases. They want to see changes that would potentially make it easier to budget under; Cuomo has said he opposes any changes.

“This year’s state budget must restrain spending and protect taxpayers, enact the spending cap into law, and reverse the Governor’s harmful AIM cuts – allowing local governments to receive all of the aid they are entitled to and responsibly plan for the future,” Flanagan said.

Gallivan Wants Amendment Ending Non-Fiscal Policy In The Budget

A constitutional amendment introduced Friday by Sen. Pat Gallivan would block a governor from introducing budgets that contain non-fiscal policy matters.

“For too many years, New York Governors have made a habit of inserting far-reaching policy initiatives into their budget proposals, bypassing the usual legislative process,” said Gallivan, a Republican from western New York.

“Such action prevents the Senate and Assembly from conducting a thorough review of these policies and limits the Legislature’s role of providing a system of ‘checks and balances’ on the Executive Branch. I do not believe this is what the framers of our Constitution had in mind.”

The use of inserting policy into the budget was a milestone achieve by the Silver v. Pataki lawsuit and ultimately giving the governor broad power and leverage over how the budget is shaped.

But unusually for this year, given the Democratic control of both the Senate and Assembly, the budget may wind up being a largely fiscal document as lawmakers have approved a range of bills in the early days of the new legislative session.

Panepinto Fined For Sexual Harassment, Cover Up Effort

Ethics regulators on Thursday announced Democratic former Sen. Marc Panepinto has been fined $10,000 stemming from allegations he sexually harassed a staff member and attempted to cover it up.

The announcement from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Legislative Ethics Commission came two months after Panepinto was sentenced to prison time for his efforts to obstruct the investigation.

Panepinto has previously acknowledged he made unwanted sexual advances toward a woman and then offered her either money or employment in exchange for refusing to cooperate with the commission’s review of the case.

Panepinto served one term in the Senate representing the Buffalo area and did not seek re-election.

The Legislative Ethics Commission had referred the case to JCOPE after an internal investigation was conducted.

Paneptino is one of several lawmakers and top staffers in recent years to have been accused of sexual harassment.

The Legislature next Wednesday will hold a public hearing on sexual harassment, a move that had been long sought by survivors and victims of harassment and abuse in Albany.

May: Restore AIM Funding

Add Democratic state Sen. Rachel May to the push to keep direct aid to municipalities in the final budget agreement as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal seeks to cut the funding in his spending plan.

“I have spoken with leaders across my district — town supervisors, school superintendents, county legislators and executives — and all have expressed their deep concerns over this loss of funding to our local governments,” May said.

“I am fully committed to working with my colleagues to ensure that AIM funding is restored in the final 2019-2020 budget. Our residents in Central New York already bear a heavy tax burden and should not be expected to shoulder more. Even where AIM funding has represented a small percentage of total budgets, it often accounts for a much larger portion of the tax levy, so these cuts will result in significantly higher taxes or loss of services, or both. Our communities deserve better.”

Cuomo’s proposal would end the funding, known as AIM, to local governments that do not overly rely on the money if it accounts for less than 2 percent of their overall revenues.

But May pointed to local governments in her central New York district that stand to lose as much as $1.17 million should the cuts go through. The town of Salina faces the largest, standing to lose more than $290,000.

Gianaris Takes Aim At Opportunity Zones

From the Morning Memo:

Sen. Mike Gianaris on Wednesday announced a bill that would end tax breaks for capital gains when investments are made in federal Qualified Opportunity Zones.

A provision of the federal tax law approved by Congress in 2017 was aimed at nudging investment in economically troubled areas, leading the state to identify census tracts that could qualify as opportunity zones. But Gianaris charges that many of the others included are being overdeveloped and gentrified.

Among the areas: Long Island City and Astoria.

Long Island City is the location web retailer Amazon has settled on to bring up to 40,000 jobs in the coming years in exchange for about $3 billion state tax breaks and incentives. Gianaris has been a prominent critic of the deal.

“The Opportunity Zone program was intended to help economically distressed areas but is being abused to grant tax breaks to already overdeveloped neighborhoods,” he said in a statement. “The state should not be made to suffer due to the misuse of this program.”

Gianaris this week was nominated to serve on the Public Authorities Control Board, a state entity that could determine whether the tax breaks move forward for Amazon, which has come under criticism in New York City for opposing unionization of its workforce.

Gianaris has said he wants to re-negotiate the deal for Amazon.