Legislature Passes Speed Camera Measures

The Democratic-led Legislature on Tuesday approved measures designed to expand speed cameras in New York City and create a pilot program in Buffalo.

One bill would expand speed cameras to 750 school zones in New York City, operating from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday.

New York City officials are required to install signs providing notice that a speed camera is in use.

The measure builds on a 2013 law that created a program with a five-year sunset for 20 school zones.

Lawmakers also approved legislation that would create a pilot program for Buffalo modeled in part after the New York City program. The city of Buffalo would be authorized to install cameras in 20 school zones.

“The safety of children and students is one of our top priorities,” Speaker Carl Heastie said. “We saw from New York City’s demonstration program that speed cameras in school zones dramatically decrease the number of infractions, preventing deadly accidents. I’m glad that this year we could work together with our Senate colleagues to pass legislation that will help save the lives of schoolchildren and other pedestrians.”

The issue was an especially acute one for Brooklyn, where advocates had pushed lawmakers for several years to expand the camera program.

“No parent, senior, or pedestrian of any age should live in fear of crossing the street because of speeding traffic. This program slows traffic and saves lives,” said Brooklyn Sen. Andrew Gounardes. “Plain and simple. The numbers are indisputable and speak for themselves: 63 percent reduction in speeding traffic and 14 percent in traffic injuries. We know that speed is determinant of the severity of an injury received in a crash. I’ll never apologize for prioritizing the safety of millions of pedestrians over the issuance of tickets to reckless drivers.”

Cuomo Muses About Rolling Back Film Tax Credit

What’s good for Amazon is also good for Hollywood?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a news conference said he would be supportive of rolling back the state’s $420 million film tax credit it could bolster education and health care spending.

“If it’s between film tax credit and Medicaid, I would say film tax credit,” Cuomo said. “If it’s between film tax credit and education, I would say film tax credit.”

Cuomo also mused about the possibility of the Democratic-led Senate supporting a cut to the tax credit program as well, which has led to a flood of movies and TV shows being filmed in New York in recent years.

There’s also some clear subtext: Cuomo has blamed the state Senate for the failed Amazon project in Queens, which would have linked $3 billion in tax incentives to up to 25,000 jobs in Long Island City.

The district of Sen. Mike Gianaris, a prominent critic of the deal, includes Silvercup Studios in Queens.

“The Senate is against tax credits, right? If they need to find funding, I wouldn’t be surprised if they propose cutting the film tax credit,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo has criticized the legislative budget resolutions for spending too much and not balancing out with new revenue.

“If the Senate could use that to close their gap, it’s something I would be open to because these are hard choices,” Cuomo said. “I can see them being wholly consistent and saying I would be the film tax credit, because that’s the exact same point.”

Cuomo Throws Cold Water On NYC Casino

Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a news conference Tuesday said he was skeptical of a push by casino operators to expand into New York City, suggesting the revenue numbers projected by the companies were overly rosy.

At the same time, Cuomo said the casino expansion downstate would still hurt the four upstate casinos that were given exclusivity rights until 2023.

“Long term you’re still hurting the competitiveness of the upstate casinos because this was always the point: We wanted the person driving from Queens upstate if they wanted to go to a casino,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo’s budget director, Robert Mujica, last week also cast doubt on the possibility of expanding casinos in New York City ahead of the 2023 timetable, saying the revenue would not necessarily aid the state immediately.

MGM and Genting currently operate racinos in Yonkers and in Queens. Sands wants to build a casino in one of the five boroughs, promising construction jobs along with it.

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 Governor Paterson, Now With Sands, Touts Downstate Casino

As gambling interests seek to accelerate the end of upstate exclusivity to pave the way for a New York City casino, former Gov. David Paterson is the public face of the effort backed by the Las Vegas-based Sands to enter the market.

“I think as long as the government has the power to do it, which it does, I think it would be an incredible idea,” Paterson said in an interview at the state Capitol.

MGM, which operates the Empire City racino in Yonkers and Genting, the owners of the Aqueduct racino in Queens, are also pushing state officials to accelerate the time table for issuing downstate casino licenses, which currently cannot be approved until 2023.

MGM and Aqueduct are both operating pre-existing gambling halls with slot machines; a casino license would enable them to start table-top gaming.

Sands, owned by prominent Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, has assembled an advisory panel led by Paterson and prominent New Yorkers. Paterson served as governor from 2008 through 2010.

Sands has argued for an “open process” — a phrase echoed by Paterson, who framed the issue has one that would generate not just casino jobs, but also construction work. He estimated the construction of a new casino in New York City would create between 15,000 and 20,000 jobs.

“The process being opened up to all different types of parties would be a chance for them to compete,” Paterson said.

There are four upstate casinos at the moment. The governor’s top budget aide this month cast doubt on whether a casino license acceleration can move forward given the exclusivity fees that would have to be paid out to the upstate operators.

Paterson, however, said there is an opportunity for upstate casinos with “revenue sharing, licenses being deferred in cost, annd obviously that the communities around those facilities share in the wealth of any benefits the come from the revenue generated by the casino.”

The former governor isn’t lobbying the Legislature and state lawmakers directly on the issue.

“I’m not speaking with one of them,” Paterson said. “I’m not a lobbyist, and I never wanted to be. So for the first time, I’m running away from the lawmakers and right to the media.”

32BJ SEIU Endorses Katz For DA

The labor union 32BJ SEIU on Tuesday endorsed Queens district attorney candidate Melinda Katz in the Democratic primary for the open office.

“32BJ has done a fantastic job standing up for workers across the country,” said Katz, the Queens borough president. “Their fights to raise the minimum wage, protect immigrants from ICE, and win better working conditions have made a difference in the lives of thousands of people. The Queens District Attorney should be an ally to working people in these fights, and I’m proud to have 32BJ’s support. As DA, I’ll hold employers accountable for wage theft and unsafe working conditions, and do everything in my power to protect immigrant workers from the Trump administration’s xenophobic policies.”

Katz faces Councilman Rory Lancman and Judge Greg Lasak in the primary.

“32BJ is proud to join the diverse base of local elected officials, other labor unions, and community groups throughout Queens in our endorsement of Melinda Katz in her campaign for District Attorney,” said union president Hector Figueroa.

“Not only does Borough President Katz deeply understand the kinds of economic and safety risks workers across Queens face every day, she has made workers’ rights a key part of her campaign and created a detailed agenda to get justice for these workers as District Attorney. Her plan to protect Queens residents from wage theft, unsafe workplaces, and hostile work environments will make New York a better, safer place for working families.”

Lawmakers, Workers Push For Higher Tipped Worker Wage

A bill that would increase the minimum wage for tipped workers to the full minimum wage is being pushed for in the final budget agreement by restaurant workers and state lawmakers who back the legislation.

“The food service industry employs the largest number of women workers earning below the minimum wage, workers who must rely on the whim of consumers rather than their own employers to be paid a living wage and support their families, fostering an environment that encourages racism, sexual harassment, and high poverty rates,” said Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee.

“The seven states that already require tipped workers be paid the full minimum wage have flourishing restaurant industries. It’s time for New York to get on board and eliminate this shameful economic injustice.”

The bill is being sought more than a year after Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the Department of Labor to study the effect of ending the so-called subminimum wage, which has been eliminated in seven states, including California.

“All New Yorkers deserve fair compensation regardless of their occupation. This includes tipped workers who are central to New York’s economy yet aren’t afforded the security of a stable paycheck. Allowing for one fair wage will permit these workers a full paycheck for a full day’s work,” said Assemblyman David Weprin, a Queens Democrat. “I want to thank Senator Jessica Ramos and Assembly Member Ellen Jaffee for advocating for this important topic and working to ensure that all New Yorkers are paid a fair wage.”

The move would aid workers in an industry that is predominantly composed of people of color and immigrants as well as single mothers.

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.

Tax Cap Coalition Launches Digital Push

From the Morning Memo:

The coalition of regional business groups on Tuesday will launch a digital ad campaign to push for the permanent extension of the state’s cap on property tax increases.

The digital ad buy, which the groups called a “robust” purchase, comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for the permanent extension provision included in a final budget agreement.

The digital campaign is scheduled to run from this week through April 1, the end of the state budget season.

The coalition is composed of the Long Island Association’s Kevin Law, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce president and former lieutenant governor Bob Duffy, and the New York Business Council President Heather Briccetti as well as the Business Council of Westchester’s Marsha Gordon.

“Governor Andrew Cuomo’s property tax cap has saved New Yorkers $25 billion since 2012,” the groups said in a joint statement.

“Now is the time to make it permanent. According to a recent Siena poll, a broad majority of New York voters support the Governor’s vision for a permanent cap, but we need action now. We urge state legislators to support the permanent property tax cap in order to keep New York economically competitive and affordable,” said leaders of the property tax cap coalition.”

Cuomo has opposed making changes to the cap, such as no longer linking it to the rate of inflation or making it easier to override.

The Democratic-led state Senate has approved a permanent extension measure as a standalone bill; the Democratic-controlled Assembly is yet to follow suit.

#SupportTheCap from Tax Cap Coalition on Vimeo.

Campaign Finance Reform Supporters Tout Swing District Polls

From the Morning Memo:

A group that’s backing campaign finance law changes is touting a new poll of key House districts in New York that found support for creating a system of publicly financed campaigns.

The poll by Global Strategy Group found support for the proposal in the 11th House district on Staten Island, the 19th district in the Hudson Valley, both represented by Democrats, and the Republican-held 22nd district that stretches from the Southern Tier to western New York.

“Republican, Democratic, and independent voters in swing districts across the country, including in New York, want to get big money out of politics, and they support a publicly-fsWwdinanced small dollar matching system to make sure it happens,” said Tiffany Muller, the president of End Citizens United.

“In fact, 90 percent of these voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports clean elections, including small dollar matching, a remarkable consensus across party lines.”

The 11th, 19th and 22nd congressional districts were hotly contested House races last year, with Democrats Max Rose, Anthony Brindisi and Antonio Delgado defeating Republican incumbents.

The poll comes as state lawmakers in Albany are debating a public campaign financing program for New York elections. The proposal has hit a snag in the Democratic-led Assembly, however, after Speaker Carl Heastie said the measure lacks the necessary conference support to bring to the floor for a vote amid concerns over how the system would be regulated.

ECU Clean Elections Poll Memo – F03.18.18 by Nick Reisman on Scribd