Quantcast

Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union
 

CITY

City

9 Key Takeaways for New York City from Cuomo's State of the State and Budget


govcuomo jus

Mayor de Blasio applauds Governor Cuomo (photo via the Governor's office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State speech and accompanying $175.2 billion state budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 had something for everything. The 354-page policy book lays out proposals, big and small, on everything from criminal justice reform, transit and infrastructure funding, workforce protections to rent regulations, voting and ethics reform, farmer benefits, legalizing marijuana, women’s rights and reproductive health, LGBTQ protections, and environmental regulation, to name just a few.

The budget proposal, with its long list of policy priorities, has several measures that will have significant consequences for New York City and its own budget, the first draft of which Mayor Bill de Blasio will soon present. The state fiscal year begins April 1, the city’s begins July 1. Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog, noted in its assessment that the governor’s budget proposal cuts nearly $100 million in reimbursements and aid to the city.

And while some of the governor’s initiatives may benefit the city or line up with de Blasio’s priorities, there are others that could end up being a burden and might prompt staunch opposition from the mayor and state legislators who represent districts in the five boroughs. De Blasio expressed concern about a few proposals in the hours after the governor’s presentation, while conceding that “there's a lot to like in the speech.” Below are eight key takeaways for the city from Cuomo’s policy and budget plans.

Cuomo wants the city to split MTA costs with the state. De Blasio disagrees.
Cuomo has embraced congestion pricing as a key proposal to garner resources for the MTA and stem the tide of years of disinvestment that have left large funding obligations and a crumbling subway system. While he has still not fully fleshed out a congestion pricing plan, Cuomo estimated such a system could bring in about $15 billion in revenue over a ten-year period, but also insisted that any shortfall to fund the subways and buses over and above that should be split 50-50 between the city and the state. He argued that over several MTA capital plans the city’s contributions to the MTA have been falling and the state’s contributions have been rising, a characterization that de Blasio later took issue with.

Cuomo, who effectively controls the MTA and appoints a plurality of its board members and its leadership, is proposing an overhaul of the agency’s management, which he has blamed for repeated failures over the years and again in his speech. “It was purposefully designed so that everyone can point fingers at everybody else, and nobody's responsible,” he said, even though he has claimed credit for its successes in the past and he has recently re-exerted control relative to the L-train shutdown.

The details of Cuomo’s MTA management reform plan are also still not fully clear.

De Blasio has repeatedly said the best solution to the MTA’s financial woes is a millionaire’s tax, an idea that is anathema to Cuomo. In his Albany news conference shortly after the governor’s speech, the mayor reiterated the proposal as he pushed back against the governor’s suggestions. “Now, there’s a lot of good ideas on the table and here's a chance to decide which combination of those ideas will actually solve the problem,” he said of funding the MTA. “But yet you can't take it out of the city budget, it’s not going to work.” Though he continues to say he prefers the millionaire’s tax, de Blasio’s rhetoric around congestion pricing has warmed considerably.

Reforms needed to close Rikers Island may soon be reality
The governor’s budget proposal includes support for several criminal justice reforms which de Blasio has said are crucial to the plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex within 10 years. Among those are ending cash bail, among other reforms to pretrial detention processes, and passing Kalief’s Law, a speedy trial reform named for Kalief Browder, the Bronx youth who spent three years on Rikers Island on charges of stealing a backpack. Never convicted, Browder was released but later died by suicide, which was attributed to his harsh treatment while in detention.

De Blasio has said that bail and speedy trial reform would work in concert with ongoing efforts to reduce the population of Rikers down below 5,000, the threshold the city estimates it would need to reach in order to house detainees in borough-based facilities that are being planned. The city jail population is now under 8,000, de Blasio announced during his State of the City address.

Rent regulations will help de Blasio’s affordable housing plan
De Blasio’s ambitious plan to create and preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026 is on track according to city estimates and broke a record in 2018 by financing 34,160 affordable units, the most in one year for any administration. That plan could benefit massively from a push by the governor and the Legislature to strengthen rent regulations, which are set to expire at the end of June.

Cuomo has expressed support for ending vacancy decontrol whereby upon certain vacancies landlords can remove units from the regulated rolls, eliminating preferential rent limits, and reforming the process by which landlords can assess tenants for improvements to buildings and apartments. All are items that de Blasio praised while noting that he would have to see more details. Such regulations would have been “inconceivable” when Republicans controlled the state Senate, he said as he anticipated seeing stronger laws in place this year. “It's going to help us preserve affordable housing in New York City,” de Blasio said. “And certainly from what the governor said in the speech, I'm encouraged.

Education and mayoral control
Cuomo proposed a 3.6 percent increase in education funding statewide -- an increase of $1 billion from the current year for a total of $27.7 billion -- and proposed a new school funding formula called “Education Equity,” emphasizing that current funding is not flowing to the poorest schools in poorer school districts.

The governor presented new data based on his administration’s analysis of numbers provided to the state by large schools districts that had been required by a law passed last year meant to assess exactly how districts are allocating education funds. Cuomo showed data that indicated all the largest school districts are funding their wealthier schools at higher rates than their poorer schools, though de Blasio questioned the presentation and said the city would have more to say soon. It’s not immediately clear how Cuomo’s administration calculated its numbers.

Cuomo’s proposal looks like it would set up a fight with the mayor, who insisted that the governor should fully fund the “Foundation Aid” formula as required by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision, which Cuomo has argued is settled and a relic of the past.

De Blasio did praise the governor for proposing a three-year extension of mayoral control of city schools, which Cuomo has done in the past though he has appeared comfortable settling on multiple one-year extensions (last time it was two years) as a means of frustrating the mayor. “[U]nder a mayoral control model that we have in New York City for the last five years, we have consistently moved resources to schools in greater need,” de Blasio said, noting that Cuomo’s presentation “did not reflect the reality we know in New York City” and promising to correct the record.

Notably, Cuomo has not initially indicated a plan to raise the cap on charter schools in New York City, a statutory limit that will soon be hit. Cuomo has been a staunch supporter of charters (and de Blasio has mostly been an opponent), but he has been relatively quiet on the issue as he has moved left over the last few years and repaired his relationship with the teachers unions. Still, Cuomo has made sure that charters have secured key protections in state agreements, though this year could hold a different approach.

Speed cameras and bus lane cameras
Last year, a limited speed camera program around schools in New York City lapsed amid legislative intransigence led by state Senate Republicans but was revived through an agreement among the governor, mayor, and New York City Council. Cuomo has proposed reinstating the program in state law through 2022, expanding the number of camera zones from 140 to 290, as well as removing a cap on bus lane cameras and allowing automated cameras to enforce “block-the-box” violations in the proposed congestion pricing zone. The bill would also create a new camera program to combat violations in Manhattan that contribute to congestion.

Infrastructure program highlights include JFK, LaGuardia Airports
Cuomo touted an additional planned $150 billion investment in infrastructure in his third term, building on projects that are already underway and several new ones that he is expected to launch. Among those are the renovations of LaGuardia Airport, the new JFK Airport, four new Metro North stations in the Bronx, an expansion of the Javits Convention Center, and the opening of the Shirley Chisholm State Park in Brooklyn.

Anti-terror initiatives
New York City continues to be one of the most prominent terror targets in the world and Cuomo offered several measures to improve security and preparedness, including legislation to ban gun bump stocks, prohibit weaponized drones, and regulations on the sale of certain explosives.

Two measures were directly impelled by incidents in New York City -- the governor proposed a bill to require two pieces of identification to rent a vehicle, citing attacks carried out across the world and particularly the 2017 Halloween attack on the West Side Highway that claimed the lives of eight people. Cuomo also proposed investments in “infrastructure hardening” such as traffic bollards and crash barriers to protect civilians.

Lead exposure thresholds
Cuomo proposed lowering the threshold of blood lead levels that would lead to an immediate public health response, which could potentially become a prominent issue in New York City where residents of the New York City Housing Authority have been fighting with the administration for years over lead paint in their apartments.

Other policies apply to New York City
A variety of other policies the governor is backing would apply to New York City and have an impact in the five boroughs, including some measures that have already passed the Legislature, like voting reforms, a ban on gay conversion therapy, and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. This list also includes the planned expansion of abortion rights, more gun control, the Child Victims Act to address child sex abuse, and the Dream Act to provide state tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants and their children, among other policies. Also in this category is the expected legalization of recreational marijuana for adults 21 years of age and older.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

The 2019 Special Election for Public Advocate


(l-r) Tish James, Ydanis Rodriguez, Melissa Mark-viverito, Jumaane Williams, Latrice Walker
Rafael Espinal, Danny O'Donnell, Michael Blake, Erich Ulrich, Ron Kim


Paragraph

  podcast spacer

Everything You Need to Know About the Special Election for Public Advocate

January 04, 2019

 

  podcast spacer

23 Candidates Submit Petitions to Get on February 26 Public Advocate Ballot

January 15, 2019

 

  podcast spacer

Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Michael Blake

January 17, 2019

 

  danny odonnell 400b

Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Danny O'Donnell

January 17, 2019

 

  podcast spacer

Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Dawn Smalls

January 17, 2019

 

 

  podcast spacer

In First Mailer of Public Advocate Race, Kim Targets Amazon, and Prominent Opponents

January 17, 2019

 

 

 

  daocvcdmv4aezxir

Public Advocate Election Makes Case for Instant Runoff Voting (opinion)

January 14, 2019

 

  Public Advocate Candidate Eric Ulrich

Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Eric Ulrich

January 10, 2019

 

  rafael espinal 1 2 wbai 400

Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Rafael Espinal

January 03, 2019

  podcast spacer

My Vision for the Role of Public Advocate: Ron Kim (opinion)

December 18, 2018

 

 

 

  podcast spacer

Declared and Exploring Candidates for New York City Public Advocate

December 12, 2018

 

  podcast spacer

Handicapping the Public Advocate Special Election (opinion)

December 06, 2018

 

 

  podcast spacer

Promising to 'Tell New Yorkers the Truth,' Mark-Viverito Launches Public Advocate Campaign

November 28, 2018

 

  podcast spacer

At First Debate, Candidates for Public Advocate Pitch Visions for the Role

November 16, 2018

  podcast spacer

LISTEN: Public Advocate Candidate Forum - Nov. 14, 2018

November 14, 2018

 

  podcast spacer

Field for Public Advocate Special Election Comes Into Focus

November 13, 2018

 

  podcast spacer

In Run for New York City Public Advocate, Blake Offers Federal and State Experience

October 25, 2018

 

  podcast spacer

Vacancy in the Public Advocate's Office? Call the City Council Speaker 

September 07, 2018

 

  podcast spacer

Potentially Crowded Public Advocate Special Election Could Feature Two Former Council Speakers

September 04, 2018

With De Blasio in Debt, City Council Considers Bill to Allow ‘Legal Defense Trusts’


nycczerohearingsl

City Council Member Stephen Levin (photo via New York City Council)


Mayor Bill de Blasio owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawyers who helped him during legal investigations that ultimately resulted in no criminal charges against the mayor, but left him with bills to pay even after he reversed course and decided to use public funds to cover the portion of his legal expenses related to his government work. The remaining balance, for work related to campaign activity de Blasio was involved with that was the subject of part of the inquiries, has left de Blasio looking for a new way to pay off his debts: a legal defense fund whereby he raises money from donors willing to help him.

But, there’s been a key catch: the city does not have a legal framework for allowing public officials to create such accounts, and the advice the mayor got from the city’s Conflict of Interest Board limited him to receiving very small gifts from prospective benefactors.

Spotlighting this perceived gap in the city’s legal and campaign finance framework, de Blasio’s situation, as well as others before him, has spurred action, and the City Council has begun to consider a new law to create “legal defense trusts.”

On Monday, January 14, the Council’s Committee on Government Operations held a hearing on a bill proposed by Council Member Stephen Levin, a Brooklyn Democrat, that would allow city officials to establish such trusts for fees incurred during an investigation or trial. The bill sets a donation limit at $5,000 per donor, which is more than double the $2,000 limit for campaign contributions, with no limit on how much an official can raise in such a fund. As written, the bill bans lobbyists, persons doing business with the city, corporations, and LLCs from contributing to legal defense trusts. Additionally, any legal defense trusts would be required to make quarterly reports to the Conflict of Interest Board on their donations, which would then be made public and posted online, in a manner similar to the Campaign Finance Board’s reporting of political donations. No campaign funds could be used for a legal defense trust or vice versa and each trust will be overseen by an independent trustee.

Levin said that his bill “would bring transparency and regulation to a system that is in need of improvement.” Under the current law, city officials in civil and some criminal cases are entitled to a legal defense paid for by the city, as long as the cases relate to their public duties. However, offenses unrelated to an official’s public duties (such as political campaigns, issue advocacy, and certain administrative issues) are not paid for by the city.

Council Member Fernando Cabrera, a Bronx Democrat and the chair of the Government Operations Committee, explained it as a problem because “public officials are not highly paid and rarely independently wealthy,” and “defending against allegations and investigations for alleged wrongdoing can be financially devastating for someone of average means.”

While there have been past instances to raise the issue, the bill and committee hearing were spurred by a March 2017 advisory opinion from the city’s Conflict of Interest Board, which stated that because there was no law specifically addressing the issue, donations to a public official’s legal defense fund are considered gifts under current law and therefore limited to $50 per person. The advisory opinion came after Mayor de Blasio planned to create a legal defense fund to cover fees from state and federal investigations into his fundraising activities.

De Blasio was never mentioned by name during the hearing, but was frequently referred to as a “public official in the headlines,” when the advisory opinion was brought up during testimony provided by representatives of the Conflict of Interest Board.

At a press conference on January 8, de Blasio reiterated his assertion that a new legal framework was necessary. “I believe there is a need in a democratic society for this kind of mechanism, a legal defense fund is a very well established idea,” he said. He added the caveat that the bill had not gone through the legislative process, so he didn’t know the final wording. When asked if he would disclose his donors if the bill passed, he replied “absolutely” (it may be required).

While de Blasio has been earning the salaries afforded to elected officials for many years, he also owns two houses in Park Slope, Brooklyn, making him fairly wealthy. He has indicated he does not have the means to pay his legal bills, not acknowledging the possibility of leveraging his property, or at least its value. He has pointed to the larger case for legal defense funds that goes beyond his situation, something it appears City Council members and others are in agreement about. De Blasio has claimed that law enforcement investigations are part of being in political office.

At the hearing, the bill appeared to have the support of the Council members who spoke, although some had suggestions for improving it. The Conflict of Interest Board, represented at the hearing by its executive director, Carolyn Lisa Miller, and general counsel, Ethan Carrier, also expressed general support. However, Miller said there are some reservations about a section of the proposed bill that would ban the use of a defense fund from paying legal fines, but allows a fund to pay civil and administrative fines, such as Campaign Finance Board fines. Council Member Keith Powers, who supports the bill, asked about this section, but it was unclear if the provision would be changed.

Miller stated the COIB already does not have enough resources to do its mandated work and would require additional funds to fulfill the requirements of the bill. She estimated that an online reporting portal would cost $40,000 to set up and a few thousand each year afterwards for licensing. The bill requires quarterly reporting for defense funds and each audit would cost between $5,000 and $10,000, according to Miller’s estimate based on information from other city agencies. When asked about the number of defense funds that would be registered, she said she did not know. If the section allowing defense funds to pay campaign finance violation fines were to be included in a final bill, she estimated that as many as 50 defense funds could be established. Without that provision, she said there were only be a few, if any, per year. Many candidates for office wind up incurring some amount of fines from the Campaign Finance Board, often ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.

Council Member Mark Treyger said he supports the concept behind the bill, but thinks that the specifics could be improved. He questioned why the Campaign Finance Board would not allow COIB to use its reporting portal or certified auditors, which he said would save taxpayers money. According to Miller, the CFB’s portal is proprietary to that agency and cannot be used by COIB. Near the end of the hearing, Cabrera proposed that the CFB could administer the bill’s requirements instead of the COIB. Both Levin and Treyger were against this proposal, but Treyger reaffirmed that he would like a mandate included in the bill for the CFB and COIB to share resources.

While not at the hearing, watchdog group Common Cause supports the bill. In a July 2017 statement in support of legal defense trusts, Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause/NY,  said that “there must and should be a process for public officials to raise funds to pay for legal bills” and “we need a policy in place to give public officials a workable solution and avoid ad hoc improvisation.” Common Cause commissioned a study of legal defense fund laws across the country and made recommendations to cover New York City’s perceived “policy gap.” Levin’s bill includes many of Common Cause’s recommendations.

The Council committee hearing on the bill only included a statement from Council Member Levin, its lead sponsor, and the representatives from COIB. The Council now has to decide whether to amend Levin’s bill and if more hearings are required to address the issues raised at the January 14 hearing. The Council will also have to decide to vote on the bill or put it on indefinite hold. If it passes committee, it will go to the full 51-member Council. Meanwhile, it is unclear when exactly Mayor de Blasio’s legal bills are due, the debt has been outstanding for quite some time now.

In response to a tweet about the bill from Politico reporter Sally Goldenberg, former City Council Member Sal Albanese, a 2013 and 2017 Democratic primary opponent of de Blasio, said that Levin and the bill’s other sponsors “should be held accountable for introducing this self serving corruption hazard” and called them “Bill de Blasio sycophants.” Levin replied to Albanese, stating that “I never spoke to [the Mayor’s Office] before introing this bill” and that “the bill itself is specifically designed to eliminate a corruption hazard.”

***
by Andrew Millman for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette



Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice


Gotham Gazette: With Nod from De Blasio and Push from Johnson, Momentum for Ranked-Choice Voting in New York City With Nod from De Blasio and Push from Johnson, Momentum for Ranked-Choice Voting in New York City Gotham Gazette: Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Taking the Senate Reins Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Taking the Senate Reins Gotham Gazette: The 3 Big Reasons Why Elections in New York City are So Poorly Run The 3 Big Reasons Why Elections in New York City are So Poorly Run Gotham Gazette: Cuomo's Third Term Agenda Takes Shape Cuomo's Third Term Agenda Takes Shape


Comments
Comment(s)

The comments section is provided as a free service to our readers. Gotham Gazette's editors reserve the right to delete any comments. Some reasons why comments might get deleted: inappropriate or offensive content, off-topic remarks or spam.