Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/12 Sat, 25 Nov 2017 04:16:35 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) In Albany, De Blasio and Democrats Push ‘Mansion Tax’ http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6826:in-albany-de-blasio-and-democrats-to-push-mansion-tax http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6826:in-albany-de-blasio-and-democrats-to-push-mansion-tax bdb albany mansion tax rally rachel 

De Blasio in Albany (photo: Rachel Silberstein/Gotham Gazette)


Mayor Bill de Blasio journeyed to Albany Wednesday to rally with Democratic legislators and activists for the extension of the “millionaires’ tax,” set to expire this year, as well as the “mansion tax,” a proposal the mayor has been pushing since 2015. De Blasio and his allies called for both to be part of the new state budget due by April 1.

Citing the threats of deep federal budget cuts from President Donald Trump’s administration and a Republican Congress and the likelihood of tax cuts for the wealthy, de Blasio struck a populist tone as he pushed for the two taxes. The millionaires’ tax would continue across the state and is being backed strongly by Governor Andrew Cuomo, while the mansion tax would only apply to New York City: an additional 2.5 percent marginal tax paid by the buyers of homes valued at $2 million or more, the revenue from which would directly fund rental subsidies for up to 25,000 seniors in New York City. Cuomo has not given a clear position on the mansion tax.

When he spoke from the steps of the State Capitol’s historic “Million Dollar Staircase,” de Blasio was flanked by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and surrounded by dozens of Democratic lawmakers and advocates. The mayor said that the 2016 presidential election centered around issues of income inequality and the plight of the working class. However, he noted, the young Trump administration has responded with proposed tax cuts for the wealthy, corporations, and insurance companies.

“There is an anger in this country and anger in this state as people feel they are being lied to. They thought they were going to get some relief from their economic distress,” said de Blasio. “What they are finding is quite the opposite, that the rich are getting richer.”

Funds generated by the mansion tax, which has a steep road to passage through the Republican-controlled state Senate, would be earmarked for seniors 62-years-old and older who earn less than $50,000 per year. Citing recent sales data, the de Blasio administration says the policy would affect the top 4,500 residential real estate transactions in the upcoming year and generate approximately $336 million in 2018.

The millionaires’ tax requires anyone earning more than $2.1 million a year to pay a state rate of 8.82 percent, rather than 6.85 percent, as is the rate for those making $40,000 per year. Gov. Cuomo has included a three-year extension of the sunsetting tax in his executive budget. In their one-house budget resolutions, the two legislative majorities took very different stances on the millionaires’ tax. Senate Republicans want to see the tax expire.

The Assembly majority on the other hand, proposes an expansion of the current millionaires’ tax with additional tax brackets for the mega wealthy who earn more than $5 million, $10 million, and $100 million a year. The Assembly budget resolution also included the mansion tax that de Blasio wants, with the chamber’s bill sponsored by Brooklyn Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, who chairs the housing committee.

Speaker Heastie called the tax plan “fiscally and socially responsible.” "A tax for New York City’s highest earners to help fund critical services like education, healthcare, and infrastructure,” Heastie said, “is more important than ever as we are starting to see the true devastating effects of the radical leadership in our new federal government.”

Cuomo, who wields significant influence in the deliberations over the state budget, made no mention of the mansion tax in his executive budget plan, and though he wants to extend the millionaires’ tax, he has expressed concern that expanding it as the Assembly has proposed could drive New York City’s wealthiest from the city.

“People will take a certain amount of abuse and then there is a point,” Cuomo said during a meeting with the New York Daily News editorial board. “The question is, what is that point? Nobody knows for sure, but you don’t want to reach that point.”

Prospects for de Blasio’s mansion tax appear grim without the support of the governor, and given fierce opposition from Senate Republicans -- Majority Leader John Flanagan has declared the mansion tax a “non-starter.”

Yet, de Blasio offered a series of points in arguing that the mansion tax is very much alive in the final week of budget negotiations.

At a press appearance after the rally, de Blasio said he is confident support from civil rights groups and senior organizations like the AARP will have a mobilizing effect on the governor and Legislature. “AARP has enormous power to influence people on both sides of the aisle,” he said.

Addressing naysayers, de Blasio reminded reporters that people used terms like “dead on arrival” about other progressive policy measures he’s championed in Albany, such as the city’s universal pre-kindergarten program, a $15 minimum wage, and paid family leave, each of which was passed in some form.

De Blasio also revealed that a Senate version of the mansion tax bill would be introduced by Senator Diane Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) whose district includes a sliver of southern Brooklyn and parts of Staten Island. “We think with her leadership, that will help us to draw more support in the Senate and continue this momentum,” de Blasio told reporters.

The eight-member IDC has a coalition agreement with Senate Republicans and the IDC is often able to push through its pet agenda items because of the leverage it has with the majority.

When asked how she would get the GOP conference on board with the mansion tax, Savino said via email, "Like all legislation that I carry, I plan to lobby my colleagues on the mansion tax which could bring needed revenue to the city."

Senate Republicans, who cling to a sliver of a majority in the chamber, appeared to be unmoved by the groundswell.

Senate GOP spokesperson Scott Reif did not respond to a request for comment but tweeted at a Politico reporter Wednesday morning, writing, “Appreciate that @BilldeBlasio can still find his way to Albany, but this idea has already been rejected.”

Later, Reif added in response to a Gotham Gazette reporter, “We support cutting taxes, not raising them.”

Cuomo was in New York City during the Wednesday rally for the funeral of legendary New York Daily News journalist Jimmy Breslin. While Cuomo and de Blasio are engaged in a long-running feud, de Blasio acknowledged that he needs the backing of the governor to get the mansion tax passed. De Blasio urged Cuomo to consider the senior citizens who stand benefit from the rental subsidy the tax would fund.

“I want the governor and everyone else to remember this is to benefit 25,000 seniors,” de Blasio said. “We need the Governor’s support. There are a lot of seniors depending on him. And look, the voices of seniors are going to be felt. And I know in terms of the New York City Senate delegation, they are all going to hear from AARP. They are all going to hear the strong voices of seniors on this matter...I think that is going to be a game-changer.”

The expansion of the millionaires’ tax and creation of a mansion tax would signal wins for the first-term mayor, who is up for reelection this November. De Blasio, who has been talking up the mansion tax since 2015, again laid out his case last week while on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, putting it into the larger context of his fight against inequality, especially in the Trump era.

“That is the kind of thing – bluntly – that we’re going to have to do. And if we don’t start addressing this reality of a growing senior population needs affordable housing we will rue the day, and the way we do that is by taxing the wealthy in fair ways and devoting those resources to senior housing,” de Blasio said in the March 10 radio interview.

On Thursday, de Blasio is scheduled to be back in New York City, visiting two senior centers to promote the mansion tax proposal.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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In Albany, De Blasio and Democrats Push ‘Mansion Tax’ Wed, 22 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
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Assessing the Aftermath: Top Takeaways for NYC from 2016 Albany Session http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6421:assessing-the-aftermath-top-takeaways-for-nyc-from-2016-albany-session http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6421:assessing-the-aftermath-top-takeaways-for-nyc-from-2016-albany-session de blasio cuomo 2014 presser

De Blasio and Cuomo in 2014; photo via The Governor's Office


Mayor Bill de Blasio has made it clear that he feels like he’s often fighting for New York City’s interests against both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Senate Republicans, with Assembly Democrats as his key allies. In his initial statement reacting to the recent end of the 2016 legislative session in Albany, de Blasio put a thank you to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and company at the forefront, never mentioned Cuomo, and gave his take on what he assessed as a mixed bag for the city.

For his part, Cuomo argues that the city made out quite well and, in harshly worded statements to the media, his aides say that the governor, raised in Queens, very much looks out for the city, but has little respect for the mayor. It can often be hard to separate the mayor from his agenda and the interests of the city, and in assessing the outcomes of the legislative session for New York City, it’s clear that de Blasio’s rivalries with Cuomo and Senate Republicans affected policy decisions.

Still, while de Blasio did see several disappointing results out of Albany this year, like another one-year extension of mayoral control of city schools, there was a lot for the city to celebrate, including wage and benefit legislation that the mayor and his fellow Democrats had wanted. The city appears to have made out much better in the state budget than in the post-budget portion of the session and final deals reached in mid-June.

There are long lists of outcomes that de Blasio and his allies are pleased with and not; but what the six-month session made abundantly clear is that state lawmakers, including the governor, are nowhere near ready to relinquish the substantial powers they wield over the city. The session was marked by important policy debates; political rivalries; and the news of an investigation into de Blasio, his aides and allies, that originated with the state Board of Elections’ enforcement counsel. That counsel, Risa Sugarman, is a former Cuomo aide, leading to finger pointing and conspiracy theories from de Blasio - drama added to the already-fraught dynamics.

As de Blasio regroups over the summer and state legislators prepare for fall elections, a look back at the 2016 legislative session in Albany shows the following top ten takeaways for New York City:

1. Gov. Cuomo is still able to bend Senate Republicans to pass progressive legislation. Mayor de Blasio and his progressive allies may have been somewhat shocked when the state budget, passed at the beginning of April, included a staggered minimum wage increase that could eventually reach $15 throughout the state and a paid family leave program. Both policies won Cuomo national accolades and appeared to many to be his attempt to coopt de Blasio’s position as the top progressive in the state. To get both things done Cuomo had to convince and cajole Senate Republicans to go along with two policies opposed by many in their base (he’d done this before, of course, with marriage equality and the SAFE Act). The minimum wage and paid family leave policies will have a major impact on New York City workers, especially those de Blasio has sought to lift up.

2. De Blasio is Cuomo’s enemy and Senate Republicans’ boogeyman. It was clear early in session that Senate Republicans saw de Blasio as a perfect foil, but it wasn’t clear how much ammo they would actually have or far they would go to deny him success in Albany. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan held fast in his stance on mayoral control of schools and in the end de Blasio was only granted a second straight one-year extension. After de Blasio’s complaints on the subject, Cuomo shot back that the mayor was “lucky” to get one year. De Blasio had harsh words toward the governor at a recent press conference and Cuomo’s press office has been highly critical of the mayor.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are outraged by revelations around de Blasio’s 2014 efforts to flip the Senate to Democrats and plan to tie 2016 Democratic opponents to the mayor in most contested Senate races this summer and fall. Voters in contested districts are likely to hear a lot about the “corrupt, liberal” mayor who is looking to control the Senate and all of state government, to make the whole state like New York City. It’s unlikely Cuomo will do much to help Senate Democrats, something de Blasio has been critical of in the past and in recent comments. Senate control has major implications for New York policy-making, of course, as de Blasio recently discussed in an interview with Harry Siegel of the Daily News, where he said that New York could be like California, if Cuomo was to push for that.

3. Mayoral control of schools will be an election-year issue for de Blasio. Winning a one-year extension of mayoral control means de Blasio will have to look to Albany for another extension next year - as he faces reelection. With his poll numbers dropping and corruption investigations swirling it becomes more likely he will face a primary challenge. Expect de Blasio’s handling of schools to be a hot topic in Albany and in the mayoral race. De Blasio’s critics continue to point to his opposition to charter schools and raise questions about his handling of the city’s most troubled schools.

4. De Blasio owes Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. The Democratic Assembly Speaker from the Bronx went to bat for de Blasio in the chamber’s budget proposal - pushing a six-year extension of mayoral control of schools - and later appeared to hold up budget negotiations while fighting for renewal, until de Blasio relented to the compromise that was reached. In 2009 Heastie was the lead Assembly sponsor of a bill that would have crippled mayoral control, so it doesn’t appear he was fighting for the renewal on principle. De Blasio will have to continue to nurture his relationship with Heastie as many other Democrat legislators express a similar refrain: “it isn’t easy being the mayor’s friend.”

On a variety of issues it is clear that Heastie and his fellow Assembly Democrats from the city are the city’s biggest advocates and the mayor’s top allies. In reacting to the end of session, de Blasio released a statement saying, “With the leadership and commitment of Speaker Heastie and his Assembly colleagues, New York City secured a series of important State commitments that will improve lives across our five boroughs.”

5. State leaders appear increasingly interested in curtailing the city’s autonomy. In reaction to the city’s plan to impose a five cent fee on paper and plastic bag shopping bags, the Senate moved legislation that would have banned any locality from instituting such a law. The Assembly was headed in that direction but Heastie cut a deal with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to delay implementation of the plan so that the Council could amend it to the Assembly’s liking and explore other changes.

Cuomo has moved to limit the city’s ability to implement its affordable housing plans; instituted greater oversight of city homeless shelters; decided to open new state police barracks near City Hall; and created a new agency in the budget that could allow him to take over major capital projects. Critics see the new agency as an end run around the MTA board.

6. The feud between Cuomo and de Blasio leaves affordable and supportive housing in an unpredictable state. Cuomo won $1.9 billion in funding for supportive and affordable housing in the state budget, but only $150 million of those funds were released in an agreement with legislative leaders by the end of session. Affordable and supportive housing advocates and providers say that without a long-term plan that details how the cash will be allocated in years to come it will be hard for builders to get funding for new construction.

Additionally, the 421-a tax abatement program meant to spur developers to build rental housing with mandated affordable housing included was not renewed. De Blasio continues to insist that a proposal he put forth should be adopted, while Cuomo says the building trades unions must be included in negotiating a deal. The mayor’s affordable housing plans are at risk without a new 421-a program.

7. The Assembly went to bat for the MTA. The governor’s executive budget proposal would have put off funding the MTA’s capital plan until the MTA ran out of current funding streams. The Assembly fought and won $2.9 billion in funding for the capital plan this year. It will be the first of four annual appropriations that will end up totalling $7.3 billion.

8. Major New York City-based infrastructure projects are on the move. It appears that major infrastructure projects, both inside and outside of New York City, will be key to Gov. Cuomo’s legacy. In the city, the state is moving ahead with improving JFK Airport, redeveloping LaGuardia Airport and Penn Station, expanding the Javits Convention Center, and building new MetroNorth stations in the Bronx.

9. Education funding debates continue, with more money headed to New York City. While many in New York City, including de Blasio, continue to call on the state to meet its obligations under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling, according to Gov. Cuomo’s office, “The FY 2017 Budget provides $24.8 billion in School Aid, the highest amount in history and a 6.5 percent increase over last year.” Much of it is headed to New York City, home to more than 40 percent of the state’s population. As part of the mayoral control extension deal, though, the city is now required to make its individual school funding formulas more available publicly.

10. Top city priorities left out. Less on de Blasio’s agenda, but more on those of city-based state legislators, who are overwhelmingly Democratic, are issues like criminal justice reform and the DREAM Act, which saw no movement this year.

Criminal justice issues were not a priority for Cuomo or Senate Republicans. While Cuomo's January State of the State address included mentions of the campaign to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility and efforts to encode into state law a special prosecutor in the case of police shootings of unarmed civilians, neither appeared to ever become a major priority for Cuomo, who focused on minimum wage and paid family leave at the start of session and a variety of other issues after the budget, while also dealing with the developing federal investigation into his economic development programs. Both criminal justice reform initiatives, among others, are largely popular in the Assembly and New York City, but not in the Senate.

The DREAM Act, another priority of New York City Democrats, won’t pass as long as Senate Republicans hold the chamber - or until Cuomo forces it through: Advocates for legislation to give undocumented students access to tuition assistance haven’t given up their fight but they know Senate Republicans have touted their opposition to the bill successfully during the last few election cycles. They also know that Cuomo can move mountains when he wants to - the governor had included the DREAM Act in his budget bills, but has not campaigned on the issue since his 2014 reelection bid.

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Ben Max contributed writing.

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Assessing the Aftermath: Top Takeaways for NYC from 2016 Albany Session Wed, 29 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Major City Issues at Play in Politically Charged, Post-Budget Legislative Session http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6267:major-city-issues-at-play-in-politically-charged-post-budget-legislative-session http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6267:major-city-issues-at-play-in-politically-charged-post-budget-legislative-session cuomo budget paid leave pic

Gov. Cuomo announces the budget deal (photo via The Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo dismissed the idea of extending state government's legislative session this year to tackle ethics reform during an appearance in Binghamton on Wednesday. "We have a relatively light agenda because we did so much work in the budget," the governor said. "We passed the minimum wage increase, we passed paid family leave, we passed a great package for the middle class, we passed a great package for upstate New York, more education funding than ever before."

It's a concerning statement for some advocates and elected officials who see the session full of unresolved issues - including, but beyond ethics - especially ones that impact New York City, issues that the governor himself tackled during his January State of the State speech or has since brought to the table. Some advocates take the governor's statement as an acknowledgement that he traded away issues Senate Republicans oppose to get a minimum wage increase, and not only in the budget, but for the rest of the legislative session that has just begun and is scheduled to end in June.

All-important control of the State Senate will be up for grabs again in November, but a key battle in the overall war will be decided on April 19 in the contest to fill the seat vacated by former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, recently convicted on federal corruption charges. The April special and impending November elections mean legislators are anxious to get back to their districts while avoiding political landmines.

Ethics reforms are one of the many issues jettisoned from budget talks that lawmakers say were dominated by minimum wage negotiations. Major issues of particular importance to New York City yet to be addressed this year include mayoral control of schools; a multitude of criminal justice reforms, some of which were introduced by Cuomo; housing programs, including a replacement for the 421-a property tax credit aimed at spurring affordable housing development; and two education matters that have been linked in the past: The DREAM Act and the education investment tax credit.

Mayoral Control
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and his conference have used Mayor Bill de Blasio as a progressive boogieman since the mayor tried to help Democrats win control of the chamber in 2014. Last year Flanagan successfully beat back the mayor's push for a seven-year extension of mayoral control, getting his negotiating partners to settle on one year. He again maneuvered discussion of renewal out of this year's budget discussions and before a spending deal was even announced, he scheduled hearings on mayoral control for May 4 in Albany and May 19 in New York City. Mayoral control is due to sunset on June 30.

Many Democrats expect Senate Republicans to delay actually acting on mayoral control until as late as possible in order to keep de Blasio "in check." With no other sensible alternative, de Blasio has been gracious about the situation so far, saying he plans to attend the hearings "personally" and welcomes the chance for "dialogue" on the issue.

Criminal Justice Reforms
Gov. Cuomo has supported three major criminal justice reforms over the last two years: Raise the Age, an effort to end New York's practice of treating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system; an effort to create independent review of police killings of civilians; and a program to increase data reporting of the race and ethnicity of individuals involved in police interactions. Unable to deliver on the first two last year, Cuomo took executive action. He moved 16- and 17-year-olds out of adult prisons and gave Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office the discretion to look into police killings of civilians. Advocates were pleased, but acknowledged both issues still needed to be addressed in law.

This year Cuomo has proposed a bill that would give his office the ability to convene an investigation into police killings of civilians but only if certain criteria is met. He has continued to push for Raise the Age but not with the urgency supporters would like. They point out that even being held in separate facilities from older inmates, 16- and 17-year-olds are still treated as adults when arrested and tried, which make negative outcomes and criminal records more likely.

On Tuesday, supporters of a bill that would mandate the state collect data on police interactions with the public gathered in Albany to push Senate Republicans and Cuomo to act on an issue they call "common sense."

The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Joseph Lentol and state Senator Daniel Squadron, both Brooklyn Democrats, would require the state to collect and report data on the number of tickets and misdemeanor arrests across the state; the number of civilian deaths in police custody or during an arrest; the race, ethnicity, and sex of those charged with misdemeanors and violations; and the geographic location of enforcement-related activity and arrest-related deaths. Lentol said the bill is not "anti-police" but a "transparency" and "open government" tool to improve relations between police and communities across the state. Lentol prodded Gov. Cuomo to act, noting that Cuomo has a similar bill that has failed to garner support.

"Yet again, communities of color were left behind in New York State budget negotiations, with no meaningful advancement of any criminal justice reforms," said Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY. "Passing the STAT Act this legislative session provides an opportunity for Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to show they value the safety and dignity of all New Yorkers."

Squadron told Gotham Gazette that the bill is one that Senate Republicans "put in a black box, a dark room," never to be seen again. "This isn't something we have debated. We haven't heard their argument against it, it just disappears." Lentol, however, said that he believes police unions are using their influence to block the bill.

Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry, Democrat of Queens, supports Lentol's bill and said that he feels his constituents and advocates are growing frustrated that the Senate fails to vote on criminal justice reforms year after year. "I think the governor is really going to have to move on some of these bills and not just wave his hands in the air and say 'It's the Republicans'" Aubry said. "We know he can get what he wants. He has an election coming up and he's got to deliver for these communities."

A spokesperson for the governor, Dani Lever, said in a statement that "The governor has and continues to push for comprehensive criminal justice reform to address the treatment of juveniles in the system and the prosecution of fatality cases involving law enforcement. Despite the legislature's failure to agree on these reforms, the governor has taken bold action and issued executive orders appointing a special prosecutor in police cases (the first of its kind in the country) and removing juveniles from adult state prisons. Until the legislature passes real reforms, the governor's executive orders will remain in effect."

Housing
Last year in an unprecedented move, Cuomo put the fate of the 421-a tax abatement program in the hands of the two stakeholder industries - real estate developers and construction unions. Whatever deal they reached on wages in new housing developments utilizing 421-a was to be enacted into law with other reforms to the program, but if they failed, 421-a would sunset. Negotiations floundered and 421-a is dead.

The program is thought to be essential to affordable housing production in New York City, making it profitable for developers to build new rental housing with some affordable units included. When Cuomo rejected compromise legislation crafted by de Blasio last June, it was one of the final straws to break de Blasio's back (along with the mayoral control compromise and more), leading to his now-infamous tirade against the governor on June 30. De Blasio's affordable housing goals rely on 421-a-related production.

On Monday, Cuomo told NY1's Errol Louis that he is looking for a replacement. "You can have a fair program that pays a fair rate to the unions and also a fair rate of profit to the developers," Cuomo said. "I believe there is that balance to be struck. But they have to strike that balance. We're still trying, but the Legislature is not going to approve a plan that kicks the labor unions out of the affordable housing business."

Bill Murrow, the governor's top aide, followed up those comments on Tuesday during a Crain's New York Business breakfast event, indicating that labor and real estate are indeed negotiating again. "The developers, REBNY, and the construction trades...they'll find some common ground. I am hopeful that sometime between now and June that something will actually happen," Mulrow said.

On Tuesday, tenant advocates gathered in Albany to demand that negotiations on 421-a or something like must also include strengthening rent regulations. Delsenia Glover, campaign manager for the Alliance for Tenant Power opened the press conference by condemning the deal that renewed the rent laws last year. "We pretty much got nothing," she said. "At the time Governor Cuomo said they were the 'strongest rent laws in history.' It's not true, we got nothing." Members of the crowd shouted "He lied!"

Glover said she has been disturbed to hear "lamentations" that 421-a is dead, saying she was glad a "giveaway to luxury developers" and "$1.1 billion tax suck" was dead and that assertions that developers won't be able to build affordable housing without it is patently false.

"Our demand," said Glover, "is this: If 421-a or anything that looks like 421-a is revived or created then the rent laws must be reopened, we get rid of vacancy bonus, fix preferential rents, and then maybe we can have a conversation."

A number of legislators who spoke after Glover pushed against the idea of any 421-a renewal. Assembly Member Walter Mosley of Brooklyn said he doesn't use the term '421-a' because "We don't want nothin' like 421-a to resurface, but ultimately we understand if anything like 421-a comes to the floor then we reopen the rent laws. Without that we have no discussion."

Assembly Housing Chair Keith Wright, who introduced a plan of something of a 421-a alternative earlier this year to a tepid response, brought up his proposal in front of the audience that was openly hostile to any replacement. Wright's plan would utilize the state's abandoned property fund to give a subsidy of $100,000 per affordable unit at a cost of about $200 million per year, compared to 421-a's 25-year property tax break and $1 billion annual tax revenue price tag.

"The plan was not...people were intrigued by the idea," Wright told the crowd, seeming to catch himself in an effort to promote the measure, "but listen anything in Albany takes a minute to work up to, but we are still pushing that plan, but we are still under siege."

Wright is a close ally of Cuomo and many expect that his plan was the first shot fired in an effort to restore a 421-a plan. The fact that Cuomo and Wright are openly pushing a replacement and that Senate Republicans are likely to want to deliver for real estate developers makes many advocates think it is a question of "when" not "if" a 421-a replacement comes to the floor of both houses. They hope to keep up public pressure to win some sort of concessions when it takes place.

Other Education Issues
Last year Cuomo tried to connect the DREAM Act that would allow the undocumented access to college tuition assistance and the education tax credit that would give benefits to those who donate to private schools. The DREAM Act has massive support in the Assembly, which has passed the measure repeatedly over the last few years and the education tax credit is a favorite of Senate Republicans. Cuomo's bid at linkage failed last year (he did not attempt to link them again this year, but did include both in his executive budget), but both issues remain on the table and the fact that they were left out of the budget has rankled a number of lawmakers.

Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who caucuses with Republicans, was said to be so upset that Republicans didn't demand the education tax credit be part of the budget that he didn't conference with them during budget negotiations (he was then the lone Senate "no" vote on the minimum wage and education budget bill). Meanwhile, DREAM supporters like Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, railed against its exclusion during the late-night budget debate.

For supporters of each measure the problem seems to be that opposition to the other measure has become a litmus test for some in their party's base. Senate Republicans have included language touting the disinclusion of the DREAM Act in the budget on the Senate website, listing it as an accomplishment:

"Rejecting the Use of Taxpayer Dollars to Fund College Tuition for Illegal Immigrants:

"The final budget rejects an Executive Budget proposal that would have cost state taxpayers $27 million and reward people who are here illegally by giving them free college tuition. The measure would have extended all other criteria, exemptions or opportunities found within the education law - including all scholarship and tuition assistance programs funded with state tax dollars - to illegal immigrants while hardworking middle-class families are already being forced to take out massive college loans to pay for higher education."

Meanwhile, public school advocates are entrenched against the education tax credit, saying that it is a taxpayer giveaway to millionaires who will flood their favored schools with donations using up the credit before average families can utilize it. The Alliance for Quality Education, a teachers union-aligned group, has held press conferences and briefings against the policy this year.

Albany Tradition
If the past is indeed prologue than it is a safe bet that many of these issues will not come to a vote in both houses this year. With an important special election, a presidential race, and the entire Legislature up for (re)election, leaders will likely be looking to rest on the work they did in the budget and get back to their districts. While there will be a lot of noise made by the media and good government groups around ethics reform, no one who knows Albany is holding their breath.

Mayoral control of city schools is the only key policy related to New York City facing an expiration date and all-but-sure to see action. The questions are what Senate Republicans demand in exchange for extension, how long it is extended for, and how much they make de Blasio sweat in the process.

Including Wednesday, April 6, there are currently 25 session days remaining until its scheduled end on June 16.

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Major City Issues at Play in Politically Charged, Post-Budget Legislative Session Wed, 06 Apr 2016 22:49:29 +0000
Forget the Brooklyn Presidential Debate, the Real Battle is New York State http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6268:forget-the-brooklyn-presidential-debate-the-real-battle-is-new-york-state http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6268:forget-the-brooklyn-presidential-debate-the-real-battle-is-new-york-state silver skelos cuomo 2012

Albany of yesteryear (photo via The Governor's Office on flickr)


With an April 14 date set for the Clinton-Sanders Brooklyn debate, New York and Kings County are now center stage in the ever-engrossing presidential election. Though bringing the ninth Democratic presidential debate to Brooklyn might help New Yorkers become more informed voters, it also sadly serves as a timely distraction from the latest setback to progressive governance reforms in the Empire State.

Thanks to the exclusion of any government ethics reform measures in the state budget deal reached last week, New Yorkers will continue to live in a state that offers public pensions for longtime legislators turned felons, loopholes for special interest groups to funnel millions into local campaigns, and no limits on outside income for our part-time legislators.

With wealthy donors this free to inject money into politics, it's easy to understand why in the last decade over 40 New York lawmakers have been arrested or left office after being accused of impropriety, including a notable few from Brooklyn. As such, it’s also not much of a surprise that the Center for Public Integrity has given New York State a D- in its State Integrity Investigation and consistently ranks New York among the worst for government accountability and transparency nationwide.

When the presidential candidates debate national politics in our borough, let’s hope they remember that all politics are ultimately local. If Senator Sanders is committed to taking money out of politics, there are plenty of easy targets right here in New York. If Secretary Clinton cares about building trust with voters, she could be served well by demanding an ethics package in her own state.

New Yorkers are frustrated with business as usual in Albany—a sentiment easily seen in abysmal voter turnout numbers. While a Brooklyn debate will help both campaigns excite their supporters in time for the April 19 primary, supporting reforms to the state’s election laws would ensure that New York voters have their voices heard in all elections.

Common sense reforms like online voter registration, early voting, and same-day party enrollment are commonplace in other U.S. states but denied to New York voters. These reforms would not only increase voter participation for working families but help newer residents still registered in their long-abandoned “home” states have a voice in electing their representatives.

Brooklyn is home to a strong Democratic majority and some promising progressive leaders but we’ve been “led” by entrenched political powers for much too long.

New York and Kings County can become more democratic, but this can only happen through ongoing political engagement on the local level. Before we start celebrating public debates between national candidates in our community, let’s demand public conversations on decision-making in New York State, a modernized electoral system, and state ethics rules with teeth. Whether we vote for our first democratic socialist president or first female president in New York’s primary, let’s not let the revolution stop there.

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by Anusha Venkataraman and Rodrigo Camarena on behalf of New Kings Democrats, a progressive, grassroots political organization committed to bringing trans­parency, accountability, and inclusionary democracy to the Kings County Democratic Party.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Forget the Brooklyn Presidential Debate, the Real Battle is New York State Thu, 07 Apr 2016 02:09:43 +0000
Everyone Agrees Albany Needs Ethics Reform, Except the People Who Matter Most http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6255:everyone-agrees-albany-needs-ethics-reform-except-the-people-who-matter-most http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6255:everyone-agrees-albany-needs-ethics-reform-except-the-people-who-matter-most three men at a table

Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (l-r) (photo via The Governor's Office)


"Top of my agenda is going to be ethics reform," said Governor Andrew Cuomo, speaking on NY1 on Jan. 3. "We have done a lot in Albany, but we haven't done enough. And I'm going to push the legislature very hard to adopt more aggressive ethics legislation, more disclosure, more enforcement, etcetera."

While the governor did unveil an aggressive ethics agenda during his State of the State speech a week later, Cuomo’s words ring hollow now, as a state budget containing no government ethics reform passes and any hope for such reform happening this year is pushed to the legislative session, where it is unlikely to occur.

Cuomo has done nothing public on ethics reform despite the promises he made during his Jan. 13 State of the State address. “We have to remember the people we serve, and it’s our responsibility to give them the government that they deserve,” Cuomo said at the time. “And remember the stronger the citizen trust, the stronger the government’s ability.”

Just about a month after two of New York’s most powerful legislators were convicted of several federal corruption charges in separate trials, Cuomo laid out a plan to close the LLC loophole, which allows limited liability companies to circumvent New York’s campaign donation limits and give large sums of money to candidates through various LLCs, limit the amount of outside income legislators may earn, and adopt a publicly funded campaign finance system, among other reforms.

Yet, as negotiations for the state budget come to a close, the “three men in a room” deciding the state’s roughly $150 billion budget have not moved ethics reforms that could help give the people they serve “the government that they deserve.” In a Siena College poll released Feb. 1, 89 percent of New Yorkers said corruption in state government is a serious problem, with 60 percent calling for outside income to be banned.

Although Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat and one of the “three men in a room” along with Gov. Cuomo and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, has pledged to “increase transparency and accountability” and “restore the public’s trust in government,” the lack of any ethics reform in the state budget calls Heastie’s follow through on that commitment into question.

“The Assembly has pledged to enact comprehensive ethics reforms, and we take that commitment very seriously,” said Heastie in a press release detailing the ethics reform component of the Assembly’s budget plan, which was released Friday evening March 11. Like Cuomo, Heastie outlined an ethics reform agenda, but did little else to publicly promote it.

On that Friday morning three weeks ago, Heastie outlined the Assembly Democrats’ ethics package at an event held by Crain’s New York Business. The plan also includes a proposal to close the LLC loophole, as well as proposals to limit the amount of outside income legislators may earn (though not as strictly as Cuomo’s plan), and to make it so that legislators who also work as attorneys can only earn money for the casework they perform, rather than for simply serving as "of counsel," lending their name to a law firm - a practice at root of the scandal that brought down Heastie's predecessor, Sheldon Silver.

Both Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos were brought down last year by corruption convictions related to their use of their public offices for private gain.

The new head of the Republican-controlled Senate, meanwhile, has repeatedly questioned the need for further ethics reform, and he and many other Senate Republicans are opposed to making the Legislature full-time or placing any limits on lawmakers’ outside income.

Sen. Flanagan has previously pointed out that the Senate passed a pension forfeiture bill, aimed at ensuring that legislators convicted of public corruption cannot collect a government pension, in a deal with the Assembly, only to have the Assembly back out at the last minute. Pension forfeiture is notably absent from the Assembly's reform plan.

As the New York Times Editorial Board writes, “In Albany, this is how the stage gets set for each legislative house to praise itself and to blame the other for the failure, yet again, of meaningful reform, and for Mr. Cuomo to blame them both.

New Yorkers, legislators, and government reform groups alike say that ethics reform is essential, “especially considering the context of the past year,” as Cuomo himself said during his State of the State. Yet at a time when Cuomo has the most leverage, he has failed to achieve reform. Heastie has decided not to aggressively pursue the Assembly's plan, and Flanagan has appeared totally disinterested in the issue. The minorities in each house - one Democratic, one Republican - have actually been more vocal than the majorities.

“We are blowing our Watergate moment,” Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told the Wall Street Journal. “This year’s budget process has been nothing but a series of covert meetings and phone calls shielded from the press and public.”

Senate Republicans’ resistance to outside income limits and closing the LLC loophole have left room for Cuomo and Heastie to play a blame game. In part because neither did anything beyond one speech to promote ethics reform leading up to the budget, there is room to question their seriousness. But, Senate Republicans have, it seems, let the two Democrats and Assembly Democrats in general off the hook.

“It is incumbent upon legislators to work to significantly reduce corruption, and we can do so by passing these common sense measures,” Assemblymember David Buchwald said upon signing a pledge to fight for good government reform, including closing the LLC loophole. “I think the vast majority of New Yorkers would want to see their representatives sign this pledge.

"In recent times, the New York Legislature has been marked by regular bribery, rampant kickbacks and a rancid culture," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who prosecuted both Silver and Skelos, said during a talk in Albany in February.

A coalition of government reform groups, including Citizens Union, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the New York Public Interest Research Group, and Reinvent Albany, released a statement denouncing the governor and legislative leaders for failing to pass any ethics reform in the three-and-a-half months since former legislative leaders Skelos and Silver were convicted of corruption, despite strong public demand for action to be taken.

“With a recent poll showing that nearly 90% of New Yorkers believe that unethical behavior is a serious problem in state government a month before former legislative leaders Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos are sentenced for public corruption,” the statement reads, “the governor and legislative leaders have an obligation to New Yorkers to reach a significant agreement on ethics reform.”

“The collapse of ethics reform during the budget is failure by the governor to mobilize overwhelming public support for change," said Blair Horner, executive director of NYPIRG. “New York State’s political leaders have chosen to ‘kick the can’ instead of tackling the needed reforms to respond to Albany’s ‘Watergate moment.’”

When Cuomo was asked in February whether ethics reform were likely to remain in the budget, the governor replied, “As we get closer and actually have budget conversations, it’s going to be at the top of the list.” Not long after, Cuomo conceded that ethics reform would not be included in the budget.

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

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Everyone Agrees Albany Needs Ethics Reform, Except the People Who Matter Most Thu, 31 Mar 2016 23:07:07 +0000
For State Budget, Leaders Choose 'On Time' Over Open http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6254:for-state-budget-leaders-choose-on-time-over-open http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6254:for-state-budget-leaders-choose-on-time-over-open cuomo flanagan heastie june 2015

Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (l-r), June 2015 (photo via The Governor's Office)


As negotiations over the state's $150 billion budget sputtered on Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ramped up pressure on legislators to accept a deal. Speaking with reporters, Cuomo implied legislators could jeopardize a potential pay raise if they can't deliver an on-time budget.

"So they're gonna need to be able to make that case not just to the pay commission but to the people of the State of New York in November when they go to seek re-election," Cuomo said. "So performance matters - if they don't pass a budget on time obviously that is a failure of performance."

Cuomo has made better state government function, including on-time budgets, a signature of his time as governor. Legislators and good government groups dismiss the governor's insistence that an on-time budget is paramount, especially when negotiations come so close to the April 1 start of the new fiscal year.

In Albany it has practically become tradition for rank-and-file lawmakers to be asked to vote on a budget with only a few hours time to review its contents. The state constitution requires bills to age three days before they are voted on in order to facilitate public review, but Cuomo, like many governors before him, has taken to issuing "messages of necessity" to bypass the otherwise-mandated waiting period. Final budget votes - with debate that is often only for show or to get comment on the record - have stretched late into the night with rank-and-file members discussing measures they discover in the budget almost in real time.

With no budget deal reached as of Wednesday evening, it is all but certain that this year will see the governor again issue messages of necessity and a very short window between budget bills printed and voted on.

Meanwhile, a seven-member commission has begun meeting to determine pay raises for legislators and other state officials. Three of the members of the commission were appointed by the governor, two by the chief judge of the Court of Appeals, and one each by the legislative majority leaders. Legislators haven't had a pay raise since 1999, currently earning a base salary of $79,500.

Contrary to Cuomo's statement Wednesday, the language creating the pay commission does not explicitly mention "performance" as something to be factored into deliberations. The commission is scheduled to make its recommendations in November, right around Election Day when every state Senate and Assembly seat is on the ballot. The recommendations would then automatically take effect in 2017, unless the Legislature votes to oppose them.

A number of legislators told Gotham Gazette pay raises wouldn't factor into the time it takes them to consider the budget.

"Our conference is going to go over and deliberate what's in there, we are going to know what we're voting on," said Senate Deputy Minority Leader Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens. "That review is going to be done at the pace that it takes. We are not going to go out there ignorant to what's in the budget. If those negotiating the budget wanted to ensure timeliness they should have concluded negotiations earlier."

Gianaris' sentiments were echoed by a number of Assembly Republicans and Senate Democrats. The groups represent their chamber's minority, though, and not driving negotiations, which are largely taking place among Gov. Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

"Cuomo should look in the mirror if budget is late," tweeted Republican Assembly Member Steve McLaughlin. "Absurd argument to pin it on the legislators who haven't seen it."

John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, pointed out that budgets have passed with fairly controversial measures tucked in at the last minute by lobbyists and their government allies thanks to the lack of thorough review.

"Does anyone really want their state legislator voting on a $150 billion, 10,000 page budget they haven't had time to look at?" Kaehny asked rhetorically. "Does anyone other than the governor really think it is more important to pass a budget on time and unscrutinized, than a few days late and fully examined? Do people want their state representative voting for a budget that could be stuffed full of things like tax breaks for yachts and private jets - like last year?"

Dick Dadey, executive director for Citizens Union, said that a budget that is "a few days late but ages for the requisite three days for public review is far preferable to an on-time budget when the public has no time to review the $150 billion that taxpayers are funding."

In stark contrast to his predecessors Cuomo has successfully delivered on-time budgets each year he has held office. It was typical for budgets to go weeks and even months over deadline before Cuomo became governor. Cuomo has actually used messages of necessity considerably less than his predecessors, but he has used them to pass the budget three times since taking office in 2011.

"As a practical financial matter it won't amount to much if they are a few days late," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "It will shake what little confidence the public has left in state government. The last reasonable claim the governor can make that he brought order to chaos in Albany is in on-time state budgets," said Horner.

This year's final budget negotiations appear to be difficult for both legislative majorities for different reasons. The Assembly majority is fighting a Cuomo proposal to force New York City to take on $250 million in Medicaid funding. The Senate majority is grappling with Cuomo's push to raise the minimum wage to $15 across the state. Some see the wage increase as a winner with voters and admit Cuomo was very successful in pushing the issue, but others are adamant an increase will hurt the economy and hurt them at the polls in November.

Sen. Joseph Addabbo of Queens, who is in favor of the concept of both the minimum wage increase and the paid family leave proposal that appears to be close to finalized, said it is critically important to him to see exactly how those measures are actually implemented. "It's not about beating the clock. I'm not voting on a $150 billion budget without getting every detail," Addabbo, a Democrat, told Gotham Gazette.

Many good government advocates see this year's budget negotiation as one of the least transparent in modern history. Coming on the heels of the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Cuomo and legislators have held clandestine meetings at the Governor's Mansion and routinely dodged the press. They have been more open about the process in the last few days, but after dealing with two press scrums on Thursday Flanagan dodged the press by exiting a back door of Cuomo's office.

Legislative leaders have rejected discussion of ethics reform and adding transparency to stashes of cash the governor and the Legislature insert into the budget without any particular use given.

Both Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins have decried being left out of negotiations and assailed this budget season as the least transparent in memory. Representatives for Cuomo, Heastie, and Flanagan did not return requests for comment on the use of messages of necessity and concerns over budget transparency.

Gianaris said that while he agrees that rank-and-file legislators need time to examine the budget, "The real issue is that had this process been open and transparent along the way we wouldn't be sitting here at the eleventh hour with nothing. If all conferences had been included we could have wrapped this up a long time ago." 

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

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For State Budget, Leaders Choose 'On Time' Over Open Wed, 30 Mar 2016 22:42:54 +0000
Oft-Criticized Ethics Watchdog Names Cuomo Aide as Executive Director http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6238:oft-criticized-ethics-watchdog-names-cuomo-aide-as-executive-director http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6238:oft-criticized-ethics-watchdog-names-cuomo-aide-as-executive-director cuomo nyu ethics speech

Gov. Cuomo gives an ethics reform speech in 2015 (Governor's Office via flickr)


The state's independent ethics commission took the first official ethics-related action in Albany since the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on Tuesday when it appointed a man with ties to both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders as its new executive director.

Seth Agata, who JCOPE - the Joint Commission on Public Ethics - says it hired after a nine-month, nationwide search, currently serves as the head of the state's Public Employment Relations Board. He is seen by many as an ultimate Albany insider, and to some that bolsters his prospects for the job, while to others it should have been a disqualifying trait. Agata becomes the third former Cuomo aide of three people to hold the position over a five-year period.

The 14-member board includes appointees by the Governor (six), the two legislative leaders (three each), and the minority leaders of each house (one each). The JCOPE chairperson is selected by the Governor, the Executive Director is chosen by board members themselves.

"A better choice [for executive director] is someone who is clearly independent from both the Governor and the Legislature," John Kaehny, of Reinvent Albany, told Gotham Gazette. "In the entire United States there must be at least one, well-qualified person, who didn't used to work for the governor."

Agata has also worked in Cuomo's counsel's office, as a counsel for program and policy for the Assembly Majority, and as counsel in the investigations office of the State Comptroller.

The body, which has been maligned as rudderless and ruled by infighting, is charged with ethics monitoring, "ensuring transparency," and "providing accountability through enforcement actions to address ethical misconduct." Critics also say JCOPE, which was created through a 2011 law, is designed so that slight dissension can block investigations into public officials and candidates.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, praised Agata, calling him a good choice, but also expressed reservations about his connections to Cuomo and the Legislature. "Seth Agata has the kind of trained eye we need to suss out what is really going on in Albany," said Dadey. "I wouldn't say it about anyone else [with such ties to the governor], but Seth has the kind of character we need to lead JCOPE in an independent fashion toward the reforms it so badly needs."

However, Dadey added: "It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in Albany when the only action the Legislature and governor take on ethics following the conviction of both legislative leaders is the appointment of a JCOPE chair who has ties to both the governor and Legislature."

Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group was also torn about the appointment. He called on JCOPE to make the details of its search for a new director public. Horner described Agata as "thoughtful" and "straightforward," but said the big question comes down to "the hiring process."

"The public deserves to hear from JCOPE about the process that led them to pick Agata," said Horner. "Independence is clearly a major factor in running an ethics commission, we need to hear from JCOPE why they thought he was the right choice."

The press release announcing Agata's hiring said it followed a search that included advertisements in "top legal publications and newspapers" and resulted in 200 resume submissions.

"Seth Agata is a tremendous choice for Executive Director of the Commission," Commission Chair Daniel Horwitz said in a statement announcing Agata's hiring. "He brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and integrity to the position."

Previous JCOPE heads include Letizia Tagliafierro, who worked for Cuomo during his time as attorney general and later as his director of governmental operations. She left JCOPE and took a position as deputy commissioner of the state's Department of Taxation and Finance in 2015. Her appointment in 2013 drew the ire of legislative members of JCOPE, including one who quit in protest.

Tagliafierro replaced Ellen Biben, who worked as the governor's inspector general and in the attorney general's office when Cuomo held that position. Biben now is now a Court of Claims Judge - she was nominated for the position by Cuomo.

Agata's appointment comes as Cuomo has admitted that talk of ethics reforms have been jettisoned from budget discussions and legislative leaders, especially Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, appear loathe to take any major action. Good government groups have pushed Cuomo to lead on reform in the wake of the Silver and Skelos convictions but the Governor has remained quiet on the issue since January.

Horner and other members of the good government community say JCOPE is designed in such a way that does not foster transparency or faith that its process is not political. JCOPE has 45 days from receiving a complaint to decide whether to investigate an ethics violation but it has no obligation to reveal its investigations.

An investigation can be stopped by three votes out of the 14 commissioners and most of their business is conducted behind closed doors. If a violation is found against a sitting member of the Legislature, JCOPE then has to refer the case to the Legislative Ethics Committee, which is controlled by the legislative leaders. JCOPE can disperse punishment to regular government employees.

The body is charged with maintaining income disclosures from the legislature, lobbyist registrations, and fielding complaints about ethics violations across state government. Legislators' outside income has been the source of much discussion as Cuomo and others have proposed strict limits, while Republicans (and some Democrats) in both legislative houses have balked. Silver's non-government income was at the source of his federal corruption conviction.

JCOPE's most recent actions mostly focus on enforcing compliance with financial disclosure statements, lobbyist registration, and smaller violations of the public officers law by state employees. The commission has only revealed investigations of two lawmakers over the last few years, both sexual harassment cases. They involved former Assembly Members Vito Lopez and Dennis Gabryszak.

The commission announced the launch of two new investigations from its meeting on Tuesday. It is suspected that at least one of those investigations relates to Sen. Marc Panepinto, who announced last week he will not seek reelection. Rumors have swirled about misbehavior in his office.

"I am very disappointed when a person who runs for office and holds themselves out to be trusted by their community winds up involved in a sordid affair," Cuomo told reporters this week when asked about Panepinto. "So, I don't know the details. I don't want to know the details. But let somebody else run who will respect the position."

When asked about the phrasing "sordid affair" by The Buffalo News, a Cuomo spokesperson said the governor was referring to things he had read in the press.

JCOPE members appointed by legislative leaders have openly complained of interference from the executive branch and pushed for JCOPE to look for an executive director without ties to the administration.

Critics say JCOPE has picked around the edges while federal investigators have tackled serious investigations that get to the root of corruption in state government. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, good government leaders, and others have called on Albany to strengthen both preventative measures and enforcement mechanisms.

Kaehny of Reinvent Albany said that he feels Agata's resume should have immediately disqualified him from the job. "Even if Seth Agata is as wise as Solomon and pure as the driven snow, he used to be one of Governor Cuomo's top people, and there are inherent questions about whether he can be impartial and completely non-political, rather than a potential political weapon for the governor."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Oft-Criticized Ethics Watchdog Names Cuomo Aide as Executive Director Wed, 23 Mar 2016 17:40:27 +0000
State Senate GOP Plays Politics with Anti-Semitism at CUNY http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6236:state-senate-gop-plays-politics-with-anti-semitism-at-cuny http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6236:state-senate-gop-plays-politics-with-anti-semitism-at-cuny cuny school of law

CUNY School of Law


New York State Senate Republicans are using the existence of anti-Semitism on CUNY campuses as their latest excuse in a ruse to gut the city university system's budget by $485 million, and shifting the financial burden of the cuts to CUNY students and their families.

Last week, Senate Republicans including Senator Kenneth LaValle, who chairs the Senate Committee on Higher Education, vowed to slash CUNY funding in order to "send a message" about anti-Semitism and intolerance on CUNY campuses. This message that Republican senators are sending is clear: Senate Republicans are using Jewish students on CUNY campuses as pawns in a budget battle that belittles incidents of anti-Semitism and excuses draconian budget cuts that would jeopardize the financial health of my classmates.

Intolerance and discrimination are real, and are endemic in our society. Our elected leaders should make a conscious effort to make all public institutions, including CUNY, as free from discrimination and intolerance as possible. As a Jewish CUNY student, I have witnessed my fair share of anti-Semitism (and other discrimination) within the CUNY system. Cutting funding is the last thing to do in response, though.

I cringe when I hear my fellow students decry the "Zionist administration" at CUNY or when thinly-veiled prejudicial comments are used freely on my campus and others against various groups. I welcome, encourage, and applaud efforts on a city and state level to address bigotry and prejudice on CUNY campuses. But the Republican effort to tie funding dollars to incidents of anti-Semitism will only further alienate students who feel victimized by intolerance.

Making matters worse, this politically motivated move endangers the prospects of 500,000 CUNY students and countless future students in our city who will consider enrolling at a CUNY school because of the affordability and quality of education that the system offers.

As the threat of unprecedented budget cuts lingers, CUNY students are growing anxious that we will not have the opportunity to continue our tradition of service. Over the past few weeks, my classmates and I have protested the potential cuts - we are fearful that our tuition will increase exponentially while our opportunities decrease. Lawmakers in Albany cannot allow these cuts to go through, resulting in the loss of precious programs and the dismissal of invaluable faculty members.

While the governor's office says that CUNY is fully funded in the executive budget, we want to make sure that the budget deal reached before the end of this month does indeed leave CUNY heading in the right direction, not backward. We certainly cannot allow Senate Republicans to push for cuts under the guise of punishing disturbing episodes of anti-Semitism. We must fight these episodes with more education, not less.

The State's historic commitment to funding the CUNY system has ensured that our quality education remains affordable, and that students of all backgrounds and financial circumstances have access to this education. An affordable CUNY system is a system that leads to students giving back to our city and state.

For example, the CUNY School of Law student body is largely focused on public-interest law. From defending indigent clients in criminal court to advocating for legislation that makes public benefits accessible to all New Yorkers, CUNY Law students are investing back into the people of our city and state.

Now, more than ever, we need our state government, including and especially the Senate GOP, to have our backs. Addressing anti-Semitism and discrimination on CUNY campuses is a legitimate concern that should be confronted. But conflating incidents of anti-Semitism and prejudice with the need to fully fund CUNY schools is a disservice to the people of this city and state.

The path forward is clear: fully fund CUNY and also make every effort necessary to tackle discrimination on CUNY campuses.

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Jeremy Rosenberg is a student at CUNY Law School and president of the CUNY School of Law Democrats. He is on Twitter @JeremyR1992.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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State Senate GOP Plays Politics with Anti-Semitism at CUNY Wed, 23 Mar 2016 01:17:03 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 21 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6231:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-march-21 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6231:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-march-21 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will be another busy one when it comes to budgets: the City Council continues its preliminary budget hearings and state budget negotiations enter their final ten days - a state budget is due by April 1 and some say a deal could be announced before the end of this week. Don't count on it, though, state budgets usually come in just before (or, as was the case last year, just after) the March 31 midnight deadline. This practice under Governor Andrew Cuomo is actually a serious improvement given that the state used to regularly wind up with late budgets extending weeks past the start of the new fiscal year, which begins April 1.

There are a variety of issues to be worked out, with several of importance to New York City. As always, there are a number of high-profile items, like an increase of the minimum wage or government ethics reform, that could be pushed beyond the budget and into the legislative session to follow. That session runs until mid-June. The budget, after all, only must include necessary state expenses. Expect at least a couple of closed-door meetings among Cuomo and the two legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican. On Monday, City Council "Speaker Mark-Viverito and Council Members will travel to Albany to advocate for the City Council's 2016 State Budget and Legislative Agenda," according to Mark-Viverito's public schedule.

Also worth watching in Albany this week, the Assembly will consider internal reforms announced by Heastie and his conference at the end of this past week. The 40-plus reform proposals received a mixed reaction from elected officials and good government advocates, but still indicate a number of changes that many have been advocating for years. And, keep an eye out for a related conference in Albany on Friday, which will look at ethics reform through the lens of a state constitutional convention - details below.

While it is another busy week of budget hearings at the City Council, the Council will also hold a full-body Stated Meeting on Tuesday, at which new bills will be introduced and the Council will vote on the two high-profile zoning changes - Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) - that have been the source of months of discussion, negotiation, and controversy, and that are key to Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing plans.

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Mayor de Blasio is doing a series of six media appearances to discuss his affordable housing agenda on Monday. He'll be on NPR, 880AM and 710AM radio, and on NY1, NY1 Noticias, and Univision TV.

Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Monday in Albany.

At 10 a.m. in Albany, following the full meeting of the NYS Board of Regents, the board’s newly-elected Chancellor and Vice Chancellor will hold a press conference with the State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

At noon Monday, a coalition of over 90 HIV/AIDS advocates will launch a statewide Week of Action on the steps of City Hall, calling upon Governor Cuomo to invest $70 million in a plan to end AIDS in the 2016 New York State budget.

At the City Council on Monday:

  • At 9:30 a.m., the Committee on Health will hold a hearing on a bill to prohibit the use of smokeless tobacco products at sports arenas and recreational areas that require tickets.
  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Health will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.
  • At noon, the Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Youth Services will discuss a bill requiring the establishment of a training coordinator to teach certain agency staff throughout departments such as Parks and Recreation, Homeless Services, and Human Resources Administration/Social Services how to identify runaway, homeless or sexually exploited youth and how to connect them with appropriate services. The committee will also discuss several technical changes relating to an annual report produced by the Administration for Children’s Services and the Department of Youth and Community Development on the number of sexually exploited youth each agency has come into contact with over the course of the calendar year.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Public Safety will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.
  • At 1:30 p.m., the Committee on Higher Education will meet to discuss a resolution to increase State funding to CUNY, and to reach a fair labor agreement with the University’s faculty and staff in the 2016-17 NYS Executive Budget.
  • At 3 p.m., the Committee on Civil Rights will examine a bill to broaden or incorporate a right to truthful information for a variety of activities covered by the New York City Human Rights Law, including lending, employment, and access to public accommodations and others.

At 2 p.m. Monday, "First Lady McCray will deliver opening remarks at a panel at Fountain House, an organization dedicated to supporting those living with serious mental illness."

At 6 p.m. Monday, the LGBT Task Force of Manhattan Community Boards 9, 10, 11, and 12 will host an LGBT Resource Fair featuring New York City Agencies. The event is sponsored by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

At 6:10 p.m. Monday evening, "Mayor Bill de Blasio will discuss affordable housing with an anticipated 10,000+ AARP members from New York City on an interactive call that allows participants to ask questions," according to AARP-NY.

On Monday at 6:30 p.m., schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will attend a town hall meeting of District 16's Community Education Council at MS 267 in Brooklyn.

Tuesday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Crain’s New York Business will host an event on how startup businesses take off in New York City, featuring: Gregg Bishop, Commissioner, NYC Department of Small Business Services; Howard Lerman, Co-Founder & CEO, Yext; Rachel Shechtman,, Founder and CEO, STORY; Adam Shwartz, Director, Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech; and moderated by Matthew Flamm, Senior Reporter, Crain's New York Business.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the YWCA of New York City will host “its third breakfast panel for Women’s History Month “New York City Women Leaders: The Power of Influence and Purpose.” The panel will include Maya Wiley, counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio; City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley; and Carmelyn Malalis, commissioner of the city’s Human Rights Commission; among others.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Commission on Public Information and Communication will meet to discuss the implementation of the webcasting law and the establishment of a central portal for webcasts.

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 9 a.m., the Committee on State and Federal Legislation will meet to press for authorization that Christopher Park in Manhattan is discontinued as city parkland.
  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Finance will meet to approve new designations for certain organizations to receive funding in the expense budget; to communicate the transfer of City funds between various agencies in FY ‘16 in the expense budget; and to communicate the appropriation of new revenues of $982 million in FY ‘16.
  • At 1:30 p.m., the City Council will hold a full-body Stated Meeting. The highlight of the hearing will be the Council’s votes on the MIH and ZQA zoning text amendments.
  • Before the Stated, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will host a pre-Stated press conference at 12:30.

Also prior to the Stated Meeting, at noon, City Council Members Costa Constantinides and Ydanis Rodriguez will host a press conference on the steps of City Hall to rally before introducing a bill to create a pilot program for electric vehicle charging stations on street parking. The program hopes to encourage the use of electric cars and reduce carbon emissions citywide.

Wednesday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Subcommittee on Libraries will meet jointly with the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations for a preliminary budget hearing on libraries.
  • At 11 a.m., the Committee on Contracts will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Courts and Legal Services will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will host a Women’s History Month celebration at Mott Haven Library.

Thursday
At 8 a.m. Thursday, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will host a breakfast event focused on combating the rising tide of cybercrime and featuring Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

Friday and the weekend
At 1:30 p.m. Friday in Albany, a forum, “Can a NYS Constitutional Convention Strengthen Government Ethics?” The event, hosted by The Rockefeller Institute, will feature discussion about whether issues of integrity in government can be fixed statutorily, or if would be better resolved through constitutional change. Speaking will be former NYS Comptroller H. Carl McCall; and Columbia Law School Professor Richard Briffault, who is also a former assistant counsel to Governor Hugh Carey; as well as a panel of experts.

On Saturday, March 26, Participatory Budget voting begins in New York City Council districts running the program. In Participatory Budgeting, Council Members ask New York City residents “to decide how to invest public funds in their neighborhoods.” Voting will take place throughout the nearly 30 participating districts through April 3.

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Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

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by Kelly Fan and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 21 Sat, 19 Mar 2016 14:22:16 +0000