Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1256 Tue, 12 Dec 2017 19:43:10 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) New York Votes Act Doesn’t Go Far Enough http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6991:new-york-votes-act-doesn-t-go-far-enough http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6991:new-york-votes-act-doesn-t-go-far-enough Eric Schneiderman

 (photo via @AGSchneiderman)


In February, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman introduced the New York Votes Act, a comprehensive set of bills to protect and expand voting rights in New York. Among other issues, the Act includes no-excuse absentee ballots, early voting, and automatic voter registration.

This legislation is a step in the right direction, but I worry that it ignores the most impactful form of voter suppression facing New York: the state’s closed primary system.

About 3.3 million independent and unaffiliated voters are locked out of New York’s closed primaries -- more voters than the Republican Party has enrolled in the entire state!. The system impacts over a million more New Yorkers than automatic voter registration would.

Some argue that independents aren’t technically “disenfranchised” in New York because they still get to vote in the general election. But here’s the thing: New York districts are so uncompetitive -- as a result of partisan gerrymandering -- that over 90 percent of elections are determined in the primary. By the time the general election comes around, most races have already been decided.

Hundreds of thousands of voters were furious when they couldn’t vote in the New York presidential primary last year. Many tried to change their party registration ahead of time, and were still denied a vote, due to this ridiculous rule and the untenable lead time required. New York’s voting laws stifled many new voters or those newly engaged in politics that wanted to participate in our democracy.

I witnessed many of my grassroots organizers and colleagues, people incredibly engaged in the campaign process, not able to vote or forced to vote by affidavit, only to find out later in the mail their vote wasn’t counted. This is exactly what contributes to lower civic and political engagement, and in turn, lower voter turnout.   

While Schneiderman originally proposed giving independents the ability to change their party affiliation up to 10 days (in-person) or 25 days (by mail) ahead of a primary, the final version of the New York Votes Act will move the deadline to four months ahead of a primary. If the bill passes, New York would only move from having the longest wait period to change party affiliation to the second longest wait. That’s not reform.

And regardless of the affiliation deadline, the solution fails to address the core reason why so many voters are increasingly becoming independent; they don’t want to join a party for any reason or duration of time. No one should have to register with a party in order to vote in any election. Attorney General Schneiderman even acknowledged that in his report on voting reform, going as far as to recognize that: “Many of these individuals had no interest in affiliating with either of the two major parties” in order to vote. So why make them?

No wonder independent voting rights advocate Francis Barry wrote in a recent op-ed: “New York is the worst state for independents, bar none.” And no wonder New York consistently ranks among the lowest in voter turnout in the country.

There is a strong connection between closed primaries and low turnout in the general. Four of the five states with the lowest turnout in 2016 have closed primaries. The five states with the highest voter turnout in 2016 all use open primaries.

When you lock millions of voters out of the primaries, you can’t expect them to turn out for your party in the general election. That much is obvious. Independent voters want to be a part of the political process from day one, not ignored during the primary or told “join a party if you want to vote.”

The abysmal voter turnout in New York is a large part of the reason why Schneiderman introduced the New York Votes Act in the first place. The day the legislation was introduced, he held a press conference at Federal Hall, where he stood in front of a crowd of voting reform activists and declared his support for any legislation that “makes it easier to vote.”

So why does the New York Votes Act tout automatic voter registration as the centerpiece of reform, rather than the single most impactful issue facing New York voters -- the very issue that has the biggest effect on voter turnout?

What good is automatic voter registration for the general election when the vast majority of races are determined in the primary? And why focus on it at the expense of over 3 million voters who want to vote but don’t want to be forced into choosing a party?

Millions of Americans support open primaries. The current system, in which taxpayers fund closed primaries that exclude huge swaths of voters, is unsustainable. You cannot lock out the second biggest voting bloc in a state from participating in what almost always amounts to the only meaningful round of voting. That’s not democracy.

Primaries are public elections funded by taxpayers. Everyone should be allowed to vote in them, regardless of party affiliation.

As a grassroots activist who organized for Bernie Sanders in four different states -- and have since joined NYPAN and the Democratic Socialists of America -- I’ve heard from hundreds of Americans who are fed up with way the country runs its elections.

That’s why I’m supporting the Open Primaries petition to Attorney General Schneiderman and the New York State Legislature to do the right thing, and expand the New York Votes Act to include open primaries.

Abide by your own words, Mr. Attorney General, and make it easier to vote in New York, for all New Yorkers, by opening the primaries.

Make New York a true democracy.

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Jeremy Kaplan is an independent filmmaker and political activist.

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

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New York Votes Act Doesn’t Go Far Enough Mon, 12 Jun 2017 22:21:57 +0000
The Evolving Powers of the New York Attorney General http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6939:the-evolving-powers-of-the-new-york-attorney-general http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6939:the-evolving-powers-of-the-new-york-attorney-general schneiderman cuomo attorney general

Cuomo & Schneiderman (photo: The Governor's Office)


The office of New York Attorney General has recently become one of the most high-profile law enforcement jobs in the country, and a springboard to the Governor’s Mansion, with its own heightened powers and prestige. Both Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo jumped from Attorney General to Governor of New York after tenures marked by major prosecutorial victories, and there is plenty of talk that current A.G. Eric Schneiderman -- one of the leading national opponents of President Donald Trump through his litigation efforts -- has his eyes on a similar leap.

But this outsized role for the New York Attorney General, the head of the Law Department and the chief lawyer representing the state, hasn’t always been so -- in fact, the move to law enforcement leader prosecuting major public corruption, financial industry malfeasance, and other cases is a new phenomenon largely ushered in by Spitzer.

The New York State Constitution actually has very little to say about the Attorney General. The document outlines, in detail, the powers of the Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, and State Comptroller, the other elected offices in the executive branch, but the Attorney General’s power is mostly derived from statutes rather than the state constitution itself.

The Constitution doesn’t spell out the Attorney General’s power of enforcement, but rather, lists some of the office’s clerical duties. The document states that the Attorney General is to be elected “at the same general election as the governor and hold office for the same term,” that the Attorney General shall be the head of the Law Department, that the AG shall render opinions on proposed constitutional amendments prior to a vote in the Assembly and Senate, and that state money and measures violating the constitution can be restrained “on notice” of the AG “at the suit of the people.”

The actual enforcement and prosecutorial power against crime in the Constitution is endowed in District Attorneys. The Attorney General would focus on defending both the state of New York and the people of the state of New York. For example, Schneiderman’s office created a “Taxpayer Protection Bureau” to more diligently root out abuses, fraud, and theft committed against taxpayers whether it be through fraud in government programs, investments, or contracts.

But the Attorney General has gradually become a regulator rather than chief lawyer. Schneiderman’s tenure has seen crackdowns on tenant abuse by landlords, on malfeasance and opacity in the nonprofit sector, and on daily fantasy sports leagues like DraftKings, to name a few things; his office filed the initial lawsuit against Trump University, the President’s fraudulent college; he refused to join a settlement with the Obama administration and all other State Attorneys General over fraudulent mortgage dealings by banks, believing that more could be attained. He turned out to be correct.

This kind of outsize visibility and power has been building for some time.

According to Gerald Benjamin, the director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz and a leading expert on state constitutions, especially New York’s, the Attorney General "was empowered without the constitution," but instead in common law, to become what it is today. The original intent of the position was to be the state’s chief lawyer, while prosecutorial power would be delineated to the various district attorneys. But various AGs -- more so recently -- have sought instead to be high profile prosecutors due to the visibility and political capital that such a role can bring.

The office is elected separately from the governor, like in most other states, and enjoys a certain sense of independence from the chief executive. However, the attorney general can be empowered in certain areas by the governor, such as Governor Cuomo using an executive order to assign Eric Schneiderman with prosecutorial authority over some potential police misconduct, a plan opposed by four out of five of New York City’s District Attorneys at the time it was proposed. (Some have suggested that DAs are too close with local police departments to impartially review improper use of deadly force by police; at the time Schneiderman requested that Cuomo grant him the additional power in such cases, Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer whose chokehold killed Eric Garner, had recently escaped an indictment.)

According to Richard Rifkin, special counsel to the New York State Bar Association who formerly worked under Attorneys General Robert Abrams and Eliot Spitzer, the governor granting power to the AG doesn’t tether them together. “The governor,” he said, “once having given the attorney general the power, would not interfere with the attorney general,” referring to the AG as “truly an independent prosecutor.”

The position of attorney general has recently become something of a gubernatorial catapult. Schneiderman’s two immediate predecessors, Spitzer and Cuomo, went on to be elected governor successively. And many expect Schneiderman, who has emerged as a leading opponent of President Trump, suing and threatening to sue Trump and the administration on matters ranging from the Muslim ban to the American Health Care Act, to pursue the same path (Schneiderman has also been criticized for going after Trump so fervently, with some saying he is overstepping his bounds, while he argues that everything he has pursued related to Trump has been applicable to his work representing New York.). All three men enjoyed high profiles during their tenures in the office, due in part to their visible roles as prosecutors of the powerful, whether government officials, Wall Street firms, or even the President.

But the position hasn’t always been this way. In fact, arguably the only other New York attorney general in recent history who used the position as a springboard to a higher position in government was Jacob Javits, who was only attorney general for two years before being elected to the U.S. Senate (in fact, Javits served concurrently as U.S. senator and New York attorney general for six days in 1957).

According to Professor Benjamin, it was “relatively rare” for an attorney general to seek higher elected office, such as Governor or U.S. Senator, prior to Robert Abrams’ 1994 Senate run, which he lost to incumbent Republican Al D’Amato. Attorneys general have also more recently sought to take the lead on issues of “statewide and national importance,” such as climate change, gun control, and sanctuary cities, “the effect of [which] has been to elevate their importance in state politics” and draw more ambitious politicians to the position, Benjamin noted. While virtually any attorney general from any state could pursue such goals, New York’s size and prominence make the possibility all the more attractive and plausible for the state’s AG.

All of these attorneys general expanded their power at least partially on the basis of a single 1921 statute known as the Martin Act, which gives the New York AG vastly greater latitude in prosecuting financial crimes against shareholders.

Among “Blue Sky Laws,” which are laws designed to protect investors from securities fraud, the Martin Act is largely considered to be the toughest in the nation. That wasn’t always the case though, as New York’s blue sky law was initially weaker than that of many other states, until the New York Supreme Court determined in People v Federated Radio Corporation (1926) that the act’s purpose was to “defeat all kinds of fraud in connection with the sale of securities and commodities and to defeat all unsubstantial and visionary schemes in relation thereto whereby the public is fraudulently exploited,” even if the fraud can’t be proven to have “originated in any actual evil design or contrivance to perpetrate fraud or injury upon others.”

Spitzer’s 2002 settlement with Merrill Lynch, totaling $100 million, over conflict-of-interest allegations is seen as a pivotal point on the road to what the AG has become today. Prior to Spitzer’s tenure, it was mostly used for smaller financial violations, such as “shady pharmacists, Ponzi schemes, and peddlers of fraudulent Salvador Dali lithographs,” according to a 2004 article in Legal Affairs by Nicholas Thompson, published prior to the revelation of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, for which Andrew Cuomo used the Martin Act when he was attorney general.

Spitzer was no stranger to the way the office changed under his tenure, and made it central to his gubernatorial campaign. In a gubernatorial debate with Republican John Faso, Spitzer claimed that “we’ve transformed an office that once stood for very little, into an office that brought cases that reflected the values we all share. Integrity on Wall Street to protect your pensions; honesty and accountability in government to pursue fraud and recover more money in Medicaid waste than ever before; and honesty in the pharmaceutical sector to make sure that companies told you the truth about the pharmaceuticals you were using. These are the values I hope to bring to Albany.” However, once in office, Spitzer found the office to be more constricting than the A.G., leading to frequent clashes with state legislators such as then Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and his approval ratings were already low before he resigned in disgrace due to a prostitution scandal.

Spitzer’s words have inspired his successors; rather than the A.G. being a “sleepy” job that just goes after small-time hucksters and defends the state in court, the office is now a formidable foe against powerful interests, and the attention those pursuits bring to the person at the helm can propel them to high office.

Schneiderman, who once represented financial firms in private practice, has used the Martin Act to pursue his “Insider Trading 2.0” initiative, obtaining multimillion-dollar settlements from financial institutions such as Deutsche Bank, BlackRock, and Barclays, as well as settlements with banks such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs over deceptive practices leading up to the financial crisis.

Beyond its use as a tool against large financial institutions, Schneiderman has used the act as a basis for a probe into ExxonMobil, arguing that its alleged failure to disclose to its shareholders and the public research that showed the potential impact of climate change constituted a Martin Act violation. Schneiderman issued a subpoena for the documents containing Exxon’s research, to which Exxon countersued. The suit was recently in the news when it was revealed that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, formerly the CEO of Exxon, had used an alias, Wayne Tracker, in emails relating to the case that were “lost.” A court had ordered the documents to be released.

The New York AG also has leeway into how settlement funds are used. In a press release on April 11, Schneiderman announced that $20 million of funds from settlements with Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley would be used “to provide local governments with innovative technology to address and transform problem properties—including homes and buildings that are blighted, poorly maintained, vacant, abandoned, and in financial distress—that fell into disrepair following the foreclosure crisis,” as part of a program called Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement, or Cities RISE.

Previously, Schneiderman’s office had used settlement funds on other programs designed to assist homeowners post-housing crisis, such as the Homeowner Protection Program, providing legal services for homeowners, and the Mortgage Assistance Program, providing zero-interest loans to homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure; the office has also funded land banks with settlement money.

The use of settlement funds by Schneiderman is just one of many examples of how recent attorneys general have secured new money through investigative and prosecutorial work that they’ve then used for whatever priorities they see fit, at times expanding their office’s reach even further beyond the traditional role of AG.

Proponents of the Martin Act have noted the high rate at which financial crimes are prosecuted in New York; opponents have argued that the law has been used by attorneys general to score political points and boost political profiles, and that it’s been used improperly due to the broadness of the statute.

Paul Atkins, the head of Wall Street consulting firm Patomak Global Partners and the financial regulatory advisor to Donald Trump during his presidential transition, is an opponent of the Martin Act and other blue sky laws. He did not follow the president to the White House, however.

A referendum will appear on the ballot this November, asking New Yorkers if the state should convene a constitutional convention, which would make recommendations for potential changes to the state constitution. The last convention was held in 1967, but the state failed to accept the recommendations that emerged when they were later on another ballot referendum.

Professor Benjamin, a strong supporter of a constitutional convention, believes that the attorney general would seek to cement, even broaden, authority if the measure were to pass in November and a constitutional convention is indeed held. "I think they'd be well advised to try and get some of the powers of their office constitutionally grounded,” he said, “as the powers of the other state elected offices in New York are constitutionally grounded.”

For example, there could be discussion of granting the attorney general blanket prosecutorial jurisdiction to pursue public corruption cases against elected or appointed government officials. It is a power Cuomo sought as AG, but was not granted; and a power Schneiderman has sought as AG, but has not been granted by Cuomo.

Rifkin, meanwhile, believes that the AG, or any agency head, be they elected or appointed, should not push for codified powers in the constitution should a convention come to fruition. “That’s because the agencies need the powers that they need in this particular moment in time,” he said. “New issues come up, new problems arise, and life goes on, and when they’re locked in the constitution, government just can’t adjust to the current situation.”

[Related: How Cuomo's Special Prosecutor Order is Playing Out, 19 Months Later]

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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The Evolving Powers of the New York Attorney General Wed, 17 May 2017 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.

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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
Criminal Justice Reform Again Given Little Attention in Budget Negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6249:criminal-justice-reform-again-given-little-attention-in-budget-negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6249:criminal-justice-reform-again-given-little-attention-in-budget-negotiations cuomo prison visit dannemora

Gov. Cuomo in Dannemora (photo via The Governor's Office)


As Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders rush to deliver an on-time budget, criminal justice reform advocates aren't holding out hope that any of their major legislative priorities will be included in the final document. Advocates are resigned that many of their priorities, which are backed by Cuomo and included in his executive budget, will be pushed to the post-budget legislative session.

A budget is due by midnight Thursday, with the new fiscal year beginning on Friday, April 1, but a deal must be in place sooner so that bills can be drafted and voted on. The legislative session then extends into June. Cuomo and legislative leaders said Tuesday that they were getting close to settling the major funding and policy differences that would be included in the budget, with no mention of criminal justice issues.

For some advocates it is no surprise given the complexities of their issues, like the push to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility in New York and legislation to amend state law to create a special prosecutor to preside over investigations of police killings of civilians.

To others, it isn't surprising for an entirely different reason: they are used to seeing Cuomo pitch major criminal justice reforms during his State of the State address only to abandon them during budget negotiations due to push back from Senate Republicans.

"For years we've seen this pattern where the governor comes out with big bold ideas in January but he doesn't follow through," said Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY, a community organizing and reform group. "We know the governor is very powerful and can move things when he wants to. He should be acting on these issues that really impact the low-income communities of color who are really his base."

The Cuomo administration did not return request for comment.

Legislators who support criminal justice reforms say they've been focused on the budget and won't likely return to other legislative issues until next week.

Aguilera noted that Cuomo has previously pitched decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana only to abandon the issue. Last year Cuomo dropped "Raise the Age" and legislation to create a special prosecutor to investigate police killings of civilians during budget negotiations. He has also previously abandoned a push to provide inmates with a college education.

However, last year while facing pressure to act from family members of the deceased, advocates, and legislators, Cuomo issued an executive order giving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the ability to investigate police killings of civilians under certain circumstances. The order allows the Attorney General to investigate any case involving a police killing of a civilian and to take over a case from a local District Attorney.

The bill Cuomo is backing this year would allow an independent monitor to look into cases if a grand jury decided to not move forward against an officer or if a District Attorney did not put the case before a grand jury in a "reasonable" time. The monitor could then make a recommendation to the Governor. The Attorney General would no longer have a role.

Advocates see the proposal, which is not garnering momentum, as a substantial weakening of Cuomo's executive order. Aguilera said she is concerned the current environment might not be ideal for getting the special prosecutor bill her group supports. "Our biggest fear really is seeing a rolling back of our victory. We fought for the executive order which was a very good, solid executive order. We are realistic that the current leadership in the state Senate means it might not be the right time for a stronger bill. We need to protect the current executive order. We don't want to see a watering down of what we already have," she said.

Supporters of the plan to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York are more optimistic about their chances. New York is currently one of just two states, with North Carolina, to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

"I think it's going to be a priority for the governor once other priorities are taken care of," said Paige Pierce, CEO of Families Together New York State. "We aren't surprised or unhappy it is being dealt with outside of the budget. We want the attention paid to it that it deserves."

The issue of how to treat 16- and 17-year-olds in the state's criminal justice system is complicated. Senate Republicans don't want to be soft on crime, or give the appearance of being so, while Assembly Democrats want to provide a host of alternatives to criminal court.

Lawmakers and advocates say that last year they came close to compromise legislation. "We got so close last session, we just ran out of time," said Stephanie Gendell, associate executive director for policy and government relations at Citizen's Committee for Children of New York.

Gendell said that legislators from both sides of the aisle were motivated to deliver on legislation when they heard details of how 16- and 17-year-olds were treated. "Certain pieces of Raise the Age just aren't controversial to anyone. That's why we got so close," said Gendell. "Legislators were surprised to hear that a 16-year-old arrested can be held all night without parental notification, without anyone knowing. The more people learn the more they are motivated to act."

Cuomo did push last year to leave funding in the budget to enact Raise the Age reforms were a deal reached, and that money was there, but no deal occurred. The governor included similar language in this year's executive budget. Advocates are anxious to see if the language makes the final budget bills, setting the stage for an agreement in the months ahead. Cuomo also has bail reform on his agenda for the legislative session ahead.

The governor, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan continue to negotiate the budget framework.

With no legislative deal reached last year Cuomo took executive action, placing all 16- and 17-year-old inmates in an alternative facility. He followed up by pushing the issue again in this year's State of the State address. The Assembly put forward its own version of the bill in its one-house budget. Senate Republicans have indicated some interest in compromising on reform legislation.

"Part of why this doesn't get passed in the budget is that it is a very comprehensive piece of legislation," said Gendell. "Out bill is very long and there is a lot to it. When we get to legislative session we can talk more about the details. Senator Flanagan said he didn't want to deal with Raise the Age in the budget, he didn't say he didn't want it to happen at all."

[Related: Cuomo's Executive Action on Raise the Age Prompts Questions]

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

Read more by this writer.

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Criminal Justice Reform Again Given Little Attention in Budget Negotiations Tue, 29 Mar 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Heads Into State of the State After Big Announcements, With More to Say http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6083:cuomo-heads-into-state-of-the-state-after-big-announcements-with-more-to-say http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6083:cuomo-heads-into-state-of-the-state-after-big-announcements-with-more-to-say cuomo church sots

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin, Governor's Office)


Governor Cuomo is going big. Decrying a state that has lost its ambition for transformative projects like the Erie Canal, the governor has spent the past week traveling the state and announcing major infrastructure, transportation, and economic development plans. Cuomo has also revealed new pieces of his $15 minimum wage campaign and criminal justice reform policies, among others, as he sets his agenda for 2016 and frames budget negotiations in Albany.

So far, Cuomo has outlined 14 planks of his 2016 platform, providing an extensive preview of his State of the State and budget address, which he will give on Wednesday in the capital. Still, there are key pieces of his speech that the governor has kept under wraps, including what he has said are top priorities: government ethics, homelessness, and education.

It is also unclear what priority, if any, Cuomo will give to policies like the DREAM Act, which he has assured proponents will be in his budget again, but has not given indication of its place in his speech. Advocates are also hopeful that the governor includes a significant paid family leave proposal on Wednesday, and many are watching to see if he unveils a plan for a statewide policy on car-hailing apps, like Uber.

While the governor is clearly going big on infrastructure - with plans that could total $100 billion in costs, according to his office - he has promised to lead with ethics as lawmakers continue to fall to corruption convictions, trust in Albany is low, and New Yorkers say Cuomo has not done enough to clean up state government.

"Top of my agenda is going to be ethics reform," Cuomo, a Democrat, said Jan. 3 on NY1. "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."

What exactly this will include is unclear, but good government groups, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and many others have put forth recommendations. Chief among these are limiting legislators' outside income and closing the infamous LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited campaign donations. Whether Cuomo broaches a public campaign finance system will help gauge how bold he's going on reform.

Wherever ethics does fall, that portion of Cuomo's address is likely to be dwarfed by the volume of discussion of the infrastructure plans the governor has outlined and his discussion of economic justice, including his minimum wage crusade.

The infrastructure plans, which include a new track on the Long Island Rail Road, a revamped Penn Station, road and bridge upgrades, and more, will be attached to the governor's previously announced projects led by a new Tappan Zee Bridge and LaGuardia Airport.

During a Jan. 5 appearance on Long Island, Cuomo said of New Yorkers, "we don't think big anymore. And we don't believe we're capable of doing big anymore. And we don't believe government is a vehicle to do big anymore." But, he promised to resurrect New York's "big" thinking as he announced new plans and referenced ongoing building - all under the banner of this year's tagline: New York State, Built to Lead.

"This year in the State of the State we are going to propose the largest construction project program in modern political history in the state of New York," Cuomo promised. "Roads and bridges upstate, airports upstate and downstate, new mass transit, new attractions, new rail transit and new mass transit downstate which is desperately needed. And we are going to do it region by region."

While Cuomo has outlined the meat of his building plans, he has not gone into detail on how it will all be funded, though he has promised to do so on Wednesday in his executive budget.

Cuomo has called the budget "the most complex piece of legislation we pass," which is true in part because it is a way of doing business in Albany that a good deal of policy is unnecessarily included in budget negotiations. For the governor, whomever it may be, forcing additional policy into the budget is a way of using executive leverage that doesn't exist in post-budget legislative session. For the second straight year, Cuomo is combining his State of the State, which is usually a more policy-focused speech, with the announcement of his budget.

A budget deal is due by April 1, whereas the legislative session continues into June.

Budget watchdogs are eagerly awaiting the details of Cuomo's spending plans. Nicole Gelinas, of the Manhattan Institute, recently wrote in City and State that "Cuomo evidently did not make an important resolution: stop announcing huge infrastructure projects without a way to pay for them."

"The risk in starting lots of new projects without having a way to pay for them," Gelinas wrote, "is that the governor will force the MTA and the rest of the state to scrimp on old stuff that people don't see, like replacing subway tracks and signals."

After all the drama that accompanied Cuomo's negotiations with Mayor Bill de Blasio over an MTA capital spending plan, Cuomo may try to steer clear of criticism for his spending plans. As the Citizens Budget Commission points out, Cuomo continues to have billions of dollars to spend from bank settlements with the state. In outlining 12 things to watch for in Cuomo's budget, CBC asks, "How much will the Governor propose to spend for transportation infrastructure? How much will be borrowing versus pay-as-you-go capital, and will a new revenue source be proposed?"

Throughout his time as governor, Cuomo has prided himself on reigning in state operational spending, and even while outlining his new plans so far this month, Cuomo has touted his brand of fiscal responsibility. It is unlikely Cuomo will outline an increase in state spending above the two percent cap he has followed.

Meanwhile, many, especially from New York City, are watching closely to see what the governor outlines around homelessness, the latest issue on which Cuomo has decided to undermine and supercede de Blasio. Cuomo issued an executive order just after the new year and has promised a robust policy plan in his State of the State.

The plan is likely to include more oversight of homeless shelters, which the state is already responsible for, and of operations aimed at reducing homelessness. How much money Cuomo will dedicate to supportive housing, rental subsidies, and other relevant measures is to-be-seen. De Blasio recently announced a major supportive housing plan and, along with advocates and legislators, called on Cuomo to match it (and create a fourth New York/New York supportive housing deal).

The governor has not yet made clear his education platform for this year, though he has indicated he will follow recommendations made by the common core task force that he empaneled in September and received a report from in December.

Becoming "The Education Governor" has been full of fits and starts for Cuomo. While he has protected and promoted the growth of charter schools, other aspects of his education policy have not gone as planned - these include the rollout of the common core learning standards and tougher teacher evaluations by tying them more closely to the results of student standardized test scores.

The task force recommended a revamp of the common core system, more stakeholder input, a reduction in standardized testing, and increased local control over standards and curriculum. The governor's office said that "no new legislation is required to implement the recommendations of the report," so there could be few specific proposals in Cuomo's State of the State.

The governor did recently announce he will be investing in the community school model, something de Blasio has expanded vastly in New York City, especially with regard to so-called "failing schools" as he tries to turn them around under the threat of state takeover. Cuomo may take aim at hastening school improvement.

On NY1, Cuomo said "many of these failing schools have been failing for over 10 years, believe it or not. And the system, the bureaucracy, has been too tolerant, in my opinion. And we are – we're going to be focusing on the closing schools, we're going to be investing in the school system to make sure we're doing everything we can on the state side."

As he has done before, Cuomo also distanced himself from education-related problems: "Education in this state is run by a department called the state education department," Cuomo said. "It is not under the governor. I wish it were, many governors in the past wished it was...It's run by the Board of Regents, which is selected by the legislature, primarily the Assembly."

Discussing the common core he said, "We started a new curriculum as part of a national movement called the common core curriculum. And that was rolled out over the past few years; that brought with it a testing regimen on the new curriculum. It was not implemented well. It was rushed. It was confused."

Adding that "It created a backlash among parents that frankly shocked everyone," Cuomo mentioned "the opt-out movement, where the parents didn't have the kids take the tests because they didn't like the way it was addressed, they didn't like that the kids were getting lower grades, whatever region."

Cuomo said the state education department has to make significant changes "and bring the parents along. Because if the parents don't have trust in the education system, then you have nothing and that's where we are now," Cuomo concluded, setting the stage for next steps by his administration and the state education department, which is doing its own common core review (new SED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia was named to Cuomo's task force, so there appears to be some, if not significant, overlap).

While there will almost certainly be sections of Cuomo's speech on education, homelessness, and ethics, the bulk will likely be on infrastructure, economic development and opportunity. He'll showcase these efforts through his push for an eventual $15 per hour minimum wage, a downtown revitalization initiative, tax breaks for small businesses, and the major projects he's outlined.

On NY1, Cuomo explained how he sees economic development, saying that "in Upstate New York [it] means basically restoring the economy, and in downstate New York it means growing the future economy – the high tech economy, having the transportation infrastructure to do that – and making sure the economy is working for everyone."

He promised to address "very high unemployment among young minority males, black and brown," which he called "just unacceptable," adding, "We have to make special economic initiatives there."

To follow that up, Cuomo announced new regulations related to spending on minority- and women-owned businesses. Prior to that, Cuomo also announced "the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative," a $25 million program to "bring together state and local government, non-profit and business groups to design and implement coordinated solutions to increase social mobility in ten cities with the highest poverty rates in the state."

The governor has promised to continue to fight to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York from 16 to 18 - New York is one of just two states that automatically treat 16-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system. Like on several other issues, Cuomo has taken executive action on the issue in the absence of legislation, with a plan to move 16- and 17-year-olds into a separate prison facility from older inmates.

Where other social justice issues that, similarly, the governor has backed before but not been able to pass, like the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and the DREAM Act, are featured in Cuomo's remarks is also being watched closely by supporters of those policies.

The governor published an op-ed this week detailing the measures he's taken to protect transgender New Yorkers in the absence of GENDA passing the legislature, where it has been blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate. Cuomo did not indicate that he would be pushing GENDA forward in his State of the State.

There are also questions around whether Cuomo will include a proposal and dedicated funding for paid family leave, something that de Blasio recently moved on for some city employees and called on the state to pass for all workers.

One other policy area the governor has been quiet on leading up to his address, but he could make waves with an announcement on is app-based car services. When de Blasio was battling with Uber last year, Cuomo jumped into the fray to defend the company, where one of his former top aides now works, and say that a statewide policy is needed. Since then, Uber has waged a campaign across the state, getting many public officials on board. Cuomo may surprise people by outlining state policy around Uber and other e-hailing services like Lyft.

Tune in at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday for Cuomo's speech - stream online at the governor's website - and see below for the full outline of proposals Cuomo has outlined thus far in 2016.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

For an outline of all 14 proposals Cuomo has announced thus far, the following was released by Cuomo's office on Tuesday:

The signature proposals announced so far include:

PROPOSAL 1: Restore economic justice by making New York the first state in the nation to enact a $15 minimum wage for all workers. While highlighting this proposal, the Governor announced that the State University of New York will raise the minimum wage for more than 28,000 employees.

More information available here; video and other media available here.

PROPOSAL 2: Launch a comprehensive plan to transform and expand vital infrastructure downstate and make critical investments in the region. Most notably, the proposal includes a major expansion and improvement project for the Long Island Rail Road between Floral Park and Hicksville.

The project will allow the LIRR to increase service, reduce congestion and train delays caused whenever there is an incident along this busy stretch of tracks and will enable the LIRR to run "reverse-peak" trains to allow people to take the LIRR to jobs on Long Island during traditional business hours. By allowing the LIRR to increase service between Floral Park and Hicksville, it will provide a more attractive alternative to driving and thereby reduce traffic on Long Island's major east-west highways, like the L.I.E., Northern State and Southern State, and more trains will make it easier for Long Islanders to reach LaGuardia and Kennedy airports by train.

More information available here; video and other media available here.

PROPOSAL 3: Bolster New York's legacy of environmental protection. The Governor has proposed allocating $300 million for the State’s Environmental Protection Fund – the highest amount ever for the fund and more than double the fund’s level when the Governor first took office. The Governor also announced two major investments in water infrastructure in Suffolk and Nassau Counties.

More information available here.

PROPOSAL 4: Make a series of investments and new initiatives to continue growing the economy and building stronger, more vibrant communities across New York State. These proposals include significant tax relief for small businesses, increased funding to support municipal water infrastructure improvement projects, a new effort to revitalize and transform downtown areas in each region of the state, and a sixth round of the successful Regional Economic Development Council initiative.

More information available here; video and other media available here.

PROPOSAL 5: Invest in Upstate transportation infrastructure. This includes a plan to offer a tax credit that cuts tolls in half for the New York residents and businesses who utilize the Thruway most often – benefitting nearly one million passenger, business and farm vehicles using E-Z Passes; eliminating tolls for agricultural vehicles; and keeping tolls flat until at least 2020 for all other drivers.

More information available here; video available here.

PROPOSAL 6: Transform Penn Station and the historic James A. Farley Post Office into a world-class transportation hub. The project, known as the Empire Station Complex, will feature significant passenger improvements, including first-class amenities, natural light, increased train capacity and decreased congestion, and improved signage to dramatically enhance the travel experience. The project – which is anticipated to cost $3 billion – will be expedited by a public-private partnership in order to break ground this year and complete substantial construction within the next three years.

More information available here; video and other media available here; conceptual renderings are available here.

PROPOSAL 7: Dramatically expand and improve the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center to stimulate the regional economy. The proposal will expand the Javits Center by 1.2 million square feet, resulting in a fivefold increase in meeting and ballroom space, including the largest ballroom in the Northeast. A four-level, 480,000 square foot truck garage capable of housing hundreds of tractor-trailers at one time will also be constructed to improve pedestrian safety and local traffic flow.

More information available here; video and other media available here.

PROPOSAL 8: Modernize and fundamentally transform the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, dramatically improving the travel experience for millions of New Yorkers and visitors to the metropolitan region. This proposal includes a new approach to rapidly redesign and renew 30 existing subway stations across the system. It also includes a number of technology initiatives to bring the system into the 21st century, including expanding Wi-Fi hotspots, accelerating mobile payments and ticketing to replace the MetroCard, and providing USB ports on subway trains, buses and in stations to allow customers to charge their mobile devices.

More information available here; video and other media available here.

PROPOSAL 9: Launch a Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition designed to reward local governments that take real steps to make living and working in New York State more affordable. The competition will challenge counties, cities, towns and villages to develop innovative consolidation action plans yielding significant and permanent property tax reductions. The consolidation partnership that proposes and can implement the greatest permanent reduction in property taxes will receive a $20 million award.

More information available here.

PROPOSAL 10: Dramatically expand and improve access to high-speed Internet in communities statewide. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul detailed this proposal shortly after the New York State Public Service Commission voted to approve the merger of Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications, which will dramatically improve broadband availability for millions of New Yorkers and lead to more than $1 billion in direct investments and consumer benefits.

Additionally, the state issued a $500 million solicitation for private sector partners to join the New NY Broadband Program, which will greatly expand Internet access in all regions of the state, with a focus on unserved and underserved areas.

More information available here; video available here.

PROPOSAL 11: Launch a $200 million competition to revitalize Upstate airports. The proposal is designed to enhance airports throughout Upstate New York, and promote new opportunities for regional economic development and partnership between the public and private sectors.

The Governor made this announcement as he also kicked off the start of renovations that will transform the New York State Fairgrounds site into a premier, multi-use facility. The Governor marked the official start of the historic renovation project with the implosion of the grandstand today.

More information available here.

PROPOSAL 12: Combat poverty and reduce rampant inequality through the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative. The $25 million program will bring together state and local government, non-profit and business groups to design and implement coordinated solutions to increase social mobility in ten cities with the highest poverty rates in the state.

More information available here.

PROPOSAL 13: Launch a "Right Priorities" initiative to further New York’s status as a national leader in criminal justice and re-entry reforms. The Governor's proposal will help at-risk youth find positive opportunities in their communities, while also providing citizens who enter the criminal justice system the opportunity to rehabilitate, return home, and contribute to their communities.

More information available here; video and other media available here.

PROPOSAL 14: Increase opportunity for minority- and women-owned business enterprises across New York State.

In 2014, Governor Cuomo established a goal of 30 percent for New York’s MWBE state contract utilization – the highest goal of any state in the nation. However, under state law, that goal only applies to contracts issued by state agencies and authorities; it does not apply to state funding given to localities such as cities, counties, towns, villages and school districts, which amounts to approximately $65 billion annually. This year, the Governor will advance legislation addressing this disconnect by expanding the MWBE goal setting to localities and entities that subcontract with those localities. Doing so will leverage the largest pool of state funding in history to combat systemic discrimination and create new opportunities for MWBE participation.

More information available here.

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Cuomo Heads Into State of the State After Big Announcements, With More to Say Wed, 13 Jan 2016 02:08:46 +0000
Corruption, Elections Loom Over Lengthy 2016 Legislative Agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6067:corruption-elections-loom-over-2016-legislative-agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6067:corruption-elections-loom-over-2016-legislative-agenda Cuomo announcement infrastructure

Cuomo (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)


Lawmakers returning to Albany this week to kick off the 2016 legislative session are faced with a litany of unresolved issues from last year and the spectre of the recent convictions of two former legislative leaders.

Add to that impending elections for all 213 legislative seats, some of which will be critical for the future of state Senate control and the prospect of future indictments hinted at by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and you have a recipe for potential paralysis.

Familiar issues like raising the minimum wage, paid family leave, juvenile justice and criminal justice reforms are all on the table. Newer issues like regulating fantasy sports gambling and tweaks to the state's health insurance marketplace will also be up for discussion.

Complicating some issues will be Gov. Andrew Cuomo's repeated 2015 use of executive action, which irked some legislators and, according to some advocates, let the air out of pushes for major legislation. But the elephant in the room remains how to deal with the plague of corruption that has dogged the capitol for years.

There is a little extra motivation for the legislature to move on more comprehensive ethics fixes - when session ended in June, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Majority Leader Dean Skelos had merely been indicted on federal corruption charges, six months later both men have been convicted and will soon face sentencing. Further, their trials exposed how major donors are able to exploit the state's campaign finance system and how both Silver and Skelos were able to use their influence to pressure entities with business before the state to provide them and their associates with financial benefit.

Cuomo has promised that ethics reform will be at the top of his 2016 agenda.

Aside from the unprecedented legislative scandal, both houses of the legislature will also be preparing for an election season that many see as do or die for control of the state Senate, currently led by Republicans. Upcoming electoral contests could motivate leaders from both houses to compromise, or it could create more strife, legislative paralysis, and a blame game that will play out in the elections.

Still, there are a variety of major policy issues at play as 2016 session begins, including:

Full-Time Legislature
A number of good government groups, as well as Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and even U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, have posited that a better paid, full-time legislature might reduce certain kinds of corruption. Better pay might reduce the temptation to take bribes and with outside income banned it would be much harder for legislators to hide any ill-gotten gains.

A number of Assembly Democrats say their conference has seriously discussed the possibility of advocating for a full-time legislative body. In a Dec. 7 interview with Gary Axelbank of BronxTalk, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he wanted to see how stricter income disclosure rules passed last year work before he advocates a total ban on outside income.

Heastie told Axelbank a full-time legislature would have to be paid considerably more. "Is the public ready to pay legislators $150,000-$160,000 a year?" Heastie asked. "If you're going to have people go full time, there's going to have to be a hefty pay raise from $79,500." Legislators haven't had a raise in 15 years, though a new commission is examining the rates and will issue recommendations.

Majority Leader John Flanagan has repeatedly said he is steadfastly opposed to a full-time legislature. He said it on Wednesday's first session day, and last month he told reporters, "We are ostensibly supposed to have, or legally supposed to have, a citizen Legislature or a part-time Legislature. I want the people with a depth of background. I think it's useful to have people from varying walks of life."

Still, upon replacing Skelos, Flanagan gave up his second job, a move he explained Wednesday as important because of his time commitment as Senate leader, which comes with a stipend.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has noted that the constitution calls for a part-time legislature and Republican opposition to going full-time, but called the idea "something worth talking about." It's more likely that legislators compromise on a significant cap on outside income and additional rules.

LLC Loophole
The now-infamous LLC loophole was featured during the Silver and Skelos corruption trials, but has been a cause of consternation among reformers for quite some time. In practice, the loophole allows anyone to game the campaign finance system by setting up multiple LLCs, or limited liability corporations, from which to donate to candidates for office.

Cries to close the loophole reached fever pitch last session, but in the wake of the Silver and Skelos trials have become even louder. Glenwood Management, a Manhattan real estate firm at the center of the Silver and Skelos cases, used the loophole to subvert the state's campaign donation limits by creating a number of front companies. The firm has been the largest contributor in the state for years. The Assembly moved to close the loophole last year but the Senate refused to vote on the issue. The Assembly is poised to move again on the issue but it appears that they might face opposition not only from Senate Republicans but from Cuomo as well.

Speaking with reporters in Manhattan on Dec. 13, Cuomo said that closing the LLC Loophole was "a priority." However, on Dec. 21, Cuomo said in a WNYC radio interview that closing the loophole would be ineffective because of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allows for independent expenditures on behalf of candidates.

"You need people in office who are going to use their best judgment in office," Cuomo said on WNYC, "because you're not going to change the campaign finance system because of Citizens United."

Cuomo also refused to return over a million dollars in donations from Glenwood Management. "If I believed that I could be influenced by a million dollars, or a thousand dollars, or fifty dollars, then I'm in the wrong place and I should resign immediately," he explained.

Minimum Wage Hike
Cuomo kicked off the rollout of his 2016 agenda with another rally for an eventual $15 hourly statewide minimum wage and by extending a path toward $15 per hour to 28,000 SUNY employees. Cuomo has promised to push the legislature to adopt his plan to get all workers across the state to at least $15 per hour over the next several years.

Cuomo rapidly evolved his position on the minimum wage last year after opposing a hike to $13 per hour proposed by Democratic legislators. But, he utilized the state's wage board provision to boost the minimum wage plan for fast food workers to an eventual $15 per hour and has rallied across the state to push the legislature to support the same figure.

The Assembly pushed for an eventual $15 minimum wage for New York City in its single-house budget last year and is expected to support Cuomo's push. There are some Democratic members from Upstate and Western New York who are concerned about backlash from business groups. Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has not written off the possibility of a path toward a $15 minimum wage and there are some who think he will look to compromise with Cuomo on the timeline for full implementation of the raise as a way to take the debate off the table before election season.

Cuomo has already begun outlining tax reform, especially to reduce the burden on small businesses, which many see as part of the plan to get the minimum wage hike passed. A heightened minimum wage is popular around the state and has endeared the governor with many of his erstwhile liberal friends.

Tax on the Rich
With one sentence of his remarks on the opening day of session, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie changed the expected dynamics of negotiations to come. "We will fight for a tax structure that promotes fairness, equity, common sense," Heastie said, adding that he wanted tax cuts for the working class and to ask "wealthy New Yorkers" to pay their "fair share."

Cuomo has repeatedly rejected calls for a tax on the highest earners over the last few years - especially when the calls came from Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014. It isn't clear how hard Heastie will push on the issue but if it takes off it could eventually be used as leverage toward enacting a full minimum wage increase.

Criminal Justice Reform
Last month the Cuomo administration made good on a promised executive action when it unveiled a plan to move 16- and 17-year-old inmates with medium and minimum security classifications to a juvenile facility in Hudson. The move is expected to impact up to 100 inmates. However, advocates are not satisfied. New York is still one of two states to treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults upon arrest.

Criminal justice experts want the entire process changed in state law, something Cuomo has backed and tried to enact last year to no avail.

While advocates plan to continue to push, and held a press conference on the first day of session to resume doing so, Cuomo's executive action may have reduced the legislature's appetite to act. A number of Senate Republicans were concerned about housing teens in adult prisons but are not convinced the entire criminal justice process should be altered. Meanwhile, Cuomo and Democrats from the Senate and Assembly have disagreed on exactly how the 16- and 17-year-olds should be processed by the courts.

Meanwhile, having failed to build a consensus with the legislature on how to revamp the criminal justice system to address concerns about how police shootings of citizens are investigated, Cuomo issued an executive order last summer allowing the Attorney General to name a special prosecutor in such cases.

The move angered some district attorneys and members of law enforcement but gave the governor a boost with progressive activists. However, Cuomo promised to evaluate how the order worked and return to the legislature with a plan to change the law.

Members of the Assembly Majority are anxious to tackle the issue but Senate Republicans are unlikely to want to touch it - especially in an election year. A good gauge of where the issue stands in the pecking order will be to see what kind of mention it gets, if any, in Cuomo's State of the State address. A number of legislators say they expect Cuomo to declare victory on both of these criminal justice issues by pointing to his executive actions and thereby avoid any major legislative battles.

Car Service Apps
In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio decided he wanted to limit the expansion of Uber, the most popular car-service app, citing concerns about congestion. It was as if the mayor stepped on a landmine. Uber quickly mobilized its drivers and users and rolled out an effective public relations campaign, even enlisting Cuomo - who may not have needed much prodding to contradict de Blasio.

The mayor walked away limping but with plans to return to the issue. Now the state has to decide how to handle Uber and Lyft's push to be allowed in New York, including in upstate cities. In late October, Cuomo indicated that he thinks the state should issue regulations as a whole. "You can't do Uber city by city," Cuomo said. Cuomo's former top advisor Matt Wing is now in charge of communications for Uber in the Northeast.

Localities would need to give up oversight of transportation insurance and allow Uber to pool insurance for its drivers. The taxi industry, which is steadfastly opposed to Uber, is currently regulated city by city.

Fantasy Sports Gambling
A number of Assembly Democrats are chomping at the bit to address the issue of fantasy sports betting sites like Draftkings and FanDuel, which were recently sued by AG Schneiderman for being illegal gambling in violation of New York law. Schneiderman then amended the suit to ask the companies to return all money it made from New Yorkers. Democratic Assemblymember Gary Pretlow told Gotham Gazette that he plans to come up with regulations, oversight, and consumer protections that could keep the sites alive should they be found illegal in the court battle.

Meanwhile, a number of Senate Republicans are interested in ending any ambiguity about the legality of the sites by passing a bill stating that it is a game of skill and not of chance. Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer introduced such a bill in December. He told The Buffalo News in November that he hadn't spoken to representatives of the sites but was motivated by what he saw as Schneiderman's "overreach."

"It's just once again. New York shouldn't have Uber, shouldn't have mixed martial arts, or sports betting. When all this commerce and activities is allowed in many other states, it just seems like one issue after another in New York," Ranzenhofer told the Buffalo News.

A Variety of Others
Expect a major push from both houses of the legislature to restore education funding cuts.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship is advancing a court case to force New York to allow them to hold events in the state and has even booked a spring date at Madison Square Garden to hold its mixed martial arts bouts (MMA). The legislature could intercede before the case is settled.

Cuomo has already revealed a number of infrastructure related plans. Senate Republicans are looking to increase investment in the state's roads and bridges upstate while a number of city-based Democrats want to see the governor better invest in the MTA and do more to relieve congestion.

A number of Assembly Democrats are looking for partners in the Senate Majority for bills that would encourage guns are stored safely. There are several other bills that address implementing employee training and stricter checks and balances for gun stores as well as ones that would allow police to take away guns belonging to perpetrators of domestic violence.

Cuomo has been focused on national solutions to gun violence as of late but some Assembly Democrats think there is room to pass smaller pieces of legislation this year.

The Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act, or GENDA, appears to have lost a great deal of momentum after Cuomo enacted a number of its tenets through executive order earlier this fall. The Empire State Pride Agenda, which had been backing the bill, announced it is closing its policy operations because it feels it has completed much of its work, but some advocates point out that Cuomo's GENDA order could quickly be undone by the next governor.

The DREAM Act is another long-standing Democratic priority that many are unsure of its place in this year's agenda, which may be determined by whether Cuomo features it in his State of the State and budget.

The Assembly and Senate majorities and the Independent Democratic Conference will have to settle their differences over how to implement paid family leave before they look to negotiate a final bill with the governor. "I'm always optimistic," IDC head Sen. Jeff Klein said of a resolution on paid family leave in November. "It is an extremely important issue resonates with residents across the state." Klein brought the policy up again in his opening remarks on the Senate floor, and Flanagan said a conversation would happen, but that the details must be determined. Heastie said the Assembly would again bass a paid family leave bill this year, as it has several years in a row.

Generally speaking, Flanagan succinctly summed up his conference's priorities with his opening remarks on Wednesday, saying its focus will be "jobs, jobs, and jobs."

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

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Corruption, Elections Loom Over Lengthy 2016 Legislative Agenda Wed, 06 Jan 2016 22:17:26 +0000
Spurred by Buffalo Billion, Reformers Look to Fix State Business Subsidies http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5940:spurred-by-buffalo-billion-reformers-look-to-fix-state-business-subsidies http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5940:spurred-by-buffalo-billion-reformers-look-to-fix-state-business-subsidies Cuomo Buffalo thank you

Cuomo in Buffalo (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


United States Attorney Preet Bharara's attention has been drawn away from his normal stomping grounds to Buffalo, intrigued by what critics say is a shadowy network of state authorities and state-controlled non-profits handing out large business subsidies and contracts with little to no oversight.

Watchdogs say that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, through SUNY Polytechnic head Alain Kaloyeros, is essentially rewarding campaign donors with major contracts while using state cash to win political favor in economically-depressed areas. That sense has been exacerbated by a forceful push back against transparency by both the Cuomo administration and Kaloyeros.

Last legislative session the renewal of the 421-A tax break for real estate developers was the center of debate over business subsidies thanks to Bharara's indictments of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Both face corruption charges stemming from their involvement with a major donor who sought renewal of the tax break.

But Bharara's interest in Buffalo Billion has shifted the gaze of some reformers and legislators to discretionary subsidies that are controlled by the Governor. At the heart of the U.S. Attorney's investigation appears to be requests for proposals written in a way to ensure one company, led by a major donor to the governor, would win the lucrative contract at stake.

"We believe many of these programs are out of control," said John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, a group that has been focused on these subsidies. Kaehny said the programs have been "generally wasteful and driven more by pay-to-play or interest in providing local pork than derived from sound public policy."

Kaehny, a number of other reformers, and a small group of legislators want to pull back the curtain on these deals and create a system of true accountability that would show how contracts are awarded, how many jobs the contracts create, and how much state money is spent per job. Kaehny isn't exactly holding his breath, though, because he believes the current system was designed specifically to obfuscate and confuse.

"We do not see any reasonable motivation for the convoluted governance structure created by the governor other than to avoid oversight," Kaehny told Gotham Gazette. Kaehny said Cuomo has "created a legal fiction" involving SUNY Research Foundation and the Fort Schuyler Management Corporation, which sign contracts "on behalf of" state agencies like SUNY Poly. The state funnels money for a number of programs from Empire State Development Corporation, a state-run authority that has virtually no legislative or public oversight.

"Funding also comes from theoretically independent state authorities like NYSERDA and the Power Authority, which are told by the governor to provide money, power and land to SUNY Poly, which then gives resources away to select businesses," said Kaehny. "We believe this complexity is a deliberate effort to avoid transparency and accountability by the governor."

Some lawmakers are in the early stages of exploring legislative changes to how the state approves business subsidies. A few of them have been motivated by an Investigative Post report that the Cuomo administration dropped requirements to hire workers of color in one Buffalo Billion contract from 25 to 15 percent.

Others have been troubled by Cuomo's efforts to entice General Electric (GE) to move its headquarters back to the state. So far Cuomo has refused to detail what kind of incentives he has offered the company. Some legislators are concerned the company has yet to make good on its pledge to clean up the PCBs it poured into the Hudson River years ago and that its headquarters would have no economic benefit for the state.

"We have a real problem in New York with learning from history," said Ron Deutsch of the Fiscal Policy Institute. He said that New York has given businesses like GE, IBM, and Globalfoundries major incentives only to see them cut jobs, or move overseas. "We do nothing to hold anyone accountable" in the end, he said.

Cuomo has made it clear in conversations with the press that he sees no reason to scrutinize the Buffalo Billion program. Asked if he thought any procedures needed to be changed because of the investigation, Cuomo responded: "Do you know if there was any problem? No. If you knew there was a problem, then you would fix the problem. But we don't know any problem."

Good Jobs First, a national policy group that tracks business subsidies, actually rated New York 8th out of all 50 states on transparency for subsidy disclosures in a report released in January of last year.

Another study by the group found that New York spends more on "megadeals" than any other state. Megadeals are defined as subsidy agreements with businesses that cost $75 million or more. The 2013 report by Good Jobs First found that New York had spent $11.4 billion on such deals from 1984 to 2013.

When asked where New York's subsidy programs rank overall compared to other states, Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, replied, "Pick your metric."

SUNY Poly issued the following statement:

"In fact, neither SUNY Poly nor its affiliates have ever been in a position to unilaterally approve a single Buffalo project, including Buffalo project contracts or expenditures. The New York State system simply does not allow it. There are checks and balances at every step, layers of state oversight, internal and external audits, public hearings, public board meetings, and public votes."

So what can be done to prevent both the appearance and the reality of conflicts of interest; restore transparency and confidence in the system; and make sure someone is accountable for the way billions of dollars of taxpayer money is spent? Reformers have some suggestions.

One simple reform would be to ban businesses that win subsidies from donating large amounts to elected officials. The state need only look to New York City to see an effective model. In 2007, then City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Michael Bloomberg reached a campaign financing deal that drastically reduced the amount any government contractor or group with business before the city can give to any campaign.

"Even the appearance of conflict of interest is a problem," said Deutsch, of the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Another piece of the puzzle could be eliminating the LLC loophole so that businesses cannot create multiple fronts to pour cash into the campaign coffers of state electeds.

To enhance transparency, advocates say the convoluted route by which money goes from the state to businesses needs to be simplified.

Kaehny said he wants to see the Empire State Development Corporation become a one-stop shop for business subsidies. Preventing state-controlled non-profits from distributing state funds would theoretically increase transparency by streamlining the decision-making process.

Both the Comptroller and Attorney General do have some oversight capabilities, but the Comptroller had some authority stripped away in 2011 by a bill that limited the office's ability to audit SUNY and CUNY as well as its hospitals and construction funds. Fort Schuyler and SUNY Poly have led the distribution of Buffalo Billion funds.

DiNapoli noted the situation during a recent appearance on WCNY's Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter. "Our authority in some of these areas was curtailed a few years ago," DiNapoli said. "We complained about that at the time."

Kaehny said he wants to see the Comptroller and the Attorney General push publically on the issue of transparency. It isn't totally obvious how hard the Comptroller has been pushing for this information or not. If we had a right-wing Republican in the office I'm fairly sure we would see someone pushing relentlessly and using their bully pulpit when they weren't given the answers," Kaehny said, referring to the fact that all of the statewide offices are controlled by Democrats.

"The Comptroller could speak up clearly and directly and say: 'Here is what we don't know. Here are the dark spots. Here is where we see these structures created to defeat transparency,'" Kaehny said.

Still, many calling for change would like the Comptroller's office to have complete oversight over all subsidy deals.

One final, and perhaps farfetched possibility would be creating a State Independent Budget Office in the model of New York City's that would actually weigh the risks and possible rewards of highly nuanced tech and other business deals so that legislators and the public would understand where state money may be going. Deutsch said that someone needs to start asking a basic question: "How much is a job worth?"

The Cuomo administration has repeatedly stated that the Buffalo Billion will create 14,000 reliable jobs and attract $8 billion in investment as a result of the roughly $1 billion state expenditure.

It seems unlikely any of the reforms being discussed to the subsidy process will pick up steam in an election year, especially as Albany waits to see if Bharara's investigation leads to criminal charges.

"There are simple solutions," said Kaehny, "but they are very hard to get done because there is no will."

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

Note: this article has been updated with a clarification from John Kaehny that Reinvent Albany beieves "many," not "most," of the subsidy programs are "out of control"

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Spurred by Buffalo Billion, Reformers Look to Fix State Business Subsidies Mon, 19 Oct 2015 00:37:47 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 19 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5938:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-october19 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5938:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-october19 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio was in Israel over the weekend, where he spoke at the Annual Conference of Mayors, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visited recent terror attack victims, and made several other stops, including at the Western Wall and at a school educating a diverse student population. De Blasio spoke against a new wave of anti-Semitism and called for a "broken-windows" approach to combatting hate.

De Blasio is flying back to New York Sunday evening, he has no public events scheduled Monday.

Coming up this week, the 'new' Bill de Blasio will continue to show, with the mayor set to hold a joint press event with his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, on Wednesday. De Blasio and Bloomberg have appeared together several times since de Blasio came into office, but have not held a joint event, as they will for the planting of the millionth tree in the "Million Trees NYC" program launched by Bloomberg in 2007.

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
On Monday, starting at 8:30 a.m., the City Council Progressive Caucus and allies are holding a conference to discuss progressive public policies and legislative priorities aimed at inequality and improving communities. Keynote will be given by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, with panel discussions on defending workers' rights, expanding and modernizing democracy, moving toward a greener city, and community safety and empowerment.

Afterward, at noon outside of SEIU 32BJ headquarters, Progressive Caucus Members and allies will “rally on their legislative priorities aimed at offering genuine opportunity to all New Yorkers, especially those who have been left out of our society’s prosperity.” Caucus Co-Chairs Donovan Richards and Antonio Reynoso, Vice-Chairs Helen Rosenthal and Ben Kallos, and other caucus members will be joined by “event sponsors Local Progress and Working Families Organization and advocates from SEIU 32BJ, VOCAL NY, Communities united for Police Reform, Bag It NYC, Streetwise and Safe and BRT for NYC.”

At 8:30 a.m. Monday, Black Live Matter / Fight for $15: A New Social Movement, a discussion on the convergence of the two movements and the chances of them sowing the seeds “for a broader social and economic justice movement” - featuring Alicia Garza of Black Lives Matter and Domestic Workers Alliance; Jelani Cobb, Journalist & Professor at UConn; Hillman Judge; and Kendall Fells, SEIU / Fight For $15.  

On Monday morning’s The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will appear in one segment, discussing several topics, and Queens state Senator Michael Gianaris will appear in another to discuss his bail elimination proposal.

At the City Council on Monday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Immigration will hold a joint oversight meeting with the Committee on Courts and Legal Services to evaluate Attorney Compliances with Padilla vs. Kentucky and court obstacles for immigrants in Criminal and Summons Courts.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Civil Rights will meet to hear several new bills related to protecting against discrimination; clarifying that any “person providing goods, services or accommodations” as stated in the Human Rights Law also includes government bodies; forbid any accommodation provider from discriminating based on income source; and make it unlawful for anyone who provides housing to refuse it to a person based the perception that the person is a victim of domestic abuse or violence. 

On Monday at 1:30 p.m. in Niagra Falls, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman "will discuss steps his office is taking with local officials to combat the use of designer drugs."

At 5:30 p.m., New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, together with the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus of the Council will host a Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration.

Also at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a Borough Board meeting to hear details from the Department of City Planning (DCP) on the “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” and “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing” proposed zoning text amendments.

At 6:30 p.m.,  Sanctuary for Families’ 13th Annual Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards & Benefit will be honoring Rosemonde Pierre-Louis, Senior Advisor on Gender Equity and former Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, and others.

On Monday evening, Speaker Mark-Viverito will attend "the Little Sisters of the Assumption Family Health Services Gala."

Monday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • Mark Treyger (District 47, Brooklyn) 6 p.m.
  • Steve Levin (District 33, Brooklyn) 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday
On Tuesday at 9 a.m., on the third anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, the Center for New York City Affairs at Milano School of International Affairs will hold a panel titled Hurricane Sandy +3: Building Resilient Neighborhoods. Conversation will focus on the state of the post-storm infrastructure in the areas where the storm hit hardest. The panel will include Daniel A. Zarrilli, director of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency; Joel Towers, executive dean, Parsons School of Design at the New School; Klaus Jacob, special research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; Onleilove Alston, executive director of Faith in New York; Hugh Hogan, executive director of the North Star Fund;Shermane Margaret Stewart-Lester, lay leader at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Far Rockaway.

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a Borough Cabinet Meeting.

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 9:30 a.m. the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet to discuss land use applications.
  • At 1 p.m. the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet to discuss land use applications.

At the New York State Assembly on Tuesday: at 10 a.m. the Assembly Standing Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities will convene for a public hearing on “The Adequacy of Supports and Services for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities.”

On Tuesday, Public Advocate Letitia James chairs COPIC Commission meeting at Borough of Manhattan Community College (stream: http://livestream.com/BMCCMedia/events/4439178) at 10 a.m. Then, at 11:15, she is a panelist at "NASP's "The State of WMBE's Doing Business in NYS: From the Legislative Perspective" and at 6 p.m. she hosts "Staten Island Clergy Council Education Forum."

At 11:15 a.m. Monday near Stuyvesant Town, Mayor de Blasio and "local elected officials and tenant leaders from Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village will hold a media availability" about the imminent sale of the property.

On Tuesday at 1:15 p.m. from the 25th Police Precinct at 120 East 119th Street, "Mayor de Blasio – alongside Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton – will sign Intro. 917-A, criminalizing the manufacture, possession with intent to sell, and sale of synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic phenethylamines; Intro. 897, allowing the City to apply public nuisance regulations to violations of the new criminal provision barring the sale of K2; and Intro. 885-A, allowing the city to revoke, suspend or refuse to renew a cigarette dealer license due to the sale of synthetic drugs or imitation synthetic drugs...After, the Mayor will appear live on Power 105.1 with Angie Martinez to discuss the K-2 legislation."

At 4 p.m. Mark-Viverito will host a press conference "to celebrate $1.2 Million in funding for STARS Afterschool Initiative with Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland at P.S. 50 on 100th Street in Manhattan. Then, at 8 p.m., Mark-Viverito will host "#SheWillBe Twitter Party to Discuss the City Council's First In The Nation Young Women's Initiative...Join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #SheWillBe."

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday Community Voices Heard will hold a rally titled “March on the Mayor: Stop Privatization, Start Funding NYCHA.” The demonstration will demand a stop to increasing privatization and an increase in funding for the New York City Housing Authority by $2 billion starting this year.

At 6 p.m. the Brooklyn Historical Society will host Life After Surveillance in Bay Ridge’s Muslim Community, a discussion about the post-9/11 surveillance in Bay Ridge and how this surveillance sowed seeds of distrust in the neighbourhood. Panelists include moderator Jarrett Murphy, Executive Editor of City Limits; Linda Sarsour, Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York; Moustafa Bayoumi; award-winning writer, and Professor of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York; and Dr. Ahmad Jaber, an OB/GYN at the Lutheran Medical Center in Bay Ridge and a Muslim religious educator.

Tuesday "evening, the Mayor and First Lady Chirlane McCray will host the Gracie Gala Dinner," according to de Blasio's public schedule. The Gracie Mansion Conservancy will hold an invitation only fundraiser to celebrate the grand re-opening of Gracie Mansion after recent repairs. The fundraiser will feature the mansion’s new art installation, Windows on the City: Looking Out at Gracie’s New York, curated with help of the Museum of the City of New York, the New York Historical Society, Brooklyn College, Brooklyn Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Governor Cuomo will attend "the Nassau County Democratic Committee Annual Fall Dinner."

Tuesday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 p.m.
  • Eric Ulrich (District 32, Queens) 7 p.m.

Wednesday
On Wednesday in the Bronx: Mayor de Blasio and his predecessor, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will meet to plant the millionth tree in the Million Trees NYC program, a Bloomberg initiative begun in 2007.

On Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. Comptroller Scott Stringer will hold a “Queens Hearing for Business Owners and Entrepreneurs.” The event is the next installment of the Comptroller’s “Red Tape Commision Hearings” dedicated to listening to ideas and suggestion that would make it easier for entrepreneurs and business owners to grow their businesses, while partnering with the government. The event will bring together Borough President Melinda Katz; Queens Chamber of Commerce; Queens Economic Development Corporation; the Queens Tribune; and co-chairs of the Red Tape Commission Jessica Lappin and Michael Lambert.

Also at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly will headline a Fordham University event “Governance in New York City: The Bloomberg Years.”

At the New York State Legislature on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection and the Committee on Aging and the Subcommittee on Consumer Fraud Protection will hold a joint public hearing on “State resource funding to protect consumers, including seniors, from frauds and scams.”
  • At 11 a.m. the Senate Task Force on Workforce Development will convene for a public meeting “To examine initiatives and determine best practices for job skill training and re-training programs, and provide recommendations to foster workforce development in New York State.”
  • At 12:30 p.m. the Assembly Standing Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities will hold a public hearing regarding the “Transition of Behavioral Health Supports and Services into Managed Care.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Harry Siegel of The New York Daily News and Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute will try to answer the question, “Is The NYPD Doing Its Job?” The discussion will be moderated by social critic Kay S. Hymowitz, author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, and will explore the new tracking system aimed at reducing police brutality and assess Commissioner Bratton’s effort to implement the program.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, City Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Mark Levine will host the event "Jewish Poverty in New York City" along with a group of civic organizations including YM & YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood, the Russian-speaking Community Council of Manhattan and the Bronx, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, the Fort Tyron Jewish Center, the Jewish Community Council of Washington Heights-Inwood, the Hebrew Tabernacle, and The Workmen’s Circle.

Also at 6:30 p.m., City & State NY will be host its 2015 New York City Rising Stars: 40 Under 40 celebration. The list features stars in government, advocacy, labor, and consulting.

At 7 p.m. the Department of Education, the School Construction Authority, elected officials, and parents will meet for “Let’s Talk About Overcrowding.” The event will focus on the issue of overcrowding in public schools in Cobble Hill and Caroll Gardens, in addition to addressing several other school-related issues. State Senator Daniel Squadron, State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, City Councilmember Brad Lander, City Councilmember Steve Levin, and others will participate.

At 3:30 Wednesday in Manhattan, Families for Excellent Schools is planning to hold another rally to support charter schools, this time featuring charter school teachers, about 1,000 of whom are expected to rally.

Wednesday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting event is via CM Mark Levine (District 7, Manhattan) 6 p.m.

Thursday
At 8 a.m. Thursday, The Sixth Annual MAS Summit for New York City will commence. The Municipal Art Society summit will run through Friday evening and include two days of networking opportunities and one hundred speakers. Notable presenters include: Commissioner Vicki Been, of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development; Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs; Alicia Glen, Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development; New York State Senator Chuck Schumer; Purnima Kapur, Executive Director for the Department of City Planning; and many more to speak about “The City We Want.”

Thursday at 10:30 a.m. Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a Land Use Hearing.

At the City Council Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Finance will meet to discuss the extension of credit against the unincorporated business tax and the general corporation tax.
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Transportation will meet to hear several bills related to the TLC and commuter vans..
  • At 11 a.m. the Committee on Land Use will meet, with agenda TBA.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services will hold a hearing on new accessibility-related bills.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency will meet for oversight on coastal storm resiliency in the city two year after the SIRR report.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Economic Development will meet on bills that would require the NYCEDC to submit annual job creation reports to community planning boards; require SBS to collect data on gender and racial diversity among “executive level employees” in city contractor companies.

At the New York State Assembly Thursday, a “Budget oversight hearing for the Assembly Standing Committees on Local Governments and Cities.”

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Public Agenda will hold “Restoring Opportunity: The Role of Education,” an event to discuss how the education policies of both New York State and the entire nation need to change in order for the country to truly offer the opportunities promised by the American Dream. Brian Lehrer, from WNYC, will moderate the discussion, interviewing Andie Puriefoy, the former president of the Public Education Network and Alison Kadlec, an expert of higher education reform.

At 7 p.m. BRIC will host the panel discussion “Breaking Down the Walls: #BHeard on Immigration, a Community Town Hall.” The talk will be moderated by Brian Vines and feature City Council Member Carlos Menchaca; Linda Sarsour, Arab American Association; Adrian Carasquillo, immigration reporter for Buzzfeed news; Alina Das, NYU professor; and Shena Elrington, director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Popular Democracy.

At their annual fall dinner Thursday, Empire State Pride Agenda will award Governor Cuomo with the 25th anniversary Silver Torch Award for “his extraordinary efforts to make marriage equality a reality in New York — paving the way for the freedom to marry nationwide” and “his more recent commitment to ending the AIDS epidemic in New York.” Along with Cuomo, other speakers will be Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; City Public Advocate Letitia James; Pride Agenda Board Co-Chairs Norman C. Simon and Melissa Sklarz; and Pride Agenda Executive Director Nathan Schaefer.

Citizens Union, the good government group, will hold its 2015 Annual Awards Dinner Thursday evening. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will give featured remarks. Citizens Union honorees include Mylan L. Denerstein (Public Service Award), Adam Flatto (Business Leadership Award), Haeda B. Mihaltses (Public Service Award), and Stephen P. Younger (Civic Leadership Award).

Beginning Thursday evening and continuing through Friday, the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute will host “Youth, Jobs and Future: Responses to Youth Unemployment.”

Thursday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Helen Rosenthal (District 6, Manhattan) 6 p.m.
  • CM Paul Vallone (District 19, Queens) 7 p.m.

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday: at 10 a.m. the Committee on Higher Education will convene for oversight on college testing access.

"The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be held on Friday, October 23 at 10:00 AM."

At the New York State Assembly on Friday: at 10:30 a.m. the Assembly Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions and the Assembly Standing Committee on Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry will hold a joint public hearing on “Providing Affordable and High Quality Cable, Broadband, and Telephone Service.”

Friday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting event is via CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn) 6 p.m.

Saturday at 10:30 a.m., New Yorkers Against Gun Violence will hold Walk Over the Hudson for Gun Sense, a march in response to recent bursts of gun violence across the US. The event invites citizens to show their “commitment to background checks, safe storage, and other common sense gun safety laws.”

At noon Saturday, BetaNYC will hold an event to improve CityGram.NYC, a website which allows New York City residents to subscribe to open government data based on their geographic location and areas of interest.

Saturday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting event is via CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn), 2 p.m.

On Sunday, the de Blasio family will open their doors to the public at a Gracie Mansion Open House. A ticket giveaway will take place on the event website. In celebration of the Mansion’s 35th anniversary, the open house will feature 49 new works as part of the “Windows on the City: Looking Out at Gracie’s New York” show.

***
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).

***
by Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 19 Sun, 18 Oct 2015 05:00:00 +0000
Do New York Elected Officials Deserve A Raise? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5915:do-new-york-elected-officials-deserve-a-raise http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5915:do-new-york-elected-officials-deserve-a-raise BdB parade august

Mayor de Blasio along the parade route (photo: @BilldeBlasio)


What should the mayor of New York City be paid each year? How much should City Council members be paid? Do elected officials deserve incremental raises each year?

Or, maybe elected officials are overpaid as it is?

Some, like New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, think higher government salaries would entice “better” people into public service, meaning smarter and more honest officials.

A host of questions have popped up in New York of late as controversy swirls over corruption in Albany and the pay of state legislators - with some, like Schneiderman, calling for pay increases in order to help prevent corruption. Meanwhile, in New York City, these questions are again relevant as Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a move required by law, has called a pay commission to evaluate city elected officials’ salaries.

“Lawmakers need to come up with adequate compensation where you don’t detract people from running for office because salaries are too low, but on the flip side, not too high that the taxpayers who pay those salaries are incensed,” Blair Horner, Legislative Director at the New York Public Interest Research Group, told Gotham Gazette.

De Blasio appears to have called the commission reluctantly, as it is always tough public relations for politicians to move toward giving themselves and their colleagues raises. In the announcement of the three-person panel, de Blasio’s only statement is to praise the commissioners. The mayor currently makes $225,000 per year.

Pay dynamics at the city and state levels are very different in New York, though members of the state Legislature and City Council are all considered part-time and able to earn outside income. There are no term-limits at the state level, while there are in New York City. The mayor is required to call a compensation commission, yet the state is only just moving to such a framework in 2016. Thus, city officials last received a pay raise in 2006, while state officials haven’t seen one in over 15 years.

Pay is higher in New York City than at the state level (the governor makes $179,000 annually), though the cost of living is, of course, higher in the city than any other place in the state. This discrepancy doesn’t help state legislators who live in the five boroughs, of course, which is part of the reason we often see state Assembly members seek City Council seats (and earn money from a second job). Members of the state legislature currently earn $79,500 per year, while a City Council member earns $112,500 annually.

As always, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many New Yorkers calling for increasing the salaries of elected politicians. With wages stagnant or too low to get by on for so many, elected officials are also reluctant to pursue pay increases, as exemplified by de Blasio’s delay in calling the pay commission he recently assembled and the mayor’s pledge to not accept any recommended increase until his second term, if he is re-elected.

Not long ago, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman, took $1 a year to run the city for twelve years. Bloomberg was also reluctant to call a pay commission, which he did leading to the 2006 raises, but refused to do again while in office.

Where do the wages of New York electeds stand now, how do city salaries stack up to those of officials elsewhere, and where may they be heading?

New York City Analysis & Background
The salaries of the mayor, Council members, district attorneys, and other elected officials have not been changed since 2006. Since the cost of living in the city has increased by about 18 percent since then, the commission is all but certain to recommend increases.

One of the factors the commission will take into consideration is what similar positions in the private sector pay. By that standard, many elected officials may be considered underpaid – for example, the average salary for first-year associates at private law firms in New York City is $160,000, while New York City’s five district attorneys each make $190,000.

Elected officials can reject salary increases, and the acceptance or rejection of the commission’s recommendations typically takes into account the state of the city’s economy and budget at the time. While the city’s revenues are quite strong and the budget has been growing rapidly, Mayor de Blasio and many other elected officials have decried income inequality and may be reluctant to exacerbate differences between their salaries and the earnings of lower-income constituents.

In 1991, as reported by The New York Times, both Mayor David Dinkins and City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. agreed that elected officials should not receive pay increases due to the city’s budget crisis.

In 1995, everyone except Public Advocate Mark Green accepted the raises that were approved by the Council and the mayor. Green said that he could not “in good conscience accept a large salary increase” at a time when he was being forced to fire members of his staff and cut services for those in need.

Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire from his private sector success, accepted just $1 a year during his time as mayor of New York City, 2002-2013. De Blasio is of much more modest means than Bloomberg, and has two children in college and two mortgages. According to The New York Post, when asked whether Mayor de Blasio believes raises are justified, a spokesperson said he would “decline” accepting any pay hike “for the duration” of his current term.

Other Cities
At $225,000 a year, the mayor’s salary is more than four times greater than median household income in New York City, which is $52,259.

According to the City of Los Angeles salary database, the title of highest-paid mayor in the country belongs to LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, who makes $239,993 annually. Although Mayor Garcetti makes roughly $15,000 more per year than Mayor de Blasio, he is responsible for approximately 4.6 million fewer people. (2014 Census estimates put the population of New York City at 8.5 million, and Los Angeles at 3.9 million.)

In New York, City Council members currently make $112,500, plus stipends, with salaries part of the regular commission review. In Chicago, council members – called aldermen – make approximately $115,000 annually, and their salaries have been pegged to changes to the cost of living for the past eight years. Since aldermen can reject taking a salary increase (or decrease, should the cost of living go down), there is an $11,000 difference between the highest and lowest salaries of Chicago’s 50 aldermen. (Though they are paid similarly, each of those 50 aldermen are responsible for far fewer constituents than New York’s 51 City Council members, given population differences.)

In Los Angeles, the salary for Council members is higher – at $184,610, Council members make a little over four times the $49,497 median household income in LA. However, members of LA’s City Council are not allowed to earn income from outside jobs, nor do they receive stipends.

On the state level, meanwhile, at $79,500 New York state lawmakers have the third-highest salaries in the country compared to their peers. Lawmakers in California earn the most with a salary of $90,526 annually, while Pennsylvania’s legislators make $84,012 per year. Still, state legislators, especially many from New York City, are seeking an increase as the cost of living increases.

De Blasio’s Commission
Albeit a bit late, Mayor Bill de Blasio recently followed the law and appointed an advisory commission to review the compensation levels of elected officials, including mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough presidents, City Council members, and district attorneys. The three-person commission will recommend changes to those compensation levels, if warranted, in November.

The salaries of elected officials in New York City have not been reviewed since 2006; former Mayor Mike Bloomberg declined to appoint a commission in 2011. The appointment of an advisory commission in 2006 was itself the result of postponement, since a commission was supposed to be appointed in 2003, but Bloomberg opted to delay appointing a commission since the city was already facing budget cuts.

The 2006 commission’s recommendations resulted in a salary increase of 25 percent for Council members, bumping their compensation levels from $90,000 to $112,500, and increased the mayor’s salary by 15.4 percent, from $195,000 to $225,000.

New York City law requires the salaries of elected officials to be reviewed every four years by a trio of private citizens who are generally recognized for their knowledge of management and compensation. This year, the commission includes Fritz Schwarz, Jr., the Chief Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, who will chair the Commission; Jill Bright, Chief Administrative Officer at Condé Nast; and Paul Quintero, Chief Executive Office at ACCION EAST, Inc., a nonprofit that works to empower low- to moderate-income business owners with access to capital and financial education.

According to §3-601 of the New York City code, in making its recommendations, the commission will take into consideration: “the duties and responsibilities of each position; the current salary of the position and the length of time since the last change; any change in the cost of living; compression of salary levels for other officers and employees of the city; and salaries and salary trends for positions with analogous duties and responsibilities both within government and in the private sector.”

Requiring regular commissions and placing the responsibility for recommending salary increases on private citizens are means to quell discontent around the inherently contentious issue of raising the pay of elected officials. Ultimately, the mayor may accept, reject, or amend the findings of the commission, and the City Council votes on any new salaries to approve them into law.

State Level Compensation and Corruption
In April, the state Assembly included the creation of a commission on legislative, judicial, and executive compensation in a budget bill. It calls for a commission to review the compensation levels of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches to be established every four years. The first, though, will be convened in 2016, and pay raise recommendations could be passed that would go into effect for the new class of legislators come 2017.

The commission will consist of seven members: three appointed by the governor; one appointed by the Senate majority leader; one appointed by the speaker of the Assembly; and two appointed by the chief judge of the Court of Appeals.

Previously, a special commission on compensation had to be empanelled when agreed upon.

However, given the overwhelming unpopularity of any mention of potentially increasing the salaries of government officials, especially given the consistent parade of corruption cases coming out of Albany, their salaries often go unchanged for long periods of time. New York state-level officials have not had their salaries increased since 1999 – a duration that would be uncommon in the private sector and in many public-sector jobs.

A 2014 Quinnipiac University poll found that a vast majority of New York State voters (82 percent) oppose a pay raise for state legislators. Yet, many experts agree a review of the compensation levels of elected officials is much needed, not only because good compensation levels are necessary to attract skilled people to the positions, but also because it may help deter corruption.

“Compensation, of course, affects the recruitment pool,” said Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science and director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz. “You want to attract and retain people of ability, and honest people, therefore the whole compensation question is linked to the corruption question. ‘Why are you stealing from your campaign fund?’ ‘Well, I’m not paid enough.’ If we want to have greater probity we also have to consider greater compensation.”

Former state Assemblymember William Scarborough, a Democrat from Queens, was recently sentenced to thirteen months in prison for submitting at least $40,000 in fraudulent state travel vouchers for days he had not actually traveled to Albany. In a statement, Scarborough, who was first elected in 1994, apologized for his actions, blamed “severe financial problems,” and pointed out that state legislators had not received a raise in sixteen years.

Members of the Senate and Assembly currently make a base government salary of $79,500 per year. (The positions are considered part-time, though, and many legislators make outside income.) The governor of New York makes $179,000, the attorney general and the comptroller each make $151,500.

In January, then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who has been in office for several decades, was charged with five counts of fraud and corruption. Federal investigators allege Silver exploited his position to rake in millions in bribes and kickbacks. And in May, then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican from Long Island, was indicted on charges of wire fraud, extortion, conspiracy, and bribe solicitation. Both face trial beginning in November.

Aside from major, and even minor, corruption scandals, there is a perpetual flow of questions about campaign donations, pay-to-play dynamics, and legislators earning outside income and how their non-governmental work may affect their work for the state.

These ongoing questions and the recent spate of corruption in Albany prompted Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to propose a sweeping ethics reform bill, the End New York Corruption Now Act, which seeks to drastically lower and restrict campaign contribution limits, end outside employment income for legislators, expand terms to four years, and increase legislators’ salaries to $174,000 annually.

Yet the final legislative package at the end of the 2015 session came and went without including any of Schneiderman’s reforms.

Some good government organizations, like the New York Public Interest Research Group, don’t agree with all of Schneiderman’s propositions. Horner told Gotham Gazette, “We have not endorsed the Attorney General’s proposal that state legislators should get the same pay as city lawmakers. Our view is, there’s a process. Their salaries should be determined by independent people using basic objective measurements as much as possible, making independent determinations on what is an adequate compensation level for elected officials.”

City v State
Two major differences between New York City law and state law are that in New York City, both the mayor and the City Council need to approve the recommendations made by the compensation commission in order for any raises to go into effect. This means that the Council and the mayor are effectively voting to increase their own salaries, since the raises can be retroactive to the date of recommendations. Mayor de Blasio, however, has promised not to take a salary increase until the start of his second term, if he is re-elected to one.

Whereas in the state, the pay commission’s recommendations for legislative pay raises will automatically become law and go into effect for the next class of lawmakers, on January 1, 2017, unless the Legislature specifically votes against the increases. The commission’s recommendations are due November 15, 2016. To be sure, many of the same officials will be in office in January of 2017 as are in office now, but it is still a difference.

While city officials are not supposed to have control of the regular establishment of a compensation commission, they are able to vote in retroactive salary increases, an ability that has raised eyebrows. In its report, the 2006 quadrennial advisory commission suggested “limiting the ability of government officials to raise their own salaries and receive them immediately would improve the integrity of the government and public confidence in it.”

Lulus
The compensation levels of New York City Council members in particular has been hotly debated, since Council members can earn an additional $5,000 to $25,000 a year in stipends, or “lulus,” for leadership positions, including heading committees and subcommittees. What’s more, Council members are the only elected city officials among those included in the commission review that are considered part-time and allowed to earn outside income from another job.

The Speaker of the Council controls the amount and distribution of lulus, which can result in lulus being used to “reward allies and enforce discipline,” as former Council Member Walter McCaffrey stated before the 2006 Quadrennial Commission.

In its report, the 2006 Commission called lulus “ripe for reform,” and recommended that either a future Charter Revision Commission or the Council should consider reforming the practice of awarding extra stipends to Council members.

“There's no question that lulus should be done away with. Lulus are a terrible idea.,” Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, told Gotham Gazette. “People should be paid an appropriate base salary, and there should not be increases or stipends or special favors given out at the discretion of the speaker. It's a politicized situation and it has all too frequently been used in the past as a way of punishment and reward. It has another negative aspect, which is the creation of committees unnecessarily. It interferes with the well thought out committee structure. We see that in a much worse way in Albany.”

According to The New York Times, the 2006 advisory commission found that “Outside of New York, almost no other city council or state legislature distributes such stipends.” Even in Congress, every representative earns the same pay regardless of responsibility or seniority.

In 2014, $376,000 in stipends was doled out to Council members. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito received $25,000, while Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer was awarded $20,000 (though he turned it down).

Ten council members were offered $15,000 apiece and thirty-four others $8,000 each. Eleven council members have refused to accept the money this year (including Van Bramer), according to the Daily News editorial board, which continues its own ongoing crusade against the lulus.

Upon Mayor de Blasio’s recent announcement of a new compensation commission, Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, told The New York Post that he supports elected officials getting raises since “eight years is a long time to go without one,” but pointed out that “the real question isn’t whether they get raises, it’s the size of the raises and whether the commission will look at limiting [elected officials’] outside income and banning ‘lulus.’”

The controversy surrounding stipends for elected officials in New York is not specific to the city, as Horner told Gotham Gazette: “At state level, there are a lot of stipends being divied out, many for positions for which there's not obvious work being done. The stipends are increasingly being used as a way to reward loyalty and seniority and are less about the workload. We don’t object to a stipend being offered if somebody has to do real additional work, but we think there should be a limit on it.”

Professor Benjamin told Gotham Gazette, “Regarding additional compensation, lulus in Albany, I think that this process grew up to compensate leaders in part to make salary adjustments. So, in a small body like the Senate you can give every committee chair something more. In the Assembly, you can reward a lot of people, but not all people. There should be some increment of compensation for leadership positions, but I prefer to have salary equity and less in the way of special payments, with periodic salary adjustments, which would be fair and better.”

Next Steps
Blair Horner, of NYPIRG, told Gotham Gazette that pegging salaries to cost-of-living changes could “unnecessarily exacerbate public citizens. They don’t get to choose if their salaries go up and down. And if what they see in their lives is that their salaries are stagnant but elected officials are going up, they’re going to resent that. It's hard to do that because it's a politically charged topic. If you’re going to make changes, it needs to be done in a delicate matter. One way to do that is to maximize independence of who makes the call and focus on publicly defensible metrics.”

Professor Benjamin, who is also currently part of a compensation commission in Ulster County, expressed a similar point of view: “I think having a commission is a good idea.” Benjamin believes, though, that it is important that “sometimes the commission says ‘we won’t increase the pay.’ In my current commission in Ulster County, because the positions are part-time, I advocated for the legislature giving up its health insurance coverage for a significant salary increase. And the effect of that was to link the consideration to the total compensation package.”

“Simple constitutionality requires that policy-makers make the decision about things that government spends, and one of the things that government spends is on their salaries,” Benjamin added.

This year’s New York City advisory commission will report back with its recommendations in November. While it’s clear that the compensation levels of elected officials need to be reviewed from time to time, the announcement of a review commission is generally seen as unfavorable – in this case prompting the New York Post to print a headline declaring, “Bill de Blasio moves to give himself a raise.”

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
@MegOconnor13
@GothamGazette

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Do New York Elected Officials Deserve A Raise? Wed, 30 Sep 2015 22:30:32 +0000
Did Bill De Blasio's Tirade Help Andrew Cuomo Get His Groove Back? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5886:did-bill-de-blasios-tirade-help-andrew-cuomo-get-his-groove-back http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5886:did-bill-de-blasios-tirade-help-andrew-cuomo-get-his-groove-back Cuomo labor day parade

Gov. Cuomo at the Labor Day parade (photo: The Governor's Office via flickr)


On Thursday Governor Andrew Cuomo, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, held a rally to announce a campaign to make New York the first state in the nation with a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

"So Mr. Vice President, today I announce that I will propose to the New York state legislature not just $15 for fast-food workers, because a fast-food worker deserves $15 an hour, construction workers deserve $15 an hour, and home healthcare aides deserve $15 an hour, and taxi-cab drivers deserve $15 an hour, and every working man and woman in the State of New York deserves $15 an hour as a minimum wage - and we are not going to stop until we get it done!" Cuomo said, his voice rising.

It was a triumphant moment for the governor, and for unions and progressive groups who have worked for the last year to get Cuomo on board with a $15 hourly minimum wage. It is being called a major about-face by many watchers, including some who note that Cuomo now supports a policy his rival, Mayor Bill de Blasio, has been pushing for quite some time and that Cuomo had previously dismissed.

The move, along with other recent Cuomo plays, is in striking contrast to the Cuomo of last spring, who some confidants and legislators describe as aimless, distracted, and maybe a little bit bored.

Now, though, any such perception has dissipated, perhaps in large part thanks to de Blasio's exasperated June tirade against the governor, which came at the end of this year's legislative session. Harsh, damning words from the mayor may have been the challenge Cuomo needed in order to reinvigorate.

De Blasio pulled no punches, boldly saying Cuomo had made promises he didn't intend to keep, is vindictive, and backed policies that were harmful to New York City. "And what I believe here is the governor worked with the Senate in some cases to inhibit the work of the Assembly, to inhibit the agenda that New York City put forward," de Blasio told NY1 anchor Errol Louis in a June interview, before sitting down with City Hall reporters to reiterate his message.

Cuomo had used de Blasio as a punching bag for months before de Blasio's explosion, even apparently giving publications blind quotes attacking the mayor. But with the feud spilling out into the open, observers say Cuomo was freed in a way, even given a gift--a political opponent to war with in the open.

The mayor's declaration of war was something pundits and sources close to the Cuomo administration say the governor desperately needed. "The governor is at his best when he has someone to duel in the political arena," one Albany insider told Gotham Gazette. "It is also when he is apt to make mistakes, but he comes alive when he is going for the kill."

For some Democrats, de Blasio's tirade was a breath of fresh air - someone, they said, had finally called out the bully. Others, including members of the Cuomo administration saw it much differently. They heard it as the younger brother finally crying "Uncle!" because he had no other means of retaliation.

Sources within the Cuomo administration say they saw de Blasio's "tantrum" as an admission that he had failed at moving his agenda and was giving up any hope of future success in Albany. That appears to have left an opening for Cuomo to reassert himself on progressive issues - like minimum wage - that de Blasio has staked out.

Not very long ago, Cuomo was advocating a plan that would eventually raise the minimum wage to $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 elsewhere in the state. He appeared to scoff at the Assembly's proposal that would have raised the minimum wage across the state to $15 by the end of 2018. "God bless them — shoot for the stars," Cuomo said, dismissively, in March at a stop in Rochester. The governor has repeatedly cited the Republican-controlled state Senate as a place where such progressive proposals go to die.

If Cuomo had made a major announcement on a $15 minimum wage a year ago, it would have appeared as though he had been dragged to the position kicking and screaming by The Working Families Party and de Blasio, who brokered a deal between the two to prevent a WFP-backed primary challenge to Cuomo in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

At the time, Cuomo appeared to agree to back the mayor's proposal to allow the city to raise its minimum wage up to 30 percent higher than the state's (as well as other WFP-backed policies and a Democratic takeover of the state Senate). But this year Cuomo presented his own plan, which did not include giving the city a say over its wage, and was still short of what activists on the left were calling for.

But now, Cuomo has swooped in to champion the $15 wage, albeit on an extended phase-in timeline that would implement $15 per hour in New York City at the end of 2018 and state-wide in the middle of 2021.

Cuomo is notorious for refusing to move on proposals that he won't receive absolute credit for enacting into law. With de Blasio all but slain in Albany after a rough 2015 legislative session, Cuomo was freed to move on minimum wage and other progressive initiatives, knowing he could charge in and pick up the baton that he had knocked out of de Blasio's hands.

Meanwhile, Cuomo enjoys the benefits of being de Blasio's enemy, which boosts his standing with conservatives and moderates (and even some liberals) across the state. Cuomo's favorability ratings dropped to all-time lows this summer, but de Blasio's poll numbers are even lower.

"I'm not buying de Blasio gave him an overarching focus, because clearly the governor used the mayor for a punching bag from the very beginning of the administration, whether it be on the millionaire's tax or charter schools," said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College. "It certainly did exacerbate the relationship and gave Cuomo the opportunity to strike out at a perceived tormentor."

Cuomo and de Blasio have appeared to go out of their way to avoid each other at public events, though they did speak in person at a September 11th commemoration on Friday. Cuomo has either not invited the mayor to several, like his recent solidarity mission to Puerto Rico, or de Blasio has not appeared interested in attending, like for the governor's announcement of a new LaGuardia Airport.

Cuomo has appeared to jab at de Blasio when reporters ask why the two are not meeting at events, which have included several parades. He's also made efforts to strengthen relationships with sometime de Blasio antagonists like Comptroller Scott Stringer and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and de Blasio ally City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Last Thursday, Cuomo was honored as "Man of the Year" by the city's largest police union, which is headed by de Blasio nemesis Patrick Lynch. "You deserve to be paid for the job you do," Cuomo told the officers, hinting at their dispute with the city over pay raises. Someone in the back of the room shouted back: "Tell de Blasio!"

Cuomo's feud with de Blasio appears to be helping insulate him from backlash he has faced from police unions for signing an executive order giving the Attorney General the ability to act as special prosecutor in cases where police kill unarmed civilians.

"De Blasio has served as a foil for the governor with some groups," said Muzzio. "This conflict certainly enhances his influence with certain interests, especially with the Republican-controlled Senate."

Cuomo's moves on progressive issues may risk some of his goodwill with Republicans, but nevertheless, the governor has shown a renewed sense of urgency. It is energy that Cuomo has also been putting into efforts not easily labeled as progressive, such as Upstate economic development.

Pundits say they feel the Cuomo of the past few months is a stark contrast to the Cuomo of this legislative session, who shied away from public and media appearances for weeks at a time.

It's fairly easy to see why Cuomo may have been off his game.

His reelection bid was complicated by rebellious progressives and unions who felt Cuomo had delivered more on conservative causes than on Democratic ones. The governor was also reeling from the backlash he faced from shuttering the Moreland Commission. His campaign strategy to ignore his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, might have been more effective if Fordham professor Zephyr Teachout hadn't joined the Democratic primary. Her campaign quickly made Cuomo appear detached from voters, and at times exposed his tendencies as a bully.

Cuomo moved from a closer-than-expected election to face the death of his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and the federal indictments of then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. He appeared ready to end the legislative session early after securing a number of education reforms that were fought tooth-and-nail by teachers unions (and opposed by de Blasio). But the pressure mounted on the governor to deliver deals on rent regulations, mayoral control of New York City schools, and other big-ticket items, all while the legislature remained in turmoil thanks to their leadership crises.

Virtually all of the deals reached were less than desired as far as de Blasio was concerned, with the one-year extension of mayoral control of schools an especially bitter pill - and perhaps the final nudge over the edge.

With session over and his legislative opponents out of town, Cuomo leaped into action, issuing an executive order to create a special prosecutor for police killings. This not only ingratiated Cuomo to many on his left, but also brought one of his main rivals - and a natural de Blasio ally - AG Eric Schneiderman, closer to Cuomo's hip.

A flurry of executive activity was capped off by the finding of his fast food wage board that workers in the industry should be paid a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Cuomo was lauded by union leaders and progressive elected officials; his achievements made for evidence in the effort to disprove de Blasio's accusations that the governor was hamstringing the progressive agenda.

And, they allowed the governor to demonstrate one of his favorite points: that he gets things done regardless of political ideology.

On Thursday, de Blasio's office quickly shot out a statement praising Cuomo's decision to advocate a $15 minimum wage but laced with language highlighting that Cuomo is late to the party the mayor's been leading.

"Nothing would do more to lift New Yorkers out of poverty and move our economy forward than raising the wage...We welcome the Governor's support for a $15 minimum wage – and New York City stands ready to help make it a reality," de Blasio's statement reads. "We have been doing all we can here in the city: affordable housing, Pre-K for All, increasing and expanding the living wage, and much more. But combating income inequality requires bold action on all levels of government. I urge Albany to act quickly."

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

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Did Bill De Blasio's Tirade Help Andrew Cuomo Get His Groove Back? Sun, 13 Sep 2015 05:00:00 +0000