Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/carl-heastie 2019-04-26T00:18:48+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com 10 Issues to Watch in Albany’s Post-Budget Legislative Session 2019-04-02T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-02T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8419-10-issues-to-watch-in-albany-s-post-budget-legislative-session Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/39879517533_a9c64d7528_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo legislators bills" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Although the state budget approved earlier this week included several progressive priorities for Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature, there are still three months left in the legislative session this year and a list of remaining items on which the governor and legislators have promised action.</p> <p>Taking advantage of their party’s newfound control over both houses of the Legislature, Democrats moved a long list of bills already this year, both prior to and in the budget. Though there has been a level of expected divergence on some bills within the legislative chambers, and a more unexpected degree of infighting between the legislative leaders on one hand and the governor on the other, long-sought Democratic priorities have nonetheless advanced, from voting reforms to women’s reproductive rights to gun control and much more.</p> <p>In a Sunday news conference outlining the details of the budget agreement that included congestion pricing, criminal justice reform and other new policies, Cuomo also laid out some unfinished business for the days ahead including legalizing the adult use of marijuana.</p> <p>“We have not legalized cannabis, adult use cannabis. The political desire is there, I believe we will get it done,” Cuomo said. The governor had intended to use much of the estimated $300 million in annual revenue that would be raised from taxing marijuana sales to fund the MTA. But the proposal was pulled in different directions and it became apparent a few weeks before the April 1 budget deadline that a deal on all the intricacies of legalization was unlikely.</p> <p>On the one hand, more conservative legislators and law enforcement officials raised concerns (some unfounded) about public safety, with several county leaders indicating they planned to opt out of allowing sales, and, on the other, lawmakers of color and criminal justice reformers wanted to see both opportunity and revenue go towards communities most impacted by marijuana enforcement. “It is complicated to come up with a program that does it and protects public safety, and does economic empowerment for communities that have paid the price,” Cuomo said. “And the best way to do it was not in the race of the budget.”</p> <p>He also spoke of a desire to update the so-called public works bill to ensure workers receive a prevailing wage on construction projects receiving state benefits, and reform the state’s rent regulations, which expire in July. Along with marijuana legalization, rent regulations are expected to be the most controversial issues taken up in the remaining session.</p> <p>In a Tuesday interview on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, Cuomo in particular addressed reforming the Major Capital Improvements (MCI) law that allows landlords to substantially increase regulated rents after undertaking significant renovations. It is one of a small handful of rent regulations that legislators plan to strengthen -- others include preferential rents, the so-called vacancy bonus, and vacancy decontrol.</p> <p>“That’s going to be I think a great reform for tenants and I believe we’ll get more than people have ever gotten before,” Cuomo said of MCI changes, “because it wasn’t just the real estate lobby, but there was a reluctance to deal with the details of how these laws actually work and we now have three months to focus just on these laws because we got so much done in the budget.”</p> <p>On MCIs, Cuomo indicated what has become a popular Democratic position that even some in real estate see as potentially tenable: that landlords should be able to pass along some of the costs of improvements to tenants, but not necessarily in perpetuity. Some legislators want to abolish the MCI program altogether, though others, as well as real estate representatives, warn that could lead landlords to drastically limit investments in their buildings.</p> <p>Cuomo also included several other priorities in his executive budget proposal that weren’t included in the adopted budget and could potentially be addressed in the next few months. He floated a proposal to allow municipalities to legalize the use of electronic scooters and bicycles, which criminal justice reform and immigration advocates in New York City are particularly eager to see approved. The city has been cracking down on e-bikes -- which are regularly used by restaurant delivery workers who are often immigrants -- and the City Council has been awaiting authorization from the state to legalize them.</p> <p>State lawmakers and activists are also pushing a bill that would allow drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, which would affect more than 700,000 immigrants living in New York. The governor has publicly said he supports it, but <a href="http://gothamist.com/2019/03/01/undocumented_drivers_license_cuomo.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Gothamist reported</a>&nbsp;last month that he was working behind the scenes to prevent its passage. The bill's Assembly sponsor, Bronx Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, had urged its inclusion in the budget, <a href="https://twitter.com/MarcosCrespo85/status/1111081807133528064" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweeting</a> on March 27, "Senate and Assembly Dems should come together and support our immigrant families in This budget cycle." Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie <a href="https://twitter.com/CarlHeastie/status/1111084140240273408" target="_blank" rel="noopener">responded</a> to Crespo, saying the chamber would advance the bill after the budget.&nbsp;</p> <p>The governor has also proposed ending the state’s ban on paid surrogacy and just last week urged lawmakers to act. “It is unconscionable that people need to leave the state to have a child due to New York State's antiquated surrogacy laws,” he said in a statement. But surrogacy was not legalized in the budget.</p> <p>Though there has been little discussion of legislation favorable to charter schools -- which have stronger allies in the Republican Party but also enjoy support from Cuomo and some Democrats -- there is a possibility that the state could look at expanding the cap on the number of charters in New York City, a threshold that was met for the first time this year.</p> <p>In the Assembly, Speaker Heastie said Tuesday that his chamber would be “laser focused” on rent regulation, though he did not say whether it would take priority over marijuana legalization. “I don’t wanna say what’s bigger than the other but I think there’s 20-something years worth of history with rent regulations that I think has to be spoken about, talked about and fixed,” he told reporters outside his office, according to audio provided by a spokesperson. “So I’d say it’s going to be a huge, major focus of ours.”</p> <p>He also said “there’s support within the conference to do universal rent control. In the Assembly we don’t just wanna seem like we care about the tenants in New York City...We want to protect tenants all across the state.”</p> <p>Two significant proposals that gained little traction, outside of advocacy circles, prior to the budget were the New York Health Act and the Climate and Community Protection Act.</p> <p>The NYHA, led by Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and Senator Gustavo Rivera, would establish a single-payer health care system in the state. Cuomo has supported the principle, but insists that it should be federally funded rather than putting the state’s finances in jeopardy. It remains to be seen if the bill will gain any momentum in the three remaining months of session. Supporters rallied for it on Tuesday in Albany, trying to establish it as a key priority for the next several weeks. It’s unclear if either Democratic majority in the Legislature has the stomach for pursuing the policy and forcing a broader conversation on what would make for a major overhaul of health care and insurance in the state, as well as the state tax code.</p> <p>The CCPA is a roadmap to moving the state economy towards entirely renewable energy and creating jobs in the process, akin to a version of the Green New Deal being championed by national progressive Democrats. But Cuomo proposed his own version of “New York's Green New Deal,” which was a somewhat less aggressive alternative proposal that only dealt with the energy sector. Neither moved towards passage before the budget and will likely be a matter of discussion as the post-budget session moves ahead.</p> <p>One aspect of the budget agreement that left government reform advocates particularly disappointed was the omission of any new anti-corruption measures targeted specifically at the state’s scandal-ridden economic development programs. The budget included funding for a “database of deals” that will purportedly outline projects receiving state assistance, but did not include statutory language about the structure of the database, which will apparently be at the discretion of the Cuomo administration and its Empire State Development.</p> <p>The governor also agreed to administratively restore the state comptroller’s authority to pre-audit contracts handed out by SUNY and CUNY affiliates, rather than give it legislative power.</p> <p>Heastie said Tuesday that those two measures could end up in statute, something legislators have been threatening for years. “I think that we did agree that on ethics we wanted to engage in three-way conversation so I think those discussions will happen in the second half as well,” he said, echoing comments he’s made in the past.</p> <p>[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8414-state-budget-a-mixed-bag-on-election-ethics-and-campaign-finance-reforms" target="_blank" rel="noopener">In State Budget, More on Voting, Little on Ethics, and Half-Baked Campaign Finance Reform</a>]</p> <p>In February, the Assembly and Senate held the first joint hearing in decades on workplace sexual harassment, hearing from several women who had experienced harassment when employed by former state lawmakers. The women testified to the inadequate protections against harassment in state law and insisted that the Legislature must work to improve them, as well as the broader culture in Albany.</p> <p>Both Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins have said they support holding additional hearings that could potentially take place in the next few months and set the stage for further legislative action. The former legislative aides, some of whom have formed the Sexual Harassment Working Group, have a set of proposals to strengthen the state’s anti-harassment laws, and there are several legislators who appear ready to work with the advocates to advance those priorities, which would apply to both the public and privates sectors, as did anti-harassment laws passed last year.</p> <p>Ineffective state response to sexual harassment in part points to the oft-maligned Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which victims have said is incapable of appropriately handling sexual harassment complaints against those in government. JCOPE has also been criticized as lacking independence from the very officials it is supposed to investigate, leading to calls -- and legislation -- to replace the commission with a new body. It’s unclear if there will be any momentum in the coming months to explore that option or a host of other reform bills, some proposed by Cuomo, like extending the Freedom of Information Law to the Legislature.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/39879517533_a9c64d7528_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo legislators bills" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Although the state budget approved earlier this week included several progressive priorities for Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature, there are still three months left in the legislative session this year and a list of remaining items on which the governor and legislators have promised action.</p> <p>Taking advantage of their party’s newfound control over both houses of the Legislature, Democrats moved a long list of bills already this year, both prior to and in the budget. Though there has been a level of expected divergence on some bills within the legislative chambers, and a more unexpected degree of infighting between the legislative leaders on one hand and the governor on the other, long-sought Democratic priorities have nonetheless advanced, from voting reforms to women’s reproductive rights to gun control and much more.</p> <p>In a Sunday news conference outlining the details of the budget agreement that included congestion pricing, criminal justice reform and other new policies, Cuomo also laid out some unfinished business for the days ahead including legalizing the adult use of marijuana.</p> <p>“We have not legalized cannabis, adult use cannabis. The political desire is there, I believe we will get it done,” Cuomo said. The governor had intended to use much of the estimated $300 million in annual revenue that would be raised from taxing marijuana sales to fund the MTA. But the proposal was pulled in different directions and it became apparent a few weeks before the April 1 budget deadline that a deal on all the intricacies of legalization was unlikely.</p> <p>On the one hand, more conservative legislators and law enforcement officials raised concerns (some unfounded) about public safety, with several county leaders indicating they planned to opt out of allowing sales, and, on the other, lawmakers of color and criminal justice reformers wanted to see both opportunity and revenue go towards communities most impacted by marijuana enforcement. “It is complicated to come up with a program that does it and protects public safety, and does economic empowerment for communities that have paid the price,” Cuomo said. “And the best way to do it was not in the race of the budget.”</p> <p>He also spoke of a desire to update the so-called public works bill to ensure workers receive a prevailing wage on construction projects receiving state benefits, and reform the state’s rent regulations, which expire in July. Along with marijuana legalization, rent regulations are expected to be the most controversial issues taken up in the remaining session.</p> <p>In a Tuesday interview on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, Cuomo in particular addressed reforming the Major Capital Improvements (MCI) law that allows landlords to substantially increase regulated rents after undertaking significant renovations. It is one of a small handful of rent regulations that legislators plan to strengthen -- others include preferential rents, the so-called vacancy bonus, and vacancy decontrol.</p> <p>“That’s going to be I think a great reform for tenants and I believe we’ll get more than people have ever gotten before,” Cuomo said of MCI changes, “because it wasn’t just the real estate lobby, but there was a reluctance to deal with the details of how these laws actually work and we now have three months to focus just on these laws because we got so much done in the budget.”</p> <p>On MCIs, Cuomo indicated what has become a popular Democratic position that even some in real estate see as potentially tenable: that landlords should be able to pass along some of the costs of improvements to tenants, but not necessarily in perpetuity. Some legislators want to abolish the MCI program altogether, though others, as well as real estate representatives, warn that could lead landlords to drastically limit investments in their buildings.</p> <p>Cuomo also included several other priorities in his executive budget proposal that weren’t included in the adopted budget and could potentially be addressed in the next few months. He floated a proposal to allow municipalities to legalize the use of electronic scooters and bicycles, which criminal justice reform and immigration advocates in New York City are particularly eager to see approved. The city has been cracking down on e-bikes -- which are regularly used by restaurant delivery workers who are often immigrants -- and the City Council has been awaiting authorization from the state to legalize them.</p> <p>State lawmakers and activists are also pushing a bill that would allow drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, which would affect more than 700,000 immigrants living in New York. The governor has publicly said he supports it, but <a href="http://gothamist.com/2019/03/01/undocumented_drivers_license_cuomo.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Gothamist reported</a>&nbsp;last month that he was working behind the scenes to prevent its passage. The bill's Assembly sponsor, Bronx Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, had urged its inclusion in the budget, <a href="https://twitter.com/MarcosCrespo85/status/1111081807133528064" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweeting</a> on March 27, "Senate and Assembly Dems should come together and support our immigrant families in This budget cycle." Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie <a href="https://twitter.com/CarlHeastie/status/1111084140240273408" target="_blank" rel="noopener">responded</a> to Crespo, saying the chamber would advance the bill after the budget.&nbsp;</p> <p>The governor has also proposed ending the state’s ban on paid surrogacy and just last week urged lawmakers to act. “It is unconscionable that people need to leave the state to have a child due to New York State's antiquated surrogacy laws,” he said in a statement. But surrogacy was not legalized in the budget.</p> <p>Though there has been little discussion of legislation favorable to charter schools -- which have stronger allies in the Republican Party but also enjoy support from Cuomo and some Democrats -- there is a possibility that the state could look at expanding the cap on the number of charters in New York City, a threshold that was met for the first time this year.</p> <p>In the Assembly, Speaker Heastie said Tuesday that his chamber would be “laser focused” on rent regulation, though he did not say whether it would take priority over marijuana legalization. “I don’t wanna say what’s bigger than the other but I think there’s 20-something years worth of history with rent regulations that I think has to be spoken about, talked about and fixed,” he told reporters outside his office, according to audio provided by a spokesperson. “So I’d say it’s going to be a huge, major focus of ours.”</p> <p>He also said “there’s support within the conference to do universal rent control. In the Assembly we don’t just wanna seem like we care about the tenants in New York City...We want to protect tenants all across the state.”</p> <p>Two significant proposals that gained little traction, outside of advocacy circles, prior to the budget were the New York Health Act and the Climate and Community Protection Act.</p> <p>The NYHA, led by Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and Senator Gustavo Rivera, would establish a single-payer health care system in the state. Cuomo has supported the principle, but insists that it should be federally funded rather than putting the state’s finances in jeopardy. It remains to be seen if the bill will gain any momentum in the three remaining months of session. Supporters rallied for it on Tuesday in Albany, trying to establish it as a key priority for the next several weeks. It’s unclear if either Democratic majority in the Legislature has the stomach for pursuing the policy and forcing a broader conversation on what would make for a major overhaul of health care and insurance in the state, as well as the state tax code.</p> <p>The CCPA is a roadmap to moving the state economy towards entirely renewable energy and creating jobs in the process, akin to a version of the Green New Deal being championed by national progressive Democrats. But Cuomo proposed his own version of “New York's Green New Deal,” which was a somewhat less aggressive alternative proposal that only dealt with the energy sector. Neither moved towards passage before the budget and will likely be a matter of discussion as the post-budget session moves ahead.</p> <p>One aspect of the budget agreement that left government reform advocates particularly disappointed was the omission of any new anti-corruption measures targeted specifically at the state’s scandal-ridden economic development programs. The budget included funding for a “database of deals” that will purportedly outline projects receiving state assistance, but did not include statutory language about the structure of the database, which will apparently be at the discretion of the Cuomo administration and its Empire State Development.</p> <p>The governor also agreed to administratively restore the state comptroller’s authority to pre-audit contracts handed out by SUNY and CUNY affiliates, rather than give it legislative power.</p> <p>Heastie said Tuesday that those two measures could end up in statute, something legislators have been threatening for years. “I think that we did agree that on ethics we wanted to engage in three-way conversation so I think those discussions will happen in the second half as well,” he said, echoing comments he’s made in the past.</p> <p>[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8414-state-budget-a-mixed-bag-on-election-ethics-and-campaign-finance-reforms" target="_blank" rel="noopener">In State Budget, More on Voting, Little on Ethics, and Half-Baked Campaign Finance Reform</a>]</p> <p>In February, the Assembly and Senate held the first joint hearing in decades on workplace sexual harassment, hearing from several women who had experienced harassment when employed by former state lawmakers. The women testified to the inadequate protections against harassment in state law and insisted that the Legislature must work to improve them, as well as the broader culture in Albany.</p> <p>Both Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins have said they support holding additional hearings that could potentially take place in the next few months and set the stage for further legislative action. The former legislative aides, some of whom have formed the Sexual Harassment Working Group, have a set of proposals to strengthen the state’s anti-harassment laws, and there are several legislators who appear ready to work with the advocates to advance those priorities, which would apply to both the public and privates sectors, as did anti-harassment laws passed last year.</p> <p>Ineffective state response to sexual harassment in part points to the oft-maligned Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which victims have said is incapable of appropriately handling sexual harassment complaints against those in government. JCOPE has also been criticized as lacking independence from the very officials it is supposed to investigate, leading to calls -- and legislation -- to replace the commission with a new body. It’s unclear if there will be any momentum in the coming months to explore that option or a host of other reform bills, some proposed by Cuomo, like extending the Freedom of Information Law to the Legislature.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated.</p>
Advocates and Senators Refute Assembly Democrats' Concerns with Campaign Finance Reform 2019-03-20T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-20T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8376-advocates-and-senators-refute-assembly-democrats-concerns-with-campaign-finance-reform Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/myrie_camp_fin.jpg" alt="myrie camp fin" width="600" height="344" /></p> <p>Senate Democrats push campaign finance reform (photo: @zellnor4ny)</p> <hr /> <p>With less than two weeks until a new state budget is due, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature have yet to come to an agreement on a public campaign financing model for state elections. But the conversation around the measure, which advocates and experts say is a long-due reform in a state beset with repeated corruption scandals, has taken a turn since Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie raised several doubts about the viability of public campaign financing, some of which Cuomo has echoed.</p> <p>They’ve voiced these concerns despite the fact that the Democrat-led Assembly and Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, have annually supported such campaign finance reform and Cuomo included a plan in his 2020 executive budget proposal. This is the first year in Cuomo’s tenure that Democrats control both houses of the Legislature, having won a Senate majority in November.</p> <p>At a Wednesday hearing of the state Senate’s Committee on Elections, which was also attended by several Assembly members, experts and advocates sought to rebut those concerns as they pressed legislators to act sooner rather than later.</p> <p>Earlier this month, Heastie <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8342-speaker-says-assembly-no-longer-supports-public-campaign-financing-downplays-other-reforms" target="_blank">said</a> there weren’t enough votes in his chamber for the public financing proposal, which would create a voluntary system with significantly lower individual contribution limits and public matching of the first $175 of all qualifying contributions at a 6-to-1 ratio.</p> <p>Heastie cited mostly debunked concerns about independent expenditures being able overwhelm candidate campaigns , large budget gaps the state is facing, and criticisms of the public financing model used by New York City, which the state is looking to emulate in principle, particularly the regulatory aspects.</p> <p>The Assembly did end up including a statement of support for the proposal in its one-house budget resolution last week, but without specific details. In a <a href="https://www.pbs.org/video/one-on-one-with-speaker-heastie-nbjhne/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">March 15 interview on New York Now</a>, Heastie denied that he and his members were getting “cold feet.” He pointed to the city’s public funds program, which caps spending for participants, and said independent expenditures could dominate, while inaccurately saying that IEs are not an issue in New York City elections.</p> <p>“I think that no one wants to exclude everyday individuals from participating in democracy. We think it’s a good thing but people also have to understand you don’t want to open the door to having IEs pretty much pick your legislator,” he said. He also questioned how the system would work with fusion voting, which allows candidates to run on multiple party lines, though the city’s has not encountered this as an issue and the state program would emulate that a candidate receives matching funds only based on their fundraising, no matter how many ballot lines they have.</p> <p>Cuomo has raised similar concerns about independent expenditures and fusion voting, though he insisted recently that public financing must be included in the state budget.</p> <p>“How many races are we potentially talking about? How much does it cost? Who's doing the compliance on all these issues? The Board of Elections - which has nowhere near this capacity now? What is the effect of the multiple lines and multiple races? Do you fund all those multiple lines in the primary and then all those multiple lines in the general? So it's necessary, it's right, but it's complicated,” Cuomo said at a news conference outlining his budget priorities on March 11. He did, however, mention the possibility that the Legislature could pass a budget that includes general support for and legalization of public campaign financing and then “figure out the details afterwards” in the post-budget session.</p> <p>The Senate’s one-house resolution supports “establishing a publicly financed small donor matching system in order to curtail the corrosive influence of money in politics in addition to other necessary campaign finance reforms.” Unlike their Assembly counterparts, senators have not equivocated about implementing the system. Senator Zellnor Myrie, chair of the elections committee, is an ardent supporter of the proposal and, prior to the hearing on Monday, he led a news conference with several colleagues, including many fellow newly elected senators, and government reform advocates to push for it.</p> <p>“We should be listening to the everyday New Yorker and not big donors,” Myrie said at the news conference, where he was joined by Senators Alessandra Biaggi, Rachel May, Brad Hoylman, Brian Kavanaugh, Todd Kaminsky, Julia Salazar, David Carlucci, Jessica Ramos, John Liu, Andrew Gounardes, and Gustavo Rivera, as well as Assembly members. Myrie also brushed aside questions about funding the program. “To me, this is not a cost, this is an investment. It is an investment in the integrity of our democracy and I think not until people have trust in their government will they trust the process.”.</p> <p>For government reform advocates, campaign finance experts, and some legislators, the concerns expressed by Heastie, and to a lesser extent Cuomo, are broadly unfounded.</p> <p>For one, the governor’s proposal does not limit candidate spending like New York City’s program, and also does not cap fundraising from private sources, which together would blunt the effect of independent expenditure campaigns while boosting the impact of small donors.</p> <p>Additionally, as the <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/no-fusion-voting-wont-make-public-financing-elections-more-expensive" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Brennan Center for Justice’s Lawrence Norden noted</a>, concerns about the program becoming exorbitantly expensive because of fusion voting “reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the way the policy works.” Candidates in New York City already run on multiple party lines but public funds are not disbursed for each party but rather for each candidate. “The number of parties on the ballot is irrelevant to all of this. And a candidate doesn’t get more money because she’s listed on more than one ballot line,” Norden wrote.</p> <p>There are indeed some logistical concerns with instituting public financing statewide, which legislators raised at Wednesday’s hearing.</p> <p>New York City’s program is administered by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (NYCCFB), an independent, nonpartisan agency, and the state BOE lacks the resources or expertise to do that kind of work, as Cuomo indicated. City candidates, some of whom are now sitting legislators, have also critiqued what they see as the CFB’s overly punitive policies, which they say lead to yearslong audits and burdensome fines for relatively minor violations. Lawmakers also worry that public funds could entice candidates to run frivolous campaigns to raise their own profiles or to otherwise accrue some private benefit.</p> <p>Those arguments were also repeatedly refuted by individuals testifying before the committee on Wednesday in Albany, though many did acknowledge that New York City’s program is far from perfect.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Amy Loprest, executive director of the NYCCFB, and Rick Schaffer, chair of the Board, noted that the city’s disclosure laws around independent expenditures are stronger than the federal government’s, and that candidates in local races have prevailed despite facing massive independent expenditures campaigns.</p> <p>Loprest also argued that the system has thresholds that preclude candidates from abusing it for personal gain, though any assessment of the issue is subjective. Candidates must show a level of community support that validates their campaign, she said, and their spending is strictly audited after the election to ensure public funds are not misused. “We are always improving our system and that was built into the law,” Loprest said, when Assemblymember Robert Carroll, a Brooklyn Democrat, asked how the city balances monitoring of both independent expenditures and complaints from candidates about “picayune problems.”</p> <p>Schaffer also insisted that the CFB has taken efforts to aid candidates and to prevent them from making mistakes that could end up costing them later. “We’re not interested in ‘gotcha.’ Our job is to help candidates follow the rules which admittedly are complex because it’s a complex system,” he said. The CFB’s audit processes, Loprest noted, are also being consistently improved to ensure candidates do not have to wait years for results.</p> <p>But Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, a Manhattan Democrat, seemed unconvinced, particularly when considering that audits of every campaign at the state level -- four statewide races and 213 state legislative races -- would be a monumental task. State Board of Elections officials did downplay that worry later in the hearing, noting that the governor’s proposal only calls for fully auditing all statewide campaigns but not every legislative one, instead using a random sampling.</p> <p>The State BOE has not taken a formal position on the program but at least two commissioners, a Democrat and a Republican, support its implementation. Other commissioners have insisted that if the program is passed, it should be accompanied with sufficient funding and that it should first go into effect after the 2022 elections, the next statewide cycle.</p> <p>A state program, said BOE co-executive director Robert Brehm, would be about 3.67 times larger than New York City’s and would cost between $20-$60 million each year in administrative costs if fully scaled. According to a December 2018 report from the Washington D.C.-based Campaign Finance Institute, the program would disburse about $140.5 million in public funds over a four-year election cycle. For context, the governor’s state budget proposal for 2020 is about $175.1 billion.</p> <p>At Wednesday’s hearing, Chisun Lee, senior counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center pointed out the importance of establishing a public financing program. She noted that in last year’s election, 100 donors gave more to candidates than 137,000 small donors altogether, and small donations only accounted for 5 percent of all contributions to state campaigns. She cited the example of other jurisdictions with public financing programs, such as Connecticut, and said the state should create a culture of assistance rather than punishment at any entity charged with overseeing its implementation.</p> <p>And though she admitted that the governor’s proposal is not flawless, “In great part...it is a workable, effective small donor matching system,” she said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/myrie_camp_fin.jpg" alt="myrie camp fin" width="600" height="344" /></p> <p>Senate Democrats push campaign finance reform (photo: @zellnor4ny)</p> <hr /> <p>With less than two weeks until a new state budget is due, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature have yet to come to an agreement on a public campaign financing model for state elections. But the conversation around the measure, which advocates and experts say is a long-due reform in a state beset with repeated corruption scandals, has taken a turn since Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie raised several doubts about the viability of public campaign financing, some of which Cuomo has echoed.</p> <p>They’ve voiced these concerns despite the fact that the Democrat-led Assembly and Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, have annually supported such campaign finance reform and Cuomo included a plan in his 2020 executive budget proposal. This is the first year in Cuomo’s tenure that Democrats control both houses of the Legislature, having won a Senate majority in November.</p> <p>At a Wednesday hearing of the state Senate’s Committee on Elections, which was also attended by several Assembly members, experts and advocates sought to rebut those concerns as they pressed legislators to act sooner rather than later.</p> <p>Earlier this month, Heastie <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8342-speaker-says-assembly-no-longer-supports-public-campaign-financing-downplays-other-reforms" target="_blank">said</a> there weren’t enough votes in his chamber for the public financing proposal, which would create a voluntary system with significantly lower individual contribution limits and public matching of the first $175 of all qualifying contributions at a 6-to-1 ratio.</p> <p>Heastie cited mostly debunked concerns about independent expenditures being able overwhelm candidate campaigns , large budget gaps the state is facing, and criticisms of the public financing model used by New York City, which the state is looking to emulate in principle, particularly the regulatory aspects.</p> <p>The Assembly did end up including a statement of support for the proposal in its one-house budget resolution last week, but without specific details. In a <a href="https://www.pbs.org/video/one-on-one-with-speaker-heastie-nbjhne/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">March 15 interview on New York Now</a>, Heastie denied that he and his members were getting “cold feet.” He pointed to the city’s public funds program, which caps spending for participants, and said independent expenditures could dominate, while inaccurately saying that IEs are not an issue in New York City elections.</p> <p>“I think that no one wants to exclude everyday individuals from participating in democracy. We think it’s a good thing but people also have to understand you don’t want to open the door to having IEs pretty much pick your legislator,” he said. He also questioned how the system would work with fusion voting, which allows candidates to run on multiple party lines, though the city’s has not encountered this as an issue and the state program would emulate that a candidate receives matching funds only based on their fundraising, no matter how many ballot lines they have.</p> <p>Cuomo has raised similar concerns about independent expenditures and fusion voting, though he insisted recently that public financing must be included in the state budget.</p> <p>“How many races are we potentially talking about? How much does it cost? Who's doing the compliance on all these issues? The Board of Elections - which has nowhere near this capacity now? What is the effect of the multiple lines and multiple races? Do you fund all those multiple lines in the primary and then all those multiple lines in the general? So it's necessary, it's right, but it's complicated,” Cuomo said at a news conference outlining his budget priorities on March 11. He did, however, mention the possibility that the Legislature could pass a budget that includes general support for and legalization of public campaign financing and then “figure out the details afterwards” in the post-budget session.</p> <p>The Senate’s one-house resolution supports “establishing a publicly financed small donor matching system in order to curtail the corrosive influence of money in politics in addition to other necessary campaign finance reforms.” Unlike their Assembly counterparts, senators have not equivocated about implementing the system. Senator Zellnor Myrie, chair of the elections committee, is an ardent supporter of the proposal and, prior to the hearing on Monday, he led a news conference with several colleagues, including many fellow newly elected senators, and government reform advocates to push for it.</p> <p>“We should be listening to the everyday New Yorker and not big donors,” Myrie said at the news conference, where he was joined by Senators Alessandra Biaggi, Rachel May, Brad Hoylman, Brian Kavanaugh, Todd Kaminsky, Julia Salazar, David Carlucci, Jessica Ramos, John Liu, Andrew Gounardes, and Gustavo Rivera, as well as Assembly members. Myrie also brushed aside questions about funding the program. “To me, this is not a cost, this is an investment. It is an investment in the integrity of our democracy and I think not until people have trust in their government will they trust the process.”.</p> <p>For government reform advocates, campaign finance experts, and some legislators, the concerns expressed by Heastie, and to a lesser extent Cuomo, are broadly unfounded.</p> <p>For one, the governor’s proposal does not limit candidate spending like New York City’s program, and also does not cap fundraising from private sources, which together would blunt the effect of independent expenditure campaigns while boosting the impact of small donors.</p> <p>Additionally, as the <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/no-fusion-voting-wont-make-public-financing-elections-more-expensive" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Brennan Center for Justice’s Lawrence Norden noted</a>, concerns about the program becoming exorbitantly expensive because of fusion voting “reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the way the policy works.” Candidates in New York City already run on multiple party lines but public funds are not disbursed for each party but rather for each candidate. “The number of parties on the ballot is irrelevant to all of this. And a candidate doesn’t get more money because she’s listed on more than one ballot line,” Norden wrote.</p> <p>There are indeed some logistical concerns with instituting public financing statewide, which legislators raised at Wednesday’s hearing.</p> <p>New York City’s program is administered by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (NYCCFB), an independent, nonpartisan agency, and the state BOE lacks the resources or expertise to do that kind of work, as Cuomo indicated. City candidates, some of whom are now sitting legislators, have also critiqued what they see as the CFB’s overly punitive policies, which they say lead to yearslong audits and burdensome fines for relatively minor violations. Lawmakers also worry that public funds could entice candidates to run frivolous campaigns to raise their own profiles or to otherwise accrue some private benefit.</p> <p>Those arguments were also repeatedly refuted by individuals testifying before the committee on Wednesday in Albany, though many did acknowledge that New York City’s program is far from perfect.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Amy Loprest, executive director of the NYCCFB, and Rick Schaffer, chair of the Board, noted that the city’s disclosure laws around independent expenditures are stronger than the federal government’s, and that candidates in local races have prevailed despite facing massive independent expenditures campaigns.</p> <p>Loprest also argued that the system has thresholds that preclude candidates from abusing it for personal gain, though any assessment of the issue is subjective. Candidates must show a level of community support that validates their campaign, she said, and their spending is strictly audited after the election to ensure public funds are not misused. “We are always improving our system and that was built into the law,” Loprest said, when Assemblymember Robert Carroll, a Brooklyn Democrat, asked how the city balances monitoring of both independent expenditures and complaints from candidates about “picayune problems.”</p> <p>Schaffer also insisted that the CFB has taken efforts to aid candidates and to prevent them from making mistakes that could end up costing them later. “We’re not interested in ‘gotcha.’ Our job is to help candidates follow the rules which admittedly are complex because it’s a complex system,” he said. The CFB’s audit processes, Loprest noted, are also being consistently improved to ensure candidates do not have to wait years for results.</p> <p>But Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, a Manhattan Democrat, seemed unconvinced, particularly when considering that audits of every campaign at the state level -- four statewide races and 213 state legislative races -- would be a monumental task. State Board of Elections officials did downplay that worry later in the hearing, noting that the governor’s proposal only calls for fully auditing all statewide campaigns but not every legislative one, instead using a random sampling.</p> <p>The State BOE has not taken a formal position on the program but at least two commissioners, a Democrat and a Republican, support its implementation. Other commissioners have insisted that if the program is passed, it should be accompanied with sufficient funding and that it should first go into effect after the 2022 elections, the next statewide cycle.</p> <p>A state program, said BOE co-executive director Robert Brehm, would be about 3.67 times larger than New York City’s and would cost between $20-$60 million each year in administrative costs if fully scaled. According to a December 2018 report from the Washington D.C.-based Campaign Finance Institute, the program would disburse about $140.5 million in public funds over a four-year election cycle. For context, the governor’s state budget proposal for 2020 is about $175.1 billion.</p> <p>At Wednesday’s hearing, Chisun Lee, senior counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center pointed out the importance of establishing a public financing program. She noted that in last year’s election, 100 donors gave more to candidates than 137,000 small donors altogether, and small donations only accounted for 5 percent of all contributions to state campaigns. She cited the example of other jurisdictions with public financing programs, such as Connecticut, and said the state should create a culture of assistance rather than punishment at any entity charged with overseeing its implementation.</p> <p>And though she admitted that the governor’s proposal is not flawless, “In great part...it is a workable, effective small donor matching system,” she said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Speaker Says Assembly No Longer Supports Public Campaign Financing, Downplays Other Reforms 2019-03-08T05:00:00+00:00 2019-03-08T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8342-speaker-says-assembly-no-longer-supports-public-campaign-financing-downplays-other-reforms Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/podcast19/heastie_carl_nys_assembly_speaker_9.62.jpg" alt="heastie carl nys assembly speaker 9.62" width="600" height="412" /></p> <p>(photo: Buck Ennis/Crain's)</p> <hr /> <p>Though Democrats have for years blamed Republican intransigence for the failure of key campaign finance and ethics reforms in Albany, those measures still appear stalled even as their party controls the entire state Legislature and governor’s office. On Friday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said that the votes are not there in his chamber to approve a public-matching campaign finance system, despite the fact that the Assembly has repeatedly passed such a measure in the past when Republicans controlled the Senate.</p> <p>Heastie appeared at a Crain’s New York Business forum at the New York Athletic Club, where he gave remarks about the Assembly’s accomplishments and priorities, then took questions from Erik Engquist of Crain’s and Errol Louis of NY1, before also speaking with other reporters after the event.</p> <p>With a new state budget due April 1, Heastie said it appeared unlikely that the Assembly would approve public campaign financing before or within that deal, though it is a long-held Democratic goal espoused not only by Assembly Democrats but also the new state Senate Democratic majority and Governor Andrew Cuomo.</p> <p>“I think the members want to discuss it but I’d say right now what the concerns are on IEs [independent expenditures], problems with [New York City’s] campaign finance system, also with a shortage of [state] money, I think they want to have the discussion but I’d say right now there’s not 76 members who want to move forward with it in the next three weeks in the budget,” Heastie said in response to a question from Gotham Gazette, and referring to the minimum number of votes needed to advance a bill in the 150-seat chamber.</p> <p>The speaker later tweeted to add to his comments from the morning, writing that the Assembly does want to consider a small-dollar matching program, but one that does not use public money.</p> <p>Heastie also threw cold water on a state Senate-approved bill to limit campaign contributions from entities seeking state contracts and downplayed the need for additional government ethics reforms, saying that law enforcement entities catch bad actors and he is “still waiting for the idea of the bill that will really fix people’s morality.”</p> <p>Asked about it by the moderators, Heastie expressed concerns that a bill passed on Tuesday by the state Senate could end up hurting the party in power. The bill, S3167, prohibits companies bidding for state contracts from contributing to “officeholders with authority over procuring entities” within a specific window of time, therefore applying largely to the executive branch, namely the governor.</p> <p>Though Heastie’s conference has advanced similar bills in previous years, he hesitated to endorse that measure, which was sponsored by new state Senator Zellnor Myrie from Brooklyn.</p> <p>“On the premise of it, it sounds great. Yeah, anybody who wants to bid on a contract, yeah they shouldn’t have the opportunity to make contributions to the governing entity because there could be the appearance that somebody’s trying to grease the skids,” Heastie said. “But the way that the legislation is drafted...it just covers such a vast number of people so that one company who...bids on a contract, their lobbyist, and it doesn’t just stop there, every other company that that lobbyist is responsible for is now radioactive.”</p> <p>The bill would also put the State Democratic Party and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, “in a bind,” he said, because it would exclude them from raising funds from entities who would be able to donate to Republicans who don’t hold the same authority in state government. The bill includes a prohibition on contributions “indirectly or directly, to political committees operationally controlled by officeholders with authority over state governmental entities” that receive and review bids and issue contracts. “So I guess that on the surface the bill sounds like a great idea, but it really does put the governor and the Democratic Party at a huge disadvantage as compared to the Republican Party,” he said.</p> <p>Asked about Heastie's comments, Jonathan Timm, a spokesperson for Senator Myrie, said in a statement, "The history of corruption in New York State government demonstrates that inaction is not an option. As with any other legislation, this bill will be subject to negotiation with the Assembly, and the Senator looks forward to working with them to clean up state government in the best way possible."</p> <p>Speaking to reporters after Friday's event, Heastie then tempered expectations about public campaign financing, which appeared for months as though it would be a crowning achievement of the new Democratic era in Albany.</p> <p>His comments weren’t taken lightly by a variety of advocates, including the Fair Elections for New York coalition, which has been pushing the state to adopt a small-donor matching system similar to the one in place in New York City, among other reforms.</p> <p>“Historically, the Assembly Democrats have supported people-powered elections anchored with a small-donor matching system,” the coalition pointed out in a Friday statement, responding to Heastie’s comments as initially reported by Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>“‘Fair elections’ is the policy that will really shake up the status quo, and thus the real test of the new Albany,” continued the coalition statement, referring to the Fair Elections Act that the Democratic Assembly has passed in previous sessions and that Senate Democrats have supported in the minority. “Passing this legislation now, in the budget, is the best chance for New York to once again lead the nation by having a campaign finance system that gives everyday New Yorkers as loud a voice as the wealthiest donors.”</p> <p>The coalition is made up of more than 200 groups, including labor unions such as 32BJ, tenant organizers such as New York Communities for Change, immigrant advocates like the New York Immigration Coalition, environmental and racial justice groups such as the Sunrise Movement and VOCAL-NY, good government advocates like Reinvent Albany and more.</p> <p>Urging the governor and legislative leaders to reject a budget that does not include public campaign financing, the coalition offered solutions for Heastie’s concerns. It said a public financing system should not include spending limits, therefore mitigating the effect of outside independent expenditure campaigns; suggested that New York follow Connecticut’s public matching program, which gives assistance to candidates in using small dollar contributions, compared to New York City’s program that many have called too punitive; and pointed out that the total budget ramifications of public financing were between $40-60 million, which wouldn’t even be apparent in the short term and could hardly affect a $175 billion state budget. The annual costs, the coalition estimated, would be less than $3 annually for every New Yorker.</p> <p>Asked to comment on Heastie’s statements, neither the office of Senator Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins nor that of Governor Cuomo responded.</p> <p>After seeing the blowback to his comments, Heastie issued another statement on Twitter Friday afternoon, <a href="https://twitter.com/CarlHeastie/status/1104130835337396226" target="_blank" rel="noopener">writing</a>, "I want to be clear – the Assembly Majority is supportive of limiting the influence of money in our elections through consideration of a small dollar donor matching system that does not rely on scarce public funds.&nbsp;Our members are not ready to support the NYC model for the entire state, but we will continue to have discussions in order to reach our goals."</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p> <p>This story has been updated.</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated with comment from a spokesperson for Senator Zellnor Myrie.&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/podcast19/heastie_carl_nys_assembly_speaker_9.62.jpg" alt="heastie carl nys assembly speaker 9.62" width="600" height="412" /></p> <p>(photo: Buck Ennis/Crain's)</p> <hr /> <p>Though Democrats have for years blamed Republican intransigence for the failure of key campaign finance and ethics reforms in Albany, those measures still appear stalled even as their party controls the entire state Legislature and governor’s office. On Friday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said that the votes are not there in his chamber to approve a public-matching campaign finance system, despite the fact that the Assembly has repeatedly passed such a measure in the past when Republicans controlled the Senate.</p> <p>Heastie appeared at a Crain’s New York Business forum at the New York Athletic Club, where he gave remarks about the Assembly’s accomplishments and priorities, then took questions from Erik Engquist of Crain’s and Errol Louis of NY1, before also speaking with other reporters after the event.</p> <p>With a new state budget due April 1, Heastie said it appeared unlikely that the Assembly would approve public campaign financing before or within that deal, though it is a long-held Democratic goal espoused not only by Assembly Democrats but also the new state Senate Democratic majority and Governor Andrew Cuomo.</p> <p>“I think the members want to discuss it but I’d say right now what the concerns are on IEs [independent expenditures], problems with [New York City’s] campaign finance system, also with a shortage of [state] money, I think they want to have the discussion but I’d say right now there’s not 76 members who want to move forward with it in the next three weeks in the budget,” Heastie said in response to a question from Gotham Gazette, and referring to the minimum number of votes needed to advance a bill in the 150-seat chamber.</p> <p>The speaker later tweeted to add to his comments from the morning, writing that the Assembly does want to consider a small-dollar matching program, but one that does not use public money.</p> <p>Heastie also threw cold water on a state Senate-approved bill to limit campaign contributions from entities seeking state contracts and downplayed the need for additional government ethics reforms, saying that law enforcement entities catch bad actors and he is “still waiting for the idea of the bill that will really fix people’s morality.”</p> <p>Asked about it by the moderators, Heastie expressed concerns that a bill passed on Tuesday by the state Senate could end up hurting the party in power. The bill, S3167, prohibits companies bidding for state contracts from contributing to “officeholders with authority over procuring entities” within a specific window of time, therefore applying largely to the executive branch, namely the governor.</p> <p>Though Heastie’s conference has advanced similar bills in previous years, he hesitated to endorse that measure, which was sponsored by new state Senator Zellnor Myrie from Brooklyn.</p> <p>“On the premise of it, it sounds great. Yeah, anybody who wants to bid on a contract, yeah they shouldn’t have the opportunity to make contributions to the governing entity because there could be the appearance that somebody’s trying to grease the skids,” Heastie said. “But the way that the legislation is drafted...it just covers such a vast number of people so that one company who...bids on a contract, their lobbyist, and it doesn’t just stop there, every other company that that lobbyist is responsible for is now radioactive.”</p> <p>The bill would also put the State Democratic Party and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, “in a bind,” he said, because it would exclude them from raising funds from entities who would be able to donate to Republicans who don’t hold the same authority in state government. The bill includes a prohibition on contributions “indirectly or directly, to political committees operationally controlled by officeholders with authority over state governmental entities” that receive and review bids and issue contracts. “So I guess that on the surface the bill sounds like a great idea, but it really does put the governor and the Democratic Party at a huge disadvantage as compared to the Republican Party,” he said.</p> <p>Asked about Heastie's comments, Jonathan Timm, a spokesperson for Senator Myrie, said in a statement, "The history of corruption in New York State government demonstrates that inaction is not an option. As with any other legislation, this bill will be subject to negotiation with the Assembly, and the Senator looks forward to working with them to clean up state government in the best way possible."</p> <p>Speaking to reporters after Friday's event, Heastie then tempered expectations about public campaign financing, which appeared for months as though it would be a crowning achievement of the new Democratic era in Albany.</p> <p>His comments weren’t taken lightly by a variety of advocates, including the Fair Elections for New York coalition, which has been pushing the state to adopt a small-donor matching system similar to the one in place in New York City, among other reforms.</p> <p>“Historically, the Assembly Democrats have supported people-powered elections anchored with a small-donor matching system,” the coalition pointed out in a Friday statement, responding to Heastie’s comments as initially reported by Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>“‘Fair elections’ is the policy that will really shake up the status quo, and thus the real test of the new Albany,” continued the coalition statement, referring to the Fair Elections Act that the Democratic Assembly has passed in previous sessions and that Senate Democrats have supported in the minority. “Passing this legislation now, in the budget, is the best chance for New York to once again lead the nation by having a campaign finance system that gives everyday New Yorkers as loud a voice as the wealthiest donors.”</p> <p>The coalition is made up of more than 200 groups, including labor unions such as 32BJ, tenant organizers such as New York Communities for Change, immigrant advocates like the New York Immigration Coalition, environmental and racial justice groups such as the Sunrise Movement and VOCAL-NY, good government advocates like Reinvent Albany and more.</p> <p>Urging the governor and legislative leaders to reject a budget that does not include public campaign financing, the coalition offered solutions for Heastie’s concerns. It said a public financing system should not include spending limits, therefore mitigating the effect of outside independent expenditure campaigns; suggested that New York follow Connecticut’s public matching program, which gives assistance to candidates in using small dollar contributions, compared to New York City’s program that many have called too punitive; and pointed out that the total budget ramifications of public financing were between $40-60 million, which wouldn’t even be apparent in the short term and could hardly affect a $175 billion state budget. The annual costs, the coalition estimated, would be less than $3 annually for every New Yorker.</p> <p>Asked to comment on Heastie’s statements, neither the office of Senator Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins nor that of Governor Cuomo responded.</p> <p>After seeing the blowback to his comments, Heastie issued another statement on Twitter Friday afternoon, <a href="https://twitter.com/CarlHeastie/status/1104130835337396226" target="_blank" rel="noopener">writing</a>, "I want to be clear – the Assembly Majority is supportive of limiting the influence of money in our elections through consideration of a small dollar donor matching system that does not rely on scarce public funds.&nbsp;Our members are not ready to support the NYC model for the entire state, but we will continue to have discussions in order to reach our goals."</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p> <p>This story has been updated.</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated with comment from a spokesperson for Senator Zellnor Myrie.&nbsp;</p>
New York Democrats on Eliminating Cash Bail: Not If, But How 2019-01-31T05:00:00+00:00 2019-01-31T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8245-new-york-democrats-on-eliminating-cash-bail-not-when-but-how Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/gov-cuomo-provide-update-clinton.jpg" alt="gov cuomo provide update clinton" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: the governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Taking the stage at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park last September, Governor Andrew Cuomo promised to end cash bail “once and for all,” a move that would launch New York into the national spotlight with New Jersey and California. “In America you are still innocent until proven guilty,” he told the cheering crowd. “And that’s whether you’re black or white. That’s whether you’re rich or poor.”</p> <p>The elimination of the cash bail system, under which poor black and Hispanic New Yorkers are <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/05/19/report-rikers-still-full-of-new-yorkers-who-cant-afford-bail/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">disproportionately incarcerated</a> pre-trial, does seem imminent thanks to a new Democratic majority in the state Senate. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, whose chamber last year passed legislation that only limited cash bail, assured faith leaders at Trinity Chapel in Manhattan on Thursday that, “I support a 100-percent-ending-of-cash-bail system.”</p> <p>But big questions remain: who will be eligible for pretrial incarceration, what constraints will be put on judges, the reach of controversial ankle bracelets.</p> <p>Cuomo’s recently-released budget proposal calls for more extensive pretrial detention and monitoring than an advocate-backed bill in the Legislature, and several Democrats told Gotham Gazette they want broad judicial discretion on domestic violence cases: a red flag for advocates who see a window for bias. As Democrats use their new power to rapidly pass progressive legislation, bail reform, in all its complexity, could prove a test of how far they’ll go.</p> <p>“We have to remember there's a presumption of innocence,” warns Democratic Assemblymember Dan Quart of Manhattan. “The point of bail is not to judge or adjudicate people.”</p> <p>The New York City jail population has decreased by 1,500 over the last two years, according to a&nbsp;<a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b6de4731aef1de914f43628/t/5c198f9af950b7863cd60bac/1545179066057/Progress+Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">December report</a> from the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice. Still, as of September more than a third of the 8,200 people in city jails were held pre-trial on misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies. More than 90 percent of the jail population is people of color. The commission, led by former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, estimates substantial bail reform could reduce the population by 3,000 people.</p> <p>Deputy Senate Leader Michael Gianaris of Queens likes to remind reporters that the <a href="https://justleadershipusa.org/campaign/freenewyork/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">FREEnewyork campaign</a>, composed of more than 150 grassroots groups, has dubbed his <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s3579/amendment/a" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bail reform bill</a> with Manhattan Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell the “gold standard.” It eliminates cash bail and was a non-starter in the Republican-controlled Senate.</p> <p>Under the Gianaris/O’Donnell bill, most defendants would be released on their own recognizance. Possible exceptions include witness intimidation cases, and felony cases where the defendant is accused of attempting to seriously injure another person.</p> <p>Anyone eligible for pretrial incarceration would be entitled to a hearing where a judge evaluates evidence and considers less-restrictive alternatives, like mandatory check-ins. These hearings would mark a “huge step forward,” says JoAnne Page, president of the Fortune Society, a nonprofit that provides prison reentry services. Currently, setting bail is “a decision that happens in a heartbeat.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy20/exec/artvii/ppgg-artvii.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget proposal</a> also eliminates cash bail and mandates pretrial hearings. However, his net of eligibility for pretrial detention is much wider, including Class A felonies like murder, conspiracy, and controlled substance charges; most violent B and C felonies like rape, assault and weapon possession (burglary and robbery are excluded); and cases where the judge deems the defendant a threat to the physical safety of someone in their family or household, regardless of the severity of the charges.</p> <p>Alphonso David, Cuomo’s counsel, told Gotham Gazette that the governor intentionally excluded controversial public safety <a href="https://civilrights.org/more-than-100-civil-rights-digital-justice-and-community-based-organizations-raise-concerns-about-pretrial-risk-assessment/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">assessment tools</a> (which Mayor Bill de Blasio <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/city-state-n-y-jail-solution-article-1.3738231" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has endorsed</a>). These tools rely on <a href="https://craftmediabucket.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/PDFs/PSA-Risk-Factors-and-Formula.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">data points</a> like a defendant’s age and criminal history, and have been met with allegations of racial bias in <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/bail-reform-tech-justice/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New Jersey</a> and<a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/california-ended-cash-bail-but-may-have-replaced-it-with-something-even-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> California</a>.</p> <p>But if decarceration is the goal, advocates warn, the net of eligibility for pretrial incarceration must be much smaller -- lest judges balk at losing cash bail and fall back on detention.</p> <p>“Unfortunately, the same decision-makers who are deciding to set bail on our clients now are going to be the ones who decide whether or not, after an evidentiary hearing, to keep that person remanded,” says Legal Aid Society attorney Marie Ndiaye. “The only thing you can do to really, really decarcerate is just by really, really limiting the number of people who could even be eligible for that kind of treatment."</p> <p>Cuomo also wants electronic monitoring as an option for people charged with felonies and domestic violence misdemeanors. “When you have something like electronic monitoring there’s a very real risk that it means the expansion of social control,” warns Page, of the Fortune Society. “The threshold you pass before you put an electronic bracelet on someone is much lower than locking them up.”</p> <p>Last year, the Assembly passed a <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A10137&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Memo=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">proposal</a> that would have preserved cash bail and electronic monitoring in felony and domestic violence misdemeanor cases -- a broad category that includes verbal threats. “I'll be the first one to say the Assembly bill wasn't good enough,” Heastie told advocates Thursday.</p> <p>O’Donnell also dismissed the Walker bill as a relic earlier this month. “In previous years the Assembly would come up with bills we thought might pass muster in the Republican Senate,” he explained. “Those days are over. I would hope that my colleagues would come around and take this bolder approach.”</p> <p>But there is still substantial Democratic support in the Assembly for the domestic violence provisions in the Walker bill. “There are going to be enough Democrats, me among them, who will be raising the issue,” said Assemblymember Amy Paulin of Scarsdale. “If we don't protect domestic violence [victims], I won't be voting for the bill.”</p> <p>“Whether it's cash bail or pretrial detention I'm not worried about that,” added Assemblymember Patricia Fahy of Albany. “My interest is the bottom line…that we are not tying any judicial hands in keeping our streets safe, or our households safe.”</p> <p>This is a point of entry for the state District Attorneys Association, which opposes expansive bail reform on the grounds that it curtails prosecutorial discretion. “We have serious concerns about, with the swipe of a pen, creating a proposal that has calamitous effects on public safety,” Albany County District Attorney David Soares told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Domestic violence advocates in the FREEnewyork campaign say this logic is at odds with the ultimate goal of significantly decreasing jail populations, and relies too heavily on the perceptions of law enforcement. “Particularly for LGBTQ people,” cautions Audacia Ray of the New York City Anti-Violence project, “the way police and prosecutors perceive what is happening is often faulty and racist.”</p> <p>Senate and Assembly leaders tell Gotham Gazette that they hope to come up with a compromise before budget negotiations, which are set to begin in earnest in March. A budget deal is due April 1. “The old ways of Albany involved trading one thing against an unrelated thing,” Gianaris said. “The new New York Senate is trying hard to break that mold.”</p> <p>“The tricky thing with bail,” he added, “is that if we don’t do it right, things can get worse rather than better.”</p> <p>

***
by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/gov-cuomo-provide-update-clinton.jpg" alt="gov cuomo provide update clinton" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: the governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Taking the stage at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park last September, Governor Andrew Cuomo promised to end cash bail “once and for all,” a move that would launch New York into the national spotlight with New Jersey and California. “In America you are still innocent until proven guilty,” he told the cheering crowd. “And that’s whether you’re black or white. That’s whether you’re rich or poor.”</p> <p>The elimination of the cash bail system, under which poor black and Hispanic New Yorkers are <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/05/19/report-rikers-still-full-of-new-yorkers-who-cant-afford-bail/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">disproportionately incarcerated</a> pre-trial, does seem imminent thanks to a new Democratic majority in the state Senate. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, whose chamber last year passed legislation that only limited cash bail, assured faith leaders at Trinity Chapel in Manhattan on Thursday that, “I support a 100-percent-ending-of-cash-bail system.”</p> <p>But big questions remain: who will be eligible for pretrial incarceration, what constraints will be put on judges, the reach of controversial ankle bracelets.</p> <p>Cuomo’s recently-released budget proposal calls for more extensive pretrial detention and monitoring than an advocate-backed bill in the Legislature, and several Democrats told Gotham Gazette they want broad judicial discretion on domestic violence cases: a red flag for advocates who see a window for bias. As Democrats use their new power to rapidly pass progressive legislation, bail reform, in all its complexity, could prove a test of how far they’ll go.</p> <p>“We have to remember there's a presumption of innocence,” warns Democratic Assemblymember Dan Quart of Manhattan. “The point of bail is not to judge or adjudicate people.”</p> <p>The New York City jail population has decreased by 1,500 over the last two years, according to a&nbsp;<a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b6de4731aef1de914f43628/t/5c198f9af950b7863cd60bac/1545179066057/Progress+Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">December report</a> from the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice. Still, as of September more than a third of the 8,200 people in city jails were held pre-trial on misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies. More than 90 percent of the jail population is people of color. The commission, led by former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, estimates substantial bail reform could reduce the population by 3,000 people.</p> <p>Deputy Senate Leader Michael Gianaris of Queens likes to remind reporters that the <a href="https://justleadershipusa.org/campaign/freenewyork/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">FREEnewyork campaign</a>, composed of more than 150 grassroots groups, has dubbed his <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s3579/amendment/a" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bail reform bill</a> with Manhattan Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell the “gold standard.” It eliminates cash bail and was a non-starter in the Republican-controlled Senate.</p> <p>Under the Gianaris/O’Donnell bill, most defendants would be released on their own recognizance. Possible exceptions include witness intimidation cases, and felony cases where the defendant is accused of attempting to seriously injure another person.</p> <p>Anyone eligible for pretrial incarceration would be entitled to a hearing where a judge evaluates evidence and considers less-restrictive alternatives, like mandatory check-ins. These hearings would mark a “huge step forward,” says JoAnne Page, president of the Fortune Society, a nonprofit that provides prison reentry services. Currently, setting bail is “a decision that happens in a heartbeat.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy20/exec/artvii/ppgg-artvii.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget proposal</a> also eliminates cash bail and mandates pretrial hearings. However, his net of eligibility for pretrial detention is much wider, including Class A felonies like murder, conspiracy, and controlled substance charges; most violent B and C felonies like rape, assault and weapon possession (burglary and robbery are excluded); and cases where the judge deems the defendant a threat to the physical safety of someone in their family or household, regardless of the severity of the charges.</p> <p>Alphonso David, Cuomo’s counsel, told Gotham Gazette that the governor intentionally excluded controversial public safety <a href="https://civilrights.org/more-than-100-civil-rights-digital-justice-and-community-based-organizations-raise-concerns-about-pretrial-risk-assessment/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">assessment tools</a> (which Mayor Bill de Blasio <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/city-state-n-y-jail-solution-article-1.3738231" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has endorsed</a>). These tools rely on <a href="https://craftmediabucket.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/PDFs/PSA-Risk-Factors-and-Formula.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">data points</a> like a defendant’s age and criminal history, and have been met with allegations of racial bias in <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/bail-reform-tech-justice/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New Jersey</a> and<a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/california-ended-cash-bail-but-may-have-replaced-it-with-something-even-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> California</a>.</p> <p>But if decarceration is the goal, advocates warn, the net of eligibility for pretrial incarceration must be much smaller -- lest judges balk at losing cash bail and fall back on detention.</p> <p>“Unfortunately, the same decision-makers who are deciding to set bail on our clients now are going to be the ones who decide whether or not, after an evidentiary hearing, to keep that person remanded,” says Legal Aid Society attorney Marie Ndiaye. “The only thing you can do to really, really decarcerate is just by really, really limiting the number of people who could even be eligible for that kind of treatment."</p> <p>Cuomo also wants electronic monitoring as an option for people charged with felonies and domestic violence misdemeanors. “When you have something like electronic monitoring there’s a very real risk that it means the expansion of social control,” warns Page, of the Fortune Society. “The threshold you pass before you put an electronic bracelet on someone is much lower than locking them up.”</p> <p>Last year, the Assembly passed a <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A10137&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Memo=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">proposal</a> that would have preserved cash bail and electronic monitoring in felony and domestic violence misdemeanor cases -- a broad category that includes verbal threats. “I'll be the first one to say the Assembly bill wasn't good enough,” Heastie told advocates Thursday.</p> <p>O’Donnell also dismissed the Walker bill as a relic earlier this month. “In previous years the Assembly would come up with bills we thought might pass muster in the Republican Senate,” he explained. “Those days are over. I would hope that my colleagues would come around and take this bolder approach.”</p> <p>But there is still substantial Democratic support in the Assembly for the domestic violence provisions in the Walker bill. “There are going to be enough Democrats, me among them, who will be raising the issue,” said Assemblymember Amy Paulin of Scarsdale. “If we don't protect domestic violence [victims], I won't be voting for the bill.”</p> <p>“Whether it's cash bail or pretrial detention I'm not worried about that,” added Assemblymember Patricia Fahy of Albany. “My interest is the bottom line…that we are not tying any judicial hands in keeping our streets safe, or our households safe.”</p> <p>This is a point of entry for the state District Attorneys Association, which opposes expansive bail reform on the grounds that it curtails prosecutorial discretion. “We have serious concerns about, with the swipe of a pen, creating a proposal that has calamitous effects on public safety,” Albany County District Attorney David Soares told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Domestic violence advocates in the FREEnewyork campaign say this logic is at odds with the ultimate goal of significantly decreasing jail populations, and relies too heavily on the perceptions of law enforcement. “Particularly for LGBTQ people,” cautions Audacia Ray of the New York City Anti-Violence project, “the way police and prosecutors perceive what is happening is often faulty and racist.”</p> <p>Senate and Assembly leaders tell Gotham Gazette that they hope to come up with a compromise before budget negotiations, which are set to begin in earnest in March. A budget deal is due April 1. “The old ways of Albany involved trading one thing against an unrelated thing,” Gianaris said. “The new New York Senate is trying hard to break that mold.”</p> <p>“The tricky thing with bail,” he added, “is that if we don’t do it right, things can get worse rather than better.”</p> <p>

***
by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Commission Recommends Pay Increases and Ethics Reforms for State Legislators 2018-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8125-commission-recommends-pay-increases-and-ethics-reforms-for-state-legislators Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/senatechamberalbany2.jpg" alt="senatechamberalbany2" /></p> <p>(Photo via Wiki Commons)</p> <hr /> <p>Statewide elected officials, legislators and agency heads are slated to get pay raises next year following recommendations issued Thursday by a four-member panel that was created in this year’s state budget.</p> <p>The New York State Compensation Committee voted on Thursday to raise the salaries of legislators for the first time in nearly twenty years, as well as for the four statewide offices and for executive agency commissioners. The committee will publicly release a report and deliver it to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature on Monday outlining their binding recommendations on phasing in the salary increases over three years, accompanied by certain ethics reform measures. The raises will go into effect by January 1 unless the state legislature meets and rejects them.</p> <p>The committee -- which included State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former State Comptroller and SUNY Board Chair Carl McCall, and former New York City Comptroller and CUNY Board Chair Bill Thompson -- was created in the state budget to determine an appropriate raise for legislators, based on cost of living and on salaries for legislators in other states. The current base pay for state legislators stands at $79,500 and has remained unchanged since 1999.</p> <p>Per the panel’s unanimous recommendations, salaries for legislators will be raised to $130,000 by 2021, with lawmakers set to receive $110,000 in 2019 and $120,000 in 2020. The commission also recommended limiting outside income for legislators to 15 percent of their salary, in line with the rules for members of Congress, and the elimination of committee stipends -- commonly referred to as lulus -- for all but the top leadership in both legislative chambers.</p> <p>“I think in looking at the fact that they haven’t had a raise in twenty years...when you talk about the issues of fairness, it is not the right thing,” Thompson said, arguing that the idea that legislators only work part-time is a mischaracterization due to their in-district work. The limits on outside income will take effect in 2020, because, according to McCall, legislators would need time to disengage from their outside income-generating activities and could not do so right away.</p> <p>The panel also endorsed raising the governor’s salary to $250,000 by 2021, up from the current $179,000. The lieutenant governor, attorney general, and state comptroller, each of whom currently make $151,000, will see their pay rise to $210,000 salary by 2021. DiNapoli recused himself from that vote.</p> <p>The pay raise committee was originally meant to be chaired by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, but DiFiore announced in May that she would not serve because she believed a judge determining legislative pay was unconstitutional. The broader constitutionality of the committee has also been challenged, as it is still unclear whether a pay raise can be authorized by outside officials or if it must be approved by the legislature. The panel members, however, insisted that their recommendations are enforceable for all their proposals except the raises for the governor and lieutenant governor, which must be approved by a joint resolution of the legislature. They also maintained that tying the raises to an outside income limitation and curbing committee stipends was within their authority, which could potentially invite legal challenges going forward.</p> <p>When the salary raises are fully implemented by 2021, New York will surpass California and have the highest-paid governor and legislature in the nation. McCall noted that coupling the pay increase with outside income limitations would also quell the discontent New Yorkers feel about giving raises to a legislature that has long been marred by scandal and corruption. “We really have to make sure that we send the signals to the public about how serious they are about doing their job and doing it well,” McCall said.</p> <p>For executive agency heads, the panel proposed four classes of salary, a decrease from the current six, which will be assigned depending on the agency. By 2021, commissioners in the top class will make $220,000 and commissioners in the bottom class will make $170,000.</p> <p>Legislative leaders have expressed support for the panel’s recommendations. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced her support for the measure on Thursday, hours before the meeting, while also concurrently declaring support for ethics reform. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie testified to the Commission last week in favor of the raise, noting that legislators have financial strains similar to their constituents. “They too must finance college loans, meet the cost of child care, and provide for the wellbeing of elderly parents and loved ones at home,” Heastie said. He further argued that, because so many legislators live in the expensive New York City metro area, a pay raise was warranted to more adequately reflect the high cost of living here.</p> <p>The New York Public Interest Research Group, which advocates for government reform, was skeptical of the panel’s recommendations, pushing for a more comprehensive set of “corruption-busting” reforms. “While we agree that the Congressional model is appropriate to regulate legislators’ outside income, advancing a reform in this area alone is inadequate,” said NYPIRG’s Blair Horner, in a statement. “We note that the ethical problems that have plagued the state have not been limited to the legislative branch. Given the stunning pay-to-play scandals that have rocked government, reforms in that area must be addressed. Failure to do so highlights the inadequacy of the reform package.”</p> <p>

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/senatechamberalbany2.jpg" alt="senatechamberalbany2" /></p> <p>(Photo via Wiki Commons)</p> <hr /> <p>Statewide elected officials, legislators and agency heads are slated to get pay raises next year following recommendations issued Thursday by a four-member panel that was created in this year’s state budget.</p> <p>The New York State Compensation Committee voted on Thursday to raise the salaries of legislators for the first time in nearly twenty years, as well as for the four statewide offices and for executive agency commissioners. The committee will publicly release a report and deliver it to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature on Monday outlining their binding recommendations on phasing in the salary increases over three years, accompanied by certain ethics reform measures. The raises will go into effect by January 1 unless the state legislature meets and rejects them.</p> <p>The committee -- which included State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former State Comptroller and SUNY Board Chair Carl McCall, and former New York City Comptroller and CUNY Board Chair Bill Thompson -- was created in the state budget to determine an appropriate raise for legislators, based on cost of living and on salaries for legislators in other states. The current base pay for state legislators stands at $79,500 and has remained unchanged since 1999.</p> <p>Per the panel’s unanimous recommendations, salaries for legislators will be raised to $130,000 by 2021, with lawmakers set to receive $110,000 in 2019 and $120,000 in 2020. The commission also recommended limiting outside income for legislators to 15 percent of their salary, in line with the rules for members of Congress, and the elimination of committee stipends -- commonly referred to as lulus -- for all but the top leadership in both legislative chambers.</p> <p>“I think in looking at the fact that they haven’t had a raise in twenty years...when you talk about the issues of fairness, it is not the right thing,” Thompson said, arguing that the idea that legislators only work part-time is a mischaracterization due to their in-district work. The limits on outside income will take effect in 2020, because, according to McCall, legislators would need time to disengage from their outside income-generating activities and could not do so right away.</p> <p>The panel also endorsed raising the governor’s salary to $250,000 by 2021, up from the current $179,000. The lieutenant governor, attorney general, and state comptroller, each of whom currently make $151,000, will see their pay rise to $210,000 salary by 2021. DiNapoli recused himself from that vote.</p> <p>The pay raise committee was originally meant to be chaired by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, but DiFiore announced in May that she would not serve because she believed a judge determining legislative pay was unconstitutional. The broader constitutionality of the committee has also been challenged, as it is still unclear whether a pay raise can be authorized by outside officials or if it must be approved by the legislature. The panel members, however, insisted that their recommendations are enforceable for all their proposals except the raises for the governor and lieutenant governor, which must be approved by a joint resolution of the legislature. They also maintained that tying the raises to an outside income limitation and curbing committee stipends was within their authority, which could potentially invite legal challenges going forward.</p> <p>When the salary raises are fully implemented by 2021, New York will surpass California and have the highest-paid governor and legislature in the nation. McCall noted that coupling the pay increase with outside income limitations would also quell the discontent New Yorkers feel about giving raises to a legislature that has long been marred by scandal and corruption. “We really have to make sure that we send the signals to the public about how serious they are about doing their job and doing it well,” McCall said.</p> <p>For executive agency heads, the panel proposed four classes of salary, a decrease from the current six, which will be assigned depending on the agency. By 2021, commissioners in the top class will make $220,000 and commissioners in the bottom class will make $170,000.</p> <p>Legislative leaders have expressed support for the panel’s recommendations. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced her support for the measure on Thursday, hours before the meeting, while also concurrently declaring support for ethics reform. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie testified to the Commission last week in favor of the raise, noting that legislators have financial strains similar to their constituents. “They too must finance college loans, meet the cost of child care, and provide for the wellbeing of elderly parents and loved ones at home,” Heastie said. He further argued that, because so many legislators live in the expensive New York City metro area, a pay raise was warranted to more adequately reflect the high cost of living here.</p> <p>The New York Public Interest Research Group, which advocates for government reform, was skeptical of the panel’s recommendations, pushing for a more comprehensive set of “corruption-busting” reforms. “While we agree that the Congressional model is appropriate to regulate legislators’ outside income, advancing a reform in this area alone is inadequate,” said NYPIRG’s Blair Horner, in a statement. “We note that the ethical problems that have plagued the state have not been limited to the legislative branch. Given the stunning pay-to-play scandals that have rocked government, reforms in that area must be addressed. Failure to do so highlights the inadequacy of the reform package.”</p> <p>

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
As Democratic Senate Becomes Reality, Unclear How Hard Assembly Majority Will Push Prior Agenda 2018-11-25T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-25T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8083-as-democratic-senate-becomes-reality-unclear-how-hard-assembly-majority-will-push-prior-agenda Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/how-hard-push.jpg" alt="how hard push" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (photo via the Governor's office}</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>As New York lurches out of election season and looks to what issues the state legislative session in 2019 could tackle, the Assembly is in an unfamiliar position as something more than a purgatory for progressive priorities. For years, the lower house of the Legislature was a place where progressive goals like criminal justice and voting reforms, the DREAM Act, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, the New York Health Act, and the Climate and Communities Protection Act could reliably be passed thanks to a huge Democratic majority. And every time those bills passed the Assembly, the state Senate, controlled by either Republicans or an alliance of Republicans and breakaway Democrats, would almost always keep the companion legislation in committee, far from a floor vote.</p> <p>But with Democrats about to take control of the state Senate in addition to the governor’s mansion, the Assembly will in 2019 have a chance to actually see bills they’ve passed every year get a real debate in Albany. And advocates and activists are waiting expectantly for just that scenario to happen, their sense of urgency heightened in the Trump era, which led their efforts to help flip the state Senate so it is no longer a roadblock.</p> <p>While the state Senate Democrats will not be in the same political universe as the outgoing Republican majority, the conference will still need to sort out its priorities, including how those of some of its tax-averse suburban and upstate members, who’ll need to win re-election in 2020, align with the city-dominated Assembly. One-party rule may not be the rubber stamp <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8009-senate-republicans-leave-molinaro-out-of-only-hope-messaging" target="_blank" rel="noopener">that Republicans warned it would be</a> during the election, especially as the new state Senate majority will have to get its footing under a dominating and fairly moderate governor. Cuomo also <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7969-cuomo-begins-push-to-flip-state-senate-and-house-of-representatives" target="_blank" rel="noopener">campaigned for</a> the newly-elected state Senators from Long Island, as well as the Hudson Valley’s Peter Harckham and Brooklyn’s Andrew Gounardes, which in theory, and his own telling, gives him some sway over them that may counteract the influence of grassroots activists who worked to elect a Democratic Senate.</p> <p>By appearances, a wave of progressive legislation bursting out of Albany and washing over New York would be an expected natural occurrence. Democrats are in possession of a supermajority in the Assembly and Senate, one whose membership stretches from Suffolk County to upstate and western New York and whose new members did not shy away from embracing far-left progressive priorities like single-payer healthcare. Carl Heastie, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/07/upshot/ranking-carl-heastie-by-ideological-score.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">once found to be one of the most liberal legislators in all of America</a>, remains the Assembly Speaker, and Democrats have a 106-43 advantage in the chamber. One significant question now hanging over state government: how hard left will the Assembly push?</p> <p>Their long-sought situation in the Legislature leaves progressive activists like Jonathan Westin, the executive director of economic justice organization New York Communities for Change, feeling hopeful for the session to come. “I think the Assembly has been committed to a lot of progressive legislation for a long time and we expect them to continue to do that,” Westin told Gotham Gazette. “A lot of the grassroots base is ready to push but at the same time we feel pretty confident that the Assembly is gonna go forward and pass a lot of these bills.”</p> <p>In his first year as speaker, Heastie <a href="https://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2015/02/ny_state_assembly_speaker_carl_heasties_priorities_minimum_wage_higher_ed_housin.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">laid out a series of now-familiar priorities</a> for the 2015 Assembly Democrats. Passing the DREAM Act, raising the state’s minimum wage, reforming the state’s rent laws in a more tenant-friendly direction. While the DREAM Act has still not come to the floor of the state Senate <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/nyregion/new-york-senate-rejects-measure-to-give-illegal-immigrants-state-tuition-aid.html?ref=nyregion&amp;_r=0&amp;gwh=CCC9DCBD03DC8F8F09DB489A0951BB32&amp;gwt=regi" target="_blank" rel="noopener">since a failed 2014 vote</a> and the state’s rent stabilization laws <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2015/06/accord-reached-on-421-a-program-rent-law-renewal-023406" target="_blank" rel="noopener">were renewed but not drastically changed</a> in 2015, progressives did see a victory when Cuomo prioritized and pushed through the Republican Senate <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-new-york-minimumwage/new-yorks-cuomo-signs-two-tier-minimum-wage-law-in-push-for-state-wide-15-hour-idUSKCN0X11Y1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a $15 minimum wage program of sorts in 2016</a>.</p> <p>Heastie used the 2018 legislative session to <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/Press/files/20180205.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">again push for the DREAM Act</a> to become law, and also <a href="https://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/files/20180515.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">highlighted Assembly legislation</a> to alter a suite of rent regulations essential to hundreds of thousands of units of affordable housing in New York City. Assembly Democrats also passed the New York Health Act, which would institute single-payer health care, <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/Press/files/20180614.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">for the fourth straight year in 2018</a>, <a href="https://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/files/20180507a.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">GENDA for the tenth straight year</a>, major climate change fighting legislation (the CCPA) <a href="http://www.nyrenews.org/news/2018/6/21/cuomo-senate-punt-again-on-climate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">for the third straight year</a>, and the Reproductive Health Act , which would codify Roe v. Wade into state law, <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/Press/files/20180313d.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">for the fifth straight year</a>.</p> <p>What’s different about the upcoming legislative session is not only have Democrats captured the state Senate, but a good chunk of the new legislators going to Albany are staunch progressive voices who were sent to office by furious left-wing organizing both old and new.</p> <p>Democrats like Zellnor Myrie and Jessica Ramos made things like major overhauls of the rent laws and repeal of the Urstadt Law, which keeps New York City from setting its own rent-stabilization laws, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/RamosforStateSenate/videos/landlord-loopholes-we-must-close-in-order-to-protect-renters-%EF%B8%8F-mcis%EF%B8%8F-vacancy-dec/222969148397305/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">centerpieces</a> of their insurgent state Senate <a href="https://zellnorforstatesenate.com/platform/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">campaigns</a>. In the Hudson Valley, newly-elected Senators Harckham and Jen Metzger both embraced the New York Health Act as feasible and worthwhile, and DREAM Act-supporting activists from Make the Road Action, the immigrant and working class advocacy organization, <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/campaigns-elections/will-democratic-volunteers-help-swing-state-senate.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">helped power</a> Long Island state Senator John Brooks and state Senator-elect Jim Gaughran to their swing-district wins.</p> <p>On the other hand, there are already <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-senate-democrats-seddio-jacobs-schaffer-zellner-20181111-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">powerful figures in the party suggesting</a> that long-sought leftist priorities are toxic outside of New York City, leadership in the Legislature will have to tamp down enthusiasm for any bills that might raise taxes, and Cuomo said in an interview that he thinks something like single-payer health care <a href="https://twitter.com/DaveCoIon/status/1063105886745444353" target="_blank" rel="noopener">will get bottled up by the governing processes</a> that separate campaign rhetoric from reality.</p> <p>Incoming Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins herself said “We’re not coming in there to raise people’s taxes,” <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in an interview on WBAI’s Max &amp; Murphy</a>. But she did also lay out priorities for the conference to start, naming things like reproductive rights, the Child Victims Act, and said, “I’m sure that will be able to do something about that early on” when it comes to instituting early voting in New York.</p> <p>In the Assembly, Heastie sent out a list of priorities just after the election, a mashup of specific socially liberal and more vague fiscally liberal policies that are familiar to many. Called out by name for passage are the Child Victims Act, the Reproductive Health Act, banning gun bump stocks, speedy trial reform, and electoral &nbsp;and campaign finance reforms like no-fault absentee voting, closing the LLC loophole, and early voting.</p> <p>But while the speaker wrote that New Yorkers “deserve a healthcare system that guarantees coverage for all,” there’s no mention of the New York Health Act or the state-run single-payer system it would create. No specifics are listed for the rent reforms while Heastie states “The Assembly Majority is ready to pass legislation to extend and strengthen programs that protect low and middle income tenants to keep them from being priced out of their homes and communities,” (though Heastie <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/housing/democrats-control-state-senate-real-estate-fears-worst.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reportedly told a pair of real estate representatives</a> at the Somos conference that vacancy decontrol and preferential rent are history) and the DREAM Act is nowhere to be found, nor a mention of any environmental policy (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8028-climate-change-and-what-to-do-about-it-largely-missing-from-governor-s-race" target="_blank" rel="noopener">though that isn’t a total aberration</a>). Heastie's office declined an interview request, pointing Gotham Gazette to the speaker's post-election missive.</p> <p>And even though some of the more famous liberal priorities aren’t mentioned by name, the focus on electoral reform appears to be a place where the base and the Assembly line up perfectly, with the upcoming Senate majority and Cuomo apparently in the same mindset, too, though the details will need to be hammered out.</p> <p>Working Families Party political director Bill Lipton told Gotham Gazette that he doesn’t expect the Assembly’s “long, progressive history” to change under Carl Heastie and a new Albany order, and that he’s happy to see people willing to tackle electoral issues.</p> <p>“We can't repair the damage unless we face head on the contradiction of financing election campaigns with wealthy donors who want tax cuts, contracts and loopholes for themselves,” Lipton wrote to Gotham Gazette in a statement. “The result both nationally and here in New York has been disastrous,” Lipton wrote, while highlighting <a href="https://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;bn=A9281&amp;term=2015&amp;Memo=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a small-donor matching funds program</a> that he hopes the state institutes now that there’s a Democratic trifecta. Campaign finance reform is something Cuomo has long-pledged support for, not moved through the Republican Senate, and promised to deliver with a fully Democratic Legislature.</p> <p>Westin also endorsed a starting focus on electoral reform: “the one thing that's been in common in New York is the influence of real estate money and we have to clean it up once and for all. Carl and the Assembly have a real opportunity to do that, and I think is one of the biggest things that needs to happen quickly,” he said.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>There is some reason for progressives to have concerns in the Assembly though, according to Sean McElwee, the co-founder of progressive think tank Data for Progress. While McElwee pointed to the progressive wave that elected a large piece of the Democrats’ state Senate majority, that energetic mandate wasn’t seen in Assembly elections. “In the Assembly you've basically had a bunch of Democrats who were like the [Republican] House of Representatives under Obama. They kept passing an Obamacare repeal, and once it was time to pass it for real, there were some cold feet. I worry about that dynamic with the Assembly. When I've talked to the New York Renews coalition about the CCPA, they've said silently, ‘Yeah we're gonna have real problems in the Assembly when it comes time to pass this,’ and the same for Medicare for All advocates.”</p> <p>It’s not an out-of-hand fear for progressives, who can look to neighboring New Jersey and the fact that legislators <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/nj-democrats-loved-the-idea-of-taxing-the-rich---until-they-actually-could-do-it/2018/05/23/259e55c8-5d4f-11e8-a4a4-c070ef53f315_story.html?noredirect=on&amp;utm_term=.e8773c33c162" target="_blank" rel="noopener">backed away from pledges to tax the rich</a> and <a href="https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/new-jersey/2018/10/22/nj-lawmakers-miss-october-deadline-vote-legal-weed/1731485002/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">didn’t get a slam dunk on legalizing recreational marijuana</a> despite Democrats having total control of the government.</p> <p>But those activists who powered the anti-IDC candidates and Long Island Democrats to victories aren’t planning on sitting on their hands. “We may see some Assemblypeople who previously voted for some things be hesitant about putting their votes behind them,” Mia Pearlman, the co-founder of progressive grassroots organization True Blue New York, told Gotham Gazette. “So if it comes to that, we fully plan to be lobbying in Albany and on the ground in the district of any elected representative who we feel can be swayed, needs to be swayed, needs support, needs pressure to vote for legislation that we're supporting.” Pearlman did say that even though there might be some hesitant members, she felt that there were also plenty of members of the Assembly who were ready to get to work on passing the bills that had died in the Senate in past years.</p> <p>While Pearlman echoed the call to tackle an issue like electoral reform early on, she also said she and her allies very much expect the Assembly to make reasonable progress on the other bills that have been stymied in previous years. On something like the New York Health Act, for instance, she said that while the bill doesn’t have to be passed for the sake of being passed, she wants to see an actual debate move forward on it to find the best way possible to provide universal comprehensive healthcare coverage, a line of thinking that aligned with Harckham’s call for hearings and passing a bill by the end of his first two-year term.</p> <p>“The idea that it's somehow a victory for the Assembly to have such a big majority solely so they can say ‘Yay we have a majority’ is sort of absurd,” Pearlman said. “The purpose of having a big majority is to actually do something with it, to pass legislation, not just pat ourselves on the back and say ‘Look how many members we have.’ So we expect after all these years of waiting that they'll use that majority to write legislation and get things done.”</p> <p>The Assembly could, in theory, pass the existing version of all of the bottled up left-leaning bills that haven’t made it out of the state Senate for years, and put the onus on the new Senate, as well as the governor. But it seems needlessly adversarial for the Assembly to get off on that kind of footing with a more ideologically similar Senate conference, which in all likelihood they’ll need in negotiations with a governor more prone to triangulation, political centrism, and describing his <a href="https://www.thedailybeast.com/andrew-cuomo-wont-stop-lying-now-to-cynthia-nixon-he-admits-it" target="_blank" rel="noopener">progressive opponents</a> as “<a href="https://www.dailyfreeman.com/news/cuomo-coasts-in-ny-dem-primary-for-governor-lt-gov/article_b2905a1f-e322-5b84-9a5c-7bedf633934c.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">dreamers not doers</a>” than he’s known for bold leftism.</p> <p>The new situation in Albany is also an opportunity for government to work differently, Pearlman suggested, opening things up and making it more transparent, especially during the budget season. “We don't have to have three men in a room or two men and a woman in the room, that is not written in our state constitution that the budget has to be written at the last possible minute behind closed doors,” Pearlman said. “What we're hoping is that the conference leaders will look at the process of how things are done in Albany and demand they're done in a more transparent and more equitable and better way.”</p> <p>At the moment though, Stewart-Cousins doesn’t seem keen on blowing up the process, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8085-andrea-stewart-cousins-on-taking-the-senate-reins-the-democratic-agenda-getting-inside-the-room" target="_blank" rel="noopener">as she told Max &amp; Murphy</a>, “I’m interested to see how this thing really works as well. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of opinions once I’ve actually been part of it,” in response to whether she plans to make the budget process more transparent.</p> <p>Cuomo also campaigned on keeping state spending tethered to the (<a href="https://cbcny.org/research/when-2-percent-isnt-2-percent" target="_blank" rel="noopener">somewhat rhetorical</a>) two percent cap he instituted during his first term, and has <a href="https://twitter.com/ZackFinkNews/status/1064553822717190145" target="_blank" rel="noopener">flatly said</a> an additional tax on high-earners to raise revenue for the MTA will not be happening, even speaking for the Legislature before the next session has started. So as for what might make it through the budget, McElwee said he predicts progressives can get “one big budget-buster” through the process each year, and if he had to play favorites, he’d pick the Climate and Communities Protection Act. “For me and I think a lot of millennials, climate change is the biggest existential threat we change. And I think a policy that can mitigate that while also creating jobs and infrastructure would be a sort of progressive model for the county,” he said.</p> <p>But ultimately, progressive activists say they aren’t taking anything for granted, even as people talk about the Democratic majority in the state Senate as a permanent one. “Politics is all about waves and momentum, and if you don't capitalize on the momentum you never know where you're gonna end up in the future,” Westin told Gotham Gazette. “I think our belief is we need to pass all the priorities this cycle, as you see even on the federal level and clearly in the state too, you never know what the next configuration is going to look like, and we don't want to waste this opportunity.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/how-hard-push.jpg" alt="how hard push" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (photo via the Governor's office}</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>As New York lurches out of election season and looks to what issues the state legislative session in 2019 could tackle, the Assembly is in an unfamiliar position as something more than a purgatory for progressive priorities. For years, the lower house of the Legislature was a place where progressive goals like criminal justice and voting reforms, the DREAM Act, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, the New York Health Act, and the Climate and Communities Protection Act could reliably be passed thanks to a huge Democratic majority. And every time those bills passed the Assembly, the state Senate, controlled by either Republicans or an alliance of Republicans and breakaway Democrats, would almost always keep the companion legislation in committee, far from a floor vote.</p> <p>But with Democrats about to take control of the state Senate in addition to the governor’s mansion, the Assembly will in 2019 have a chance to actually see bills they’ve passed every year get a real debate in Albany. And advocates and activists are waiting expectantly for just that scenario to happen, their sense of urgency heightened in the Trump era, which led their efforts to help flip the state Senate so it is no longer a roadblock.</p> <p>While the state Senate Democrats will not be in the same political universe as the outgoing Republican majority, the conference will still need to sort out its priorities, including how those of some of its tax-averse suburban and upstate members, who’ll need to win re-election in 2020, align with the city-dominated Assembly. One-party rule may not be the rubber stamp <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8009-senate-republicans-leave-molinaro-out-of-only-hope-messaging" target="_blank" rel="noopener">that Republicans warned it would be</a> during the election, especially as the new state Senate majority will have to get its footing under a dominating and fairly moderate governor. Cuomo also <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7969-cuomo-begins-push-to-flip-state-senate-and-house-of-representatives" target="_blank" rel="noopener">campaigned for</a> the newly-elected state Senators from Long Island, as well as the Hudson Valley’s Peter Harckham and Brooklyn’s Andrew Gounardes, which in theory, and his own telling, gives him some sway over them that may counteract the influence of grassroots activists who worked to elect a Democratic Senate.</p> <p>By appearances, a wave of progressive legislation bursting out of Albany and washing over New York would be an expected natural occurrence. Democrats are in possession of a supermajority in the Assembly and Senate, one whose membership stretches from Suffolk County to upstate and western New York and whose new members did not shy away from embracing far-left progressive priorities like single-payer healthcare. Carl Heastie, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/07/upshot/ranking-carl-heastie-by-ideological-score.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">once found to be one of the most liberal legislators in all of America</a>, remains the Assembly Speaker, and Democrats have a 106-43 advantage in the chamber. One significant question now hanging over state government: how hard left will the Assembly push?</p> <p>Their long-sought situation in the Legislature leaves progressive activists like Jonathan Westin, the executive director of economic justice organization New York Communities for Change, feeling hopeful for the session to come. “I think the Assembly has been committed to a lot of progressive legislation for a long time and we expect them to continue to do that,” Westin told Gotham Gazette. “A lot of the grassroots base is ready to push but at the same time we feel pretty confident that the Assembly is gonna go forward and pass a lot of these bills.”</p> <p>In his first year as speaker, Heastie <a href="https://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2015/02/ny_state_assembly_speaker_carl_heasties_priorities_minimum_wage_higher_ed_housin.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">laid out a series of now-familiar priorities</a> for the 2015 Assembly Democrats. Passing the DREAM Act, raising the state’s minimum wage, reforming the state’s rent laws in a more tenant-friendly direction. While the DREAM Act has still not come to the floor of the state Senate <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/nyregion/new-york-senate-rejects-measure-to-give-illegal-immigrants-state-tuition-aid.html?ref=nyregion&amp;_r=0&amp;gwh=CCC9DCBD03DC8F8F09DB489A0951BB32&amp;gwt=regi" target="_blank" rel="noopener">since a failed 2014 vote</a> and the state’s rent stabilization laws <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2015/06/accord-reached-on-421-a-program-rent-law-renewal-023406" target="_blank" rel="noopener">were renewed but not drastically changed</a> in 2015, progressives did see a victory when Cuomo prioritized and pushed through the Republican Senate <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-new-york-minimumwage/new-yorks-cuomo-signs-two-tier-minimum-wage-law-in-push-for-state-wide-15-hour-idUSKCN0X11Y1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a $15 minimum wage program of sorts in 2016</a>.</p> <p>Heastie used the 2018 legislative session to <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/Press/files/20180205.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">again push for the DREAM Act</a> to become law, and also <a href="https://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/files/20180515.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">highlighted Assembly legislation</a> to alter a suite of rent regulations essential to hundreds of thousands of units of affordable housing in New York City. Assembly Democrats also passed the New York Health Act, which would institute single-payer health care, <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/Press/files/20180614.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">for the fourth straight year in 2018</a>, <a href="https://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/files/20180507a.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">GENDA for the tenth straight year</a>, major climate change fighting legislation (the CCPA) <a href="http://www.nyrenews.org/news/2018/6/21/cuomo-senate-punt-again-on-climate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">for the third straight year</a>, and the Reproductive Health Act , which would codify Roe v. Wade into state law, <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/Press/files/20180313d.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">for the fifth straight year</a>.</p> <p>What’s different about the upcoming legislative session is not only have Democrats captured the state Senate, but a good chunk of the new legislators going to Albany are staunch progressive voices who were sent to office by furious left-wing organizing both old and new.</p> <p>Democrats like Zellnor Myrie and Jessica Ramos made things like major overhauls of the rent laws and repeal of the Urstadt Law, which keeps New York City from setting its own rent-stabilization laws, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/RamosforStateSenate/videos/landlord-loopholes-we-must-close-in-order-to-protect-renters-%EF%B8%8F-mcis%EF%B8%8F-vacancy-dec/222969148397305/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">centerpieces</a> of their insurgent state Senate <a href="https://zellnorforstatesenate.com/platform/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">campaigns</a>. In the Hudson Valley, newly-elected Senators Harckham and Jen Metzger both embraced the New York Health Act as feasible and worthwhile, and DREAM Act-supporting activists from Make the Road Action, the immigrant and working class advocacy organization, <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/campaigns-elections/will-democratic-volunteers-help-swing-state-senate.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">helped power</a> Long Island state Senator John Brooks and state Senator-elect Jim Gaughran to their swing-district wins.</p> <p>On the other hand, there are already <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-senate-democrats-seddio-jacobs-schaffer-zellner-20181111-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">powerful figures in the party suggesting</a> that long-sought leftist priorities are toxic outside of New York City, leadership in the Legislature will have to tamp down enthusiasm for any bills that might raise taxes, and Cuomo said in an interview that he thinks something like single-payer health care <a href="https://twitter.com/DaveCoIon/status/1063105886745444353" target="_blank" rel="noopener">will get bottled up by the governing processes</a> that separate campaign rhetoric from reality.</p> <p>Incoming Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins herself said “We’re not coming in there to raise people’s taxes,” <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in an interview on WBAI’s Max &amp; Murphy</a>. But she did also lay out priorities for the conference to start, naming things like reproductive rights, the Child Victims Act, and said, “I’m sure that will be able to do something about that early on” when it comes to instituting early voting in New York.</p> <p>In the Assembly, Heastie sent out a list of priorities just after the election, a mashup of specific socially liberal and more vague fiscally liberal policies that are familiar to many. Called out by name for passage are the Child Victims Act, the Reproductive Health Act, banning gun bump stocks, speedy trial reform, and electoral &nbsp;and campaign finance reforms like no-fault absentee voting, closing the LLC loophole, and early voting.</p> <p>But while the speaker wrote that New Yorkers “deserve a healthcare system that guarantees coverage for all,” there’s no mention of the New York Health Act or the state-run single-payer system it would create. No specifics are listed for the rent reforms while Heastie states “The Assembly Majority is ready to pass legislation to extend and strengthen programs that protect low and middle income tenants to keep them from being priced out of their homes and communities,” (though Heastie <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/housing/democrats-control-state-senate-real-estate-fears-worst.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reportedly told a pair of real estate representatives</a> at the Somos conference that vacancy decontrol and preferential rent are history) and the DREAM Act is nowhere to be found, nor a mention of any environmental policy (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8028-climate-change-and-what-to-do-about-it-largely-missing-from-governor-s-race" target="_blank" rel="noopener">though that isn’t a total aberration</a>). Heastie's office declined an interview request, pointing Gotham Gazette to the speaker's post-election missive.</p> <p>And even though some of the more famous liberal priorities aren’t mentioned by name, the focus on electoral reform appears to be a place where the base and the Assembly line up perfectly, with the upcoming Senate majority and Cuomo apparently in the same mindset, too, though the details will need to be hammered out.</p> <p>Working Families Party political director Bill Lipton told Gotham Gazette that he doesn’t expect the Assembly’s “long, progressive history” to change under Carl Heastie and a new Albany order, and that he’s happy to see people willing to tackle electoral issues.</p> <p>“We can't repair the damage unless we face head on the contradiction of financing election campaigns with wealthy donors who want tax cuts, contracts and loopholes for themselves,” Lipton wrote to Gotham Gazette in a statement. “The result both nationally and here in New York has been disastrous,” Lipton wrote, while highlighting <a href="https://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;bn=A9281&amp;term=2015&amp;Memo=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a small-donor matching funds program</a> that he hopes the state institutes now that there’s a Democratic trifecta. Campaign finance reform is something Cuomo has long-pledged support for, not moved through the Republican Senate, and promised to deliver with a fully Democratic Legislature.</p> <p>Westin also endorsed a starting focus on electoral reform: “the one thing that's been in common in New York is the influence of real estate money and we have to clean it up once and for all. Carl and the Assembly have a real opportunity to do that, and I think is one of the biggest things that needs to happen quickly,” he said.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>There is some reason for progressives to have concerns in the Assembly though, according to Sean McElwee, the co-founder of progressive think tank Data for Progress. While McElwee pointed to the progressive wave that elected a large piece of the Democrats’ state Senate majority, that energetic mandate wasn’t seen in Assembly elections. “In the Assembly you've basically had a bunch of Democrats who were like the [Republican] House of Representatives under Obama. They kept passing an Obamacare repeal, and once it was time to pass it for real, there were some cold feet. I worry about that dynamic with the Assembly. When I've talked to the New York Renews coalition about the CCPA, they've said silently, ‘Yeah we're gonna have real problems in the Assembly when it comes time to pass this,’ and the same for Medicare for All advocates.”</p> <p>It’s not an out-of-hand fear for progressives, who can look to neighboring New Jersey and the fact that legislators <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/nj-democrats-loved-the-idea-of-taxing-the-rich---until-they-actually-could-do-it/2018/05/23/259e55c8-5d4f-11e8-a4a4-c070ef53f315_story.html?noredirect=on&amp;utm_term=.e8773c33c162" target="_blank" rel="noopener">backed away from pledges to tax the rich</a> and <a href="https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/new-jersey/2018/10/22/nj-lawmakers-miss-october-deadline-vote-legal-weed/1731485002/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">didn’t get a slam dunk on legalizing recreational marijuana</a> despite Democrats having total control of the government.</p> <p>But those activists who powered the anti-IDC candidates and Long Island Democrats to victories aren’t planning on sitting on their hands. “We may see some Assemblypeople who previously voted for some things be hesitant about putting their votes behind them,” Mia Pearlman, the co-founder of progressive grassroots organization True Blue New York, told Gotham Gazette. “So if it comes to that, we fully plan to be lobbying in Albany and on the ground in the district of any elected representative who we feel can be swayed, needs to be swayed, needs support, needs pressure to vote for legislation that we're supporting.” Pearlman did say that even though there might be some hesitant members, she felt that there were also plenty of members of the Assembly who were ready to get to work on passing the bills that had died in the Senate in past years.</p> <p>While Pearlman echoed the call to tackle an issue like electoral reform early on, she also said she and her allies very much expect the Assembly to make reasonable progress on the other bills that have been stymied in previous years. On something like the New York Health Act, for instance, she said that while the bill doesn’t have to be passed for the sake of being passed, she wants to see an actual debate move forward on it to find the best way possible to provide universal comprehensive healthcare coverage, a line of thinking that aligned with Harckham’s call for hearings and passing a bill by the end of his first two-year term.</p> <p>“The idea that it's somehow a victory for the Assembly to have such a big majority solely so they can say ‘Yay we have a majority’ is sort of absurd,” Pearlman said. “The purpose of having a big majority is to actually do something with it, to pass legislation, not just pat ourselves on the back and say ‘Look how many members we have.’ So we expect after all these years of waiting that they'll use that majority to write legislation and get things done.”</p> <p>The Assembly could, in theory, pass the existing version of all of the bottled up left-leaning bills that haven’t made it out of the state Senate for years, and put the onus on the new Senate, as well as the governor. But it seems needlessly adversarial for the Assembly to get off on that kind of footing with a more ideologically similar Senate conference, which in all likelihood they’ll need in negotiations with a governor more prone to triangulation, political centrism, and describing his <a href="https://www.thedailybeast.com/andrew-cuomo-wont-stop-lying-now-to-cynthia-nixon-he-admits-it" target="_blank" rel="noopener">progressive opponents</a> as “<a href="https://www.dailyfreeman.com/news/cuomo-coasts-in-ny-dem-primary-for-governor-lt-gov/article_b2905a1f-e322-5b84-9a5c-7bedf633934c.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">dreamers not doers</a>” than he’s known for bold leftism.</p> <p>The new situation in Albany is also an opportunity for government to work differently, Pearlman suggested, opening things up and making it more transparent, especially during the budget season. “We don't have to have three men in a room or two men and a woman in the room, that is not written in our state constitution that the budget has to be written at the last possible minute behind closed doors,” Pearlman said. “What we're hoping is that the conference leaders will look at the process of how things are done in Albany and demand they're done in a more transparent and more equitable and better way.”</p> <p>At the moment though, Stewart-Cousins doesn’t seem keen on blowing up the process, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8085-andrea-stewart-cousins-on-taking-the-senate-reins-the-democratic-agenda-getting-inside-the-room" target="_blank" rel="noopener">as she told Max &amp; Murphy</a>, “I’m interested to see how this thing really works as well. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of opinions once I’ve actually been part of it,” in response to whether she plans to make the budget process more transparent.</p> <p>Cuomo also campaigned on keeping state spending tethered to the (<a href="https://cbcny.org/research/when-2-percent-isnt-2-percent" target="_blank" rel="noopener">somewhat rhetorical</a>) two percent cap he instituted during his first term, and has <a href="https://twitter.com/ZackFinkNews/status/1064553822717190145" target="_blank" rel="noopener">flatly said</a> an additional tax on high-earners to raise revenue for the MTA will not be happening, even speaking for the Legislature before the next session has started. So as for what might make it through the budget, McElwee said he predicts progressives can get “one big budget-buster” through the process each year, and if he had to play favorites, he’d pick the Climate and Communities Protection Act. “For me and I think a lot of millennials, climate change is the biggest existential threat we change. And I think a policy that can mitigate that while also creating jobs and infrastructure would be a sort of progressive model for the county,” he said.</p> <p>But ultimately, progressive activists say they aren’t taking anything for granted, even as people talk about the Democratic majority in the state Senate as a permanent one. “Politics is all about waves and momentum, and if you don't capitalize on the momentum you never know where you're gonna end up in the future,” Westin told Gotham Gazette. “I think our belief is we need to pass all the priorities this cycle, as you see even on the federal level and clearly in the state too, you never know what the next configuration is going to look like, and we don't want to waste this opportunity.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Amazon’s Recent New York Campaign Contributions Mostly to Members of Congress 2018-11-18T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-18T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8082-amazon-s-recent-new-york-campaign-contributions-mostly-to-members-of-congress Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/cuomo_jeffries.jpg" alt="cuomo jeffries" width="600" height="419" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo &amp; Rep. Jeffries (photo via Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Before Amazon announced the placement of one of its next satellite “headquarters” in Queens, drawing mixed reactions from local lawmakers and significant overall pushback, the company’s campaign finance footprint in New York shows it was spreading its money around to many New York politicians, mostly those at the federal level.</p> <p>Eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York City, all Democrats, who signed a now <a href="https://www.dropbox.com/s/fa1bvw2m82molqv/Amazon%20Elected%20Letter.pdf?dl=0&amp;utm_source=Press+Release&amp;utm_campaign=5db591fe9c-2017_10_18_NYC_Submits_Amazon_Proposal_PA&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_b804b7ba34-5db591fe9c-102476565" target="_blank" rel="noopener">infamous letter</a> last year to compel Amazon to consider the city, received more than $26,000 in total campaign contributions from Amazon from the beginning of 2017 to October 2018, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, with four of the members receiving $7,500 of that total before signing the letter.</p> <p>Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, whose district includes part of Queens, received $8,000 total from Amazon in four separate contributions to his campaign since 2017, including $1,500 before he had signed the letter and $6,500 afterward, a time period that coincided with Jeffries’ recent reelection to the House, though he did not face serious opposition. Jeffries’ office did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but he said in a <a href="https://twitter.com/jiveDurkey/status/1062405232620175360" target="_blank" rel="noopener">statement to Cheddar</a> that the deal “will supercharge New York City’s reputation as the single best place to do business in America.”</p> <p>Brooklyn Rep. Yvette Clarke received $5,000 <a href="https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/?two_year_transaction_period=2018&amp;data_type=processed&amp;committee_id=C00398941&amp;committee_id=C00415331&amp;contributor_name=amazon&amp;min_date=01/01/2017&amp;max_date=11/15/2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">from Amazon</a>, half before signing the letter and half since -- Clarke did face a tough primary challenge this year, narrowly defeating Adem Bunkeddeko before cruising to victory in the general. In a <a href="https://www.nycedc.com/press-release/citywide-leaders-applaud-announcement-amazon-s-new-headquarters-long-island-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener">statement</a> for the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) that was sent to members of the media upon the Amazon announcement, Clarke said, “Amazon’s decision to locate a headquarters in New York City is a testament to the strength of our technology sector.”</p> <p>Other letter signees who received Amazon contributions include Rep. Eliot Engel, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (whose district includes Long Island City), Rep. Gregory Meeks, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, and Rep. Adriano Espaillat, all of the five boroughs. Maloney called for a fair “public review” of the deal in a <a href="https://www.politico.com/story/2018/11/14/amazon-new-headquarters-reaction-foxconn-scott-walker-966375" target="_blank" rel="noopener">statement to Politico</a>, arguing that “[a] beneficial deal will withstand public scrutiny.”</p> <p>Upon the announcement of the deal to bring Amazon to New York City, Espaillat issued a statement of praise, saying in a tweet, “Welcome to New York City, @Amazon. We have the best &amp; brightest technologically skilled workforce that is ready &amp; willing to work &amp; invest in our community &amp; help our economy continue to grow,” while Velazquez issued a statement criticizing the process and outcome, <a href="https://twitter.com/NydiaVelazquez/status/1063161109778173952" target="_blank" rel="noopener">saying</a>, “Many New Yorkers, myself included, are concerned by the enormous incentives this package extends to Amazon.”</p> <p>Rep. Joe Crowley of the Bronx and Queens received $2,500 from Amazon before he signed the letter, according to FEC filings. He lost his seat in an upset to now Congressional Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has been a strident critic of the Amazon deal. The democratic-socialist <a href="https://twitter.com/Ocasio2018/status/1062203458227503104" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweeted</a> that she finds the deal “extremely concerning,” arguing that the money for tax breaks for Amazon could be better spent on the “crumbling” subway and disenfranchised communities.</p> <p>It’s unclear if any of the members of Congress played a role in the negotiation process, which was apparently led by Cuomo, along with de Blasio and members of their two teams -- those involved apparently signed non-disclosure agreements at Amazon’s insistence. Members of Congress’ support or opposition, however, can play a crucial role in the overall atmosphere around such a deal and the public perception thereof. For the most part, Amazon is more concerned with federal regulations and nationwide tax policy, evident from its campaign funding patterns. Data from <a href="https://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/pacgot.php?cycle=2018&amp;cmte=C00360354" target="_blank" rel="noopener">OpenSecrets.org </a>shows that Amazon gave about $1.17 million to federal candidate campaigns in 2018 alone, 52% of which went to Republicans and 48% to Democrats.</p> <p>Amazon has also given some campaign contributions at the local level, including $1,000 to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s campaign committee in January of this year, according to state election records. Heastie did not respond to a request for comment, but the Bronx Democrat&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/15/nyregion/amazon-queens-opponents.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the New York Times</a> in a statement that “this deal has the potential to more than pay for itself.” He added that, “Of course we take our role in approving aspects of this deal very seriously and we will be closely reviewing it.”</p> <p>The only other local lawmaker whose campaign funds Amazon added to was Republican state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who received $1,000 in January, according to state election records.</p> <p>New York City and State have agreed to roughly <a href="https://www.lohud.com/story/news/politics/albany/2018/11/13/new-york-amazon-incentives-billion/1986979002/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">$3 billion</a> in financial incentives to Amazon to settle in Long Island City, including tax breaks and rebates mostly from existing economic development programs that would be applicable to other companies, as well as a roughly $500 million capital grant from the state that is discretionary. The deal is based on a pledge by Amazon to create 25,000 new jobs in the city over 10 years, at an average salary of $150,000 per year. Some of the incentives are directly tied to those jobs coming to fruition. The company may also qualify for new federal tax savings.</p> <p>Critics have cried foul about a secretive process with virtually no public input before a deal was struck (there will be some before everything is finalized) and that there are billions of dollars of incentives going to one of the wealthiest companies in the world. A number of elected officials did praise the deal, including U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the Democratic Senate minority leader. Schumer received a total of $10,000 from Amazon in three separate contributions to his campaign committee in 2015 ahead of his reelection the following year, according to <a href="https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/?two_year_transaction_period=2016&amp;data_type=processed&amp;committee_id=C00346312&amp;contributor_name=amazon&amp;min_date=01/01/2015&amp;max_date=12/31/2016" target="_blank" rel="noopener">FEC filings</a>. He has not received any funds from Amazon since his 2016 reelection.</p> <p>Some of the criticism towards the Amazon deal is tied more broadly to Cuomo’s economic development programs and their incentives for companies to relocate or create jobs. Flanagan, whose 2018 campaign got the relatively minor boost from Amazon, <a href="https://wnyt.com/politics/state-senate-majority-leader-john-flanagan-gov-andrew-cuomo-amazon-deal/5145114/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">criticized</a> Cuomo for giving handouts rather than working to improve New York’s overall economic climate. Flanagan’s majority conference, which is handing over the reins next year to Democrats who flipped the chamber on Election Day, has signed off on budgets that have included Cuomo’s programs.</p> <p>Amazon, a trillion dollar-company, spent $110,000 lobbying the state Assembly, Senate, and executive branch on bills related to taxation and regulation of internet companies from the beginning of 2017 to October of 2018, according to state lobbying records. JCOPE (the Joint Commission on Public Ethics) lists Amazon lobbying activities as only related to “internet/online sales &amp; related issues,” but specific bills lobbied on include the <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=t&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A9844&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">establishment</a> of a task force to study an internet marketplace tax and bills that propose to regulate voice-recognition technology.</p> <p>The company also spent over $120,000 lobbying New York City government in the last two years for participation in their cloud computing services, according to city lobbying records.</p> <p>The records do not show lobbying related to the new headquarters in Queens. That process appears to have been removed from official lobbying and instead part of the competition Amazon announced, wherein it received hundreds of pitches from governments and coalitions around the country. There are no records of Amazon donating to the campaigns of either Cuomo or de Blasio.</p> <p>Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO and one of the wealthiest people in the world, said in a <a href="https://blog.aboutamazon.com/company-news/amazon-selects-new-york-city-and-northern-virginia-for-new-headquarters" target="_blank" rel="noopener">statement</a> on the day of the announcement that the new “headquarters” split between New York and Virginia “will allow us to attract world-class talent that will help us to continue inventing for customers for years to come. The team did a great job selecting these sites, and we look forward to becoming an even bigger part of these communities.”</p> <p>Hiring for the new offices is scheduled to begin in 2019, according to Amazon. Governor Cuomo has said that the new office campus and related employment will generate more than $27 billion in tax revenue over the next 25 years.</p> <p>

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by Jake Shore for Gotham Gazette
  

Read more by this writer.

 

 

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/cuomo_jeffries.jpg" alt="cuomo jeffries" width="600" height="419" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo &amp; Rep. Jeffries (photo via Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Before Amazon announced the placement of one of its next satellite “headquarters” in Queens, drawing mixed reactions from local lawmakers and significant overall pushback, the company’s campaign finance footprint in New York shows it was spreading its money around to many New York politicians, mostly those at the federal level.</p> <p>Eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York City, all Democrats, who signed a now <a href="https://www.dropbox.com/s/fa1bvw2m82molqv/Amazon%20Elected%20Letter.pdf?dl=0&amp;utm_source=Press+Release&amp;utm_campaign=5db591fe9c-2017_10_18_NYC_Submits_Amazon_Proposal_PA&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_b804b7ba34-5db591fe9c-102476565" target="_blank" rel="noopener">infamous letter</a> last year to compel Amazon to consider the city, received more than $26,000 in total campaign contributions from Amazon from the beginning of 2017 to October 2018, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, with four of the members receiving $7,500 of that total before signing the letter.</p> <p>Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, whose district includes part of Queens, received $8,000 total from Amazon in four separate contributions to his campaign since 2017, including $1,500 before he had signed the letter and $6,500 afterward, a time period that coincided with Jeffries’ recent reelection to the House, though he did not face serious opposition. Jeffries’ office did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but he said in a <a href="https://twitter.com/jiveDurkey/status/1062405232620175360" target="_blank" rel="noopener">statement to Cheddar</a> that the deal “will supercharge New York City’s reputation as the single best place to do business in America.”</p> <p>Brooklyn Rep. Yvette Clarke received $5,000 <a href="https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/?two_year_transaction_period=2018&amp;data_type=processed&amp;committee_id=C00398941&amp;committee_id=C00415331&amp;contributor_name=amazon&amp;min_date=01/01/2017&amp;max_date=11/15/2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">from Amazon</a>, half before signing the letter and half since -- Clarke did face a tough primary challenge this year, narrowly defeating Adem Bunkeddeko before cruising to victory in the general. In a <a href="https://www.nycedc.com/press-release/citywide-leaders-applaud-announcement-amazon-s-new-headquarters-long-island-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener">statement</a> for the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) that was sent to members of the media upon the Amazon announcement, Clarke said, “Amazon’s decision to locate a headquarters in New York City is a testament to the strength of our technology sector.”</p> <p>Other letter signees who received Amazon contributions include Rep. Eliot Engel, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (whose district includes Long Island City), Rep. Gregory Meeks, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, and Rep. Adriano Espaillat, all of the five boroughs. Maloney called for a fair “public review” of the deal in a <a href="https://www.politico.com/story/2018/11/14/amazon-new-headquarters-reaction-foxconn-scott-walker-966375" target="_blank" rel="noopener">statement to Politico</a>, arguing that “[a] beneficial deal will withstand public scrutiny.”</p> <p>Upon the announcement of the deal to bring Amazon to New York City, Espaillat issued a statement of praise, saying in a tweet, “Welcome to New York City, @Amazon. We have the best &amp; brightest technologically skilled workforce that is ready &amp; willing to work &amp; invest in our community &amp; help our economy continue to grow,” while Velazquez issued a statement criticizing the process and outcome, <a href="https://twitter.com/NydiaVelazquez/status/1063161109778173952" target="_blank" rel="noopener">saying</a>, “Many New Yorkers, myself included, are concerned by the enormous incentives this package extends to Amazon.”</p> <p>Rep. Joe Crowley of the Bronx and Queens received $2,500 from Amazon before he signed the letter, according to FEC filings. He lost his seat in an upset to now Congressional Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has been a strident critic of the Amazon deal. The democratic-socialist <a href="https://twitter.com/Ocasio2018/status/1062203458227503104" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweeted</a> that she finds the deal “extremely concerning,” arguing that the money for tax breaks for Amazon could be better spent on the “crumbling” subway and disenfranchised communities.</p> <p>It’s unclear if any of the members of Congress played a role in the negotiation process, which was apparently led by Cuomo, along with de Blasio and members of their two teams -- those involved apparently signed non-disclosure agreements at Amazon’s insistence. Members of Congress’ support or opposition, however, can play a crucial role in the overall atmosphere around such a deal and the public perception thereof. For the most part, Amazon is more concerned with federal regulations and nationwide tax policy, evident from its campaign funding patterns. Data from <a href="https://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/pacgot.php?cycle=2018&amp;cmte=C00360354" target="_blank" rel="noopener">OpenSecrets.org </a>shows that Amazon gave about $1.17 million to federal candidate campaigns in 2018 alone, 52% of which went to Republicans and 48% to Democrats.</p> <p>Amazon has also given some campaign contributions at the local level, including $1,000 to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s campaign committee in January of this year, according to state election records. Heastie did not respond to a request for comment, but the Bronx Democrat&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/15/nyregion/amazon-queens-opponents.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the New York Times</a> in a statement that “this deal has the potential to more than pay for itself.” He added that, “Of course we take our role in approving aspects of this deal very seriously and we will be closely reviewing it.”</p> <p>The only other local lawmaker whose campaign funds Amazon added to was Republican state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who received $1,000 in January, according to state election records.</p> <p>New York City and State have agreed to roughly <a href="https://www.lohud.com/story/news/politics/albany/2018/11/13/new-york-amazon-incentives-billion/1986979002/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">$3 billion</a> in financial incentives to Amazon to settle in Long Island City, including tax breaks and rebates mostly from existing economic development programs that would be applicable to other companies, as well as a roughly $500 million capital grant from the state that is discretionary. The deal is based on a pledge by Amazon to create 25,000 new jobs in the city over 10 years, at an average salary of $150,000 per year. Some of the incentives are directly tied to those jobs coming to fruition. The company may also qualify for new federal tax savings.</p> <p>Critics have cried foul about a secretive process with virtually no public input before a deal was struck (there will be some before everything is finalized) and that there are billions of dollars of incentives going to one of the wealthiest companies in the world. A number of elected officials did praise the deal, including U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the Democratic Senate minority leader. Schumer received a total of $10,000 from Amazon in three separate contributions to his campaign committee in 2015 ahead of his reelection the following year, according to <a href="https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/?two_year_transaction_period=2016&amp;data_type=processed&amp;committee_id=C00346312&amp;contributor_name=amazon&amp;min_date=01/01/2015&amp;max_date=12/31/2016" target="_blank" rel="noopener">FEC filings</a>. He has not received any funds from Amazon since his 2016 reelection.</p> <p>Some of the criticism towards the Amazon deal is tied more broadly to Cuomo’s economic development programs and their incentives for companies to relocate or create jobs. Flanagan, whose 2018 campaign got the relatively minor boost from Amazon, <a href="https://wnyt.com/politics/state-senate-majority-leader-john-flanagan-gov-andrew-cuomo-amazon-deal/5145114/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">criticized</a> Cuomo for giving handouts rather than working to improve New York’s overall economic climate. Flanagan’s majority conference, which is handing over the reins next year to Democrats who flipped the chamber on Election Day, has signed off on budgets that have included Cuomo’s programs.</p> <p>Amazon, a trillion dollar-company, spent $110,000 lobbying the state Assembly, Senate, and executive branch on bills related to taxation and regulation of internet companies from the beginning of 2017 to October of 2018, according to state lobbying records. JCOPE (the Joint Commission on Public Ethics) lists Amazon lobbying activities as only related to “internet/online sales &amp; related issues,” but specific bills lobbied on include the <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=t&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A9844&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">establishment</a> of a task force to study an internet marketplace tax and bills that propose to regulate voice-recognition technology.</p> <p>The company also spent over $120,000 lobbying New York City government in the last two years for participation in their cloud computing services, according to city lobbying records.</p> <p>The records do not show lobbying related to the new headquarters in Queens. That process appears to have been removed from official lobbying and instead part of the competition Amazon announced, wherein it received hundreds of pitches from governments and coalitions around the country. There are no records of Amazon donating to the campaigns of either Cuomo or de Blasio.</p> <p>Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO and one of the wealthiest people in the world, said in a <a href="https://blog.aboutamazon.com/company-news/amazon-selects-new-york-city-and-northern-virginia-for-new-headquarters" target="_blank" rel="noopener">statement</a> on the day of the announcement that the new “headquarters” split between New York and Virginia “will allow us to attract world-class talent that will help us to continue inventing for customers for years to come. The team did a great job selecting these sites, and we look forward to becoming an even bigger part of these communities.”</p> <p>Hiring for the new offices is scheduled to begin in 2019, according to Amazon. Governor Cuomo has said that the new office campus and related employment will generate more than $27 billion in tax revenue over the next 25 years.</p> <p>

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by Jake Shore for Gotham Gazette
  

Read more by this writer.

 

 

</p>
Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Taking the Senate Reins, the Democratic Agenda & Getting Inside 'The Room' 2018-11-18T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-18T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8085-andrea-stewart-cousins-on-taking-the-senate-reins-the-democratic-agenda-getting-inside-the-room Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/stewart-cousins-senate.jpg" alt="stewart cousins senate" width="600" /></p> <p>Andrea Stewart-Cousins (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>After the election results from earlier this month, Andrea Stewart-Cousins is set to become majority leader of the state Senate and, beginning in January, to preside over the chamber as it works with Democrats in charge of the Assembly and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat headed into his third term, to address a long-delayed liberal agenda. Stewart-Cousins, who represents parts of Westchester, will become the first woman and first woman of color to lead a legislative chamber in New York.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Appearing on the Max &amp; Murphy program on WBAI radio</a>, Stewart-Cousins discussed her approach to leading the Senate, outlined a few priorities for the upcoming session, explained some ways in which Democrats will differ from Republican who have led the upper chamber, and commented on becoming one of three people who will be in “the room,” ultimately making major decisions about the state budget and legislation along with Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.</p> <p>When asked, Stewart-Cousins mostly demurred about what issues would be at the top of the Senate agenda, saying that, especially with 15 new members in her roughly 40-member majority conference, senators would first need to meet and discuss how they will approach the upcoming legislative session.</p> <p>“I have avoided that ‘my first hundred days will look like this’ and ‘this is the batting order,’” Stewart-Cousins said, repeating the terms of the question from one of the hosts. “Because I think the first and foremost thing we’re going to do is [create] the type of conference and senators that people have frankly been voting for again and again and not been getting.”</p> <p>However, some policies she did mention were those that had already been set as first-order-of-business and seemingly non-controversial among virtually all Democrats: early voting, the Child Victims Act, and the Reproductive Health Act. These are among many policies Stewart-Cousins said “have not been able to move under Republican leadership for so many years” that Democrats plan to get to.</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins noted that she has faith in the new members of the Senate, some of whom are part of a younger and more progressive movement that successfully claimed many of the seats formerly held by members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group that had formed a coalition with the Republicans, at times giving them the seats for a majority. While these new members certainly won’t cut deals with Republicans, they still may not be on the same page with more senior members of the body, perhaps pushing for different, more progressive priorities like single-payer health care.</p> <p>“We have 15 brand new members and we have to make sure everyone is up to speed,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I am so impressed with every single one of them that I have no doubt that the leadership they will provide, along with my current members, will be absolutely outstanding.”</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins was also hesitant to name specifics when asked what legislation she sees as being tougher to pass, suggesting with a laugh that there could be conflict about anything and everything.</p> <p>“I almost want to say all of the above because, you know, we’re Democrats,” she said with a chuckle. “I think everyone agrees on the outcomes we want, it’s just how to get there.”</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins stressed her belief that Democratic takeover of the Senate is a major step forward for the state, as rather than having to debate over why policies that, for example, raise the minimum wage or ensure access to quality affordable healthcare, are necessary, the new Democrat supermajority will only have to decide on how to best design said policies.</p> <p>“We’re not starting at convincing people that these things are important,” she said. “Now we’re starting a conversation where we understand [what] the objectives are.”</p> <p>“Guess what, we’ll have a conference that is willing to acknowledge climate change and therefore, work towards ensuring our planet’s future,” she continued.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>While expectations are high about addressing climate change, criminal justice reform, gun control, voting and campaign finance reform, tightening rent regulations, and more, there have been concerns that if Democrats were to flip the Senate and full control of state government that taxes would go up in order for the new regime to pay for all its new programs. But, during the campaign and since, Stewart-Cousins and others in her incoming majority have said they have no plans to raise taxes, an approach in line with Cuomo’s, but not necessarily Assembly Democrats.</p> <p>Asked on Max &amp; Murphy if she is indeed committed to not raising taxes, Stewart-Cousins reiterated her stance, and pointed to the federal tax reforms passed in late 2017 that are likely to negatively affect many New Yorkers due to the new cap and local and state deductions from federal tax obligations.</p> <p>“We are not coming in there to raise people’s taxes,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We understand that New York is a big state and we understand that we need to make sure that it is affordable. I’m personally concerned about the impact of this federal tax bill on the New York taxpayers, and I think most people in our position are.”</p> <p>Taxpayers will find out if Democrats stay true to their promise in their first big test: the next state budget, which Stewart-Cousins and her conference will have significant influence on, as the new Senate majority leader negotiates with Cuomo and Heastie. As the first woman to lead a legislative majority, she will be entering that negotiating room that has been male-dominated. When asked what that may mean, Stewart-Cousins said it shows progress made and more to do.</p> <p>“I think it means that people see that once again another glass ceiling, marble ceiling, whatever you want to call it, has been broken,” she said. “We make certain assumptions about how far we’ve come, and we have in many ways, but I think everyday we’re also being reminded that there is more ground that has to be covered more ceilings to break.”</p> <p>When asked if she has any plans on how to change the backroom process that often leads to major budget and legislative agreements that are voted on with virtually no public review, Stewart-Cousins said she couldn’t yet say.</p> <p>“It’d be impossible to say, because I’ve never been in it,” she said, pausing to laugh. “I’m interested to see how this thing really works as well. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of opinions once I’ve actually been part of it.”</p> <p>When it comes to those outside the Democratic conference, Stewart-Cousins said that she has not spoken to any Republicans who want to switch conferences, but would be happy to meet with Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who previously gave Republicans a one-seat majority in the Senate, about his role in the upcoming session. She said Felder had reached out and they would set something up, though he is not expected to command any special perks as he had from Republicans for helping give them the majority.</p> <p>Of the former IDC members who kept their seats, Senators Diane Savino and David Carlucci, Stewart-Cousins said they have been and continue to be part of the Democratic conference, which they returned to in an April deal reached by Governor Andrew Cuomo.</p> <p>[Listen to the full conversation: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Max &amp; Murphy</a>&nbsp;Nov. 14, 2018]</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/stewart-cousins-senate.jpg" alt="stewart cousins senate" width="600" /></p> <p>Andrea Stewart-Cousins (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>After the election results from earlier this month, Andrea Stewart-Cousins is set to become majority leader of the state Senate and, beginning in January, to preside over the chamber as it works with Democrats in charge of the Assembly and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat headed into his third term, to address a long-delayed liberal agenda. Stewart-Cousins, who represents parts of Westchester, will become the first woman and first woman of color to lead a legislative chamber in New York.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Appearing on the Max &amp; Murphy program on WBAI radio</a>, Stewart-Cousins discussed her approach to leading the Senate, outlined a few priorities for the upcoming session, explained some ways in which Democrats will differ from Republican who have led the upper chamber, and commented on becoming one of three people who will be in “the room,” ultimately making major decisions about the state budget and legislation along with Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.</p> <p>When asked, Stewart-Cousins mostly demurred about what issues would be at the top of the Senate agenda, saying that, especially with 15 new members in her roughly 40-member majority conference, senators would first need to meet and discuss how they will approach the upcoming legislative session.</p> <p>“I have avoided that ‘my first hundred days will look like this’ and ‘this is the batting order,’” Stewart-Cousins said, repeating the terms of the question from one of the hosts. “Because I think the first and foremost thing we’re going to do is [create] the type of conference and senators that people have frankly been voting for again and again and not been getting.”</p> <p>However, some policies she did mention were those that had already been set as first-order-of-business and seemingly non-controversial among virtually all Democrats: early voting, the Child Victims Act, and the Reproductive Health Act. These are among many policies Stewart-Cousins said “have not been able to move under Republican leadership for so many years” that Democrats plan to get to.</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins noted that she has faith in the new members of the Senate, some of whom are part of a younger and more progressive movement that successfully claimed many of the seats formerly held by members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group that had formed a coalition with the Republicans, at times giving them the seats for a majority. While these new members certainly won’t cut deals with Republicans, they still may not be on the same page with more senior members of the body, perhaps pushing for different, more progressive priorities like single-payer health care.</p> <p>“We have 15 brand new members and we have to make sure everyone is up to speed,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I am so impressed with every single one of them that I have no doubt that the leadership they will provide, along with my current members, will be absolutely outstanding.”</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins was also hesitant to name specifics when asked what legislation she sees as being tougher to pass, suggesting with a laugh that there could be conflict about anything and everything.</p> <p>“I almost want to say all of the above because, you know, we’re Democrats,” she said with a chuckle. “I think everyone agrees on the outcomes we want, it’s just how to get there.”</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins stressed her belief that Democratic takeover of the Senate is a major step forward for the state, as rather than having to debate over why policies that, for example, raise the minimum wage or ensure access to quality affordable healthcare, are necessary, the new Democrat supermajority will only have to decide on how to best design said policies.</p> <p>“We’re not starting at convincing people that these things are important,” she said. “Now we’re starting a conversation where we understand [what] the objectives are.”</p> <p>“Guess what, we’ll have a conference that is willing to acknowledge climate change and therefore, work towards ensuring our planet’s future,” she continued.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>While expectations are high about addressing climate change, criminal justice reform, gun control, voting and campaign finance reform, tightening rent regulations, and more, there have been concerns that if Democrats were to flip the Senate and full control of state government that taxes would go up in order for the new regime to pay for all its new programs. But, during the campaign and since, Stewart-Cousins and others in her incoming majority have said they have no plans to raise taxes, an approach in line with Cuomo’s, but not necessarily Assembly Democrats.</p> <p>Asked on Max &amp; Murphy if she is indeed committed to not raising taxes, Stewart-Cousins reiterated her stance, and pointed to the federal tax reforms passed in late 2017 that are likely to negatively affect many New Yorkers due to the new cap and local and state deductions from federal tax obligations.</p> <p>“We are not coming in there to raise people’s taxes,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We understand that New York is a big state and we understand that we need to make sure that it is affordable. I’m personally concerned about the impact of this federal tax bill on the New York taxpayers, and I think most people in our position are.”</p> <p>Taxpayers will find out if Democrats stay true to their promise in their first big test: the next state budget, which Stewart-Cousins and her conference will have significant influence on, as the new Senate majority leader negotiates with Cuomo and Heastie. As the first woman to lead a legislative majority, she will be entering that negotiating room that has been male-dominated. When asked what that may mean, Stewart-Cousins said it shows progress made and more to do.</p> <p>“I think it means that people see that once again another glass ceiling, marble ceiling, whatever you want to call it, has been broken,” she said. “We make certain assumptions about how far we’ve come, and we have in many ways, but I think everyday we’re also being reminded that there is more ground that has to be covered more ceilings to break.”</p> <p>When asked if she has any plans on how to change the backroom process that often leads to major budget and legislative agreements that are voted on with virtually no public review, Stewart-Cousins said she couldn’t yet say.</p> <p>“It’d be impossible to say, because I’ve never been in it,” she said, pausing to laugh. “I’m interested to see how this thing really works as well. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of opinions once I’ve actually been part of it.”</p> <p>When it comes to those outside the Democratic conference, Stewart-Cousins said that she has not spoken to any Republicans who want to switch conferences, but would be happy to meet with Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who previously gave Republicans a one-seat majority in the Senate, about his role in the upcoming session. She said Felder had reached out and they would set something up, though he is not expected to command any special perks as he had from Republicans for helping give them the majority.</p> <p>Of the former IDC members who kept their seats, Senators Diane Savino and David Carlucci, Stewart-Cousins said they have been and continue to be part of the Democratic conference, which they returned to in an April deal reached by Governor Andrew Cuomo.</p> <p>[Listen to the full conversation: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Max &amp; Murphy</a>&nbsp;Nov. 14, 2018]</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Agenda 2019: Major Policy Tests Ahead for State and City 2018-11-08T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-08T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8061-agenda-2019-major-policy-tests-ahead-for-state-and-city Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cuomo_asc_nydems.jpg" alt="cuomo stewart-cousins democrats" width="600" height="387" /></p> <p>Byron Brown, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Andrew Cuomo (photo: NY Democratic State Party)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is the opening story in a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project: AGENDA 2019<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>The voting machines are back in storage, the “Vote Here” signs are gone, and politics in New York have entered the interregnum between Election Day and the start of the new term in Albany, when a newly-Democratic State Senate and a re-elected Democratic Assembly majority and Democratic governor will begin to set the direction of the Empire State in 2019 -- while a new Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives vies with a Republican U.S. Senate and President Trump over where and how to steer the nation.</p> <p>The rhetoric, posturing, and proposals of the campaign will give way to the rhetoric and posturing -- and, ultimately, policymaking -- of government. It’s too early to know how the new balances of power will play out, but some of the newly powerful or electorally emboldened are already giving indications of some of their priorities, which, in combination with campaign trail promises, form the outline of what to expect in Albany in the year ahead. Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have quickly provided a sense of what they plan to tackle first and what might be on the backburner as the state governing session begins in January.</p> <p>“I did better than I had done in my previous election which is normally unheard of,” Cuomo said the day after the election, on WVOX radio, “but we also won the Senate, which is very important and I worked very hard to make that happen, which it allows me to get all sorts of things done that we haven’t done before.”</p> <p>As is always the case, so much of what happens in the state capital will impact New York City, and though there were no elections for city-level positions this year, those who live and work in the city have a great deal at stake as the new state government takes shape. Mayor Bill de Blasio and others are already laying out their priorities for 2019 in Albany, where the mayor and other city Democrats hope the atmosphere will be more friendly toward the five boroughs than in the past.</p> <p>“[T]he fact that we not only have a Democratic majority in the State Senate but a resounding Democratic majority is going to allow for a host of progress for this state and going to allow some really important initiatives to finally be acted on that we’ve been waiting for, for years and in some cases decades,” de Blasio said on Wednesday. “Most especially reform to our election process, campaign finance reform, finally getting a solution for the MTA. Huge changes could come from the fact that we now have a strong, clear Democratic majority in the State Senate.”</p> <p>Still, much will happen at the city level in the year ahead that is not necessarily a product of Albany decision-making. Even as he seeks legislative and funding changes in the state capital, de Blasio has city challenges to address, programs to implement, and major decisions to make. There is a Charter Revision Commission exploring sweeping changes to how city government operates, and there will be a handful of elections in the city, starting with a special election for Public Advocate, likely in February.</p> <p>There will be a great deal at stake in 2019. Advocates, organizers, strategists, and elected and appointed officials have already provided a long list of topics and decisions that will come to the fore next year. So City Limits, Gotham Gazette, and other partners are teaming up over the next eight weeks to explore major policy issues where action is expected over the next 12 months.</p> <p>Each week we will bring you an in-depth look at one issue area with comprehensive reporting, broadcast interviews, opinion columns, and other features to provide insight into the policies, politics, and people involved and set the stage for what will be an incredibly important year in New York City, New York State, and national politics.</p> <p>First, an overview of what’s on hand.</p> <p><strong>Albany</strong><br /> The story begins in Albany. The 2019 landscape in the state capital will be unlike anything seen in roughly a decade: full Democratic control of the executive and legislative branches. This time around is likely to be far more functional than last, when the Senate Democratic conference quickly devolved into chaos and a weak governor was unable to keep his party-mates from disgracing themselves (several of those involved have served time in jail) and bringing legislative business to a long halt.</p> <p>In 2019, Cuomo enters a third term with wind at his back, major infrastructure projects in motion, and a long to-do list; while Democratic majorities in the Assembly and Senate finally get the opportunity they’ve been waiting for to pass an agenda repeatedly stalled by Republicans in the upper chamber.</p> <p>The questions that hang over this new arrangement include to what extent various Democrats with varied priorities are able to agree upon an order of operation and the specific details of policies they’ve championed but never actually had the power to pass into law without compromising with Republicans. Expected Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and others have already given indication of what they see as the top priorities with widespread agreement.</p> <p>Cuomo, who has appeared mostly happy with a split Legislature, now faces the challenge of dictating terms to legislative majorities that may want to move faster and further left than he’s comfortable with, though Democrats also know that the next legislative elections are now less than two years away and their members from swing suburban districts need to be especially careful with ‘pocketbook’ issues. Taxpayers across the state will soon be adjusting to the full new reality of federal tax reforms, which capped state and local deductions and are of great concern to suburban homeowners. Plus, the state’s current “millionaires tax” is set to expire in 2019 and Cuomo hasn’t yet indicated his stance on renewing it, even as he faces upcoming budget deficits.</p> <p>“I am a suburban legislator,” Stewart-Cousins of Westchester <a href="https://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/state-senate-turnover-1.23031265" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told Long Island-based Newsday</a>. “I am very proud that New Yorkers have elected many great suburban legislators to take their place in the Senate Democratic Majority.”</p> <p>Cuomo has been clear that he plans to continue the fiscal restraint and center-left governance of his first two terms. At the same time, he’s poised to push through many significant policies his critics have blamed him for not delivering, while addressing the twin crises of his second term: the failing New York City subways and the corruption that has continued to plague state government, recently in the governor’s own inner circle.</p> <p>Cuomo wants to keep state spending increases to roughly two percent annually, to keep an annual cap on property tax growth everywhere outside New York City, and to take steps to mitigate the effects of federal tax reform, especially the new cap on state and local deductions. But he also has a lengthy professed agenda for 2019 and his larger third term, including voting reform, additional gun control regulations, the Child Victims Act, codifying Roe v. Wade abortion protections into state law, the Dream Act, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), and more. For the most part, the policy agenda Cuomo has laid out, which is noticeably light on new spending, should not be a heavy lift in either house of the Legislature with both under Democratic control.</p> <p>There may very well be areas of conflict, however, even if legislators stay away from raising taxes or pursuing policies like single-payer health care that Cuomo has thrown cold water on. These include government ethics and campaign finance reform, funding the MTA, rent regulations, education funding, charter schools, criminal justice reform, and others. How to move the state ahead in combating climate change may also be a source of disagreement in terms of degree.</p> <p>The governor knows he must -- and has promised to -- move ahead with congestion pricing for Manhattan travel as part of funding the MTA and the Fast Forward subway modernization plan that is ballparked at around $35 billion. It’s unclear where the rest of the needed money will come from, though Cuomo has already indicated he expects the New York City government to kick in more (de Blasio continues to call for an additional tax on high-earners, which Cuomo has mocked). The governor even got several Senate candidates on Long Island to sign a pledge that they’d squeeze the city for more transit money -- not the only episode of the fall campaign to raise the possibility that Cuomo is readying to continue to hold sway over policy-making in Albany no matter how other pieces may shift.</p> <p>The governor is also frustrated with hearing about his failures on government ethics and campaign finance reform, and will likely look to put that talk to bed by the time a new state budget is passed at the end of March. The details of any such deals will be closely examined for whether they truly advance the causes of good government and provide the best possible circumstances for both preventing and punishing corruption.</p> <p>A major unknown is whether some of the newly elected State Senate Democrats, especially those on Long Island, will feel more beholden to Cuomo than to the conference itself, and help him restrain the larger group. On the other hand, it is unclear how the new group of state senators who defeated members of what was the Independent Democratic Conference, some of whom cross-endorsed with Cynthia Nixon in her challenge to Cuomo, will approach the governor and raising their voices within the Senate majority.</p> <p>During a Wednesday appearance <a href="http://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/buffalo/capital-tonight-interviews/2018/11/08/senate-democrats-flip-majority-#" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on Spectrum’s Capitol Tonight</a>, Stewart-Cousins was asked about unifying her new conference and finding agreement. “So people understand that there’s a lot of great hope in our ascension to power,” she said, “and in order to really fulfill those hopes, we have to move as a body. That means we’re going to have to find ways to get to the desired end...We must consider that it is one New York, but there are a lot of different places, a lot of different regions and areas and needs and interests, and if we do our job right we will be able to manage and take care of all of it.”</p> <p>Democrats in the state Assembly, which is dominated by New York City members and led by Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx, may be itching to enact an agenda they have repeatedly passed that has not had Cuomo’s full support and that is not necessarily the same agenda as the new Senate Democratic majority. Assembly Democrats have spent years passing one-house bills and budgets advancing progressive priorities, including things like single-payer health care, higher taxes on top earners, tighter rent regulations, and sweeping criminal justice reforms.</p> <p>Still, there is much that Democrats in the Assembly, Senate, and governor’s mansion agree on and will all-but-certainly find common ground to pass, starting with a handful of policies that Cuomo, Stewart-Cousins, and Heastie have already mentioned since the election results came in: voting reform, women’s reproductive choice, gun control, and more.</p> <p>“There have been measures that I could not get done with a Republican Senate and I believe they were short-sighted,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “...And I worked so hard for a Democratic Senate, because these are pieces that I believe are essential to really move this state forward.”</p> <p>“We need ethics reform and there's no reason not to pass it,” he continued, mentioning making legislative positions full-time with no outside income, campaign finance reform (including closure of the LLC loophole), and voting reform, including early voting.</p> <p>“The women's right to choose has to be protected,” Cuomo said, referring to the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade into state law. He also mentioned the Dream Act, “gun safety” legislation, which would likely include a “red flag bill” to remove guns from the homes of potentially troubled young people and extending the background check wait time from three to ten days.</p> <p>All of the issues listed by Cuomo are ones that Stewart-Cousins, members of her conference, and Heastie have mentioned in the first days after the election as top priorities.</p> <p>While Cuomo appears ready to knock down any criticism that he is not a ‘real Democrat’ and create additional buzz around a possible presidential run, he always wants to move on his terms. A deal-maker who leverages his counterparts, the governor has clearly been sizing up the new dynamics he’s facing ahead of the state budget session that will kick off in January with his State of the State speech and Executive Budget presentation. Discussing the facts that he received the most votes of any governor ever and won this year by a bigger margin than in 2014, Cuomo said Wednesday that it “helps practically in governmentally when you have a larger mandate electorally, the other elected officials know you’ve literally come into government with a stronger hand, and having a larger victory helps you governmentally, I believe that.”</p> <p>And even as Cuomo has pledged to serve another four-year term and there are very serious questions about his viability as a presidential candidate, he has regularly stoked the flames and after another resounding electoral victory, may be poised to flirt even more explicitly with a run for president.</p> <p>One possibility is that Cuomo focuses intently on moving an aggressive progressive agenda through in the first few months of the Albany year, then takes his new list of accomplishments to a few of the necessary stops on a presidential exploration tour, such as New Hampshire.</p> <p>Another uncertainty for the year ahead is exactly how Attorney General-elect Letitia James approaches her new role. James, a Democrat who is currently the New York City public advocate, will vacate that position and take charge of a vast and immensely powerful legal office. She has promised to continue the aggressive approach the office of attorney general has taken to President Trump, his administration and his other enterprises, while also taking on criminal justice reform in New York and working to root out public corruption, among other aspects of the role she has said she will embrace. In the face of skepticism about her closeness to Cuomo and other Democrats, James has promised to be an independent voice and to pursue wrongdoing wherever it may be.</p> <p>There is no speculating that much of New York City’s policy agenda depends on legislative action in Albany. Speedy trial and bail reform legislation seen as vital to the effort to close Rikers island jails will be a top priority for progressives in the capital and City Hall. And the renewal of rent regulations presents a major opportunity to reduce the displacement pressures that dog de Blasio’s rezoning and development plans. There is almost guaranteed to be city-state tension in 2019 over funding the MTA, among other policy and budget issues.</p> <p>Asked the day after the election about his top priorities for the Albany year ahead, de Blasio said, “One: strengthen rent regulations, protect affordable housing. Two: fix the MTA, provide a permanent funding source for our subways and buses. Three: continue our progress on education funding and on having the power to keep fixing our schools.”</p> <p><strong>New York City</strong><br /> Under normal circumstances, 2019 would be a quiet year in city politics—an off-year between the 2018 statewide elections and the presidential race in 2020, with municipal elections a full two years off in 2021.</p> <p>But circumstances are not normal. A a citywide official is leaving her office vacant, a veteran district attorney is retiring, and big decisions on everything from charter revision to jail-siting and neighborhood rezoning are due.</p> <p>As is always the case in the years after statewide elections, three district attorney races are on the docket in the city. All five of the city’s sitting district attorneys are Democrats. Incumbent Darcel Clark in the Bronx, who was elected in 2015 with 80 percent of the vote, is unlikely to be threatened. Staten Island's Michael McMahon won his post in 2015 with 55 percent of the vote, and could face a more competitive re-election contest. But the Queens DA's race is shaping up to be the most dramatic affair, with incumbent Richard Brown—who ran uncontested in '15 and has held his post since '91—likely to step down and a roster of well-known names (City Council Member Rory Lancman, former Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr., Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, State Senator Michael Gianaris) in the mix of declared or potential candidates.</p> <p>Letitia James' victory in the race for attorney general means there'll be a special election to fill the post of public advocate. Brooklyn Council Member Jumaane Williams, fresh off his campaign for lieutenant governor, and Bronx Assembly Member Michael Blake are already in the mix for that post, along with a couple of others like Nomiki Konst and David Eisenbach, and a host of other names are considered possible candidates.</p> <p>The special election to select an interim public advocate will be a nonpartisan affair held in early 2019; the winner of that could then face a primary in September before a general election in November 2019 to decide who serves the remainder of James' term. Worth noting: If someone currently in elected office wins the special election for public advocate, there will need to be another election to fill the slot the winner vacates. It could be a very special year.</p> <p>Also expected to be on the ballot next November: the proposals from the City Council's 2019 charter revision commission. The hearings and meetings (and behind the scenes machinations) that will shape those proposals will be a significant story to watch in the city next year, because the changes on the table next November could be the most significant in 30 years. Already, the commission has been asked to consider ambitious alterations to how the city does budgeting and land-use planning.</p> <p>Critical housing policy decisions will come throughout the year. The city's "Where We Live NYC" fair-housing planning process—a landmark examination of whether city housing programs have reduced or exacerbated segregation—is supposed to wrap up by the fall of 2019. A decision could come in the lawsuits over the fairness of the community preference policy and the property-tax system, and the property-tax reform commission empaneled by de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is holding its final first-wave meetings in later November and December and could issue a report soon—with whatever plan emerges subject to intense debate, as well as legislation at both the city and state levels.</p> <p>Major neighborhood rezonings of Bushwick, Gowanus, and Bay Street are likely, with action on Long Island City and the Southern Boulevard area of the Bronx also possible. And the Council and mayor will render decisions on the plans to build new jails to replace the facilities on Rikers Island.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the NYCHA settlement with federal authorities awaits approval—and NYCHA families await another winter and the potential for heat and hot-water problems. The federal criminal investigation of NYCHA and its decision-makers is not over and could produce more news, and some housing advocates will bring more pressure on the mayor to build new senior housing on NYCHA land rather than market-rate units. De Blasio may name a permanent head of NYCHA, or keep the interim leader, Stan Brezenoff, in place. The city will also be looking to Washington for more funding help for public housing, and may put forward a revamped long-term plan for NYCHA that accelerates the pace of development on under-utilized NYCHA land as a way to bring in revenue.</p> <p>2019 is the year when the hit from the Trump tax plan's capping of federal income tax deductions for state and local taxes will start to affect high earners—and it will be interesting to see if that encourages calls to rein in spending during the city's budget process. As one business advocate notes, "Only a relatively small number of high earners have to relocate to lower tax states for NYC to suffer major revenue losses." People in the top 1 percent – those in the 38,000 households making more than $713,000—earned about 35 percent of the city's income and contributed roughly 44 percent of total income-tax revenue in 2016. But keeping budget growth modest will be challenging, with the MTA, NYCHA, and the public hospital system in need of major investment.</p> <p>The city's ability to implement the Fair Fares Metrocard subsidy program will be tested, and bus riders should get a glimpse of the newly redesigned bus routes coming under the MTA's Fast Forward plan. The rollout of the school desegregation effort in District 15 will continue as New Yorkers get more of a sense of whether and how Richard Carranza will put his stamp on the school system.</p> <p>The x-factor in all these stories is how much power Bill de Blasio will have to shape these critical policy decisions, all of which will help sculpt his legacy.</p> <p>The mayor did little to define a second-term agenda before he was re-elected in a landslide a year ago, and he's not done much to fill in those blanks over the past 12 months. His signature policy idea of 2018, the democracy initiative, has not had an auspicious start, though de Blasio did see the three ballot proposals from his charter revision commission approved by voters on Election Day. While the mayor has made substantive policy moves, on cybersecurity and guns for instance, they have been drowned out by a torrent of dreadful headlines about NYCHA, his school renewal plan, his beef with the Department of Investigations commissioner, and, of course, the "agent of the city" emails.</p> <p>Some of that static is merely what comes with the territory of a second term in one of the toughest jobs in the country. But de Blasio's unusually acrimonious relationship with the press, his feud with a governor who was just resoundingly elected for a third time, the rise of a less-cooperative City Council and the pre-2021 positioning that is already taking place among his partners in government could combine to irreversibly weaken the mayor years before he ought to look like a lame duck. While that might sound like good news to those who dislike de Blasio, the fact is the city's interests in Albany or Washington depend on there being a strong figure in City Hall. Other players might claim some spotlight and gain some juice, but Bill de Blasio is alone at New York City's helm for another 1,150 days. That would be a long time to be adrift.</p> <p><strong>Washington, D.C.</strong><br /> And then there’s Washington. The new Democratic House could move a legislative agenda to try to limit the impact of the limitations on SALT deductions, support infrastructure spending, shore up the Affordable Care Act, and take steps to thwart the president’s harshest moves on immigration -- all of which would have direct impact on New York City and State. But with Republicans maintaining control of the Senate and the White House, Democrats will not be able to move anything through Congress without major compromise. It’s unclear who will lead the House Democrats or what their strategy over the next year will be: seeking a deal with centrist Republicans, or even with the mercurial president himself, to create new policy, or instead maintaining a more combative posture until the 2020 presidential election resets the country.</p> <p>The Iowa caucus, after all, is only 15 months away.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is the opening story in a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project: AGENDA 2019<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>***<br />by Ben Max of Gotham Gazette &amp; Jarrett Murphy of City Limits. Part of "Agenda 2019," a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project to get New Yorkers ready for the political year ahead.</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Agenda 2019" width="600" height="302" /></p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cuomo_asc_nydems.jpg" alt="cuomo stewart-cousins democrats" width="600" height="387" /></p> <p>Byron Brown, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Andrew Cuomo (photo: NY Democratic State Party)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is the opening story in a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project: AGENDA 2019<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>The voting machines are back in storage, the “Vote Here” signs are gone, and politics in New York have entered the interregnum between Election Day and the start of the new term in Albany, when a newly-Democratic State Senate and a re-elected Democratic Assembly majority and Democratic governor will begin to set the direction of the Empire State in 2019 -- while a new Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives vies with a Republican U.S. Senate and President Trump over where and how to steer the nation.</p> <p>The rhetoric, posturing, and proposals of the campaign will give way to the rhetoric and posturing -- and, ultimately, policymaking -- of government. It’s too early to know how the new balances of power will play out, but some of the newly powerful or electorally emboldened are already giving indications of some of their priorities, which, in combination with campaign trail promises, form the outline of what to expect in Albany in the year ahead. Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have quickly provided a sense of what they plan to tackle first and what might be on the backburner as the state governing session begins in January.</p> <p>“I did better than I had done in my previous election which is normally unheard of,” Cuomo said the day after the election, on WVOX radio, “but we also won the Senate, which is very important and I worked very hard to make that happen, which it allows me to get all sorts of things done that we haven’t done before.”</p> <p>As is always the case, so much of what happens in the state capital will impact New York City, and though there were no elections for city-level positions this year, those who live and work in the city have a great deal at stake as the new state government takes shape. Mayor Bill de Blasio and others are already laying out their priorities for 2019 in Albany, where the mayor and other city Democrats hope the atmosphere will be more friendly toward the five boroughs than in the past.</p> <p>“[T]he fact that we not only have a Democratic majority in the State Senate but a resounding Democratic majority is going to allow for a host of progress for this state and going to allow some really important initiatives to finally be acted on that we’ve been waiting for, for years and in some cases decades,” de Blasio said on Wednesday. “Most especially reform to our election process, campaign finance reform, finally getting a solution for the MTA. Huge changes could come from the fact that we now have a strong, clear Democratic majority in the State Senate.”</p> <p>Still, much will happen at the city level in the year ahead that is not necessarily a product of Albany decision-making. Even as he seeks legislative and funding changes in the state capital, de Blasio has city challenges to address, programs to implement, and major decisions to make. There is a Charter Revision Commission exploring sweeping changes to how city government operates, and there will be a handful of elections in the city, starting with a special election for Public Advocate, likely in February.</p> <p>There will be a great deal at stake in 2019. Advocates, organizers, strategists, and elected and appointed officials have already provided a long list of topics and decisions that will come to the fore next year. So City Limits, Gotham Gazette, and other partners are teaming up over the next eight weeks to explore major policy issues where action is expected over the next 12 months.</p> <p>Each week we will bring you an in-depth look at one issue area with comprehensive reporting, broadcast interviews, opinion columns, and other features to provide insight into the policies, politics, and people involved and set the stage for what will be an incredibly important year in New York City, New York State, and national politics.</p> <p>First, an overview of what’s on hand.</p> <p><strong>Albany</strong><br /> The story begins in Albany. The 2019 landscape in the state capital will be unlike anything seen in roughly a decade: full Democratic control of the executive and legislative branches. This time around is likely to be far more functional than last, when the Senate Democratic conference quickly devolved into chaos and a weak governor was unable to keep his party-mates from disgracing themselves (several of those involved have served time in jail) and bringing legislative business to a long halt.</p> <p>In 2019, Cuomo enters a third term with wind at his back, major infrastructure projects in motion, and a long to-do list; while Democratic majorities in the Assembly and Senate finally get the opportunity they’ve been waiting for to pass an agenda repeatedly stalled by Republicans in the upper chamber.</p> <p>The questions that hang over this new arrangement include to what extent various Democrats with varied priorities are able to agree upon an order of operation and the specific details of policies they’ve championed but never actually had the power to pass into law without compromising with Republicans. Expected Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and others have already given indication of what they see as the top priorities with widespread agreement.</p> <p>Cuomo, who has appeared mostly happy with a split Legislature, now faces the challenge of dictating terms to legislative majorities that may want to move faster and further left than he’s comfortable with, though Democrats also know that the next legislative elections are now less than two years away and their members from swing suburban districts need to be especially careful with ‘pocketbook’ issues. Taxpayers across the state will soon be adjusting to the full new reality of federal tax reforms, which capped state and local deductions and are of great concern to suburban homeowners. Plus, the state’s current “millionaires tax” is set to expire in 2019 and Cuomo hasn’t yet indicated his stance on renewing it, even as he faces upcoming budget deficits.</p> <p>“I am a suburban legislator,” Stewart-Cousins of Westchester <a href="https://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/state-senate-turnover-1.23031265" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told Long Island-based Newsday</a>. “I am very proud that New Yorkers have elected many great suburban legislators to take their place in the Senate Democratic Majority.”</p> <p>Cuomo has been clear that he plans to continue the fiscal restraint and center-left governance of his first two terms. At the same time, he’s poised to push through many significant policies his critics have blamed him for not delivering, while addressing the twin crises of his second term: the failing New York City subways and the corruption that has continued to plague state government, recently in the governor’s own inner circle.</p> <p>Cuomo wants to keep state spending increases to roughly two percent annually, to keep an annual cap on property tax growth everywhere outside New York City, and to take steps to mitigate the effects of federal tax reform, especially the new cap on state and local deductions. But he also has a lengthy professed agenda for 2019 and his larger third term, including voting reform, additional gun control regulations, the Child Victims Act, codifying Roe v. Wade abortion protections into state law, the Dream Act, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), and more. For the most part, the policy agenda Cuomo has laid out, which is noticeably light on new spending, should not be a heavy lift in either house of the Legislature with both under Democratic control.</p> <p>There may very well be areas of conflict, however, even if legislators stay away from raising taxes or pursuing policies like single-payer health care that Cuomo has thrown cold water on. These include government ethics and campaign finance reform, funding the MTA, rent regulations, education funding, charter schools, criminal justice reform, and others. How to move the state ahead in combating climate change may also be a source of disagreement in terms of degree.</p> <p>The governor knows he must -- and has promised to -- move ahead with congestion pricing for Manhattan travel as part of funding the MTA and the Fast Forward subway modernization plan that is ballparked at around $35 billion. It’s unclear where the rest of the needed money will come from, though Cuomo has already indicated he expects the New York City government to kick in more (de Blasio continues to call for an additional tax on high-earners, which Cuomo has mocked). The governor even got several Senate candidates on Long Island to sign a pledge that they’d squeeze the city for more transit money -- not the only episode of the fall campaign to raise the possibility that Cuomo is readying to continue to hold sway over policy-making in Albany no matter how other pieces may shift.</p> <p>The governor is also frustrated with hearing about his failures on government ethics and campaign finance reform, and will likely look to put that talk to bed by the time a new state budget is passed at the end of March. The details of any such deals will be closely examined for whether they truly advance the causes of good government and provide the best possible circumstances for both preventing and punishing corruption.</p> <p>A major unknown is whether some of the newly elected State Senate Democrats, especially those on Long Island, will feel more beholden to Cuomo than to the conference itself, and help him restrain the larger group. On the other hand, it is unclear how the new group of state senators who defeated members of what was the Independent Democratic Conference, some of whom cross-endorsed with Cynthia Nixon in her challenge to Cuomo, will approach the governor and raising their voices within the Senate majority.</p> <p>During a Wednesday appearance <a href="http://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/buffalo/capital-tonight-interviews/2018/11/08/senate-democrats-flip-majority-#" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on Spectrum’s Capitol Tonight</a>, Stewart-Cousins was asked about unifying her new conference and finding agreement. “So people understand that there’s a lot of great hope in our ascension to power,” she said, “and in order to really fulfill those hopes, we have to move as a body. That means we’re going to have to find ways to get to the desired end...We must consider that it is one New York, but there are a lot of different places, a lot of different regions and areas and needs and interests, and if we do our job right we will be able to manage and take care of all of it.”</p> <p>Democrats in the state Assembly, which is dominated by New York City members and led by Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx, may be itching to enact an agenda they have repeatedly passed that has not had Cuomo’s full support and that is not necessarily the same agenda as the new Senate Democratic majority. Assembly Democrats have spent years passing one-house bills and budgets advancing progressive priorities, including things like single-payer health care, higher taxes on top earners, tighter rent regulations, and sweeping criminal justice reforms.</p> <p>Still, there is much that Democrats in the Assembly, Senate, and governor’s mansion agree on and will all-but-certainly find common ground to pass, starting with a handful of policies that Cuomo, Stewart-Cousins, and Heastie have already mentioned since the election results came in: voting reform, women’s reproductive choice, gun control, and more.</p> <p>“There have been measures that I could not get done with a Republican Senate and I believe they were short-sighted,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “...And I worked so hard for a Democratic Senate, because these are pieces that I believe are essential to really move this state forward.”</p> <p>“We need ethics reform and there's no reason not to pass it,” he continued, mentioning making legislative positions full-time with no outside income, campaign finance reform (including closure of the LLC loophole), and voting reform, including early voting.</p> <p>“The women's right to choose has to be protected,” Cuomo said, referring to the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade into state law. He also mentioned the Dream Act, “gun safety” legislation, which would likely include a “red flag bill” to remove guns from the homes of potentially troubled young people and extending the background check wait time from three to ten days.</p> <p>All of the issues listed by Cuomo are ones that Stewart-Cousins, members of her conference, and Heastie have mentioned in the first days after the election as top priorities.</p> <p>While Cuomo appears ready to knock down any criticism that he is not a ‘real Democrat’ and create additional buzz around a possible presidential run, he always wants to move on his terms. A deal-maker who leverages his counterparts, the governor has clearly been sizing up the new dynamics he’s facing ahead of the state budget session that will kick off in January with his State of the State speech and Executive Budget presentation. Discussing the facts that he received the most votes of any governor ever and won this year by a bigger margin than in 2014, Cuomo said Wednesday that it “helps practically in governmentally when you have a larger mandate electorally, the other elected officials know you’ve literally come into government with a stronger hand, and having a larger victory helps you governmentally, I believe that.”</p> <p>And even as Cuomo has pledged to serve another four-year term and there are very serious questions about his viability as a presidential candidate, he has regularly stoked the flames and after another resounding electoral victory, may be poised to flirt even more explicitly with a run for president.</p> <p>One possibility is that Cuomo focuses intently on moving an aggressive progressive agenda through in the first few months of the Albany year, then takes his new list of accomplishments to a few of the necessary stops on a presidential exploration tour, such as New Hampshire.</p> <p>Another uncertainty for the year ahead is exactly how Attorney General-elect Letitia James approaches her new role. James, a Democrat who is currently the New York City public advocate, will vacate that position and take charge of a vast and immensely powerful legal office. She has promised to continue the aggressive approach the office of attorney general has taken to President Trump, his administration and his other enterprises, while also taking on criminal justice reform in New York and working to root out public corruption, among other aspects of the role she has said she will embrace. In the face of skepticism about her closeness to Cuomo and other Democrats, James has promised to be an independent voice and to pursue wrongdoing wherever it may be.</p> <p>There is no speculating that much of New York City’s policy agenda depends on legislative action in Albany. Speedy trial and bail reform legislation seen as vital to the effort to close Rikers island jails will be a top priority for progressives in the capital and City Hall. And the renewal of rent regulations presents a major opportunity to reduce the displacement pressures that dog de Blasio’s rezoning and development plans. There is almost guaranteed to be city-state tension in 2019 over funding the MTA, among other policy and budget issues.</p> <p>Asked the day after the election about his top priorities for the Albany year ahead, de Blasio said, “One: strengthen rent regulations, protect affordable housing. Two: fix the MTA, provide a permanent funding source for our subways and buses. Three: continue our progress on education funding and on having the power to keep fixing our schools.”</p> <p><strong>New York City</strong><br /> Under normal circumstances, 2019 would be a quiet year in city politics—an off-year between the 2018 statewide elections and the presidential race in 2020, with municipal elections a full two years off in 2021.</p> <p>But circumstances are not normal. A a citywide official is leaving her office vacant, a veteran district attorney is retiring, and big decisions on everything from charter revision to jail-siting and neighborhood rezoning are due.</p> <p>As is always the case in the years after statewide elections, three district attorney races are on the docket in the city. All five of the city’s sitting district attorneys are Democrats. Incumbent Darcel Clark in the Bronx, who was elected in 2015 with 80 percent of the vote, is unlikely to be threatened. Staten Island's Michael McMahon won his post in 2015 with 55 percent of the vote, and could face a more competitive re-election contest. But the Queens DA's race is shaping up to be the most dramatic affair, with incumbent Richard Brown—who ran uncontested in '15 and has held his post since '91—likely to step down and a roster of well-known names (City Council Member Rory Lancman, former Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr., Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, State Senator Michael Gianaris) in the mix of declared or potential candidates.</p> <p>Letitia James' victory in the race for attorney general means there'll be a special election to fill the post of public advocate. Brooklyn Council Member Jumaane Williams, fresh off his campaign for lieutenant governor, and Bronx Assembly Member Michael Blake are already in the mix for that post, along with a couple of others like Nomiki Konst and David Eisenbach, and a host of other names are considered possible candidates.</p> <p>The special election to select an interim public advocate will be a nonpartisan affair held in early 2019; the winner of that could then face a primary in September before a general election in November 2019 to decide who serves the remainder of James' term. Worth noting: If someone currently in elected office wins the special election for public advocate, there will need to be another election to fill the slot the winner vacates. It could be a very special year.</p> <p>Also expected to be on the ballot next November: the proposals from the City Council's 2019 charter revision commission. The hearings and meetings (and behind the scenes machinations) that will shape those proposals will be a significant story to watch in the city next year, because the changes on the table next November could be the most significant in 30 years. Already, the commission has been asked to consider ambitious alterations to how the city does budgeting and land-use planning.</p> <p>Critical housing policy decisions will come throughout the year. The city's "Where We Live NYC" fair-housing planning process—a landmark examination of whether city housing programs have reduced or exacerbated segregation—is supposed to wrap up by the fall of 2019. A decision could come in the lawsuits over the fairness of the community preference policy and the property-tax system, and the property-tax reform commission empaneled by de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is holding its final first-wave meetings in later November and December and could issue a report soon—with whatever plan emerges subject to intense debate, as well as legislation at both the city and state levels.</p> <p>Major neighborhood rezonings of Bushwick, Gowanus, and Bay Street are likely, with action on Long Island City and the Southern Boulevard area of the Bronx also possible. And the Council and mayor will render decisions on the plans to build new jails to replace the facilities on Rikers Island.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the NYCHA settlement with federal authorities awaits approval—and NYCHA families await another winter and the potential for heat and hot-water problems. The federal criminal investigation of NYCHA and its decision-makers is not over and could produce more news, and some housing advocates will bring more pressure on the mayor to build new senior housing on NYCHA land rather than market-rate units. De Blasio may name a permanent head of NYCHA, or keep the interim leader, Stan Brezenoff, in place. The city will also be looking to Washington for more funding help for public housing, and may put forward a revamped long-term plan for NYCHA that accelerates the pace of development on under-utilized NYCHA land as a way to bring in revenue.</p> <p>2019 is the year when the hit from the Trump tax plan's capping of federal income tax deductions for state and local taxes will start to affect high earners—and it will be interesting to see if that encourages calls to rein in spending during the city's budget process. As one business advocate notes, "Only a relatively small number of high earners have to relocate to lower tax states for NYC to suffer major revenue losses." People in the top 1 percent – those in the 38,000 households making more than $713,000—earned about 35 percent of the city's income and contributed roughly 44 percent of total income-tax revenue in 2016. But keeping budget growth modest will be challenging, with the MTA, NYCHA, and the public hospital system in need of major investment.</p> <p>The city's ability to implement the Fair Fares Metrocard subsidy program will be tested, and bus riders should get a glimpse of the newly redesigned bus routes coming under the MTA's Fast Forward plan. The rollout of the school desegregation effort in District 15 will continue as New Yorkers get more of a sense of whether and how Richard Carranza will put his stamp on the school system.</p> <p>The x-factor in all these stories is how much power Bill de Blasio will have to shape these critical policy decisions, all of which will help sculpt his legacy.</p> <p>The mayor did little to define a second-term agenda before he was re-elected in a landslide a year ago, and he's not done much to fill in those blanks over the past 12 months. His signature policy idea of 2018, the democracy initiative, has not had an auspicious start, though de Blasio did see the three ballot proposals from his charter revision commission approved by voters on Election Day. While the mayor has made substantive policy moves, on cybersecurity and guns for instance, they have been drowned out by a torrent of dreadful headlines about NYCHA, his school renewal plan, his beef with the Department of Investigations commissioner, and, of course, the "agent of the city" emails.</p> <p>Some of that static is merely what comes with the territory of a second term in one of the toughest jobs in the country. But de Blasio's unusually acrimonious relationship with the press, his feud with a governor who was just resoundingly elected for a third time, the rise of a less-cooperative City Council and the pre-2021 positioning that is already taking place among his partners in government could combine to irreversibly weaken the mayor years before he ought to look like a lame duck. While that might sound like good news to those who dislike de Blasio, the fact is the city's interests in Albany or Washington depend on there being a strong figure in City Hall. Other players might claim some spotlight and gain some juice, but Bill de Blasio is alone at New York City's helm for another 1,150 days. That would be a long time to be adrift.</p> <p><strong>Washington, D.C.</strong><br /> And then there’s Washington. The new Democratic House could move a legislative agenda to try to limit the impact of the limitations on SALT deductions, support infrastructure spending, shore up the Affordable Care Act, and take steps to thwart the president’s harshest moves on immigration -- all of which would have direct impact on New York City and State. But with Republicans maintaining control of the Senate and the White House, Democrats will not be able to move anything through Congress without major compromise. It’s unclear who will lead the House Democrats or what their strategy over the next year will be: seeking a deal with centrist Republicans, or even with the mercurial president himself, to create new policy, or instead maintaining a more combative posture until the 2020 presidential election resets the country.</p> <p>The Iowa caucus, after all, is only 15 months away.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is the opening story in a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project: AGENDA 2019<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>***<br />by Ben Max of Gotham Gazette &amp; Jarrett Murphy of City Limits. Part of "Agenda 2019," a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project to get New Yorkers ready for the political year ahead.</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Agenda 2019" width="600" height="302" /></p>
'Speaker Heastie PAC' Gives to James for AG, Skoufis for Senate 2018-10-16T04:00:00+00:00 2018-10-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7997-speaker-heastie-pac-gives-to-james-for-ag-skoufis-for-senate Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/heastie-w-cuomo-and-morelle.jpg" alt="heastie w cuomo and morelle" width="600" /></p> <p>Speaker Heastie, with Gov. Cuomo and Assemblymember Morelle (Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s eponymous political action committee has continued to donate to Democrats in competitive races this year, recently making new contributions to Public Advocate Letitia James’ attorney general campaign and Assembly Member James Skoufis’ bid for State Senate. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest campaign finance filings with the State Board of Elections showed that Speaker Heastie PAC spent about $26,000 between September 21 and October 2, including $10,000 each to James and to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee -- as speaker, Heastie is honorary chair of the DACC and he has donated $55,000 in total through his PAC, which has raised its money mostly from a variety of special interests. The PAC gave Skoufis’ campaign a $5,000 contribution -- it has sent Skoufis $12,250 overall as he seeks to move from Heastie’s conference to the upper chamber as part of the Democrats’ attempt to win control of the Senate and thus both houses of the Legislature.</p> <p>Since its creation in January, Heastie’s PAC has raised $326,100 <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7886-heastie-pac-brings-in-big-money-from-special-interests-starts-spending-on-candidates" target="_blank" rel="noopener">from a combination</a> of other PACs, limited liability companies, and individuals, and has doled out just over $303,000 to several Assembly members running for reelection, candidates for State Senate, Democratic clubs in the Bronx, home to Heastie’s Assembly district and where he is intricately involved in the county Democratic Party, and to James, who is seeking to ascend from a citywide to a statewide official and become the state’s top legal officer.</p> <p>James’ campaign is also being supported by much of the rest of the Democratic establishment in the state, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, while she is facing questions about her independence from figures like Heastie and Cuomo, and whether she would effectively work to root out government corruption as attorney general.</p> <p>Heastie has donated a total of $31,000 to James’ campaign, which has raised more than $2.5 million and spent over $2 million so far, including during a hard-fought four-way Democrtic primary. She had about $384,000 in cash on hand as of her most recent filing, while raising more money for the home stretch before Election Day. James’ Republican opponent, Keith Wofford, is a lawyer at an international corporate firm and a first-time candidate for elected office. He has raised more than $1.6 million for his run and spent almost $1.4 million. He had about $400,000 remaining with three weeks left in the race, while also working to bring in more in order to spend it.</p> <p>With Heastie assured to be reelected to another two-year term -- he is not facing a challenger -- and with Democrats overwhelmingly represented in the Assembly, his PAC has focused part of its efforts on the State Senate, where Republicans hold a one-seat majority, in an effort to regain control of the legislative chamber. Cuomo and the State Democratic Committee are spearheading that effort with a $2 million infusion of cash.</p> <p>As of the last filing, Heastie’s PAC did not show any new fundraising and had about $23,000 left to dish out.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/heastie-w-cuomo-and-morelle.jpg" alt="heastie w cuomo and morelle" width="600" /></p> <p>Speaker Heastie, with Gov. Cuomo and Assemblymember Morelle (Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s eponymous political action committee has continued to donate to Democrats in competitive races this year, recently making new contributions to Public Advocate Letitia James’ attorney general campaign and Assembly Member James Skoufis’ bid for State Senate. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest campaign finance filings with the State Board of Elections showed that Speaker Heastie PAC spent about $26,000 between September 21 and October 2, including $10,000 each to James and to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee -- as speaker, Heastie is honorary chair of the DACC and he has donated $55,000 in total through his PAC, which has raised its money mostly from a variety of special interests. The PAC gave Skoufis’ campaign a $5,000 contribution -- it has sent Skoufis $12,250 overall as he seeks to move from Heastie’s conference to the upper chamber as part of the Democrats’ attempt to win control of the Senate and thus both houses of the Legislature.</p> <p>Since its creation in January, Heastie’s PAC has raised $326,100 <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7886-heastie-pac-brings-in-big-money-from-special-interests-starts-spending-on-candidates" target="_blank" rel="noopener">from a combination</a> of other PACs, limited liability companies, and individuals, and has doled out just over $303,000 to several Assembly members running for reelection, candidates for State Senate, Democratic clubs in the Bronx, home to Heastie’s Assembly district and where he is intricately involved in the county Democratic Party, and to James, who is seeking to ascend from a citywide to a statewide official and become the state’s top legal officer.</p> <p>James’ campaign is also being supported by much of the rest of the Democratic establishment in the state, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, while she is facing questions about her independence from figures like Heastie and Cuomo, and whether she would effectively work to root out government corruption as attorney general.</p> <p>Heastie has donated a total of $31,000 to James’ campaign, which has raised more than $2.5 million and spent over $2 million so far, including during a hard-fought four-way Democrtic primary. She had about $384,000 in cash on hand as of her most recent filing, while raising more money for the home stretch before Election Day. James’ Republican opponent, Keith Wofford, is a lawyer at an international corporate firm and a first-time candidate for elected office. He has raised more than $1.6 million for his run and spent almost $1.4 million. He had about $400,000 remaining with three weeks left in the race, while also working to bring in more in order to spend it.</p> <p>With Heastie assured to be reelected to another two-year term -- he is not facing a challenger -- and with Democrats overwhelmingly represented in the Assembly, his PAC has focused part of its efforts on the State Senate, where Republicans hold a one-seat majority, in an effort to regain control of the legislative chamber. Cuomo and the State Democratic Committee are spearheading that effort with a $2 million infusion of cash.</p> <p>As of the last filing, Heastie’s PAC did not show any new fundraising and had about $23,000 left to dish out.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>