Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/84 Thu, 15 Nov 2018 02:18:49 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Agenda 2019: Major Policy Tests Ahead for State and City http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8061-agenda-2019-major-policy-tests-ahead-for-state-and-city http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8061-agenda-2019-major-policy-tests-ahead-for-state-and-city cuomo stewart-cousins democrats

Byron Brown, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Andrew Cuomo (photo: NY Democratic State Party)


This is the opening story in a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project: AGENDA 2019
Find the rest of the series here

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.

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.

“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.”

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.

“[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.”

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.

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.

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.

First, an overview of what’s on hand.

Albany
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.

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.

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.

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.

“I am a suburban legislator,” Stewart-Cousins of Westchester told Long Island-based Newsday. “I am very proud that New Yorkers have elected many great suburban legislators to take their place in the Senate Democratic Majority.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

During a Wednesday appearance on Spectrum’s Capitol Tonight, 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.”

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.

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.

“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.”

“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.

“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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

New York City
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Washington, D.C.
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.

The Iowa caucus, after all, is only 15 months away.

This is the opening story in a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project: AGENDA 2019
Find the rest of the series here

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by Ben Max of Gotham Gazette & 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.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Agenda 2019

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Agenda 2019: Major Policy Tests Ahead for State and City Thu, 08 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
'Speaker Heastie PAC' Gives to James for AG, Skoufis for Senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7997-speaker-heastie-pac-gives-to-james-for-ag-skoufis-for-senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7997-speaker-heastie-pac-gives-to-james-for-ag-skoufis-for-senate heastie w cuomo and morelle

Speaker Heastie, with Gov. Cuomo and Assemblymember Morelle (Governor's Office)


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.    

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.

Since its creation in January, Heastie’s PAC has raised $326,100 from a combination 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.

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.

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.

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.

As of the last filing, Heastie’s PAC did not show any new fundraising and had about $23,000 left to dish out.

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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'Speaker Heastie PAC' Gives to James for AG, Skoufis for Senate Tue, 16 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
'Speaker Heastie PAC' Brings in Big Money from Special Interests, Starts Giving to Candidates http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7886-heastie-pac-brings-in-big-money-from-special-interests-starts-spending-on-candidates http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7886-heastie-pac-brings-in-big-money-from-special-interests-starts-spending-on-candidates heastie morelle assembly

Carl Heastie, right, with Joe Morelle (photo: @JoeMorelle)


New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who rose to lead the chamber following the fall from grace of his predecessor, Sheldon Silver, on charges of corruption, has been in at least one way followed in Silver’s footsteps by establishing a political action committee, which he is using to support allies in this year’s state elections.  

Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, is in no danger of being unseated himself as he seeks another two-year term in the Assembly, but Democrats are hoping to flip enough seats to take control of the upper house of the state Legislature, the state Senate. Heastie’s political committee, titled “Speaker Heastie PAC,” was registered in January and has raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thus far, those funds have gone to fellow Assembly members seeking reelection, two state Senators, and local Democratic clubs and county committees. A few of the contributions also suggest that Heastie hopes to influence the political sphere beyond the legislative branch and the State of New York.

Since January, the PAC has raised a total of $318,600 and spent about $254,000, leaving a balance of about $65,000, according to mid-August campaign finance filings with the state Board of Elections. The largest donors to Heastie’s PAC have significant dealings with the Assembly, broader Legislature, and state government in general.

The PAC received large donations from several prominent labor unions and PACs representing legal professionals, real estate, law enforcement, and other industries.

Three PACs -- 32BJ United ADF, affiliated with the property services workers union; Charter Communications PAC, which represents the communications company of the same name; and Law PAC of New York, affiliated with the New York State Trial Lawyers Association -- each gave $25,000 to Heastie’s PAC. The state teachers union, New York State United Teachers, donated $22,500. “Speaker Heastie is a true champion for public education,” said NYSUT spokesperson Carl Korn. “New York's public schools and colleges -- and the students who attend them -- are better off thanks to his steadfast leadership. We are proud to offer him our support.”

Among other donors were political committees associated with the Corrections Officers Benevolent Association, the Real Estate Board of New York, the Hotel Trades Council, the New York Gaming Association, the Transit Workers Union, the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Communications Workers of America, to name a few. Even billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, a prominent Republican donor who has also given to many Democrats in the past, gave a $5,000 contribution to the PAC.

Heastie has been generous in distributing the money he has raised so far.

His PAC has contributed $21,000 to the Attorney General campaign of New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, whom Heastie endorsed soon after she announced her campaign in May. James has also been endorsed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Democratic Party, leading to criticism from opponents that she is too connected to the party establishment to be a necessarily independent and effective attorney general, especially as it relates to investigated and rooting out public corruption.

“The Speaker supports candidates he believes in and who share his values,” a Heastie spokesperson told Gotham Gazette in a brief email.

A 32BJ union spokesperson said in an email that the union donated to Heastie to push for more Democratic seats in the state Senate. “We have always supported efforts to make New York a progressive state,” the spokesperson said. “This includes having a Democrat-led Senate. Heastie’s PAC is focused on flipping the Senate to the Democrats, so this effort is another step to ensure a truly blue New York.”

But so far Heastie’s PAC hasn’t spent much along those lines. Heastie did direct $11,000 to the state Senate campaign of Shelley Mayer, who successfully ran in an April special election to replace George Latimer, who stepped down after being elected Westchester county executive. But other than that and a $7,000 contribution to state Senator Jamaal Bailey, a close Heastie friend, the PAC has steered clear of state Senate races, particularly those in districts represented by members of the former Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of eight Democrats who caucused with Republicans for more than seven years and recently returned to the mainline Democratic conference, or swing districts around the state.

Responding to this fact in a subsequent email, the 32BJ spokesperson said, “It’s early in the election cycle and we expect that the focus on many of the Senate races will happen after the primaries. Our contribution is intended to help in Senate races.”

Primary elections, including the challenges to the eight former IDC members, will take place September 13. Heastie signed on to the unity agreement brokered by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is facing his own spirited primary from Cynthia Nixon but is not wanting for funds, whereby he pledged not to support primaries against sitting Democrats. The former leader of the IDC, Senator Jeff Klein, represents part of Heastie’s native Bronx.

As a representative from the Bronx, it isn’t necessarily surprising that Heastie also chose to contribute $10,000 from his PAC to Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, even though she is not up for reelection until next year. Clark sailed through the election in 2015 after being nominated for the position in a controversial move by the Bronx Democratic County Committee -- which Heastie used to chair and is still influential with -- when her predecessor Robert Johnson dropped out after winning the Democratic primary to accept a nomination for a state judgeship offered by the county party leadership.

Heastie’s PAC also gave $40,000 to the Bronx Democratic County Committee (one of the four $10,000 donations seems to have been mislabelled as given to Bronx County PAC, which doesn’t exist but was listed with the same address.) Heastie’s PAC also directed $35,000 to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee, of which Heastie is the honorary chair as speaker.  

All 150 seats in the overwhelmingly Democratic state Assembly are on the ballot this year and several members of the Democratic conference benefited from the speaker’s largesse. Chief among them was Ari Espinal, the first-term incumbent from Queens facing a competitive challenge from Catalina Cruz, a “dreamer” running on a progressive platform. Heastie’s PAC gave Espinal $5,400 for her reelection.

Additionally, Assemblymember James Skoufis got $4,750 from the PAC; Assemblymembers Carmen Arroyo, Carmen De La Rosa, Al Taylor, and Jeffrion Aubry each received $4,400; Assemblymember Latoya Joyner received $2,000; and Assemblymembers Nathalia Fernandez, Kimberly Jean-Pierre, and Harvey Epstein each got a $1,000 contribution.

An Bronx Assembly candidate, Karines Reyes, got a $2,000 contribution. Reyes is running for an open seat left vacant after Luis Sepulveda was elected to the state Senate in the April special election.

The PAC donated $1,000 to the congressional campaign of Anthony Brindisi, a Democrat attempting to unseat Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney in New York’s 22nd district upstate. Another $1,000 went to Assemblymember Joe Morelle, who is running for Congress in the 25th district against Republican Jim Maxwell. The seat has been vacant since the death of Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Democrat, in March. Morelle is a close friend of Heastie’s and is the Assembly majority leader.

Heastie also made another early donation to a candidate in New York City, doling out $4,784 to Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the first candidate to officially declare he is running for mayor in 2021, when Mayor Bill de Blasio is term-limited out of office. Diaz Jr. has just over $600,000 in cash on hand already for the campaign.  

But Heastie’s contributions also leave the borders of the state. His PAC donated $1,000 to Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for Georgia governor. If elected, Abrams stands to be the first African-American woman elected governor of any state in the country.

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Ben Brachfeld contributed to this story.

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'Speaker Heastie PAC' Brings in Big Money from Special Interests, Starts Giving to Candidates Thu, 23 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
State Board of Elections Curtails Power of Enforcement Counsel http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7852-state-board-of-elections-curtails-power-of-enforcement-counsel http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7852-state-board-of-elections-curtails-power-of-enforcement-counsel gov and cuomo coughlin votes

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


The State Board of Elections voted on Wednesday to hobble the subpoena powers of Chief Enforcement Counsel Risa Sugarman, dealing a significant blow to one of the state’s only election law watchdogs.

The new rules, which were voted on by the board at a commissioners’ meeting in Albany, would require Sugarman to obtain permission from the board members (two Democrats, two Republicans) for each subpoena she plans to issue in a probe, and for the “circumstances of the investigation” to be divulged to the members. Previously, the board approved Sugarman’s ability to make subpoenas in probes, but she was given latitude to make individual subpoenas within a probe.

The new rule also requires that Sugarman provide regular reports to the board members detailing metrics related to her investigations, and for investigations to be limited to six-month timeframes. Sugarman is the first and only person to hold the relatively new position at the board.

She has, in the past, criticized the proposed rule changes as being designed to hobble the powers given to her in 2014, after Governor Andrew Cuomo and Legislature passed a law designed to depoliticize the BOE’s enforcement process.

"These amendments would allow the politically partisan commissioners of the SBOE to impose their own political will on the independent chief enforcement counsel's investigations," Sugarman said in a June letter to the board, obtained by the Albany Times-Union.

The final vote on the measure was 3-1 in favor, with Democratic appointee Andrew Spano dissenting. Before the vote, Sugarman provided sharply critical testimony wherein she accused the board members of attempting to hobble a crucial state watchdog.

“By your vote today, you will send a message,” she said, saying that a “yes” vote would stand for partisan intervention into independent oversight, while a “no” vote would stand for “fair and complete investigations.” Sugarman said that the rescission of unmitigated subpoena power, as well as reporting requirements and a six-month timeframe for investigations, would hobble the enforcement counsel’s ability to fairly investigate campaign finance violations.

Sugarman claimed that the regulations would slow the pace of investigations by requiring approval of subpoenas by the BOE, and would hinder the independence of the investigation by needing approval from partisan appointees. In effect, the commissioners, not the enforcement counsel, would “control the course and content of an investigation,” she said.

Sugarman brought up supporters of her fight against the new regulations: seven state residents who submitted public comment, gubernatorial candidate and former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, the Office of the New York Attorney General, good government groups Reinvent Albany and Rochester for All, five members of the former Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, three District Attorneys, and attorney Milton Williams.

“Gutting the Enforcement Counsel’s authority and independence will only serve to encourage more corruption in New York,” Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement. “Our partnership with a strong, independent Enforcement Counsel has allowed us to hold public officials to account for breaking campaign finance laws and cheating New Yorkers. With today’s vote, that work is jeopardized by potential political interference in law enforcement investigations.”

Governor Cuomo, too, opposed the new regulations, expressing his opinion just before the board meeting, though it had been sought for weeks.

“‎We reviewed these draft regulations and believe they are unnecessary and ‎could harm the operations and the independence of the enforcement counsel's office,” Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens said in a statement on Wednesday morning. “We don't support their adoption and, believe that today's vote should be delayed and members should go back to the drawing board to address these concerns. The Democratic members of the Board of Elections have been informed of our stance."

Spokespeople for Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan did not respond to requests for comment.

The enforcement counsel was created to independently deliberate election law violations, instead of leaving the job to the partisan board of elections. After Cuomo faced intense controversy for his shuttering of the Moreland Commission, interpreted by many as a reaction to investigations into his administration or people close to him, he and legislative leaders Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos (both now convicted of public corruption) fostered the creation of the enforcement counsel as a compromise.

Regardless, the members of the board criticized Sugarman, saying that her office was inadequately enforcing campaign finance law. Douglas Kellner, the Democratic co-chair of the board, said that enforcement had “effectively stopped” since 2014, the year the enforcement counsel was created, in the areas of deficiencies and non-filings of campaign finance disclosures.

Kellner and other board members said that despite thousands of referrals to Sugarman, only a few dozen hearings had been commenced.

“It’s beyond me why there has not been public outrage at the fact that this has happened,” Kellner said, singling out good government groups for a lack of criticism. Kellner said that he had spoken to good government groups who were in support of the new rule, but did not say which ones.

"I think it's pretty clear that I'm fed up with the current process of the enforcement unit,” Kellner said. “I call upon people in the good government groups...to look at the numbers. Look at the numbers of non-filers, and to how enforcement counsel has handled those non-filers."

One of those government reform groups, Reinvent Albany, issued a statement Wednesday expressing opposition to “the sections of the proposed rules which create new procedures for the chief enforcement counsel to issue subpoenas to persons and committees being investigated for violations of Election or other laws.”

“We believe these procedures will slow or terminate important investigations of alleged violations of Election Law,” the statement continues. “The Board should not seek to undercut the independence of the chief enforcement counsel, who has investigated types of cases not previously taken on by the Election Law enforcement unit of the Board.”

Reinvent Albany supports, however, “the sections related to reporting enforcement activity but believe reporting should be made public and expanded to include all aspects of compliance and

enforcement by the State and county boards of election. The Board currently does not report much, if any, compliance and enforcement activity to the general public, and it should do so as is done by other state agencies while respecting the rights of the accused.”

Republican co-chair Peter Kosinski said that the six-month timetable was necessary in order for voters to know who they were voting for, and whether they had not committed election law violations; Sugarman had earlier said that the timeframe was “arbitrary.”

However, Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, who submitted testimony against the new rule, said in an op-ed for loHud in July that board members had admitted in 2013 to only undertaking a single probe in the preceding four years. According to the 2015 Board of Elections annual report, Sugarman received board authorization to seek subpoenas in 19 probes in 2015, with nine cases being referred for possible prosecution. The 2017 report noted that Sugarman had received subpoena authorization in four cases and referred one for prosecution.

The 2013 annual report, before the enforcement counsel position was created, lists no subpoenas or prosecutions.

The board also voted on Wednesday to implement new regulations on political advertising on social media platforms, rules that follow the adoption of a new law passed in this year’s state budget. The new rules will ban foreign entities from purchasing digital ads on social media platforms, and will require ad buyers to register an independent expenditure committee; the board will require that IE’s name be displayed prominently on the ad, as having paid for it.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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State Board of Elections Curtails Power of Enforcement Counsel Wed, 08 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Attention Shifts to Assembly Hesitation on Accountability Bills Opposed by Cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7718-attention-shifts-to-assembly-hesitation-on-accountability-bills-opposed-by-cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7718-attention-shifts-to-assembly-hesitation-on-accountability-bills-opposed-by-cuomo govcuomo speakerheastie

Speaker Heastie, left, and Governor Cuomo (photo via the Governor's Office)


Amid open conflict with Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, the Republican-controlled state Senate recently passed a package of bills aimed at shedding light on taxpayer-funded economic development projects, among other reform measures. The move helped reignite attention on the legislation and put pressure on the Democrat-led Assembly to pass bills it has previously supported.

The legislation includes the Procurement Integrity Act, which would restore the state comptroller’s power to review contracts before they are officially awarded, and the “database of deals” bill, which would create a public catalogue of economic development awards and their results. Such grants run into hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds, though they are often largely hidden from the public and have been at the center of recent corruption charges.

Assembly support for the measures was strong enough that earlier this year they were included in the chamber’s one-house budget, as they were in the Senate’s, though they were not included in the enacted state budget after negotiations among the Assembly, Senate, and governor.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie praised the Procurement Integrity Act last year, saying, “Another set of eyes will make people feel better that, yes, things are done correctly.”

However, the bill hasn’t made it out of the Assembly’s Government Operations Committee -- even though the committee’s chair, Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat from Buffalo, is the very lawmaker sponsoring the legislation. The bill has 37 co-sponsors in the 150-seat Assembly.

And as the June 20 scheduled end of legislative session approaches, the “database of deals” bill is stalled in the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Democrat Helene Weinstein of Brooklyn. That bill has 34 co-sponsors.

The reason for the hold-up? Advocates for the legislation are pointing at Cuomo, and his influence over Heastie.

“The speaker is jamming the bills because the governor wants him to,” said John Kaehny, executive director of government watchdog Reinvent Albany. “If those bills went to the floor of the Assembly, they would pass overwhelmingly.”

Assemblymember Robin Schimminger, a Democrat and main sponsor of the “database of deals” bill, echoed Kaehny’s comments.

“The governor does not want this bill moved,” the Buffalo-area representative told Gotham Gazette. “The question is, do Chair Weinstein and Speaker Heastie -- are they going to do the right thing or are they going to roll over and not move?”

Weinstein’s, Peoples-Stokes’, and Heastie’s offices did not respond to requests for comment. Questions around the bills, and whether Heastie and Assembly Democrats are willing to cross Cuomo, come as Democrats have a relatively recent “unity” pledge and coordinated campaign effort ahead of the fall elections.

The economic transparency legislation is seen by many as essential after corruption indictments centering on some of the governor’s most vaunted development programs.

Federal indictments in 2016 depicted a “pay-to-play” culture in which members of Cuomo’s inner circle received bribes or other perks in exchange for lucrative state contracts and special treatment meted out to developers in secret. Longtime Cuomo government aide and campaign manager Joseph Percoco was convicted of fraud and soliciting bribes in March. Former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros heads to trial later this month for allegedly helping rig multimillion-dollar contracts.

Both the Procurement Integrity Act (S.3984/A.6355) and “database of deals” bill (S.6613/A.8175) aim to address perceived flaws in how Cuomo has overseen funding allocations. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this article. Cuomo has in the past dismissed calls to restore the comptroller’s pre-clearance authority on the applicable state-funded contracts, which was stripped from the office during Cuomo’s first years as governor.

The projects Kaloyeros helped oversee, including a $750-million solar panel factory in Buffalo, were tied to SUNY Polytechnic. While Kaloyeros was allegedly scheming to reward developers who had donated to Cuomo’s re-election campaign, the state comptroller had no insight into the process; the governor and legislative leaders took away his power to pre-audit all state contracts over $250,000, including for SUNY- and CUNY-affiliated non-profits, in 2011 and 2012.

The Procurement Integrity Act, introduced by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, would restore that power.

"One of the reasons why folks thought they could get away with something is that they knew nobody was really looking, other than the people on the inside who turned out to be benefiting from this," DiNapoli told Syracuse.com last month.

The bill would also authorize the comptroller to approve SUNY Research Foundation contracts valued at over $1 million and would bar state-affiliated nonprofits from doling out contracts unless explicitly authorized by law. Such non-profits are at the center of the Percoco and Kaloyeros cases, with an entity called the Fort Schuyler Management Corporation awarding allegedly rigged bids.

Last year, Cuomo’s counsel told Gotham Gazette the clean-contracting legislation “does not address the issue.”

“The proposed legislation…is both burdensome and duplicative,” Alphonso David said. “The vast majority of these contracts are subject to OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] post-award oversight and these measures only add significant delays and increase costs for New York taxpayers.”

Still, basic information about the taxpayer-funded programs that Kaloyeros helped oversee, along with numerous other public-private projects, is not available to the public. The governor’s office publishes vague information about projects like the Computer Chip Commercialization Center in Utica, which has been variously described as generating 300 to 1,500 jobs and entailing investments from $100 million to $1.5 billion.

The “database of deals” would aim to fill in holes in public knowledge of such projects. It would list every taxpayer subsidy that corporations receive along with the number of jobs created and cost per job to taxpayers.

The Senate passed the “database” bill and the Procurement Integrity Act by votes of 62-0 and 60-2, respectively, on May 9. They were part of 11 total reform bills widely viewed as a snub to Cuomo, who fell out with the Senate’s Republican leadership amid political maneuvering in April.

“Because [Cuomo] went to war with the the Senate GOP, [Senate Majority Leader John] Flanagan put them up for a vote and -- no surprise to anybody -- they passed overwhelmingly,” Kaehny observed.

“It is imperative that the public trusts the actions of their public officials, especially when it comes to spending the people’s money,” Flanagan, of Long Island, said in a statement after the reform bills were approved. “This extensive package would help fix many of the issues that lead to corruption and the misuse of taxpayer funds.” While pressure from the Senate GOP is unlikely to sway Cuomo, recent weeks have seen the governor change his stance on a variety of issues in the face of the Democratic primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon. Observers have noted she’s pushed him left on policy like legalizing marijuana.

But while the actor and activist-turned-candidate has slammed Cuomo on corruption scandals in general, she is yet to make a cause of transparency and accountability reform legislation in particular.

Speaking on The Capitol Pressroom radio show on Monday, DiNapoli, a Democrat, voiced skepticism that the bills will pass the Assembly this session. Even if the Assembly approves the legislation, one of them -- the “database of deals” bill -- varies slightly from the Senate version and would have to be reconciled in conference.

“I’m the forever optimist, but it seems that the end of session is getting very bogged down and work’s not happening,” DiNapoli told host Susan Arbetter.

“My optimism is somewhat tempered by the seeming stalemate,” the comptroller added, referring to drama in the Senate. “At least, that’s how we ended last week. Let’s hope this week turns out a little differently.”

A number of advocacy and watchdog groups are organizing a final push for the “database of deals” and clean-contracting legislation, including a rally calling on Heastie to advance the bills on Thursday in Albany. Participants include Reinvent Albany, as well as Citizens Union, Common Cause NY,  League of Women Voters NYS, New York Public Interest Group (NYPRIG), and a variety of progressive advocacy organizations, such as Fiscal Policy Institute.

“There are many steps we should be taking, but the time is running out,” Assemblymember Schimminger said.

***
by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Attention Shifts to Assembly Hesitation on Accountability Bills Opposed by Cuomo Wed, 06 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Democratic Establishment Embraces Cuomo as Pragmatic Progressive http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7691-democratic-establishment-embraces-cuomo-as-pragmatic-progressive http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7691-democratic-establishment-embraces-cuomo-as-pragmatic-progressive cuomo and ticket at convention

James, Cuomo, Hochul, DiNapoli (photo: @andrewcuomo)


Governor Andrew Cuomo emerged triumphant and emboldened from the State Democratic Party’s nominating convention on Long Island, with the party’s designation in hand and embraced by top national Democrats and elected party representatives from across the state. The governor basked in the support of centrist establishment figures like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Joe Biden, while they and much of the rest of the convention sought to frame Cuomo as a progressive standard bearer who represents the values of a Democratic Party that continues to move leftward.

Cuomo and others framed the two-term incumbent as a progressive who gets things done, a trailblazer who doesn’t just talk, but has real accomplishments and is actually a unifying figure for the party -- though he is again being challenged from his left in this year’s primary as discontent from the progressive wing has reached a fever pitch. That fever was not particularly evident at the state party convention, however.

“We are about to embark on the most consequential campaign in our lifetime,” Cuomo declared in his acceptance speech on Thursday, framing his reelection amid Democratic efforts to retake the state Senate and U.S. House, with several swing districts in New York. “We are at a political crossroads and our decisions and actions are going to define the soul of this state and the soul of this nation.”

Cuomo’s coronation comes at a time when progressives are incensed with his centrism and triangulation with Republicans, and are pushing to elect a “true blue” Democrat to the governorship, personified in this case by Cynthia Nixon. But Cuomo’s supporters have warned of the dangers of liberal absolutism, as Democrats seek to retain what control they have over state and federal branches of government while also unseating Republicans in an age of Trumpism. The stakes are high for both parties, and some question whether Democratic infighting does any good while Republicans control the presidency, both houses of Congress, and many state legislatures (New York’s is split, with one house controlled by each party).

The Democratic State Committee had already concluded its nominations on Wednesday, leaving party members free to glad-hand and pat each other on the back as they sang the praises of Cuomo and other top party officials. Cuomo won the party designation with 95 percent of the state committee vote, a resounding victory over upstart challenger Nixon, who did appear at the convention as her campaign launched a blistering effort to paint Cuomo as in bed with Republicans. She continued to criticize him as a fake Democrat whose governing style smacks of expediency rather than sincerity.

The party also designated as its official nominees incumbents Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for another term each, and selected New York City Public Advocate Letitia James as the designated candidate for attorney general to replace Eric Schneiderman, who recently resigned after facing allegations of physical abuse by four women. Hochul is facing a primary challenge from New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams, while James is facing Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout and Leecia Eve, a former Cuomo and Clinton aide, in the primary.

Given how the state committee voted, Nixon, Williams, Teachout, and Eve will all have to collect petition signatures to get on the primary ballot. Nixon and Williams have the backing of the liberal Working Families Party, but may eschew its ballot line for the general election if they are unsuccessful in the Democratic primary. The WFP has said it wants to give its attorney general ballot line to either James or Teachout, depending on who wins the Democratic primary.

Though there was much party business and some controversy, the convention went mostly smoothly for Cuomo, who was the unequivocal star.

While Cuomo has indeed governed from the center, he was held up as a paragon of pragmatic progressivism at the convention, in line with the image he has sought to craft for himself in recent months, if not years. Before he spoke to the convention, Cuomo was lauded on Wednesday by Clinton and on Thursday by Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez and by Biden, who has a long-standing friendship with Cuomo, as a leader who has ushered in transformative change and created a model of governance that Democrats across the nation should envy, and emulate.

Marriage equality? Cuomo made it happen in New York and helped launch the nation on the path to full realization. Gun control? Cuomo moved quickly after the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre to ban the military-type assault weapons that have been used in many school and other mass shootings since. College tuition? Cuomo made it free for many middle-class students. A $15 minimum wage? Cuomo put a program in place. Paid family leave? Again, Cuomo.

In a lofty and lengthy address, filled with anecdotal life lessons, Biden waxed eloquent about the values of the Democratic Party, of American cultural exceptionalism, of the middle class American dream, as he inveighed against the Republican Party’s “phony populism” and “fake nationalism” that threaten to undermine them all. He spoke of his deeply personal ties to the Cuomo family, and of his and the governor’s shared interest in muscle cars (both of them own vintage Corvettes, he noted).

He proudly touted Cuomo’s record. “Andrew Cuomo has never backed away from his progressive principles, not one single time,” he said to applause.

Perez, occasionally peppering his speech with Spanish, said Cuomo and his running mate Hochul were “charter members of the accomplishments wing of the Democratic Party.”

“What I’ve grown to love about Andrew Cuomo is he understands that governance isn’t about speechifying,” Perez said. “It’s about making a real difference in people’s lives,” he said. “New Yorkers don’t want rhetoric, they want results. That’s what Andrew Cuomo has delivered.”

To an audience filled with many union workers, Perez hailed Cuomo’s support of labor unions and the state’s immense success in creating jobs under his tenure. And he drew a contrast between the governor and “this other New Yorker in Washington that’s giving a bad name to New York values,” though he stopped short of saying the name Trump.

State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, of the Bronx, commended the governor for managing to pass ambitious policies despite Republican control of the state Senate. “When you have a quarterback that’s a winning quarterback on a winning team, there’s no reason to change,” he said in his endorsement of the governor. And Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic minority leader, credited him with reuniting the fractured Senate Democratic conference, setting her up to eventually become the state’s first woman and woman of color to lead a legislative house if the party wins additional Senate seats in the elections this fall. “We can do this and we will make history by finally putting a woman in the room,” she declared.

All those Democrats, and the governor himself, put Cuomo on a large pedestal, as a leader who could forge a new path for the Democratic Party and whose administration was an exemplar for other states. The State Democratic Party, as is the case with its national counterpart, is counting on a blue wave that has been building across the nation since Trump’s election. Cuomo has trained his attention, and the state party’s resources, at flipping the state Senate and replacing Congressional Republicans with Democrats.

Cuomo welcomed the responsibility, insisting that the nation has its eyes turned to New York. “Our challenge is twofold. First, we must continue to move our state forward as the progressive capital of America because that’s what we are,” he said. “And at the same time, we must overcome the current national extreme conservative movement that is threatening this nation.”

Although he claimed he never appreciated his father’s self-proclaimed title of “pragmatic progressive,” Andrew Cuomo made no effort to distance himself from its definition: “We deliver practical progress for people in need,” he said.

Taking an expansive look at the Democratic Party, Cuomo said working- and middle-class voters had abandoned the party out of despair in 2016, and that the party must return to its roots. “No more platitudes, no more posturing, no more delay, no more incompetence, no more hypotheticals, no more hyperbole,” he said. “They want action. They want results and they want actions and results now. They don’t want pontification from an ivory tower.”

Cuomo's criticism of the Democratic Party and assertion that it had lost the election to Trump struck some as awkward, even insulting, given that Clinton -- the party's 2016 presidential nominee -- had praised and endorsed him the day before.

The convention also marked how far Cuomo has shifted in the last two years under the Trump presidency and, significantly, in the last few weeks under a deluge of criticism from a left-leaning progressive wing galvanized by Nixon’s candidacy.

For a time after Trump’s election, Cuomo refused to say “Trump” even as he criticized the federal government or “Washington.” In his speech on Thursday, he said the president’s name 18 times. “Today the Albany Republicans all carry the Trump doctrine,” he said. “They all drank the Trump, Ryan, McConnell Kool-Aid and their radical assault is draconian and all-encompassing...They think America was great when women were subordinate and when minorities were disenfranchised, and when the big private market corporations ruled the land and when labor was voiceless. That’s the America they want to take us back to. And we are not going back, ever.”

Cuomo did little to tamp down the rumors that he is considering a presidential run ahead of the 2020 election, something that his opponents from the left and the right have criticized him for.

Marc Molinaro, the gubernatorial candidate to Cuomo’s right as the Republican nominee, did not escape Cuomo’s scathing critiques either. “The Republicans in this state put on the top of their ticket a Trump mini-me. He's anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ, anti-gun safety, anti-immigration, anti-education equity, and pro-Trump's New York tax increase. All he is is a banner carrier for the extreme conservative movement,” Cuomo said, incorrectly characterizing some stances by Molinaro, who has opposed the federal tax reform and has said he did not vote for Trump for president.

But Cuomo did name Molinaro or Nixon, whose campaign sent out “fact check” emails as the governor spoke, contrasting his rhetoric with his record as they framed it. Notably, Cuomo pledged in his speech to “start a new movement of education funding equity” to ensure that public schools receive the resources they need to provide a sound education to all students. It’s a cause that Nixon has championed for nearly 20 years, largely placing blame for insufficient education funding on the governor, who has repeatedly shifted the way he talks about education funding.

"The Governor's attempt to reset his campaign this week failed," said Nixon campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt in a statement on Thursday. “His highly choreographed convention inflamed old divisions, and provided a series of bizarre, tone-deaf moments. Simply put, the Governor did little to push back on the growing realization among New Yorkers that he has more much in common with his wealthy Republican donors than Democrats.”

For Democratic State Committee members, Cuomo had successfully grasped the title of progressive. Several members, enthused about a strong and diverse statewide ticket, seemed almost offended that anyone would challenge their champion.

“I think we put together a great ticket, I like the diversity of it,” said Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who holds the dual role of state Assemblymember and Democratic State committee member from Assembly District 141. “I think it’s important that the ticket looks more like the electorate,” she said, in apparent reference to the fact that James is an African-American woman, whom Cuomo has backed for the attorney general position, as well as Hochul’s presence on the ticket.

“I do take some exception to people always questioning what has happened when most of the progressive things we’ve done in the state have not been done in the rest of the country,” she added.

Andre Waldron, a committee member from Nassau County, said Cuomo’s speech was a “home run” and that the convention was “phenomenal.”

“I think this time we’ve come out even more inclusive, having all groups represented,” said Louis Goldstein, who said he has been a state committee member from the Bronx since 1970. “I love the fact that we have a female, who happens to be black, as our candidate for attorney general. I think we’re moving in the correct direction.”

As with others, Goldstein expressed reservations about Nixon’s candidacy. “She’s a good actress. I compare her as being our quote-unquote Trump, as far as no government experience, she really does not know how to politically get things done,” he said.

Mary Gault, a Dutchess County committee member, said the party has a “wonderful team” on the ticket. “Andrew Cuomo, I believe, he did so much good for this state over his eight years. Kathy Hochul...she’s terrific too. And of course, I’ve got a New York pension, [and] Tom DiNapoli, he watches out for us.”

Gault said she didn’t give Nixon consideration, though her own county committee is very progressive. “The way she speaks, perfect! I would vote for her in a minute,” she said, “but she doesn’t have the skill set and she doesn’t tell us how she’s going to do it. She’s not a viable candidate, but her platform is perfect.”

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Democratic Establishment Embraces Cuomo as Pragmatic Progressive Thu, 24 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Key Takeaways: How the State Budget Impacts New York City http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7587-key-takeaways-how-the-state-budget-impacts-new-york-city http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7587-key-takeaways-how-the-state-budget-impacts-new-york-city Cuomo

(photo: The Governor's Office)


Early Saturday morning, the New York State Legislature finalized a new $168 billion budget ahead of the April 1 start to the 2019 fiscal year. The process to agree on the budget heavily involved four men -- Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein -- in the usual largely closed-door process.

When a deal was reached, the various parties sought to claim victories, including, for the Senate GOP, about what was not in the budget. The list of stated priorities for Cuomo, Heastie, and Mayor Bill de Blasio that were not included is indeed fairly long, and includes criminal justice, election, and campaign finance reforms; additional taxes and more speed cameras around city schools; and much more. 

But, along with the basics of a spending plan that funds state government and sends aid to localities, chiefly for education and Medicaid, there was quite a bit that did make it into the budget deal.

Cuomo is touting the budget’s inclusion of added funding for New York City public housing (NYCHA), anti-sexual harassment legislation, and a new state tax code that aims to blunt the impact of the new federal tax code. The governor, who is seeking a third term this year, is also boasting about measures to remove guns from those convicted of domestic violence, what he calls a first step toward a fuller congestion pricing plan for New York City, and more.

“The budget hit the priorities that we had set out,” Cuomo said Friday night in Albany after the budget passed. “When we started we said, number one, we have to defend against that federal tax increase, number two invest in education, three fight sexual harassment, four protect our democratic process, safeguard the environment, and grow the economy.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, for his part, called the new state budget a “mixed bag” for the city. Though de Blasio was forced into sending more than $400 million to the MTA for the Subway Action Plan, he commended the governor for heeding his call to allocate more resources to the ailing subway system. 

“When it comes to the subways, Mayor de Blasio has always demanded two things: significant movement by the state toward a real plan, and a dedicated lockbox so city riders' money goes toward fixing city subways,” said de Blasio spokesperson Eric Phillips in a statement to Gotham Gazette on Monday. “This budget appears to respond to the Mayor’s demands on behalf of the city’s straphangers. There are no excuses left for the Governor to hide behind. He must do his job and fix the subways.”

It was a sentiment de Blasio presented during a NY1 appearance Monday night. There are a number of provisions in the budget that de Blasio disagrees with, including an impending independent monitor to oversee the spending of the new NYCHA funds. The mayor also said he’s disappointed about measures that did not make it into the budget, like the additional speed cameras that he says would save lives.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson were pleased that the city would pay for half of the Subway Action Plan. “For months and months since, we’ve continuously released alarming reports that have spotlighted the delays underground, the economic ramifications of slowdowns, and the crisis in our transportation systems. Each time, we’ve continued to call for the full funding of the emergency plan. It has always been the right thing to do,” Stringer said in a press release on Friday. “Today, it appears action is finally happening. We’re glad to see the City taking this step forward.”

“I applaud @NYCMayor Bill de Blasio for this decision,” Johnson tweeted on Saturday of the move to agree to pay the 418 million toward mending the subway. “As I've said for months, the subways are in crisis and we must work together towards a solution.”

The MTA Action Plan funding the city will put forth is one of a number of key takeaways from the state budget for New York City.

More Transportation
While the budget included a surcharge on for-hire vehicles, such as taxis and Ubers, traveling below 96th Street in Manhattan, there is no comprehensive congestion pricing plan. After reversing course on congestion pricing last summer, Governor Cuomo formed the Fix NYC Advisory Panel, which recommended a comprehensive congestion pricing plan with three phases over three years; Cuomo never officially endorsed the plan. 

The governor faced headwinds in both the Assembly and Senate, and the budget includes only the surcharge on for-hire vehicles, aimed at reducing traffic in Manhattan and producing an estimated $400-plus million in annual revenue for the MTA. In addition, the budget includes funding for over 50 new bus lane enforcement cameras.

NYCHA
The budget includes a new $250 million investment in the troubled New York City Housing Authority. Governor Cuomo in March vowed not to sign a budget that didn’t include additional funding for NYCHA as he assailed de Blasio and NYCHA leadership for its management and the crises at public housing, notably those related to lead paint and heat, as well as mold and general disrepair. The new money will be added to previously allocated state funding that hasn’t been spent, totaling $550 million. 

The money comes with a catch, though: spending will be overseen by an outside private contractor chosen by the mayor, the City Council, and NYCHA tenant leadership.

“In the situation of NYCHA, it’s so bad that New York State has stepped in,” Cuomo said. Cuomo declared a state of emergency for NYCHA in an executive order on Monday.

“When I go, cameras come,” he said in his state Capitol Red Room announcement of a budget deal on Friday night, around 9 p.m., “and I wanted New Yorkers to see how deplorable these conditions were.”

The new state investments and oversight come as the federal government has also added checks on NYCHA operations, with more possibly coming soon as the result of an ongoing federal investigation.

Some have connected Cuomo’s recent interest in NYCHA -- he’s made more visits in the last month than in his prior seven years as governor combined -- to both an opportunity to vilify his rival de Blasio and the primary challenge he’s now facing from Cynthia Nixon, who also recently visited NYCHA, as the guest of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Nixon said there should be a $1 billion state investment.

The Assembly’s one-house budget had included $275 million in additional funding for NYCHA, while the Senate’s had included no additional funding.

The state budget also gives NYCHA design-build authority for critical repairs, allowing for a streamlined procurement and construction process and should help speed timelines for things like boiler replacements.

Design-Build
Speaking of design-build, the budget allows the City of New York to use it in three areas: NYCHA, Rikers Island replacement jails, and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. 

Design-build allows both the design and construction of a capital project to be consolidated into one contract for one firm, shortening the project timeline, decreasing costs, and increasing efficiency. This stands in contrast to the currently allowed procurement process of design-bid-build, which requires separate bids for the design and construction aspects of a capital project.

The city has asked for design-build authority for all of its capital projects, or for a longer list than the three, but has long been met with heavy resistance from the state Legislature and a seemingly limited push by Cuomo, who had omitted design-build for the city from his January budget proposal despite continually touting its impact on state projects. The state has used design-build for several of its recent high profile capital projects, such as the Tappan Zee Bridge and the Kosciuszko Bridge.

Design-build authority should allow the city to speed its ten-year plan for closing Rikers Island jails completely, and will allow it to make long-planned, critical infrastructure repairs to the BQE. On the latter, city DOT Commissioner and MTA Board member Polly Trottenberg has estimated savings of $113 million and a construction timeline shortened by two years.

Penn Station
The governor’s transit zone value capture proposal to fund the MTA, which faced major criticism from city elected officials as a raid on city property tax revenue, did not make it into the final budget. But a somewhat related and also controversial measure did make it into the budget: the state has more authority around Penn Station, though not nearly as much as Cuomo had sought in a last-minute proposal, according to de Blasio. The mayor said Monday night on NY1 that what was passed was nothing like what Cuomo had floated that would have given the state authority over a wide swath of land -- reaction from city officials had been swift and harsh. 

In the budget announcement Friday night, Cuomo framed the issue as a matter of safety, acknowledging, though, that the final language dealt more with Penn Station itself than the surrounding area.

“This is not just a transportation issue this is a public safety issue,” Cuomo said. “Current Penn Station is dangerous especially in this age of terrorism.” The administration claimed that Penn’s poor infrastructure and layout, and heavy congestion, was an attractive target for a terrorist attack, and that the state needed to utilize eminent domain in order to reduce security threats.

Education
The state’s public schools will see an increase of $1 billion in school aid in the new budget. This is above the governor’s originally proposed $769 million increase and the Senate’s proposed $717 million increase, but below the Assembly’s proposed $1.5 billion increase. Out of the $1 billion increase, New York City will receive $334 million, bringing the state’s total funding for New York City schools to $10.54 billion, including $7.76 billion in Foundation Aid. 

Cuomo also won a significant new oversight power over the city’s schools. The budget requires certain school districts, such as New York City, to report spending of state funds on a per-school basis. Cuomo has argued that the issue with schools funding is one that can be fixed with better management, not more money.

“How much did the high performing schools in this borough get? How much does a student in the chronically failing school get? We’ve never had that conversation,” he said on The Brian Lehrer Show in late March. “And you can’t even find the information. And I said, in this budget, in January, ‘that’s the relevant conversation.’ It’s not how much money do you spend, we spend more than anybody else.”

Cuomo originally proposed a more far-reaching program that would require the state to approve budgets for large school districts.

De Blasio doesn’t buy Cuomo’s argument, and has said there is more information about school spending already available than Cuomo recognizes. In his own appearance on The Brian Lehrer Show, de Blasio criticized the governor for continuing to fail to fulfill the terms of a decade-old court ruling mandating more equitable funding for schools statewide.

“Of course it’s about the money,” de Blasio said. “The governor often likes to put out these ideas without having the facts behind them. There’s a huge amount of information that is publicly available on how much we spend on each school.”

Total education spending by the state in the enacted budget is $26.7 billion.

Beyond school aid, it also includes a $50 million increase in funding for community schools and a $15 million increase for pre-kindergarten, as well as investments in the No Student Goes Hungry program, after-school programs, and an $81 million increase in charter school funding. An expansion of the state’s school breakfast program will allow the city, which already has a “Breakfast After The Bell” program in elementary schools, to expand to middle schools and high schools, according to a statement from Hunger Free America.

Criminal Justice
Cuomo’s criminal justice reform package is entirely absent from the enacted budget, a blow to New York City leaders and advocates who have been among the loudest voices calling for things like bail reform and tying them to closing the jails on Rikers.

Cuomo had proposed a eliminating money bail for nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors, but despite support from the Assembly the Senate would not allow the measure through.

The same goes for Cuomo’s proposed reform of the state’s maligned discovery process, which would have required timely sharing of potentially exculpatory information by prosecutors with the defense but had been criticized by advocates for giving prosecutors a virtually unlimited right to redact information; the proposed speedy trial reform, which would have expedited the court process in order to avoid long pretrial detention; and the proposal to add strict limitations on asset seizure by police and new programs to support re-entry into society by ex-convicts.

The budget cuts the state’s $41 million funding of the Close to Home program, which places incarcerated juveniles in rehabilitation facilities in or close to the city in order to keep them close to their families and maintain continuity and help them advance and transition. As noted by Chronicles of Social Change, the cut comes just as New York’s juvenile detention facilities are preparing for an influx of new detainees, since the recently passed Raise the Age legislation will place 16- and 17-year-old offenders in the juvenile justice system rather than the adult criminal justice system.

Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner David Hansell referred to the cuts as “troubling,” according to New York Nonprofit Media. Other proposed cuts to child welfare services at ACS that were in Cuomo’s executive budget did not come to fruition.

The Child Victims Act, which would significantly lengthen the statute of limitations on prosecuting childhood sexual abuse and would create a year-long “lookback period” to re-open “time-barred” cases, also failed to make it into the budget. Despite the governor’s heavy support for the bill and the backing of celebrities, victims, and advocates, the CVA was once again killed by Senate Republicans, with the backing of the Catholic Church. Senate Majority Leader Flanagan said on The Capitol Pressroom radio program on Tuesday that his conference is open to continuing discussions about a change in the law.

The highest profile criminal justice item to make it into the budget is a ban on sex between police officers and individuals in police custody. This was spurred by the alleged sexual assault of Anna Chambers, who said she was raped by two NYPD officers while in their custody. The defendants, Richard Hall and Eddie Martins, who each quit the force days before a scheduled internal trial, claimed in their defense that the sex was consensual. The new state law makes it illegal regardless of any notion of consent.

Health Care
According to Cuomo, the budget includes $18.9 billion in state Medicaid spending. Much of the state’s Medicaid program is funded by the federal government; the total cost of the state’s Medicaid program is in excess of $70 billion.

The budget includes $1.1 billion in funding for Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital, a federal program that disperses funds to hospitals that serve a large number of patients who are either uninsured or on Medicaid. Last year, New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation received $360 million in DSH funds withheld by the state in the midst of proposed federal cuts to the program. The state, facing a $4 billion deficit, suggested the city tap into its own reserves to finance the ailing city hospital network.

As the budget wrapped up, the Cuomo administration and the Legislature negotiated a deal that would enable the government to capture $2 billion from the sale of health care provider Fidelis to Centene Corporation. Fidelis, which is operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, is a Medicaid provider; the government argued that, since the business was built on selling government health insurance plans, the state is entitled to a substantial portion of the sale. As such, the state will be able to capture some 53% of the $3.75 billion sale price, key to helping the state close the budget deficit it was facing.

Taxes
New York State and New York City are notoriously high-tax jurisdictions and the recently-passed federal tax bill compounds the phenomenon, city and state officials have said, especially for upper middle-class and high-income earners. Cuomo made it a top priority to ensure New Yorkers face as little addition tax burden as possible by “protecting taxpayers against federal tax changes.”

On this front, the budget includes attempted workarounds to help New Yorkers avoid bearing the burden of the reduction of SALT, or state and local tax deductions from federal taxes. The budget decouples state and local taxes from the federal code, will allow employers to pay an optional payroll tax to help employees reduce their income taxes, and creates new charitable giving entities where New Yorkers can give to offset their taxes and receive a corresponding tax credit from the state. It is unclear how well these measures will work, given that employers have to opt in on the payroll measure and the IRS will have to weigh in on the charitable deductions.

"New York will also become the first state to implement new measures to shield families from the devastating federal tax law's elimination of full state and local deductibility — an economic arrow aimed at the heart of this state's economy,” the governor said in a press release. Cuomo has said his top priority is repeal of the new federal tax code, or at least of the SALT cap, now at $10,000, which would likely require Democrats to take control of Congress and the White House.

Anti-Harassment Legislation
As the country struggles with how best to confront rampant sexual harassment in workplaces, New York state lawmakers pledged to enact legislation aimed at preventing and punishing sexual harassment in public and private work environments. “We put into place the strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation, ending once and for all the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled this unacceptable behavior for far too long,” Cuomo said in a press release.

To that end, the new legislation requires sexual harassers to repay taxpayer funds when they are found liable (not in other settlements, however, according to The New York Times). In addition, a new measure will prevent sexual harassers from sweeping allegations under the rug by ensuring that nondisclosure agreements are only reached at the victim’s request. “[N]ondisclosure agreements can only be used when the condition of confidentiality is the explicit preference of the victim,” Cuomo said of the budget’s new legislation.

Other measures on this front include mandating all state contractors “submit an affirmation” that they have sexual harassment policies in place and that their employees are made aware of them via training. The budget also mandates the Department of Labor and Division of Human Rights will form sexual harassment policies to be used by public and private employers.  

However, there has been a great deal of criticism of the process by which the new measures were reached, with the only female legislative leader -- Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins -- left out of the negotiations. The policies have also been criticized by advocates and former state government aides, some of whom experienced harassment, for not empowering victims enough, not simplifying the process to report claims, and not protecting people who face other types of workplace harassment. "These laws will not adequately protect workers, leaving them to navigate an opaque process and in danger of retaliation,” the group of former staffers stated following the budget’s passage.

The bill has also been criticized for not addressing or reforming in any way the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, tasked with investigating sexual harassment allegations. Cuomo had sought to add funding for a new JCOPE unit, but that was not part of the budget deal.

Also Missing
The DREAM Act, which would allow for state college assistance to be provided to undocumented New Yorkers, was again included in the Assembly’s and Cuomo’s budget proposals, but did not make it through the Senate. Members of the IDC attempted a maneuver to attach it to a budget bill but it was defeated.

The DREAM Act is one of several other progressive wish-list items again left out of the budget, blocked by the Senate, including measures like codifying Roe v. Wade abortion protections into state law.

Despite calls among government reformers and some reform-minded legislators, a number of government ethics, campaign finance, and election reforms were again left out of the state budget. Specifically, the budget does not institute early voting, keeping New York in the minority of states, nor does it implement same-day voter registration or several other election reform measures. There is no new ban on outside income for legislators or implementation of term limits; nor is there any change in the state’s exceptionally high individual campaign donation limits or the notorious LLC loophole, which essentially negates even those high donation thresholds. There is also no new limits on donations from those with or seeking state business.

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Sam Raskin

Note: this article has been corrected to remove mention that there is language in the budget allowing the state to take money related to the city's Health + Hospitals insurance provider, Metroplus.

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Key Takeaways: How the State Budget Impacts New York City Tue, 03 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo and Legislature Reach Agreement on $168 Billion State Budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7582-cuomo-and-state-legislature-reach-agreement-on-168-billion-budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7582-cuomo-and-state-legislature-reach-agreement-on-168-billion-budget Cuomo Mujica David DeRosa

Gov. Cuomo and top aides announce a budget deal (photo: Mike Groll/The Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo and his top aides held a press conference late Friday night to announce a deal with the Legislature on a new $168.3 billion state budget for fiscal year 2019, which begins April 1. The announcement came several hours before the final budget bills were voted through both the Senate and Assembly, despite reservations from some lawmakers and another flawed process wherein legislators did not know the full details of what they were voting on and the public had virtually no time for review of the legislative language.

As usual, the state budget devotes significant portions to education aid to localities and Medicaid spending. Education aid is increasing another $1 billion, according to Cuomo's office, for a total of "a record" $26.7 billion, while there are also new requirements for individual school destricts to report how funding is distributed to individual schools.

The budget includes, as the governor's office put it, a new state tax code including measures "protecting taxpayers against federal tax changes." The main pillars of this attempt to circumvent some of the negative effects of the new federal tax code and its $10,000 limit on state and local tax deductibility (SALT) are an optional payroll tax that employers will be able to adopt in lieu of some personal income taxes and state-led charitable entities where individuals will be able to send money for education and health care that they can then deduct from their federal taxes and receive a state tax credit for.

The budget includes new laws to take guns from individuals guilty of domestic abuse and prevent and punish sexual harassment in workplaces, though there are a number of critics of the latter, both in terms of process and outcome. The budget also includes measures related to the MTA, NYCHA, congestion pricing, and development around Penn Staion, wherein the state is excercising some new power in the area, superceding the city's local control.

In a press release, Governor Cuomo said of the budget:

"This budget is a bold blueprint for progressive action that builds on seven years of success and helps New York continue to lead amid a concerted and sustained assault from Washington on our values and principles. We put into place the strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation, ending once and for all the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled this unacceptable behavior for far too long.

"New York will also become the first state to implement new measures to shield families from the devastating federal tax law's elimination of full state and local deductibility — an economic arrow aimed at the heart of this state's economy.

"It also protects New York's future with record funding for education, coupled with new reforms that finally ensure transparency and equity in how that funding is distributed.

"This budget also delivers for the most vulnerable among us, including the NYCHA tenants who have had to live with mold, lead and no heat and were placed at risk by a failed bureaucracy, and those who have had to endure the injustice that is Rikers Island."

The budget includes another $250 million allocation for NYCHA, along with new independent monitoring of the authority and other measures through a new executive order from Cuomo. It also includes design-build authority for New York City for three key areas of construction work: reconstructing the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, building new jails to replace Rikers Island facilities, and NYCHA repairs.

There will be new surcharges on taxi and app-based for-hire vehicle rides in the Manhattan central business district, proceeds from which are expected to be over $400 million and will go toward the MTA. Cuomo is calling this a first step toward a fuller congestion pricing plan. The budget includes a mandate forcing New York City to pay half the $836 million Subway Action Plan that Mayor Bill de Blasio had thus far refused to pay.

While it includes a number of policy changes along with key spending decisions, notably, the new budget does not include any voting or election reforms, other than measures to make digital ads more transparent and protect against cyberattacks -- there is no early voting or same-day registration, for example -- nor does the budget include government ethics or campaign finance reforms, with the exception of new sexual harassment-prevention legislation, part of a package that also applies to the private sector. These reform measures, among others like bail reform, were key planks of the governor's agenda that he was not able to move through the Legislature during the budget.

In an initial statement about the budget, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said, "The Governor and Legislature reached an on-time budget agreement amid an uncertain revenue picture and risks to federal aid. Still, there are areas of concern. As in past years, the budget negotiation process was mostly done behind closed doors, leaving the public in the dark about how taxpayer money will be spent. My office will provide a more detailed analysis of the enacted budget in the coming weeks."

Gotham Gazette will provide more coverage of the new state budget in the coming days, but below are portions of the budget announcements from Cuomo's office and those of legislative leaders.

More from Governor Cuomo's Office:

Keeping New York Economically Competitive
Protect New Yorkers from Federal Tax Changes: The recently enacted federal tax law has negative fiscal implications for many New Yorkers. By gutting the deductibility of state and local taxes, the law effectively raises middle class families' property and state income taxes by 20 to 25 percent. New York is fighting back against the federal plan and the loss of both income tax deductibility and property tax deductibility. To combat the assault, the FY 2019 Budget:

Expands Charitable Contributions to Benefit New Yorkers: The FY 2019 Budget creates two new state-operated Charitable Contribution Funds to accept donations for the purposes of improving health care and education in New York. Taxpayers who itemize deductions may claim these charitable contributions as deductions on their Federal and State tax returns. Any taxpayer making a donation may also claim a State tax credit equal to 85 percent of the donation amount for the tax year after the donation is made. In addition, the legislation authorizes school districts and other local governments to create charitable funds. Donations to these funds would provide a reduction in local property taxes (via a local credit) equal to a percentage of the donation.

Creates Alternative Employer Compensation Expense Program: While Federal tax reform eliminated full State and local tax deductibility for individuals, businesses were spared from these limitations. Under the FY 2019 Budget employers would be able to opt-in to a new ECEP structure. Employers that opt-in would be subject to a 5 percent tax on all annual payroll expenses in excess of $40,000 per employee, phased in over three years beginning on January 1, 2019. The progressive personal income tax system would remain in place, and a new tax credit corresponding in value to the ECEP would cut the personal income tax on wages and ensure that State filers subject to the ECEP would not experience a decline in take-home pay.

Decouples from Federal Tax Code: The FY 2019 Budget decouples the state tax code from the federal tax code, where necessary, to avoid more than $1.5 billion in State tax increases brought solely by increases in federal taxes.

Continue the Phase-In of the Middle Class Tax Cut: The Budget supports the phase-in of the middle class tax cuts. In 2018, average savings will total $250 and, when fully effective, six million New Yorkers will save an average of $700 annually. Once fully phased in, the new rates will be the lowest in more than 70 years - dropping from 6.45 to 5.5 percent for incomes ranging from $40,000 - $150,000 and 6.65 to 6 percent for incomes ranging from $150,000 - $300,000. The new lower tax rates will save middle class New Yorkers $4.2 billion, annually, by 2025.

Grow County-Wide Shared Services Initiative to Deliver Savings for Taxpayers: New York State will build on progress to reduce local property taxes for millions of New Yorkers and take the next step forward to provide local governments with new tools to put money back in the pockets of middle-class families. The FY 2019 Budget includes $225 million to fund the State's match of savings from shared services actions included in property tax savings plans. The Budget also continues the county-wide shared services panels for another three years and amends a statutory hurdle that prevented localities from sharing some specific services.

Create a Voluntary Retirement Savings Program: The Budget authorizes the New York State Secure Choice Savings Program - a voluntary-enrollment payroll deduction IRA for employees of private employers that do not already offer retirement savings plans. This program will give millions of New Yorkers who currently have no access to an employer-provided retirement plan the opportunity to save for retirement, all while alleviating the burdens on participating New York employers of creating and sponsoring a retirement plan on their own. Participation is voluntary for businesses and employees.

Continue the Local Property Tax Relief Credit: The Property Tax Credit, enacted in 2015, will provide an average reduction of $380 in local property taxes to 2.6 million homeowners this year alone. By 2019, the program will provide an additional $1.3 billion in property tax relief and an average credit of $530.

Investing in Education Equity
The FY 2019 Budget reflects the state's strong commitment to education equity through a $1 billion annual increase in Education Aid - 3.9 percent growth - to a record total of $26.7 billion for the 2018-19 school year and a 36 percent increase since 2012.

Require Transparency in Education Spending: New York State spends more money per pupil than any state in the nation, and the FY 2019 Budget includes new provisions to require funding transparency. Under the budget agreement, for the 2018-19 school year, 76 large school districts that receive significant state aid shall report school level funding allocation data to the public, SED and DOB.

Expand Community Schools: The FY 2019 Budget continues the state's push to transform New York's high-need schools into community schools. This year, the Budget increases funding for community schools by $50 million, to a total of $200 million. This increased funding is targeted to districts with struggling schools and/or districts experiencing significant growth in homeless pupils or English language learners. In addition, the Budget increases the minimum community schools funding amount from $10,000 to $75,000.

Promote the First 1,000 Days of Life: The Budget supports the development of a new initiative to expand access to services and improve health outcomes for young children covered by Medicaid and their families. Studies show that the basic structure of the brain is developed within the first 1,000 days of life.

Expand Access to Prekindergarten: The Budget includes an additional $15 million investment in prekindergarten to expand high-quality half-day and full-day prekindergarten instruction for 3,000 three- and four-year-old children.

Continue the Empire State After School Program: The FY 2019 Budget provides $10 million to fund a second round of Empire State After School awards. These funds will provide an additional 6,250 students with public after school care in high-need communities across the State. Funding will be targeted to districts with high rates of childhood homelessness.

Grow Early College High Schools: To build upon the success of the existing programs, the Budget commits an additional $9 million to create 15 new early college high school programs. This expansion will target communities with low graduation or college access rates, and will align new schools with in-demand industries.

Expanding Access to Higher Education
Invest $7.6 Billion for Higher Education: The Budget provides $7.6 billion in State support for higher education in New York - an increase of $1.5 billion or 25 percent since FY 2012. This investment includes $1.2 billion for strategic programs to make college more affordable and encourage the best and brightest students to build their future in New York.

Launch the Second Phase of the Excelsior Free Tuition Program: For the 2019 academic year, the Excelsior Scholarship income eligibility threshold will increase, allowing New Yorkers with household incomes up to $110,000 to be eligible. To continue this landmark program, the Budget includes $118 million to support an estimated 27,000 students in the Excelsior program. Along with other sources of tuition assistance, including the generous New York State Tuition Assistance Program, the Excelsior Scholarship will allow approximately 53 percent of full-time SUNY and CUNY in-state students, or more than 210,000 New York residents, to attend college tuition-free when fully phased in.

Boost Funding for SUNY and CUNY: The Budget provides SUNY and CUNY with more than $200 million in new resources to support the operations of the university systems while maintaining low predictable tuition ensuring access for all to a quality education.

Support Students Attending New York's Private Colleges: The Budget includes $22.9 million for the second phase of the Enhanced Tuition Award program, providing up to $6,000 in financial assistance including match funds and a tuition freeze to make college more affordable for residents attending private colleges in New York. To leverage more participation, the program was modified to provide more flexibility in the matching requirement for colleges. The Budget also provides $4 million to expand the New York State Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Scholarship Program to students attending private colleges in New York. In addition, the Budget includes $30 million for competitive grants to support strategic capital investments at independent colleges to improve academic programs, enhance student life and provide economic development benefits to the college community.

Expand the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies into the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies: The Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, which was established in collaboration with New York City labor unions in 1984 to meet the higher education needs of working adults, now serves more than 1,200 adult and traditional-aged students across the CUNY system in undergraduate and graduate degree, and certificate programs focused on labor-related issues. The Institute provides higher education programs in three general categories including labor, urban studies, and worker education/workforce development. The Budget includes a $3.0 million investment to expand the institute into the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, a recognition of the invaluable role the Institute plays in the CUNY community and as a center of labor discourse.

Prohibit State Agencies from Suspending the Professional Licenses of Individuals Behind or in Default on their Student Loans: The FY 2019 Budget includes legislation expressly prohibiting the suspension of professional licenses of individuals behind or in default on their student loans. Currently, there are 19 states that allow for the suspension of a professional license for people who are behind or in default on their student loans, with one state allowing for the suspension of an individual's driver's license. This practice severely limits the ability of people to support themselves and their families, and to ultimately pay back their student loans, creating a further financial death spiral. By expressly prohibiting the practice, the Budget ensures that current and future New Yorkers are protected.

Advancing the Women's Agenda
Combat Sexual Harassment: The Budget includes nation-leading, multi-pronged legislation to combat sexual harassment in the workplace:

Require all state contractors to submit an affirmation that they have a sexual harassment policy and that they have trained all of their employees.
Prohibit employers from using a mandatory arbitration provision in an employment contract in relation to sexual harassment.

Require officers and employees of the state or of any public entity to reimburse the state for any state or public payment made upon a judgement of intentional wrongdoing related to sexual harassment.
Ensure that nondisclosure agreements can only be used when the condition of confidentiality is the explicit preference of the victim

Establish a model sexual harassment policy, in consultation with the Department of Labor and Division of Human Rights, for employers to adopt or use to establish a similar policy that meets or exceeds the minimum standards of the model policy

Amend the law to protect contractors, subcontractors, vendors, consultants or others providing services in the workplace from sexual harassment in the workplace.

End Sextortion: The Budget includes legislation increasing the existing penalties for compelling another person to engage in sexual conduct by threatening their health, safety, business, career, financial condition, reputation or personal relationships.

Extend the Storage Timeline for Rape Kits: The FY 2019 Budget includes legislation to extend the length of time sexual offense evidence collection kits are preserved from 30 days to 20 years, delivering justice to survivors.

Reauthorize MWBE Program Legislation: The FY 2019 Budget extends the State's Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise Program, which is due to expire this year, for one year.

Ensure Equal Access to Diaper Changing Stations in Public Restrooms and Provide Access to Lactation Rooms: The FY 2019 Budget amends New York's Uniform Building Code to require all new or substantially renovated buildings with publicly accessible restrooms to provide safe and compliant changing tables. Changing tables will be available to both men and women, and there must be at least one changing table accessible to both genders per publicly-accessible floor. In addition, the Budget requires lactation rooms in certain state buildings and authorizes a study of adult changing facilities.

Prohibit Sexual Contact Between Police Officers and Individuals Under Their Custody: Incarcerated individuals are prohibited from providing consent to corrections officers or probations officers under current law. This helps curb sexual harassment and abuse from those in a position of power that oversee individuals under their custody. Police officers, in a glaring loophole to the law, are not included in this list. The FY 2019 Budget corrects this deficiency in the law by expressly including police officers and prohibiting sexual contact with those under their custody.

Improve Access to IVF and Fertility Preservation Services: Under current law, all commercial health insurance plans include coverage for most infertility medical services. In vitro fertilization is the one primary exception. The Superintendent of Financial Services will analyze in vitro fertilization coverage to help ensure that New Yorkers have access to infertility treatment and fertility preservation services regardless of sexual orientation or marital status.

Increase State Funding to Provide Families with Affordable Child Care: Child care subsidies help parents and caretakers pay for some or all of the cost of child care. Families are eligible for financial assistance if they meet the State's low income guidelines and need child care to work, look for work or attend employment training. The FY 2019 Budget increases State support for child care subsidies by $7 million above FY 2018 Budget funding levels and programs new federal funds to make an additional $10 million dollars available for child care subsidies, restoring recent cuts and sustaining a record level of funding.

Continue the Enhanced Child Care Tax Credit for Middle Class Families: The 2017 Enhanced Middle Class Child Care Tax Credit reduces child care costs for working families. This expansion more than doubled the benefit for 200,000 families. The FY 2019 Budget reflects the first year of the Enhanced Child Care Tax Credit for working families to continue to alleviate costs for families and support the needs of working parents.

Ensure Access to Menstrual Products in Public Schools: The FY 2019 Budget includes legislation requiring all public schools, except for charter schools, to provide free feminine hygiene products, in restrooms, for students in grades 6 through 12. Feminine hygiene products are as necessary as toilet paper and soap, but hardly ever as available or free. At $7 to $10 per package, a month's supply of something as simple as a box of pads or tampons can be one expense too many for struggling families. This Budget legislation makes New York State a leader in addressing this issue of inequality and stigma.

Add Experts in Women's Health and Health Disparities to the State Board of Medicine: Legislation in the FY 2019 Budget requires that one of the doctors on the State Board of Medicine be an expert on women's health and one of the doctors be an expert in health disparities.

Provide Health Insurance Coverage for Donor Breast Milk: The FY 2019 Budget includes legislation to ensure health insurance coverage for donor breast milk for infants, especially premature or preterm infants, who do not have maternal breast milk to meet all or some of their nutritional needs.

Close the Gender Gap by Giving the Youngest Learners Access to Computer Science Education: The FY 2019 Budget establishes a working group to review existing computer science education standards and create draft model computer science standards for kindergarten through grade 12.

Investing $250 Million in NYCHA to Empower Tenants
Over the course of the budget negotiations, the Governor and legislative leaders have discussed the conditions of NYCHA's housing stock and the services that are being provided to residents. The FY 2019 Budget includes an additional $250 million to improve the quality of living conditions for NYCHA residents and provides a process by which the proper deployment of capital funding can be verified. To expedite repairs to NYCHA facilities, the FY 2019 Budget includes design/build legislation. This record investment brings total state funding for NYCHA to $550 million.

Expediting Critical Projects Through Design/Build
The FY 2019 Budget includes design/build legislation for the construction of new jails to replace the Rikers Island Jail Complex, the reconstruction of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and NYCHA projects. As a result of design/build authorization, the City will avoid significant delays in construction and will realize savings in excess of $1 billion.

Investing in 21st Century Transportation Infrastructure
Support the MTA Subway Action Plan: The comprehensive $836 million MTA Subway Action Plan will address system failures, breakdowns, delays and deteriorating customer service, and position the system for future modernization. The Budget fully funds the Subway Action Plan to move forward on these critically needed repairs, with the City required to contribute half of the funding for the plan. The MTA will begin receiving the funding in April and will receive the full funding by the end of 2018.

Enact a $2.75 Surcharge on For-Hire Vehicles: To establish a long-term funding stream for the MTA and to reduce motor vehicle congestion, the FY 2019 Budget enacts a surcharge on for-hire vehicles below 96th Street. The surcharge is $2.75 for for-hire vehicles, $2.50 for yellow cabs, and $0.75 for pooled trips. This funding will go into an MTA "lock box," and will provide long-term funding to sustain for the Subway Action Plan, outer borough transit improvements, as well as a NYC general transportation account.

Provide at Least 50 New Bus Lane Enforcement Cameras: The FY 2019 Budget will help immediately reduce traffic congestion in Manhattan's Central Business District by directing the MTA to equip New York City Transit SBS buses operating below 96th Street with at least 50 new traffic monitoring cameras to enforce bus lane violations. Drivers and delivery trucks blocking dedicated bus lanes are significant contributors to bus delays and traffic congestion.

Transfer the Remaining Payroll Mobility Tax Revenue Directly to the MTA: The State currently collects and disburses the Payroll Mobility Tax (PMT) to the MTA. The Budget amends the law so the revenue is directly provided to the Authority. Eliminating this unnecessary appropriation by the State legislature will benefit the MTA because PMT revenue pledged to bondholders under the new credit will have no risk of non-appropriation and PMT receipts will be received by the MTA in a more timely manner.

Improving Public Safety at Penn Station: Penn Station's facilities are antiquated, inadequately meet current public safety and transportation needs and present an unreasonable public safety hazard. The State will coordinate with MTA and consult with community leaders, business groups and federal and city government to design a solution.

Begin Service on the Lower Hudson Transit Link: The FY 2019 Budget appropriates $8 million to allow the Lower Hudson Transit Link to begin bus service along the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge in 2018.

Maintain Record Commitment to Local Highways and Bridges and Public Transportation: Funding for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) and the Marchiselli program is maintained at $477.8 million, and the Local PAVE NY and BRIDGE NY programs are each maintained at $100 million. The Budget also includes, in addition to previously planned amounts, $65 million for extreme winter recovery roadway repairs, as well as $20 million in capital funding and $5 million in operating funding for transit systems statewide other than the MTA.

Strengthening the Democracy Agenda
Increase Transparency of Online Political Advertisements: The FY 2019 Budget expands New York State's definition of political communication to include paid internet and digital advertisements, requires digital platforms to maintain a file of all political advertisements purchased by a person or group for publication on the platform and requires online platforms confirm that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate.

Bolster Election Infrastructure to Defend Against Cyberattacks: The FY 2019 Budget includes $5 million to implement a four-pronged strategy to further strengthen cyber protections for New York's election infrastructure: create an Election Support Center, develop an Election Cyber Security Toolkit, provide cyber risk vulnerability assessments for State and County Boards of Elections, and require County Boards of Elections to report data breaches to State authorities.

Establish a State Pay Commission
The FY 2019 Budget supports the establishment of a State Pay Commission, which will include the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and the State of New York, New York State Comptroller, New York City Comptroller, a former New York City Comptroller, and a former New York State Comptroller. The Commission will examine and decide what the appropriate salary should be for state legislatures and certain executive employees.

Ensuring No Student Goes Hungry
The Budget includes legislation and additional funding to launch a comprehensive No Student Goes Hungry program: sweeping initiatives to provide students of all ages, backgrounds and financial situations access to healthy, locally-sourced meals to address child hunger. By launching the program, the State will provide students in need with locally-grown, quality meals, which will support an improved learning experience for children of all ages.

The program will:
Ban meal shaming, a practice in some schools where children may be singled out, provided a lesser meal, or otherwise treated differently for not having money for a meal
Support breakfast after the bell to make breakfast accessible for students after the school day has begun
Expand the Farm to School Program
Incentivize the use of farm-fresh, locally grown foods in schools

Defending the Rights of Immigrants
The FY 2019 Budget continues the first-in-the-nation Liberty Defense Project. Last year, the State launched the Liberty Defense Project, a State-led, public-private legal defense fund to ensure that all immigrants, regardless of status, have access to high quality legal counsel. In partnership with leading nonprofit legal service providers, the project has significantly expanded the availability of immigration attorneys statewide. The FY 2019 Budget includes an investment to ensure the Liberty Defense Project continues to sustain and grow the network of legal service providers providing these critical service in defense of our immigrant communities. 

Cutting off the Recruitment Pipeline to Combat MS-13
MS-13 is an international criminal gang that emerged in the United States in the 1980s. They engage in a wide range of criminal activity and are uniquely violent, oftentimes engaging in brutal acts simply to increase the gang's notoriety. Despite violent crime being down dramatically in Long Island over the past several years, a recent uptick in violent crime has been traced back to the gang. The FY 2019 Budget supports a comprehensive $16 million strategy to provide at-risk youth in Long Island with greater access to social programs and alternatives to gang activity. The program will: 

Expand afterschool programs in areas with high gang activity.
Expand job and vocational training opportunities for young people.
Provide gang prevention education to students.
Expand comprehensive support services for at-risk young people, especially immigrant children - including comprehensive case management, with a focus on unaccompanied children entering the United States.
Deploy a Community Assistance Team to Long Island comprised of six State Troopers, three investigators, one senior investigator and one supervisor to identify and engage gang activity hot-spots or respond to departmental and community requests for increased service.

Nation-Leading Efforts to Combat Worker Exploitation
The New York State Department of Labor has been a national leader in wage theft case processing and fund recovery. Since 2011, the agency has recovered more than any other state - a quarter of a billion dollars - and returned that money to more than 215,000 workers victimized by wage theft. With a staff of 110 investigators, one of the nation's largest, DOL has led the way in protecting workers. The FY 2019 Budget invests an additional $1 million to allow additional investigators to be hired, ensuring that money is put back into the pockets of workers as quickly as possible. 

Protecting the Health & Safety of Our Communities
Establish a First-in-the-Nation Opioid Stewardship Fund: New York State, like much of the country, is battling a harrowing opioid epidemic. The Budget creates an opioid stewardship program with a $100 million fund to be used for the ongoing and growing costs of prevention, treatment, and recovery services for individuals with a substance abuse disorder. Language in the budget ensures the costs are borne by industry, not by consumers. 

Combat Heroin and Opioid Epidemic: Over $200 million in funding is being used to address the heroin and opioid crisis. The Budget includes an increase of over $30 million (5 percent) in operating and capital support for OASAS to continue to enhance prevention, treatment and recovery programs, residential service opportunities, and public awareness and education activities.

Establish Health Care Shortfall Fund: The Budget establishes a fund to ensure the continued availability and expansion of funding for quality health services to New York State residents and to mitigate risks associated with the loss of Federal funds. This fund will be initially populated with funds from any insurer conversion or similar transaction.

Launching a Comprehensive Plan to Attack Homelessness
Continue $20 Billion Affordable and Homeless Housing and Services Initiative: The Budget continues to support the creation or preservation of more than 100,000 units of affordable housing and 6,000 units of supportive housing. 

Increase Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Services for Individuals Experiencing Homelessness: To strengthen shelter services for homeless individuals living with mental illness in existing homeless shelters, the State is directing the Office of Mental Health and the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance to work together to ensure that Assertive Community Treatment teams are connected to existing shelters, so that individuals with mental illness can access needed treatment. In addition, the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services will make on-site peer-delivered substance abuse treatment services available in 14 existing shelters across the state.

Require Outreach and a Comprehensive Homeless Services Plan from Each Local Social Services District: The FY 2019 Budget requires all local social services districts develop and implement an approved outreach and services plan to address street homelessness.

Continuing Relief and Recovery Efforts along the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River Shoreline
The Budget includes an additional $40 million, bringing the total commitment to $95 million, to help the families along the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River shoreline recover from the months-long flooding and build back stronger and smarter than ever before. Impacted counties include Jefferson, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans, St. Lawrence, Wayne, Cayuga and Oswego. 

Safeguarding the Environment for Future Generations
Complete the Hudson River Park: The Budget includes $50 million in capital funding for the Hudson River Park, which will help fulfill the State's commitment to complete the park. The Budget includes language to ensure that New York City makes the phased and matched investments necessary to get the job done. In addition, the State will continue to facilitate public-private partnerships, while ensuring the Estuary Management Plan is complete and the marine sanctuary is protected. 

Attack Harmful Algal Blooms: Using resources from the Clean Water Infrastructure Act and the Environmental Protection Fund, the State will implement a $65 million initiative to combat harmful algal blooms in Upstate New York water bodies. The resources will be used to develop action plans to reduce sources of pollution that spark algal blooms, and provide grant funding to implement the action plans, including the installation of new monitoring and treatment technologies.

Continue the Clean Water Infrastructure Act: The FY 2019 Budget continues the State's historic multi-year $2.5 billion investment in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure and source water protection actions that will protect the environment and enhance communities' health and wellness.

Renew Record Funding for the Environmental Protection Fund: The Budget continues EPF funding at $300 million, the highest level of funding in the program's history.

Overhaul Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment Facility: The Budget invests $20 million to launch phase one of the comprehensive infrastructure and operational improvements at the Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment Facility.

Expanding the New York Youth Jobs Program
The New York Youth Jobs program encourages businesses to hire unemployed, disadvantaged youth, ages 16 to 24, who live in New York State, with a focus on the following cities and towns: Albany, Buffalo, New York, Rochester, Schenectady, Syracuse, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Utica, White Plains, Yonkers, Brookhaven and Hempstead. Due to the success of the program, which has helped connect 31,000 youths to jobs, the Budget increases the credit amounts by 50 percent, from $500 to $750 per month for up to the first six months, and from $2,000 to $3,000 for each employee who is employed for additional time periods after six months with a maximum full time hire credit of $7,500. 

Driving Economic Growth & Development
Continue the Successful Regional Economic Development Councils: In 2011, the State established 10 Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs) to develop long-term regional strategic economic development plans. The Budget includes core capital and tax-credit funding that will be combined with a wide range of existing agency programs for an eighth round of REDC awards totaling $750 million. 

Launch Next Round of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative: The Downtown Revitalization Initiative is transforming downtown neighborhoods into vibrant communities where the next generation of New Yorkers will want to live, work and raise families. The FY 2019 Budget provides $100 million for the Downtown Revitalization Program Round III.

Create Photonics Attraction Fund in Rochester: New York State will dedicate $30 million to a Photonics Attraction Fund, administered through the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, to attract integrated photonics companies to set up their manufacturing operations in the greater Rochester area. Thanks to the world-renowned AIM Photonics consortium, the Finger Lakes is already a leader in photonics research and development, and this additional State funding will help leverage this unique asset to bring the businesses and the jobs of tomorrow to New York State.

Advance Industrial Hemp Production: The State will continue the investment in Hemp research, production, and processing made in FY 2018 through a broad, multi-pronged program. The FY 2019 Budget provides $650,000 for a brand-new $3.2 million industrial hemp processing facility in the Southern Tier. New York State will import thousands of pounds of industrial hemp seed, ensuring that farmers have access to a high-quality product and easing the administrative burden on farmers. Further, New York State will invest an additional $2 million in a seed certification and breeding program, to begin producing unique New York seed. Finally, New York will host an Industrial Hemp Research Forum in February, bringing together researchers and academics with businesses and processors to develop ways to further boost industry research in New York.

Drive Investment in Life Sciences: The Budget includes $600 million to support construction of a world-class, state-of-the-art life sciences public health laboratory in the Capital District that will promote collaborative public/private research and development partnerships.

Extend and Strengthen the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit: The FY 2019 Budget agreement reauthorizes the State Commercial and Homeowner rehabilitation tax credit programs through 2025 and allows the State commercial credit to be used independently of the federal credit.

Invest in the Olympic Regional Development Authority: The Budget includes $62.5 million in new capital funding for ORDA, including $50 million for a strategic upgrade and modernization plan to support improvements to the Olympic facilities and ski resorts, $10 million for critical maintenance and energy efficiency upgrades, and $2.5 million appropriated from the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation budget as part of the New York Works initiative.

Enhance North Country Lodging: The State will provide the North Country region with tools and resources to bolster tourism in the North Country and catalyze private investment in lodging. Empire State Development will commission a study to identify lodging development opportunities in the Adirondacks and Thousand Island regions, and provide $13 million in capital funding through the REDCs and Upstate Revitalization Initiative to spur development activity.

Establish $175 Million Workforce Initiative: The FY 2019 Budget establishes a new approach for workforce investments that would support strategic regional efforts to meet businesses' short-term workforce needs, improve regional talent pipelines, expand apprenticeships, and address the long-term needs of expanding industries—with a particular focus on emerging fields with growing demand for jobs like clean energy and technology. Funds will also support efforts to improve the economic security of women, youth, and other populations that face significant barriers to career advancement.

From the State Senate Majority:

The New York State Senate will complete passage of the 2018-19 state budget that achieves key objectives to promote affordability, opportunity, and security for hardworking taxpayers. The final budget maintains fiscal discipline by keeping within the self-imposed two-percent spending cap and closes a $4.5 billion deficit, while also preventing billions of dollars in new taxes and fees to protect taxpayers and encourage economic growth.

Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan said, “This budget invests in the shared priorities of hardworking New Yorkers - affordability, opportunity, and security. It is a solid and fiscally responsible budget that protects taxpayers, creates jobs, and supports many other quality-of-life issues important to middle-class families across the state.”

The $168.3 billion budget rejects $1 billion in new taxes and fees proposed in the Executive Budget and helps reduce the state’s high cost of living; provide record levels of funding for education, the environment, and opioid abuse prevention; and address the serious public health and safety challenges facing the state’s communities. Highlights include:

AFFORDABILITY

Maintaining Fiscal Discipline
The budget protects taxpayers by adhering to a self-imposed two-percent spending cap for the eighth year in a row. Adhering to the cap was instrumental in helping eliminate a $4.5 billion deficit expected to face the state this year. Capping state spending has saved taxpayers nearly $52 billion on a cumulative basis since the 2010-2011 budget.

Rejecting Tax and Fee Increases
The Senate led the successful fight to reject $1 billion in onerous tax-and-fee increases proposed by the Governor and billions more proposed by the Assembly, including new taxes on internet purchases and new DOT fees. The final budget also protects the continued roll-out of the landmark $4.2 billion Middle Class Income Tax Cut that began taking effect in January and will reduce tax rates on middle class families and thousands of small businesses by 20 percent over the next several years.

Protecting and Expanding STAR Property Tax Relief
The Senate made it a priority to build upon the highly successful property tax cap that has already saved taxpayers $23 billion and worked to ensure the Governor’s proposed cap on STAR property tax relief benefits was rejected, saving $49 million. The budget also extends the property tax rebate check program and many homeowners will see their rebate checks double to an average of $380 this year and $532 next year.

Protecting Taxpayers from Negative Impacts of Federal Tax Changes
The budget follows the Senate’s lead in decoupling the state and federal tax codes to prevent New Yorkers from taking a $1.5 billion state tax hit as a result of recent federal tax changes. It holds harmless New Yorkers who may have to pay more in state income taxes because of the changes at the federal level and prevents the state from benefitting from the sudden revenue increase at the expense of taxpayers.

Making Retirement More Affordable and Accessible for Private Sector Employees
The budget creates a program that provides a simpler way for private employees to save up for retirement through voluntary payroll deductions. Many small business owners and job creators in New York currently face costly administrative and financial barriers to providing retirement savings plans to their employees. This program would give employers, on a completely voluntary basis, the opportunity to utilize existing state administrative resources to help workers that choose to participate in the program and contribute to Roth IRAs to help them save for their future.
Protecting New Yorkers from Overpaying for Prescription Drugs

A Senate initiative passed earlier this year to protect consumers from unfair prescription drug pricing is included in the budget. The reforms help consumers become better informed about the price of drugs and prohibits two costly practices – gag clauses and clawbacks – used by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). Prohibiting these costly practices will help fight the rising cost of prescription drugs for all New Yorkers.

OPPORTUNITY

Keeping $700 Million in Brownfield, Historic, and Other Business Tax Credits In Place
The final budget prevents the deferment of tax credits including the state’s Historic Tax Credit and Brownfield Cleanup Tax Credit programs so that private investment in under-developed communities is not jeopardized. These credits and all but five of the state’s other business tax credits would have been deferred for multiple years under the Executive Budget proposal, but the Senate fought to save the $700 million in credits so that they can continue to promote business growth, create jobs, and revitalize communities.

Growing NY Strong
Together, the Senate and Assembly succeeded in restoring and adding more than $13 million beyond what the Executive proposed for agriculture programs, totaling $54.4 million. This year’s total funding is an increase of over $3 million from last year. Dozens of programs -
investments in cutting-edge agricultural research, support for the next generation of family
farmers, environmental stewardship, and protections for plant, animal, and public health – will
be funded, with significant increases including:

· $1.5 million, for a total of $1.9 million, for the Farm Viability Institute to help New York’s farmers become more profitable and to improve the long-term economic viability and sustainability of farms, the food system, and the communities which they serve;
· $1 million, for a total of $9.28 million, for Agri Business Child Development Program, to provide quality early childhood education and social services to farm workers and other eligible families;
· $1 million, for a total of $5.43 million, for Cornell Diagnostic Lab;
· $1.1 million for Taste New York, including $550,000 for the New York Wine and Culinary Center;
· $750,000 for Farm-to-School programs;
· $544,000, for a total of $750,000, for the Apple Growers Association;
· $500,000 for the Farm-to-Seniors Program;
· $300,000 for the North Country Farm-to-School Program;
· $225,000 for Maple Producers; and
· $138,000 for EBT at Farmers Markets.

In addition, the Senate again secured $5 million to support local county fairs and $5 million for animal shelter improvements.

Preparing Workers for Successful Careers
The budget provides key investments in job training and workforce development initiatives so New Yorkers can enhance their job skills – providing a pathway for new opportunities, financial security and career success. Specific highlights include:
· $5 million for the Next Generation Job Linkage Program that assists employers in identifying potential jobs, defining their necessary skills and providing employees with the appropriate training;
· $5 million for the SUNY/CUNY Apprentice Initiative, a targeted training initiative that helps employers refine the skills of new hires and enables more experienced employees the chance to upgrade their skills;
· $4 million for the Workforce Development Institute (WDI), a highly successful not-for-profit that works with businesses and the AFL-CIO to provide focused training for workers and for workforce transition support to help stop the outsourcing of jobs to other states. An additional $3 million is also provided for WDI’s Manufacturing Initiative;
· $3.6 million for Business and Community College Partnerships that support innovative, specifically-tailored workforce training programs coordinated between individual businesses and community colleges; and
· Increased support for Early College High Schools to help prepare students for college-level coursework that promotes future academic performance and enables students to get their high school diplomas while also earning free associate degrees for high-skilled jobs or taking other college credit-bearing courses.
Increasing Education Funding to Help Children Succeed
The final education budget includes record support for schools of more than $26 billion, including an increase of $1 billion over last year. This four-percent increase continues the Senate’s commitment to funding education at a rate higher than the growth of the rest of the budget. Other highlights include:
· Nearly doubling the Governor’s Foundation Aid proposal with $281 million in additional funding, for a total increase of $619 million in 2018-19;
· Fully funding expense base aids at $240 million;
· Increasing funding for charter schools;
· Increasing funding for STEM programs in non-public schools by $10 million for a total of $15 million;
· Continuing $15 million in security grants for non-public schools;
· Restoring a $7 million cut in the Executive Budget for non-public school immunization funding;
· Creating the “No Student Goes Hungry” program to provide students of all ages, backgrounds, and financial situations access to healthy, locally-sourced meals to address child hunger. It includes an expansion of the Farm-to-School Program to utilize locally-grown, quality meals, which will support local agriculture and an improved learning experience for children.

Preparing Students for Bright Futures Through Higher Education
The final budget provides $7.6 billion to support higher education in New York. Among the highlights are record-high levels of more than $1 billion in funding for tuition assistance and financial aid this year; a restoration of $35 million for Bundy Aid; and an overall funding increase in base aid funding for community colleges by $18 million - $12 million for SUNY and $6 million for CUNY - to help prevent tuition hikes. It also includes $200 million for educational opportunity programs and the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP), among others, and restores $200 million in Executive Budget cuts to SUNY and CUNY’s capital programs. To help working parents succeed in school, $2 million was restored for child care centers at community colleges, and to support New York’s Bravest, firefighters would be allowed to take up to one CUNY course that pertains to their line of work for free, similar to what police officers are currently offered.

Promoting Economic Growth Through Infrastructure Investments
To ensure New York has the infrastructure in place to attract and expand businesses, the Senate has secured $122 million in new capital funds to support investments in transportation, environmental mitigation, aviation, and other economic development-related infrastructure projects throughout the state.

Providing Safe, Reliable Transportation
To help localities repair and rehabilitate local roads and bridges, the enacted budget provides an additional $65 million in one-time Consolidated Local Streets and Highway Program (CHIPS) funding for extreme winter recovery, for a total of $503 million.

The budget also supports the Metropolitan Transportation Authority with a $334 million - 7 percent – increase in funding over last year for a total of more than $4.8 billion in operating assistance. This includes $254 million to fully fund the state’s half of this year’s $418 million obligation towards the $836 million Subway Action Plan, with New York City responsible for contributing the remaining half.

There is an additional $20 million in non-MTA transit capital, for a total of $104.5 million for 2018-19, and a two percent increase in state operating assistance to all non-MTA systems, for a total of $530 million.

SECURITY

Providing Record Support for Heroin and Opioid Abuse Prevention and Treatment
The Senate secured a major increase in funding to combat the opioid epidemic for a new record investment of $247 million – $20 million above the 2018-19 Executive Budget proposal, and $37 million above 2017-18. Among the highlights are:
· $10.6 million to support services including more residential treatment beds, a new Recovery and Community Outreach Center, and an Adolescent Clubhouse program to provide peer support activities and events that help maintain a sober and substance-free lifestyle;
· $3.8 million for the development and implementation of substance use disorder treatment in local jails; and
· $1.5 million for the creation of an Independent Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Ombudsman to assist individuals in receiving appropriate health insurance coverage.

In addition to record funding, the budget includes a Senate-driven initiative to help prevent and address an increase in the number of babies born addicted to opioids. The budget creates a new program and provides $1 million to further educate and assist health care providers in caring for expectant mothers and new parents with substance use disorders and help ensure they receive appropriate care, with an additional $350,000 provided for infant recovery centers.

It also prohibits prior authorization for outpatient substance abuse treatment to ensure people are able to get the help they need immediately. And the budget makes permanent the state’s certified peer recovery program, where those in recovery utilize their expertise and experiences to promote the success of others battling substance abuse.

To help increase the tools available to law enforcement to get dangerous drugs off the streets, the budget adds two new derivatives of fentanyl and several new hallucinogenic drugs, synthetic cannabinoids, and cannabimimetic agents to the state’s controlled substances schedule.

Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
The Senate Majority has taken a leadership role to create safer workplaces free of sexual harassment and abuse, including passing comprehensive legislation earlier this month. As a result of the Senate’s strong advocacy on this issue, the final budget measure:
· Prohibits secret settlements unless the victim requests confidentiality;
· Prohibits mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment complaints;
· Protects non-employees in the workplace;
· Creates a uniform sexual harassment policy and training for businesses as well as state and local governments;
· Requires all state contractors to submit an affirmation that they have a sexual harassment policy and that they have trained all of their employees; and
· Protects taxpayer funds from being used for individual sexual harassment judgements.

Helping Survivors of Rape and Sexual Assault
New requirements included in the budget ensure untested rape kits are stored for 20 years, an increase from the current 30-day requirement. This will address serious concerns about the current lack of long-term storage for untested rape kits and will increase the ability of rape and sexual assault survivors to get justice. The state will develop a plan to identify a location that will house untested forensic rape kits for 20 years and develop a system for those kits to be tracked by survivors. In addition, rape survivors will not ever have to pay any costs, including insurance co-pays, for a rape examination or hospital visit.

An additional $147,000 was added by the Legislature to support Rape Crisis Centers, for a total of nearly $6.5 million. These measures build upon recent laws championed by the Senate over the last few years to provide funding and make sure New York State is testing all rape kits, no matter how old, and including DNA evidence in the national CODIS database so matches can be made and criminals brought to justice.

The budget includes $300,000 for a Senate initiative that establishes a Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) telehealth pilot program to ensure providers are able to properly conduct sexual assault examinations at facilities that do not have a designated SAFE program. The provider would be linked by telehealth to a SAFE profession to help care for the victim and make sure evidence is protected.

Preventing “Sextortion”
The budget includes a measure to help prevent sex-related crimes and protect victims from extortion by creating new penalties for the act of sexual coercion – also known as “sextortion.” Anyone threatening a victim’s health, safety, business, career, financial condition, reputation, or personal relationship in exchange for sexual acts will face new felony-level charges.

Combatting Gang Violence
The final budget provides $500,000 to local law enforcement to support youth outreach programs that help prevent MS-13 or other gang violence in Nassau and Suffolk counties. An additional $5.8 million was secured by the Senate in the budget for other local law enforcement initiatives including equipment and technology enhancement, and anti-drug, anti-violence, crime control and prevention programs.

IMPROVING PUBLIC HEALTH AND NEW YORKERS’ QUALITY OF LIFE

Building Healthier Communities
The budget includes $525 million – an increase of $100 million over the Executive Budget proposal - for the Health Care Facility Transformation Program to boost a new third round of awards and help ensure long-term sustainability for facilities as they adjust to the changing dynamics of health care in New York. In addition, the budget provides extensive supports for a variety of important public health initiatives including:
· $27 million for Nutritional Information for Women, Infants and Children;
· $27 million for Alzheimer’s and other dementia related programs;
· $21 million for cancer services;
· $16 million for maternal and child health programs;
· $13 million for chronic disease prevention (including diabetes, asthma, and hypertension);
· $11.2 million for the Doctors Across New York Program;
· $8.5 million in additional funding of the Spinal Cord Injury Research Board;
· $5 million for crucial women’s health initiatives;
· $2.5 million to support organ donation; and
· $283,000 for the Adelphi Breast Cancer Support Program.

Investing in Women’s Health
The Senate Majority successfully advocated for more than $4.5 million in new state funding to enhance women’s access to quality medical care. The budget restores a $475,000 cut the Executive proposed and includes the additional commitment for a total of $5 million that will be used to support initiatives like breast cancer prevention, education, and support, and prenatal and postpartum services, among others.

Preventing Lyme Disease
The Senate’s Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases was once again instrumental in securing a record amount of funding to support education and prevention efforts. The budget restores $400,000 in Executive Budget cuts and includes $600,000 in new funding, for a total of $1 million to support the Task Force’s recommendations.

Protecting the Environment and Critical Water Resources
The Senate continues its longstanding support for the Environmental Protection Fund at a record $300 million. It continues the implementation of last year’s historic $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Bond Act and supports important initiatives to protect drinking water quality and environmental health, including:
· $65 million to combat harmful algal blooms in Upstate New York waterbodies
· $1.5 million for the Center for Clean Water to help address 1,4-Dioxane – an increase of $500,000 to support additional lab testing equipment;
· $250,000 for the Adirondacks Lake Survey Corporation;
· $200,000 Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection;
· $200,000 to the Town of Geneva for a Seneca Lake Watershed Manager;
· $150,000 for the Chautauqua Lake Association; and
· $125,000 for water quality monitoring in Manhasset Bay, Hempstead Harbor, Oyster Bay Harbor, and Cold Spring Harbor.

The Senate also included a measure in the budget to require the state Department of Health to establish a statewide plan for examining lead service lines to help reduce harmful lead exposure. The plan would include an analysis of lead service lines throughout the state and a plan for replacement.

Assisting Lake Ontario Communities
The Senate succeeded in providing $40 million in new budget funding to assist owners of residences still needing repairs to property impacted by last year’s historic flooding of Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence River, and their connected waterways.

Bolstering Libraries
The budget continues the Senate’s longstanding support for libraries and the community resources they provide by securing $5 million in operations funding above the Executive Budget and $10 million in additional capital funding for a total capital increase of $20 million.

Supporting New York’s Seniors
The budget reaffirms the Senate’s strong commitment to a wide array of programs and initiatives that serve New York’s senior community so that they can continue leading healthy, secure, and fulfilling lives, including funding for the following:
· $50 million for the Expanded In-home Services for the Elderly Program;
· $31 million for Community Services for the Elderly Program;
· $27 million for the Wellness in Nutrition Program;
· $27 million for Alzheimer’s and other dementia related programs;
· $250,000 for Older Adults Technology Services;
· $132,000 for the Senior Action Council Hotline; and
· $86,000 for the New York Foundation for Seniors Home Sharing and Respite.

In addition to these funds, the Senate remains committed to stopping elder abuse by including $1.2 million to support elder abuse prevention initiatives, and this year’s budget provides funding for a three-hour extension of Adult Protective Services Call Center hours as an additional resource to report suspected cases of elder abuse. The budget also makes the Residential Emergency Services to Offer Home Repairs to the Elderly (RESTORE) program permanent, and continues $1.4 million for this initiative that assists low-income, elderly homeowners eliminate unsafe conditions in their home.

This year’s budget also fully funds New York’s vital Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program at $132.6 million to help cover seniors’ prescription drug needs. It also fully funds the state’s Enhanced STAR school tax relief program for seniors, totaling $865 million.

Helping Our State’s Veterans
The Senate Republican Conference’s support for the heroic men and women in our nation’s military is unwavering. The 2018-19 State Budget reflects this commitment by including:
· $645,000 in additional funding to expand the Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Services Peer-to-Peer Program to an additional seven counties. Total funding for this successful program, which is based on veterans helping veterans, is now $3.7 million and reaches 23 counties;
· $500,000 for the NYS Defenders Association Veterans Defense Program;
· $250,000 in additional funding for the Veterans Outreach Center in Monroe County, for a total of $500,000;
· $450,000 for the Veteran's Mental Health Training Initiative;
· $220,000 to fund the Veterans Defense Program to Long Island
· $200,000 for Legal Services of the Hudson Valley Veterans and Military Families Advocacy Project;
· $200,000 for Warrior Salute;
· $100,000 for the Veterans Justice Project;
· $100,000 for the SAGE Veterans Project;
· $50,000 for the Vietnam Veterans of America New York State Council;
· $200,000 for Helmets-to-Hardhats;
· $25,000 for the Veterans Miracle Center; and
· $125,000 for Veterans of Foreign Wars NYS Chapter Field Service Operations.

The budget also expands the eligibility criteria for veterans to participate in the state's Home for Heroes program, which helps remove barriers to accessible and affordable housing for veterans with disabilities.

From the State Assembly Majority:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said, "The Assembly Majority is committed to making investments that ensure New York State is a better place to live, work and raise a family. With a focus on Families First, we have crafted a spending plan that makes the necessary investments to strengthen our economy, support working people and preserve essential services that are important to so many citizens.

"This budget will help put New York’s students on a path to achievement from pre-k to adulthood. Led by the Assembly’s efforts, we invest a record $26.7 billion in our public schools and make critical investments in higher education.

"New York City’s transportation system is one of New York’s main economic drivers and vitally important to all who live in the region. The budget provides a sustainability plan to keep our transportation networks moving safely and efficiently, including much-needed investments for public transit in New York City.

"We also secured critical support for our public health systems and, despite federal uncertainties, protected funding for Medicaid and school-based health centers.

"Importantly, we were able to come to an agreement to address the scourge of sexual harassment. This plan is a strong first step and we look forward to future conversations that will help us build on these efforts.

"There is much more to be accomplished in the coming months as we continue to work to move our state forward. I thank the members of the Assembly Majority for their hard work and commitment in crafting a budget that helps citizens grow and thrive in New York."

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Cuomo and Legislature Reach Agreement on $168 Billion State Budget Sat, 31 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Key New York City Issues in Final State Budget Negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7567-key-new-york-city-issues-in-final-state-budget-negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7567-key-new-york-city-issues-in-final-state-budget-negotiations Cuomo budget presentation

Gov. Cuomo during his budget address (photo: Darren McGee/Governor's Office)


A state budget is due by the April 1 start to the new fiscal year, and lawmakers have pledged to have a spending plan -- which is likely to include several new policy items -- done before Friday, March 30, given the impending Passover and Easter holidays. As Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders negotiate a wide variety of policy and spending issues, many are important to New York City, not the least of which include determinations of state funding to the city for education, juvenile justice, public housing, and more.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has called Cuomo’s January $168 billion executive budget plan a mixed bag for the city, criticizing a handful of funding cuts or shifts, omissions, and proposals that he believes would hurt the city. Plans related to MTA funding, including a possible congestion pricing scheme, or at least one phase of such a program, are toward the top of the list of controversial measures being debated in Albany that are of utmost importance to de Blasio, other city-based elected officials, and city residents.

De Blasio testified in Albany in February, laying out the city’s state budget priorities and critiquing Cuomo’s budget proposals. Since then, controversy surrounding NYCHA, the MTA, design-build authority, and other policy and funding matters has only intensified.

Statewide tax reforms are at the top of Cuomo’s list, provoked by the federal tax code changes passed at the end of last year, and could have major implications in New York City. Beyond more basic negotiations over spending and funding, other statewide issues being debated in the state capital that are include sexual harassment prevention and punishment, voting reform, bail reform, and more.

Negotiations are largely being held among Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan of Long Island, and Jeff Klein, leader of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference, which has a ruling coalition agreement with Flanagan’s conference. Those “leaders meetings” as they are often called symbolize the “four men in a room” that is the oft-criticized phrase for Albany’s secretive, concentrated, and male-dominated decision-making. Making talks even more secretive this year is that they’ve mostly been held at The Governor’s Mansion, not at the state Capitol, home of the statehouse press corps and where rank-and-file legislators work.

Talks recently heated up after the Senate and Assembly passed their one-house budget resolutions, in which the majorities formalize their policy and spending priorities and proposals. The two houses, each with a different party in control, differ widely on a host of policy matters and budget priorities, though a large bulk of the budget is not controversial because education, Medicaid, and other funding is likely to be allocated from the state to localities largely as it has been for years.

Complicating matters is that this is a state-level election year, with Cuomo seeking a third term and all of the Legislature on the ballot as it is every two years. Party control of the state Senate hangs in the balance, in part through special elections set for April 24 that will fill two vacant Senate seats previously held by Democrats, which Cuomo purposefully scheduled for after the budget is set to be done.

A rundown of issues of special importance to New York City shows what’s at stake as state budget negotiations hit their final stages.

Public Housing and Infrastructure
During his state budget testimony, de Blasio singled out NYCHA as in need of reform and increased funding from the state. To that end, the State Assembly’s budget includes $275 million reserved for NYCHA repairs. The Senate included no additional funding for NYCHA in its spending plan. Cuomo has recently been appearing at NYCHA complexes, bashing de Blasio and the city for its management of the housing authority, and pledging state help, including a push for a new $250 million, design-build authority to speed repairs, and a state emergency declaration that would include use of a private company to manage fixes.

De Blasio has said he wants to see design-build authority for the city, including for NYCHA, additional state funds for the housing authority, and the release of millions of dollars in funds allocated in prior budgets. He has been skeptical or critical of the possible emergency declaration.

Cuomo had curiously left design-build -- a streamlined contracting and construction process -- for New York City out of his executive budget. The Assembly has passed a bill authorizing design-build for several projects in the city, but the Senate has not, and the Senate did not include design-build authority for the city in its one-house budget. Senate Leader Flanagan has not explained why, but there has been a lot of talk that design-build for the city will be one key piece of horse-trading that annually occurs in finalizing the budget.

A failure to allow for design-build, the de Blasio administration says, would impede the city’s efforts on projects such as NYCHA repairs, Brooklyn-Queens Expressway construction, and jail replacements for Rikers Island, which is slated to close within ten years. The state has used design-build on a variety of projects, often touted by Cuomo, to save billions of dollars and years in estimate project time.

Transportation
Problems with the MTA, namely the city’s subway service (but also bus efficiency), have been felt by most New Yorkers and well-documented over the past year in particular. De Blasio has waged a public relations campaign to ensure that New Yorkers know Cuomo controls the state authority -- where he appoints the leadership and a plurality of the board members -- and called on the state for better spending prioritization and a new source of revenue, which he has said should come from a tax on high earners, but Cuomo has said could be attained through congestion pricing. While de Blasio has been skeptical of congestion pricing, he was somewhat warmer to the three-step phase-in proposed by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel.

Those recommendations appear to be the basis for state negotiations, though Cuomo did not publicly embrace the plan, only backing portions of it publicly, while raising a few questions and leaving it out of his budget plan. Both legislative houses are cool to congestion pricing, though Cuomo has said he is pushing hard for a plan, indicating there could be an initial piece -- a surcharge on taxis and app-based for-hire vehicles like Uber and Lyft, in this year’s budget. The Assembly appears more friendly toward that possibility than the Senate.

Cuomo wants to institute “value capture” zones in New York City, which would use property tax revenue the state argues is generated by transit improvements. De Blasio maintains that value capture would “grant the MTA the power to raid our property taxes on properties within a one mile radius of certain projects,” cost the city much-needed funds, and violate city sovereignty.

Since February, Cuomo has amended the specifics of his value capture proposal since it was included in the initial budget in new draft of the legislation, Politico New York recently reported. City officials, however, are not persuaded by Cuomo’s value capture pitch -- Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan and Department of Transit Commissioner Polly Trottenberg came out against the proposal the same day.

Meanwhile, short-term, there are ongoing debates over funding for the “Subway Action Plan,” put forth by MTA Chair Joe Lhota and supported by Cuomo, which would allocate $836 million toward repairing the subway and take a variety of other emergency measures to improve subway performance. Cuomo quickly agreed to fund half the plan, and he and Lhota called on de Blasio to fund the other half from city funds, which the mayor declined to do, pointing to money he says the state has raided from the MTA over the years and the fact that city residents already contribute the bulk of the MTA budget.

Notably, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has said he believes the city should fund the other half of the Subway Action Plan, but the overall Council position has not been made clear. Comptroller Scott Stringer had said from the start that the city should match the state’s half, prioritizing the subway system and its riders over additional fighting over budget maneuvers and responsibility.

Along with the subway action plan, the governor’s budget includes $429 million for MTA repairs, according to a press release. The Assembly budget plan allocates $490 million in new funds to the MTA, would bring MTA funding in the next budget to a total of $5.3 billion, and $10.5 billion to transportation overall, according to a news release. The Senate’s one-house budget does not include new funding for the MTA.

Additionally, de Blasio and many in New York City are again calling on the state to allow the city to install more speed cameras in school zones. The Senate blocked the measure last year. The mayor recently added to this agenda, urging the state to enact multiple pieces of legislation to ensure dangerous drivers are kept off the road. It’s not immediately clear if there is any hope for such measures to be included in the budget.

Education
Unlike many other recent years, there are few education policy issues on the table this year, leaving funding levels as the central schools-related item of significant concern in budget negotiations.

The governor’s executive budget increases school aid across the state by $769 million over the current fiscal year, including $338 million in “Foundation Aid,” a supplemental funding formula to aid local school districts based on need. The increase brings the school aid total to $26.356 billion, an increase of 3% over last year. The executive budget claims that this is “double the statutory School Aid growth cap” and that school aid is the “state’s highest funding priority.”

Despite this, advocates have charged for years that the state’s funding formula leaves schools not fully funded, including as it relates to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling of more than a decade ago. Cynthia Nixon, who recently announced a challenge to Cuomo in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, has worked extensively with advocacy organization Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) and has made “fully funding” public schools a top campaign plank, adding an additional political element to budget negotiations around this topic.

The fault supposedly lies in the flawed Foundation Aid formula; the formula is based on a wealth index that, according to an analysis by the Citizens Budget Commission, “make the neediest districts in the state seem less needy, while the state’s wealthiest districts seem less wealthy.” The 2006 court ruling required the state to provide a more equitable funding formula, which led to Foundation Aid, but local politicians and advocates say that the state has not lived up to its agreement and that high need schools do not receive the aid they require.

In his testimony in Albany, de Blasio said that there is a $211 million gap between what the city is designated to receive in the Executive Budget and what it is supposedly owed through the Foundation Aid formula.

The Assembly included a larger school aid increase in its own proposed budget, to the tune of $1.5 billion, to bring total school aid spending to $27.1 billion. This includes a $1.2 billion increase in Foundation Aid to $18.4 billion.

The Senate proposal, meanwhile, includes an aid increase smaller than the governor’s, at $717 million with $379 million in Foundation Aid increases, to bring total education investment to $26.1 billion. The Senate proposal also includes a plank calling for a removal of the cap on charter school growth, though after it was a key piece of negotiations and legislation last year, the charter school cap has flown significantly under the radar this year.

Both the governor’s and the Assembly’s budgets include increased investments in and expansion of the state’s public pre-kindergarten, but the scale is again different. Cuomo’s budget includes a $15 million increase while the Assembly’s budget include a $50 million increase. Both budgets also include a $50 million set-aside for community school aid, aiming to facilitate the creation and maintenance of schools that double as community hubs.

Voting
Cuomo’s “Democracy Agenda,” introduced in December, includes several reforms to the voting process in New York, which has often been described as among the worst in the nation. These include items Cuomo has backed in past years like early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day voter registration.

New York is not as behind the curve in enacting automatic and same day registration -- nine states have automatic registration and 15 have same-day -- but on early voting, the Empire State has been substantially outpaced. New York is one of just thirteen states not to have the measure, which is annually blocked by the Senate, though it is unclear how much weight Cuomo and Assembly Democrats have put behind it.

Cuomo last month announced 30-day budget amendments to provide 12 days of early voting and added $7 million to pay for it, a move celebrated by advocates and reform-minded legislators. The Assembly and Senate are less amicable to early voting: the Assembly proposal provides for eight days of early voting, while early voting is entirely excluded from the Senate proposal. Senate Republicans have historically been hostile to voting reforms.

Cuomo’s proposal does not address other areas of interest for advocates, such as the consolidation of state and federal primaries and easing some of the strictest deadlines in the nation for registration and for switching party registration.

Ethics and Transparency
Ethics reform is once again taking a backseat in budget negotiations. Cuomo, in his executive budget, called for closing the LLC loophole and banning outside income for legislators. Cuomo also called for social media companies to disclose who pays for political advertising on their platforms in the wake of the discovery of secret ad buys in the 2016 election by Russians. Cuomo also called for a new “Chief Procurement Officer” to “oversee the integrity” of the procurement process, where apparent abuses have occurred under his watch and he has been against reinstating pre-audit oversight to the state comptroller.

Cuomo’s executive budget and State of the State speeches devoted little attention to ethics reform, and the Assembly and Senate are not taking up the cause despite the recent high-profile trial and conviction of the governor’s former top aide, Joe Percoco, as well as the upcoming bid-rigging trial of Alain Kaloyeros, the former president of SUNY Polytechnic. The Assembly has been more aligned with the governor on campaign finance reform, but the Senate has shown little interest in any additional ethics or campaign finance reform measures.

There is some discussion around watchdogs’ call for mandating a “database of deals,” which would create a public database of all economic development contracts in the state, tracking who is getting taxpayer money for development contracts and how it is being spent. Both the Assembly and the Senate included the deals database in their one-house budgets, but the governor has not signaled his support. As it did last year, the transparency and accountability measure could be bounced from the final budget as part of annual horse-trading.

Criminal Justice
In his State of the State address in January, Cuomo outlined a criminal justice agenda that he referred to as “the most progressive set of reforms in the nation,” aiming to reshape the criminal justice system in New York towards fairness and equity.

The marquee proposal of the pack is eliminating cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, which has largely received praise from criminal justice advocates and follows a nationwide push to end a practice that many say is discriminatory against low-income people and people of color. Some advocates, however, have said that it could go much further, such as eliminating bail entirely and abolishing the bail bonds system. Advocates have also voiced concerns about the broad jurisdiction of judges to keep people on “preventative detention,” or a judge deeming that a suspect is not fit for release. On the other hand, Senate Republicans have been cool to the notion of reform.

The governor also proposed changing discovery process. According to the governor himself, New York is tied for having the worst discovery laws in the nation. New York is one of 10 states that does not require the prosecution in a case to share evidence with the defense on a strict timetable; for instance, in New York, a prosecutor could share potentially exculpatory evidence with the defense just hours before the trial begins, leaving the defense with little room to mount an argument. The reform requires evidence to be shared “incrementally” and in a “timely and consistent manner.”

Also included in the governor’s proposal is a ban on asset seizure by police in the absence of an arrest, and the return of assets to those who are not convicted in a court of law. He also put forth proposals to speed up the trial process in order to prevent judicial backlog and long pretrial detention, which has come under fire in the wake of Kalief Browder’s suicide, and to remove “reentry barriers” for the formerly incarcerated, such as ending suspension of drivers’ licenses and removing certain fees such as the “parole supervision fee.”

While Cuomo's bail reform proposal has received some support from reformers, many advocates have voiced deep concerns about the governor's discovery reform. The criticism centers around a “right of redaction” of names in the evidence provided to the defense by the prosecution, which the Legal Aid Society told the New York Law Journal would give prosecutors “blanket authority” to black out identifying witness information.

The governor’s proposals are out-paced from the left by those of the Assembly (and the Senate Democrats, who are in the minority). The Senate Democrats’ proposal eliminates cash bail entirely; the Assembly’s approach is more in line with Cuomo’s, but eases certain restrictions on the payment of bail by charitable bail organizations such as the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. This would allow those funds to pay bail of up to $10,000, up from the current $2,000 cap, and allows them to operate in more than one county.

On discovery, the Senate Democrats call for “automatic, comprehensive discovery” of all material possessed by the prosecution while the Assembly’s bill calls for a deadline of 15 days after arraignment, similar to the governor’s. The Assembly and Senate Democrats both place greater restrictions on prosecutory redactions than the governor’s proposal.

The Assembly and Senate Democrats both have speedy trial language that is also beyond what Cuomo is pushing, though he has also included measures. Cuomo's speedy trial provisions have received some criticism from advocates: #FREEnewyork accuses the governor’s plan of failing to address the issue of “court congestion and under-resourced courts,” failing to eliminate speedy trial release for pretrial detainees, and that it would not fix the “speedy trial clock loophole” that allows prosecutors to stop the statutory time limits that govern New York’s current laws even if the defense isn’t ready, along with other criticisms.

The Assembly’s proposal would ban solitary confinement for those under 21, over 55, for people with disabilities, pregnant people or people in the post-partum period, or those in a “newborn nursery program.” It would also set limits on the “use and duration” of solitary.

The Assembly’s bill would also establish an “Office of Special Investigation” in the Attorney General’s office to independently investigate instances where individuals die in the hands of law enforcement, either in custody or during an encounter. In 2015, Cuomo named Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as the special prosecutor in charge of investigating civilian deaths at the hands of police officers; the special prosecutor was named as an effort to bypass the alleged closeness between District Attorneys and police departments.

Senate Republicans did not include language about the planks of Cuomo’s criminal justice reform package, and some are pushing back against the notion of limiting the use of cash bail. Their opposition represents a significant roadblock to the passage of the governor’s criminal justice agenda items, which could be his signature progressive accomplishment of this budget cycle. On Sunday evening in Albany, after a leaders meeting, Senate Leader Flanagan told reporters that "bail reform is probably going to be one of the policy matters that’s discussed outside the budget,” according to Politico New York.

Meanwhile, the Child Victims Act appears to be in for its now-annual legislative fight; Governor Cuomo strongly supports the legislation, which extends the statute of limitations for victims of child sex abuse, and included it in his budget proposal, as did the Assembly. But it was excluded in the Senate one-house budget resolution.

Celebrities such as Corey Feldman and Julianne Moore have attempted to raise the profile of the CVA and ensure it is included in the budget, but another high profile figure, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, recently met with legislators in Albany to lobby for the removal of the “lookback” provision, which would allow for the re-opening of “time-barred” cases within a certain window of time; the governor is proposing one year. Given the history of child sexual abuse associated with the Catholic Church, Dolan is claiming that the CVA will be “toxic” to the church with the lookback, prompting sharp rebukes from Cuomo and others.

Taxes
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of state budget negotiations is agreeing on an attempt to change the state tax code to mitigate the effects of the new federal tax code, established by law in December.

“The FY 2019 Budget protects New Yorkers against attacks from Washington and helps further our bold, progressive agenda to move New York forward," Cuomo said in a press release with his 30-day amendments to his executive budget. "After working with experts and stakeholders, I am advancing further reforms through these budget amendments that to safeguard our competitiveness and help protect residents from this federal economic assault."

Specifically, after amendments to it in February, Cuomo’s budget allows for employers to implement a 5% payroll taxes, which can still be deducted from federal returns, in order to avoid the federally-mandated $10,000 cap on state and local tax deduction. Cuomo would also create new ways for New Yorkers to pay for government services through charitable giving, which might be deductible from federal taxes, though the IRS may have to rule on any new systems put in place, and he wants localities to also be able to create such structures, which would result in state and local tax credits to individuals who give to the charitable entities for education and possibly other services.

And in order to avoid the the $1.5 billion of tax increases on New Yorkers due to the new federal tax law, Cuomo’s budget “decouples” state and local taxes from the federal tax code.

The Assembly “largely accepts the Executive proposal aimed at protecting New Yorkers from federal tax reforms,” according to a press release, and increases income taxes for New Yorkers who earn over $5 million annually.

The Senate, however adopted a different approach in its tax plan, leaving out the Cuomo tax code proposals, and omitting what Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan estimates as $1 billion in new taxes in Cuomo’s budget. “We rejected the new taxes and other proposals that would hurt families and businesses, and put forth a plan to give taxpayers the relief they need and deserve. We also make sound investments in education to help our students, fund critical infrastructure, and propose new measures to strengthen our communities,” Flanagan said in a March press release. The Senate’s budget also lowers taxes on utility bills, retirement income and bridge tolls.

Cuomo included the "revenue raisers" in his budget plan in order to help close the state budget deficit. Since Cuomo's budget presentation, estimates have changed that indicate the state is expected to take in hundreds of millions of dollars more in tax revenue than previously thought, in part due to reaction to the new federal tax law.

De Blasio is opposed to the new federal tax plan on ideological and practical grounds. “The tax bill passed by Congress was written by millionaires for millionaires, while everyone else suffers,” he said in a December press release following the bill’s passage. And, like Cuomo, has also spoken to the need for the state and city to respond to the tax plan, which he believes adversely affects New York City residents. Combatting what the two rivals both see as the harmful effects of the tax plan is one issue that de Blasio and Cuomo agree upon. “I want to commend the Governor for trying to find ways to blunt the effects of the new tax law and I look forward to working with him, and all of you, on solutions,” de Blasio said during his February state budget testimony.

Sexual Misconduct
Amid a national reckoning with seuxal misconduct, including workplace harassment, Albany lawmakers have made an effort to enact legislation aimed at preventing and punishing such conduct. Cuomo unveiled several policy proposals in his State of the State, and the issue may be one where consensus can be found for a slate of new policies.

However, there is a lot of attention on both substance and process, as many are concerned about the possibility of four men -- one of whom, Senator Klein, has recently been accused of forcibly kissing a staff aide in 2015 -- deciding new sexual misconduct policies. There has been some talk of Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins being included in negotiations on the topic, but it is unclear to what extent she or any other women will be allowed to participate.

Cuomo’s budget language would prevent state funds from being used for settlements of sexual harassment or assault cases. He would also ban confidentiality agreements unless the victim chooses to agree to one, and mandates that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics creates a units to investigate sexual harassment allegations in state government. “Sexual harassment afflicts people of every gender, race, age and class, and there must be zero tolerance for sexual harassment in any workplace, including those of the State and local governments,” reads the budget summary.

Cuomo’s agenda would also institute uniform policies across state government, instead of the current situation where the executive branch and each of the two legislative houses has its own policy.

"The Assembly Majority recognizes that putting families first means making sure that everyone, especially women, never feel that they have to tolerate sexual harassment to earn a paycheck," said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. "These new policies will empower individuals to hold harassers accountable and help put an end to the culture of harassment that plagued our workplaces for far too long."

To that end, the Assembly’s proposal lends the Attorney General more authority to prosecute criminal cases and defend victims in civil ones. The Assembly’s budget would also outlaw mandatory arbitration agreements and void clauses in contracts that “waive rights relating to discrimination claims.” In addition, the Assembly budget includes a provision requiring the state’s Division of Human Rights to craft a set of anti-sexual harassment guidelines and share it with the public and for state and local agencies, along with entities who “do business” with the state, to report to the state on sexual harassment matters.

Among the Senate’s proposals on sexual harassment is Senate Bill S7848A, sponsored by Republican Senator Cathy Young. Like Cuomo’s, the bill would institute a consistent policy on sexual harassment across all branches of state government, ban confidentiality agreements that prevent survivors from talking about incidents and would allow the state to “recoup” money spent on sexual harassment settlements. “Our legislation will help prevent sexual harassment and ensure all employees throughout this state are provided with the safe work environment they deserve,” said Flanagan of the legislation. However, the Senate's legislation has drawn criticism from lawmakers, advocates and experts due to certain language around false reporting and omissions.

But before the budget is passed, six women who have made sexual harassment allegations against state lawmakers have urged the governor to listen to input from survivors and for the state to take its time in passing legislation, extending past the budget into the legislative session to follow if needed.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Sam Raskin and Ben Max

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Key New York City Issues in Final State Budget Negotiations Sun, 25 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Women In ‘The Room’ http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7518-the-women-in-the-room http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7518-the-women-in-the-room Cuomo Stewart-Cousins

Gov. Cuomo and Sen. Stewart-Cousins (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


What would New York State’s budget look like if women were in charge? That is this year’s $168-billion question.

For decades, the final details and compromises in New York’s annual budget have been decided by the so-called “three men in the room,” or the leaders of the two legislative houses and the governor, but with workplace sexual harassment at the forefront this year, it seems that at least one woman will be included in parts of the closed-door talks.

The “three men” -- in recent years four men: Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Senator Jeff Klein, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie -- is a term first attributed to Albany’s budget process in a 1988 Newsday article and later popularized by former state lawmaker Seymour Lachman, who wrote a book called “Three Men in a Room.” The phrase has become synonymous with Albany’s culture of secrecy and backroom dealings, but it also implicates the gender imbalance that has long plagued the center of power in New York.

Now, amid a national reckoning around sexual misconduct, an effort is being made to elevate female voices in state government as the executive and legislative branches scramble to come up with an acceptable policy response. In addition to workplace protections, Cuomo’s extensive women’s rights agenda includes codification of Roe v. Wade abortion protections, legislation combating revenge porn, and a mandate that free feminine hygiene products to be provided in public school restrooms.

Facing pressure from advocates, editorial boards, and others to include female representation during final negotiations of a new budget -- which is expected to include a statewide anti-harassment policy for government officials -- Cuomo recently announced that the only female legislative conference leader, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, will for the first time play a role in deciding the legislation that goes into the final budget documents.

“Leader Stewart-Cousins will be included in negotiations on the ‎sexual-harassment bill, as well as a wide range of other issues being dealt with in this year’s budget,” a Cuomo spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal.

Notably, the negotiations will occur as Klein is being investigated for allegedly forcing a kiss with an aide in 2015.

While it is not clear what that range of other issues will cover, Stewart-Cousins -- who has long demanded inclusion in budget talks, to no avail -- said at a press conference on the Child Victims Act (CVA), that she will use the opportunity to fight for other bills put forward by her conference that have long stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“When I’m in the room, you can be sure that I will be advocating for this, and other things that our conference is carrying and pushing forward,” Stewart-Cousins said of CVA, adding that by representing the 21-member conference (in the 63-seat chamber), she brings with her “the voices of half of New York.”

The Child’s Victims Act, which has been in limbo for 10 years, lifts New York’s statute of limitations to match that of other states, making it easier for victims of child sexual abuse to bring charges against their abusers. Other big ticket items on the table this year -- many of them carried by members of the Democratic conference -- include gun control, early voting, a state tax overhaul, and criminal justice reforms.

How Stewart-Cousins’ presence in “the room,” typically the governor’s office on the second floor of the state Capitol, shapes the final budget bills, or whether more women-centered legislation and other bills carried by her conference will rise to the top, remains to be seen. While her involvement in leaders’ meetings is a notable start, as one of five powerbrokers in “the room,” there will still be a lopsided ratio considering New York’s female-heavy electorate, according to Dina Refki, executive director of the Center for Women in Government & Civil Society at Albany University.

“Research tells us that when women are outnumbered, their voices tend to be silenced,” said Refki. “Of course, Andrea Stewart-Cousins is a strong legislator, and it’s a good thing to have, but if we are looking at research, we tend to believe that women need to be represented in sufficient numbers to have a meaningful impact on the process.”

Government reformers note that the power in the room is already tilted in favor of the executive, due to the 2004 Silver v. Pataki Court of Appeals decision, which bars the Legislature from making changes to any part of an appropriations bill, short of rejecting the entire bill. The main leverage the legislative leaders have during talks is the ability to delay the budget, which is bound to draw criticism of Albany’s dysfunction from the public and editorial boards, according to former Assemblymember-turned-professor Richard Brodsky.

“You cannot govern a state in perpetuity based upon a tyrannical executive power -- and that’s what we have. If you want to reform government, adjust the balance of power,” said Brodsky.

Tyrannical power or not, having the governor’s ear during those final hours is valuable and if political science studies are any indicator, Stewart-Cousins’ involvement may help tip the scales in favor of better legislative outcomes for women. There is a large body of data indicating that female representation in government leads to the passage of more legislation on issues of concern to women -- whether protections for women’s health, workplace equity, or paid family leave, for example -- but only when there is a “critical mass” of female representation. Political scientists disagree on the exact tipping point, pegging it at 15, 20, 25, or 30 percent.

While the final decision-makers in Albany have historically all been male, there are often women in the room in a supportive or advisory capacity, and numerous female lawmakers who lead legislative committees are heavily involved in budgetary proceedings. At every stage there is an opportunity to women influence the content and the shape of the budget, according to Refki.

“Women are not monolithic. They don’t all think the same, or act in the same way, but by virtue of their socialization as women, they tend to see women-centered issues as priorities,” she said. “The presence of women at each juncture in the process at least brings a voice that could influence what takes shape at the end.”

Melissa DeRosa Cuomo aideMelissa DeRosa, now Cuomo’s top aide as secretary to the governor, has long been involved in budget conversations, including in her previous role as Cuomo’s chief of staff. DeRosa and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul both chair Cuomo’s newly-created Council on Women and Girls, which helped develop his women’s agenda this year, a spokesperson from Cuomo’s office said.

Hochul, while not directly involved in budget negotiations, aids the process by promoting key pieces of the governor's budget agenda around the state. When interviewed about Hochul’s reelection campaign last month, her chief of staff told Gotham Gazette that she is “focused on ensuring an on-time budget.”

Cuomo has brought a number of women into his inner circle in the past year, including re-hiring former federal prosecutor Linda Lacewell, now as his chief of staff, and Cathy Calhoun as his director of state operations. Lacewell replaced DeRosa (pictured), who was promoted to Cuomo’s top advisory position last year, becoming the first woman to hold the position.

Legislative leaders also have top female aides. Often accompanying Heastie during budget dealings are Louann Ciccone, secretary of program and counsel, and Kathleen O’Keefe, his legislative counsel. To help create policy responses to sexual harassment issues, Heastie has composed a work group of 15 lawmakers, 10 of them female.

“Sexual harassment must be confronted head-on,” said Heastie in a statement. “I look forward to the recommendations of this workgroup so that we can develop a statewide legislative solution to this very serious problem.”

Klein, whose Independent Democratic Conference forms a ruling coalition with the Senate Republicans, also has a female chief of staff, Dana Carotenuto Rico, who typically joins him in “the room.” Other times, IDC members who have expertise in a particular subject are called in, an IDC spokesperson said. For example, in 2017, Senator Diane Savino and Senator Jesse Hamilton were invited into the governor’s chamber to discuss details of legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

Additionally, women play a role at many turns in budgetary proceedings leading up to the final negotiations. The Legislature’s joint budget hearings, which take place in February, are now headed by female lawmakers, and when one-house agendas are released, female staffers from legislative and executive offices participate in subsequent meetings on various budgetary categories called “tables.”

Two women now hold the Legislature’s most powerful committee chair posts: Senate Finance Chair Kathy Young, an upstate Republican, and Assembly Ways and Means Chair Helene Weinstein, a Brooklyn Democrat. The two women, along with IDC’s Senator Savino, of Staten Island, is vice chair of the Senate finance committee, must attend all of legislative budget hearings, which sometimes run late into the night. These hearings help inform one-house budget proposals, conference discussions, and larger budget negotiations, according to those with knowledge of the budget process.

Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Flanagan, said that Young is extensively involved in negotiations on the state budget and that other female staff members advise the leader on key issues related to the budget, like sexual harassment, criminal justice, and education. Reif did not indicate that any of the women are in the negotiating room when the final budget bills are decided.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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The Women In ‘The Room’ Mon, 05 Mar 2018 05:00:00 +0000