Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/diane-savino 2017-12-12T06:57:26+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com In Albany, De Blasio and Democrats Push ‘Mansion Tax’ 2017-03-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6826:in-albany-de-blasio-and-democrats-to-push-mansion-tax Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bdb_albany_mansion_tax_rally_rachel.jpg" alt="bdb albany mansion tax rally rachel" width="600" height="514" />&nbsp;</p> <p>De Blasio in Albany (photo: Rachel Silberstein/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio journeyed to Albany Wednesday to rally with Democratic legislators and activists for the extension of the “millionaires’ tax,” set to expire this year, as well as the “mansion tax,” a proposal the mayor has been pushing since 2015. De Blasio and his allies called for both to be part of the new state budget due by April 1.</p> <p>Citing the threats of deep federal budget cuts from President Donald Trump’s administration and a Republican Congress and the likelihood of tax cuts for the wealthy, de Blasio struck a populist tone as he pushed for the two taxes. The millionaires’ tax would continue across the state and is being backed strongly by Governor Andrew Cuomo, while the mansion tax would only apply to New York City: an additional 2.5 percent marginal tax paid by the buyers of homes valued at $2 million or more, the revenue from which would directly fund rental subsidies for up to 25,000 seniors in New York City. Cuomo has not given a clear position on the mansion tax.</p> <p>When he spoke from the steps of the State Capitol’s historic “Million Dollar Staircase,” de Blasio was flanked by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and surrounded by dozens of Democratic lawmakers and advocates. The mayor said that the 2016 presidential election centered around issues of income inequality and the plight of the working class. However, he noted, the young Trump administration has responded with proposed tax cuts for the wealthy, corporations, and insurance companies.</p> <p>“There is an anger in this country and anger in this state as people feel they are being lied to. They thought they were going to get some relief from their economic distress,” said de Blasio. “What they are finding is quite the opposite, that the rich are getting richer.”</p> <p>Funds generated by the mansion tax, which has a steep road to passage through the Republican-controlled state Senate, would be earmarked for seniors 62-years-old and older who earn less than $50,000 per year. Citing recent sales data, the de Blasio administration says the policy would affect the top 4,500 residential real estate transactions in the upcoming year and generate approximately $336 million in 2018.</p> <p>The millionaires’ tax requires anyone earning more than $2.1 million a year to pay a state rate of 8.82 percent, rather than 6.85 percent, as is the rate for those making $40,000 per year. Gov. Cuomo has included a three-year extension of the sunsetting tax in his executive budget. In their one-house budget resolutions, the two legislative majorities took very different stances on the millionaires’ tax. Senate Republicans want to see the tax expire.</p> <p>The Assembly majority on the other hand, proposes an expansion of the current millionaires’ tax with additional tax brackets for the mega wealthy who earn more than $5 million, $10 million, and $100 million a year. The Assembly budget resolution also included the mansion tax that de Blasio wants, with the chamber’s bill sponsored by Brooklyn Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, who chairs the housing committee.</p> <p>Speaker Heastie called the tax plan “fiscally and socially responsible.” "A tax for New York City’s highest earners to help fund critical services like education, healthcare, and infrastructure,” Heastie said, “is more important than ever as we are starting to see the true devastating effects of the radical leadership in our new federal government.”</p> <p>Cuomo, who wields significant influence in the deliberations over the state budget, made no mention of the mansion tax in his executive budget plan, and though he wants to extend the millionaires’ tax, he has expressed concern that expanding it as the Assembly has proposed could drive New York City’s wealthiest from the city.</p> <p>“People will take a certain amount of abuse and then there is a point,” <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cuomo-raising-tax-wealthy-drive-n-y-article-1.2964919" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cuomo said</a> during a meeting with the New York Daily News editorial board. “The question is, what is that point? Nobody knows for sure, but you don’t want to reach that point.”</p> <p>Prospects for de Blasio’s mansion tax appear grim without the support of the governor, and given fierce opposition from Senate Republicans -- Majority Leader John Flanagan <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/01/flanagan-calls-de-blasios-mansion-tax-a-non-starter/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has declared</a> the mansion tax a “non-starter.”</p> <p>Yet, de Blasio offered a series of points in arguing that the mansion tax is very much alive in the final week of budget negotiations.</p> <p>At a press appearance after the rally, de Blasio said he is confident support from civil rights groups and senior organizations like the AARP will have a mobilizing effect on the governor and Legislature. “AARP has enormous power to influence people on both sides of the aisle,” he said.</p> <p>Addressing naysayers, de Blasio reminded reporters that people used terms like “dead on arrival” about other progressive policy measures he’s championed in Albany, such as the city’s universal pre-kindergarten program, a $15 minimum wage, and paid family leave, each of which was passed in some form.</p> <p>De Blasio also revealed that a Senate version of the mansion tax bill would be introduced by Senator Diane Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) whose district includes a sliver of southern Brooklyn and parts of Staten Island. “We think with her leadership, that will help us to draw more support in the Senate and continue this momentum,” de Blasio told reporters.</p> <p>The eight-member IDC has a coalition agreement with Senate Republicans and the IDC is often able to push through its pet agenda items because of the leverage it has with the majority.</p> <p>When asked how she would get the GOP conference on board with the mansion tax, Savino said via email, "Like all legislation that I carry, I plan to lobby my colleagues on the mansion tax which could bring needed revenue to the city."</p> <p>Senate Republicans, who cling to a sliver of a majority in the chamber, appeared to be unmoved by the groundswell.</p> <p>Senate GOP spokesperson Scott Reif did not respond to a request for comment but tweeted at a Politico reporter Wednesday morning, writing, “Appreciate that @BilldeBlasio can still find his way to Albany, but this idea has already been rejected.”</p> <p>Later, Reif added in response to a Gotham Gazette reporter, “We support cutting taxes, not raising them.”</p> <p>Cuomo was in New York City during the Wednesday rally for the funeral of legendary New York Daily News journalist Jimmy Breslin. While Cuomo and de Blasio are engaged in a long-running feud, de Blasio acknowledged that he needs the backing of the governor to get the mansion tax passed. De Blasio urged Cuomo to consider the senior citizens who stand benefit from the rental subsidy the tax would fund.</p> <p>“I want the governor and everyone else to remember this is to benefit 25,000 seniors,” de Blasio said. “We need the Governor’s support. There are a lot of seniors depending on him. And look, the voices of seniors are going to be felt. And I know in terms of the New York City Senate delegation, they are all going to hear from AARP. They are all going to hear the strong voices of seniors on this matter...I think that is going to be a game-changer.”</p> <p>The expansion of the millionaires’ tax and creation of a mansion tax would signal wins for the first-term mayor, who is up for reelection this November. De Blasio, who has been talking up the mansion tax since 2015, again laid out his case last week while on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, putting it into the larger context of his fight against inequality, especially in the Trump era.</p> <p>“That is the kind of thing – bluntly – that we’re going to have to do. And if we don’t start addressing this reality of a growing senior population needs affordable housing we will rue the day, and the way we do that is by taxing the wealthy in fair ways and devoting those resources to senior housing,” de Blasio <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/askthemayor-hyper-local-housing-homeless" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said in the March 10 radio interview</a>.</p> <p>On Thursday, de Blasio is scheduled to be back in New York City, visiting two senior centers to promote the mansion tax proposal.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bdb_albany_mansion_tax_rally_rachel.jpg" alt="bdb albany mansion tax rally rachel" width="600" height="514" />&nbsp;</p> <p>De Blasio in Albany (photo: Rachel Silberstein/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio journeyed to Albany Wednesday to rally with Democratic legislators and activists for the extension of the “millionaires’ tax,” set to expire this year, as well as the “mansion tax,” a proposal the mayor has been pushing since 2015. De Blasio and his allies called for both to be part of the new state budget due by April 1.</p> <p>Citing the threats of deep federal budget cuts from President Donald Trump’s administration and a Republican Congress and the likelihood of tax cuts for the wealthy, de Blasio struck a populist tone as he pushed for the two taxes. The millionaires’ tax would continue across the state and is being backed strongly by Governor Andrew Cuomo, while the mansion tax would only apply to New York City: an additional 2.5 percent marginal tax paid by the buyers of homes valued at $2 million or more, the revenue from which would directly fund rental subsidies for up to 25,000 seniors in New York City. Cuomo has not given a clear position on the mansion tax.</p> <p>When he spoke from the steps of the State Capitol’s historic “Million Dollar Staircase,” de Blasio was flanked by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and surrounded by dozens of Democratic lawmakers and advocates. The mayor said that the 2016 presidential election centered around issues of income inequality and the plight of the working class. However, he noted, the young Trump administration has responded with proposed tax cuts for the wealthy, corporations, and insurance companies.</p> <p>“There is an anger in this country and anger in this state as people feel they are being lied to. They thought they were going to get some relief from their economic distress,” said de Blasio. “What they are finding is quite the opposite, that the rich are getting richer.”</p> <p>Funds generated by the mansion tax, which has a steep road to passage through the Republican-controlled state Senate, would be earmarked for seniors 62-years-old and older who earn less than $50,000 per year. Citing recent sales data, the de Blasio administration says the policy would affect the top 4,500 residential real estate transactions in the upcoming year and generate approximately $336 million in 2018.</p> <p>The millionaires’ tax requires anyone earning more than $2.1 million a year to pay a state rate of 8.82 percent, rather than 6.85 percent, as is the rate for those making $40,000 per year. Gov. Cuomo has included a three-year extension of the sunsetting tax in his executive budget. In their one-house budget resolutions, the two legislative majorities took very different stances on the millionaires’ tax. Senate Republicans want to see the tax expire.</p> <p>The Assembly majority on the other hand, proposes an expansion of the current millionaires’ tax with additional tax brackets for the mega wealthy who earn more than $5 million, $10 million, and $100 million a year. The Assembly budget resolution also included the mansion tax that de Blasio wants, with the chamber’s bill sponsored by Brooklyn Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, who chairs the housing committee.</p> <p>Speaker Heastie called the tax plan “fiscally and socially responsible.” "A tax for New York City’s highest earners to help fund critical services like education, healthcare, and infrastructure,” Heastie said, “is more important than ever as we are starting to see the true devastating effects of the radical leadership in our new federal government.”</p> <p>Cuomo, who wields significant influence in the deliberations over the state budget, made no mention of the mansion tax in his executive budget plan, and though he wants to extend the millionaires’ tax, he has expressed concern that expanding it as the Assembly has proposed could drive New York City’s wealthiest from the city.</p> <p>“People will take a certain amount of abuse and then there is a point,” <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cuomo-raising-tax-wealthy-drive-n-y-article-1.2964919" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cuomo said</a> during a meeting with the New York Daily News editorial board. “The question is, what is that point? Nobody knows for sure, but you don’t want to reach that point.”</p> <p>Prospects for de Blasio’s mansion tax appear grim without the support of the governor, and given fierce opposition from Senate Republicans -- Majority Leader John Flanagan <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/01/flanagan-calls-de-blasios-mansion-tax-a-non-starter/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has declared</a> the mansion tax a “non-starter.”</p> <p>Yet, de Blasio offered a series of points in arguing that the mansion tax is very much alive in the final week of budget negotiations.</p> <p>At a press appearance after the rally, de Blasio said he is confident support from civil rights groups and senior organizations like the AARP will have a mobilizing effect on the governor and Legislature. “AARP has enormous power to influence people on both sides of the aisle,” he said.</p> <p>Addressing naysayers, de Blasio reminded reporters that people used terms like “dead on arrival” about other progressive policy measures he’s championed in Albany, such as the city’s universal pre-kindergarten program, a $15 minimum wage, and paid family leave, each of which was passed in some form.</p> <p>De Blasio also revealed that a Senate version of the mansion tax bill would be introduced by Senator Diane Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) whose district includes a sliver of southern Brooklyn and parts of Staten Island. “We think with her leadership, that will help us to draw more support in the Senate and continue this momentum,” de Blasio told reporters.</p> <p>The eight-member IDC has a coalition agreement with Senate Republicans and the IDC is often able to push through its pet agenda items because of the leverage it has with the majority.</p> <p>When asked how she would get the GOP conference on board with the mansion tax, Savino said via email, "Like all legislation that I carry, I plan to lobby my colleagues on the mansion tax which could bring needed revenue to the city."</p> <p>Senate Republicans, who cling to a sliver of a majority in the chamber, appeared to be unmoved by the groundswell.</p> <p>Senate GOP spokesperson Scott Reif did not respond to a request for comment but tweeted at a Politico reporter Wednesday morning, writing, “Appreciate that @BilldeBlasio can still find his way to Albany, but this idea has already been rejected.”</p> <p>Later, Reif added in response to a Gotham Gazette reporter, “We support cutting taxes, not raising them.”</p> <p>Cuomo was in New York City during the Wednesday rally for the funeral of legendary New York Daily News journalist Jimmy Breslin. While Cuomo and de Blasio are engaged in a long-running feud, de Blasio acknowledged that he needs the backing of the governor to get the mansion tax passed. De Blasio urged Cuomo to consider the senior citizens who stand benefit from the rental subsidy the tax would fund.</p> <p>“I want the governor and everyone else to remember this is to benefit 25,000 seniors,” de Blasio said. “We need the Governor’s support. There are a lot of seniors depending on him. And look, the voices of seniors are going to be felt. And I know in terms of the New York City Senate delegation, they are all going to hear from AARP. They are all going to hear the strong voices of seniors on this matter...I think that is going to be a game-changer.”</p> <p>The expansion of the millionaires’ tax and creation of a mansion tax would signal wins for the first-term mayor, who is up for reelection this November. De Blasio, who has been talking up the mansion tax since 2015, again laid out his case last week while on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, putting it into the larger context of his fight against inequality, especially in the Trump era.</p> <p>“That is the kind of thing – bluntly – that we’re going to have to do. And if we don’t start addressing this reality of a growing senior population needs affordable housing we will rue the day, and the way we do that is by taxing the wealthy in fair ways and devoting those resources to senior housing,” de Blasio <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/askthemayor-hyper-local-housing-homeless" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said in the March 10 radio interview</a>.</p> <p>On Thursday, de Blasio is scheduled to be back in New York City, visiting two senior centers to promote the mansion tax proposal.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Early in Albany Session, Plastic Bag Fee Sparks Home Rule Debate 2017-01-19T05:00:00+00:00 2017-01-19T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6722:early-in-albany-session-plastic-bag-fee-sparks-home-rule-debate Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/felder_bag_fee_city_hall_via_scott_reif.jpg" alt="felder bag fee city hall via scott reif" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Senator Felder &amp; opponents of the bag fee (photo: Scott Reif)</p> <hr /> <p>An attempt by lawmakers in Albany to prevent the New York City Council from imposing a fee on plastic and paper bags at retail stores has reignited a debate over home rule and the state government’s interference in the work of a democratically elected local legislative body. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The New York State Senate passed <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S362" target="_blank">a bill</a> on Tuesday that prohibits “the imposition of any tax, fee or local charge on carry out merchandise bags in cities having a population of one million or more.” The bill, sponsored by Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat, directly targets a law passed by the City Council and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio last year that imposes a nickel fee on those bags and is due to go into effect February 15.</p> <p dir="ltr">The law, which passed with <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1687953&amp;GUID=492A60EA-D352-462A-915A-BB2C34A58D61&amp;Options=ID|Text|&amp;Search=plastic+bag" target="_blank">a relatively slim City Council majority</a>, is meant to reduce waste and environmental damage, as New Yorkers send billions of bags per year into the waste stream While it make exceptions for people on public assistance, its opponents argue that it would be a prohibitive burden on New Yorkers, including poor people and families more broadly.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Many families have a hard time just getting by, paying for groceries, rent and heat, and now the Mayor wants to shake them down every time they shop just for the privilege of using a plastic bag,” Senator Felder, who represents part of Brooklyn, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Mayor de Blasio, please do not nickel-and-dime New Yorkers with another tax. This will hurt lower- and middle-income families who already struggle. I'm asking New Yorkers to stand up and tell the Mayor that this bag tax has to go.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Although Felder is a Democrat, he caucuses with Republicans to create a Senate majority. His bill was co-sponsored by three Republicans and also two other Democrats, both members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group that shares power in the Senate with Republicans. Felder’s bill passed with 42 votes in favor and 18 against.</p> <p dir="ltr">For the Democratic Senators who opposed Tuesday’s bill, the plastic bag fee at the heart of the issue was not the only thing under threat. They criticized Felder’s bill for violating the state constitution’s principle of home rule that gives local governments the authority over many of their own affairs, and for doing so only in the case of New York City while making no mention of smaller jurisdictions that have passed similar bag fees.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Senate bill, Democrats insisted, was narrowly targeted and would set a dangerous precedent for the legislative body. Even the word “fee” became a point of contention. Felder, and those who supported him, call it a “tax” instead and argue that the city has no right to impose it. Under state law, only the state Legislature can approve any new taxes. It is considered a fee because the stores keep it, the money is not passed to the government.</p> <p dir="ltr">Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan, <a href="https://youtu.be/oRBRALoet5E" target="_blank">arguing</a> on the Senate floor against Felder’s proposal, wondered “why should we override history, precedent, perhaps the constitution...and take an action that overrides a local government’s law applying only to itself?”</p> <p dir="ltr">Krueger expressed concern that it reflects political developments at the national level, where the incoming federal administration may seek to unduly interfere in the workings of the state. In a statement after the passage of the bill, Krueger said, “If this bill becomes law, it will set a shameful and dangerous precedent that local solutions to local environmental issues will be vetoed in Albany.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The bill is now with the Democrat-led Assembly and if it passes there, it would be sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature. “We would like to see if we can get the city come to an agreement with how the Legislature has raised a concern,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, at a Tuesday news conference. “But again, we don’t want to minimize the environmental concern that the city has raised.”</p> <p dir="ltr">State intervention in New York City’s affairs is not novel and has in the past been a source of tension in the city-state dynamic, at times along partisan lines. The state’s <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/MHR" target="_blank">Municipal Home Rule Law</a> provides that the state can intervene in a local jurisdiction’s affairs if the locality sends a “Home Rule message” to the state Legislature requesting that certain laws be enacted or if the state Legislature demonstrates that an issue is a “matter of state concern.” Otherwise, the state Legislature cannot pass laws that apply only to a specific locality. That the bill targets New York City is a given: there is no other municipality in the state with more than a million residents. That might give its opponents an opportunity to challenge it as a “special law” rather than a “general law” that applies statewide.</p> <p dir="ltr">Courts have in the past <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/28/nyregion/justices-cite-vague-rule-twice-this-month.html" target="_blank">cited</a> ‘home rule’ as a basis for striking down laws passed in Albany that affect New York City alone. But the language in Felder’s bill refers to an “open class” of locality, rather than naming New York City, and that argument has been upheld by courts, said Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia Law School who specializes in state and local government law. “The state most likely has the legal authority to ban local plastic bag fees but it is completely inconsistent with the idea and purpose of local home rule,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Echoing Briffault, Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College, emphasized Albany’s “virtually absolute” power over New York City. “Under Dillon's rule, cities are creatures of the state,” Muzzio said, referring to a judgement in 1868 by Judge John Forrest Dillon, then-chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, which narrowly defined a municipality’s authority as being derived from the state government. “Their powers, their very existence is determined by the state,” Muzzio added. “Albany's power over the city has long been a source of anguish. In his 1861 address before the Common Council, Mayor Fernando Wood called Albany's power ‘odious and oppressive.’ It remains so.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Muzzio said Senate Republicans were using the authority within their right to enforce their own goals. Complicating matters, though, is that there are more than a dozen Democrats in the New York City Council who voted against the bag fee. Still, this does not change the fact that the city passed its own law on the matter.</p> <p dir="ltr">The overarching debate is also somewhat complicated by the fact that the plastic bag fee has pitted senators representing New York City against their colleagues from the five boroughs, making them all stakeholders in the issue serving overlapping constituents. Supporters of the bag fee insisted on Tuesday that legislators from outside the city should not interfere with local matters while opponents of the fee pleaded to those outside legislators to help them avoid imposing a new burden on their constituents.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There are seven City Council members who represent my district,” said Senator Diane Savino, an IDC memebr and one of the state cosponsors who represents Staten Island’s northern shore and parts of South Brooklyn, during the Senate debate. “Every single one of them voted against [the bag fee bill in the City Council]…What they weren’t able to accomplish in the City Council, they want me to be able to deliver for them up here in Albany. They thought it was bad policy for the City of New York. They lost the fight there but they want us to win the fight here.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Savino also complained that the Senate had been misled by the City Council. The bag fee would have gone into effect in October last year but the Council delayed its implementation after facing strong opposition in Albany. The Senate voted then, as it has now, to ban any taxes or fees on plastic bags. As a result, the City Council struck a deal with the State Assembly to push implementation to 2017 and to revisit the language in the bill. Those negotiations have yet to produce results, with the fee set to go into effect in less than one month. “They did not negotiate in good faith,” said Savino. “We cannot trust them.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Senator Jesse Hamilton, another IDC member from Brooklyn, who spoke later, stood up against the Senate bill. “Every time we speak about home rule in this chamber, it never applies to New York City," he said. "For this chamber to say the City Council in New York City, they don't know what they are doing, I find that a little offensive.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Negotiations between the Council and state lawmakers are still continuing, said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at a news conference on Wednesday, in response to Gotham Gazette’s questions. Mark-Viverito expressed her displeasure that the Senate was attempting to thwart legislation that had been extensively debated. “I think it’s unfortunate that New York City is being specifically targeted by the bill that is being presented and that is being discussed and the Senate voted on,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The day before the Senate took up the bill, Mayor de Blasio vowed to push back against its efforts. In his weekly appearance on <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2017/01/16/ny1-online--mondays-with-the-mayor-1-16-17.html" target="_blank">NY1</a>, he told host Errol Louis, “I’ll work with the City Council to push this back, because I don’t see an alternative. Do we really want to keep doing something that’s really bad for our environment and takes up lots of fossil fuels as we’re facing climate change. I think the Council was right to pass it and if some of the folks in the state Senate oppose it, what’s their alternative? The status quo is not acceptable.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A key player in what happens next is a main de Blasio ally: Assembly Speaker Heastie, a Bronx Democrat. Then, there is Gov. Cuomo, not typically a de Blasio friend, who would be forced to decide whether to sign the state legislation if it passes both houses. Cuomo’s office did not return a request for comment about the debate over the bag fee.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat and one of the prime sponsors of the bag fee legislation, is hoping that either the Assembly will vote down the bill or that Governor Cuomo, known for his positive record on environmental conservation, will veto it.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lander said it was “mystifying” that the state Legislature would attempt to roll back environmental regulation and dictate a “law of dubious legality” to the city. But he remained open to changing the language in the bill if it meant it could be improved and receive the Legislature’s support. “I’m worried that Albany is going to nullify this very sensible effective environmental policy,” he said. “I assumed that when Suffolk County, not known as a bastion of left-wingers, passed the same bill, and when the City of Long Beach in Nassau County did the same, that that would help members of the Legislature see that this is growing, that there’s support for it, that this is something we should be looking at more broadly.”</p> <p>Critiquing Felder’s bill, he added, “It is an unconstitutional special law masquerading as a general law. Home rule should be required and I think everyone knows it.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Additional reporting by Rachel Silberstein</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/felder_bag_fee_city_hall_via_scott_reif.jpg" alt="felder bag fee city hall via scott reif" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Senator Felder &amp; opponents of the bag fee (photo: Scott Reif)</p> <hr /> <p>An attempt by lawmakers in Albany to prevent the New York City Council from imposing a fee on plastic and paper bags at retail stores has reignited a debate over home rule and the state government’s interference in the work of a democratically elected local legislative body. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The New York State Senate passed <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S362" target="_blank">a bill</a> on Tuesday that prohibits “the imposition of any tax, fee or local charge on carry out merchandise bags in cities having a population of one million or more.” The bill, sponsored by Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat, directly targets a law passed by the City Council and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio last year that imposes a nickel fee on those bags and is due to go into effect February 15.</p> <p dir="ltr">The law, which passed with <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1687953&amp;GUID=492A60EA-D352-462A-915A-BB2C34A58D61&amp;Options=ID|Text|&amp;Search=plastic+bag" target="_blank">a relatively slim City Council majority</a>, is meant to reduce waste and environmental damage, as New Yorkers send billions of bags per year into the waste stream While it make exceptions for people on public assistance, its opponents argue that it would be a prohibitive burden on New Yorkers, including poor people and families more broadly.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Many families have a hard time just getting by, paying for groceries, rent and heat, and now the Mayor wants to shake them down every time they shop just for the privilege of using a plastic bag,” Senator Felder, who represents part of Brooklyn, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Mayor de Blasio, please do not nickel-and-dime New Yorkers with another tax. This will hurt lower- and middle-income families who already struggle. I'm asking New Yorkers to stand up and tell the Mayor that this bag tax has to go.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Although Felder is a Democrat, he caucuses with Republicans to create a Senate majority. His bill was co-sponsored by three Republicans and also two other Democrats, both members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group that shares power in the Senate with Republicans. Felder’s bill passed with 42 votes in favor and 18 against.</p> <p dir="ltr">For the Democratic Senators who opposed Tuesday’s bill, the plastic bag fee at the heart of the issue was not the only thing under threat. They criticized Felder’s bill for violating the state constitution’s principle of home rule that gives local governments the authority over many of their own affairs, and for doing so only in the case of New York City while making no mention of smaller jurisdictions that have passed similar bag fees.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Senate bill, Democrats insisted, was narrowly targeted and would set a dangerous precedent for the legislative body. Even the word “fee” became a point of contention. Felder, and those who supported him, call it a “tax” instead and argue that the city has no right to impose it. Under state law, only the state Legislature can approve any new taxes. It is considered a fee because the stores keep it, the money is not passed to the government.</p> <p dir="ltr">Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan, <a href="https://youtu.be/oRBRALoet5E" target="_blank">arguing</a> on the Senate floor against Felder’s proposal, wondered “why should we override history, precedent, perhaps the constitution...and take an action that overrides a local government’s law applying only to itself?”</p> <p dir="ltr">Krueger expressed concern that it reflects political developments at the national level, where the incoming federal administration may seek to unduly interfere in the workings of the state. In a statement after the passage of the bill, Krueger said, “If this bill becomes law, it will set a shameful and dangerous precedent that local solutions to local environmental issues will be vetoed in Albany.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The bill is now with the Democrat-led Assembly and if it passes there, it would be sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature. “We would like to see if we can get the city come to an agreement with how the Legislature has raised a concern,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, at a Tuesday news conference. “But again, we don’t want to minimize the environmental concern that the city has raised.”</p> <p dir="ltr">State intervention in New York City’s affairs is not novel and has in the past been a source of tension in the city-state dynamic, at times along partisan lines. The state’s <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/MHR" target="_blank">Municipal Home Rule Law</a> provides that the state can intervene in a local jurisdiction’s affairs if the locality sends a “Home Rule message” to the state Legislature requesting that certain laws be enacted or if the state Legislature demonstrates that an issue is a “matter of state concern.” Otherwise, the state Legislature cannot pass laws that apply only to a specific locality. That the bill targets New York City is a given: there is no other municipality in the state with more than a million residents. That might give its opponents an opportunity to challenge it as a “special law” rather than a “general law” that applies statewide.</p> <p dir="ltr">Courts have in the past <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/28/nyregion/justices-cite-vague-rule-twice-this-month.html" target="_blank">cited</a> ‘home rule’ as a basis for striking down laws passed in Albany that affect New York City alone. But the language in Felder’s bill refers to an “open class” of locality, rather than naming New York City, and that argument has been upheld by courts, said Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia Law School who specializes in state and local government law. “The state most likely has the legal authority to ban local plastic bag fees but it is completely inconsistent with the idea and purpose of local home rule,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Echoing Briffault, Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College, emphasized Albany’s “virtually absolute” power over New York City. “Under Dillon's rule, cities are creatures of the state,” Muzzio said, referring to a judgement in 1868 by Judge John Forrest Dillon, then-chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, which narrowly defined a municipality’s authority as being derived from the state government. “Their powers, their very existence is determined by the state,” Muzzio added. “Albany's power over the city has long been a source of anguish. In his 1861 address before the Common Council, Mayor Fernando Wood called Albany's power ‘odious and oppressive.’ It remains so.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Muzzio said Senate Republicans were using the authority within their right to enforce their own goals. Complicating matters, though, is that there are more than a dozen Democrats in the New York City Council who voted against the bag fee. Still, this does not change the fact that the city passed its own law on the matter.</p> <p dir="ltr">The overarching debate is also somewhat complicated by the fact that the plastic bag fee has pitted senators representing New York City against their colleagues from the five boroughs, making them all stakeholders in the issue serving overlapping constituents. Supporters of the bag fee insisted on Tuesday that legislators from outside the city should not interfere with local matters while opponents of the fee pleaded to those outside legislators to help them avoid imposing a new burden on their constituents.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There are seven City Council members who represent my district,” said Senator Diane Savino, an IDC memebr and one of the state cosponsors who represents Staten Island’s northern shore and parts of South Brooklyn, during the Senate debate. “Every single one of them voted against [the bag fee bill in the City Council]…What they weren’t able to accomplish in the City Council, they want me to be able to deliver for them up here in Albany. They thought it was bad policy for the City of New York. They lost the fight there but they want us to win the fight here.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Savino also complained that the Senate had been misled by the City Council. The bag fee would have gone into effect in October last year but the Council delayed its implementation after facing strong opposition in Albany. The Senate voted then, as it has now, to ban any taxes or fees on plastic bags. As a result, the City Council struck a deal with the State Assembly to push implementation to 2017 and to revisit the language in the bill. Those negotiations have yet to produce results, with the fee set to go into effect in less than one month. “They did not negotiate in good faith,” said Savino. “We cannot trust them.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Senator Jesse Hamilton, another IDC member from Brooklyn, who spoke later, stood up against the Senate bill. “Every time we speak about home rule in this chamber, it never applies to New York City," he said. "For this chamber to say the City Council in New York City, they don't know what they are doing, I find that a little offensive.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Negotiations between the Council and state lawmakers are still continuing, said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at a news conference on Wednesday, in response to Gotham Gazette’s questions. Mark-Viverito expressed her displeasure that the Senate was attempting to thwart legislation that had been extensively debated. “I think it’s unfortunate that New York City is being specifically targeted by the bill that is being presented and that is being discussed and the Senate voted on,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The day before the Senate took up the bill, Mayor de Blasio vowed to push back against its efforts. In his weekly appearance on <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2017/01/16/ny1-online--mondays-with-the-mayor-1-16-17.html" target="_blank">NY1</a>, he told host Errol Louis, “I’ll work with the City Council to push this back, because I don’t see an alternative. Do we really want to keep doing something that’s really bad for our environment and takes up lots of fossil fuels as we’re facing climate change. I think the Council was right to pass it and if some of the folks in the state Senate oppose it, what’s their alternative? The status quo is not acceptable.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A key player in what happens next is a main de Blasio ally: Assembly Speaker Heastie, a Bronx Democrat. Then, there is Gov. Cuomo, not typically a de Blasio friend, who would be forced to decide whether to sign the state legislation if it passes both houses. Cuomo’s office did not return a request for comment about the debate over the bag fee.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat and one of the prime sponsors of the bag fee legislation, is hoping that either the Assembly will vote down the bill or that Governor Cuomo, known for his positive record on environmental conservation, will veto it.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lander said it was “mystifying” that the state Legislature would attempt to roll back environmental regulation and dictate a “law of dubious legality” to the city. But he remained open to changing the language in the bill if it meant it could be improved and receive the Legislature’s support. “I’m worried that Albany is going to nullify this very sensible effective environmental policy,” he said. “I assumed that when Suffolk County, not known as a bastion of left-wingers, passed the same bill, and when the City of Long Beach in Nassau County did the same, that that would help members of the Legislature see that this is growing, that there’s support for it, that this is something we should be looking at more broadly.”</p> <p>Critiquing Felder’s bill, he added, “It is an unconstitutional special law masquerading as a general law. Home rule should be required and I think everyone knows it.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Additional reporting by Rachel Silberstein</p>
2016 A Far Different Election Year for Independent Democrats 2016-07-25T04:00:00+00:00 2016-07-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6454:2016-a-far-different-election-year-for-independent-democrats Amanda Sherwin <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/John_Nilson.jpg" alt="John Nilson" width="600" /></p> <p>Sen. Jeff Klein (photo: John Nilsen/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The five-member Independent Democratic Conference was under siege. Mainstream Democrats, liberal activists, and the Working Families Party were out to punish IDC members for having empowered Senate Republicans and for preventing a progressive agenda from advancing in the New York State Senate. In 2014, the groups fielded candidates to challenge Bronx Senator Jeff Klein, head of the IDC, and newly-minted IDC member Tony Avella, senator of Queens, in party primaries. It began as an aggressive attempt to oust two of the five members of the IDC, including its leader.</p> <p>Leading up to the September elections, pressure mounted as former City Council Member Oliver Koppell raised cash in his bid to defeat Klein and former city Comptroller John Liu lashed into Avella for his &ldquo;betrayal.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;Let&rsquo;s help a real Democrat defeat a fake one,&rdquo; read the Daily Kos&rsquo; <a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/6/10/1305437/-Let-s-help-a-real-Democrat-defeat-a-fake-one-Daily-Kos-endorses-John-Liu-for-New-York-state-Senate" target="_blank">June 2014 endorsement</a> of Liu.</p> <p>But on June 26 of that year, Klein issued a joint statement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat dealing with his own challenge from the left, pledging that the IDC - made up of Sens. Klein, Avella, Diane Savino, David Valesky, and David Carlucci - would partner with mainline Democrats for a new governing coalition.</p> <p>&ldquo;Therefore all IDC members are united and agree to work together to form a new majority coalition between the Independent Democratic Conference and the Senate Democratic Conference after the November elections in order to deliver the results that working families across this state still need and deserve,&rdquo; Klein said in the statement.</p> <p>Dean Skelos, the Republican Senate majority leader at the time, didn&rsquo;t buy it. He issued a statement saying, &ldquo;This &lsquo;agreement&rsquo; is nothing more than a short-term political deal designed to make threatened primaries go away.&rdquo;</p> <p>The Working Families Party and mainline Democrats dropped their support for Koppell and both he and Liu were defeated.</p> <p>In 2015, Klein and the IDC continued their deal to empower Senate Republicans and carve out as much power for themselves as possible. In the following months the IDC pushed its agenda more forcefully, inserting issues like paid family leave into the Senate Republican budget proposal and advocating for a larger minimum wage increase. In the waning months of the 2015 legislative session in Albany, Klein&rsquo;s push for those issues seemed to irk Cuomo, but, in retrospect, may have helped him evolve his position on the issues.</p> <p>In 2016, paid family leave and a $15 minimum wage seemed to suddenly become Cuomo&rsquo;s top priorities despite his having dismissed them the year before. Both issues passed with bipartisan support with the new state budget on April 1.</p> <p>Now, Klein and the IDC face a strikingly different election year than in the previous cycle, even while control of the state Senate - and with it, full control of state government by Democrats - remains at stake.</p> <p>The 63-seat Senate is currently made up of 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans. However, Republicans maintain control and are able to appoint Sen. John Flanagan as majority leader thanks to the support of Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who caucuses with Republicans, and the five members of the IDC, who have a coalition agreement with the GOP.</p> <p>Heading toward this year&rsquo;s elections, The Working Families Party has not made much noise in opposition to the IDC. Senate Democrats, even those with the most resentment toward the IDC, admit relations with the IDC have improved drastically and hold out hope that Klein will switch sides in 2017. The general perception of the IDC as obstructionists has all but dissipated. Bad feelings still fester and trust is hard to come by, but this year two IDC members may face challenges only from Republican candidates.</p> <p>&ldquo;Last time I was approached a year before by Senator [Michael] Gianaris and the Working Families Party, but both pulled their support along with the mayor and governor after Klein pledged he'd go back to the Democrats,&rdquo; Koppell told Gotham Gazette in a recent interview, referring to the head of the mainline Democrats&rsquo; Senate campaign committee, Gianaris, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo. &ldquo;No one approached me this time,&rdquo; Koppell added, noting that he would not have run anyway.</p> <p>Asked about their relationship with the IDC, the WFP sent Gotham Gazette a statement from state director Bill Lipton. "Given that the IDC and [mainline] Dems share views on so many issues, it's always been our hope that Democrats could unite to better represent working families in the State Senate,&rdquo; it says.</p> <p>The Senate Democratic Conference did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Sen. Savino, an IDC member who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, said she thinks advocates and Senate Democrats &ldquo;took a step back and asked &lsquo;what are they trying to accomplish, and what did they accomplish? What was the IDC advocating?&rsquo; and they saw it is for things like medical marijuana, dealing with the foreclosure crisis, paid family leave, and increasing the minimum wage.&rdquo;</p> <p>Klein told Gotham Gazette that the last two years have proven out his rationale for the IDC as it successfully achieved major progressive victories through bipartisan negotiation.</p> <p>&ldquo;I think I said all along since we formed six years ago that we wanted to use the IDC as a vehicle for change and the only way we would be able to achieve it is in a bipartisan fashion,&rdquo; Klein said in an interview. He pointed to the gridlock in Washington and noted that there are &ldquo;sit-ins&rdquo; in Congress over gun control while &ldquo;We passed the SAFE Act here in New York with bipartisan support.&rdquo;</p> <p>Klein noted that it took time and consistent advocacy to move not only the $15 minimum wage increase and paid family leave but other IDC priorities like the zombie properties bill, which gives homeowners more rights to fight foreclosure while expediting the foreclosure process on abandoned properties, and legislation to stop the sale of synthetic drugs.</p> <p>Koppell said he thinks the passage of the minimum wage and family leave changed perceptions of the IDC. &ldquo;I think it reduces blame the IDC faces for being obstructionists. The Republicans stopped blocking some things and it helps the IDC,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>Just before the primary election in September 2014, Koppell, reeling from the loss of WFP and mainline Democratic support, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5299-koppell-promises-idc-death-sentence-if-elected-klein" target="_blank">told Gotham Gazette</a> that if he was victorious it would mean the IDC was &ldquo;dead.&rdquo;</p> <p>"I will tell them they can come back as full-fledged Democrats and if not, I will tell them: 'as far as I am concerned, you will have a primary opponent and I will finance it,&rsquo;&rdquo; Koppell said at the time.</p> <p>Five members and staffers of the mainline Senate Democratic Conference told Gotham Gazette that relations between their conference and the IDC are significantly better now and that lines of communication have been established ahead of possible Democratic victories in the fall elections. Democrats are hoping that a presidential election year surge in voter turnout will help them retake the chamber.</p> <p>Asked about an improving relationship, Klein was quick to praise Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. &ldquo;I said early on that the IDC is not an exclusive club and it isn&rsquo;t about us, it is about governing. It is hard to say we didn&rsquo;t get things done this year. It&rsquo;s been fantastic working with Senator Flanagan. He has been more focused on policy than any other Republican leader.&rdquo;</p> <p>Klein also noted that he worked well with Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in efforts to pass the $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, and other priorities. &ldquo;I worked extremely well this year with Senator John Flanagan and yes, this session we were able to work well with Andrea Stewart-Cousins - it is a much better relationship, but I think the Republican Conference has been even better and a lot of credit has to go to the relationship with Senator Flanagan, again.&rdquo;</p> <p>Asked to comment on Flanagan&rsquo;s relationship with Klein, a spokesperson for Flanagan, Scott Reif, said, &ldquo;People want Democrats and Republicans to work together to get results, and that's exactly what Senate Republicans and the IDC have been able to achieve for the citizens of New York. Senator Flanagan enjoys a strong working relationship with Senator Klein, and he has tremendous respect for him as a legislator and as a leader."</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, said Democrats should temper their hopes that Klein will bring the IDC in their direction. &ldquo;I&rsquo;d be very wary about any deal. This is politics, don&rsquo;t assume anything is based on principle, it&rsquo;s based on &lsquo;What am I gonna get?&rsquo;,&rdquo; Muzzio said.</p> <p>Savino agreed that relationships with Senate Democrats have improved. &ldquo;The rhetoric between the IDC and Senate Democrats has been toned down,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;You don't see the same nasty comments. There&rsquo;s been a softening of hardline stances across the board. But tell me who would have predicted that a $15 minimum wage increase and paid family leave would have gotten done while Senate Republicans control the Senate?&rdquo;</p> <p>With all the successes and warm feelings toward Flanagan, Klein did note that one of the IDC&rsquo;s top priorities for last session and next, campaign finance reform, was blocked by Senate Republicans. Klein said he is &ldquo;optimistic&rdquo; that Republicans might be willing to move campaign finance legislation next year.</p> <p>Earlier this month, the IDC worked with the Independence Party to <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-senate-dems-create-campaign-committee-article-1.2697878" target="_blank">create a campaign committee</a> that will allow the IDC to funnel cash to their candidates. Klein said that this year the focus will be on defending IDC members Avella and Carlucci from general election challenges, but in the future it could be used to advance new IDC members and political positions. &ldquo;I really want to try to use this campaign committee as a vehicle for change,&rdquo; Klein said, adding that he may create a ten-point litmus test for candidates who seek the IDC&rsquo;s support. He said backing campaign finance reform would be a part of any test.</p> <p>As the battle for control of the Senate plays out, Democrats say they will continue to keep open lines of communication with Klein and the rest of the IDC in hopes that they will be inclined to rejoin the fold. There is no doubt that major resentment still exists - it appears Minority Leader Stewart-Cousins has led the communications with the IDC while Sen. Gianaris, chair of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, has remained on the sidelines. Gianaris and Klein have a notoriously bad relationship.</p> <p>Savino said she isn&rsquo;t sure how things will play out in November. &ldquo;A week is a lifetime in politics. I think the Democrats will win some seats, but I don&rsquo;t think anyone can predict what is going to happen this election cycle,&rdquo; she told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;I think the things that happened nationally during this election cycle have made experts throw out what they think they know about politics. There is a lot of middle class anger and I&rsquo;m not sure how that trickles down into local races.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/John_Nilson.jpg" alt="John Nilson" width="600" /></p> <p>Sen. Jeff Klein (photo: John Nilsen/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The five-member Independent Democratic Conference was under siege. Mainstream Democrats, liberal activists, and the Working Families Party were out to punish IDC members for having empowered Senate Republicans and for preventing a progressive agenda from advancing in the New York State Senate. In 2014, the groups fielded candidates to challenge Bronx Senator Jeff Klein, head of the IDC, and newly-minted IDC member Tony Avella, senator of Queens, in party primaries. It began as an aggressive attempt to oust two of the five members of the IDC, including its leader.</p> <p>Leading up to the September elections, pressure mounted as former City Council Member Oliver Koppell raised cash in his bid to defeat Klein and former city Comptroller John Liu lashed into Avella for his &ldquo;betrayal.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;Let&rsquo;s help a real Democrat defeat a fake one,&rdquo; read the Daily Kos&rsquo; <a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/6/10/1305437/-Let-s-help-a-real-Democrat-defeat-a-fake-one-Daily-Kos-endorses-John-Liu-for-New-York-state-Senate" target="_blank">June 2014 endorsement</a> of Liu.</p> <p>But on June 26 of that year, Klein issued a joint statement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat dealing with his own challenge from the left, pledging that the IDC - made up of Sens. Klein, Avella, Diane Savino, David Valesky, and David Carlucci - would partner with mainline Democrats for a new governing coalition.</p> <p>&ldquo;Therefore all IDC members are united and agree to work together to form a new majority coalition between the Independent Democratic Conference and the Senate Democratic Conference after the November elections in order to deliver the results that working families across this state still need and deserve,&rdquo; Klein said in the statement.</p> <p>Dean Skelos, the Republican Senate majority leader at the time, didn&rsquo;t buy it. He issued a statement saying, &ldquo;This &lsquo;agreement&rsquo; is nothing more than a short-term political deal designed to make threatened primaries go away.&rdquo;</p> <p>The Working Families Party and mainline Democrats dropped their support for Koppell and both he and Liu were defeated.</p> <p>In 2015, Klein and the IDC continued their deal to empower Senate Republicans and carve out as much power for themselves as possible. In the following months the IDC pushed its agenda more forcefully, inserting issues like paid family leave into the Senate Republican budget proposal and advocating for a larger minimum wage increase. In the waning months of the 2015 legislative session in Albany, Klein&rsquo;s push for those issues seemed to irk Cuomo, but, in retrospect, may have helped him evolve his position on the issues.</p> <p>In 2016, paid family leave and a $15 minimum wage seemed to suddenly become Cuomo&rsquo;s top priorities despite his having dismissed them the year before. Both issues passed with bipartisan support with the new state budget on April 1.</p> <p>Now, Klein and the IDC face a strikingly different election year than in the previous cycle, even while control of the state Senate - and with it, full control of state government by Democrats - remains at stake.</p> <p>The 63-seat Senate is currently made up of 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans. However, Republicans maintain control and are able to appoint Sen. John Flanagan as majority leader thanks to the support of Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who caucuses with Republicans, and the five members of the IDC, who have a coalition agreement with the GOP.</p> <p>Heading toward this year&rsquo;s elections, The Working Families Party has not made much noise in opposition to the IDC. Senate Democrats, even those with the most resentment toward the IDC, admit relations with the IDC have improved drastically and hold out hope that Klein will switch sides in 2017. The general perception of the IDC as obstructionists has all but dissipated. Bad feelings still fester and trust is hard to come by, but this year two IDC members may face challenges only from Republican candidates.</p> <p>&ldquo;Last time I was approached a year before by Senator [Michael] Gianaris and the Working Families Party, but both pulled their support along with the mayor and governor after Klein pledged he'd go back to the Democrats,&rdquo; Koppell told Gotham Gazette in a recent interview, referring to the head of the mainline Democrats&rsquo; Senate campaign committee, Gianaris, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo. &ldquo;No one approached me this time,&rdquo; Koppell added, noting that he would not have run anyway.</p> <p>Asked about their relationship with the IDC, the WFP sent Gotham Gazette a statement from state director Bill Lipton. "Given that the IDC and [mainline] Dems share views on so many issues, it's always been our hope that Democrats could unite to better represent working families in the State Senate,&rdquo; it says.</p> <p>The Senate Democratic Conference did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Sen. Savino, an IDC member who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, said she thinks advocates and Senate Democrats &ldquo;took a step back and asked &lsquo;what are they trying to accomplish, and what did they accomplish? What was the IDC advocating?&rsquo; and they saw it is for things like medical marijuana, dealing with the foreclosure crisis, paid family leave, and increasing the minimum wage.&rdquo;</p> <p>Klein told Gotham Gazette that the last two years have proven out his rationale for the IDC as it successfully achieved major progressive victories through bipartisan negotiation.</p> <p>&ldquo;I think I said all along since we formed six years ago that we wanted to use the IDC as a vehicle for change and the only way we would be able to achieve it is in a bipartisan fashion,&rdquo; Klein said in an interview. He pointed to the gridlock in Washington and noted that there are &ldquo;sit-ins&rdquo; in Congress over gun control while &ldquo;We passed the SAFE Act here in New York with bipartisan support.&rdquo;</p> <p>Klein noted that it took time and consistent advocacy to move not only the $15 minimum wage increase and paid family leave but other IDC priorities like the zombie properties bill, which gives homeowners more rights to fight foreclosure while expediting the foreclosure process on abandoned properties, and legislation to stop the sale of synthetic drugs.</p> <p>Koppell said he thinks the passage of the minimum wage and family leave changed perceptions of the IDC. &ldquo;I think it reduces blame the IDC faces for being obstructionists. The Republicans stopped blocking some things and it helps the IDC,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>Just before the primary election in September 2014, Koppell, reeling from the loss of WFP and mainline Democratic support, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5299-koppell-promises-idc-death-sentence-if-elected-klein" target="_blank">told Gotham Gazette</a> that if he was victorious it would mean the IDC was &ldquo;dead.&rdquo;</p> <p>"I will tell them they can come back as full-fledged Democrats and if not, I will tell them: 'as far as I am concerned, you will have a primary opponent and I will finance it,&rsquo;&rdquo; Koppell said at the time.</p> <p>Five members and staffers of the mainline Senate Democratic Conference told Gotham Gazette that relations between their conference and the IDC are significantly better now and that lines of communication have been established ahead of possible Democratic victories in the fall elections. Democrats are hoping that a presidential election year surge in voter turnout will help them retake the chamber.</p> <p>Asked about an improving relationship, Klein was quick to praise Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. &ldquo;I said early on that the IDC is not an exclusive club and it isn&rsquo;t about us, it is about governing. It is hard to say we didn&rsquo;t get things done this year. It&rsquo;s been fantastic working with Senator Flanagan. He has been more focused on policy than any other Republican leader.&rdquo;</p> <p>Klein also noted that he worked well with Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in efforts to pass the $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, and other priorities. &ldquo;I worked extremely well this year with Senator John Flanagan and yes, this session we were able to work well with Andrea Stewart-Cousins - it is a much better relationship, but I think the Republican Conference has been even better and a lot of credit has to go to the relationship with Senator Flanagan, again.&rdquo;</p> <p>Asked to comment on Flanagan&rsquo;s relationship with Klein, a spokesperson for Flanagan, Scott Reif, said, &ldquo;People want Democrats and Republicans to work together to get results, and that's exactly what Senate Republicans and the IDC have been able to achieve for the citizens of New York. Senator Flanagan enjoys a strong working relationship with Senator Klein, and he has tremendous respect for him as a legislator and as a leader."</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, said Democrats should temper their hopes that Klein will bring the IDC in their direction. &ldquo;I&rsquo;d be very wary about any deal. This is politics, don&rsquo;t assume anything is based on principle, it&rsquo;s based on &lsquo;What am I gonna get?&rsquo;,&rdquo; Muzzio said.</p> <p>Savino agreed that relationships with Senate Democrats have improved. &ldquo;The rhetoric between the IDC and Senate Democrats has been toned down,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;You don't see the same nasty comments. There&rsquo;s been a softening of hardline stances across the board. But tell me who would have predicted that a $15 minimum wage increase and paid family leave would have gotten done while Senate Republicans control the Senate?&rdquo;</p> <p>With all the successes and warm feelings toward Flanagan, Klein did note that one of the IDC&rsquo;s top priorities for last session and next, campaign finance reform, was blocked by Senate Republicans. Klein said he is &ldquo;optimistic&rdquo; that Republicans might be willing to move campaign finance legislation next year.</p> <p>Earlier this month, the IDC worked with the Independence Party to <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-senate-dems-create-campaign-committee-article-1.2697878" target="_blank">create a campaign committee</a> that will allow the IDC to funnel cash to their candidates. Klein said that this year the focus will be on defending IDC members Avella and Carlucci from general election challenges, but in the future it could be used to advance new IDC members and political positions. &ldquo;I really want to try to use this campaign committee as a vehicle for change,&rdquo; Klein said, adding that he may create a ten-point litmus test for candidates who seek the IDC&rsquo;s support. He said backing campaign finance reform would be a part of any test.</p> <p>As the battle for control of the Senate plays out, Democrats say they will continue to keep open lines of communication with Klein and the rest of the IDC in hopes that they will be inclined to rejoin the fold. There is no doubt that major resentment still exists - it appears Minority Leader Stewart-Cousins has led the communications with the IDC while Sen. Gianaris, chair of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, has remained on the sidelines. Gianaris and Klein have a notoriously bad relationship.</p> <p>Savino said she isn&rsquo;t sure how things will play out in November. &ldquo;A week is a lifetime in politics. I think the Democrats will win some seats, but I don&rsquo;t think anyone can predict what is going to happen this election cycle,&rdquo; she told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;I think the things that happened nationally during this election cycle have made experts throw out what they think they know about politics. There is a lot of middle class anger and I&rsquo;m not sure how that trickles down into local races.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Does 2015 Offer Return of the Albany Big Ugly? 2015-05-27T00:41:35+00:00 2015-05-27T00:41:35+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5742:does-2015-offer-return-of-the-albany-big-ugly-cuomo Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/16419330857_c5545a65ce_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo" height="365" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Cuomo had linked the EITC &amp; DREAM Act (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Pop quiz: what do the DNA of felons, casinos, teacher performance, the drawing of legislative district lines, and pension reform have to do with one another? This isn't a trick question - in Albany all of these issues were crammed together by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders in 2012 to form the traditional Albany deal that has come to be known as "The Big Ugly." The only thing that stood out about it was that the 2012 big ugly was achieved in March, three months earlier than the traditional end-of-legislative-session deal.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/16419330857_c5545a65ce_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo" height="365" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Cuomo had linked the EITC &amp; DREAM Act (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Pop quiz: what do the DNA of felons, casinos, teacher performance, the drawing of legislative district lines, and pension reform have to do with one another? This isn't a trick question - in Albany all of these issues were crammed together by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders in 2012 to form the traditional Albany deal that has come to be known as "The Big Ugly." The only thing that stood out about it was that the 2012 big ugly was achieved in March, three months earlier than the traditional end-of-legislative-session deal.</p> Quiet Before the Storm in New Phase of Mayoral Control Debate 2015-04-28T20:52:33+00:00 2015-04-28T20:52:33+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5702:quiet-early-in-new-phase-of-mayoral-control-debate-de-blasio-bloomberg Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/BdB_Albany.jpg" alt="BdB Albany" height="411" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Mayor de Blasio sits to testify in Albany (photo: Skip Dickstein <a href="https://twitter.com/SKIPSCAM/status/570595642281746433" target="_blank">via Twitter</a>)</span></p> <hr /> <p>At the end of June this year the law that grants New York's mayor control over city schools will expire. The expiration was designed so that all interested parties can take part in a discussion of what works and what doesn't, and adjust the law as needed. Parents, teachers, advocates, and legislators all have ideas about how to make the system better. But this year there is major concern that there might not be room for a nuanced discussion.</p> <p>Some education advocates have been locked in a battle with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over his education reform plans, especially around teacher evaluations. They say that in a typical year there might be major campaigns on mayoral control but instead the bandwidth on education issues has been largely monopolized. Renewal of mayoral control will likely come at the end of session, which is scheduled for mid-June, as part of a larger deal and it's unclear how much public debate will take place.</p> <p>On top of that, the Legislature is still reeling from the indictment of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and now in limbo given the federal investigation into Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Senate Republicans are scrapping to keep control of their slim majority in the face of investigations and illness and they have expressed a great hesitance to renew mayoral control under Bill de Blasio, New York's progressive mayor who worked to push the chamber into Democratic control in the recent election cycle. Republicans are now playing defense to some extent and according to sources may be looking to simply wait out the session. Making de Blasio sweat and wait is an enjoyable byproduct for some.</p> <p>"Should there be safeguards, should there be caveats on mayoral control, and then how long?" Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked, framing the key questions at hand as he addressed attendees at an Association for a Better New York breakfast last Friday. "The mayor asked for permanent mayoral control," he said of de Blasio, "The Assembly's position is 6 or 7 years, mine is 3 years, the senate is basically zero. This has to be basically rationalized. There is a big gap between zero and permanent."</p> <p>As much as the renewal of mayoral control looks like a battle between city-based Democrats who back de Blasio and Long Island and rural Republicans who oppose him, it is city legislators whose constituents live within the system and who want to have a nuanced discussion about reforming it. But this year those Democrats have mostly been quiet. "They may not want to say much because they just want to get it done and make the mayor happy," said one advocate who requested anonymity of those city Democrats.</p> <p>When de Blasio came to Albany in February to testify before the Legislature he sold mayoral control as essential to city schools' chance at success, despite the fact he had once voraciously opposed Mayor Bloomberg's use of the same system. "Before mayoral control, the city's school system was balkanized," de Blasio said. "School boards exerted great authority with little accountability and we saw far too many instances of mismanagement, waste, and corruption."</p> <p>One Democratic legislator noted that if Bloomberg had been the one delivering that statement he would have been met by derision and vitriol but Democratic legislators bit their tongues. Many, especially in the city's poorest neighborhoods, see the city school system as in need of major improvement. De Blasio says the same, but professes faith in his vision to get there and argues that with mayoral control it's clear that he is accountable for the school system's performance.</p> <p>A number of Democrats in both houses have three major reforms they'd like to see accompany an extension of mayoral control.</p> <p>The first is greater accountability in the awarding of contracts by the Department of Education. Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, said she believes the city comptroller should be able to review those contracts. Sen. Diane Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference from Staten Island, echoed that concern, saying that under previous mayors there had been wasteful and no-bid contracts. Krueger brought up City Time, the city's 911 revamp, and other projects where contractors botched projects and cost the city millions. "There has to be more accountability," said Krueger.</p> <p>Concerns were recently <a href="http://nypost.com/2015/02/24/doe-hiring-tech-firm-linked-to-kickback-scheme/" target="_blank">raised</a> when the Department of Education wanted to award a contract to expand internet access in city schools to a company that was tied to a kickback scandal.</p> <p>"I've said repeatedly that mayoral control should be renewed but amended," Savino told Gotham Gazette. Savino said she wants to see changes to the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) that votes on policy changes. Currently, the mayor appoints 8 of the 13 PEP members. "It is functionally a staff meeting for the mayor with no diversity of opinion," said Savino. "We need to look at adding borough presidents, board members, something. I don't know what the exact answer is, but we need to look at it."</p> <p>Parental involvement has been a hot topic surrounding mayoral control since it was established in 2002. A number of legislators are concerned that the city's Citywide and Community Education Councils (CECs) do not allow for enough parental participation in policy decisions. "They don't seem to be producing the parental activity they were intended to. I'm not sure why it's not happening, but we need to look into it and see if it is something in the law that needs changing."</p> <p>Senate Republicans and Gov. Cuomo will likely tie renewal of mayoral control to raising the cap on charter schools. Cuomo has insisted that the charter sector would basically be "out of business" once it hits the cap in the city, which it is nearing. In outlining his 2015 agenda, Cuomo argued for raising the cap by 100 schools and eliminating any location-based ceiling within it, as New York City now has.</p> <p>Republican's have also indicated they may hold a series of hearings to examine mayoral control but nothing has been formally scheduled.</p> <p>Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who caucuses with Republicans, <a href="http://nypost.com/2015/03/26/senator-mayoral-school-control-requires-raising-charter-cap/" target="_blank">told</a> the New York Post that the charter cap is directly tied to mayoral control. "Part of the discussion is that there should be no cap on children getting a better education. There should be no cap on children," said Felder. John Flanagan, the Senate's Education Committee chair who earlier this year indicated that mayoral control needs serious reconsideration, did not return calls for comment.</p> <p>Public Advocate Letitia James held a series of "Our School, Our Voices" <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5630-theme-of-james-mayoral-control-forums-more-local-say" target="_blank">public forums on mayoral control</a> across the five boroughs earlier this year. The focus of the events largely became increasing community say in the policy decisions. James' office is expected to release a report with recommendations on mayoral control sometime in May.</p> <p>"Mayoral control must be amended to expand parental and community involvement," James said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "Earlier this year, my office held a number of community forums throughout New York City to discuss the future of public schools and it became clear that New Yorkers will no longer allow their voices to be drowned out of our schools system."</p> <p>Despite the myriad of opinions on control the stakeholders don't appear to be rushing toward a resolution or even a basic discussion.</p> <p>When asked if serious conversations about renewal had begun yet, Savino replied: "No. There is always plenty of time in Albany."</p> <p><strong>The Last Time</strong><br />In 2009 mayoral control expired as Democrats and Republicans battled for control of the state Senate. The policy lapsed from the end of June until August 6. Though Mayor Michael Bloomberg <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/07/nyregion/07control.html" target="_blank">had warned</a> of great chaos if the law was not renewed, his allies on the Board of Education kept his policies in place and the law was eventually renewed, with tweaks like giving the Independent Budget Office more oversight over spending.</p> <p>This year may not feature the same chaos as around the time of the '09 Senate coup, but with scandal in both houses and the precarious position of the Senate Republicans, things are similar.</p> <p>Republicans are loathe to move on major issues as they are preoccupied with maintaining their majority. They have little incentive to deliver on mayoral control or renewal of rent regulations as only two of their members hail from the city and they appear to be holding onto a grudge against de Blasio. In 2009 Senate Republicans were the cinch votes for renewal of mayoral control of schools as Bloomberg had pumped millions into their campaign coffers.</p> <p>When Senate Democrats finally won control of the chamber, then Democratic Leader John Sampson pushed for greater checks and balances on the mayor's power. At the time the Assembly had passed a bill that only slightly changed mayoral control - Sampson wanted to limit the mayor's ability to fire members of the Panel for Educational Policy and increase parental participation. It was the Senate Republicans who supported the Assembly's bill that offered fewer reductions to the mayor's influence.</p> <p>Another major change from 2009 - at least thus far - is the absence of campaigns and grassroots movements to influence the policy. Parents' groups like Class Size Matters marched and rallied for more involvement; Bloomberg's allies created Mayoral Accountability for School Success and lobbied Albany heavily. This year those groups are missing in action. Union-allied education groups are tied up battling Cuomo, fighting on teacher evaluations, testing, and Common Core. Some advocates say they are considering action to influence the mayoral control conversation, but so far nothing has materialized.</p> <p>Some legislators say that de Blasio may have learned from Bloomberg's and his own mistakes. Being critical of the Legislature backfired for both of them. In July 2009, frustrated with the impasse in Albany, Bloomberg took to the radio to criticize the legislative process. "If you remember Neville Chamberlain, no matter how many times you said yes, that's the starting point for the next round," Bloomberg said referring to the former British leader's negotiating trivails. "There's always more, more, more. I think that just the time for that is over."</p> <p>Legislators cried bloody murder and accused Bloomberg of comparing them to Hitler. Negotiations stalled. De Blasio has already felt the sting of insulting opponents in the Legislature. Some legislators assume he is simply waiting quietly hoping not to ruffle any more feathers so that mayoral control is renewed in a simple trade for lifting the charter cap, which appears an inevitability in itself.</p> <p>With only 22 days left of legislative session, the time for debate appears to be severely limited. In 2009 the New York Times <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/07/nyregion/07control.html" target="_blank">quoted</a> former Republican Senator Frank Padavan giving his assessment of the debate and the future of mayoral control: "There is no doubt in my mind that those of us who are here will be having a similar discussion then," Padavan said looking toward 2015. "We will look at the last six years and ask: Did our changes help?"</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/BdB_Albany.jpg" alt="BdB Albany" height="411" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Mayor de Blasio sits to testify in Albany (photo: Skip Dickstein <a href="https://twitter.com/SKIPSCAM/status/570595642281746433" target="_blank">via Twitter</a>)</span></p> <hr /> <p>At the end of June this year the law that grants New York's mayor control over city schools will expire. The expiration was designed so that all interested parties can take part in a discussion of what works and what doesn't, and adjust the law as needed. Parents, teachers, advocates, and legislators all have ideas about how to make the system better. But this year there is major concern that there might not be room for a nuanced discussion.</p> <p>Some education advocates have been locked in a battle with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over his education reform plans, especially around teacher evaluations. They say that in a typical year there might be major campaigns on mayoral control but instead the bandwidth on education issues has been largely monopolized. Renewal of mayoral control will likely come at the end of session, which is scheduled for mid-June, as part of a larger deal and it's unclear how much public debate will take place.</p> <p>On top of that, the Legislature is still reeling from the indictment of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and now in limbo given the federal investigation into Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Senate Republicans are scrapping to keep control of their slim majority in the face of investigations and illness and they have expressed a great hesitance to renew mayoral control under Bill de Blasio, New York's progressive mayor who worked to push the chamber into Democratic control in the recent election cycle. Republicans are now playing defense to some extent and according to sources may be looking to simply wait out the session. Making de Blasio sweat and wait is an enjoyable byproduct for some.</p> <p>"Should there be safeguards, should there be caveats on mayoral control, and then how long?" Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked, framing the key questions at hand as he addressed attendees at an Association for a Better New York breakfast last Friday. "The mayor asked for permanent mayoral control," he said of de Blasio, "The Assembly's position is 6 or 7 years, mine is 3 years, the senate is basically zero. This has to be basically rationalized. There is a big gap between zero and permanent."</p> <p>As much as the renewal of mayoral control looks like a battle between city-based Democrats who back de Blasio and Long Island and rural Republicans who oppose him, it is city legislators whose constituents live within the system and who want to have a nuanced discussion about reforming it. But this year those Democrats have mostly been quiet. "They may not want to say much because they just want to get it done and make the mayor happy," said one advocate who requested anonymity of those city Democrats.</p> <p>When de Blasio came to Albany in February to testify before the Legislature he sold mayoral control as essential to city schools' chance at success, despite the fact he had once voraciously opposed Mayor Bloomberg's use of the same system. "Before mayoral control, the city's school system was balkanized," de Blasio said. "School boards exerted great authority with little accountability and we saw far too many instances of mismanagement, waste, and corruption."</p> <p>One Democratic legislator noted that if Bloomberg had been the one delivering that statement he would have been met by derision and vitriol but Democratic legislators bit their tongues. Many, especially in the city's poorest neighborhoods, see the city school system as in need of major improvement. De Blasio says the same, but professes faith in his vision to get there and argues that with mayoral control it's clear that he is accountable for the school system's performance.</p> <p>A number of Democrats in both houses have three major reforms they'd like to see accompany an extension of mayoral control.</p> <p>The first is greater accountability in the awarding of contracts by the Department of Education. Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, said she believes the city comptroller should be able to review those contracts. Sen. Diane Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference from Staten Island, echoed that concern, saying that under previous mayors there had been wasteful and no-bid contracts. Krueger brought up City Time, the city's 911 revamp, and other projects where contractors botched projects and cost the city millions. "There has to be more accountability," said Krueger.</p> <p>Concerns were recently <a href="http://nypost.com/2015/02/24/doe-hiring-tech-firm-linked-to-kickback-scheme/" target="_blank">raised</a> when the Department of Education wanted to award a contract to expand internet access in city schools to a company that was tied to a kickback scandal.</p> <p>"I've said repeatedly that mayoral control should be renewed but amended," Savino told Gotham Gazette. Savino said she wants to see changes to the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) that votes on policy changes. Currently, the mayor appoints 8 of the 13 PEP members. "It is functionally a staff meeting for the mayor with no diversity of opinion," said Savino. "We need to look at adding borough presidents, board members, something. I don't know what the exact answer is, but we need to look at it."</p> <p>Parental involvement has been a hot topic surrounding mayoral control since it was established in 2002. A number of legislators are concerned that the city's Citywide and Community Education Councils (CECs) do not allow for enough parental participation in policy decisions. "They don't seem to be producing the parental activity they were intended to. I'm not sure why it's not happening, but we need to look into it and see if it is something in the law that needs changing."</p> <p>Senate Republicans and Gov. Cuomo will likely tie renewal of mayoral control to raising the cap on charter schools. Cuomo has insisted that the charter sector would basically be "out of business" once it hits the cap in the city, which it is nearing. In outlining his 2015 agenda, Cuomo argued for raising the cap by 100 schools and eliminating any location-based ceiling within it, as New York City now has.</p> <p>Republican's have also indicated they may hold a series of hearings to examine mayoral control but nothing has been formally scheduled.</p> <p>Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who caucuses with Republicans, <a href="http://nypost.com/2015/03/26/senator-mayoral-school-control-requires-raising-charter-cap/" target="_blank">told</a> the New York Post that the charter cap is directly tied to mayoral control. "Part of the discussion is that there should be no cap on children getting a better education. There should be no cap on children," said Felder. John Flanagan, the Senate's Education Committee chair who earlier this year indicated that mayoral control needs serious reconsideration, did not return calls for comment.</p> <p>Public Advocate Letitia James held a series of "Our School, Our Voices" <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5630-theme-of-james-mayoral-control-forums-more-local-say" target="_blank">public forums on mayoral control</a> across the five boroughs earlier this year. The focus of the events largely became increasing community say in the policy decisions. James' office is expected to release a report with recommendations on mayoral control sometime in May.</p> <p>"Mayoral control must be amended to expand parental and community involvement," James said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "Earlier this year, my office held a number of community forums throughout New York City to discuss the future of public schools and it became clear that New Yorkers will no longer allow their voices to be drowned out of our schools system."</p> <p>Despite the myriad of opinions on control the stakeholders don't appear to be rushing toward a resolution or even a basic discussion.</p> <p>When asked if serious conversations about renewal had begun yet, Savino replied: "No. There is always plenty of time in Albany."</p> <p><strong>The Last Time</strong><br />In 2009 mayoral control expired as Democrats and Republicans battled for control of the state Senate. The policy lapsed from the end of June until August 6. Though Mayor Michael Bloomberg <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/07/nyregion/07control.html" target="_blank">had warned</a> of great chaos if the law was not renewed, his allies on the Board of Education kept his policies in place and the law was eventually renewed, with tweaks like giving the Independent Budget Office more oversight over spending.</p> <p>This year may not feature the same chaos as around the time of the '09 Senate coup, but with scandal in both houses and the precarious position of the Senate Republicans, things are similar.</p> <p>Republicans are loathe to move on major issues as they are preoccupied with maintaining their majority. They have little incentive to deliver on mayoral control or renewal of rent regulations as only two of their members hail from the city and they appear to be holding onto a grudge against de Blasio. In 2009 Senate Republicans were the cinch votes for renewal of mayoral control of schools as Bloomberg had pumped millions into their campaign coffers.</p> <p>When Senate Democrats finally won control of the chamber, then Democratic Leader John Sampson pushed for greater checks and balances on the mayor's power. At the time the Assembly had passed a bill that only slightly changed mayoral control - Sampson wanted to limit the mayor's ability to fire members of the Panel for Educational Policy and increase parental participation. It was the Senate Republicans who supported the Assembly's bill that offered fewer reductions to the mayor's influence.</p> <p>Another major change from 2009 - at least thus far - is the absence of campaigns and grassroots movements to influence the policy. Parents' groups like Class Size Matters marched and rallied for more involvement; Bloomberg's allies created Mayoral Accountability for School Success and lobbied Albany heavily. This year those groups are missing in action. Union-allied education groups are tied up battling Cuomo, fighting on teacher evaluations, testing, and Common Core. Some advocates say they are considering action to influence the mayoral control conversation, but so far nothing has materialized.</p> <p>Some legislators say that de Blasio may have learned from Bloomberg's and his own mistakes. Being critical of the Legislature backfired for both of them. In July 2009, frustrated with the impasse in Albany, Bloomberg took to the radio to criticize the legislative process. "If you remember Neville Chamberlain, no matter how many times you said yes, that's the starting point for the next round," Bloomberg said referring to the former British leader's negotiating trivails. "There's always more, more, more. I think that just the time for that is over."</p> <p>Legislators cried bloody murder and accused Bloomberg of comparing them to Hitler. Negotiations stalled. De Blasio has already felt the sting of insulting opponents in the Legislature. Some legislators assume he is simply waiting quietly hoping not to ruffle any more feathers so that mayoral control is renewed in a simple trade for lifting the charter cap, which appears an inevitability in itself.</p> <p>With only 22 days left of legislative session, the time for debate appears to be severely limited. In 2009 the New York Times <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/07/nyregion/07control.html" target="_blank">quoted</a> former Republican Senator Frank Padavan giving his assessment of the debate and the future of mayoral control: "There is no doubt in my mind that those of us who are here will be having a similar discussion then," Padavan said looking toward 2015. "We will look at the last six years and ask: Did our changes help?"</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p>