Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/299 Thu, 16 Aug 2018 12:26:05 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Cuomo Brought Rogue Democrats Back, But Hasn't Offered or Accepted Endorsements http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7846:cuomo-brought-rogue-democrats-back-but-hasn-t-offered-or-accepted-endorsements-idc http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7846:cuomo-brought-rogue-democrats-back-but-hasn-t-offered-or-accepted-endorsements-idc Cuomo Klein Stewart-Cousins

Gov. Cuomo, center, with Sens. Stewart-Cousins, left, & Klein (photo: The Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo says he wants Democrats to take control of the state Senate and, in reunifying two factions to be able to focus on flipping Republican seats, he publicly offered support for senators who once made up the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of breakaway Democrats that until April held a years-long power-sharing agreement with Republicans.

Cuomo and the leaders of the two Senate groups -- mainline conference leader Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins and IDC leader Senator Jeff Klein -- said at their “unity” news conference at the governor’s Manhattan office that none of the parties would support primary challengers to the other.

Yet with only five weeks till the September 13 primary, Cuomo has not formally endorsed, or been endorsed by, any of the eight senators that made up the IDC. Stewart-Cousins, by contrast, has offered her endorsement of Klein and the other seven members of what was the IDC, each of whom faces a primary challenge.

The now-defunct conference led by Klein agreed last November to disband his breakaway group that had caucused with Republican senators for seven years and to rejoin the mainline Democrats, pending certain developments. Cuomo brokered the deal, which was announced in April (just after a new state budget was announced), after years of saying he was helpless to force the IDC back into the fold. His critics, including his Democratic primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, say he enabled and benefited from the odd arrangement and that the reunification came too little too late.

Four years ago while also facing primary challenges, Cuomo and Klein endorsed each other for reelection, but this year, amid heightened awareness and criticism of the IDC’s role in the Senate, the two have thus far decided to forego a mutual endorsement that could potentially give their opponents ammunition to criticize them. The same goes with the other seven former IDC members, all of whom face primary challengers that are backed to varying degrees by a number of liberal activist groups -- including some that sprung up in direct opposition to the existence of the IDC and a local senator’s membership in the group -- and elected officials, like city Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

At the April news conference, in a show of bonhomie, Cuomo sat at a table between Klein and Stewart-Cousins, where they announced the reunification deal and Klein’s new position as deputy conference leader. Cuomo sounded the alarm about “the Washington agenda” under a Republican-led Congress and President Donald Trump as he emphasized in lofty terms the need for Democrats to take the state Senate and the House of Representatives. “We’re all going to, within legal limits, pool our resources, pool our strategy because it’s a different type of election this year. It’s about getting Democrats energized and getting Democrats out. So I’m all in,” Cuomo said.

He later added, “All the Senators agree to support each other. So there will be no primaries supported by one senator against another senator and we agree that we’re all gonna work in a coordinated way.”

As part of the deal, the State Democratic Party, elected officials and several prominent labor unions vowed to support the former IDC Senators while refusing aid to their challengers. “Together under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, we’re on the right path, the necessary path to demonstrate to our nation what New Yorkers are made of and the values that we all stand for,” Klein said at the news conference.

But that camaraderie doesn’t seem to extend to the campaign trail. Asked if the governor planned on endorsing Klein or the other former IDC members, a Cuomo campaign spokesperson, Abbey Collins, did not answer directly but instead emphasized that the governor is more focused on protecting Democrat-held seats.

“For over a decade the Senate Democratic Conference has been dysfunctional and fractured,” Collins said in a statement. “The governor supports democratic unity and is focused on growing the Democratic majority in the senate by picking up seats on Long Island and across Upstate to fight Donald Trump and his destructive, ultra-conservative agenda. We stand alongside Andrea Stewart Cousins in supporting all members of the senate Democratic conference.”

A Klein spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Stewart-Cousins has indeed formally announced her endorsement of Klein and the other former IDC members, in individual news releases to the press. She has not campaigned alongside Klein or any of the other senators: Sens. Tony Avella, Diane Savino, Marisol Alcantara, Jesse Hamilton, David Carlucci, and David Valesky.

They face challenges from, respectively, Alessandra Biaggi, John Liu, Jasmine Robinson, Robert Jackson, Zellnor Myrie, Julie Goldberg, and Rachel May.

As election season unfolds ahead of the September 13 primary vote, Cuomo, Klein, and many other candidates continue to announce endorsements of their candidacies by groups and leaders. The lists put forth by Cuomo and Klein, both heavy on labor unions and elected officials, continue to grow, but with the glaring absence of one another. Some elected officials, like Johnson, the Council speaker, have endorsed Cuomo and IDC challengers, including Biaggi, who is taking on Klein and used to work in the Cuomo administration, in the governor’s counsel’s office. Some, like Stewart-Cousins and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., are backing Cuomo and Klein.

Over the course of the last few months, Nixon has repeatedly criticized Cuomo for allowing the IDC to exist unchecked for years and more specifically for his direct support of Klein in this year’s election. Lauren Hitt, a spokesperson for Nixon, pointed to Nixon’s comments last month after a New York Times report noted that Klein was sending out campaign mailers that included a photo of him aside Cuomo.

“The Governor cannot be both a feminist and a supporter of Senator Klein,” Nixon said in a statement at the time, pointing to allegations that Klein forcibly kissed a former staffer outside a bar in Albany in April 2015. “Klein has not only been accused of sexual misconduct by his own staff, but he led the coalition that repeatedly blocked critical protections for New Yorkers’ reproductive rights. Several other New York Democrats have already appreciated what’s at stake for New Yorkers and endorsed against Senator Klein. The Governor can either stand with New York’s women or against us,” Nixon said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Cuomo Brought Rogue Democrats Back, But Hasn't Offered or Accepted Endorsements Tue, 07 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The July Financial Picture for Former Breakaway Democrats and Their Primary Challengers http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7813:the-july-financial-picture-for-former-breakaway-democrats-and-their-primary-challengers http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7813:the-july-financial-picture-for-former-breakaway-democrats-and-their-primary-challengers liu and ramos via jessicaramos

John Liu and Jessica Ramos (photo: @JessicaRamos)


The deadline for candidates for state office to file their latest campaign finance disclosures with the state Board of Elections was Monday, July 16. The disclosures show candidate fundraising and expenditures from the last six months, from January to July.

All 213 seats in the state Legislature -- 150 Assembly and 63 Senate -- are on the ballot this year, but few incumbents face competitive races. The state Assembly is overwhelmingly composed of Democrats, most of whom do not have a primary challenger. The state Senate, however, has become a battleground for control between Democrats and Republicans, with Democratic conference members holding 31 seats and Republican conference members 32 seats. After a Democratic unity deal in April, bringing a rogue group of eight “independent” Democrats back into the mainline conference, Republicans continued to hold power over the chamber with the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat from Brooklyn who professes no loyalty to political parties and only votes on policies that he believes suit his district’s interests.

In eight races, incumbent Democratic Senators who were once part of the Independent Democratic Conference -- a breakaway group that caucused with Republicans and helped them hold the majority -- face primary contests from progressive challengers. Those challengers are buoyed by an increasingly aware, angry, and active Democratic base that is set on removing the former IDC members from office.

Those former IDC members, led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, continue to face criticism over their alliance with Republicans and the progressive legislation and budgeting that it may have held up. The challengers and those supporting them have gained momentum following the recent victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated ten-term U.S. Representative Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th congressional district. Notably, Crowley had helped brokered the reunification of the Senate Democrats, along with Governor Andrew Cuomo and other top party officials. Cuomo is himself facing a spirited primary challenge from actor and activist Cynthia Nixon.

The former IDC Senators include six representing parts of New York City: Tony Avella of District 11 in Queens, Jose Peralta of District 13 in Queens, Jesse Hamilton of District 20 in Brooklyn, Diane Savino of District 23 in Staten Island and Brooklyn, Marisol Alcantara of District 31 in Manhattan, and Klein of District 34 the Bronx and Westchester, as well as David Carlucci of District 38 and David Valesky of District 53, both north of the five boroughs.

While fundraising numbers only tell a portion of the story of a campaign or a race, campaign finance filings help indicate where candidate support comes from and what resources a candidate has to help get his or her message out to voters. Challengers to the IDC veterans were eager to tout their number of low-dollar donations as indicative of grassroots support, while the incumbents often posted healthy coffers, though possibly tainted by money transferred from a party account ruled in violation of election law.

District 11
Former New York City Comptroller John Liu launched a late-stage challenge against Sen. Avella, jumping into the race earlier this month in time to petition his way onto the ballot. Liu has yet to raise funds for the race but he has an open campaign account, likely from his previous attempt to unseat Avella in 2014, with a little more than $3,000 in cash on hand as of January. Liu won 47 percent of the vote that year, just after he had lost in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City in 2013.

Avella, whose district covers who represents northeastern Queens, raised nearly $147,000 in the last six months, of which $68,000 was transferred from the Senate Independence Campaign Committee fund set up by the then-IDC and the Independence Party. A state court ruled last month that the joint fundraising arrangement was illegal, and the transfers could possibly even violate contribution limits established in election law. Avella spent about $80,000 over the filing period and has a balance of about $170,000 in his campaign account.

District 13
One of the Democrats likely most affected by Crowley’s loss is Sen. Peralta, who is relying on the support of the Queens Democratic Party -- chaired by Crowley -- to help him retain his seat in northern Queens. With the party having lost the sheen of immense power, some Queens Democratic insiders say it could affect the candidates who have received its endorsement.

Peralta has raised $322,000 and spent $297,000 of it since January. The SICC was more generous with him, transferring $113,500 to his campaign, with the most recent check having been sent just last week. He has about $182,000 remaining in his campaign account.

Peralta is being challenged by Jessica Ramos, a former aide to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Ramos raised $171,000 over the last six months and has spent $102,000 of it. She has just about $99,000 in cash on hand. In publicizing her haul, Ramos promoted the fact that she had raised most of the funds, about $129,000, from more than 1,400 individual donors, contrasting it with Peralta’s 238 individual donors who gave him about $69,000.

District 20
Sen. Hamilton, who represents parts of central Brooklyn, pulled in about $295,000 for his reelection bid and spent $202,000. As with the other IDC senators, the SICC gave him a major boost with $109,700 transferred to his account. He has about $212,000 left to spend.

Hamilton’s challenger is Zellnor Myrie, an attorney from Brooklyn. Myrie raised $163,000 in this filing period and spent about $96,000. He has just under $156,000 left in cash on hand. Myrie had more than 4,400 individual donors accounting for 98 percent of his fundraising haul, a fact he highlighted while pointing out that Hamilton had only 243 individual donors.

District 23
The district covers Staten Island’s northern shore and parts of southern Brooklyn and is represented by Sen. Savino. The senator hauled in $451,000, of which $270,000 was transferred from an earlier campaign account to a new one. She spent $193,000 in the same period and has $259,000 left in her campaign account.

Savino’s primary challenger, community activist Jasmine Robinson, has not yet filed her disclosure with the BOE. She said in an email that her campaign received an extension and will file the report next week.

District 31
Sen. Alcantara, who is running for a second term, represents a district that covers long stretches of the west side of Manhattan. The incumbent, who narrowly won a tight three-way race in 2016, raised $116,000, which was outpaced by her $130,000 in expenditures. She also had the benefit of receiving $66,000 from the SICC. She has about $132,000 in cash on hand.

Alcantara is facing Robert Jackson, a former City Council member who unsuccessfully challenged her in the 2016 primary for District 31. Jackson raised more than $156,000 and spent about $103,000. He has $157,000 remaining in his account.

District 34
District 34 spans across Westchester and parts of the Bronx, and is currently held by Sen. Klein. As the former leader of the IDC, Klein played a powerful role in the state Legislature for more than seven years and was one of the proverbial ‘four men in a room’ who decide the state budget, along with the governor, Senate majority leader, and Assembly speaker. As part of the Democratic reunification deal, Klein assumed the position of deputy to the Democratic conference leader Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

jeff klein campaign kickoff

Klein raised nearly $740,000 -- $200,000 from the SICC -- between January and July and spent $613,000. He has a whopping balance of $2.1 million, having built up his campaign warchest over the last several years.

Alessandra Biaggi is the upstart candidate taking on Klein in the primary. Biaggi’s latest filings were not available on the BOE website but her campaign said she had raised $260,000 and had about $50,000 in expenditures.

District 38
Sen. Carlucci, who represents Rockland County and parts of Westchester, raised $114,000 for reelection and spent only $32,000. He received $26,000 from the SICC. He has a balance of more than $440,000.

Carlucci’s opponent is Julie Goldberg, whose disclosures were not available with the BOE. Goldberg’s campaign manager, Susanne Kernan, pointed to technical issues with the submission and provided the filings to Gotham Gazette. They showed nearly $17,000 in contributions and and about $4,000 in expenditures, leaving her a balance of under $13,000.

District 53
The district spans Madison County and parts of Onondaga and Oneida, and is represented by Sen. Valesky. He raised $126,000 and spent about $74,000 in the last six months. The SICC gave him $36,000. He has $665,000 remaining in his campaign account.

Valesky’s opponent, Rachel May, raised $84,000 and had expenses worth about $38,000. She has $81,000 in cash on hand.

[Read: New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing]

Other Senate Primaries To Watch
District 22
Democrats see an opportunity this year to unseat Brooklyn Sen. Marty Golden, one of the few Republican elected officials in New York City. His district is situated in southern Brooklyn covering the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Marine Park, and Gerritsen Beach. Golden raised about $32,000 and has spent more than $125,000 since January. But he maintains a healthy campaign account, with $485,000 in cash on hand.

Two Democrats are competing in the September 13 primary -- Andrew Gounardes, who was an aide to former City Council Member Vincent Gentile, and Ross Barkan, a journalist-turned-candidate. The winner will take on Golden in the general election.

Gounardes raised $124,000 and spent $47,000, and had a closing balance of $181,000. Barkan raised about $71,000 and spent $66,000. He has about $59,000 remaining.

District 17
Felder’s role in propping up the Senate Republicans has prompted a primary challenge from attorney Blake Morris.

Felder represents the neighborhoods of Borough Park, Midwood, and parts of Flatbush, Kensington, Sunset Park, and Sheepshead Bay. The senator is well resourced, having raised more than $430,000 since January and having spent about $110,000. He has a balance of $637,000, far surpassing his opponent.

Morris had raised $41,000 by the Monday deadline and had spent $31,000 of it. He has a little over $10,000 in his campaign account with under two months till the primary.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to more accurately reflect Sen. Jeff Klein's fundraising and expenditure over the last six months. The numbers previously included were from his latest disclosure report which only showed his campaign finance activity since May. 

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The July Financial Picture for Former Breakaway Democrats and Their Primary Challengers Wed, 18 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7798:new-york-democrats-season-of-choosing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7798:new-york-democrats-season-of-choosing corey johnson jessica ramos robert jackson cityhall

Corey Johnson endorses IDC challengers (photo: Gotham Gazette)


As progressives aggressively attempt to wrest control of the Democratic Party from the hands of those they call centrists and establishment politicians, elected Democrats across New York find themselves in an unenviable position. Abiding by their self-professed progressive values to support insurgent Democratic primary challengers could mean bucking the state party establishment and its leader, Governor Andrew Cuomo, while, on the other hand, toeing the party line risks opening them up to accusations of hypocrisy and betrayal -- and perhaps even a future primary challenge -- levelled by an enraged and engaged base.

A battle that played out during the 2016 presidential primary between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton has only intensified since Donald Trump’s victory. The 2018 election cycle is offering many opportunities across the country for Democrats, elected officials and otherwise, to decide between what is essentially two wings of the party. The Democrats’ season of choosing is easier for some than others, but many prominent party figures find themselves in uncomfortable situations. At stake is nothing short of political careers, the fate of activist organizations, the policy agenda and future of the Democratic Party, the outcomes of current and prospective elections, and their aftermaths in terms of government policies that affect millions.

At the center in New York is Cuomo, his lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, and the state Senate’s erstwhile Independent Democratic Conference, eight senators who chose power over party for as many as seven years by empowering Republican control of the legislative chamber, what has been the GOP’s only stronghold in state government. In April, the renegades returned to the fold with assurances from Cuomo, who long tolerated and allegedly enabled their infidelity, that their seats were secure, at least from other Democrats. Under the accord brokered by the governor just after a new state budget was passed, the state Democratic Party machinery, fellow state-level electeds, and prominent labor unions would support these former IDC members -- who were time and again blamed for obstructing the passage of progressive legislation -- and would refuse to aid their challengers.

Though Cuomo and the former IDC members have professed support for progressive priorities -- voting, elections and campaign finance reform, criminal justice reform, women’s reproductive rights, stronger rent regulations, immigrant protections, to name a few -- they have failed to pass legislation along those lines, blaming staunch opposition by Senate Republicans. Their progressive challengers instead say they have been the obstacles to progressive bills by empowering Republicans.

Cuomo, at the top of the Democratic ticket, faces an aggressive challenge from actress and activist Cynthia Nixon in the primary. Nixon’s candidacy, from the left of Cuomo, parallels Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout’s unsuccessful gubernatorial bid four years ago, except it comes in a more heightened atmosphere of displeasure on the left following Trump’s election, amid disappointment with Cuomo’s relatively centrist record, and with increased awareness of the IDC. Nixon also has other advantages Teachout lacked, like name recognition and fundraising prowess, though Cuomo has worked over the past four years to make amends with some of his past critics, such as those in certain labor unions.

A similar fight is being replicated in the race for lieutenant governor, between incumbent Democrat Hochul and her progressive challenger, Jumaane Williams, a City Council member from Brooklyn.   

All eight former IDC members face primary challenges ahead of the September 13 vote. Five of those districts fall squarely in New York City while another is split between the Bronx and Westchester, with two others upstate.

In District 13, in Queens, Jessica Ramos is taking on Sen. Jose Peralta; in Brooklyn’s District 20, Zellnor Myrie is challenging Sen. Jesse Hamilton; on Manhattan’s west side, Robert Jackson is going up against Sen. Marisol Alcantara; in District 23, which spans Staten Island’s north shore and parts of Brooklyn, Jasmine Robinson is confronting Sen. Diane Savino; in District 11 in Queens, Sen. Tony Avella will again face former city Comptroller John Liu, who earned 47 percent in a losing 2014 bid to unseat Avella; and in District 34 that covers Westchester and the Bronx, Alessandra Biaggi is attempting to unseat the leader of the what was the IDC, Sen. Jeff Klein, who now serves as the deputy leader in the unified Senate Democratic Conference.

Outside the city, in District 38 that spreads across Rockland and Westchester, Sen. David Carlucci faces a challenge from Julie Goldberg; and in District 53 covering Madison County and parts of Onondaga and Oneida, Sen. David Valesky faces Rachel May in the primary.

For Cuomo and the state party, maintaining what Democratic seats they have in the Senate is paramount as they seek to flip the chamber by picking up more. Republicans have recently held control of the 63-seat chamber by a one-seat margin thanks to their own ranks and a single rogue conservative Senator from Brooklyn, Simcha Felder, a registered Democrat who won his most recent reelection on the Democratic, Republican, and Conservative Party lines -- Felder is also facing a Democratic primary this year, from Blake Morris.

But while they also want to see Republican seats flipped in November, many progressive activists insist that the party needs to elect better, “bluer Democrats” than Cuomo, Hochul, and the former IDC members. Nixon has explained that it is her motivation to run for governor, saying that in the age of Trump not any Democrat will do. Cuomo and his supporters argue that not only has the governor been a progressive powerhouse, but that Democratic energy of all kinds would be better spent working in concert to flip red seats to blue.

That argument has largely fallen on deaf ears among those displeased with Cuomo, Klein, and other Democratic incumbents.

The shiny veneer of the Senate Democrat reunification deal and its accompanying pact of nonaggression has seemed to be wearing off as challengers to the IDC senators pick up endorsements from top Democratic incumbents and, in one candidate’s case, from an influential labor union that helped broker the merger of the Senate Democrats. Meanwhile, Nixon and Williams have picked up far more support from elected officials and organizations than Teachout and her lieutenant governor running mate, Tim Wu, achieved in 2014.

Democrats across the spectrum are taking sides, and others will be expected to do so over the next few months, in decisions that could be determinative for those they endorse, for their own political trajectories, and for the larger map of New York’s Democratic world currently dominated by one set of elected and appointed officials, consultants, labor leaders, and the networks of power they control.

Mayoral Hopefuls
On June 28, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced his endorsement of Biaggi, Jackson, Ramos, and Myrie, providing them a boost at a time when progressives were already feeling emboldened by the congressional primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez earlier that week.

A declared democratic socialist with a deeply progressive campaign platform, Ocasio-Cortez defeated Democratic giant Rep. Joe Crowley, a ten-term incumbent and the powerful boss of the Queens Democratic Party who was among the chief drivers of the Senate Democratic reunification and a possible next speaker of the House of Representatives. The stunning upset shook the foundations of the Democratic Party and undercut the conventional wisdom of the primacy of incumbents and machine politics, and its ramifications will likely be dissected for years. In New York, it’s immediate effects were quickly felt. Johnson, who had endorsed Crowley in the race, insisted the result did not affect his decision to endorse the four IDC challengers, which he said was in the works for months, but that did not stop observers from drawing a connection.

“Whether it’s in Washington, D.C., or in Albany, the status quo isn’t working and that is why I’m here today in supporting four amazing candidates,” Johnson said at the steps of City Hall. “They are Democrats, they are progressive Democrats, they will caucus with the Democrats and they will support all the issues that Democrats support.” On Saturday, Johnson said on Twitter that he was ready to fully support Liu. At a Tuesday event in support of Biaggi, Johnson said, “It feels really good to be able to tell the truth and for too long, people were not telling the truth about the IDC and the damage that they’ve done to the state of New York. And that damage was all in their own self-interest, putting their own self-interest above the entire state of New York.”   

In a statement following Johnson’s endorsement, Barbara Brancaccio, a spokesperson for Klein, said, “Frankly we are surprised that our opponent would accept the endorsement of such a radioactive figure coming on the heels of his endorsement of Joe Crowley. We are sure that Johnson will do for this challenger, exactly what he did for Joe Crowley."

At the same time, Johnson has also endorsed Governor Cuomo for reelection over Nixon, who continues to criticize the governor for supporting the IDC and whose platform largely resembles those of the IDC opponents. She shares stark similarities with Ocasio-Cortez and others seeking to upend incumbent Democrats who insurgents believe are too close to big-money interests and not in touch with their constituents who most need them. Nixon has begun to align herself more closely with those IDC challengers, cross-endorsing with Ramos earlier this week, for example.

The same day as Johnson’s endorsement of the IDC challengers, 32BJ SEIU, the prominent building workers union, endorsed Biaggi, though their president Hector Figueroa had months ago been among those who proposed the Democratic reunification deal and the union is among several that have endorsed Cuomo and had also backed Crowley. “Jeff Klein and the IDC have empowered obstructionist Republicans set on blocking key reforms for too long,” Figueroa said in a statement announcing the endorsement. “Never again.”

And just one day prior, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer also endorsed Biaggi, a few months after he had already announced his support for Ramos and Jackson. The endorsements by Stringer, well before the Ocasio-Cortez win and its initial fallout, have won him much praise from liberal activists.

Since his union came out for Biaggi, Figueroa has also addressed the Democratic split in New York, writing on Twitter, “Dems upset about IDC folks being primaried ‘for it may lead to the GOP winning a majority of NY Senate’ do not blame the ‘left’. The ones to be blamed are IDC incumbents themselves & those STILL defending them. IDC betrayed voters creating a big political mess. Time to clean up.”

Along with the number and strength of the progressive primary challengers to established incumbents and Ocasio-Cortez’s win, these endorsements, headlining still others, are the clearest cracks in the Democratic foundation that Cuomo and other state leaders have tried to set.

“I think it’s fascinating because we do see a lack of cohesion as to whether or not people are going to support the IDC members or their challengers,” said Dr. Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University. “And I think this debate is sort of reflective of a larger debate that’s going on in the Democratic Party, for the soul of the Democratic party…‘Are we centrist, conservative-leaning Democrats or are we progressive?’”

To some, these moves may smack of political opportunism, particularly in the case of Johnson, who is supporting progressives on the one hand while propping up establishment centrists like Crowley and Cuomo on the other. But in the New York political landscape, Greer said these endorsements are equally driven by philosophical considerations as they are by pragmatic ones. “These are politicians…I think that they can genuinely care about an issue and I think that they can also be calculating and strategic about it,” she said.

For some, there is also a difference between backing a less experienced candidate for state Senate based on ideological reasons as opposed to the chief executive of the state.

Both Johnson and Stringer are widely expected to run for mayor in 2021, the next city election cycle, when Mayor Bill de Blasio will be term-limited out of office, and tapping the progressive energy that Ocasio-Cortez rode to power, and that is now propelling Nixon, Williams, the IDC challengers, and others, would likewise boost their own political fortunes.

“I think in the Democratic primary, the progressive energy in the city, that’s what you want to tap into if you’re running for mayor,” said Eric Koch, managing principal at Precision Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm, and former director of communications for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “So it makes sense to endorse the folks running against the IDC people because in terms of the activists and the people who are organizing against the IDC versus who is a Democratic primary voter in a mayoral election, there’s a pretty big overlap there.”

It’s important to note that the IDC incumbents themselves have powerful backers, including unions like 1199 SEIU, many of which are in Cuomo’s corner as well.

While Stringer and Johnson have decided to buck Cuomo and those involved in the unity deal, other likely 2021 mayoral candidates have not. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is a Cuomo ally and closely aligned with the Bronx Democratic Party apparatus, led by its chair, Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, and its former chair, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who signed onto the unity deal.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has been critical of Cuomo over the course of years, but has not made endorsements yet. His approach is complicated given his alliance with Senator Hamilton, formerly of the IDC. Adams did invite Nixon early in her campaign to tour a Brooklyn NYCHA complex and the two went to Albany Houses together. The Brooklyn borough president has voiced strong criticism of Cuomo, but has not embraced Nixon beyond the NYCHA visit, nor has he weighed in on Williams’ challenge to Hochul or the IDC races.

“They’re looking at these challengers and their districts, I’m sure, to sort of see what kind of coalition they would need to put together,” Greer said. “When they run for mayor, Andrew Cuomo may or may not still be in office...but a great campaign marketing slogan is, ‘We fight Albany. We fight Albany to make sure that New York City gets the money and resources we need.’”

“Sure they care, but it’s also a very strategic move,” Greer said, “to make sure that they’re distancing themselves from the status quo to say that, ‘When tough decisions needed to be made, I didn’t just go along to get along.’”

Statewide Case
Public Advocate Letitia James, who is running in the Democratic primary for attorney general (and had been a likely 2021 mayoral candidate), is charting a course similar to Diaz, Jr., but with a much higher profile given her bid for statewide office. James quickly jumped at the opportunity when Eric Schneiderman resigned the post after facing allegations of physical and emotional abuse by several intimate partners. Seen as an early frontrunner, with the blessing of the state Democratic Party and the governor, James rejected the possible endorsement of the progressive Working Families Party that had helped launch her political career as a City Council member.

The WFP has been closely aligned with the IDC challengers, as well as Nixon and Williams, supporting their insurgent bids for office, while James has in the past supported at least one member of the IDC, Senator Alcantara, though she has come to criticize the IDC and called for reunification well before her attorney general bid.

“I would essentially argue, if I were in these progressive groups that used to support Tish very openly, well what now gives you progressive bonafides?,” said Greer. “So her messaging has to be very clear for her supporters. Because they have progressive choices.”

“Two days after Schneiderman resigned, it was essentially reported that Tish would be heir apparent and that’s the way much of the press is writing about the race...and I don’t necessarily see that to be the case anymore,” she added.

James faces three other primary contenders: former Cuomo aide Leecia Eve, congressional Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, and Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, who challenged Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary and lost, but managed to get a significant share of the vote, at 34 percent. Teachout, like Nixon, has been severely critical of the IDC and endorsed five IDC challengers as part of the TrueBlueNY coalition months before the attorney general position became available and she decided to run. When Schneiderman resigned, Teachout was at the time Nixon’s campaign treasurer, a position she has since vacated to run for attorney general.

Among the four Democratic attorney general candidates, Teachout is undoubtedly furthest to the left. At the WFP nominating convention, delegates chose Nixon and Williams, and opted to install a placeholder for attorney general until, they hope, either James or Teachout emerges from the Democratic primary victorious and is offered the additional ballot line for the general election. James has expressed her love for the WFP despite initially shunning its endorsement and has said she believes everyone will coalesce again in the near future.

While James has aligned herself with Cuomo and his unity deal, Teachout, who endorsed Ocasio-Cortez in May, is staunchly behind IDC challengers and has recently campaigned alongside Williams.

Koch doesn’t believe her endorsements will give her a significant edge, however. “I do think that there might be some benefit in endorsing some of the folks against the IDC because that’s where the progressive energy is,” he said, “but at the end of the day, people who are voting for attorney general aren’t basing their votes on just the issue of the IDC, they’re coming at it from a much more holistic spectrum.”

The experts who spoke with Gotham Gazette noted the significance of the ‘Ocasio effect.’ Both Teachout and Nixon had endorsed Ocasio-Cortez in the run up to the congressional primary and seized on her victory to emphasize that progressive challengers can defeat machine-backed incumbents. “There’s very much a movement that’s energizing the left and politicians who ignore it or who fall too far behind are really doing so at their own peril,” said a Democratic consultant who wished to remain unnamed so he could speak freely.

“There’s certainly a lot of parallels between Cuomo and Crowley, you know, representing the old guard, like white-working class Democrats,” said the Democratic consultant. “But that being said, I wouldn’t read too much into the Ocasio win as portending a loss for Cuomo because Cuomo’s still extraordinarily popular among African-Americans, particularly African-American women, and Cynthia Nixon hasn’t to this point been able to show the ability to break into that base of support, which is really what you’re seeing here. It’s a combination of minority voters and very young, progressive voters.”

For their part, top Nixon campaign aides cite Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in expressing their belief that public opinion polls can no longer be trusted to capture the progressive energy that has largely emerged since the 2016 election of Donald Trump.

Koch said activist pressure against the IDC and its supporters has been building but “at the state level, people are gonna hedge their bets a little bit more because, one way or another, they’re gonna have to work with some of these folks.”

Greer seemed more bullish about how far the momentum behind Ocasio-Cortez would carry into state elections. She conceded that Democrats across New York are not as progressive as they are in New York City, but that the win gave a much-needed confidence boost to IDC challengers as well as Nixon and Teachout, not to mention obvious opportunities to add volunteers and donors. “It’ll be fascinating to see if, all of a sudden, Cynthia and Zephyr can ride the coattails of Alexandria,” she said, a notion that, before the congressional primary, “would’ve sounded like crazy talk.”

“But the reality here is...Alexandria’s getting national attention for the message that Cynthia and Zephyr have been championing,” she said.

Other Democrats Choose
Virtually every elected Democrat in New York is expected to pick sides: Cuomo or Nixon; Hochul or Williams; James or Teachout or Eve or Maloney; Klein or Biaggi; and so on.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, one of the most powerful Democratic officials in the state by virtue of his position, has so far stayed on the sidelines, regularly declining to comment on the 2018 New York elections, but promising to weigh in at some point. Given that Nixon was a fervent supporter during his winning 2013 campaign for mayor and again supported him for reelection in 2017, and his ongoing feud with Cuomo, de Blasio’s decision in the gubernatorial race is especially interesting. In 2014, before their feud had really escalated, de Blasio backed Cuomo for reelection, even helping broker him the Working Families Party nomination. He has indicated it did not work out as planned.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, not facing a primary challenge himself, has backed Cuomo and Hochul, but says he’s likely staying out of the attorney general primary, even though the state party is behind James.

While many Democratic officials have already or are expected to back Cuomo, there are local electeds who, beholden neither to the governor nor their respective Democratic machines, have chosen to break from the pack. New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca was the first of his colleagues to endorse Nixon’s bid for governor, and Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Antonio Reynoso later followed suit. Williams, running for lieutenant governor, is also an apparent Nixon backer, but the two have not formally linked up as a ticket, so to speak (the two positions are elected separately in party primaries, but together in the general election).

Reynoso and Menchaca, and Council Members Brad Lander, Adrienne Adams, and I. Daneek Miller have also backed Williams for lieutenant governor. Williams has also announced the backing of state Senator Kevin Parker, and across the state he has picked up endorsements from legislators in Albany and Syracuse, while Nixon was recently endorsed by more than a dozen Hudson Valley elected officials.

Nixon’s most prominent recent endorsement came from the former City Council Speaker, Mark-Viverito, a progressive in the same vein who drew parallels between Nixon and Ocasio-Cortez. “These two boldly progressive women share the same values and priorities,” Mark-Viverito wrote in the New York Daily News. Nixon also cross-endorsed with Ocasio-Cortez the day before the congressional primary, and in the last week, has done so with Ramos, who is seeking to unseat Senator Peralta, formerly of the IDC, and Julia Salazar, a democratic socialist challenging Democratic state Senator Martin Dilan in northern Brooklyn.

On Wednesday, Senator Hamilton's challenger, Myrie, announced four new endorsements from Assembly Members Walter Mosley, Diana Richardson, Jo Anne Simon and Robert Carroll, who represent Central Brooklyn.    

Democratic Unity?
“It goes back to the basic tenet: a house divided against itself can’t stand,” said Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate Democratic leader, in a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast hosted by Gotham Gazette and City Limits. The senator was addressing the Senate unity deal and whether Klein would be loyal to it. “How are we gonna do this?...I’m not gonna be sitting there having people somehow undermine the efforts that we have to be a team. That’s always been the case.”

Sen. Michael Gianaris, the chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, has ruled out endorsing the former IDC members, according to the Daily News -- Gianaris has had a long running feud with Klein, the IDC head -- and has been noncommittal on whether he may support their opponents. “Everyone seems to be on their best behavior on both sides and there seems to be genuine effort to work cooperatively and get to where we’re trying to go, so hopefully that continues,” Gianaris said in a separate Max & Murphy interview.

Lieutenant Governor Hochul, in her own appearance on the podcast, said Democrats attacking each other only serve to polarize voters and that the party would be better off expending that energy against Republicans. “We can all be purists about everything when we have a Democrat in the White House, when we have the House and the Senate, and when we have New York State Legislature,” she said. “Then we can fight each other on the nuances.”

Along with the decisions facing them now about who to back in the primaries, one major question for New York Democrats is what happens after September 13, and whether party members can coalesce for the general election. Republicans have completely avoided primaries for all four state-level statewide races of governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general, and in virtually every state Senate district held by an incumbent.

“I don’t think [the Democratic Party] fractures,” said the Democratic consultant who didn’t want to be named. “I think that’s the evolution of the party. That’s the direction that you’re seeing the party, and it’s largely driven by a local reaction to federal issues. It’s very largely a reaction to Trump on a number of things, on immigration, on labor, on health care, on taxes, on women’s rights.”  

The frustration with Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress, the consultant said, means that Democrats want “a much more aggressive stance and debate” from their own leaders.

Koch from Precision Strategies said the party will likely come together in the face of a larger enemy to sweep the major statewide races -- governor and lieutenant governor, attorney general, and comptroller. “The Democratic Party has always been a very big tent party, it’s always run the ideological spectrum from the progressive wing through to a more centrist wing,” he said, “and that’s why the party has been successful…After these primaries are done, Democrats will come together and unite because there are bigger threats and what unites us is definitely stronger than what divides us.”

“I think the relationships will by and large repair themselves,” Koch added, “I suspect that after the primary, folks will get together and hash out whatever needs to be hashed out.”

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

Read more by this writer.

Note - This story has been updated to include mention of endorsements received by Zellnor Myrie from four state Assembly members.

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New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing Wed, 11 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Pointing to Deficiencies, Victims Call for Changes to State’s New Sexual Harassment Policies http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7764:pointing-to-deficiencies-victims-call-for-changes-to-state-s-new-sexual-harassment-policies http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7764:pointing-to-deficiencies-victims-call-for-changes-to-state-s-new-sexual-harassment-policies gov cuomo bill clinton electoral

(photo via the Governor's Office)


The problem of sexual harassment in New York state politics is systemic and plaguing young women beginning their careers, according to a group fighting to change the culture and the laws around the issue. And, they argue that recently adopted state measures to fight the scourge are insufficient, despite being touted by Governor Andrew Cuomo as “the best in the nation.”

The seven women of The Sexual Harassment Working Group -- all of whom have been personally affected by sexual harassment while working for lawmakers in the New York State Legislature -- have consulted a handful of advocacy and legal groups, and called upon their own experiences and expertise, to put together a detailed report with recommendations for ways to better protect women working in government.

“We wonder why there aren’t women in higher office, we wonder why women are so underrepesented in our legislature and in all levels of our government. And this is a big part of why: It does not feel safe to work in government if you’re a woman,” co-author Eliyanna Kaiser, a one-time chief of staff to former Assemblymember Micah Kellner, said during an event in Manhattan on June 19. Kaiser was not herself directly a victim of sexual harassment, but instead reported to Bill Collins in the Assembly Counsel's office, under former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, that Kellner had been sending inappropriate messages to one of his staffers, which led to initial inaction, attacks against Kaiser, and, eventually, Kellner’s ouster from the state Legislature.

Also on the panel were working group members and co-authors Danielle Bennett, former administrative assistant to Kellner who reported his harassment to Kaiser; Leah Hebert, former chief of staff to the late, disgraced Assemblymember Vito Lopez; Tori Burhans Kelly, former legislative aide to Lopez; Rita Pasarell, former legislative counsel and deputy chief of staff to Lopez; Erica Vladimer, former education policy analyst and counsel for the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC); and Elizabeth Crothers, former legislative aide in the New York State Assembly who publicly accused Assembly lawyer Michael Boxley of rape in 2003, two years after the alleged incident and when another victim of Boxley’s came forward. The discussion was moderated by political consultant and columnist Alexis Grenell, who has helped bring to light victims’ experiences as well as the insufficient responses from government officials.

The stories of these women run together in a horror plot that involves countless obstacles to reporting, near-dismissal, and a reluctance to investigate from those in charge, as well as forcibly implemented nondisclosure agreements that hinder the complainant's chances of reemployment and their ability to warn others.

“I agreed not to file a civil suit in exchange for [him to get] a HIV test,” Crothers said, adding the “loss of anonymity” after going public “follows you.”

“I really didn’t think there was another way out aside from suicide,” said Hebert, who was one of the first women to complain about Lopez groping and harassing female staffers, of her experience.

“These things that are happening are not the product of an individual harasser, they’re not mistakes,” Pasarell, another complainant against Lopez, added. “It’s massive, it’s systemic, and whenever I hear a new person coming out I say, ‘hey remember us, remember this happened to us in 2012?’”

It’s a cycle that exploits women and protects men who behave abhorrently and, as Grenell pointed out, it’s a reality yet unchanged by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s claims that New York has the “strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation” following the recent budget, wherein the anti-harassment legislation was passed. Grenell compared the governor’s statement to the “mission accomplished sign” former President George W. Bush stood in front of during 2003 remarks about the war in Iraq, only two months after the U.S. first invaded.

The Working Group is calling for Cuomo to hold public hearings to listen to victims of sexual harassment -- as its members demanded before the policies were decided by all-male leadership with little apparent regard for the opinions of victims. The group’s Harassment-Free Albany website states: “New York State has not held a state hearing on sexual harassment since Governor Mario Cuomo [Andrew Cuomo’s father] created a Sexual Harassment Task Force in 1992.”

The reporting system has no transparency for complainants, limited uniformity, and an obvious lack of objectivity, the panel urges. For example, when Vladimer, who this January publicly accused now-Deputy Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein of kissing her forcibly and against her will outside a bar in 2015, was asked where her case is at now, she said she has no idea.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Vladimer told event attendees on Tuesday. “[It’s with] the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics [JCOPE], which under some very vague executive law somehow has the authority to investigate sexual harassment claims. There are no experts on this commission and the commissioners who vote to decide whether or not there is wrongdoing are all appointed by elected officials.” They are also almost all men, with one woman in 14 commissioners.

“I don’t know where my investigation is and I think that’s one of the biggest things we’ve talked about is that there is no transparency and I know, and have been told, I don’t have a right to know where my investigation’s going,” Vladimer added.

When Vladimer went public, Klein immediately denied the allegations, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said the Senate would not investigate given no formal complaint had been lodged with its internal staff. Klein himself asked JCOPE to investigate, but other than Klein indicating an investigation had commenced, there is little information to go by.

In the lead-up to the new state budget, Cuomo had called for sweeping anti-sexual harassment policies, including greater resources for and transparency in JCOPE investigations. While Cuomo pushed through some measures, those JCOPE recommendations were not among what was passed into law.

The same Klein accused of sexually harassing Vladimer was one of the three other elected men, and no elected women, who assisted Cuomo in deciding the sexual harassment legislation this March, ahead of the annual budget. According to the budget, there are five measures designed to address sexual harassment in state politics -- as the governor’s office puts it, to “further build upon his 2018 Women’s Agenda for New York.”

In a press release announcing highlights of the new budget in March, Cuomo said, "We put into place the strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation, ending once and for all the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled this unacceptable behavior for far too long.”

Under the new legislation, all employers working with the state, including vendors and contractors, must implement a written policy addressing sexual harassment prevention and provide prevention training to all employees. This is an extension of a previously-existing law to include contracted workers, and means that employers may now be held liable for the sexual harassment of non-employees if the employer knew, or should have known, of the harassment and failed to take action. It does not, however, address the ambiguity around employees of elected officials.

The Sexual Harassment Working Group is recommending the definition of “employee” be changed to clearly include employees of elected and appointed officials, and that the New York State Human Rights Law should stipulate elected officials are also considered “employers.”

“Our recommendation is to specify employees as everybody -- essentially someone for hire -- this is how the labor law defines it and we just want every worker to have the same protection, including staff of elected officials,” Pasarell told Tuesday night’s event.

In the new legislation, New York employers are prohibited from requiring mandatory arbitration of claims of workplace sexual harassment, except where inconsistent with federal law, and this will come into effect in July.

Any officers and employees of the state or any public entity who is subject to a final judgement of personal liability in cases of sexual harassment will have to reimburse the state for the award given to the complainant, however the Sexual Harassment Working Group points out this is only applicable for cases determined by a judge, not necessarily to those settled out of court.

Cuomo’s legislation also states no employer has the authority to include or agree to include in any settlement a nondisclosure agreement, unless the condition of confidentiality is the complainant’s preference. And, notably, a model sexual harassment guidance document and a sexual harassment prevention policy is to be created with the Division of Human Right by October -- meaning a key portion of the new policy is not yet written.

“This year, Governor Cuomo signed the strongest anti-sexual harassment policy in the country,” Dani Lever, press secretary for Cuomo, told Gotham Gazette in a statement. “It closed gaping loopholes that entrapped women in toxic workplaces, extended protections to contracted workers, and strengthened rules that prevent companies from shirking their responsibility to root out bad actors—instead of sweeping problems under-the-rug.”

On the surface, all measures included in the enacted budget appear to go a long way towards exactly what the governor is promising but, according to the panel of women who’ve experienced sexual harassment in state politics first-hand, there are some areas of ambiguity that impede the path to reporting and justice for potential victims.

First, the budget hasn’t defined “sexual harassment” and the way the issue is currently treated under state law leaves much room for interpretation. The Sexual Harassment Working Group recommends adding “sex and gender” to the list of classes protected from discrimination in the New York State Constitution, to offer another level of protection for all New Yorkers, including victims. And the authors suggest the current standard for behavior to qualify as sexual harassment in state law -- that it must be “severe or pervasive” -- be changed to mirror the recent changes to New York City law, where the standard for discrimination and harassment reads simply that the person is treated “less well.”

“When you’re talking about standards in law, the ‘litigative itch,’ as they call it, is all in these terms,” Kaiser said. “People are always going to bicker about the actual event that happened. We’d prefer that bickering to be asking, ‘didn’t he treat her less well?’ Rather than, ‘was it severe and pervasive?’”

The working group is also calling for an independent body to oversee all discrimination harassment policy enforcement. At the moment, JCOPE members are appointed by state elected officials. Of the 14 members, three are appointed by the Temporary President of the Senate, three are appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly, one is appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate, one is appointed by the Minority Leader of the Assembly, and six are appointed by the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor.

Many of the stories from the women in The Sexual Harassment Working Group involve some level of disbelief from those charged with investigating their reports of sexual harassment. In Crothers’ case, it wasn’t only disbelief, it was outright protection of her alleged attacker.

“Before it came out in the press and when I met with the speaker [Sheldon Silver], I didn’t feel he didn’t believe me, he just said ‘well I won’t let him go out to bars anymore and my first priority is protecting the institution,’” Crothers said at the panel event. Silver resigned as speaker in 2015 after being arrested on federal corruption charges, and long after being accused of facilitating former Assemblymember Lopez’s harassment of eight women who were on his staff. The panelists believe this culture of cover-up and protection will continue unless there is an independent body appointed to investigate, and determine, reports of sexual misconduct in Albany.

It’s the Lopez example that best shows the need for further restrictions around the use of nondisclosure agreements, beyond what is outlined in the new legislation. Two of the women in the working group, who were on the panel, ultimately signed nondisclosure agreements after accusing the former Assembly member of sexual harassment and groping. They said they didn’t want a nondisclosure agreement -- it wasn’t implemented to protect their privacy -- but it was offered to them as a ‘take it or leave it’ measure.

“We wanted an investigation, we asked multiple times for an investigation,” Hebert said. Hebert’s name went public, despite her having signed a nondisclosure agreement, when reports from other victims were published by the media ahead of Lopez’s resignation in 2013. Instead of an investigation, Hebert said she, along with Pasarell, were made to sign nondisclosure agreements and were told Lopez would go through sexual harassment prevention training.

“The NDA, it wasn’t just that...we couldn’t speak to anyone,” Hebert said. “It was, at first, $10,000 in liquidated damages if we broke it for every occurence, and it would happen with a mediator behind closed doors so no one would know they were enforcing the agreement. And it also contained a provision that we could never apply to the Assembly again.” This last measure effectively limiting their opportunities to work in state government, and the fine making it impossible for the complainants to explain their circumstances to future employers, file for unemployment benefits, or warn others or the Human Rights Division of Lopez’s behavior.  

They pushed back on their exclusion from the Assembly and the response was, “we could never apply to Lopez’s office again, which was fine, but they increased our liquidated damages cost to $20,000,” Hebert said.

Pasarell, another of Lopez’s victims, said the anti-sexual harassment legislation in the budget regarding nondisclosure agreements -- that they can only be used in cases where the complainant consents -- can too easily be twisted to benefit the harasser.

“The way they phrased the new law is for the complainant to have a nondisclosure agreement, it’s got to be the complainant’s preference. In our case we saw repeatedly how the Assembly portrayed it as if it was our preference when it absolutely was not,” she said. “The nondisclosure agreement came to us very late in the game and it was ‘take it or leave it.’”

Women reporting sexual harassment will be better assisted, The Sexual Harassment Working Group argues, if the Legislature provides greater protection against victim coercion into signing nondisclosure agreements. The group also recommends the law allow for individual liability, so harassers can be targeted without taking the Legislature or State to arbitration or court. And, in cases where complainants do want a nondisclosure agreement for confidentiality reasons, there should be a “Sunshine in Litigation” law to prevent serial harassers (who’ve offended at least once prior) from re-offending. “Limited information would be shared but a pattern of harassment would be outed,” Pasarell said.

The way to change the culture of sexual harassment and exploitation is through changing the law, The Sexual Harassment Working Group maintains, and the way to do that is through consulting with victims, advocacy groups, and others, including lawmakers -- a process much more extensive than how Cuomo and legislative leaders, all men, went about it.

In response to The Sexual Harassment Working Group’s report, Cuomo’s team said it will review the recommendations but gave no indication of whether or not they will consider holding or pushing for a public hearing on the issue.

“No woman should ever be violated, let alone in the workplace—period. And that’s why Governor Cuomo has championed measures that hold employers accountable for ensuring a hospitable workplace,” Lever, Cuomo’s press secretary, told Gotham Gazette. “The ‘Me Too’ movement has caused an awakening in our society, and while we’ve taken positive concrete steps in New York, we need to continue to see progress in our state and across the country. We look forward to reviewing these recommendations and continuing this important work.”

***
by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that Lopez allegedly harassed eight women on 33 counts, not 33 women; that two, not three, of the women mentioned signed NDAs; and that Kaiser reported Kellner's behavior to the Assembly counsel's office, not Speaker Silver directly.

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Pointing to Deficiencies, Victims Call for Changes to State’s New Sexual Harassment Policies Sun, 24 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Democratic Campaign Chief: Even a ‘Blue Trickle’ Will Flip State Senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7758:democratic-campaign-chief-even-a-blue-trickle-will-flip-state-senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7758:democratic-campaign-chief-even-a-blue-trickle-will-flip-state-senate gianaris via facebook

Senator Gianaris and colleagues (photo via Gianaris Facebook)


Predictions of a nationwide “blue wave” of anti-Trump sentiment resulting in major Democratic gains have been tempered as the president maintains strong support among Republicans and the economy, broadly speaking, is going strong.

But even if the blue wave ends up being more like a trickle, that would be good news to state Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who chairs the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) and needs to net just one seat this fall to take control of the chamber and thus the entire Legislature.

In an interview as the end of session and official start of campaign season approached, Gianaris said Republicans have been holding on to numerous seats by slim margins.

“By virtue of the gerrymandering that’s happened here in New York in the Senate, Republican districts are stretched so thin and their margins of victory are always so narrow that a trickle is enough for us to make a difference,” he told Gotham Gazette.

“It’s just a question of degrees. Any tip in our favor will lead to more seats in our hands, and we’re one seat shy. So, we’re very optimistic,” he said, echoing a sentiment shared by Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who could become the first woman and first woman of color to lead the Senate if the Democrats take control.

Gianaris said the DSCC won’t start investing in individual Democrats’ campaigns until late summer or early fall. He mentioned numerous seats the committee might target throughout the state, though it is yet to make a decision about Senator Simcha Felder and his Brooklyn district.

Republicans are blocking Democrats from controlling the chamber thanks to Felder, who is a registered Democrat and has repeatedly run on the Democratic line, but caucuses with Republicans. Felder ran unopposed in 2016 and appeared on both major party ballot lines.

At their state nominating convention last month, Democrats passed resolutions to kick Felder out of the party and support a challenger to him. He is still running as a Democrat, though.

While Gianaris called Felder’s seat “a hostile district” -- and he faces a Democratic primary challenger, Blake Morris -- Gianaris said the DSCC was still waiting to determine if it would get involved in the race.

“What we’re evaluating is, is beating Felder in a primary more or less likely than winning some of these general election contests?” Gianaris said. “We have a lot of opportunities on our plate.”

Most of those opportunities appear to be outside the five boroughs -- there are just three members of the Senate Republican conference that represent New York City districts -- Senators Felder, Marty Golden, and Andrew Lanza.

Gianaris also shied away from committing to either of the Democrats in the other potentially intriguing New York City general election Senate race, for Golden’s Brooklyn seat (Lanza, of Staten Island, is not seen as beatable). The incumbent has provoked a streak of damaging headlines -- ranging from alleged threats against a bicyclist to parachuting while receiving disability payments -- providing Democratic challengers Ross Barkan and Andrew Gounardes plenty of fodder for attacks.

“There’s one blunder after another that will make that race even more possible than usual,” said Gianaris.

But he added, “I try to look at it coldly. As long as I pick up the seats I need, which right now is one...I’m agnostic as to where it comes from.”

Golden ran unopposed in 2016. He won easily in 2014 and 2012, when he beat Gounardes by a decisive margin.

As this year’s legislative session ended, the Senate -- Republicans’ only stronghold at the state level given Democratic control of the Assembly and all four statewide positions -- was deadlocked 31-31 between Republicans and Democrats since the GOP’s 32nd senator, Tom Croci of Long Island, was called to active duty with the Navy last month. Through the fall elections, Democrats must net just one seat to take the majority in the chamber for the first time in nearly a decade. Depending on the results of the gubernatorial race -- no Republican has been governor since 2006 -- Democratic control of the upper chamber could pave the way for passage of a slew of the party’s priorities.

Gianaris indicated Democrats are likely to focus on two Long Island seats where the incumbent won by razor-thin margins two years ago: Republican Senator Carl Marcellino, who won parts of Nassau and Suffolk Counties by less than 1 percent of the vote; and Democrat Senator John Brooks, who won by an even smaller margin.

Gianaris also pointed to the high number of Republicans who have announced they aren’t seeking reelection. In addition to Croci, they include John Bonacic of the Hudson Valley, John DeFrancisco of Syracuse, William Larkin of Orange County, and Kathy Marchione of Saratoga. Not all of the seats are in play for Democrats, but some appear to be.

Gianaris is also eyeing Republican seats that Democrats have won in the past - the 46th district outside Albany, currently held by George Amedore; and the 41st district in the Hudson Valley, where Sue Serino is the incumbent.

“Before you know it, you’re looking at 10 to 12 pockets of opportunity on offense and, effectively, the only seat we have to defend is John Brooks,’” he said.

Senate Democrats have crowed over Republicans’ resignation announcements, saying they show the GOP knows it’s doomed this year. A Senate Republican spokesperson did not answer a request for comment for this article.

Senator John Flanagan, the Senate majority leader, has tried to sound a confident note amid the flurry of resignations.

"New Yorkers know that our Majority is the only thing standing in the way of the New York City politicians implementing an agenda that will hurt our economy and make life more difficult for hardworking middle-class taxpayers," he told the New York Daily News. "We will succeed in November and maintain our majority so the true priorities of New Yorkers continue to be put first."

Senate Democrats increased their ranks in April, when the group of eight renegades known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) ended its coalition with Republicans and rejoined the mainstream Democratic fold, taking the conference from 23 to 31 members. The move came as nearly all of the IDC members faced primary challengers who decried them as “Trump Democrats” willing to empower Republicans in order to gain perks at the expense of progressive values.

Gianaris was one of the strongest critics of the IDC during its seven-year alliance with Republicans, and he was part of a long-term feud with Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the IDC. But Gianaris said the DSCC has no intention of supporting challengers like Alessandra Biaggi, who is running against Klein, of the Bronx, as long as the ex-IDC members don’t break their promises.

Gianaris noted that Senator Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic leader, is supporting all members of her conference, including former IDC members, a point she recently stressed during a Gotham Gazette/City Limits podcast appearance.

“At this point, the former IDC members are members of our conference,” Gianaris said. “We’ve committed to not opposing them.”

Asked whether he would go so far as to discourage Democrats from challenging ex-IDC members, Gianaris declined to comment.

“Everyone seems to be on their best behavior on both sides and there seems to be genuine effort to work cooperatively and get to where we’re trying to go, so hopefully that continues,” he said of the Democratic conference since ex-IDC members rejoined it.

Asked whether he actually trusts the former IDC members -- who reneged on campaign promises to quit their alliance with Republicans in 2014 -- Gianaris said with a laugh, “I’ve come to trust very few people in politics.”

“But I can say…there’s been action behind the words. Hopefully that holds,” he added.

As in previous years’ elections, the Republican campaign committee has much more cash than the Democrats do -- $1,549,017.70 compared to $691,274.46, according to the latest disclosure reports.

However, Gianaris said trends are favoring Democrats this year.

“That gap is much smaller than it would normally be,” he said. “I think we’re about a half-million ahead of pace and they’re a million below pace, if you went back to 2016.”

Around this time in the 2016 election cycle, Republicans had more than $2 million and Democrats had a little over $225,000.

True to his role as Democratic cheerleader, Gianaris said he’s confident this year will bring a “blue wave” to the state.

“All around the country, Democrats are performing at a higher clip than would normally be expected,” he said. “I think it’s a legitimate wave.”

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

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Democratic Campaign Chief: Even a ‘Blue Trickle’ Will Flip State Senate Thu, 21 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Democratic Unity and the ‘Value’ of Primaries http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7745:andrea-stewart-cousins-on-democratic-unity-and-the-value-of-primaries http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7745:andrea-stewart-cousins-on-democratic-unity-and-the-value-of-primaries andrea stewart cousins sk gg2

Andrea Stewart-Cousins at the state party convention (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


While policies to prevent and punish sexual harassment were being decided in Albany during state budget negotiations earlier this year, four men led the closed-door talks: Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and the leader of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference Jeff Klein. Even as female aides had some level of participation, there was a great deal of scrutiny of the absence of Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the leader of the Democratic minority in state Senate, especially given that Cuomo’s office had indicated she would be included.

“You would’ve thought you would’ve been able to get in a room and at least let her say something,” Stewart-Cousins said of her own situation during a recent episode of the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits. “Never happened.”

Stewart-Cousins called it a feature of “an institution that has institutionalized a lot of stuff,” and said that “breaking those norms are really, really difficult things to do.”

But breaking established ways of doing things is something of a pattern for Stewart-Cousins, who is both the first woman and the first African-American woman to be elected as the state Senate minority leader. Now, after post-budget reconciliation between the mainline Democrats she leads and Klein’s IDC, Stewart-Cousins is also in position to become the first woman and woman of color to be the majority leader of the Senate, depending on the results of the fall elections. They are elections she is becoming increasingly involved with, she indicated on the podcast, connecting the upcoming attempts to flip seats from Republican to Democrat as part of a “blue wave” sweeping the nation.

Stewart-Cousins’ frame for viewing the elections and potential Democratic majority in the Senate, and thus the Legislature given the party’s stranglehold on the Assembly, is the recent Senate reunification, pushing her, it seems, to be more forgiving, take the long-view, and look ahead, not back.

Exclusion from the anti-sexual harassment talks – and the state budget discussions in general – may be a thorny issue, but not one that poses a major point of contention between Stewart-Cousins and her colleagues.

“It goes back to the basic tenet: a house divided against itself can’t stand,” Stewart-Cousins said in response to a question of her possible frustrations with elements of the unity deal that was struck among her, Klein and Cuomo in April, and whether she trusts Klein. “How are we gonna do this?...I’m not gonna be sitting there having people somehow undermine the efforts that we have to be a team. That’s always been the case.”

There are still challenges to the notion of a unified Democratic front: each of the eight former members of the IDC is facing a primary challenge, and while the Democratic establishment has agreed to mutual support, a number of grassroots groups and a handful of elected officials are backing the challengers.

On the podcast, Stewart-Cousins emphasized that she has endorsed all incumbent Democratic senators, including those who were formerly part of the IDC, “so that people are very, very clear where I stand,” she said in response to a question of whether or not she would tell fellow party members to drop their support for the challengers. “I think that in and of itself sends a message.”

While she did not call primaries a bad thing, Stewart-Cousins further emphasized the importance of moving past former divisions in order for the party to function. “I think that’s over,” she said of the Senate Democratic division, “and it’s up to me...to give the kind of support and respect that I should be giving as the leader and as a colleague, and I believe that we set that tone,” she said. “There’s nobody coming in feeling less than, unworthy. There’s no recriminations.”

In response to a question of whether Cuomo – who has long been criticized for encouraging or at least tolerating the IDC’s existence – could have brokered such a unity deal earlier on, and thus possibly prevented the handicapped progress on key issues for the Democratic Party, Stewart-Cousins said, “Like I always say, he did make it happen....I don’t think he was terribly concerned about the situation because as far as we he was concerned, maybe it was manageable. I think it’s gotten to the point where it was looking unmanageable because of all the different factors, so he asserted himself.”

If the Democrats are able to obtain majority control of the state Senate in November, a policy agenda including action on immigration, climate change, voting and elections, campaign financing, reproductive rights, and more may move. Stewart-Cousins referenced pieces like the Child Victims Act and the Dream Act stagnating in the currently Republican-controlled state Senate. Additionally, Republican senators recently blocked Democrats’ attempts to see voting on the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Care Act – two pieces of legislation that would, respectively, enshrine in New York law the same reproductive rights under the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling and mandate accessibility to birth control medication – when Democrats attempted to push them through late last month.

“There’s so many things that we could do in addition to, obviously, the things that we’re bringing up today,” Stewart-Cousins said.

For their part, Senate Republicans often seek to ‘warn’ New Yorkers of what full Democratic control of state government could bring. “The New York City politicians who think it will be easy to flip the State Senate and impose their radical agenda on the people of New York should take heed,” said Senate spokesperson Scott Reif, in an April statement. “Our Majority represents the checks and balances, and the real accountability that hardworking taxpayers need and deserve.  Without us it’s one party rule, higher taxes, runaway spending and New Yorkers will be less safe.”

Democrats first need to contend with reconciling the different wings within their own party, a division apparent in the challengers to former IDC members and to Cuomo. Stewart-Cousins has unique perspective, representing Senate District 35, an area that includes towns like Yonkers, White Plains, and Scarsdale, with a wide variety of Democrats and plenty of Republicans and party unaffiliated voters.

Asked which wing of the party she identifies with, Stewart-Cousins deemphasized the ostensible differences in her party. “I’ve been able to, I think, gain a perspective that a lot of people don’t have as it relates to governing,” she said, referring to her unique position as the first Democratic leader representing a district outside New York City in a hundred years. “Everybody pretty much wants the same thing. It’s not different. It’s how you deliver these things or how you’re able to characterize these things or how you react is really where the differences lie.”

On the question of primaries, like that Governor Cuomo is facing, Stewart-Cousins took a different approach from some others, like Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “I certainly have no problem with the fact that there’s a primary going on,” she said, responding to a question of whether or not the gubernatorial candidacy of challenger Cynthia Nixon is emblematic of the Democratic Party being a ‘house divided.’ “The conversations about the vision for New York and who should lead it are valuable,” she added.

For now, at least, Stewart-Cousins maintains a face of smiling unity toward Klein, who serves as her deputy, and the rest of the Democratic Party.

Asked if there’s a chance that party members pull another IDC-esque ploy in the coming years, Stewart-Cousins said, “The environment has changed and that’s why I think this unity works, because we’ve been to the other side. We know what that looks like, and I don’t know if anybody needs or wants to go back there again.”

[Listen: Max & Murphy Podcast: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins]

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by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

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Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Democratic Unity and the ‘Value’ of Primaries Mon, 18 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Key Takeaways: How the State Budget Impacts New York City http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7587:key-takeaways-how-the-state-budget-impacts-new-york-city http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7587:key-takeaways-how-the-state-budget-impacts-new-york-city Cuomo

(photo: The Governor's Office)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Ben Brachfeld and Sam Raskin

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More from Governor Cuomo's Office:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the State Senate Majority:

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

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

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

AFFORDABILITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPPORTUNITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SECURITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMPROVING PUBLIC HEALTH AND NEW YORKERS’ QUALITY OF LIFE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the State Assembly Majority:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Ben Brachfeld, Sam Raskin and Ben Max

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Key New York City Issues in Final State Budget Negotiations Sun, 25 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Poll Targeting Brooklyn District Gauges Anti-IDC Sentiment http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7526:poll-targeting-brooklyn-district-gauges-anti-idc-sentiment http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7526:poll-targeting-brooklyn-district-gauges-anti-idc-sentiment Jesse Hamilton IDC

Members of the IDC, including Sen. Hamilton (center), and others (photo: @IDC4NY)


A recent phone poll surveying residents of Senator Jesse Hamilton’s Brooklyn district asked residents to react to a number of statements associating the Independent Democratic Conference with President Donald Trump, among a variety of other questions, according to two residents of the district.

The polling was conducted “on behalf of a Democrat regarding state Senate elections in September 2018” by the Florida-based Kalamata Group, one resident, who took meticulous notes during a February 10 phone call, told Gotham Gazette.

Kalamata Group is associated with Global Strategy Group, which works closely with IDC, indicating that the poll was funded by the conference. Hamilton is one of eight members of the IDC, which forms a ruling coalition with the Senate Republicans, along with nominal Democrat Senator Simcha Felder. The alliance has been blamed for keeping Republicans in power in state government, effectively blocking the passage of key Democratic legislation, such as voting reforms, women’s reproductive health provisions, the Dream Act, and the Child Victims Act.

The breakaway Democrats, led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, are currently in talks to reunify with the mainline Democratic conference later this year, provided Democrats regain a total of 32 seats in the 63-seat chamber after a set of special elections in April, but that has not stopped a number of challengers, backed by a coalition of progressive activists, from launching primary challenges against IDC members.

One of the residents of Hamilton’s district, who was polled, lives in Prospect Heights and asked to remain anonymous. He said he was asked to indicate whether he approved or disapproved of the IDC, Jesse Hamilton, Zellnor Myrie -- a lawyer who is running in the Democratic primary against Hamilton in the fall -- Mayor Bill de Blasio, and President Donald Trump.

Several poll questions seem to evaluate whether Hamilton will be negatively impacted by criticisms that link him and his conference with Trump’s presidency, which appears to be hurting the Republican Party in New York. IDC challengers and their supporters have taken to calling IDC members “Trump Democrats.”

The poll, for example, asks residents to rank how convincing they found a series of statements about Hamilton’s record, with the pollster telling saying that the statements were from Hamilton’s opponents.

‘By aligning with the GOP in New York, Senator Jesse Hamilton is empowering Donald Trump’s agenda in New York. Trump Democrat Hamilton has sided with real estate groups and developers and has effectively blocked efforts to stand up to Trump’s destructive agenda on health care, education, immigrations, tenants rights, and climate change,’ read one statement, according to the resident.

The poll also tested several positive statements about the incumbent: ‘Hamilton secured $10 million to help provide legal services for immigrants. He is working to protect Dreamers in New York by helping to provide college assistance and stronger legal protections against Trump’s attack on so-called sanctuary cities,’ the pollster reportedly said, for example.

The poll also tested for two potential criticisms of Myrie. One referred to a charity he founded in 2009 that had its taxpayer authorization revoked by the IRS after he failed to file the paperwork, and another that he has no government experience and is linked to a local political machine.

After each segment of the poll, the resident was asked a variation of "If the primary were held today, and the candidates Jesse Hamilton and Zellnor Myrie, who would you vote for?" (See full details of the poll below, as noted by the resident from Prospect Heights.)

Barbara Brancaccio, a campaign spokesperson for Hamilton who works for Global Strategy Group, would not confirm that the IDC funded the poll, but as one political operative who Gotham Gazette briefed on the poll’s contents put it, “It's hard to imagine it not being the IDC. [Global Strategy Group] has a very long standing relationship with Jeff [Klein].”

Brancaccio said the survey amounts to standard polling that is done whenever there is an election, and that the campaign does not make the results of its polling public.

New York State law prohibits the partial release of political poll results, so candidates and campaigns often choose not to share their survey results.

Still, the founders of No IDC NY, a political campaign that backs IDC primary challengers, used the poll questions as an opportunity to take a swipe at the breakaway Democrats, noting that No IDC has conducted its own surveys through its collective phone-banking and text-messaging operations.

In the 20th Senate District, home to the Hamilton-Myrie primary, phone-bankers spoke with 1,119 voters, 83 percent of whom are negative on the IDC, said Gus Christensen, chief strategist of No IDC NY.

“The numbers are clear: the IDC has no base. Democratic voters are real Democrats, and real Democrats don't support turncoats who caucus with the Republicans. And I'm sure the only reason why the IDC won't release the results of their own polling is that it says the same thing, only in more detail,” said Christensen.

Polling experts say phone-banking is generally not a reliable method to determine voter behavior, since phone-bankers likely have their own biases, and their questions may not be balanced. Political polling companies also take steps to ensure that the demographic make-up of subjects polled is reflective of the district.

“It would be impossible for me to comment on any of these polls, not knowing the methodology behind them …but the key to making any survey scientifically accurate, is to ensure that you have a representative sample of the geography you are trying to poll,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg.

While overwhelmingly Democratic, Hamilton’s district is diverse and somewhat fragmented, including portions of Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Gowanus, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and snaking down to South Slope, and Sunset Park.

Myrie, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, said it was fair for critics to associate his opponent with President Trump.

“In 2016, my opponent joined the Republican-friendly IDC within 24 hours of Donald Trump becoming the most regressive President our country has ever seen,” say Myrie. “Since that day, they both have pushed or supported the regressive Republican policies that have hurt my community...Republicans in the state Senate are lock and step with the Trump agenda, an agenda my opponent bolsters every single day as a member of the IDC.”

___

The following is lightly edited notes taken by one resident of the 20th State Senate District who was polled:

Do you have favorable or unfavorable view of:
-The IDC
-Jesse Hamilton
-Zellnor Myrie
-Bill de Blasio
-Donald Trump

If the primary were today, would you vote for Jesse Hamilton or Zellnor Myrie?

Do you approve or disapprove of the job Jesse Hamilton is doing?

What are the two most important issues that will impact your vote?

Would you prefer a a state senator who stands up to policies of Trump and Republicans in New York, or a state senator who addresses local issues?

I am going to read profiles and ask if you find them favorable or unfavorable.
-Democrat Zellnor Myrie is an attorney and local Democratic party leader. He will be a true Democrat in the New York State Senate, an anti-Trump leader who will fight to fully fund schools, will focus on affordable housing, including protecting tenants who are being thrown out of their homes. He will help pave the way for Andrea Stewart-Cousins to become the first African-American woman Senate Majority Leader.
-Democrat Jesse Hamilton, current state senator, brought in $1 million for community land trusts that work to build affordable housing. He won tougher rent projections and a freeze on rent for seniors. He brought back $1 billion for public schools. He helped establish the nation’s first free college tuition program for families earning [amount unclear]. Jesse Hamilton will continue to stand up against Trump, protect women, immigrants, civil rights, and healthcare gains made by President Obama.

If the primary were today, and candidates were Zellnor Myrie and Jesse Hamilton, for whom would you vote?

I will now read statements from supporters of Jesse Hamilton - how convincing do you find them?
-Jesse Hamilton founded United Against Violence Task Force to develop new ways for communities to respond to violence. He funded organizations like Save Our Streets and Cure Violence. He is making a real difference in making our streets safer.
-Jesse Hamilton succeeded in securing $10 million to help provide legal services for immigrants. He is working to protect Dreamers in New York by helping to provide college assistance and stronger legal protections against Trump’s attack on so-called Sanctuary Cities.
(Side note: The woman on the phone didn’t know what “Dreamers” referred to. She said “Dreamers...it’s apparently an organization he is fighting to protect.” She added, “I’m not from New York.”)
-Jesse Hamilton is taking a strong stand against Donald Trump’s attacks on immigrants and his attempts to roll back healthcare coverage, civil rights, marriage equality, and a woman’s right to choose, by writing protections against Trump into New York state law.
-Jesse Hamilton has been successful in bringing back hundreds of thousands of dollars for our school and community groups in need. Last year he secured funds for the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger, Brooklyn Legal Services, Caribbean Women’s Health Association, and Youth Represent.
-Jesse Hamilton is pushing for the Rider Relief Plan that would repair funding by nearly $900 million to reduce delays and overcrowding for New York subways.
-Jesse Hamilton supports true low-income housing, not multi-million-dollar condos at Bedford Armory. He will make housing more affordable by expanding the number of seniors who qualify for homeowner exemptions, and expand the number of people qualified for rent freezes. He will fight for more affordable housing in New York and strengthen laws to give jail time to landlords who are illegally raising rents.

Once again, if the NYS primary were today, would you vote for Jesse Hamilton or Zellnor Myrie?

Now I will read statements from opponents of Jesse Hamilton. How convincing do you find them?
-By aligning with the GOP in the New York State Senate, Jesse Hamilton is empowering Donald Trump’s agenda in New York. Trump Democrat Hamilton has sided with real estate groups and developers and has effectively blocked efforts to stand up to Trump’s destructive agenda on health care, education, immigrations, tenants rights, and climate change.
-The IDC, of which Jesse Hamilton is a member, took tens of thousands of dollars from one of the biggest landlord groups in the city, called REBNY, which has been working to end rent regulations and eliminate tenant protections.
-Jesse Hamilton is a member of the IDC, a group of state senators who ran for office as Democrats, but then aligned with the GOP once elected. This has resulted in GOP control of the Senate, in spite of the GOP being in the minority, and has allowed the conservative GOP to stop or water down Democratic priorities.
-Jesse Hamilton is a member of the IDC, some of whose members have been exposed for taking extra salary or better office space in exchange for aligning with the GOP in the State Senate. This scheme has involved making false statements, and has led to inquiries by the office of the New York State Attorney General and the United States Attorney in Brooklyn.

If the primary were today, who would you vote for?

I will now read statements from opponents of Zellnor Myrie. How convincing do you find them?
-Zellnor Myrie started a charity that critics said he launched simply to promote himself. He promptly lost interest and the charity had its taxpayer authorization revoked by the IRS, for failing the simple task of failing to file the proper forms.
-Zellnor Myrie has no government experience, but is relying on his political connections in the local party machine to get elected, and would serve their interest, not ours.

If primary were today, who would you vote for?

Then there were demographic questions at the end:
-Last grade of school completed?
-Anyone in household a member/retired from union?
-In politics, are you very liberal, somewhat liberal, moderate, somewhat conservative, very conservative.
-Religious background - protestant, catholic, muslim, jewish, something else?
-Race?
-Hispanic?
-Do you receive more calls on landline or cell phone
-Can I use your first name?

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Poll Targeting Brooklyn District Gauges Anti-IDC Sentiment Wed, 07 Mar 2018 05:00:00 +0000