Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/321 Fri, 22 Jun 2018 09:13:15 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) 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.”

***
by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer.

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Democratic Campaign Chief: Even a ‘Blue Trickle’ Will Flip State Senate Thu, 21 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Furthering Split from Cuomo, Senate Passes Reform Bills http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7666:furthering-split-from-cuomo-senate-passes-reform-bills http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7666:furthering-split-from-cuomo-senate-passes-reform-bills flanagan via nysenate

Senate Majority Leader Flanagan and colleagues (photo: @nysenate)


The Republican-led New York State Senate, which for years had a collaborative working relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo, passed a slew of government transparency and accountability bills on Wednesday that further highlighted the GOP majority’s recent split with the governor.

The package of 11 bills, covering everything from campaign contributions to state contracting processes, made its way through the chamber and was sent for approval to the Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats under Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx. Several of the bills have companion legislation in the Assembly and some have even been approved by that chamber. But it’s unclear how the Assembly will vote on the entire package. A spokesperson for Heastie did not respond to a request for comment.

Some of the bills clearly target Cuomo, particularly one directly related to the executive chamber, who has fallen out with Republicans since he ushered the reunification of a divided Democratic conference in the chamber last month and pledged a full-throated campaign to seize control of the upper chamber through the elections this fall. Other bills are intended to end the type of pay-to-play practices laid bare in the recent corruption conviction of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Cuomo, and that will likely feature heavily in the upcoming corruption trial of Alain Kaloyeros, another former Cuomo ally.

“It is imperative that the public trusts the actions of their public officials, especially when it comes to spending the people’s money,” said Senator John Flanagan of Long Island, the Republican majority leader, in a statement after the legislative package was approved. “This extensive package would help fix many of the issues that lead to corruption and the misuse of taxpayer funds and will create a system where sound investments will be better able to grow our economy and create more opportunities for all New Yorkers.”

In an op-ed in State of Politics on Monday, Flanagan made clear his differences with Cuomo, “whose unbridled ambition for higher office leaves every New York taxpayer in danger,” he wrote. He criticized the governor for tacking hard to the left because of the primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon. “For years, the Governor worked with me in a bipartisan manner to find common ground and move our state forward. But, I no longer recognize the person who occupies this office,” Flanagan said.

Taking direct aim at the governor’s office, one of the bills passed on Wednesday would prohibit executive chamber appointees and members of their households from making campaign contributions to, or soliciting them for, the same executive who appointed them. Without naming Cuomo, the bill cites a New York Times report that highlighted the governor’s practice of accepting such contributions despite a standing executive order from years ago that prohibited them. Cuomo’s office has presented a much narrower interpretation of the order than has been indicated in the past.

Another bill would limit political donations from individuals or entities applying for state grants, licenses, and contracts to those officials and candidates who would approve them.  

Another requires appointees to Regional Economic Development Councils -- controversial entities created by Cuomo in 2011 to encourage local economic initiatives -- to file the same financial and ethics disclosures as public officers. The bill would also codify REDCs into law. “It is vitally important that we put laws in place that prevent conflicts of interest with taxpayer dollars,” said bill sponsor Senator Thomas Croci, a Republican from Long Island.

Croci also sponsored another bill in the package to create an online public database of projects that receive state subsidies and economic development benefits. Also known as the “database of deals,” the proposal was included in the Assembly’s one-house budget earlier this year but did not pass.

Most of the bills relate to transparency in government contracting and ensuring greater accountability for taxpayer dollars. One of the bills, termed the “New York State Procurement Integrity Act” -- which also has an Assembly counterpart -- reinstates the state Comptroller’s pre-clearance oversight jurisdiction of contracting by SUNY, CUNY, and the state Office of General Services, as well as expands his authority over SUNY Research Foundation contracts worth more than $1 million. It also forbids state-affiliated not-for-profits from awarding state contracts without prior authorization. These bills relate directly to issues that will be front and center in the Kaloyeros trial, which involves the governor’s signature economic development programs, namely the Buffalo Billion, and alleged bid-rigging therein.

One of the bills mandates that the Public Authorities Control Board be given more information before approving funding for any job creation projects, including any provisions that would allow the state to clawback funding if the project’s stated goals aren’t met.

The START-UP NY program, another Cuomo initiative, would have to resume reporting annually on its work under the provisions of another bill. Yet another bill creates a nonpartisan Independent Budget Office to analyze state revenue and expenditures.

Most of the bills seem intended to curtail the powers of the executive branch and of state agencies under its control. For instance, a bill sponsored by Senator Joseph Griffo would define how long, and how often, an interim appointee can serve at the head of a state agency or department. Another bill would limit the ability of state agencies to declare a public emergency unless necessary to protect the health and safety of the public.

Only one bill had a Democrat as lead sponsor -- Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan -- mandating that the state budget division prepare a Unified Economic Development Budget each year showing how much the state has invested in economic development projects and the results of those investments. It is a measure that watchdogs, especially Citizens Budget Commission, have sought in order for the public to have more information about how successful the state’s economic development initiatives are.

A group of government reform advocates and independent fiscal watchdogs including the CBC praised in particular the “database of deals” and the Public Integrity Act, calling on the state Assembly to approve them. That group also includes Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, Fiscal Policy Institute, League of Women Voters, NYPIRG, and Reinvent Albany.

“Both these bills will be effective in reducing the corruption risk of economic development projects that taxpayers spend billions of dollars on,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy adviser for Reinvent Albany. “They’re good policy. The governor should support them.”

Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the Senate package. The governor has proposed his own reform agenda in recent years that includes elements aimed at the Legislature, as well as more sweeping campaign finance reform, government ethics measure, and voting reforms. The governor has indicated a top priority for him is banning outside income for legislators. Most of those proposals have seen less support in the Senate than the Assembly.

[Read: Post-Percoco Conviction, Kaloyeros Trial Likely to Further Stain Cuomo Administration]

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

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Furthering Split from Cuomo, Senate Passes Reform Bills Wed, 09 May 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.

***
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
The Women In ‘The Room’ http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7518:the-women-in-the-room http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7518:the-women-in-the-room Cuomo Stewart-Cousins

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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The Women In ‘The Room’ Mon, 05 Mar 2018 05:00:00 +0000
State Senate’s New Sexual Harassment Policy Draws Criticism http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7463:state-senate-s-new-sexual-harassment-policy-draws-criticism http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7463:state-senate-s-new-sexual-harassment-policy-draws-criticism John Flanagan Senate

Senate Leader John Flanagan (photo: State Senate)


The New York State Senate leadership’s attempt to revamp its sexual harassment policy is drawing criticism from advocates and lawmakers.

Ordered by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island, the rewrite enhances protections but also adds a seemingly gratuitous line warning that falsely accusing someone is a “serious act.” It comes amid a national reckoning about workplace harassment, including in government, but also follows a claim made against one of the leading members of the state Legislature, Senator Jeff Klein. Klein, whose Independent Democratic Conference forms a ruling coalition with the Senate majority Republican conference, has vehemently denied forcibly kissing a staff member outside a bar in 2015.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the only female leader of a state legislative conference, expressed dismay at the changes in a statement, saying that the warning to false accusers is evidence that the Senate leadership is not serious about combating sexual harassment.

“To emphasize the punishment for filing a false report while not emphasizing the seriousness of sexual harassment is exactly the type of intimidation that has silenced so many through the years and encourages perpetrators to attack accusers,” said Stewart-Cousins.

Other criticisms of the document center around its use of the word "may" rather than "shall" in places, weak anti-retaliation language, and its failure to designate an independent person to report misconduct to.

These seeming gaps are drawing questions about the motivation for the policy rewrite and who was involved in drafting it. Spokespersons for the Republican conference and the IDC did not respond to a requests for comment on the matter, but Senate Democrats, three of whom serve on the Senate ethics committee, said they were not consulted.

“It just showed up in my staff email two nights ago... I don’t think I even got a direct copy,” said Senator Liz Krueger, who is known for her outspokenness on sexual harassment, during a recent appearance on The Capitol Pressroom radio show. “We could have told them everything that was wrong with it, but no one sought [our advice] in advance.”

An attorney who is frequently contracted to investigate discrimination and harassment claims involving the Senate, said she also had not been consulted, having not seen the documents until Gotham Gazette sent them to her.

“I learned about the new policy when I read about it in the newspaper,” said Pearl Zuchlewski, founding partner of Kraus & Zuchlewski LLP, which has been paid $198,485 by the Senate to investigate personnel claims in 2016 and 2017, according to New York State Comptroller records.

Senate Republicans stand behind the policy change, with a spokesperson saying that “the Senate has taken a strong policy and made it even stronger” and noting that the new version adds more examples of what constitutes sexual harassment, giving employees the ability to report an incident directly to the Senate's personnel officer and making clear that retaliation will not be tolerated.

“The false complaint provision that is being referenced by Senator Stewart-Cousins existed previously and has not been changed in any meaningful way. It is and always has been wrong to make a false complaint,” said Maureen Wren, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans.

While Wren would not provide details of who was involved in drafting, editing, and approving the new harassment policy, Flanagan has repeatedly said recently that he hired an outside firm to work on it, but much remains mysterious about the process.

"I asked for an independent review, we hired outside counsel, we strengthened what we do already in the Senate. I was proud of the work that we did before, we took what we did and just made it better," Flanagan said during a question-and-answer session of a Crain’s New York Business appearance January 25. “Everyone should feel comfortable in their work environment,” he added.

One of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State proposals, which reflects similar legislation proposed by Assembly Member Sandra Galef, aims to create a uniform sexual harassment policy for all government employees, including all three branches of state government.

Currently, the Senate policy covers complaints made against employees of the Senate and the Assembly’s policy covers complaints made against Assembly members and staff, with specific protocol depending on whether a complaint is made against someone working at the Legislature or in district offices. The state’s Joint Committee on Public Ethics, which is made up of Cuomo and legislative appointees, can also investigate a misconduct complaint on its own or with a formal referral from a government entity. Cuomo has proposed adding resources to JCOPE so that it can more quickly and ably conduct misconduct investigations.

Klein asked JCOPE to investigate the claim against him and has indicated such an investigation is underway. Flanagan said the Senate would not investigate because the accuser, Erica Vladimer, had not made a formal complaint within the body.

There are parts of the Senate policy that now more closely resemble the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy, last updated in 2014 after a major scandal, which is a 13-page document widely seen as a gold standard for sexual harassment policies in government.

For example, the section that recommends complainants first communicate their discomfort to the offending party and ask that the behavior stop, now mirrors an italicized line in the Assembly policy emphasizes that while “self help” is recommended it is not required. Another amendment that reflects the Assembly policy, specifies that the claim that alleged misconduct “meant no harm” or was “just a joke” is not an excuse.

However, if the impetus for the policy change was to create more parity between the two legislative houses, a side-by-side reading of the Senate and Assembly sexual harassment policies suggests there is still a long way to go, according to Alexis Grenell, a frequent commentator on government reform and gender issues, and a Democratic political consultant.

"The Senate policy is a weak imitation of the Assembly version, which is much closer to model language and includes no such warning against false reporting,” said Grenell. “No one wants to be sexually harassed or put themselves through the added stress of an investigation, which is why false reporting is so unusual. It's a red herring problem intended to discourage reporting."

The Senate’s new policy also adds a number of protected categories like creed, color, military status, familial status, predisposed genetic characteristics, and domestic violence victim status, but omits gender identity and expression, as noted by Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat.

“I would call it a glaring omission -- a real statement as to the values and priorities of the Senate majority,” said Hoylman, noting that statistically transgender people of all groups are most likely to be targeted in hate crimes.

Hoylman is the prime sponsor of GENDA, or the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act -- which seeks to extend sex discrimination protections to people discriminated against on the basis of gender identity, expression, or transgender status -- but the Senate majority has prevented the bill from reaching the floor.

Many of the gaps cited in the old policy remain in the new version. For example, while the Assembly policy instructs complainants to report incidents to an independent counsel that has been retained, the Senate policy does not provide this avenue for individuals to report misconduct.

Senate complainants are still instructed to report incidents to an immediate supervisor or the immediate supervisor of the offender, the appropriate department head, or to his or her appointing authority.

If the complaint concerns any of those officials, or the complainant is uncomfortable making a report to any of these individuals, he or she may go to the Senate Personnel Officer, or the Secretary of the Senate.

“The concept that you should somehow first report it up the line internal to your office, when the line always goes to a senator, and/or then go to the staff of the majority leader -- also a senator, who frankly has even more reason to want to protect members and the ‘institution’ -- is just wrong,” said Krueger on Capitol Pressroom.

“I actually think this new policy is worse than the old policy and I don’t understand how in 2018 people don’t understand what the problem is and how we can address it,” said Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat.

When describing who will conduct the investigation should one unfold, the language in the Senate policy leaves up to the discretion of Senate leadership whether to hire an independent investigator, by using the word “may” rather than “shall.”

Despite that language, Republicans say that sexual harassment complaints within the Senate are handled independently and that it has been the practice for years.

By contrast, the Assembly policy indicates that the investigation “shall” be conducted by outside lawyers retained by the Assembly, and offers more detail for protecting the confidentiality of all parties involved as well as witnesses interviewed.

“Once you get into the question of what’s going to happen if there is a problem, this policy is not nearly as strong and clear as it needs to be,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of reform group Common Cause, on The Capitol Pressroom last week, speaking with Senator Krueger with host Susan Arbetter.

Other changes to the Senate policy include the addition of a 30-day time limit for both the accused and the accuser to appeal a decision.

The Assembly policy, which also includes a 30 day appeal time limit, has also been praised for taking steps to protect the privacy of accusers when they come forward and ensuring that they do not face retaliation by specifying harsh penalties for such behavior. The Senate’s two-paragraph anti-retaliation section is less specific.

The Assembly approach is not without question. In late 2017, Republican Assemblymember Steve McLaughlin was sanctioned by the Assembly ethics committee for allegedly asking a female Assembly aide for nude photos, lying about it, and then leaking her name to colleagues in the Legislature. At the time, questions were raised about the length of time it took for the investigation to unfold, as by the time McLaughlin faced disciplinary action, he was already on his way out of the Assembly, having been elected Rensselaer County Executive earlier that month.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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State Senate’s New Sexual Harassment Policy Draws Criticism Tue, 06 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Flanagan Provides Few Answers to Big Questions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7442:flanagan-provides-few-answers-to-big-questions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7442:flanagan-provides-few-answers-to-big-questions John Flanagan State Senate

John Flanagan at Crain's breakfast (Ben Max/Gotham Gazette)


State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan spoke publicly for nearly an hour Thursday morning in Manhattan, but said little on a variety of pressing topics. The Long Island Republican and key player in negotiations of the state budget and a variety of other legislative matters of great significance to New York City provided some indication of where he stands, but repeatedly gave evasive and unclear statements on issues related to housing, construction, economic development, and congestion pricing.

Flanagan was appearing at a breakfast forum hosted by Crain’s New York Business, where he gave a brief speech that appeared improvised, then answered questions from two journalists, all in front of a crowd of about 150 at the New York Athletic Club. Flanagan rarely spoke in complete thoughts, at times providing confusing anecdotes or referencing people in the room, and at one point admitting, “I feel like my mind is racing, jumping all over the place.”

Flanagan’s appearance came just a few weeks into the 2018 legislative session in Albany, where he is one of the three most powerful individuals, along with Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. The three are also joined in top-level negotiations by Senator Jeff Klein, who leads the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference, a group of breakaway Democrats that forms a ruling coalition with Flanagan’s Republican conference. Flanagan had kind words for all three of the other men when he spoke on Thursday.

The four must negotiate a budget by the April 1 start of the new fiscal year, and discussions were jump-started by Cuomo’s presentation of his State of the State policy agenda and $168 billion Executive Budget plan. There are no shortage of key fiscal and policy matters on the table this year, headlined by the need to respond to the new federal tax code that President Donald Trump signed into law just before Christmas and the $4.4 billion budget deficit the state is facing for the coming fiscal year.

Flanagan discussed both those topics and a variety of others, both in his opening remarks and during the question-and-answer session with Crain’s’ Erik Engquist and Ken Lovett of The Daily News.

In his opening, Flanagan called New York City “the economic engine for the state” and explained that his conference is focused on “affordability, opportunity, security,” which includes trying to lower or cap taxes, create jobs, and keep people from moving out of the state. He said he continues to believe New York City should be subject to the 2 percent annual cap on property tax increases that applies to the rest of the state. “I don't think the model that’s in the City of New York right now, frankly, is sustainable,” Flanagan said of property tax increases.

As Cuomo has floated possible alterations to the state tax system in an effort to blunt the impact of federal reforms that are likely to raise taxes on many New Yorkers due to the loss of most state and local tax deductibility from federal taxes, Flanagan said he is especially leery of shifting personal income taxes to payroll taxes, as the governor has discussed as an option.

“Just the whole notion of payroll tax scares me and my colleagues,” Flanagan said. “But I want to be clear that we are ready, willing, and able to work with the governor on all types of issues. And in this instance when you talk about something like that, I will give the governor credit for raising a thorny, difficult, challenging issue. But when people talk about how you want to shift something to an employer to try to help an employee, honestly I don’t know how that works.”

Flanagan added, as he did on several issues raised throughout the morning, that he and his colleagues will “conference” the issue, meaning that the narrow Republican majority will hold closed-doors discussions to come to their collective stance.

On congestion pricing, another especially hot topic of late where Cuomo is pushing reform, Flanagan was less cogent. In his opening remarks he said that many people may not know what congestion pricing is and that it is important to consider all stakeholders. He again gave Cuomo credit for tackling a tough issue and said he’d talk it over with his conference. He acknowledged “how hard it is just to traverse the city,” saying he used to worry about traffic coming from Long Island to Manhattan, but now it’s much more difficult to just move through the borough. He said there’s no enforcement of drivers “blocking the box,” an issue raised by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel that recently released its recommendations, which will form the basis of negotiations on the topic. Mayor de Blasio, as part of a congestion-fighting plan released last year, vowed greater cracking down on blocking the box and double-parking.

Flanagan talked about his state-issued vehicle and E-ZPass, and said that many New Yorkers with the electronic toll-paying devices have become “jaded to a degree because nobody thinks about it anymore. Your account gets replenished, you don't really know unless someone tells you there's something wrong with your debit card or your credit card. And I know I've had that happen to me, but I think about working people, can they afford that?”

During the Q-and-A, Flanagan was asked again about congestion pricing. He said on New York City-related issues he often defers to the three members of his conference who represent parts of the city: Senators Andrew Lanza, Marty Golden, and Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat who caucuses with Republicans. He agreed that Lanza, of Staten Island, probably disliked the Fix NYC recommendations because they did not include lowering the toll on the Verrazano Bridge. Though he has previously expressed a good deal of concern about adding new fees for entering Manhattan, likely to cost Long Island drivers, he said Thursday, “When someone asks me about congestion pricing, I don't want to gratuitously say ‘no’ because we have not conferenced this.”

Later in the Q-and-A, Flanagan said he’s glad there is now a framework put forward by the governor’s commission, apparently unaware that there had been a comprehensive plan put forth years ago by the Move New York coalition that is similar to what Fix NYC created. “I remember a couple of months ago people saying to me, ‘What do you think about congestion pricing?’ I don't know what it is; ‘cause there was no plan. Now at least we get something to be looking at and this is why it's actually very helpful for what I do,” Flanagan said Thursday.

When asked about closing the state budget deficit, Flanagan downplayed the issue, repeatedly calling the $4.4 billion estimate “fluid.”

“I’m gonna look at this cup right here, ‘United,’” Flanagan said, referring to the cup holding his beverage on the lectern branded by one of the event sponsors. “I’m sure the people at United change their plans on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually based on a variety of things and facts, so the State of New York, when someone says there's a deficit or a structural deficit or out-year deficit, that's been going on for like 30 years. It's not a new thing. The gravity of the number or the severity of the number is different.”

He said he believes that federal tax reform will spur more revenue for New York. “I think we're gonna have more money coming in...do I think it eradicates $4.4 billion? Probably not. But I think we're gonna have more money coming in. Think about Wall Street and the stock market -- what are people gonna do there? I think we're gonna generate more revenue based on bonuses and things of that nature. That number, it’s not static. It's something that we have to adapt to all the time.”

Flanagan has not offered his plan for closing the deficit, but his conference will at some point put forward their budget vision.

On economic development, Flanagan said he is opposed to the governor’s Regional Economic Development Councils because they pit regions against each other and don’t offer everyone the same resources. He said the state has too many regulations, stifling businesses.

“I think we have to do a massive overhaul of our regulatory structure in the state of New York. I've said this time and time again, we should do a cost-benefit analysis on every existing regulation. And we have to take a harder look when things like minimum wage, paid family leave, predictable scheduling, all those types of things are being discussed, because that's real life. I have grave concerns about the continued prosperous and economic viability of the City of New York because of a lot of things that are being proposed and some that are being implemented now.” He did not elaborate on what those policies are that he fears are dooming the city.

Flanagan appeared unprepared to discuss trimming costs at the MTA, seemingly unfamiliar by issues raised by a recent New York Times series.

He reiterated positions on government ethics, saying that issues with corruption in government make him “sick,” but that “the system is actually working. There's someone gets in trouble, someone gets indicted, someone goes to trial, someone gets convicted and has to serve time or something like that. I wish there were none of this. I truly wish that there was none of this, it’s not good. I think we have in the last five to seven years, we've made very significant change.”

Flanagan indicated that he has taken steps in the Senate to enhance policies on sexual harassment and that it is a positive development that Senator Klein has sought an independent investigation into a recent allegation by a former staff aide that the IDC leader forcibly kissed her at an after-work gather in 2015.

Flanagan did not give clear answers when asked about modifying the state’s Airbnb restrictions; altering statutes of limitation around child sex abuse claims; or repealing limits on the sizes of residential buildings.

When asked why the state would not grant New York City government permission to use design-build, a process for streamlining construction project bidding and execution that has saved the state billions of dollars, Flanagan was evasive. “First of all we have helped the City of New York,” Flanagan said. “We’ve definitely helped the City of New York. Just because the city may come and ask for everything, doesn’t mean they’re gonna get it.” [Related: Cuomo Omits Design-Build for New York City from Budget Proposal]

Asked about the state blocking New York City from instituting a five-cent fee on plastic carryout bags, Flanagan became especially animated. “I think the bag fee is just idiotic,” he said. “And I care about the environment as much as anybody sitting in this room.” Flanagan said part of why he had helped kill the city’s law, passed by the City Council and signed by the mayor, was because the fee would have gone to the retailer, not to an environmental cause. He did not acknowledge that the purpose of the fee was to reduce plastic bag use or that the fee mechanism was used by the city because the state controls taxes, so the city had gotten creative in assessing a fee that had to be collected by the business.

Moving from policy to politics, Flanagan was asked about this year’s elections, wherein all the statewide positions and every seat in the Legislature will be on the ballot. Is he concerned about a “blue wave” and the possible loss of the state Senate majority, which is Republicans’ last stronghold at the state level?

“If there is a hint of arrogance that comes with this, I'll apologize for that in advance,” Flanagan said. “We’re not going to lose. We're not going to lose.”

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Flanagan Provides Few Answers to Big Questions Thu, 25 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Troubles Ahead as 2018 Legislative Session Kicks Off in Albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7415:troubles-ahead-as-2018-legislative-session-kicks-off-in-albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7415:troubles-ahead-as-2018-legislative-session-kicks-off-in-albany Cuomo legislative leaders Albany

Gov. Cuomo and legislative leaders (photo: Darren McGee/Governor's Office)


Since the 2018 session began last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have outlined their agendas for the year, and addressed or hinted at some of the significant challenges facing state lawmakers.

In particular, threats from the federal government were acknowledged by Cuomo during his state of the State address and in remarks from legislative leaders in the Assembly and Senate, from the potentially harmful environmental policy of President Donald Trump’s administration to the new federal tax code -- passed by the Republican Congress and signed by the Republican president in December -- which is expected to disportionately burden New York taxpayers. Cuomo has said New York will sue, while his team is also exploring an overhaul of the state tax code to blunt the impact of the federal reforms.

The governor and the Legislature must also sort out the state’s larger-than-usual budget deficit, with a new spending plan due by the April 1 start to the new fiscal year, and while tackling the expiration of federal funding to various programs in healthcare and beyond.

Conflicts, some of them repetitious from past years, are clearly brewing over taxes, MTA funding and an expected congestion pricing proposal by Cuomo, reforming child abuse laws, voting reform, women’s reproductive rights, and more.

Also looming are the trials of several close former aides and donors to Cuomo and the retrials of two former legislative leaders, Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver, both of whom were removed from the Legislature in 2015 following their initial convictions, which were later overturned due to a new Supreme Court ruling. Nevertheless, government ethics and campaign finance reform got barely a mention in the governor’s address and in opening day remarks by legislative leaders.

At the Assembly’s opening day on Monday, before outlining his legislative agenda, Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, offered an overview of the conference’s past legislative accomplishments, such as passing paid family leave and raising the age of criminal responsibility, and then dove into his concerns over “radical policies” coming from Washington.

“We must push back wherever necessary to protect the interests of our citizens,” said Heastie. “Among other things, Congress just enacted a law to scale back the deductibility of state and local taxes—a provision of law that predates the federal income tax itself. This shift will increase New Yorkers’ already sizeable contributions to the federal treasury while increasing our cost of living and disrupting our housing market—all to finance huge giveaways to the rich and to large corporations.”

Heastie cited affordable healthcare and childcare, domestic violence and sexual harassment, environmental protections, and gun control, including the banning of bump stocks, as issues on the top of his majority conference’s legislative agenda.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican representing Canandaigua and Geneva Counties in the Finger Lakes region who has announced he is running for governor this year, spent his initial floor time calling on his colleagues to put politics aside and face the crises in front of them. Essentially outlining his platform for the gubernatorial race, Kolb painted a bleak picture of New York State, which he noted could not be blamed on the federal government, highlighting New York City’s crumbling subways, Upstate New York’s chronic outmigration and poor job growth, as well as lack of movement on ethics reform in Albany as evidence that government was failing the voters of the state.

A poignant moment unfolded when Kolb expressed condolences to Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, whose daughter Lauren died last year following a battle with breast cancer, and praised his commitment to the job in the face of those challenges.

Meanwhile, looming over the State Senate’s opening day, which took place on Wednesday, January 3, was the news that there may be a Democratic reunification deal in place, provided that two vacated Senate seats remain Democratic through upcoming but not-yet-called special elections, granting the party the requisite 32 votes to pass legislation.

Currently, eight Democratic senators known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) form a ruling coalition with the Republican conference and nominal Democrat Simcha Felder, of Brooklyn, a Democrat who conferences with the GOP to form a majority even without the IDC.

During his opening comments on the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island, expressed pride in his conference and his colleagues across the aisle, noting that collectively they had served in the Senate for 593 years.

“I am not going to apologize. I am going to speak proudly of this institution and the fact that we all are engaged in public service, because last time I checked, I don’t have to canvas all 62 members to know that we’re not doing this for the money,” he said, seemingly referring to Cuomo’s call in his annual address for a ban on outside income.

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrat, urged the governor to call a special election to fill the two vacant Senate seats “as soon as possible.” Cuomo had the discretion to call for special elections to fill a total of 11 vacant legislative seats, with nine in the Assembly, as early as January 1, but he has declined, indicating he does not want the Senate seats filled before a budget deal is reached. An election would take place 70 days after Cuomo makes the call.

IDC Leader Jeffrey Klein of the Bronx also rattled off his conference’s legislative priorities, including voting reform measures, universal pre-kindergarten expansion, a student loan forgiveness proposal, improvements to the subway system and a method to pay for them, and a completely state-funded Child Health Plus program.

On Monday, Stewart-Cousins spoke from the Senate floor wearing black in solidarity with all women, echoing the statement made by Oprah Winfrey and others at the Golden Globes a day prior, and vowed that her conference is committed to battling workplace sexual harassment, which she said “every woman in the Senate has experienced.”

Outlining her conference’s priorities, she highlighted legislation to tip workers’ rights, voting reforms, women’s health policies, healthcare, tightened gun laws, MTA investments, and more.

On Tuesday, Senate Republicans elaborated on their “affordability agenda,” making clear that their vision does not include higher taxes of any sort, including the additional payroll tax floated by Cuomo as a possible way to compensate for the reduction of the state and local tax deduction from federal taxes that is part of the new tax code. Rather, the Republican conference is pushing their usual message of controlled spending, including a cap on annual state spending growth, plus a slew of bills to slash income, property, energy, and retirement taxes.

Presiding over a press conference to outline the agenda, Flanagan did not provide information about how the state, which is facing immense budgetary challenges, would pay for the additional tax breaks and cut the press conference short as reporters asked repeated questions about curbing discretionary spending in members’ districts. Flanagan defended the practice, which he was being asked about because of the news Tuesday morning that Democratic Assemblymember Pamela Harris had been indicted on public corruption charges.

Another point of conflict was apparent at the Senate’s opening last week, when Timothy Cardinal Dolan, New York’s archdiocese, offered a prayer to launch the session. Advocates for the passage of the Child Victims Act, hopeful for movement on the bill that makes it easier for victims of childhood sex abuse to file charges, criticized Flanagan and IDC Leader Jeffrey Klein for inviting Dolan to give the benediction.

Critics said Dolan, who leads the Catholic Conference, which has spent millions on lobbying to prevent the passage of the Child Victims Act, should not have been invited when the bill is such a hot item of debate.

"Majority Leader Flanagan has refused to meet with victims and buried the Child Victims Act in the rules committee for years," stated Gary A. Greenberg, founder of Fighting for Children PAC. "The is a new low to rub salt in our wounds and invite the person who has stopped victims of child sexual abuse from receiving justice in New York. Flanagan has refused to meet with victims and I have turned down another meeting with his staff."

New Members and Vacant Seats
If Cuomo does not call a special election soon, nearly 1.8 million New Yorkers will be without representation during budget negotiations, according to calculations from the New York Public Interest Group.

The Assembly has welcomed two new members from the city, Daniel Rosenthal, of the 27th Assembly District in Queens, and Al Taylor, who replaced former Assembly Ways and Means chair Denny Farrell in Upper Manhattan’s 71st District, both of whom were selected by local Democratic party leadership. Rosenthal, a former aide to City Council Member Rory Lancman, is the youngest sitting member of the state Assembly at age 26. Taylor is a pastor and community organizer who served as chief of staff to his predecessor, Farrell, who retired last year.

In the Senate, former Assembly member turned Senator Brian Kavanagh, of lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, took Daniel Squadron’s former seat in the Democratic conference. Kavanagh was the party-leader-picked successor to Squadron, who resigned abruptly last fall, citing disillusionment with his ability to affect change in the Senate and a new opportunity to go national. Kavanagh led a press conference on Tuesday calling on the governor to include funding for early voting in his executive budget proposal, due out next week.

Klein, in his remarks, also briefly addressed Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda of the Bronx as a “senator in waiting.” Sepulveda has announced his candidacy for the vacated seat of now-City Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr.

Heastie also announced a shuffle of leadership positions. Replacing Farrell at the helm of the Ways and Means committee is Brooklyn Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, marking a first for the Assembly, as no woman has previously held the post that runs budget proceedings.

Corruption Trials Loom
Hanging over this session will be the upcoming trials of former State Senator George Maziarz, which begins in February, as well as those of the former Cuomo aides and associates -- including his former top aide Joe Percoco and former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President and CEO Alain Kaloyeros -- and those of Skelos and Silver. Good government groups gathered at the capital this week to highlight this climate, attempting to put pressure on legislative leaders and Cuomo to move forward legislation on clean contracting, LLC loophole closure, outside income limits, and other reforms.

On Tuesday morning the news of Assemblymember Harris’ multi-count indictment broke, putting added focus on government ethics and other reforms. Harris, who represents Bay Ridge and Coney Island, was indicted on fraud charges for allegedly diverting City Council funds designated for the non-profit she ran before taking office and for fraudulently obtaining Hurricane Sandy relief funds for her home, as well as witness tampering. Legislative leaders reacted to the news with surprise and disappointment but downplayed the need for reforms.

Flanagan expressed surprise as he learned of the news from reporters, during the press conference on the Senate Republicans’ agenda. “I’m actually very disheartened to hear that. But it is an indication that our laws are actually working. We have more disclosure, more transparency, more limitations of what people can do in the Legislature,” said Flanagan, adding that her indictment is “bad for everyone, because it paints the Legislature with a broad brush.”

Heastie, when cornered by reporters outside his chamber, also shrugged off the need for additional ethics guidelines. “I don’t want to get so much into it, because I haven’t read the indictment, but there are certain things you can and cannot do in this life. I’m not sure how another ethics reform makes this better or worse.”

In contrast, Democratic Senator Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, released a statement calling for “crucial ethics reform in Albany” after learning of Harris’ indictment.

“Today’s indictment is the latest chapter in a sordid book about the need for crucial ethics reform in Albany,” said Kaminsky. “In particular, the legislature needs to immediately focus on the outside income of legislators, as demonstrated by this latest case. We can’t let Albany shrug this one off — we must prioritize those reforms and others to restore voters' trust and confidence in the government.”

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Troubles Ahead as 2018 Legislative Session Kicks Off in Albany Tue, 09 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Criticized for Failing to Call Special Election January 1 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7399:cuomo-criticized-for-failing-to-call-special-election-january-1 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7399:cuomo-criticized-for-failing-to-call-special-election-january-1 Cuomo Flanagan Long Island

Gov. Cuomo and John Flanagan, right (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


As the legislative session kicks off this week, there are a slew of open state Senate and Assembly seats, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has not indicated when or whether he will call a special election to fill the vacancies.

January 1 was the earliest the second-term governor could have called the election day to fill all 11 vacancies, and a growing number of critics are pressuring Cuomo to make the pronouncement as soon as possible. The election would occur 70 days after declared by Cuomo, who has not made clear if he intends to do so in time for the seats to be filled before the state budget is due, by April 1.

On the first of this month, George Latimer officially vacated his Westchester County Senate seat to take on his new role as Westchester County Executive, which he won in the fall, and Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., of the Bronx, left his Senate seat to assume his newly won City Council position. Nine Assembly seats remain empty for a variety of reasons, including officials who have won other elected posts, like Brian Kavanagh, who moved from the Assembly to the Senate.

If the governor calls a special election this week, 70 days would mean votes cast in the middle of March. However, Cuomo, a Democrat, has indicated that he may call the elections for a date after the budget process is concluded. Cuomo’s delay is being criticized by progressive activists and good government leaders, either because of how the Senate elections factor into majority control of the chamber, which is currently held by a narrow margin by a coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats, or because of the basic lack of representation hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are experiencing with the seats unfilled.

The state’s $160-plus billion budget will be negotiated over the coming months by a heavily Democratic Assembly and the Senate, which has multiple party fractures and a Democratic unity deal on the table that could throw the process into disarray if the two vacant seats are filled by Democrats before April 1.

“The governor has a responsibility to his constituents to call a special election immediately,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of good government group Common Cause NY in a statement on Tuesday. “There’s no excuse to delay.” Lerner stressed that all New Yorkers deserve their due representation in government.

The stakes are highest for the 63-seat Senate, where Democrats are now two seats short of the 32 votes needed to pass legislation. A Democratic majority can only occur if mainline conference members are joined by the nine Democrats who caucus with Republicans, along with Democratic victories for the Latimer and Diaz, Sr. seats. Complicating the situation is a potential deal between Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, brokered by Cuomo and his allies, which would reunify the Democratic conference at the end of the 2018 legislative session, provided multiple developments and guarantees.

The vacancies have less of an impact on the 150-seat Assembly, which Democrats control handily under Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx. But leaving nine vacancies would undermine the state’s democratic budget process and leave millions of New Yorkers without representation, notes Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Group.

According to NYPIRG’s calculation, 625,484 Senate constituents and more than 1.1 million Assembly constituents are unrepresented as the legislative session starts on Wednesday, January 3 in Albany.

Joining the calls for a special election sooner rather than later is Kat Brezler, a public school teacher and former Bernie Sanders organizer who is seeking Latimer’s seat in the event that a special election is called.

“If you, the Governor, do not call a special election before the budget vote, you will effectively disenfranchise more than 700,000 residents in these Districts,” Brezler said in a statement. “Representation matters. The residents of District 37 deserve to have a seat at the table” during budget negotiations. “It is for this reason that a special election cannot wait,” Brezler said.

A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office, when asked whether governor planned to call the election during the legislative session, pointed to the governor’s comments during recent press appearances, when he said he would make a decision in January.

“There are some that want it sooner, some that want it later, there’s some who don’t,” Cuomo told reporters in December. “Some would argue politicizing the budget isn’t the best idea. It’s a decision that we have to make next year in January.”

Bronx Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda, who announced that he plans to run for Diaz, Sr.’s Senate seat, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette that he is confident both Senate seats will be filled by Democrats and hopes that a special election will happen in March.

“I think one of the most pressing things in the state Legislature is to continue to push for progressive policies and progressive legislation,” said Sepulveda. “I encourage the governor to call the special election as soon as possible.”

While the Bronx seat is virtually guaranteed to stay Democratic, the Westchester seat is less of a sure thing, though Democrats will have multiple advantages there.

Policy changes coming out of Washington are expected to have serious implications for New York, which is facing a larger than usual budget deficit, and progressives are mounting pressure on the governor, who, like all of the Legislature, is up for reelection this year, to call the special election before budget negotiations really heat up.

The balance of power in the state Senate will have significant influence over the final state spending plan that emerges. A number of Democratic activists insist Cuomo prefers Republican control of the Senate for as long as possible, especially during budget season, so that he can best limit state spending.

Heastie, whose Assembly majority conference is down several members, said in December that he hopes for a Democratic majority in the Senate, but in an interview with WCNY’s Susan Arbetter said that he would defer to the governor’s decision about the election.

“I’ve always said, as a Democrat, I look forward to the day of a Democratic Senate. I hope they get it together as soon as possible — particularly in light of what’s happening in Washington,” Heastie told reporters during a gaggle at the Capitol in December.

In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, wields enormous influence over how state funds are distributed. Flanagan, outlining his priorities for the coming session, struck a conciliatory note, but made clear that raising property taxes was a non-starter for addressing New York’s growing budget shortfall.

“In Washington, Democrats and Republicans battle each other with predictable ferocity -- sometimes producing gridlock and dysfunction, and sometimes producing policies that are counterproductive for many New Yorkers. Here in New York, we’ve taken a vastly different approach,” he said in a Tuesday statement. “We’re working across the aisle to find common ground, partnering with Upstate and suburban Democrats to move our state forward.”

Spokespersons for Heastie and Flanagan did not return requests for comment on when Cuomo should call the special election. The governor will deliver his 2018 State of the State speech on Wednesday in Albany.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo Criticized for Failing to Call Special Election January 1 Tue, 02 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000