Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/325 Sun, 22 Oct 2017 15:42:53 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Cuomo is Keeping New York from Emulating California, De Blasio Says http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6434:cuomo-is-keeping-new-york-from-emulating-california-de-blasio-says http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6434:cuomo-is-keeping-new-york-from-emulating-california-de-blasio-says de blasio cuomo january 2014

De Blasio & Cuomo in 2014 (photo: Rob Bennett, Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly voiced his frustration with his fellow Democrat, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who he says has worked with Senate Republicans in the state Legislature to stymie his agenda and major progressive legislation. In an interview with Harry Siegel of the Daily News late last month, the mayor said Cuomo could have “done a lot more to avert” the “divided government in Albany,” where Democrats control the Assembly and Republicans the Senate.

De Blasio said that New York could be more like California “where Democrats have consolidated power and have done some remarkable things with it.”

The mayor’s comments come as his allies face two investigations for improper fundraising in efforts to win the Senate for Democrats in 2014 and after a legislative session during which Cuomo worked with Senate Republicans to pass a budget containing a $15 minimum wage phase-in and a comprehensive paid family leave program. Cuomo and the Legislature also allocate hundreds of millions of dollars each year to fund de Blasio’s signature pre-kindergarten program.

And yet, de Blasio’s sentiments are not unique, many Democrats feel Cuomo has empowered Senate Republicans in order to prevent the passage of a full slate of progressive legislation that could in theory alienate his moderate and conservative backers, including those upstate, on Long Island, and in New York City. The mayor and Assembly Democrats have a fairly long list of specific policy and funding grievances.

By pointing to California, de Blasio offered up a measuring stick. At first glance it would appear that California and New York are neck-and-neck on progressive issues. Both states have passed marriage equality, a $15 minimum wage plan, and paid family leave.

But progressive critics of the governor say he has failed to fully go to bat on reforms that would actually change how state government works, modernize voting and elections, and advance immigration and criminal justice policies opposed by conservatives. California has implemented a variety of these policies since 2010.

Cuomo allies say criticism the governor faces on these issues is unfair and comes mainly from the sharp edge of success - that critics say because he achieved some major policy victories he should achieve them all, while also winning the Senate for Democrats.

“I have my real disagreements with the governor and then there's individual achievements that are absolutely progressive and very meaningful,” de Blasio told Siegel. “But on the question of ‘Have we created a unified Democratic Party to have the maximum Democratic leadership and the maximum progressive policy of state?’ Of course not. Not even close.”

The de Blasio administration failed to respond to multiple inquiries about which specific policies California has enacted that he feels New York should emulate, but a number of his allies and political experts say California is in fact far ahead of New York on a number of progressive issues. These include immigration reforms like the DREAM Act and drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants; criminal justice reform measures like providing college education for inmates and laws to address holding police accountable for the deaths of civilians; and election reforms like independent redistricting and open primaries.

Meanwhile, in New York, Cuomo has enacted what many progressive analysts see as austerity measures, such as strictly limiting agency spending and instituting a property tax cap for municipalities, something California Governor Jerry Brown has moved away from. The Cuomo administration declined to comment for this article without the de Blasio administration listing which policies from California the mayor wants to see in New York.

Even beyond de Blasio, Cuomo’s relationship with progressive Democrats remains complicated. He’s had well-publicized roller coaster relationships with the Working Families Party and with the Legislature’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus. Administration officials point out that the governor has backed the DREAM Act and various criminal justice measures that are in place in California only to have Senate Republicans reject them. But de Blasio’s point to Siegel and that of many other Democrats is that Cuomo has ensured Senate Republicans are in the position to block those bills.

“I think a lot of the governor’s proposals are holograms so that he can come downstate and say ‘I suggested college for inmates,’ but he can also go upstate and say ‘I listened to your concerns and the bill didn’t pass,’” said Dr. Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University.

Bill Samuels, head of EffectiveNY, longtime Democratic fundraiser and Cuomo critic, said that the governor has repeatedly failed to help Democrats win the state Senate and by doing so is responsible for failed progressive policies.

“We are way behind states like California and Oregon,” said Samuels. “It’s pathetic, if we had elected a Democratic Senate and had a different governor we would at least be considered a progressive state.There are exceptions, the governor came on strong with marriage equality, guns, and the minimum wage. So we aren’t like Mississippi, he’s done good things.”

But Samuels says one of Cuomo’s first major moves - deciding to abandon a push to take the 2010 electoral redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature - ensured he would have Senate Republicans as governing partners for the foreseeable future. Samuels notes that the plan Cuomo signed off on allowed Republicans to gerrymander Senate districts to dilute Democratic centers upstate and in the city while creating a 63rd Senate seat that they could easily win. “It was the most backward, bizarre redistricting in the United States,” said Samuels.”California took the redistricting process away from the Legislature and now they have an un-gerrymandered process.”

Cuomo’s deal with the Legislature also included a promise that the Legislature would vote to amend the constitution to allow an independent commission to draw districts starting in 2020.

California put redistricting of state-level seats in the hands of a citizens redistricting commission after a proposition vote in 2008. In 2010, Californians approved a proposition tasking the commission with drawing congressional districts.

Greer noted that when evaluating de Blasio’s and Cuomo’s governing approaches it is important to recognize they have distinctly different constituencies. Cuomo works within the bounds created by his and is aided in doing so by having a Republican Senate, she said. “The governor has a conservative base across the state. If you look at the electoral map the city may be progressive, but the rest of the map is still very red.”

Samuels said that de Blasio is right to focus on putting Democrats in charge of the Senate and that he has done more to champion progressive ideas in the state than Cuomo. “De Blasio may have been naive and been too transparent in his [2014] bid to win a Democratic Senate,” said Samuels. “He should have used burner phones and emails like the Cuomo administration does, but regardless I applaud him for doing it and he was right to do it.”

Senate Republicans continue to use de Blasio as a boogeyman in their quest to hold their control of the Senate. “Allowing these New York City radicals to have unchecked power over our entire state, especially in light of the U.S. Attorney and Manhattan D.A.'s investigations into the fundraising scandal they hatched two years ago, would be a disaster for the hardworking taxpayers and families who call New York home,” Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif told Politico New York for a Tuesday article about de Blasio’s distance from this year’s Senate contests. Democrats are hoping to swing the chamber by riding Hillary Clinton’s voter turnout coattails and many are eager to see how involved Cuomo gets.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor and associate dean at University of California Riverside, told Gotham Gazette that Gov. Brown spent his early years in office playing a fiscal conservative and threatening and delivering vetoes of bills he felt weren’t fiscally responsible. But as the economy has flourished Brown has welcomed more progressive legislation.

Ramakrishnan said there is no doubt that a host of progressive legislation has passed California’s Legislature since Democrats won a supermajority in both houses in 2012 - major immigration and electoral reforms put the state far ahead of New York in those areas from a progressive standpoint - but he notes that there were other factors at play besides party control.

Gov. Brown has made it clear that he has no higher political ambitions, he will be term-limited out of office when his current term ends, Ramakrishnan said. Cuomo, however, has no term limits and announced he plans to run for a third term; is active in national politics; and believed by many close to him to still have ambitions for the White House. “Brown has declared he has no further political ambition so there is not much tension between him and other Democrats,” Ramakrishnan said, noting that de Blasio might also hold broader political ambitions that may have irked Cuomo.

Another quirk in California politics that Ramakrishnan points to as allowing for more progressive legislation is a ballot provision that passed in 2010 that did away with a previous requirement that the state budget be passed with a two-thirds majority. The ballot provision now requires a majority of legislators to support the budget. “Removing the supermajority rule really opened things up,” Ramakrishnan said. In the past, he said, “The legislature had to come up with carefully crafted compromises to even pass a budget and those deals prevented other [more progressive] legislation from passing.”

The situation sounds similar to Albany’s budget process where leaders trade on a host of issues and in some cases give away the chance to vote on major legislation to make sure they achieve top priorities in the budget. Having Senate Republicans on his side on certain issues during negotiations has helped Cuomo stop the Assembly’s push for progressive legislation that he does not support.

Another major factor Ramakrishnan points to in California’s progressive surge is changing demographics across the state. Ramakrishnan said a number of safe Republican districts saw an influx of immigrants and Democratic voters over the last decade.

“We’ve had the DREAM Act in since 2011, but most of the major immigration laws were passed in the last four years,” said Ramakrishnan. “It took a long time to build coalitions outside of the big cities like Los Angeles and it took demographic change in counties that used to be safe for Republicans.”

Senate Democrats have long touted demographic changes on Long Island as the key to what they see as their inevitable takeover of the chamber. Democrats recently won the Long Island seat formerly held by Republican Sen. Dean Skelos for two decades. Although Skelos’ corruption conviction likely played a major role in swaying voters, Democrats say a victory there might not have been possible if the demographics there hadn’t been trending Democratic for years.

Finally, Californians have the ability to put major issues before voters through ballot propositions, thereby bypassing the Legislature, which can take much longer to process an issue.

Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, said he hopes Cuomo will be involved in campaigning for Senate Democrats this year. “I feel the governor is our leader and as a Democrat he should step up to the plate and help us gain the majority,” said Peralta. “It's in his best interest to move progressive issues like immigration and affordable housing. I hope the governor will take a lead role in helping Democrats win the Senate this year just as he is making sure Hillary [Clinton] becomes President.”

Asked if he supported a full Democratic takeover of the Senate on Tuesday, Cuomo told reporters that it is “too early for any political conversation about that," instead indicating he is focused on Clinton and the upcoming Democratic National Convention that he is attending, and may be speaking at. Elections determining control of the state Senate are four months away - the same day as Clinton’s likely face-off with Republican Donald Trump.

A look at major progressive issues and where they stand in New York and California:

Paid Family Leave
This year New York passed a 12-month paid family leave program that has been praised as the most “generous” in the nation. The program won’t be fully phased in until 2021.

California passed its six-week paid family leave program in 2002 and it went into operation in 2004.

Immigration
Cuomo touted his support for the DREAM Act, a program that would give undocumented students access to college tuition aid, during campaign stops in the city and made it part of his State of the State agenda, but he has said very little about it when the Legislature is in session and made no dramatic public push for the bill. Senate Republicans have made blocking the DREAM Act a major part of their reelection campaigns.

Brown signed California’s Dream Act into law in October of 2011. Since then he has signed a series of major immigration reform bills. In 2013 Brown signed a bill that allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers’ licenses. The last time a New York Governor pushed for drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants was in 2007, under former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. The backlash against the proposal from conservatives and even Democrats was so strong that Spitzer dropped the plan.

This year Brown signed a bill that allows undocumented immigrants to buy health care on the state exchange created under the Affordable Care Act - making California the first state to offer that kind of coverage. New York offers undocumented immigrants emergency Medicaid and coverage for end-stage cancer and renal disease.

“I think it's very hard for the Governor to go into these economically depressed areas upstate and tell them he supports a bill to help immigrants that they see as undermining their already very tenuous way of life,” said Dr. Greer, of Fordham.

Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, said that the first step for New York to achieve what California has on immigration reform would be for Democrats to take control of the Senate. But it wouldn’t end there. “We would also have to move conservative Democrats on these issues, we’d have to move the needle,” Rivera said, adding that he thinks Senate Democrats could move the DREAM Act during a first year in the majority, but acknowledged it isn’t a sure thing.

Peralta agreed, saying, “A Democratic majority gets the ball rolling in New York State.” But he warned, “We won’t be able to move everything at once. There are some issues that don’t play well in marginal districts upstate. We will have to tackle them in bite-size pieces - The DREAM Act one year, then drivers’ licenses the next.”

Minimum Wage
The two states appeared to be locked in a race to get to $15 per hour this year as both Brown and Cuomo pushed for a minimum wage increase - the governors signed their bills on the same day, April 4. But the bills are not equal: both call for incremental increases to the wage until finally reaching $15 - in California it will be 2022 before the wage is fully implemented; in New York it depends on where you live. Residents of New York City will have a $15 minimum wage by the end of 2018; Long Island and Westchester reach $15 to start 2022; while the rest of the state will reach $12.50 by the last day of 2020, with a 2019 panel to review the economic impact and able to halt the increase.

Election Reform
California adopted a new primary system in 2012 that allows the top two vote getters in primary races to move on the general election regardless of party affiliation. That move in combination with California’s citizen redistricting commission has opened up seats once kept in a stranglehold by incumbents.

Good government groups have pushed New York City to adopt nonpartisan primaries but there has yet to be significant movement. The idea is a nonstarter at the state level.

In October of last year, Brown signed an automatic voter registration bill that would have citizens registered to vote during visits to the DMV for drivers’ licenses or ID cards. Cuomo proposed a similar initiative in February during his State of the State speech, but met with opposition from Democratic lawmakers who worried registration would favor suburban and rural areas of the state where there are move drivers. Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, suggested empowering other agencies to also register voters to create parity.

Criminal Justice Reform
Cuomo called for a review of the criminal justice system in the wake of the July 2014 death of Eric Garner during an NYPD stop. That review did not come about in the Legislature. Instead of passing legislation to create a special prosecutor to review police killings of unarmed civilians Cuomo issued an executive order empowering Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to take such cases out of the hands of the local district attorney.

Cuomo’s move was hailed by advocates who say local DAs are biased and unwilling to prosecute members of their local police force. But many advocates are still pushing for a similar system to be made law as executive orders can be undone. Senate Republicans have refused to consider any number of criminal justice initiatives Cuomo has proposed, including raising the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 (New York is one of only two states where it is 16, with North Carolina).

California does not have a special prosecutor system in place for police killings of civilians but last year Brown signed a law banning the use of grand juries in such cases. The move came in response to outcry that a grand jury refused to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for Garner’s death. "The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system," state Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Democrat from Los Angeles who sponsored the bill, said in a statement at the time.

Cuomo has tried and failed to get the Republican state Senate to act on college for inmates, something California expanded in 2015 in a partnership with a number of community colleges. Cuomo instead put forward a privately financed plan this year.

Brown currently supports a ballot initiative that will come before voters this fall that is designed to reduce recidivism and revise how it is decided if youth are tried as adults.

Fiscal Policy
While Brown has been considered more fiscally conservative than some of his allies in the Legislature, he did sponsor a 2012 ballot proposition that raised taxes on high-income earners. His initiative merged two other ballot initiatives - including one from the California teachers union branded a “millionaire’s tax” that would have increased the personal income tax on those earning $1 million and more. Brown’s plan created four new upper-income brackets for those making $250,000, $300,000, $500,000 and $1,000,000. The new tax rates are supposed to last seven years. The plan also increased the state sales tax. A group of unions recently introduced a new proposition that would make the tax increases of Brown’s proposition permanent.

New York adopted a millionaire’s tax under Democratic Gov. David Paterson in 2009 that Cuomo partially renewed in 2011. It is now set to expire in 2017. Many unions have pushed to extend the tax as has the state Assembly.

Cuomo has fought back against any tax increases. De Blasio insisted his universal pre-k plan be funded by a New York City income tax hike on households earning more than a million dollars a year. Cuomo delivered the cash for the plan and not the tax - something de Blasio publicly lamented.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo is Keeping New York from Emulating California, De Blasio Says Tue, 12 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Major City Issues at Play in Politically Charged, Post-Budget Legislative Session http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6267:major-city-issues-at-play-in-politically-charged-post-budget-legislative-session http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6267:major-city-issues-at-play-in-politically-charged-post-budget-legislative-session cuomo budget paid leave pic

Gov. Cuomo announces the budget deal (photo via The Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo dismissed the idea of extending state government's legislative session this year to tackle ethics reform during an appearance in Binghamton on Wednesday. "We have a relatively light agenda because we did so much work in the budget," the governor said. "We passed the minimum wage increase, we passed paid family leave, we passed a great package for the middle class, we passed a great package for upstate New York, more education funding than ever before."

It's a concerning statement for some advocates and elected officials who see the session full of unresolved issues - including, but beyond ethics - especially ones that impact New York City, issues that the governor himself tackled during his January State of the State speech or has since brought to the table. Some advocates take the governor's statement as an acknowledgement that he traded away issues Senate Republicans oppose to get a minimum wage increase, and not only in the budget, but for the rest of the legislative session that has just begun and is scheduled to end in June.

All-important control of the State Senate will be up for grabs again in November, but a key battle in the overall war will be decided on April 19 in the contest to fill the seat vacated by former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, recently convicted on federal corruption charges. The April special and impending November elections mean legislators are anxious to get back to their districts while avoiding political landmines.

Ethics reforms are one of the many issues jettisoned from budget talks that lawmakers say were dominated by minimum wage negotiations. Major issues of particular importance to New York City yet to be addressed this year include mayoral control of schools; a multitude of criminal justice reforms, some of which were introduced by Cuomo; housing programs, including a replacement for the 421-a property tax credit aimed at spurring affordable housing development; and two education matters that have been linked in the past: The DREAM Act and the education investment tax credit.

Mayoral Control
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and his conference have used Mayor Bill de Blasio as a progressive boogieman since the mayor tried to help Democrats win control of the chamber in 2014. Last year Flanagan successfully beat back the mayor's push for a seven-year extension of mayoral control, getting his negotiating partners to settle on one year. He again maneuvered discussion of renewal out of this year's budget discussions and before a spending deal was even announced, he scheduled hearings on mayoral control for May 4 in Albany and May 19 in New York City. Mayoral control is due to sunset on June 30.

Many Democrats expect Senate Republicans to delay actually acting on mayoral control until as late as possible in order to keep de Blasio "in check." With no other sensible alternative, de Blasio has been gracious about the situation so far, saying he plans to attend the hearings "personally" and welcomes the chance for "dialogue" on the issue.

Criminal Justice Reforms
Gov. Cuomo has supported three major criminal justice reforms over the last two years: Raise the Age, an effort to end New York's practice of treating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system; an effort to create independent review of police killings of civilians; and a program to increase data reporting of the race and ethnicity of individuals involved in police interactions. Unable to deliver on the first two last year, Cuomo took executive action. He moved 16- and 17-year-olds out of adult prisons and gave Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office the discretion to look into police killings of civilians. Advocates were pleased, but acknowledged both issues still needed to be addressed in law.

This year Cuomo has proposed a bill that would give his office the ability to convene an investigation into police killings of civilians but only if certain criteria is met. He has continued to push for Raise the Age but not with the urgency supporters would like. They point out that even being held in separate facilities from older inmates, 16- and 17-year-olds are still treated as adults when arrested and tried, which make negative outcomes and criminal records more likely.

On Tuesday, supporters of a bill that would mandate the state collect data on police interactions with the public gathered in Albany to push Senate Republicans and Cuomo to act on an issue they call "common sense."

The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Joseph Lentol and state Senator Daniel Squadron, both Brooklyn Democrats, would require the state to collect and report data on the number of tickets and misdemeanor arrests across the state; the number of civilian deaths in police custody or during an arrest; the race, ethnicity, and sex of those charged with misdemeanors and violations; and the geographic location of enforcement-related activity and arrest-related deaths. Lentol said the bill is not "anti-police" but a "transparency" and "open government" tool to improve relations between police and communities across the state. Lentol prodded Gov. Cuomo to act, noting that Cuomo has a similar bill that has failed to garner support.

"Yet again, communities of color were left behind in New York State budget negotiations, with no meaningful advancement of any criminal justice reforms," said Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY. "Passing the STAT Act this legislative session provides an opportunity for Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to show they value the safety and dignity of all New Yorkers."

Squadron told Gotham Gazette that the bill is one that Senate Republicans "put in a black box, a dark room," never to be seen again. "This isn't something we have debated. We haven't heard their argument against it, it just disappears." Lentol, however, said that he believes police unions are using their influence to block the bill.

Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry, Democrat of Queens, supports Lentol's bill and said that he feels his constituents and advocates are growing frustrated that the Senate fails to vote on criminal justice reforms year after year. "I think the governor is really going to have to move on some of these bills and not just wave his hands in the air and say 'It's the Republicans'" Aubry said. "We know he can get what he wants. He has an election coming up and he's got to deliver for these communities."

A spokesperson for the governor, Dani Lever, said in a statement that "The governor has and continues to push for comprehensive criminal justice reform to address the treatment of juveniles in the system and the prosecution of fatality cases involving law enforcement. Despite the legislature's failure to agree on these reforms, the governor has taken bold action and issued executive orders appointing a special prosecutor in police cases (the first of its kind in the country) and removing juveniles from adult state prisons. Until the legislature passes real reforms, the governor's executive orders will remain in effect."

Housing
Last year in an unprecedented move, Cuomo put the fate of the 421-a tax abatement program in the hands of the two stakeholder industries - real estate developers and construction unions. Whatever deal they reached on wages in new housing developments utilizing 421-a was to be enacted into law with other reforms to the program, but if they failed, 421-a would sunset. Negotiations floundered and 421-a is dead.

The program is thought to be essential to affordable housing production in New York City, making it profitable for developers to build new rental housing with some affordable units included. When Cuomo rejected compromise legislation crafted by de Blasio last June, it was one of the final straws to break de Blasio's back (along with the mayoral control compromise and more), leading to his now-infamous tirade against the governor on June 30. De Blasio's affordable housing goals rely on 421-a-related production.

On Monday, Cuomo told NY1's Errol Louis that he is looking for a replacement. "You can have a fair program that pays a fair rate to the unions and also a fair rate of profit to the developers," Cuomo said. "I believe there is that balance to be struck. But they have to strike that balance. We're still trying, but the Legislature is not going to approve a plan that kicks the labor unions out of the affordable housing business."

Bill Murrow, the governor's top aide, followed up those comments on Tuesday during a Crain's New York Business breakfast event, indicating that labor and real estate are indeed negotiating again. "The developers, REBNY, and the construction trades...they'll find some common ground. I am hopeful that sometime between now and June that something will actually happen," Mulrow said.

On Tuesday, tenant advocates gathered in Albany to demand that negotiations on 421-a or something like must also include strengthening rent regulations. Delsenia Glover, campaign manager for the Alliance for Tenant Power opened the press conference by condemning the deal that renewed the rent laws last year. "We pretty much got nothing," she said. "At the time Governor Cuomo said they were the 'strongest rent laws in history.' It's not true, we got nothing." Members of the crowd shouted "He lied!"

Glover said she has been disturbed to hear "lamentations" that 421-a is dead, saying she was glad a "giveaway to luxury developers" and "$1.1 billion tax suck" was dead and that assertions that developers won't be able to build affordable housing without it is patently false.

"Our demand," said Glover, "is this: If 421-a or anything that looks like 421-a is revived or created then the rent laws must be reopened, we get rid of vacancy bonus, fix preferential rents, and then maybe we can have a conversation."

A number of legislators who spoke after Glover pushed against the idea of any 421-a renewal. Assembly Member Walter Mosley of Brooklyn said he doesn't use the term '421-a' because "We don't want nothin' like 421-a to resurface, but ultimately we understand if anything like 421-a comes to the floor then we reopen the rent laws. Without that we have no discussion."

Assembly Housing Chair Keith Wright, who introduced a plan of something of a 421-a alternative earlier this year to a tepid response, brought up his proposal in front of the audience that was openly hostile to any replacement. Wright's plan would utilize the state's abandoned property fund to give a subsidy of $100,000 per affordable unit at a cost of about $200 million per year, compared to 421-a's 25-year property tax break and $1 billion annual tax revenue price tag.

"The plan was not...people were intrigued by the idea," Wright told the crowd, seeming to catch himself in an effort to promote the measure, "but listen anything in Albany takes a minute to work up to, but we are still pushing that plan, but we are still under siege."

Wright is a close ally of Cuomo and many expect that his plan was the first shot fired in an effort to restore a 421-a plan. The fact that Cuomo and Wright are openly pushing a replacement and that Senate Republicans are likely to want to deliver for real estate developers makes many advocates think it is a question of "when" not "if" a 421-a replacement comes to the floor of both houses. They hope to keep up public pressure to win some sort of concessions when it takes place.

Other Education Issues
Last year Cuomo tried to connect the DREAM Act that would allow the undocumented access to college tuition assistance and the education tax credit that would give benefits to those who donate to private schools. The DREAM Act has massive support in the Assembly, which has passed the measure repeatedly over the last few years and the education tax credit is a favorite of Senate Republicans. Cuomo's bid at linkage failed last year (he did not attempt to link them again this year, but did include both in his executive budget), but both issues remain on the table and the fact that they were left out of the budget has rankled a number of lawmakers.

Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who caucuses with Republicans, was said to be so upset that Republicans didn't demand the education tax credit be part of the budget that he didn't conference with them during budget negotiations (he was then the lone Senate "no" vote on the minimum wage and education budget bill). Meanwhile, DREAM supporters like Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, railed against its exclusion during the late-night budget debate.

For supporters of each measure the problem seems to be that opposition to the other measure has become a litmus test for some in their party's base. Senate Republicans have included language touting the disinclusion of the DREAM Act in the budget on the Senate website, listing it as an accomplishment:

"Rejecting the Use of Taxpayer Dollars to Fund College Tuition for Illegal Immigrants:

"The final budget rejects an Executive Budget proposal that would have cost state taxpayers $27 million and reward people who are here illegally by giving them free college tuition. The measure would have extended all other criteria, exemptions or opportunities found within the education law - including all scholarship and tuition assistance programs funded with state tax dollars - to illegal immigrants while hardworking middle-class families are already being forced to take out massive college loans to pay for higher education."

Meanwhile, public school advocates are entrenched against the education tax credit, saying that it is a taxpayer giveaway to millionaires who will flood their favored schools with donations using up the credit before average families can utilize it. The Alliance for Quality Education, a teachers union-aligned group, has held press conferences and briefings against the policy this year.

Albany Tradition
If the past is indeed prologue than it is a safe bet that many of these issues will not come to a vote in both houses this year. With an important special election, a presidential race, and the entire Legislature up for (re)election, leaders will likely be looking to rest on the work they did in the budget and get back to their districts. While there will be a lot of noise made by the media and good government groups around ethics reform, no one who knows Albany is holding their breath.

Mayoral control of city schools is the only key policy related to New York City facing an expiration date and all-but-sure to see action. The questions are what Senate Republicans demand in exchange for extension, how long it is extended for, and how much they make de Blasio sweat in the process.

Including Wednesday, April 6, there are currently 25 session days remaining until its scheduled end on June 16.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Major City Issues at Play in Politically Charged, Post-Budget Legislative Session Wed, 06 Apr 2016 22:49:29 +0000
Scott Shooting May Help Reignite New York Criminal Justice Debate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5677:scott-shooting-may-help-reignite-new-york-criminal-justice-debate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5677:scott-shooting-may-help-reignite-new-york-criminal-justice-debate peralta nypd

Sen. Jose Peralta with NYPD officers (photo: @SenatorPeralta)


A video of South Carolina Police Officer Michael Slager fatally shooting Walter Scott as he ran away appears to have relit the debate over criminal justice reform in New York.

The graphic video has reminded many advocates and legislators of the video that brought attention to the death of Eric Garner while he was being arrested by members of the NYPD on Staten Island in July. Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who could be seen in the video placing Garner in a chokehold, was not indicted by a grand jury.

Legislators say they expect reforms proposed earlier this year to be front and center when the Legislature returns from spring vacation later in April. Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens who has championed a number of criminal justice reforms, said that he was struck by how quickly South Carolina officials reacted to the video of the shooting.

"It makes me wonder why it took New York so long to act," Peralta told Gotham Gazette. "The South Carolina system acted immediately - they fired the officer and filed charges. Here it took a while for anyone to do anything. It took outcry. What better case to show the discrepancy between the criminal justice system of a supposedly progressive state like New York and a more conservative state."

Video of Garner's July 17 death circulated widely as many officials resisted passing judgement on whether Garner was murdered. His death was ruled a homicide by the city's medical examiner August 1. On August 19, Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan announced a grand jury would hear charges against Pantaleo. The grand jury began hearing evidence September 29 and decided not to charge Pantaleo December 3.

In South Carolina, Slager shot walker on April 4; he was arrested and charged with murder April 7; and he was fired April 8.

After the grand jury decision in the Pantaleo case, protesters took to the streets across the country, especially in New York City, and an anti-police brutality, criminal justice reform movement continued to build in the aftermath of the deaths of Garner and Michael Brown, who was killed in Ferguson, MO.

New York politicians took notice.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised a "soup-to-nuts" review of the justice system and met with prominent leaders of the criminal justice reform movement, including Jay-Z and Russell Simmons. Simmons said Cuomo had promised to issue an executive order putting a special prosecutor in charge of cases where police kill unarmed civilians, Cuomo's office insisted the governor had simply promised to push for legislation to that effect. (On April 9, Simmons wrote an open letter to Cuomo expressing frustration over a lack of action.)

In the weeks that followed Cuomo's December promise of a review, hearings were held, some led by Democrats, others by Republicans; bills were proposed, and lines were drawn. And then a sort-of vortex opened up and swallowed the issue: Christmas, then former Gov. Mario Cuomo passed away on January 1 and Cuomo postponed his State of the State Address until later in January; the indictment of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver soon followed and Albany was thrown into chaos. Budget negotiations were on hold, set to heat up when the Assembly replaced Silver with Carl Heastie in February. Some of the proposed criminal justice reforms were included in ensuing budget negotiations but eventually dropped for expediency's sake.

"I was hopeful because of the dialogue we were having that New York would be a national leader on criminal justice reform," said Justine Luongo of The Legal Aid Society. "But I can't say I was surprised it didn't happen [in the budget] because so many critical reforms are needed."

Exactly why criminal justice reforms were dropped appears up for interpretation. Sen. Diane Savino, who has championed a bill that would create more transparency in grand jury deliberations, told Gotham Gazette that items were dropped from the budget where consensus already existed to save time. "I think there is a future for all of them," Savino said when asked what criminal justice reforms she thought would be in play when legislators return to session. "It will all be dealt with along with mayoral control and the minimum wage and everything else." Savino's bill was referred to the Senate's codes committee on January 15 and has seen no action since.

Luongo said she expects the debate over raising the age teens can be tried as adults in New York to be settled fairly quickly. Cuomo included the policy in the budget but it was dropped after concerns were raised about how it would be implemented. While policy must be negotiated, funding for the program did remain in the budget.

"Clearly we can't wait any longer," said Luongo. "The time must be right to make sure the system treats everyone fairly." Luongo noted that New York and North Carolina are the only two states that try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

"The promise of equal justice is a New York promise and it is an American promise. We are currently in the midst of a national problem where people are questioning our justice system," Cuomo said during his State of the State speech in January. "And they're questioning whether the justice system really is fairness for all. And whether the justice system really is colorblind. And that's not just New York, it's a problem all across the country."

In the speech, Cuomo proposed a fairly balanced set of policies, with some intended to please those concerned with police safety following the murder of two NYPD officers and with public safety in general. Those policies include creating a statewide commission on police and community relations, helping police departments hire more people of color, providing funding for bullet-proof glass and vests, allowing district attorneys to issue reports on what happened in closed-door grand juries involving police killings and allowing the governor to appoint an independent monitor to oversee the findings in such cases and then be able to appoint a special prosecutor.

Appointing a special prosecutors to such cases may be the most contentious issue regarding criminal justice reform. Advocates including The Legal Aid Society and a number of Democratic legislators have asked Cuomo to name Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as an independent monitor. That appears unlikely as Cuomo and Schneiderman are rivals, with Cuomo actually working to weaken the AG's reach since becoming governor. On December 8, Schneiderman asked Cuomo to issue an interim executive order allowing the AG's office to investigate and, if necessary, appoint a special prosecutor in cases where police kill unarmed civilians. "While several worthy legislative reforms have been proposed, the Governor has the power to act today to solve this problem," Schneiderman wrote. "I strongly encourage him to take action now."

Sen. Gustavo Rivera has said he plans to use parliamentary procedure in the Senate to force a vote on his bill that would put the AG in charge of cases where police kill unarmed civilians. Rivera requested committee consideration of the bill on March 20. Even if the bill comes to a vote it isn't clear Senate Republicans would go for it as many of them favor keeping local DAs in charge of the cases. The bill is much more likely to pass in teh Assmebly, where it has major support. Assembly Member Keith Wright is the bill's sponsor in that house.

A number of Democratic legislators said that they expect some form of special prosecutor legislation to get done but they aren't quite sure what it will look like in the end. Senate Republicans are looking to deliver on tax breaks and are facing major pressure on the education tax credit from religious groups who have even threatened to primary legislators if the bill doesn't get done. That could give Democrats some leverage when it comes time to negotiate criminal justice reforms - but, there are so many other major issues at stake for Democrats including a minimum wage increase, renewing mayoral control of schools, the sunset of rent laws, and The DREAM Act, that there is a chance that the debate could be overshadowed yet again.

"We really had a perfect storm that kept a lot of these issues in at bay," said Peralta "We had an overly ambitious executive budget and a lot of important things fell out, but now we have three months to get it all done. Its time to get to work."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Scott Shooting May Help Reignite New York Criminal Justice Debate Fri, 10 Apr 2015 08:36:34 +0000
Democrats Frustrated by Governor Backing Off Party's Issues http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5654:democrats-frustrated-by-governor-backing-off-partys-issues http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5654:democrats-frustrated-by-governor-backing-off-partys-issues Cuomo Heastie ethics

Cuomo and Heastie agree on ethics reforms (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


On Tuesday Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters that the DREAM Act and the Education Investment Tax Credit (EITC) he had paired were no longer part of budget negotiations. For many Black and Latino legislators the news was painful - they had pushed Cuomo to include the DREAM Act as part of his budget after he and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul campaigned on the issue across the city this summer. But there was also a sinking sense of deja vu.

"DREAM Act, ETC are very important. Two different reasons, two different constituencies, but both get to the same point, which is access to education," Cuomo told reporters during a visit to the state Senate chambers Tuesday. "We have no agreement. We are nowhere close to an agreement."

A number of city-based legislators, especially from the Senate, say they have been repeatedly burned by a governor who is willing to talk about their issues on the stump to earn votes from their constituents but not willing to actually expend political capital to move their issues when the opportunity presents itself. They are increasingly concerned that Cuomo is willing to cede any number of policy points in budget talks, including further raising the minimum wage, in an effort to win the support of Senate Republicans on other issues.

Sen. Jose Peralta, who has worn a "Pass the DREAM Act!" t-shirt under his jacket during session, has been very active in supporting the act as part of the budget. The $27 million program Cuomo had included would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants. Peralta said he was let down by Cuomo's decision to drop the bill and will work with advocates to push Cuomo and Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on the issue. The DREAM Act has more than enough support in the overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly.

Senate Republicans believe their opposition to the DREAM Act actually bolstered them in a number of races across the state this past fall.

In a new op-ed on Thursday, Cuomo explains that he wants to see votes on both the DREAM Act and EITC, and that while they may not be in the budget deal, he will continue to push each of them in the legislative session to follow, which lasts into mid June.

However, legislators are frustrated more generally. What is particularly irksome to Democrats this year is that Cuomo appears to be jettisoning contentious issues to get an on-time budget when he claimed earlier in the year that he would sacrifice budget timeliness for ethics reform (which the governor and Assembly Democrats have come to an agreement on).

"The governor should be equally committed to items in appropriations as he is on ethics," said Sen. Martin Dilan. "If DREAM comes out it should all come out. The budget is where we have leverage. Outside of the budget [The DREAM Act] is dead. This was a campaign promise of the governor, and I believe he and the lieutenant governor ran very hard on it."

Sen. Kevin Parker said he still has hope for the DREAM Act despite what Cuomo might have said. "There is still time for anything to happen," he said of ongoing budget negotiations. The budget is due by Wednesday, April 1.

Another item Democratic legislators point out Cuomo ran on was women's equality. And while Cuomo was supposed to help elect a Democratic Senate, he appeared to put little effort into doing so. Now the two converge as a Republican Senate blocks several key pieces of Democratic legislation, such as the DREAM Act and the abortion plank of the Women's Equality Act, and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a woman, is left out of budget negotiations.

Meanwhile, Cuomo has allowed his ally Jeff Klein, who heads the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, to join in leadership meetings around the budget. Mainline Democrats have cried foul over Klein being included and not Stewart-Cousins. At the first meeting of the budget conference committees, nicknamed "the mothership," Stewart-Cousins used her brief opportunity to speak to protest her exclusion. "Apparently the mothership is the only place this mother will appear negotiating the budget," she said.

Democrats appear to now have most of their eggs in the debate over increasing the minimum wage but a number of them fear Cuomo has already caved to Senate Republicans on the issue - something Skelos said was the case on Thursday, declaring an increase out of budget negotiations.

"This guy should be with us on $15," said one legislator who requested to remain anonymous of Cuomo, "but instead we have to beg and scrape to get him to push for $11.50 [for New York City]."

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh called the minimum wage increase "the Assembly's top priority" when speaking with Gotham Gazette, but added that negotiations were centered around Cuomo's proposal for an eventual $10.50 for the state and $11.50 for the city. Parker said that the minimum wage needed to be done in this budget. "We don't want this to be another thing that comes up each year."

There has been underlying concern among Democrats that Cuomo would dump minimum wage in an effort to appease Skelos, who appears to back him on a number of education and financial issues. Skelos has pushed to remove a number of issues from budget discussions including how to use the State's massive bank settlement windfall and the renewal of mayoral control of schools. "I would guess that the independent monitor [for grand juries] is not going to be there," Skelos said after meeting with Cuomo on Tuesday. "Raising the age is not going to be there. DREAM Act is not going to be there. Other than that things are up for negotiation," he said, seemingly taking a victory lap for having nixed these items, which he and his conference oppose, from the budget.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters on Wednesday that a minimum wage increase is his top priority. "It absolutely has to be on the table as far as we're concerned in this conference," Heastie said.

During last year's Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus Weekend, Cuomo, joined by Mayor Bill de Blasio, made a grand announcement that he would support a program to provide prison inmates with access to college degrees. A great majority of the lawmakers there would rather have heard Cuomo pledge to deliver the DREAM Act, but they praised and supported his plan. However, Republicans mocked and derided the idea as a waste of taxpayer money that rewarded criminals and Cuomo quietly let the initiative die.

It appears the governor may be having a similar moment this year - except that the program at stake faces criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. Cuomo's "Raise the Age" initiative that would raise the age youths can be tried as adults to 18 from 16 was initially greeted warmly by Democratic legislators. But after analyzing the complex program, which is spread out in different sections of the budget, a majority of Democrats now think Cuomo's proposal is deeply flawed. The Assembly presented a reworked version in their budget and Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, wrote to Cuomo on Tuesday saying they favor the Assembly version because they believe some of the provisions in Cuomo's plan will actually lead to juvenile offenders spending more time in jail.

"Raise the Age is not likely to be done in the budget," Cuomo told reporters outside of the Senate Republican conference room on Tuesday. "It's very complex. It connects with other issues..."

Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo's spokesperson, quickly contradicted her boss, on Twitter and in a statement, saying, "Raise the age is still part of budget negotiations; we believe we will successfully secure the necessary funding to implement the program."

It appears, though, that the policy will be decided outside of the budget while funding to implement it will be included in anticipation of legislation.

Cuomo defended his decision to remove issues from the negotiating table after he met with Senate Republicans on Tuesday: "The budget is my statement of saying, these are the priority issues, right? And now, people will say, 'If he didn't put it in the budget, he doesn't really care about it. That's what's happened over the years, and if it's not in the budget, then he doesn't mean it.' So the budget has become expansive from that point of view."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Democrats Frustrated by Governor Backing Off Party's Issues Thu, 26 Mar 2015 14:41:50 +0000