Gotham Gazette Fri, 20 Jul 2018 18:46:12 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Paid Family Leave for City Teachers Now de Blasio classroom visit

Mayor de Blasio visits a classroom (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)

Every work day for the past nine school years, I have taught and learned with young people from stressed economic backgrounds as a New York City public school teacher. Every day, I confront the realities of a system that puts short-term profits over children’s well-being and the long-term health of our city’s families.

I see scars on adolescents whose parents were forced into a bind that Mayor de Blasio has described as “the impossible choice between bonding with their child and paying their bills.”

Scars on students whose parents were unable to take the time to bond with them because of economic pressures. On others whose parents did take time off, but now struggle even more to make ends meet. I see adolescent children fall behind their peers because they have to take on responsibilities at home providing childcare to infant family members so that their parents can rush back to work.

Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child confirms what those of us who work with young people know: “responsive relationships early in life are the most important factor in building sturdy brain architecture,” the neurological foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health. When parents do not have time to bond with new young ones in their lives we all suffer.

For too long, New York denied the children of all city employees access to the benefits that come from paid family leave for parent-child bonding.

Nearly two years ago, Mayor de Blasio publicly recognized the foolishness embedded in this system. He created and imposed on city managers a program that provides up to 12 weeks of paid family leave.

But that program penalized many managers with the loss of promised salary and vacation benefits. According to the city’s Independent Budget Office the program was not a cost to the city budget, rather it actually resulted in a savings to the city of close to $6 million. The mayor used his unilateral power to create a system where he got more than he gave up. That is not my understanding of how a “benefit” works.

In order to extend paid family leave to members of municipal labor unions, the city and unions must collectively bargain a new agreement. Teachers cannot sign on to the kind of one-sided plan that de Blasio instituted with managerial employees.

We know that governments can create family leave without breaking the bank. Cities across the country — including ones in the south and midwest that are not known for progressive social policy — have found ways to fund paid family leave policies for all city employees without going bankrupt. For example, Wake County, North Carolina funds the cost through the city budget.

We also know that negotiation means give and take. All of us understand the benefits of parental leave for children and families, but different teachers will have different understandings of the cost side. I’m a chapter leader in the UFT and I would love to have conversations about the appropriate costs of such a plan. We could have these conversations in our chapters and as a union if the mayor’s team would be up front about their calculations and requirements. But the team has provided none of these details publicly. I’m left to wonder if they are trying to accomplish the Mayor’s lofty goals without expending any resources to do so.

For 21 months, New York City has formally recognized the importance of paid family leave while accepting a policy that denies this benefit to our city’s educators and their children, as well as many thousands of other union employees and their families. Like a decision that restricts mail delivery for postal service workers, this hypocritical policy denies us what we provide to the rest of the city. The people who care for, educate, and support the young people of New York City should have the chance to care for, educate, and support our own children and families.

A good city takes care of the people who take care of it. We do this because it is the right thing to do, the right way to show value for the hard-working folks who make our city run. We also have a self-interest in providing services to city employees — services that make them more effective workers, services that make our city a more appealing place to live. Rather than treating teachers who want family leave like we are asking for a handout, the city should be partnering with us to find ways to support the youngest and most vulnerable of our city’s citizens without sacrificing the work we do. Rather than dragging its feet, the mayor’s team should use the political capital from his re-election to create a family leave policy for all employees.

In the mayor’s own words, “Paid parental leave means healthier and more financially stable families, more effective workplaces, and a stronger and more just city – which everyone can get behind.”

It’s time the administration got behind a real effort to create a parental leave program that works for everyone.

John Troutman McCrann is a math teacher at Harvest Collegiate High School in Manhattan.

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Paid Family Leave for City Teachers Now Wed, 08 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
More Than 400 City Workers Have Utilized De Blasio Paid Parental Leave Policy de Blasio paid parental leave city hall

De Blasio signs parental leave order, Jan. 2016 (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

In the nearly two years since Mayor Bill de Blasio made six weeks of paid parental leave available to about 20,000 city employees, more than 400 have taken advantage of the added benefit.

The number through September 30 was 436 individuals, including an almost even split among men (203) and women (221), according to city data (12 who have utilized the program were “unknown” in terms of gender). The policy, announced by de Blasio in December 2015 and signed in January 2016 into retroactive effect beginning November 9, 2015, covers city employees who are not part of labor unions where such benefits must be collectively bargained. De Blasio and his aides have indicated that paid family leave is part of the recently-begun next round of contract negotiations with the city’s municipal unions.

Similar to his implementation of a $15 per hour minimum wage for city employees and those in city-contracted nonprofits, de Blasio’s move on paid family leave has been seen as part of the successful push for similar statewide programs that Governor Andrew Cuomo championed and pushed through the state Legislature in 2016.

"A parent never forgets those first few weeks after their baby is born, and we certainly did not want to stand in the way of those moments,” de Blasio said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Paid parental leave is a common sense policy that will make for healthier and more financially stable working families – making it good for employees and employers. We couldn't be happier that almost two years in it’s proven to be such a useful policy for our new parents."

Before de Blasio’s policy, city employees who wanted to take paid time off to be with a newly born or adopted child had to use vacation and sick days. Employees can still use those other days in addition to the six weeks provided by the city to its managerial and other employees not represented by unions.

According to city data provided to Gotham Gazette upon request, the 436 employees who have availed themselves of the new paid parental leave policy through September 30 average 37.5 years of age and seven years of service with the city. They work at 41 of 63 eligible agencies, a number that includes the Mayor’s Office. A total of more than 10,600 days had been used under the policy, with the average use 24 days.

When de Blasio announced the benefit in December 2015, a City Hall press release said the “new policy brings New York City in line with the most generous localities in the country, Austin and Pittsburgh.”

That press release also noted that the city was ready to enter negotiations with labor unions to extend the benefit to their members -- there are about 300,000 unionized municipal employees, including teachers, police officers, and many others. But, none of the contracts have been amended to include paid parental leave, so it is part of the equation in new contracts being negotiated.

A City Hall spokesperson for labor-related matters, Freddi Goldstein, told Gotham Gazette that “Paid Parental Leave is a benefit that that must be dealt with during contract negotiations and we’ll be having those conversations with all interested parties during the next round of collective bargaining.”

That round of bargaining is already underway for some unions. When de Blasio came into office in 2014, all of the city’s municipal labor unions were operating under expired contracts and there was a great deal of frustration among union leaders and members. De Blasio and his team, led by labor relations chief Bob Linn, moved quickly to settle new contracts, which included retroactive pay raises. But because some of the deals were going back several years, it is again time for a new batch of contracts and an established pattern, whereby the first major contract struck, with the teachers union for example, will establish guidelines for the contracts with other unions.

Beyond the obvious, the December 2015 announcement by the de Blasio administration also noted other reasons to offer paid family leave to employees: “Studies consistently show the positive impact of paid parental leave not just for employees, but also for employers and the people they serve – helping to reduce turnover, while ensuring that employees are able to return to work ready...Additional studies have found that families that benefit from paid leave are less likely to receive public assistance, and that the program can substantially reduce infant mortality rates and improve a child’s overall health.”

According to the city, the current program costs city taxpayers nothing additional, given that it is provided through “repurposing” of a managerial raise scheduled for this past July and of two vacation days allotted to the city’s longest-serving employees.

The state policy signed into law by Cuomo in April 2016, meanwhile, will cover employees at most businesses and nonprofits for 12 weeks of paid parental leave and will begin to be phased in starting in January 2018. It will reach full capacity in 2021, at which time eligible employees will be able to receive “67 percent of their average weekly wage, capped to 67 percent of the statewide average weekly wage.” The program will be funded via a small employee payroll deduction, it will not cost employers anything, other than minimal administrative work. Employees must have worked for their employer for six months to be eligible.

According to City Hall, the state policy will not change the city policy for its relevant staff, nor will it dictate collective bargaining -- it largely applies to the private sector.

[Read: With Some Contracts Now Expired, De Blasio Administration Begins Next Labor Negotiations]

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

More Than 400 City Workers Have Utilized De Blasio Paid Parental Leave Policy Sun, 29 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo’s 2016 Wins Shaped by Progressive Forces, Electoral Lessons cuomo clinton et al celebrate

Gov. Cuomo celebrates new progressie policies (photo: Don Pollard, Governor's Office)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched himself onto the national political stage this month by orchestrating a budget deal that made New York the first state to pass a $15 minimum wage and a paid family leave program. With Vice President Joe Biden at his side the governor pushed family leave; weeks later, Cuomo signed the package of “economic justice” legislation at a celebratory rally with Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton. He was subsequently congratulated by President Obama.

All the while, labor union members cheered the governor who had, finally, made their agenda his.

Unlike other major policy wins from earlier in his tenure that sprung the governor into the national spotlight, like marriage equality and gun control, the minimum wage and family leave bills speak directly to socioeconomic issues that some of the state’s liberal base felt Cuomo, a Democrat, had been insensitive to. Cuomo had indeed rejected as flights of fancy those very policies only months before announcing campaigns to support them, first saying that they would be non-starters with Republicans controlling one house of the Legislature, then pursuing them with the intensity Cuomo has given to his must-wins.

Cuomo’s path to his moment as progressive trailblazer on economic issues was a winding one, mystifying some, including those calling political opportunism, while others point to the influence of four powerful figures: Mayor Bill de Blasio, gubernatorial challenger Zephyr Teachout, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and Democratic voters who could deliver the governor a third term in 2018.

On the way to a second term, Cuomo found himself in positions generally foreign to him: out-leveraged and outworked. First, Cuomo was humbled by the Working Families Party as it sought a 2014 alternative to a governor many of its members felt had betrayed their union members and progressive mission. Aided by de Blasio and making promises many now feel he did not intend to keep, Cuomo convinced the WFP to call off its third party challenge from Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout.

But then, the unknown, liberal Teachout, took Cuomo on in the Democratic primary, where the incumbent governor lost 30 counties and took home only 60 percent of the vote. Cuomo entered term two significantly weakened.

For Cuomo, known for crippling his rivals and bullying major organizations into submission, these were positions he never wanted to be in again.

It's a situation that insiders, pundits, and elected officials see as having given birth to the 2016 political environment in which Cuomo would fully embrace the Fight for $15 minimum wage campaign and launch his own paid family leave push, invoking the name of his recently deceased father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, in both efforts. Cuomo traveled the state in an RV plastered with the Fight for $15 slogan, picking up the mantle of an effort led by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its labor and liberal allies that Cuomo has often distanced himself from on economic issues.

“The original policy rests with de Blasio,” said Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, of a liberal agenda. “The timing coincides with Teachout. But it leads to the governor deciding to tack left.”

Critics, even some supporters, see the governor’s leftward lurch as evidence of political opportunism.

“He doesn't give a damn about getting people out of poverty,” said Ed Cox, the chair of the New York Republican State Committee. “He cares about his own power. He had to do it to secure his political power, but in the end that kind of governing comes back to bite you.”

Cox is speaking at a time when state Senate Republicans went along with Cuomo’s minimum wage program, albeit a “calibrated” one, as Cuomo called it, where they were able to lengthen and regionalize the phase-in.

Congressional Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican who has announced an exploratory committee for a 2018 gubernatorial run, also noticed the governor’s very public change of opinion. “You would have to talk to him to understand his motivation, but arguably the most persuasive critic against a $15 minimum wage is Governor Cuomo five minutes ago,” Gibson said.

As Gibson prepares a potential bid to unseat Cuomo, the governor appears to have a clearer picture of the base he needs to withstand such a challenge.

In Spring 2014, heads of the union-backed, left-leaning Working Families Party were ready to hand the powerful incumbent governor their endorsement but they had underestimated rank-and-file party members, activists turned off by what they saw as a fiscally conservative, transactional governor who cozied up to Senate Republicans, tussled with public employees unions, and generally thumbed his nose at the Democratic base.

The governor appeared by video during the WFP convention in late May 2014, acceding to a list of party demands in an endorsement deal brokered by de Blasio. When party members weren’t satisfied Cuomo was forced to follow up with a phone call promising to back a Democratic Senate, a higher minimum wage, and a push to enact the DREAM Act.

Cuomo looked forward to an easy reelection, whether he actually planned to follow through on his pledges to the WFP or not. But Teachout and many in the WFP didn’t get the memo, and the Democratic primary that followed was bruising and embarrassing for Cuomo as his campaign took on a bunker mentality while Teachout worked the base across the state.

“If you needed any more evidence that in New York state leaders of organizations have no control over their followers you just need to look at that situation,” said Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. “The governor thought he was dealing with an interest group and he had won their support, but a lot of their members weren’t happy with the governor and in fact an awful lot of voters shared their view.”

And what was that view exactly? “People’s lives aren’t good and they want them to be better,” said Sherrill, referring to working class voters.

It was a message that Cuomo appeared slow to pick up on - he backed a variety of wage increases but balked at de Blasio’s plan to raise the minimum wage and allow the city to set its own in February of 2014, saying it would be “chaotic” to have different wages across the state. “God bless them — shoot for the stars,” Cuomo said sarcastically in March, 2015, dismissing the Assembly Democrats’ plan to raise the state minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2018. During a public cabinet meeting in February, 2015, Cuomo said the Legislature had “no appetite” for paid family leave.

Cuomo ran in 2010 as a leader who could provide competence to a capital that had seen one gubernatorial term split between Eliot Spitzer’s partisan bickering and scandal and David Paterson’s chaotic tenure characterized by a power struggle in the Senate and more scandal. The state was still reeling from the financial crisis and accustomed to late budgets and tax increases. Cuomo used his first term to prove he had a firm hand on the state’s finances and operations, negotiating tough deals with unions, delivering on-time budgets, instituting a property tax cap, and even delivering on socially liberal policy like marriage equality. But pundits say Cuomo missed a sea change in the electorate.

“There's some academic research that indicates legislators misestimate their constituents’ thinking,” said Sherrill. “They tend to believe they are more conservative than they really are. So when confronted with public opinion from their district they are shocked how further left [constituents] really are. I think that’s what happened to the governor. He had no idea public opinion had shifted the way it had - and it was not just the governor. The good politician that he is, he made a wise strategic adjustment.”

Howie Hawkins, who challenged Cuomo on the Green Party line in both 2010 and 2014, said he agrees with Sherrill. “I generally think constituents are more liberal than their representatives think, and I think the poll in this case being the votes in the primary and general elections showed [Cuomo] his mistake.”

Cuomo’s “adjustment” involved a change in agenda and messaging. Suddenly the governor who was known for dismissing the “poetry” of campaigning that his father so embraced took to the stump using lines from his father’s famous speech from the 1984 Democratic National Convention:

“But the hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city's splendor and glory. A shining city is perhaps all the President sees from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there's another city; there's another part to the shining the city; the part where some people can't pay their mortgages, and most young people can't afford one; where students can't afford the education they need, and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate.”

The younger Cuomo used the speech excerpt in a television campaign for his wage push, leading to the official Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, launched by Cuomo and labor leaders. The language and imagery mirrored the “Tale of Two Cities” motif de Blasio used for his 2013 mayoral campaign.

Hawkins, who told Gotham Gazette he is prepared to run for Governor again depending on the circumstances, said he doesn’t believe Cuomo has changed his general approach to governing. “I think he’s making gestures, but look at the budget - it is still fiscal austerity, especially cities and towns. There are unfunded mandates and lack of aid from the state, and while he has provided more money for education it is less than the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement,” Hawkins said, referring to the 2006 court decision by which New York City is still owed billions according to advocates. “When [Assembly Speaker Carl] Heastie proposed a slightly progressive income tax he just rejected it. So he is not dealing with basic fiscal structure.”

Hawkins said he believes Cuomo’s action on minimum wage and paid family leave will protect Cuomo from a challenge from inside the Democratic Party if the governor runs for a third term in 2018. Hawkins, who performed best in the Capital Region where Cuomo went to war with public worker unions early in his term, said he isn’t so sure the anger is going to be there again in 2018. “I don’t know that people are going to be that upset with him,” he said.

Cuomo’s Republican opposition sees the governor’s support of the $15 minimum wage as a political calculation designed to undercut his Democratic rival, de Blasio, while boosting his national standing. They imagine the governor has sapped de Blasio’s momentum and hopes to use it to land the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention this year, or perhaps even the Vice Presidency or a major cabinet position.

Political analysts call these scenarios unlikely. Cuomo has gone on the record saying he plans to win and serve a third term as Governor, unless, he says, he keels over from a heart attack induced by the Albany press corp. The governor’s office declined to comment for this story.

“In 2010 he understood he had to run as a fiscal conservative,” said Cox, the chair of the New York Republican State Committee. “In 2013 Bill de Blasio wins saying he is the progressive leader of the free world. In 2014 Cuomo’s running in his own primary and he has to beg to get the backing of the Working Families Party and he only gets 60 percent as a sitting Governor in his own party’s primary.”

Cox said that Cuomo slowly began taking on de Blasio’s positions, “just as Mrs. [Hillary] Clinton has done with Bernie Sanders.” And eventually “adopted the SEIU’s ‘Fight for 15’ campaign whole hock” to “avoid insulting his very important constituents in labor.”

Meanwhile, Cox points out that Cuomo made a number of his major policy announcements alongside Vice President Joe Biden, who was very much thought to be a presidential contender at the time.

Cox believes the governor’s minimum wage plan that embraces different phase-ins across the state - in direct contradiction to his previous statement calling such a system “chaotic” - will not only hurt the economy but leave the governor vulnerable to a Republican challenger.

Rep. Gibson, the most likely such challenger at this point, said he would have liked to see a less “politicized process” that tied the wage to inflation and focused on growth across the state. “When my dad was out of work it was devastating,” said Gibson. “People want to work. But I believe this wage increase will prevent people from working. It will kill jobs.”

Noting that a number of counties in his Congressional district border other states, Gibson said he believes businesses will soon flee across the border to avoid new mandates. Asked if he would look to slow the increase of the minimum wage should he be elected, Gibson said, “I need to look at any kind of action like that. I think it’s important to listen and to get the facts.”

There are still some Albany observers who believe Cuomo is looking past re-election and is ready to enter the national scene on the back of his victories on minimum wage and paid family leave. Cuomo has embraced the praise of both Hillary Clinton and President Obama, who commended the passage of paid family leave. “There’s no doubt he has national ambitions, he wants to win with big numbers and not be embarrassed in his primary,” said Sherrill. “So he is relocating himself, perhaps more to his own feelings or maybe not. It is very difficult, especially with [U.S. Attorney] Preet Bharara watching, to satisfy the Senate Republicans he helped elect and his Democratic base.”

Cuomo remains opposed to tax increases - he beat back an Assembly proposal for a new millionaire’s tax, passed a series of tax cuts this year, and is extremely sensitive to the notion that New York has some of the highest taxes in the nation. But Sherrill believes by being on the forefront of a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave the governor is part of a developing national trend that gets big business to pay without actually raising taxes. The paid family leave program also rests upon employee contributions.

“Cuomo, like his father, supported very big liberal policies that don’t cost money - marriage equality, gun control doesn't cost money,” said Sherrill. “He chalks up these kind of wins in an age where you can’t raise taxes.”

“A substantial number of voters want politicians to make their lives better, but they can't raise taxes,” Sherrill continued, explaining the broader political climate. “At some point the sheer number of voters outweighs the people with lots of money. You can't raise taxes, but you can do other things to make the wealthy pay, like raising the minimum wage. However, a lot of programs de Blasio and Cuomo are advocating are in fact ways to get money into people’s hands while raising the cost on the people who refuse to pay taxes,” said Sherrill. “At some point I think the business community just asks for its taxes to be raised because it will be better for them.”

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Cuomo’s 2016 Wins Shaped by Progressive Forces, Electoral Lessons Tue, 12 Apr 2016 03:52:05 +0000
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."

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.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Major City Issues at Play in Politically Charged, Post-Budget Legislative Session Wed, 06 Apr 2016 22:49:29 +0000
Everyone's Talking About Paid Family Leave, Only Compromise Will Yield a Deal cuomo biden paid family leave

Cuomo's paid family leave rally (photo via The Governor's Office)

Last week, the New York State Assembly passed a one-house bill creating a program that would allow workers to take time off to care for a new child or sick loved one while receiving a portion of their usual pay. It is the fifth year in a row the Assembly has done so. "It's appropriate we're here on Groundhog Day, since we've been coming back year after year for paid family leave," said Donna Dolan, head of the New York State Paid Family Leave Coalition, at a press conference announcing the vote.

Just a few days earlier Gov. Andrew Cuomo rallied with Vice President Joe Biden in Manhattan to push his newly-unveiled paid family leave bill. Both detailed their experiences of being torn between work and being at the side of a dying loved one.

"My friends, paid family leave has been an important issue for a long time, but it is an issue whose time has come because things happen," Cuomo told the crowd. "When the planets line up and the political will and the body politic develops, and the body politic says enough is enough – now is the time to pass paid family leave."

It was only last session that Cuomo insisted the legislature had no "appetite" for paid family leave. But now with major attention from media, elected officials, and advocates across the nation focused on whether New York will become the fourth state to pass a paid family leave bill, Cuomo is whipping up support for his plan. As are Assembly Democrats, whose plan is different, while all look to get the blessing of Senate Republicans, who control that chamber.

While Cuomo seeks to thread some middle ground with his plan, Assembly Democrats insist theirs, which includes higher benefits, is the way to go, and Senate Republicans indicate there may be room for compromise while saying they're wary of any additional burdens on businesses.

The Cuomo administration is proposing a plan that would pay benefits through contributions from employee paychecks and reimburse workers starting at the rate of 35 percent of earnings. The Assembly plan would expand the scope of the state Temporary Disability Insurance program to cover paid family leave and would also take contributions from employee paychecks, but would reimburse at a rate of two-thirds of a worker's pay for individuals on leave.

One central point of conflict is whether to connect the paid family leave program to the TDI--a move Senate Republicans appear to be sensitive to because of concerns that increasing the benefit for workers who take off time for their own disabilities would be a cost born by employers as well as workers. TDI is paid for by employers.

The state has kept the TDI reimbursement rate steady at $170 a week for decades. Legislators expect that increasing the rate will take immense political capital as it will almost certainly require contributions from employers.

However, there are also signs there may be room for compromise as the Cuomo administration has said it will introduce amendments to its leave proposal. Advocates expect the administration to increase the amount employees are reimbursed to bring it into line with the Assembly proposal.

"I think it is a very positive thing that everyone is talking about paid family leave," said Sen. Jeff Klein, head of the Independent Democratic Conference, who joined Cuomo and Biden for their rally last month, delivering opening remarks. "Serious discussions haven't started yet, but I'm hopeful."

Soon after speaking with Gotham Gazette, Klein introduced a new version of his paid family leave bill to the state Senate. Klein and the IDC jolted discussion of family leave last year when they successfully advocated for Senate Republicans, whom they have a coalition with and control the chamber, to include a paid family leave plan in their budget.

Before introducing his new compromise bill, Klein told Gotham Gazette that he believes negotiations should focus on Cuomo's proposal rather than the Assembly's because it is "more palatable" to Senate Republicans.

The dynamics around paid family leave have changed since last legislative session. Cuomo appears to have stepped into the role Klein's IDC was playing as they backed paid family leave supported in part by state funds and by deductions from employee paychecks. The Assembly Democrats' plan would use deductions from employee paychecks to expand the TDI, which currently provides partial pay for workers who are disabled and have to take off work.

Last year Cuomo rejected the Senate's family leave proposal put forward by the Independent Democratic Conference. "We need a paid family leave policy that is sustainable and would provide real protections to employees. What we should not accept is the Senate proposal, which is a half-loaf that does not provide sustainable funding or a workable framework for employees and employers," Cuomo spokesperson Melissa DeRosa said in a statement in March in response to the IDC's plan.

Klein's new plan would provide 12 weeks of paid leave starting at two-thirds of a worker's average weekly pay, or 35 percent of the state's average weekly wage by 2017. It would eventually offer 80 percent of a worker's salary, or 50 percent of the statewide average weekly by April 1, 2021. It would be paid for through a 27-cent-a-week contribution from employee paychecks and be distributed through a newly created paid leave system. It would not expand the TDI, but Klein has advocated doing so separately, to raise the TDI benefit after so many years of it staying flat.

Cuomo's plan, presented in conjunction with his State of the State and budget address in January, would create a paid family leave system that would offer up to 12 weeks leave paid for by a weekly, 60 cent payroll deduction. Workers would be able to take leave while earning 35 percent of their pay in 2018, rising to 66 percent by 2021. Leave pay would be capped at a weekly average of statewide pay - the 2014 average according to the state Department of Labor was $1,266.44.

The Assembly plan would expand TDI and provide workers with 12 weeks of paid leave at two thirds of their average weekly wage. It would be paid for with a weekly deduction from an employee's paycheck that would start at 45 cents. The plan would become effective July of 2017.

Advocates have leaned towards the Assembly plan as it provides workers with what they consider the minimum amount of pay to make taking leave feasible, as well as expanding the TDI, and requiring a smaller worker contribution.

Blue Carreker, head of Citizen Action of NY's paid family leave campaign said that her organization thinks any paid leave bill has to cover all workers and all businesses, provide 12 weeks leave, and increase the rates paid by TDI to bring it into parity with what will be paid by the family leave program.

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has indicated he is open to negotiations. Following a speech he gave at an Association for a Better New York breakfast last month, Flanagan indicated he was moved by Cuomo's State of the State speech in which the governor described regretting not being at his father's side during his final days.

Flanagan tempered that openness with concerns he has about how a paid leave policy might impact small business. "If you're a business with four employees and someone is going to be gone for three or four months, that's a legitimate consideration," said Flanagan. "So a threshold on what's the size of the business, who pays for it, how are kids paid for, those are all absolutely important components and worthy of discussion, and I think those discussions are already taking place. Where it adds up, I don't have a crystal ball on that, but I think there's a lot more discussion about paid family leave now than there was even six months ago."

Republican Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb told Gotham Gazette, "A lot of business owners are saying 'Are you kidding me? Another thing that is telling me what to do and costing me time and money.'" He added that "there really aren't that many details except in that bill" from the Assembly Democrats, which "almost certainly won't become law."

A number of business groups stand against paid family leave. "Small employers are currently able to accommodate employees and provide flexibility in terms of scheduling," said Michael Durant, New York State director of The National Federation of Independent Businesses. "Those that can afford to offer paid time off already do and to require those that cannot afford the added expense will be dangerous to the small business sector. This is simply a solution in search of a problem and would be yet another government mandate on small business."

A recent DEMOS policy brief showed that 9 out of 10, or 6.4 million, working people in New York don't have paid family leave.

Increasing the TDI is an extremely sensitive issue for businesses and many legislators believe that including it with paid family leave will continue to be a poison pill. Most legislators are convinced by Cuomo's efforts on paid family leave and they see the inclusion of it in his budget and the way he rolled out the issue in the State of the State as a sign of steadfast commitment. They expect he will be willing to increase how much the leave program pays out and perhaps speed the implementation timeline, but not touch the TDI given his relationship with the business community. Increasing the TDI would be an immense victory for labor interests.

Carreker, who was waiting for a meeting with Cuomo administration representatives about paid leave when she spoke with Gotham Gazette, said she is confident a compromise can be reached and stressed she feels that advocates need to focus on educating legislators and small businesses on the impact paid family leave would actually have.

"It's about getting over that initial hurdle of the fear of change, of something different," said Carreker. "The more people that hear the details, the more they'll see it makes sense. This isn't a burden, it's an insurance program that covers the salaries so businesses can figure out coverage while an employee is away so that they don't have to lose good employees."

Klein agrees: "This is not something that puts a burden on business, but something that lends stability to the workforce. I think we're getting it done this year."

Paid Family Leave Proposals Gov. Cuomo Assembly Democrats Senate Independent Democratic Conference
Funding Method

60 cent weekly deduction from employees' paychecks

State TDI program and 45 cent weekly deduction from employees' paychecks

27 cent weekly deduction from employees’ paychecks

Time Off & Payout

12 weeks of paid leave starting at 35% of worker’s pay starting in 2018, rising to 66% by 2021.

12 weeks of paid leave starting at two-thirds of a worker’s average weekly wage, effective July 2017

12 weeks of paid leave starting at two-thirds of a worker’s average weekly pay, or 35% of the state’s average weekly wage by 2017. Will eventually offer 80% of a worker’s salary, or 50% of the statewide average weekly by April 1, 2021

TDI Expansion?

Does not expand TDI

Plan would expand the scope of the state Temporary Disability Insurance program to cover paid family leave

Does not expand TDI

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Everyone's Talking About Paid Family Leave, Only Compromise Will Yield a Deal Fri, 05 Feb 2016 21:47:14 +0000
Paid Family Leave in NYC: Progressive Policy, Regressive Plan de blasio desk red

The mayor (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

Paid parental leave is a hallmark of civilized societies that financially support family values. It is laudable that the City of New York wishes to be included in those ranks, starting by mandating paid parental leave for city managerial employees. But the de Blasio administration does so by having those employees pay for it themselves with a reduction in their next scheduled pay increase and the loss of two vacation days for some. That's hardly an act of a progressive employer.

Many of the managerial employees being covered by the mayor's executive order are not high-salaried executives. Some are managers whose pay starts at $57,210 annually, which translates to $27.50 per hour. City managers with 20, even 30 years of service have passed a series of civil service tests that they must pay to take. Still, some are barely making a living wage.

Most are not policy makers, this work is done by elected officials and agency commissioners. Instead, the managers make sure that the service goals set by the policy makers are met. They are the policy implementers who keep our city running 24/7 no matter who the elected officials and their top-level appointees, who largely most over $200,000 per year.

An adult with one child making $27.40 per hour barely qualifies as making living wage according to the Living Wage Calculator for New York County designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The MIT calculator was used in determining that the minimum wage should be a living wage of $15 per hour. A $15 hourly minimum wage is strongly supported by the de Blasio administration, as evidenced by the mayor's recently announced plan to move all city employees to that minimum over the next couple of years.

De Blasio believes that all those in the private sector, like entry-level fast food workers, should soon make a minimum of $15 per hour too.

Shouldn't the minimum be something more for managers who oversee the spending of millions of tax dollars for vital city services? After years of service, shouldn't those managers be well above $27.40 per hour? And, when we rightfully seek to expand family leave benefits to those managers, shouldn't they not have to sacrifice pay increases?

Cheating city managers out of a full pay increase to pay for a progressive policy like paid family leave challenges the credibility of the city's true commitment to the new parental leave policy. Back in Jamaica, Queens where I grew up it is called "putting your money where your mouth is," which is what I want to see the City do on paid family leave.

The current scheme forces managers to buy their own paid family leave and therefore reduces its impact. Paid family leave is a progressive policy - making employees pay for it is not.

Arthur Cheliotes is President of CWA Local 1180, a municipal union representing more than 8,500 workers and 6,200 retirees. Most work in one of dozens of New York City mayoral agencies; others at the Department of Education, Health and Hospitals Corporation, NYCHA, the Transit Authority, the School Construction Authority, and the state's Unified Court System.

Paid Family Leave in NYC: Progressive Policy, Regressive Plan Thu, 07 Jan 2016 00:23:21 +0000
In End of Session 'Scorecard,' Plenty for Next Year's Albany Agenda Cuomo Heastie Flanagan

Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (L-R) (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)

In the Democrat-controlled Assembly, it was 122-13; in the Republican-controlled Senate, 47-12. With those votes and a Governor Andrew Cuomo signature, a final policy package brought an underwhelming end to a tumultuous 2015 legislative session in New York's capital. 

Look at the bill, which combines laws on a variety of disparate issues, and see it's headlined "relates to rent-control provisions," referencing what was to many the most important aspect of the deal reached by Governor Cuomo, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. This year's 'three men in a room' took a little extra time to get to "yes," with the 2015 'big ugly' passed through the Legislature a little over a week after the originally scheduled end of session.

You can forgive Albany lawmakers for being a little tardy, though - as Governor Cuomo has said, it was no ordinary year in Albany. "This was a very difficult year," Cuomo said last Tuesday when announcing the framework of a deal. "There were extraordinary developments...It was almost unimaginable to have this kind of change in this period of time. You wound up with two new leaders." He was, of course, alluding to the fact that both Flanagan's and Heastie's predeccesors were arrested on corruption charges earlier this year.

Along with an extension of rent regulations that mostly concern New York City tenants and their allies, the deal includes action briefly extending mayoral control of city schools and the 421-a real estate tax abatement program; providing property tax rebates; setting aside funding for nonpublic schools; and altering the cap on charter schools so more can open in New York City. Cuomo and the Legislature also struck deals on campus sexual conduct and nail salon regulation.

While extensions were passed on major sunsetting items, the 2015 deal may be more notable for how much it did not include than for what it did.

Cases in point: noting the absence of items he had promised action on, Cuomo announced two executive orders he would be issuing on criminal justice issues. Facing an uncooperative Senate, the governor had also already set things in motion to up the minimum wage on his own, with his Department of Labor convening a fast food worker wage board set to deliver recommendations soon.

But on those issues some action is being taken - there is also a wide variety of policy seeing no movement through the end of session deal or Cuomo on his own, angering advocates behind pushes to enact paid family leave, the Gender Non-Discrimination Act, the DREAM Act, government ethics and campaign finance reform, and mixed martial arts (MMA), to name a few of the most-sought. New York will continue to be the only state that does not sanction MMA and one of only two that continues to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system.

Yet according to Cuomo, the end-of-session deal is a robust package, plenty good for New Yorkers, and further evidence that New York government is functional. Speaking at a press conference announcing a final agreement, Cuomo said, "I am personally very happy and very proud of this legislative package. I think that it is responsive to the problems that are pressing the state right now. I think that it is actually a very robust and extensive legislative package of reforms that goes a long way towards making this state a better state."

The governor also praised Flanagan and Heastie. "These gentlemen were in a very difficult situation to step in as a new leader," Cuomo said, adding that it was "extraordinary" that the two could step into the legislative process in the middle of negotiations and ensure government keeps working.

Flanagan seemed mostly pleased with the session's policy outcomes. Heastie less so. But, Heastie and many of his supporters have been quick to note that the deal appears to be the best the new speaker could do. He was fighting an uphill battle, many Democrats argue, against an obstinate Senate Republican conference and, in some cases, an unsympathetic Democratic governor. New York City Democrats - elected and otherwise - were largely disappointed, and many point a finger at Cuomo, who they say did not fight hard enough on key issues or for tenants.

State Senator Adriano Espaillat, a Manhattan Democrat who voted against the end-of-session deal, said, "We are far from where we need to be to protect tenants...we need strong rent laws, not a slight improvement."

City Comptroller Scott Stringer said similarly, "When it came to protecting tenants, Albany failed miserably," Stringer said Sunday on John Catsimatidis' radio show, according to the Daily News. "We have an affordable housing crisis," Stringer added, "But the rent stabilization deal didn't address those issues."

The rent laws took center stage as Albany lawmakers let them briefly expire and the session puttered into overtime. But, the regulations were among many issues at play, some of which saw action. In looking at the outcomes of the 2015 legislative session - which some have called anemic or "the absolutely bare minimum" - we see the initial framework for next year's policy agenda.

Rent Regulations: extended for four years, and strengthened slightly with an increase and indexing of the threshold by which units can be removed from the regulated rolls; an increase in civil harassment penalties where owners harass a tenant to obtain a vacancy; and an adjustment to the limits landlords can charge tenants to receive reimbursement for building improvements. Senate Republicans attempted to insert income verification measures, but they did not make the final deal.

Of Assembly Speaker Heastie's push on rent regulations, Governor Cuomo said, "I believe the rent package that he has obtained is a major step forward. You have certain voices that would say rent regulations should just go away - I understand that, but that's not going to happen any time soon. But he has done an extraordinary job in crafting a program that addresses the entire spectrum of the problem."

Reaction: the extension came as a relief to tenants and their allies, but is seen as largely inadequate, as the comments from Espaillat and Stringer indicate. City Council Member Jumaane Williams has said that "Governor Cuomo completely and thoroughly let New York City tenants down."

A spokesperson for a coalition of pro-tenant groups, Real Affordability for All, said "This deal is very bad for tenants, good for corruption and a step further to eliminating the largest source of affordable housing in the state. The changes included to the laws are as insignificant as the reforms made in 2011, which led to the displacement of thousands of working class New Yorkers and to the high record number of families who ended up in city shelters. It completely ignores the affordable housing crisis." Activists say thousands of rent regulated apartments will be lost each year and they plan to continue to protest the deal.

Taxes: the state property tax cap, limiting growth at two percent per year, is extended for an additional four years, and a new property tax credit, "$3.1 billion over four years in direct relief to struggling New York taxpayers," is included. In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Flanagan said, "We are taking action on long-held Republican priorities that reduce the property tax burden here in New York so that we can create jobs, grow businesses, and help taxpayers keep more of their hard-earned money."

Reaction: the governor is largely praised for fiscal discipline when it comes to property tax increases, while the property tax cap and the new tax credit are seen as wins for middle class and wealthy homeowners. The Citizens Budget Commission, however, expresses concern about the tax credit, writing, "The legislative package passed in Albany last week rejected some misguided and expensive proposals, including a tax credit for benefactors of private schools. Unfortunately, other expensive proposals were included, adding to current and future state expenses without providing offsetting savings or revenues...By far the largest part is a new property tax relief rebate program, which will cost $1.3 billion annually when fully implemented."

421-a: "The legislation extends the 421-a program for six months, with a provision that allows representatives of labor and industry groups to reach a memorandum of understanding regarding wage protections for construction workers. If such an agreement is reached, the program will automatically be extended for four years," according to a release from the governor's office. A key piece of the deal is that affordable housing will be mandated as part of any development approved to receive the tax break, a significant change from the previous version, which included major exceptions. The deal also bans the so-called "poor door" setup that some developers enacted with separate entrances for market-rate tenants and affordable unit tenants.

Reaction: 421-a was a source of conflict between Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. The final plan - assuming that the two sides can come to a wage agreement - is very close to what de Blasio proposed, which he and his aides have pointed out, including through a convincing infographic.

"Some real progress was made on 421-a. We were very proud of that fact," de Blasio said on Monday, according to The Observer. "We're going to have a lot more affordable housing than we would have otherwise, and taxpayers are going to get a much better deal, because any time we subsidize a building, there will be affordable housing as part of that." The deal does not include the so-called "mansion tax" de Blasio called for on sales of apartments over $1.75 million and used to fund affordable housing, which the mayor called "a mistake" and a "lost opportunity."

The deal appears to work for just about all the key stakeholders, though the labor agreement that must be reached could halt the celebration, and even if it is worked out by the parties, the proof of this deal's success will be in the pudding that is real estate development and accompanying affordable housing built over the coming years.

Education: there is $250 million to private schools "for the costs of performing State-mandated services," money which many say the schools are already owed; requirements for the "disclosure of state exam questions and answers" and other measures to improve standardized testing; a "one-year extension of mayoral control of the New York City school system"; and an "increase in the number of charter schools available to be issued in New York City to 50 and enhanced flexibility in teacher certification rules" for charter schools.

Reaction: de Blasio and his allies had sought at least three years extension of mayoral control (de Blasio had originally pushed for it to be made permanent and the Assmebly had passed a seven-year extension); the one-year deal is seen as an insult to the mayor and, to some, revenge by Senate Republicans for de Blasio's 2014 efforts to swing the Senate to Democrats. It is unclear how much Governor Cuomo fought for a longer extension, though he had himself originally proposed three years early in 2015. "The outcome of the negotiations was the best that we could do," Cuomo said. Mayoral control will now be a focal point again in 2016 as de Blasio seeks another extension.

Meanwhile, much of the rest of the deal appears to extend the governor's education reform agenda. Cuomo allies in the charter school sector praised the deal. "Today Albany leaders stepped up and delivered for parents and students who demanded more choice," said StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis. "Too many children are stuck in failing schools without options...Thankfully, Albany leaders understand that charter schools play a critical role in the delivery of free, public education in New York."

Albany lawmakers also announced a deal enacting Cuomo's "Enough is Enough" campus sexual assault conduct policy across the state. "We have a bill on sexual assault on campuses that is the smartest and toughest bill in the United States," Cuomo said announcing the deal. "I think it's going to set a new national model for other states to follow."

The governor is taking executive action on three issues, each of which will still be revisited in terms of legislation, likely in 2016.

Governor Cuomo wanted legislation passed to raise the age of criminal responsibility, but Senate Republicans balked. "To me the single most important piece of 'raise the age' is getting the 16- and 17-year-olds out of state prisons and that's what I can do by executive order," Cuomo said last week. "We'll be creating facilities designed for those 16- and 17-year-olds that will be much more appropriate than a state prison," he said.

Cuomo also announced that since he could not come to a deal with legislative leaders on a special prosecutor in cases where police officers kill unarmed civilians, he was appointing the attorney general as such for one year, and will hope to come to a legislative solution in 2016.

The governor has pushed a further increase in the minimum wage, which is now $8.75 per hour and set to go to $9 at the end of the year. Unable to get Senate Republicans to bite, Cuomo announced he had instructed his Department of Labor to convene a wage board examining wages in the fast food industry. The wage board has held several public hearings and is set to announce its recommendations any day. Hopes are high that the board will "do the right thing and recommend a $15 wage for fast-food workers that will take effect as soon as possible," as a statement from Working Families Party State Director Bill Lipton read. Even if the board announces something less than $15 per hour, it is likely to push a significantly higher wage than $9.

While Cuomo acts on his own regarding the minimum wage in the fast food industry, where 16- and 17-year olds are imprisoned, and how investigations into police killings of unarmed civilians are run, it is almost certain that the governor and others will want to see legislative action on the three issues come 2016.

Advocates will have to continue to push for the DREAM Act; paid family leave; the Gender Non-Discrimination Act; raising the age of criminal responsibility and other criminal justice reforms; an increase in the minimum wage; legalizing mixed martial arts; ethics and campaign finance reform; and much more. Cuomo did not get Assembly Democrats to agree to his education tax credit proposal that would have incentivized contributions to nonpublic schools, and it is unclear if there will be another push for it in the future. It is clear, however, that the other issues on this list will remain the focus of much lobbying and activism:

Ethics and Campaign Finance Reform: "I'm disappointed and, frankly, find it incomprehensible, that there were not further measures taken to reform the procedures in our state government and in our campaigns," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said on Friday, according to The Observer.

Schneiderman, who has put forth his own sweeping ethics reform package, said he wants to see a special legislative session before the scheduled January return of business to Albany. Good government groups, including Citizens Union, the Brennan Center, and NYPIRG, released a statement saying, "New York's leading civic organizations today decried Albany's continuing failure to fully address the ceaseless ethics problems head-on during the 2015 legislative session. The groups called on Governor Cuomo and the state's legislative leaders to convene a special session to tackle ethics reforms before the end of the calendar year."

Among the reforms the good government groups and Schneiderman want to see are limits on legislators' outside income and the closing of the infamous LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited campaign donations.

The Gender Non-Discrimination Act: The State Assembly has passed GENDA eight times, but the legislation, which, according to the Empire State Pride Agenda, "would update the state's anti-discrimination protections to cover transgender New Yorkers," has stalled in the Senate. The Pride Agenda released a statement saying that with the end of "a deplorably unproductive legislative session," the Senate has left transgender New Yorkers at continued risk "to the vicious discrimination that haunts countless trans lives." The Pride Agenda and allies also want to see action banning "conversion therapy" on minors in New York, which has also passed the Assembly.

Paid Family Leave: It's an issue gaining more and more traction nationally, but New Yorkers are looking to push paid family leave at the state level in the absene of federal policy. Reacting to a lack of movement before the end of the 2015 session, the New York Paid Family Leave Insurance campaign issued a statement, saying, "It now appears that New York families will have to wait yet another year for paid family leave. Meanwhile, thousands of workers upstate and down are still forced to choose between caring for their loved ones and their families' economic security...While employers and employees in California, Rhode Island, and even next door in New Jersey continue to reap the benefits of this overdue policy, New York is still woefully behind." Advocates cite The Paid Family Leave Insurance Act, which passed the Assembly in March and "would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill family member, and deal with issues that arise when a family member is called to active military service."

Business owners and their allies continue to express reservations about any additional mandates placed on owners, both in terms of monetary cost and productivity. Many insist that New York should not take any further action to make the state more unfriendly toward business.

Well before the end-of-session deal was reached, it was clear that little beyond the basics would be done. Those behind the issues above, plus the DREAM Act, a farm workers bill of rights, the abortion plank of the Women's Equality Agenda, MMA, and other pieces of legislation watched the final negotiations in disappointment, and beginning to think about influencing the start of business next year.

In most instances, it is Democrats left wanting more. When the final deal was announced on Thursday, Assembly Speaker Heastie spoke of coming to terms with reality. "You could always want better," he said. "This is a bicameral Legislature and the Republicans in the Senate have their own vision on what they'd like to see and you do the best you can and try to compromise...We would have loved to have done more." 

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

In End of Session 'Scorecard,' Plenty for Next Year's Albany Agenda Mon, 29 Jun 2015 20:09:15 +0000
Even Amid Albany Dysfunction, Advocates Forge Path to Paid Family Leave wfpct paid family leave

Advocates for paid family leave (photo: @CTWFP)

Upheaval in the capital due to another high-profile corruption scandal is not stopping advocates from heading to Albany to push for legislative action.

With just six weeks left in the legislative session set to expire mid-June, on Wednesday activists will rally at the Legislative Office Building and lobby lawmakers to pass paid family leave in New York State.

An 11:30 a.m. press conference will be led by Democratic State Senators, including bill sponsor Joseph Addabbo, calling for passage of the Paid Family Leave Insurance Act in the Republican-controlled Senate. The companion bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Cathy Nolan, passed in the Democrat-controlled Assembly in March. Addabbo’s bill failed a Senate vote two weeks later, just before a fiscal year 2016 budget deal was reached.

Though a new cloud hangs over the Legislature after federal corruption charges were brought against Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on Monday, it does not appear that substantive policy work in the capital will completely halt. There is reason to be skeptical that legislation will be approved by both houses to ensure New Yorkers are able to take paid leave to care for a sick family member or spend time with a new child, but the issue has captured the attention of many, and has gained new momentum at the city, state, and federal levels.

Negotiations over the paremeters of any paid family leave bill could be among the highest profile in Albany and legislative action on this issue could again make New York a national policy-making leader - perhaps garnering the type of positive attention the state could use given its growing reputation for corruption in its elected ranks. New York could become just the fourth state to pass a paid family leave law.

A representative of the Obama administration met recently with New York leaders on the subject as the president looks to pass legislation creating a fund to help states support family leave and a representative from Hillary Clinton’s campaign listed it as a priority for the presidential hopeful. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who is sponsoring federal paid family leave legislation, recently lamented that "The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world without any form of paid family and medical leave.” She promised “to continue the fight in Washington to pass the FAMILY Act to finally set a federal paid leave program." (The 1993 American Family and Medical Leave Act ensures 12 weeks of unpaid leave)

Gillibrand’s comments came during a video message that was played last Thursday at an event in New York City - and livecast to sister events in cities across the state - organized by the Paid Family Leave Insurance Campaign, which is at the heart of the Albany lobbying set for Wednesday. The campaign is made up of advocacy groups, unions, and elected officials; members include 1199 SEIU, 32BJ SEIU, Citizen Action of New York, Community Service Society, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York Paid Leave Coalition, and the NYS AFL-CIO. On Friday, Gillibrand expressed optimism about paid family leave, and said she is working both with leaders in New York state government and also pushing her bill on the federal level.

Representing the Obama administration, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez also recorded a message that was played to those in attendance last week. Perez and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett have been traveling the country promoting paid leave in what the administration is calling "Lead on Leave." It was Jarrett who previously met with New York officials.

At this point, however, movement on paid family is most likely to occur at the state level of government, at least between now and the summer. Looking to Albany, the New York City Council passed a resolution last week recommending that the state pass the Paid Family Leave Act. In her remarks at Thursday’s event, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said that her office’s report on the subject indicates that Albany is the best place for legislation to occur.

While there is support for the general principle of paid family leave in both houses of the Legislature and from Governor Andrew Cuomo, there is no clear path forward in terms of policy specifics. A key sticking point, of course, is where the funding will come from to pay for the employee leave involved.

At last Thursday’s rally, State Senator Addabbo said, “As the Senate sponsor of this legislation, I am delighted that the State Assembly has approved this bill, and I hope my legislative chamber will follow suit.”

“In the absence of action by Congress,” he added, “we need to state at a time – and New York should be next, following the lead of New Jersey, California and Rhode Island.”

If some version of paid family leave is to pass both houses of the New York State Legislature and head to Governor Cuomo’s desk, it is unlikely it will be the Addabbo-Nolan version. A different paid family leave proposal in the Senate, sponsored by Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, differs from the Addabbo-Nolan bill on the source of funding. Klein’s version was included in the Senate’s one-house budget, but no compromise was reached in order to include paid family leave in the final state budget deal at the end of March, pushing the issue into legislative session.

Klein has reiterated that paid family leave is a top priority for him this session. In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Klein said, “At the Senate's Paid Family Leave hearing [in March], we heard from advocates, the business community and organized labor – and we are actively weighing their concerns and working towards a plan that’s both fair and balanced. In the coming weeks and months, I will continue to collaborate with my Senate colleagues to pass Paid Family Leave in New York State and put our hard-working families first.”

Governor Cuomo has expressed support for the issue, but he seemed to be caught off guard by the momentum behind it after he had declared there to be little appetite for paid family leave while he worked to pass his ten-plank women’s equality agenda, which is now moving through the Legislature in pieces.

Cuomo’s office recently indicated that leaders of the majorities from each house do not seem close on a paid family leave deal. It was unclear if his administration is doing anything to facilitate compromise.

In summarizing last Thursday’s rally, a press release from the New York Paid Family Leave Insurance Campaign says that significant lobbying efforts are set to begin: “In each region, labor and community leaders identified local actions and events to mobilize citizens between now and the end of the legislative session.” Wednesday’s event in Albany will be a major part of these efforts, but it remains to be seen how much attention any issue can get with Albany in further disarray.

The conversation around paid family leave has gained traction nationally since President Obama mentioned it in his State of the Union address earlier this year. The President is attempting to pass the Healthy Families Act to create a $2 billion fund to help states implement paid family leave. Senator Gillibrand has introduced the federal Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which has 12 Democrat co-sponsors.

While federal aid could provide a significant push, New York does already have the mechanisms to implement paid family leave. But, reticence among business leaders about what they see as another possible regulation and potentially unfunded mandate is shared by Republicans (and some Democrats) who staunchly refuse to lay the burden for paid leave on employers.

The concerns about the law raised by the business community seem unsubstantiated when the experiences of other states with paid family leave are taken into account. Meanwhile, the Nolan-Addabbo version of paid leave actually bases it on employee contributions rather than state funding. The Klein version, which appears to at least have some support from Senate Republicans, calls for the state to pay at least $125 million in the first year of implementation with the following years supplemented by employee payroll fees.

The paid leave campaign backing the Addabbo-Nolan bill stresses that “the paid family leave insurance benefit is entirely employee-paid,” and that “the law does not create a new administrative requirement, but rather expands New York’s existing Temporary Disability Insurance program (TDI) through a small increase in premiums that would continue to be shared by employers and employees, as they are now.”

In California, a paid family leave (PFL) law was passed in 2002 and went into effect in July 2004. In the years since, the fears that businesses had about the effect of PFL on their productivity and the local economy turned out to be unfounded. According to a 2011 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), 89 percent of employers said that PFL had a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on productivity and 91 percent said the same about profitability and performance. (The report was based on a survey of 253 employers and 500 individuals conducted in 2009 and 2010).

“California serves as a model for other states and the national level,” said Greta Twombly, campaigns manager, American Sustainable Business Council. “It’s considered a success. Businesses were worried about it hurting their bottom line. Data year after year shows that’s not the case.”

Twombly insists that paid family leave helps businesses avoid the costs of hiring and training new employees and evens the playing field for businesses that already provide certain benefits to their employees.

In New York, she said, “There’s direct competition between companies that provide it and those that don’t. There are companies that want to provide it but can’t because there are no logistics for it or their competitors don’t so they can’t afford to either.”

In 2009, New Jersey became the second state to establish paid family leave through the state Family Leave Insurance (FLI) program. Again, most employers felt that the program didn’t affect profitability according to a report released by CEPR last year. CEPR surveyed 18 employers ranging from 26 to 36,000 employees and none of these businesses said it affected productivity or turnover. Only two employers said it had a negative effect on their bottom line. Even in New Jersey, Twombly said, “There have been no terrible, dramatic, scary effects that opponents touted. Quite the opposite.”

Rhode Island only created its paid leave program in 2013. It is funded through employee contributions and so has minimal impact on employers. “In Rhode Island, a lot of employers were already doing this in one way or another,” said Erik Rettig, North-East outreach manager, Small Business Majority. “People getting sick is not new.”

Citing a poll conducted in 2013, Rettig said business owners are in favor of policies based in shared contributions or employee payroll deductions. But the challenge for New York is clarity in policy. “A lot of times these policies are piecemeal,” Rettig said. “They’re cobbled together. Businesses don’t look forward to that.” Although he conceded that it would be tough to expand temporary disability insurance to pay for paid family leave, a cost that would fall on employers, he argues “It makes business sense at the end of the day. There’s no evidence to support the fact that it isn’t working for businesses. There is evidence to the contrary. Business owners get this. They just want to make sure it happens in the right way,” Rettig said.

Senator Klein has been trying to champion his version of paid family leave through the Senate, albeit by separating it from TDI. "Including Paid Family Leave in the Senate’s one-house budget was a major step forward for New Yorkers,” Klein said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Where it goes now is unclear.

At the event Thursday, Public Advocate James said, “We are here for one simple reason: No one should have to choose between taking care of their family and losing their job.”

James added: “Paid family leave is a basic protection guaranteed to working families in 185 countries around the world, but our city, our state, and our country are lagging severely behind.”

by Samar Khurshid and Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid @tweetBenMax @GothamGazette

Even Amid Albany Dysfunction, Advocates Forge Path to Paid Family Leave Tue, 05 May 2015 05:00:00 +0000
With New Budget, Key Issues Championed by City Officials Left for Later cuomo opportunity agenda

Governor Cuomo (photo: @NYGovCuomo)

As state budget negotiations delivered a new deal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was willing to drop many priorities from his spending plan, several of which are of great importance to New York City officials, including his sometime friend Mayor Bill de Blasio.

With adoption of the state's fiscal year 2016 budget, a host of progressive issues de Blasio and his allies touted were abandoned. Both Cuomo and the Democratic Assembly Majority headed by new Speaker Carl Heastie listed a host of major progressive touchstones in their budget proposals this year, such as paid family leave, a minimum wage increase, the DREAM Act, and more. Cuomo draped himself in several of these issues while campaigning in the city in 2014 and they were key parts to the budget plan he labeled the "2015 Opportunity Agenda."

And yet the 2016 budget lacks most of the progressive punch that Cuomo cloaked his budget proposal in. Insiders say that his budget negotiating powers were hampered by the fact that Cuomo's influence has been significantly damaged by a rough election and recent ethics scandals, and that the governor focused what political capital he had on education reforms and an ethics deal that has been dismissed by good government groups as "window dressing."

Meanwhile, Heastie, who enjoys de Blasio's backing, was new to negotiations and was focused on fighting Cuomo's education agenda. Senate Republicans dug in against progressive issues, bolstered by the success they had during the last election where many of their candidates ran against the DREAM Act. They were also motivated by spite of de Blasio, who publicly vowed to defeat them and tip the chamber into Democratic hands. Also pushed into legislative session beyond the budget is mayoral control of schools, which de Blasio asked be made permanent and Cuomo suggested a three-year extension of - during his closing remarks to the chamber on Tuesday night, Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos ominously remarked that Senate Republicans would consider "how and if" to renew mayoral control.

In the end, contentious debates were mostly abandoned for the sake of an on-time budget. Without the leverage of budget negotiations it is questionable whether many of the larger issues will be addressed later in legislative session, which runs until mid-June.

Legislators from the city were hopeful that 2015 would be a major year for their issues, like the DREAM Act, despite the fact that Senate Republicans managed to win a clear, although narrow majority.

Assembly Members defended the budget deal, publicly supporting Heastie, but many of them acknowledged they were voting for it while holding their noses. Senate Democrats unleashed a host of hostile amendments trying to attach legislation including The DREAM Act, a minimum wage increase, and paid family leave. All of the measures were ruled non-germane.

A look at the major issues important to de Blasio and other city officials that were not addressed in the budget despite being pushed previously by Cuomo and Assembly Democrats:

Paid Family Leave
Perhaps no other issue this year better represents the odd political dynamics at play during budget negotiations. On paid family leave, it's unclear who really wants what and what they are actually willing to do to get it. The issue became a surprise budget touchpoint when Senate Republicans included it in their one-house budget as a hat tip to their partners in the Independent Democratic Conference. The Assembly has been pushing it for years. Republicans are keen to keep the IDC happy as they only enjoy a one-member Senate majority and have members who are under federal investigation, who are considering retirement, who are dealing with health issues, and who may be vulnerable in 2016.

Paid family leave calls for new parents and those taking care of sick relatives to have several weeks of paid leave from their work. Different plans outlined different parameters, including where funding would come from - Cuomo did not include the measure in his budget and seemed caught off guard when it was included in the one-house spending plans of each chamber of the Legislature.

Cuomo claimed the Legislature had "no appetite" for the measure in February. Later he said his office would have to study the issue. Most legislators agree that it was never really at play in budget negotiations. Needless to say, it is favored by de Blasio and most New York City Democrats.

On Tuesday Queens Senator Joseph Addabbo tried to introduce a hostile amendment in his chamber mirroring the Assembly's plan, which is more generous than the Senate's. The amendment was struck down.

Mayoral Control of Schools
With Cuomo supporting a three-year extension and the Assembly supporting seven, even a number of Republican lawmakers told Gotham Gazette earlier in the year that the renewal of mayoral control of schools would not be much of a fight. Diane Savino of the IDC old Gotham Gazette that the renewal should be fairly simple because Senate Republicans had renewed mayoral control before. However, at that time they were dealing with a Mayor (Bloomberg) who donated millions to their campaign accounts.

Senate Republicans feel de Blasio makes a great foil for them and they appear to at least want to make him sweat on mayoral control. Insiders say his push against Cuomo's education reform plan also put him in an even more vulnerable position in budget negotiations. It reasons that Cuomo himself doesn't mind pushing the mayoral control conversation down the line - he himself has called it still an "experiment."

"On something like mayoral control of education, where there's an extraordinary consensus that this is the only effective way to reform education, and the alternative is to go back to a system that was rife with corruption, we're going to win the day on that issue, I believe in my heart, regardless of things that happened last year," de Blasio told reporters on Monday.

Proponents of the DREAM Act, including de Blasio and his close ally City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, went into 2015 more hopeful than they had been in years. They had assurances Cuomo would make the DREAM Act part of his budget - and he did - but he tied it to the equally controversial education tax credit.

During his re-election campaign, Cuomo finally gave full-throated support to the DREAM proposal and would allocate $27 million to give undocumented immigrants access to tuition assistance. He used the issue on the campaign trail as though it was a major priority, and legislators and advocates had seen what Cuomo could do when he made something a priority (see marriage equality and the SAFE Act). Cuomo had successfully changed Republican minds to ensure passage of progressive legislation before, he could do it again. But as negotiations started, Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos was adamant that he would not support the legislation despite it being linked to the education tax credit he supports. Skelos and his spokesperson repeatedly said he did not believe the State should pay for college for "illegal immigrants."

"We're nowhere close to an agreement," Cuomo said on March 24. "So it was pointless in the budget." And like that DREAM Act momentum was dead.

Activists are conducting a hunger strike and the measure will surely garner much attention in the coming weeks and months. And, Democrats plan to run on the issue in Republican districts where there are large Hispanic populations. But for this year, most Democrats agree the DREAM Act is dead because of opposition from Senate Republicans.

"Today is the birthday of the great labor leader Cesar Chavez," Sen. Jose Peralta, Senate sponsor of the DREAM Act, said on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday. "And we are still talking about a lack of respect for immigrants who come to this country, who work hard and live the American we go again another year and another budget without the DREAM Act, another year of intolerant propaganda."

Minimum Wage Hike
De Blasio, the Assembly and progressive advocates want a staggered minimum wage hike for the city that would reach $15 an hour by 2019. Cuomo favored $11.50 by 2017, with $10.50 for the rest of the state, and it looked to many like there would be room for negotiation. And yet, no raise has made it into the budget as Skelos again shut it down. The budget is likely the only place there would have been leverage sufficient enough to convince Senate Republicans to support it. Advocates for raising the wage have seized on the fact that the budget includes tax breaks for yachts and airplanes and no wage increase.

Criminal Justice Reforms
Changing the grand jury system and repairing police/community relations was at the top of the legislative to-do list at the start of the year. Protests over the chokehold death of Eric Garner at the hands of an NYPD officer and the murder of two NYPD officers dominated the headlines. Cuomo promised he would tackle the issue head-on and legislators from all over the state proposed solutions, including having more information released about how grand juries arrive at their decisions and bringing in special prosecutors for police-involved shootings. None of those proposals made it into the budget.

Cuomo's complex "Raise the Age" proposal that would have stopped New York from charging 16- and 17-year-olds as adults and would have made a number of changes to how young people accused of serious crimes are treated had been carefully interwoven into the budget. Resistance from Senate Republicans who want to prove tough on crime and Democrats who say Cuomo's proposal is ill-considered and would actually lead to juvenile offenders spending more time in jail appears to have derailed the measure in the budget. Funds for the initiative have been included, though, so the details of the plan could be worked out later in the year more easily than starting from scratch.

What The City Celebrates
On Monday, De Blasio celebrated the fact that the budget would allow the city the first crack to fix "failing" schools, a change to Cuomo's plan that would have let the state put those schools in receivership. "Per this budget agreement, the city will continue to play the primary role in determining the ways to best address those struggling schools," said de Blasio.

The mayor also expressed his pleasure with the large increase in education funding it will include, which again allows for $300 million toward pre-kindergarten in New York City. "We are certainly pleased with the additional funding for our school system, the additional funding for pre-K and for public housing, those are all steps in the right direction and will certainly help people in New York City," de Blasio said on Monday.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) will get $100 million in added funding - a major boost compared to previous years - and City Comptroller Scott Stringer will be required to more regularly audit the agency.

While the Legislature is on recess following the budget deal, expect a refreshed Albany agenda from de Blasio when legislative session begins in late April. Now, the mayor must adjust his city budget to reflect decisions the State has made.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

With New Budget, Key Issues Championed by City Officials Left for Later Wed, 01 Apr 2015 05:06:13 +0000
Newly Hot, Paid Family Leave Passes Assembly Again cuomo opportunity agenda

Gov. Cuomo discussing his agenda (photo: @NYGovCuomo)

In further indication of the growing hunger in New York and across the nation for paid family leave, the State Assembly again passed the Paid Family Leave Act on Tuesday in Albany.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans introduced their one-house budget resolution last week and also put the spotlight on the issue that Governor Andrew Cuomo is quickly having to figure out a plan on - though the Senate's version is different from the Assembly's in terms of funding mechanisms. The governor recently said that the "appetite" did not exist in the Legislature for paid family leave, but in the face of a paid family leave proposal making its way into each house's budget, his office has since said Cuomo supports the policy and his administration is studying the issue.

Upon passing the legislation, which the Democratically-controlled Assembly has passed several times, Speaker Carl Heastie said, "New Yorkers should not have to choose between keeping their jobs and taking care of a sick family member or spending time with a new one."

As budget negotiations heat up before the April 1 deadline, paid family leave has taken many by surprise as a hot-button issue for these budget and legislative sessions. It now finds itself alongside an increase in the minimum wage, the DREAM Act, education reforms and funding, ethics reforms, and other keys to intense spending and policy talks.

The U.S. falls behind other nations in its lack of a federal paid family leave law. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides for 12-weeks of job-protected leave for family and medical emergencies with continued health insurance coverage. It covers childbirth (maternity and paternity leave), caring for an adopted or foster child, caring for loved ones and personal illness. The catch: it does not mandate any pay.

New York has its own infrastructure for off-the-job disability in the form of Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI). All private employers are required to provide TDI. Through TDI, a deduction of 60 cents a week from an employee's paycheck covers between five and seven weeks for recovery from childbirth, and injuries and sickness. Only four other states provide TDI benefits -- California, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Hawaii.

But in recent years, besides Hawaii, the other three have modernized TDI to include a paid family leave plan. Hawaii is considering doing the same. "New York is really the next logical state to do it," said Nancy Rankin from the Community Service Society. "It would be an easy and affordable way to make it possible."

When the New York State Assembly passed the Paid Family Leave Act last year, the bill died in the Republican-controlled Senate. While Cuomo may be scrambling a bit to imagine his own policy specifics - he, like many lawmakers, is likely wary of the effects such a bill could have on businesses - the Senate included its family leave bill at the behest of the Independent Democratic Conference, which it caucuses with.

In an emailed statement, Heastie, who represents part of the Bronx, said, "No one should have to risk financial hardship or fear losing their job because they need to care for a sick family member. Assembly Democrats do not believe in penalizing the hardworking men and women of this state. We believe in giving them the support they need because when we invest in the health and safety of our families we invest in the future of New York. It is time to pass Paid Family Leave here in New York."

The Assembly proposal, according to a Tuesday press release, calls for expansion of TDI to ensure paid family leave, in part through employee contributions: "Under this measure, employers would be required to offer a paid family leave benefit and could have workers contribute up to 45 cents per week to the policy. This employee contribution would ensure up to 12 weeks of paid family leave, cover two-thirds of the worker's salary and guarantee job security during the absence."

The Senate's proposal came through the IDC, led by Senator Jeff Klein, also of the Bronx. The fundamental difference between the two proposals is that while the Assembly is pushing for expansion of the TDI, Klein's proposal calls for state funding of the benefit. It is projected to cost $125 million in the first year, with funding in subsequent years being bolstered by employee contributions. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos' office refused comment citing ongoing budget negotiations. The governor has already rejected the plan for overly relying on state funds.

"It's hard to sustain a private sector benefit if it needs to be renewed each year by the state Legislature," said Donna Dolan, executive director of the New York Paid Family Leave Coalition. "You're calling for funding a private sector benefit from public funding."

The Coalition last week responded to the Governor's 'no appetite' comment with a letter signed by 56 women lawmakers and leaders. The letter stated, in part, "Paid family leave would ensure that no New Yorker has to choose between the health and economic stability of her family. It would mean that the major life moments we all share – the arrival of a new child, or a close relative needing care – do not have to mean debt or bankruptcy."

The expansion of New York's TDI cash benefit has been long in the offing, family leave extension or not. The current benefit level has been frozen since 1989 at $170 a week despite a mandate for it to be at least 50 percent of the average statewide weekly wage. (In 2013, the average weekly wage in New York was $1,200, which would mean a $600 benefit if there was no cap). In comparison, the benefits are $1,104 per week in California, $772 in Rhode Island and $604 in neighboring New Jersey. "To make it meaningful, we need to raise TDI," said CSS's Rankin.

It is unclear where any middle ground for the Senate and Assembly proposals might be. It is hard for anyone to argue with the underlying premise of paid family leave, but the devil is in the funding details - and concerns over impacts on businesses.

"It's good for families and it has been good for business in the states that passed it," said Dolan. She suggests bringing business representatives from New Jersey to give the Senate reports on paid family leave.

But business leaders don't necessarily agree. President and CEO of Partnership for New York City Kathryn Wylde said, "Every time there's a new requirement that takes people out of the workplace, that removes people off a job, that requires even a temporary replacement, you can't say there's no impact." She added, "It's important that the state Legislature and the City Council recognize that there's a cumulative impact of their actions on employers and on New York's attractiveness as a place to build a business."

As New York lawmakers struggle to find a solution to this long-standing demand, the movement for paid family leave is gaining momentum. In its annual survey, the Unheard Third, CSS found 84 percent approval for paid family leave last year, up from 76 percent in 2005. Even President Obama mentioned it in his State of the Union address this year and is attempting to pass the Healthy Families Act which would create a $2 billion fund to help states with paid family leave.

"It goes beyond policy to a basic value," said Rankin. "Why wouldn't we do this and why wouldn't we do it now?"

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

Newly Hot, Paid Family Leave Passes Assembly Again Tue, 17 Mar 2015 21:00:31 +0000