Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/reinvent-albany 2018-06-21T08:44:04+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Attention Shifts to Assembly Hesitation on Accountability Bills Opposed by Cuomo 2018-06-06T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-06T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7718:attention-shifts-to-assembly-hesitation-on-accountability-bills-opposed-by-cuomo Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/govcuomo-speakerheastie.jpg" alt="govcuomo speakerheastie" width="600" height="429" /></p> <p>Speaker Heastie, left, and Governor Cuomo (photo via the Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Amid open conflict with Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, the Republican-controlled state Senate recently passed a package of bills aimed at shedding light on taxpayer-funded economic development projects, among other reform measures. The move helped reignite attention on the legislation and put pressure on the Democrat-led Assembly to pass bills it has previously supported.</p> <p>The legislation includes the Procurement Integrity Act, which would restore the state comptroller’s power to review contracts before they are officially awarded, and the “database of deals” bill, which would create a public catalogue of economic development awards and their results. Such grants run into hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds, though they are often largely hidden from the public and have been at the center of recent corruption charges.</p> <p>Assembly support for the measures was strong enough that earlier this year they were included in the chamber’s one-house budget, as they were in the Senate’s, though they were not included in the enacted state budget after negotiations among the Assembly, Senate, and governor.</p> <p>Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie praised the Procurement Integrity Act last year, <a href="http://wxxinews.org/post/lawmakers-voice-hope-reform-economic-development-contracts" target="_blank" rel="noopener">saying,</a> “Another set of eyes will make people feel better that, yes, things are done correctly.”</p> <p>However, the bill hasn’t made it out of the Assembly’s Government Operations Committee -- even though the committee’s chair, Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat from Buffalo, is the very lawmaker sponsoring the legislation. The bill has 37 co-sponsors in the 150-seat Assembly.</p> <p>And as the June 20 scheduled end of legislative session approaches, the “database of deals” bill is stalled in the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Democrat Helene Weinstein of Brooklyn. That bill has 34 co-sponsors.</p> <p>The reason for the hold-up? Advocates for the legislation are pointing at Cuomo, and his influence over Heastie.</p> <p>“The speaker is jamming the bills because the governor wants him to,” said John Kaehny, executive director of government watchdog Reinvent Albany. “If those bills went to the floor of the Assembly, they would pass overwhelmingly.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Robin Schimminger, a Democrat and main sponsor of the “database of deals” bill, echoed Kaehny’s comments.</p> <p>“The governor does not want this bill moved,” the Buffalo-area representative told Gotham Gazette. “The question is, do Chair Weinstein and Speaker Heastie -- are they going to do the right thing or are they going to roll over and not move?”</p> <p>Weinstein’s, Peoples-Stokes’, and Heastie’s offices did not respond to requests for comment. Questions around the bills, and whether Heastie and Assembly Democrats are willing to cross Cuomo, come as Democrats have a relatively recent “unity” pledge and coordinated campaign effort ahead of the fall elections.</p> <p>The economic transparency legislation is seen by many as essential after corruption indictments centering on some of the governor’s most vaunted development programs.</p> <p>Federal indictments in 2016 depicted a “pay-to-play” culture in which members of Cuomo’s inner circle received bribes or other perks in exchange for lucrative state contracts and special treatment meted out to developers in secret. Longtime Cuomo government aide and campaign manager Joseph Percoco <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7539-joseph-percoco-former-top-cuomo-aide-convicted-on-3-felony-counts" target="_blank" rel="noopener">was convicted</a> of fraud and soliciting bribes in March. Former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7558-post-percoco-conviction-kaloyeros-trial-likely-to-further-stain-cuomo-administration" target="_blank" rel="noopener">heads to trial</a> later this month for allegedly helping rig multimillion-dollar contracts.</p> <p>Both the Procurement Integrity Act (<a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?term=2017&amp;bn=S03984" target="_blank" rel="noopener">S.3984</a>/<a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?bn=A06355&amp;term=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener">A.6355</a>) and “database of deals” bill (<a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?bn=S06613&amp;term=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener">S.6613</a>/<a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?bn=A08175&amp;term=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener">A.8175</a>) aim to address perceived flaws in how Cuomo has overseen funding allocations. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this article. Cuomo has in the past dismissed calls to restore the comptroller’s pre-clearance authority on the applicable state-funded contracts, which was stripped from the office during Cuomo’s first years as governor.</p> <p>The projects Kaloyeros helped oversee, including a $750-million solar panel factory in Buffalo, were tied to SUNY Polytechnic. While Kaloyeros was allegedly scheming to reward developers who had donated to Cuomo’s re-election campaign, the state comptroller had no insight into the process; the governor and legislative leaders took away his power to pre-audit all state contracts over $250,000, including for SUNY- and CUNY-affiliated non-profits, in 2011 and 2012.</p> <p>The Procurement Integrity Act, introduced by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, would restore that power.</p> <p>"One of the reasons why folks thought they could get away with something is that they knew nobody was really looking, other than the people on the inside who turned out to be benefiting from this," DiNapoli <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7709-little-appetite-in-albany-to-address-state-budget-flaws-identified-by-comptroller" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told Syracuse.com</a> last month.</p> <p>The bill would also authorize the comptroller to approve SUNY Research Foundation contracts valued at over $1 million and would bar state-affiliated nonprofits from doling out contracts unless explicitly authorized by law. Such non-profits are at the center of the Percoco and Kaloyeros cases, with an entity called the Fort Schuyler Management Corporation awarding allegedly rigged bids.</p> <p>Last year, Cuomo’s counsel told Gotham Gazette the clean-contracting legislation “does not address the issue.”</p> <p>“The proposed legislation…is both burdensome and duplicative,” Alphonso David said. “The vast majority of these contracts are subject to OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] post-award oversight and these measures only add significant delays and increase costs for New York taxpayers.”</p> <p>Still, basic information about the taxpayer-funded programs that Kaloyeros helped oversee, along with numerous other public-private projects, is not available to the public. The governor’s office publishes vague information about projects like the Computer Chip Commercialization Center in Utica, which has been variously described as generating <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-danfoss-establish-new-manufacturing-operations-utica" target="_blank" rel="noopener">300</a> to <a href="http://www.ftsmc.org/utica/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">1,500</a> jobs and entailing investments from $100 million to $1.5 billion.</p> <p>The “database of deals” would aim to fill in holes in public knowledge of such projects. It would list every taxpayer subsidy that corporations receive along with the number of jobs created and cost per job to taxpayers.</p> <p>The Senate passed the “database” bill and the Procurement Integrity Act by votes of 62-0 and 60-2, respectively, on May 9. They were part of 11 total reform bills widely viewed as a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7666-furthering-split-from-cuomo-senate-passes-reform-bills" target="_blank" rel="noopener">snub to Cuomo</a>, who fell out with the Senate’s Republican leadership amid <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/04/nyregion/new-york-state-senate-democrats.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">political maneuvering</a> in April.</p> <p>“Because [Cuomo] went to war with the the Senate GOP, [Senate Majority Leader John] Flanagan put them up for a vote and -- no surprise to anybody -- they passed overwhelmingly,” Kaehny observed.</p> <p>“It is imperative that the public trusts the actions of their public officials, especially when it comes to spending the people’s money,” Flanagan, of Long Island, said in a <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/john-j-flanagan/senate-passes-historic-package-good-government-reforms-will" target="_blank" rel="noopener">statement</a> after the reform bills were approved. “This extensive package would help fix many of the issues that lead to corruption and the misuse of taxpayer funds.” While pressure from the Senate GOP is unlikely to sway Cuomo, recent weeks have seen the governor change his stance on a variety of issues in the face of the Democratic primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon. Observers have noted she’s pushed him left on policy like <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2018/04/12/marijuana-legalization-push-new-york-state-how-andrew-cuomo-has-responded" target="_blank" rel="noopener">legalizing marijuana</a>.</p> <p>But while the actor and activist-turned-candidate has slammed Cuomo on corruption scandals in general, she is yet to make a cause of transparency and accountability reform legislation in particular.</p> <p><a href="https://soundcloud.com/user-18109193/06-04-18-cpseg3" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Speaking on The Capitol Pressroom</a> radio show on Monday, DiNapoli, a Democrat, voiced skepticism that the bills will pass the Assembly this session. Even if the Assembly approves the legislation, one of them -- the “database of deals” bill -- varies slightly from the Senate version and would have to be reconciled in conference.</p> <p>“I’m the forever optimist, but it seems that the end of session is getting very bogged down and work’s not happening,” DiNapoli told host Susan Arbetter.</p> <p>“My optimism is somewhat tempered by the seeming stalemate,” the comptroller added, referring to drama in the Senate. “At least, that’s how we ended last week. Let’s hope this week turns out a little differently.”</p> <p>A number of advocacy and watchdog groups are organizing a final push for the “database of deals” and clean-contracting legislation, including a rally calling on Heastie to advance the bills on Thursday in Albany. Participants include Reinvent Albany, as well as Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, &nbsp;League of Women Voters NYS, New York Public Interest Group (NYPRIG), and a variety of progressive advocacy organizations, such as Fiscal Policy Institute.</p> <p>“There are many steps we should be taking, but the time is running out,” Assemblymember Schimminger said.</p> <p>

***
by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/govcuomo-speakerheastie.jpg" alt="govcuomo speakerheastie" width="600" height="429" /></p> <p>Speaker Heastie, left, and Governor Cuomo (photo via the Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Amid open conflict with Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, the Republican-controlled state Senate recently passed a package of bills aimed at shedding light on taxpayer-funded economic development projects, among other reform measures. The move helped reignite attention on the legislation and put pressure on the Democrat-led Assembly to pass bills it has previously supported.</p> <p>The legislation includes the Procurement Integrity Act, which would restore the state comptroller’s power to review contracts before they are officially awarded, and the “database of deals” bill, which would create a public catalogue of economic development awards and their results. Such grants run into hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds, though they are often largely hidden from the public and have been at the center of recent corruption charges.</p> <p>Assembly support for the measures was strong enough that earlier this year they were included in the chamber’s one-house budget, as they were in the Senate’s, though they were not included in the enacted state budget after negotiations among the Assembly, Senate, and governor.</p> <p>Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie praised the Procurement Integrity Act last year, <a href="http://wxxinews.org/post/lawmakers-voice-hope-reform-economic-development-contracts" target="_blank" rel="noopener">saying,</a> “Another set of eyes will make people feel better that, yes, things are done correctly.”</p> <p>However, the bill hasn’t made it out of the Assembly’s Government Operations Committee -- even though the committee’s chair, Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat from Buffalo, is the very lawmaker sponsoring the legislation. The bill has 37 co-sponsors in the 150-seat Assembly.</p> <p>And as the June 20 scheduled end of legislative session approaches, the “database of deals” bill is stalled in the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Democrat Helene Weinstein of Brooklyn. That bill has 34 co-sponsors.</p> <p>The reason for the hold-up? Advocates for the legislation are pointing at Cuomo, and his influence over Heastie.</p> <p>“The speaker is jamming the bills because the governor wants him to,” said John Kaehny, executive director of government watchdog Reinvent Albany. “If those bills went to the floor of the Assembly, they would pass overwhelmingly.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Robin Schimminger, a Democrat and main sponsor of the “database of deals” bill, echoed Kaehny’s comments.</p> <p>“The governor does not want this bill moved,” the Buffalo-area representative told Gotham Gazette. “The question is, do Chair Weinstein and Speaker Heastie -- are they going to do the right thing or are they going to roll over and not move?”</p> <p>Weinstein’s, Peoples-Stokes’, and Heastie’s offices did not respond to requests for comment. Questions around the bills, and whether Heastie and Assembly Democrats are willing to cross Cuomo, come as Democrats have a relatively recent “unity” pledge and coordinated campaign effort ahead of the fall elections.</p> <p>The economic transparency legislation is seen by many as essential after corruption indictments centering on some of the governor’s most vaunted development programs.</p> <p>Federal indictments in 2016 depicted a “pay-to-play” culture in which members of Cuomo’s inner circle received bribes or other perks in exchange for lucrative state contracts and special treatment meted out to developers in secret. Longtime Cuomo government aide and campaign manager Joseph Percoco <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7539-joseph-percoco-former-top-cuomo-aide-convicted-on-3-felony-counts" target="_blank" rel="noopener">was convicted</a> of fraud and soliciting bribes in March. Former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7558-post-percoco-conviction-kaloyeros-trial-likely-to-further-stain-cuomo-administration" target="_blank" rel="noopener">heads to trial</a> later this month for allegedly helping rig multimillion-dollar contracts.</p> <p>Both the Procurement Integrity Act (<a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?term=2017&amp;bn=S03984" target="_blank" rel="noopener">S.3984</a>/<a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?bn=A06355&amp;term=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener">A.6355</a>) and “database of deals” bill (<a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?bn=S06613&amp;term=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener">S.6613</a>/<a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?bn=A08175&amp;term=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener">A.8175</a>) aim to address perceived flaws in how Cuomo has overseen funding allocations. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this article. Cuomo has in the past dismissed calls to restore the comptroller’s pre-clearance authority on the applicable state-funded contracts, which was stripped from the office during Cuomo’s first years as governor.</p> <p>The projects Kaloyeros helped oversee, including a $750-million solar panel factory in Buffalo, were tied to SUNY Polytechnic. While Kaloyeros was allegedly scheming to reward developers who had donated to Cuomo’s re-election campaign, the state comptroller had no insight into the process; the governor and legislative leaders took away his power to pre-audit all state contracts over $250,000, including for SUNY- and CUNY-affiliated non-profits, in 2011 and 2012.</p> <p>The Procurement Integrity Act, introduced by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, would restore that power.</p> <p>"One of the reasons why folks thought they could get away with something is that they knew nobody was really looking, other than the people on the inside who turned out to be benefiting from this," DiNapoli <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7709-little-appetite-in-albany-to-address-state-budget-flaws-identified-by-comptroller" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told Syracuse.com</a> last month.</p> <p>The bill would also authorize the comptroller to approve SUNY Research Foundation contracts valued at over $1 million and would bar state-affiliated nonprofits from doling out contracts unless explicitly authorized by law. Such non-profits are at the center of the Percoco and Kaloyeros cases, with an entity called the Fort Schuyler Management Corporation awarding allegedly rigged bids.</p> <p>Last year, Cuomo’s counsel told Gotham Gazette the clean-contracting legislation “does not address the issue.”</p> <p>“The proposed legislation…is both burdensome and duplicative,” Alphonso David said. “The vast majority of these contracts are subject to OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] post-award oversight and these measures only add significant delays and increase costs for New York taxpayers.”</p> <p>Still, basic information about the taxpayer-funded programs that Kaloyeros helped oversee, along with numerous other public-private projects, is not available to the public. The governor’s office publishes vague information about projects like the Computer Chip Commercialization Center in Utica, which has been variously described as generating <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-danfoss-establish-new-manufacturing-operations-utica" target="_blank" rel="noopener">300</a> to <a href="http://www.ftsmc.org/utica/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">1,500</a> jobs and entailing investments from $100 million to $1.5 billion.</p> <p>The “database of deals” would aim to fill in holes in public knowledge of such projects. It would list every taxpayer subsidy that corporations receive along with the number of jobs created and cost per job to taxpayers.</p> <p>The Senate passed the “database” bill and the Procurement Integrity Act by votes of 62-0 and 60-2, respectively, on May 9. They were part of 11 total reform bills widely viewed as a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7666-furthering-split-from-cuomo-senate-passes-reform-bills" target="_blank" rel="noopener">snub to Cuomo</a>, who fell out with the Senate’s Republican leadership amid <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/04/nyregion/new-york-state-senate-democrats.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">political maneuvering</a> in April.</p> <p>“Because [Cuomo] went to war with the the Senate GOP, [Senate Majority Leader John] Flanagan put them up for a vote and -- no surprise to anybody -- they passed overwhelmingly,” Kaehny observed.</p> <p>“It is imperative that the public trusts the actions of their public officials, especially when it comes to spending the people’s money,” Flanagan, of Long Island, said in a <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/john-j-flanagan/senate-passes-historic-package-good-government-reforms-will" target="_blank" rel="noopener">statement</a> after the reform bills were approved. “This extensive package would help fix many of the issues that lead to corruption and the misuse of taxpayer funds.” While pressure from the Senate GOP is unlikely to sway Cuomo, recent weeks have seen the governor change his stance on a variety of issues in the face of the Democratic primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon. Observers have noted she’s pushed him left on policy like <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2018/04/12/marijuana-legalization-push-new-york-state-how-andrew-cuomo-has-responded" target="_blank" rel="noopener">legalizing marijuana</a>.</p> <p>But while the actor and activist-turned-candidate has slammed Cuomo on corruption scandals in general, she is yet to make a cause of transparency and accountability reform legislation in particular.</p> <p><a href="https://soundcloud.com/user-18109193/06-04-18-cpseg3" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Speaking on The Capitol Pressroom</a> radio show on Monday, DiNapoli, a Democrat, voiced skepticism that the bills will pass the Assembly this session. Even if the Assembly approves the legislation, one of them -- the “database of deals” bill -- varies slightly from the Senate version and would have to be reconciled in conference.</p> <p>“I’m the forever optimist, but it seems that the end of session is getting very bogged down and work’s not happening,” DiNapoli told host Susan Arbetter.</p> <p>“My optimism is somewhat tempered by the seeming stalemate,” the comptroller added, referring to drama in the Senate. “At least, that’s how we ended last week. Let’s hope this week turns out a little differently.”</p> <p>A number of advocacy and watchdog groups are organizing a final push for the “database of deals” and clean-contracting legislation, including a rally calling on Heastie to advance the bills on Thursday in Albany. Participants include Reinvent Albany, as well as Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, &nbsp;League of Women Voters NYS, New York Public Interest Group (NYPRIG), and a variety of progressive advocacy organizations, such as Fiscal Policy Institute.</p> <p>“There are many steps we should be taking, but the time is running out,” Assemblymember Schimminger said.</p> <p>

***
by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
City Council Considers Requiring More Reporting on Required Reporting 2018-05-29T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-29T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7700:city-council-considers-requiring-more-reporting-on-required-reporting Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/40303428840_65c3c0f1a4_z.jpg" alt="City Council Cabrera Vallone" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>CMs Cabrera, left, and Vallone (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>How does the New York City Council check city government agencies without legislating agency operations, which it sometimes does not have the power to do? Reporting bills.</p> <p>The Council often passes legislation that requires an agency under the direction of the mayor to produce a report, like Local Law 47, which compels the NYPD to compile data on subway fare-beating arrests. This bill, and the NYPD’s response, quickly became another flash point in tensions between city agencies and the Council, which has mandated oversight responsibilities along with its legislative powers.</p> <p>The intention behind the bulk of reporting bills -- which, like other legislation passed by the Council, are typically signed into law by the mayor -- is more transparency into agencies that then allows both the public and Council members additional insight into government function, effectiveness, and efficiency, and indications of operational or budgetary reforms that may be needed. But, reporting bills can also be onerous, requiring valuable resources at city agencies mandated to compile information, and there are questions about how often required reports are even produced or used by the Council.</p> <p>Now, a new bill at the Council is aimed at bringing additional oversight and transparency to the totality of required reporting -- but that bill itself is the source of disagreement. A recent hearing on the bill, which is sponsored by City Council Member Fernando Cabrera and would add new requirements for an online database of all required reports, saw discussion of the bill as well as the practice of passing reporting bills. The bill would add new information about when reports are due and put public pressure on city agencies to produce required reports.</p> <p>According to <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3479566&amp;GUID=F244E6EE-7219-4FCF-B31C-6AB4F802C52E&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the listing for the bill</a> on the Council website, the bill would require the city’s Department of Records and Information Services, “which is currently required to receive and post all reports required to be produced by local law or executive order on its website, to list all required reports, when they were last received and when they are next due.” It would also require DORIS to send a request “to any agency that does not transmit a required report, and would require the posting of such request on the website in lieu of the required report until such report is received.”</p> <p>At the April 26 hearing, representatives of the mayor’s office and the Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS) testified in opposition to the bill, which also received a lukewarm public reception from some City Council members.</p> <p>The bill currently has the sponsorship of only Council Member Cabrera, who chairs the Committee on Governmental Operations, which held the hearing, at which other Council members voiced concerns over the Council’s tendency to pass reporting laws and whether or not such laws do more to inundate agencies than substantially help the Council or the public.</p> <p>If enacted, the bill -- known as Intro. 828 -- would enhance the DORIS-run digital database of reports required by local laws, executive orders, or mayoral directives. Currently, DORIS maintains the <a href="http://a860-gpp.nyc.gov/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Government Publications Portal</a>; however, the scope of this portal is limited by a mandatory keyword search engine as well as the fact that it lacks some of the most recent reports from city agencies. For example, the portal does not provide any reports from the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) past the year 2014, despite reports being published as recently as this year.</p> <p>Additionally, other recent reports by agencies such as the Department of Buildings, including those on gas utility risks or construction safety, or the Department of Criminal Justice, such as annual reports on jail population or crime rates, are similarly not accessible through the current portal.</p> <p>DORIS and the Mayor’s Office of Operations cited unnecessary burden and premature planning as to why the bill should not be passed.</p> <p>“With the continuous addition of legislated reports required of city agencies, we recognize the need to ensure strong administrative practices to support agency compliance,” said Emily Newman, the acting director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, at the hearing last month. “However, we do not believe that Intro. 828 identifies the most effective approach and that it is not in the city’s best interest to mandate a new process in advance of any relevant recommendations of the Report and Advisory Board Review Commission.”</p> <p>The Report and Advisory Board Review Commission, which reviews reporting requirements and assesses the usefulness of such reports, among other objectives, was set to reconvene this month. The last time the commission met was in 2012, despite the city charter mandating that it has annual public meetings.</p> <p>“Intro. 828, as drafted, includes requirements that would be onerous for DORIS to undertake in real-time,” Pauline Toole, the DORIS commissioner, said at the City Council hearing. “Some agencies submit reports on a weekly basis, some monthly, some quarterly, and updating the list for each submission would require extensive resources and, ultimately, not provide the public with a worthwhile service.” Toole said DORIS currently updates the site on a “regular basis.”</p> <p>Toole also cited an increase in the number of reports submitted to the government publications portal, where over 21,000 reports have been submitted to the current DORIS portal today, a jump from 7,000 reports submitted in 2014.</p> <p>Both Toole and Newman reaffirmed a desire to work on another possible solution in concert with the City Council in order to update the accessibility of all governmental reports online. Meanwhile, other concerns were additionally raised by Council members.</p> <p>“I am as big on transparency as anything, but when we make demands out of agencies to do their jobs in other ways, I do worry that we are adding in so much onto them that is unfunded,” Council Member Keith Powers said at the hearing. “You know, we don’t fund new staff for that.”</p> <p>Council Member Kalman Yeger also raised the concern of finances by considering what the potential savings would be if DORIS had a smaller annual quota for reports it must make available, which, according to Toole, currently stands at about 400 reports per year. “I’m curious to know how much we can save the taxpayers if we perhaps were to stop legislating the various agencies of this city to prepare information that is probably readily available by simply asking the agency to give the information out,” Yeger said at the hearing.</p> <p>Alex Camarda, a senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany, a government reform group focused on increased transparency, testified in support of the bill at the hearing – albeit, with some tweaks.</p> <p>While the bill currently says that DORIS would send a letter of request of transmission to agencies ten days prior to a report’s deadline, and subsequently post that request on the website until the actual report is submitted, Camarda suggested that such a letter should be sent at the beginning of the fiscal year and that a seperate column listing all the agencies that did not yet transmit a report be created. Other proposed amendments to the bill include identifying which part of the charter administrative code requires the report as well as providing a brief summary of the report in the online database.</p> <p>“We think government generally needs to move away from providing information that’s locked in static PDF reports and report data in an open, usable and dynamic form,” said Camarda.</p> <p>Council Member Cabrera’s office did not respond to multiple requests to discuss the hearing and any modifications that he might consider making to the bill.</p> <p>

***
by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/40303428840_65c3c0f1a4_z.jpg" alt="City Council Cabrera Vallone" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>CMs Cabrera, left, and Vallone (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>How does the New York City Council check city government agencies without legislating agency operations, which it sometimes does not have the power to do? Reporting bills.</p> <p>The Council often passes legislation that requires an agency under the direction of the mayor to produce a report, like Local Law 47, which compels the NYPD to compile data on subway fare-beating arrests. This bill, and the NYPD’s response, quickly became another flash point in tensions between city agencies and the Council, which has mandated oversight responsibilities along with its legislative powers.</p> <p>The intention behind the bulk of reporting bills -- which, like other legislation passed by the Council, are typically signed into law by the mayor -- is more transparency into agencies that then allows both the public and Council members additional insight into government function, effectiveness, and efficiency, and indications of operational or budgetary reforms that may be needed. But, reporting bills can also be onerous, requiring valuable resources at city agencies mandated to compile information, and there are questions about how often required reports are even produced or used by the Council.</p> <p>Now, a new bill at the Council is aimed at bringing additional oversight and transparency to the totality of required reporting -- but that bill itself is the source of disagreement. A recent hearing on the bill, which is sponsored by City Council Member Fernando Cabrera and would add new requirements for an online database of all required reports, saw discussion of the bill as well as the practice of passing reporting bills. The bill would add new information about when reports are due and put public pressure on city agencies to produce required reports.</p> <p>According to <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3479566&amp;GUID=F244E6EE-7219-4FCF-B31C-6AB4F802C52E&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the listing for the bill</a> on the Council website, the bill would require the city’s Department of Records and Information Services, “which is currently required to receive and post all reports required to be produced by local law or executive order on its website, to list all required reports, when they were last received and when they are next due.” It would also require DORIS to send a request “to any agency that does not transmit a required report, and would require the posting of such request on the website in lieu of the required report until such report is received.”</p> <p>At the April 26 hearing, representatives of the mayor’s office and the Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS) testified in opposition to the bill, which also received a lukewarm public reception from some City Council members.</p> <p>The bill currently has the sponsorship of only Council Member Cabrera, who chairs the Committee on Governmental Operations, which held the hearing, at which other Council members voiced concerns over the Council’s tendency to pass reporting laws and whether or not such laws do more to inundate agencies than substantially help the Council or the public.</p> <p>If enacted, the bill -- known as Intro. 828 -- would enhance the DORIS-run digital database of reports required by local laws, executive orders, or mayoral directives. Currently, DORIS maintains the <a href="http://a860-gpp.nyc.gov/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Government Publications Portal</a>; however, the scope of this portal is limited by a mandatory keyword search engine as well as the fact that it lacks some of the most recent reports from city agencies. For example, the portal does not provide any reports from the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) past the year 2014, despite reports being published as recently as this year.</p> <p>Additionally, other recent reports by agencies such as the Department of Buildings, including those on gas utility risks or construction safety, or the Department of Criminal Justice, such as annual reports on jail population or crime rates, are similarly not accessible through the current portal.</p> <p>DORIS and the Mayor’s Office of Operations cited unnecessary burden and premature planning as to why the bill should not be passed.</p> <p>“With the continuous addition of legislated reports required of city agencies, we recognize the need to ensure strong administrative practices to support agency compliance,” said Emily Newman, the acting director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, at the hearing last month. “However, we do not believe that Intro. 828 identifies the most effective approach and that it is not in the city’s best interest to mandate a new process in advance of any relevant recommendations of the Report and Advisory Board Review Commission.”</p> <p>The Report and Advisory Board Review Commission, which reviews reporting requirements and assesses the usefulness of such reports, among other objectives, was set to reconvene this month. The last time the commission met was in 2012, despite the city charter mandating that it has annual public meetings.</p> <p>“Intro. 828, as drafted, includes requirements that would be onerous for DORIS to undertake in real-time,” Pauline Toole, the DORIS commissioner, said at the City Council hearing. “Some agencies submit reports on a weekly basis, some monthly, some quarterly, and updating the list for each submission would require extensive resources and, ultimately, not provide the public with a worthwhile service.” Toole said DORIS currently updates the site on a “regular basis.”</p> <p>Toole also cited an increase in the number of reports submitted to the government publications portal, where over 21,000 reports have been submitted to the current DORIS portal today, a jump from 7,000 reports submitted in 2014.</p> <p>Both Toole and Newman reaffirmed a desire to work on another possible solution in concert with the City Council in order to update the accessibility of all governmental reports online. Meanwhile, other concerns were additionally raised by Council members.</p> <p>“I am as big on transparency as anything, but when we make demands out of agencies to do their jobs in other ways, I do worry that we are adding in so much onto them that is unfunded,” Council Member Keith Powers said at the hearing. “You know, we don’t fund new staff for that.”</p> <p>Council Member Kalman Yeger also raised the concern of finances by considering what the potential savings would be if DORIS had a smaller annual quota for reports it must make available, which, according to Toole, currently stands at about 400 reports per year. “I’m curious to know how much we can save the taxpayers if we perhaps were to stop legislating the various agencies of this city to prepare information that is probably readily available by simply asking the agency to give the information out,” Yeger said at the hearing.</p> <p>Alex Camarda, a senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany, a government reform group focused on increased transparency, testified in support of the bill at the hearing – albeit, with some tweaks.</p> <p>While the bill currently says that DORIS would send a letter of request of transmission to agencies ten days prior to a report’s deadline, and subsequently post that request on the website until the actual report is submitted, Camarda suggested that such a letter should be sent at the beginning of the fiscal year and that a seperate column listing all the agencies that did not yet transmit a report be created. Other proposed amendments to the bill include identifying which part of the charter administrative code requires the report as well as providing a brief summary of the report in the online database.</p> <p>“We think government generally needs to move away from providing information that’s locked in static PDF reports and report data in an open, usable and dynamic form,” said Camarda.</p> <p>Council Member Cabrera’s office did not respond to multiple requests to discuss the hearing and any modifications that he might consider making to the bill.</p> <p>

***
by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Charter Revision Commission Urged to Consider Tighter Donation Rules for City-Affiliated Nonprofits 2018-05-03T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-03T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7654:charter-revision-commission-urged-to-consider-tighter-donation-rules-for-city-affiliated-nonprofits Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/m-bdb-first-lady-chirlane.jpg" alt="m bdb first lady chirlane" width="640" height="428" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio &amp; the Mayor's Fund (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A government reform group is urging Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission to explore stronger restrictions on donations to nonprofits affiliated with city agencies, building on a raft of laws passed through the New York City Council and signed by the mayor in 2016, which are set to go into effect next year.</p> <p>Reinvent Albany, an organization focused on government transparency and accountability, is advocating for greater disclosure requirements and lower limits for donations made to city-affiliated nonprofits by entities and individuals who have contracts and other business with the city and appear on its <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doingbiz/home.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">“doing business” database</a>. One of the most prominent examples of a city nonprofit is the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, which carries out programming through public-private partnerships and raises millions in private funding to do so every year, and is currently chaired by de Blasio’s wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray.</p> <p>Reinvent Albany will present its recommendations at a public hearing of the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission in Queens on Thursday.</p> <p>The recommendations are an outgrowth of controversy involving several top elected officials and organizations, most recently in de Blasio’s first term, when he formed a nonprofit called the Campaign for One New York to help promote his political agenda, particularly his push for universal pre-kindergarten and a tax increase to fund it. The group accepted large donations from many wealthy donors and special interests, including labor unions and real estate developers, many of whom had business with the city and had also been backers of the mayor’s electoral campaign. At the time, electoral campaigns were far more restricted in donations they could accept from entities with city business -- no such limits applied to elected official-affiliated nonprofits.</p> <p>Though it wasn’t required, the mayor disclosed the group’s donors voluntarily every six months. But, the entire scheme invited criticism, and its efforts helped trigger a federal investigation of the mayor and his associates. The investigation eventually closed without charges being filed, but de Blasio and his team were criticized by federal prosecutors as well as the city’s Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>In response, the City Council passed a bill to rein in donations to nonprofits affiliated with elected officials, bringing “doing business” donation limits in line with those that apply to electoral campaigns -- just $400 for mayoral candidates -- and putting those nonprofits under the jurisdiction of the Conflicts of Interest Board. In 2019, the COIB will start to issue detailed reports of such nonprofits, including their donors and how much they contributed. The bill, spearheaded by then-Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, was signed by de Blasio, who called it the right thing to do despite claiming he had done nothing illegal or unethical with the Campaign for One New York.</p> <p>But the new rules do not cover nonprofits affiliated with city agencies, which, Reinvent Albany points out, number in the hundreds and currently have no “doing business” restrictions.</p> <p>“We’re increasingly concerned about nonprofits that have existed for years affiliated with city agencies, and donors giving to these nonprofits and having business with those same city agencies,” said Alex Camarda, Reinvent Albany’s senior policy advisor, in a phone interview. The lack of regulation could create the “perception of undue influence, if not actual conflict,” he said. With the mayor having formed a Charter Revision Commission with the express mandate to look at campaign finance reform, the issue appears to be right up the commission’s alley, if not necessarily something de Blasio had in mind.</p> <p>To close several holes, Reinvent Albany recommends that all donations to nonprofits affiliated with elected officials be capped. The law currently only applies the $400 doing-business cap to those nonprofits that spend more than 10 percent of their budget on public-facing communications featuring the elected official. Camarda said the limit could be higher, though he did not suggest a specific amount.</p> <p>Further, as Camarda mentioned, the group is calling for expanding donation restrictions to all city agencies, public benefit corporations, public authorities, and local development corporations. “A company that does business with the city could give millions” toward a city agency under the current law, Camarda said. “That’s where we feel the [Council’s law] doesn’t go far enough.</p> <p>The COIB requires that agencies report any private donations above $5,000 made either to the agency or to an affiliated nonprofit. Those donations are reported in broad ranges that obscure how much an agency has received. For instance, The Fund for Public Schools, a nonprofit tied to the Department of Education, reported more than $4 million in donations from May through September 2017, per the latest disclosures available, including exact donations though it was not required. Reinvent Albany is also pushing for disclosure of all donations in their exact amounts, and on the city’s Open Data portal to allow for easy data analysis.</p> <p>Finally, the group is calling for the city’s ethics laws to apply to volunteers who are involved in major policy work and senior appointments and that are also fundraising for nonprofits affiliated with electeds. Though their testimony does not say so, the recommendation clearly alludes to First Lady McCray, who has played an increasingly prominent role in de Blasio’s administration, appearing with the mayor at major personnel announcements and continuing to roll out aspects of her main policy and program initiatives. In late 2016, amid investigations into the mayor’s administration, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/12/as-investigations-drag-on-de-blasio-shows-new-wariness-with-fundraisers-and-lobbyists-107924" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Politico New York reported</a> that the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City was more thoroughly vetting donors to avoid potential conflicts. McCray recently <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7568-max-murphy-podcast-chirlane-mccray" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told Gotham Gazette and City Limits</a> that she does not worry much about conflicts given that lawyers handle those issues. The Fund provides assistance for programs at 30 city agencies and has played a prominent role in the administration’s ThriveNYC mental health initiative, which was spearheaded by McCray.</p> <p>“We do not oppose per diem or unpaid volunteers serving on city boards, task forces and commissions, much like the members of this commission,” the Reinvent Albany testimony reads. “But they should not also be fundraising simultaneously for nonprofits affiliated with elected officials.”</p> <p>The group acknowledged that there were nonetheless nonprofit organizations that may not be covered by any changes they recommend, such as organizations that receive large sums in city funding and whose board members are donors to city elected officials.</p> <p>“Many of these nonprofits do important work that helps the city,” Camarda said. “We don’t want them to become avenues for companies and wealthy donors to circumvent the campaign finance system.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/m-bdb-first-lady-chirlane.jpg" alt="m bdb first lady chirlane" width="640" height="428" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio &amp; the Mayor's Fund (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A government reform group is urging Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission to explore stronger restrictions on donations to nonprofits affiliated with city agencies, building on a raft of laws passed through the New York City Council and signed by the mayor in 2016, which are set to go into effect next year.</p> <p>Reinvent Albany, an organization focused on government transparency and accountability, is advocating for greater disclosure requirements and lower limits for donations made to city-affiliated nonprofits by entities and individuals who have contracts and other business with the city and appear on its <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doingbiz/home.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">“doing business” database</a>. One of the most prominent examples of a city nonprofit is the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, which carries out programming through public-private partnerships and raises millions in private funding to do so every year, and is currently chaired by de Blasio’s wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray.</p> <p>Reinvent Albany will present its recommendations at a public hearing of the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission in Queens on Thursday.</p> <p>The recommendations are an outgrowth of controversy involving several top elected officials and organizations, most recently in de Blasio’s first term, when he formed a nonprofit called the Campaign for One New York to help promote his political agenda, particularly his push for universal pre-kindergarten and a tax increase to fund it. The group accepted large donations from many wealthy donors and special interests, including labor unions and real estate developers, many of whom had business with the city and had also been backers of the mayor’s electoral campaign. At the time, electoral campaigns were far more restricted in donations they could accept from entities with city business -- no such limits applied to elected official-affiliated nonprofits.</p> <p>Though it wasn’t required, the mayor disclosed the group’s donors voluntarily every six months. But, the entire scheme invited criticism, and its efforts helped trigger a federal investigation of the mayor and his associates. The investigation eventually closed without charges being filed, but de Blasio and his team were criticized by federal prosecutors as well as the city’s Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>In response, the City Council passed a bill to rein in donations to nonprofits affiliated with elected officials, bringing “doing business” donation limits in line with those that apply to electoral campaigns -- just $400 for mayoral candidates -- and putting those nonprofits under the jurisdiction of the Conflicts of Interest Board. In 2019, the COIB will start to issue detailed reports of such nonprofits, including their donors and how much they contributed. The bill, spearheaded by then-Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, was signed by de Blasio, who called it the right thing to do despite claiming he had done nothing illegal or unethical with the Campaign for One New York.</p> <p>But the new rules do not cover nonprofits affiliated with city agencies, which, Reinvent Albany points out, number in the hundreds and currently have no “doing business” restrictions.</p> <p>“We’re increasingly concerned about nonprofits that have existed for years affiliated with city agencies, and donors giving to these nonprofits and having business with those same city agencies,” said Alex Camarda, Reinvent Albany’s senior policy advisor, in a phone interview. The lack of regulation could create the “perception of undue influence, if not actual conflict,” he said. With the mayor having formed a Charter Revision Commission with the express mandate to look at campaign finance reform, the issue appears to be right up the commission’s alley, if not necessarily something de Blasio had in mind.</p> <p>To close several holes, Reinvent Albany recommends that all donations to nonprofits affiliated with elected officials be capped. The law currently only applies the $400 doing-business cap to those nonprofits that spend more than 10 percent of their budget on public-facing communications featuring the elected official. Camarda said the limit could be higher, though he did not suggest a specific amount.</p> <p>Further, as Camarda mentioned, the group is calling for expanding donation restrictions to all city agencies, public benefit corporations, public authorities, and local development corporations. “A company that does business with the city could give millions” toward a city agency under the current law, Camarda said. “That’s where we feel the [Council’s law] doesn’t go far enough.</p> <p>The COIB requires that agencies report any private donations above $5,000 made either to the agency or to an affiliated nonprofit. Those donations are reported in broad ranges that obscure how much an agency has received. For instance, The Fund for Public Schools, a nonprofit tied to the Department of Education, reported more than $4 million in donations from May through September 2017, per the latest disclosures available, including exact donations though it was not required. Reinvent Albany is also pushing for disclosure of all donations in their exact amounts, and on the city’s Open Data portal to allow for easy data analysis.</p> <p>Finally, the group is calling for the city’s ethics laws to apply to volunteers who are involved in major policy work and senior appointments and that are also fundraising for nonprofits affiliated with electeds. Though their testimony does not say so, the recommendation clearly alludes to First Lady McCray, who has played an increasingly prominent role in de Blasio’s administration, appearing with the mayor at major personnel announcements and continuing to roll out aspects of her main policy and program initiatives. In late 2016, amid investigations into the mayor’s administration, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/12/as-investigations-drag-on-de-blasio-shows-new-wariness-with-fundraisers-and-lobbyists-107924" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Politico New York reported</a> that the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City was more thoroughly vetting donors to avoid potential conflicts. McCray recently <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7568-max-murphy-podcast-chirlane-mccray" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told Gotham Gazette and City Limits</a> that she does not worry much about conflicts given that lawyers handle those issues. The Fund provides assistance for programs at 30 city agencies and has played a prominent role in the administration’s ThriveNYC mental health initiative, which was spearheaded by McCray.</p> <p>“We do not oppose per diem or unpaid volunteers serving on city boards, task forces and commissions, much like the members of this commission,” the Reinvent Albany testimony reads. “But they should not also be fundraising simultaneously for nonprofits affiliated with elected officials.”</p> <p>The group acknowledged that there were nonetheless nonprofit organizations that may not be covered by any changes they recommend, such as organizations that receive large sums in city funding and whose board members are donors to city elected officials.</p> <p>“Many of these nonprofits do important work that helps the city,” Camarda said. “We don’t want them to become avenues for companies and wealthy donors to circumvent the campaign finance system.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Hears Bill on Charter Revision Commission 2018-03-16T04:00:00+00:00 2018-03-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7547:city-council-hears-bill-on-charter-revision-commission Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/40116866614_e9e098ebc8_z.jpg" alt="Fernando Cabrera" width="600" height="416" /></p> <p>Council Member Fernando Cabrera (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>A day after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced initial appointments to a Charter Revision Commission that he is convening to examine the city’s campaign finance laws, Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer testified before the City Council on their own alternative proposal to create a Commission to examine the structure of city government.</p> <p>The Charter is the city’s seminal governing document, laying out the powers and functions of every level of city government. It is also a living document, and state law allows the mayor to create a 15-member Charter Revision Commission under his executive authority and also gives the City Council power to create one through legislation. Past mayors have availed of this power, some more than once. In February, de Blasio announced at his State of the City address that he intended to call a commission that could put proposals on the ballot for the November general election.</p> <p>On Friday, speaking before the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, James and Brewer advanced their proposal, which they had put before the Council in December and which City Council Speaker Corey Johnson recently signed on to as a lead co-sponsor. (The hearing had been on the schedule all week, perhaps explaining the timing of the mayor’s Thursday announcement.)</p> <p>As opposed to the mayor’s commission, where he appoints all 15 members, the James-Brewer bill would allow other elected officials a say in the process. The mayor would get four appointments, as would the City Council speaker. The five borough presidents, the public advocate, and the comptroller would each get to choose one member. An updated version of the bill grants the Council speaker the power to appoint the commission’s chair, a change that coincided with Johnson signing on as a co-sponsor and the Council pushing ahead with Friday’s hearing.</p> <p>James, in her opening statement, lauded the mayor’s intent in creating a commission but said it suffers from the same problems as previous commissions: “predetermined conclusions, a narrow focus on issues within Council authority, and a timeline far too tight to do the job right.” During his State of the City and since, de Blasio has indicated he wants his commission to focus on campaign finance and electoral reform, though he has acknowledged that by law the commission can look at the entirety of the charter.</p> <p>“The bill you will consider today...is a vehicle for a truly democratic and holistic process,” James said. Although both James and Brewer spoke of changes to the charter that they would be glad to see -- for instance, a stronger role for the Council in city budgeting, a greater voice for communities in land use decisions, enhanced oversight of city agencies -- they emphasized that those were not mandates that their proposed commission would be charged with. (Perhaps the only issue that James said she would not want on the table is changes to term limits for elected officials.) Rather, they would empower a commission to deliberate on the entire charter with ample time to consider the ramifications of any changes -- their commission would make proposals to go on the ballot in 2019.</p> <p>“Those discussions will not be had if the mayor simply appoints a slate of proxies and tells them what conclusions to reach,” said James, a Democrat like de Blasio, Brewer, and Johnson who is widely expected to run for mayor in 2021.</p> <p>James and Brewer also sought to dispel the notion that the commission they are proposing would competing with the mayor’s, pointing to the 2019 timeline and noting that they invited the mayor to join their effort. “This does not need to be a zero-sum game, or even a competition,” James said.</p> <p>Brewer, in particular, emphasized that past commissions had been formed by mayors to fulfil particular agendas and that appointees of the mayor were unlikely to consider proposals that could curb, in any way, the power of the mayor’s office. “I think all of our ideas would benefit from the give and take and compromise that would be necessary in a commission not controlled by any one elected official,” she said.</p> <p>Council Member Fernando Cabrera, chair of the committee, praised the bill and said he supported it because it was a “far better approach” than the mayor’s. “It will be a charter revision for everyone,” said the Bronx Democrat. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>But, Council Member Kalman Yeger, who was just elected to the Council in November, wasn’t sure about the proposal. “My perspective is that I have some discomfort with outsourcing my work, if you will, to an unelected body of 15 people,” he said, noting that though the speaker may get appointments on a commission, the other 50 Council members would not. He also raised concerns about proposing ballot referenda in 2019, an off-year in the election cycle when voter turnout is expected to be extremely low.</p> <p>James pushed back against those concerns. “I believe we should democratize this process,” she said, acknowledging that all the stakeholders in the commission would have to work hard to engage voters and generate interest in the revision process.</p> <p>Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat, also pointed out what is most ironic about the two commissions: that they are being proposed by Democrats who ardently opposed holding a Constitutional Convention to examine the state constitution, which was a question on the ballot last November. Both Brewer and James conceded that though they opposed the ConCon, as it was colloquially called, the charter revision process has sufficient checks and balances, particularly with diverse appointees on a commission.</p> <p>James also noted that one of the big fears about the ConCon was about the individuals behind the curtain who would control it, which isn’t the case with their proposed commission. “There is no Wizard of Oz in this particular process,” she said. “It’s the Manhattan borough president and Letitia James, who you both know and work with.”</p> <p>Representatives for the four other borough presidents also testified in support of the bill, as did a number of government reform groups and advocates.</p> <p>Stanley Fritz, campaigns manager at Citizen Action of New York, encouraged the Council to set aside funds for a public education campaign to engage voters in the charter revision process. The bill currently calls for the Commission to hold at least one hearing in each of the five boroughs and to conduct extensive outreach to civic and community leaders.</p> <p>Fritz also advocated for amending the bill’s prohibition on appointing lobbyists to the commission, insisting that it should ensure that only lobbyists employed by for-profit entities should be barred, and that those who advocate for non-profits should be allowed to serve. Otherwise, “it would exclude virtually the entire New York City good-government community, including the sorts of advocates who are testifying before you today,” he said.</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College's School of Public and International Affairs, has also testified before an expert panel of the 2010 Charter Revision Commission created then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. On Friday, he emphasized that any new commission should “articulate clear and compelling goals” related to broad subject areas such as governmental structure and land use, without which it would be directionless. He also said the commission should look at the unfinished business of past commissions, and “beware the unintended consequences,” though he didn’t offer specifics.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the bill was “skeletal” and should add language to ensure that staff of those elected officials making appointments should be excluded from working for the commission. She also questioned why Speaker Johnson would be allowed to appoint the chair of the proposed commission, as opposed to the commission members choosing their own leader.</p> <p>Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany, had a few prescriptions for a potential commission. He said the speaker and mayor should jointly appoint the chair of the commission; &nbsp;and stressed that the commission should abide by the state’s Freedom of information and Open Meetings laws, and should require public posting of events, materials, reports and archives.</p> <p>He also suggested that the bill include language requiring commission members and staff to solely use government emails to carry out their work and that any lobbying directed at the commission should be publicly reported. &nbsp;</p> <p>Camarda also encouraged the Council and mayor to work together on one commission, warning that two commissions could result in “conflicting policy, public confusion, excessive politicization, inefficiency, and litigation.”</p> <p>“There is no doubt two commissions convened in the same year would be unprecedented in recent memory and create a high degree of uncertainty,” he said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/40116866614_e9e098ebc8_z.jpg" alt="Fernando Cabrera" width="600" height="416" /></p> <p>Council Member Fernando Cabrera (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>A day after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced initial appointments to a Charter Revision Commission that he is convening to examine the city’s campaign finance laws, Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer testified before the City Council on their own alternative proposal to create a Commission to examine the structure of city government.</p> <p>The Charter is the city’s seminal governing document, laying out the powers and functions of every level of city government. It is also a living document, and state law allows the mayor to create a 15-member Charter Revision Commission under his executive authority and also gives the City Council power to create one through legislation. Past mayors have availed of this power, some more than once. In February, de Blasio announced at his State of the City address that he intended to call a commission that could put proposals on the ballot for the November general election.</p> <p>On Friday, speaking before the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, James and Brewer advanced their proposal, which they had put before the Council in December and which City Council Speaker Corey Johnson recently signed on to as a lead co-sponsor. (The hearing had been on the schedule all week, perhaps explaining the timing of the mayor’s Thursday announcement.)</p> <p>As opposed to the mayor’s commission, where he appoints all 15 members, the James-Brewer bill would allow other elected officials a say in the process. The mayor would get four appointments, as would the City Council speaker. The five borough presidents, the public advocate, and the comptroller would each get to choose one member. An updated version of the bill grants the Council speaker the power to appoint the commission’s chair, a change that coincided with Johnson signing on as a co-sponsor and the Council pushing ahead with Friday’s hearing.</p> <p>James, in her opening statement, lauded the mayor’s intent in creating a commission but said it suffers from the same problems as previous commissions: “predetermined conclusions, a narrow focus on issues within Council authority, and a timeline far too tight to do the job right.” During his State of the City and since, de Blasio has indicated he wants his commission to focus on campaign finance and electoral reform, though he has acknowledged that by law the commission can look at the entirety of the charter.</p> <p>“The bill you will consider today...is a vehicle for a truly democratic and holistic process,” James said. Although both James and Brewer spoke of changes to the charter that they would be glad to see -- for instance, a stronger role for the Council in city budgeting, a greater voice for communities in land use decisions, enhanced oversight of city agencies -- they emphasized that those were not mandates that their proposed commission would be charged with. (Perhaps the only issue that James said she would not want on the table is changes to term limits for elected officials.) Rather, they would empower a commission to deliberate on the entire charter with ample time to consider the ramifications of any changes -- their commission would make proposals to go on the ballot in 2019.</p> <p>“Those discussions will not be had if the mayor simply appoints a slate of proxies and tells them what conclusions to reach,” said James, a Democrat like de Blasio, Brewer, and Johnson who is widely expected to run for mayor in 2021.</p> <p>James and Brewer also sought to dispel the notion that the commission they are proposing would competing with the mayor’s, pointing to the 2019 timeline and noting that they invited the mayor to join their effort. “This does not need to be a zero-sum game, or even a competition,” James said.</p> <p>Brewer, in particular, emphasized that past commissions had been formed by mayors to fulfil particular agendas and that appointees of the mayor were unlikely to consider proposals that could curb, in any way, the power of the mayor’s office. “I think all of our ideas would benefit from the give and take and compromise that would be necessary in a commission not controlled by any one elected official,” she said.</p> <p>Council Member Fernando Cabrera, chair of the committee, praised the bill and said he supported it because it was a “far better approach” than the mayor’s. “It will be a charter revision for everyone,” said the Bronx Democrat. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>But, Council Member Kalman Yeger, who was just elected to the Council in November, wasn’t sure about the proposal. “My perspective is that I have some discomfort with outsourcing my work, if you will, to an unelected body of 15 people,” he said, noting that though the speaker may get appointments on a commission, the other 50 Council members would not. He also raised concerns about proposing ballot referenda in 2019, an off-year in the election cycle when voter turnout is expected to be extremely low.</p> <p>James pushed back against those concerns. “I believe we should democratize this process,” she said, acknowledging that all the stakeholders in the commission would have to work hard to engage voters and generate interest in the revision process.</p> <p>Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat, also pointed out what is most ironic about the two commissions: that they are being proposed by Democrats who ardently opposed holding a Constitutional Convention to examine the state constitution, which was a question on the ballot last November. Both Brewer and James conceded that though they opposed the ConCon, as it was colloquially called, the charter revision process has sufficient checks and balances, particularly with diverse appointees on a commission.</p> <p>James also noted that one of the big fears about the ConCon was about the individuals behind the curtain who would control it, which isn’t the case with their proposed commission. “There is no Wizard of Oz in this particular process,” she said. “It’s the Manhattan borough president and Letitia James, who you both know and work with.”</p> <p>Representatives for the four other borough presidents also testified in support of the bill, as did a number of government reform groups and advocates.</p> <p>Stanley Fritz, campaigns manager at Citizen Action of New York, encouraged the Council to set aside funds for a public education campaign to engage voters in the charter revision process. The bill currently calls for the Commission to hold at least one hearing in each of the five boroughs and to conduct extensive outreach to civic and community leaders.</p> <p>Fritz also advocated for amending the bill’s prohibition on appointing lobbyists to the commission, insisting that it should ensure that only lobbyists employed by for-profit entities should be barred, and that those who advocate for non-profits should be allowed to serve. Otherwise, “it would exclude virtually the entire New York City good-government community, including the sorts of advocates who are testifying before you today,” he said.</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College's School of Public and International Affairs, has also testified before an expert panel of the 2010 Charter Revision Commission created then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. On Friday, he emphasized that any new commission should “articulate clear and compelling goals” related to broad subject areas such as governmental structure and land use, without which it would be directionless. He also said the commission should look at the unfinished business of past commissions, and “beware the unintended consequences,” though he didn’t offer specifics.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the bill was “skeletal” and should add language to ensure that staff of those elected officials making appointments should be excluded from working for the commission. She also questioned why Speaker Johnson would be allowed to appoint the chair of the proposed commission, as opposed to the commission members choosing their own leader.</p> <p>Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany, had a few prescriptions for a potential commission. He said the speaker and mayor should jointly appoint the chair of the commission; &nbsp;and stressed that the commission should abide by the state’s Freedom of information and Open Meetings laws, and should require public posting of events, materials, reports and archives.</p> <p>He also suggested that the bill include language requiring commission members and staff to solely use government emails to carry out their work and that any lobbying directed at the commission should be publicly reported. &nbsp;</p> <p>Camarda also encouraged the Council and mayor to work together on one commission, warning that two commissions could result in “conflicting policy, public confusion, excessive politicization, inefficiency, and litigation.”</p> <p>“There is no doubt two commissions convened in the same year would be unprecedented in recent memory and create a high degree of uncertainty,” he said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Sunlight for Subsidies 2018-03-14T04:00:00+00:00 2018-03-14T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7542:sunlight-for-subsidies Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/andrew-cuomo-buffalo.jpg" alt="andrew cuomo buffalo" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo in Buffalo (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York State and local governments<a href="https://cbcny.org/research/blueprint-economic-development-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> spend over $8 billion annually in taxpayer money</a>, giving subsidies to businesses through tax abatements and credits, low or no interest loans, grants, and capital investments like building factories. Eight billion dollars could otherwise pay for the MTA Subway Action Plan in addition to the entire 5-year capital plan for New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). Instead it is awarded to wealthy companies like<a href="https://subsidytracker.goodjobsfirst.org/prog.php?statesum=NY" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Alcoa, IBM, Goldman Sachs, Tesla, Verizon and JP Morgan Chase.</a> &nbsp;</p> <p>While spending billions, Governor Cuomo and Empire State Development have not acted on common-sense transparency measures that provide basic information taxpayers deserve to know: the types of benefits companies are receiving; the cost to taxpayers; and the number and cost of jobs created or retained. &nbsp;</p> <p>Their inaction comes as the governor’s former senior advisor Joe Percoco was convicted on three federal corruption counts, including solicitation of bribes, in the first of two trials involving the alleged rigging of contracts tied to upstate mega-development projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars in business subsidies.</p> <p>New Yorkers deserve to know more about economic development money being spent, including where it is going and what the money is actually producing.</p> <p>Democratic Assemblymember Robin Schimminger and Republic Senator Tom Croci have introduced legislation (A.8175/S.6613-B), which would create a “Database of Deals” listing all projects awarded to a particular company, detailing subsidies received, and what New Yorkers are receiving for their return on investment in the taxpayer cost per job. The bill passed out of committees in both houses last year but never made it to the floor for a vote.</p> <p>The Assembly and Senate each included a similar proposal in one-house budget resolutions passed on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the New York City Council passed legislation in December codifying its own “<a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2867876&amp;GUID=94241FF8-9F73-42A7-97B5-65380D2E7E6E&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Database of Deals</a>” established by the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC.) EDC had already made economic development in New York City more transparent by publishing a<a href="https://www.nycedc.com/about-nycedc/transparency" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> map</a> showing major projects and their essential data across the five boroughs. &nbsp;</p> <p>A state “Database of Deals” is fundamental transparency modeled on existing disclosure in numerous states of different political stripes including<a href="http://www.floridajobs.org/business/DEO_EDP_PROD.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Florida</a>,<a href="http://commerce.maryland.gov/fund/maryland-finance-tracker" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Maryland</a> and<a href="https://transparency.iedc.in.gov/Pages/ContractSearch.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Indiana</a>. This reflects the near-unanimity on the need for greater transparency and accountability of business subsidies.</p> <p>While states fervently compete to give taxpayer subsidies to the world’s wealthiest corporation, Amazon, for its second headquarters, the way in which public money is awarded is being challenged from the left and the right. Nationally, the progressive labor-backed<a href="https://www.goodjobsfirst.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Good Jobs First</a> has long advocated for economic development accountability while the conservative<a href="https://www.charleskochfoundation.org/apply-for-grants/requests-for-proposals/corporate-welfare-reform/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Koch Foundation</a> is seeking proposals to “identify and develop measures to provide transparency and accountability to corporate welfare.” In New York, groups as ideologically varied as the<a href="https://www.timesunion.com/tuplus-opinion/article/There-are-few-winners-in-Aetna-s-move-to-New-York-11295512.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Working Families Party</a>, Citizens Budget Commission, and<a href="https://www.empirecenter.org/publications/empire-center-pries-open-albanys-biggest-pork-barrel/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Empire Center</a> have questioned the state’s economic development practices. &nbsp;</p> <p>But Governor Cuomo need look no further than his own 2013 Tax Reform and Fairness Commission to understand the need for transparency and accountability of business subsidies. &nbsp;In a report written for the commission entitled<a href="http://origin-states.politico.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/files/131115__Incentive_Study_Final_0.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> New York State Business Tax Credits: Analysis and Evaluation</a>, the authors concluded, “There is, however, no conclusive evidence from research studies conducted since the mid-1950s to show that business tax incentives have an impact on net economic gains to the states above and beyond the level that would have been attained absent the incentives. In addition, business tax incentives violate principles of good tax policy and tenets of good budgeting.”</p> <p>Despite the questioning of their efficacy, Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget proposes over $2 billion in new spending and tax credits on business subsidies. Last year, the Assembly and Senate wrote the governor a blank check, increasing economic development spending without passing any legislation that would make the spending more transparent or measure the effectiveness of whether, and which, business subsidies work best. &nbsp;</p> <p>This year, Reinvent Albany and fiscal and transparency watchdog groups are urging<a href="https://reinventalbany.org/2018/03/watchdogs-call-for-assembly-and-senate-one-house-budget-resolutions-that-boost-the-transparency-and-accountability-of-billions-in-business-subsidies/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> the governor and Legislature to act on four measures</a> to make taxpayer spending on business subsidies more transparent and accountable, including the “Database of Deals.”</p> <p>They should act swiftly to restore the public trust, which has been battered by federal indictments and sordid accounts of insider dealing at trial.</p> <p>***<br /> Alex Camarda is senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/alex_camarda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@alex_camarda</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/ReinventAlbany" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@ReinventAlbany</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/andrew-cuomo-buffalo.jpg" alt="andrew cuomo buffalo" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo in Buffalo (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York State and local governments<a href="https://cbcny.org/research/blueprint-economic-development-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> spend over $8 billion annually in taxpayer money</a>, giving subsidies to businesses through tax abatements and credits, low or no interest loans, grants, and capital investments like building factories. Eight billion dollars could otherwise pay for the MTA Subway Action Plan in addition to the entire 5-year capital plan for New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). Instead it is awarded to wealthy companies like<a href="https://subsidytracker.goodjobsfirst.org/prog.php?statesum=NY" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Alcoa, IBM, Goldman Sachs, Tesla, Verizon and JP Morgan Chase.</a> &nbsp;</p> <p>While spending billions, Governor Cuomo and Empire State Development have not acted on common-sense transparency measures that provide basic information taxpayers deserve to know: the types of benefits companies are receiving; the cost to taxpayers; and the number and cost of jobs created or retained. &nbsp;</p> <p>Their inaction comes as the governor’s former senior advisor Joe Percoco was convicted on three federal corruption counts, including solicitation of bribes, in the first of two trials involving the alleged rigging of contracts tied to upstate mega-development projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars in business subsidies.</p> <p>New Yorkers deserve to know more about economic development money being spent, including where it is going and what the money is actually producing.</p> <p>Democratic Assemblymember Robin Schimminger and Republic Senator Tom Croci have introduced legislation (A.8175/S.6613-B), which would create a “Database of Deals” listing all projects awarded to a particular company, detailing subsidies received, and what New Yorkers are receiving for their return on investment in the taxpayer cost per job. The bill passed out of committees in both houses last year but never made it to the floor for a vote.</p> <p>The Assembly and Senate each included a similar proposal in one-house budget resolutions passed on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the New York City Council passed legislation in December codifying its own “<a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2867876&amp;GUID=94241FF8-9F73-42A7-97B5-65380D2E7E6E&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Database of Deals</a>” established by the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC.) EDC had already made economic development in New York City more transparent by publishing a<a href="https://www.nycedc.com/about-nycedc/transparency" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> map</a> showing major projects and their essential data across the five boroughs. &nbsp;</p> <p>A state “Database of Deals” is fundamental transparency modeled on existing disclosure in numerous states of different political stripes including<a href="http://www.floridajobs.org/business/DEO_EDP_PROD.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Florida</a>,<a href="http://commerce.maryland.gov/fund/maryland-finance-tracker" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Maryland</a> and<a href="https://transparency.iedc.in.gov/Pages/ContractSearch.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Indiana</a>. This reflects the near-unanimity on the need for greater transparency and accountability of business subsidies.</p> <p>While states fervently compete to give taxpayer subsidies to the world’s wealthiest corporation, Amazon, for its second headquarters, the way in which public money is awarded is being challenged from the left and the right. Nationally, the progressive labor-backed<a href="https://www.goodjobsfirst.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Good Jobs First</a> has long advocated for economic development accountability while the conservative<a href="https://www.charleskochfoundation.org/apply-for-grants/requests-for-proposals/corporate-welfare-reform/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Koch Foundation</a> is seeking proposals to “identify and develop measures to provide transparency and accountability to corporate welfare.” In New York, groups as ideologically varied as the<a href="https://www.timesunion.com/tuplus-opinion/article/There-are-few-winners-in-Aetna-s-move-to-New-York-11295512.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Working Families Party</a>, Citizens Budget Commission, and<a href="https://www.empirecenter.org/publications/empire-center-pries-open-albanys-biggest-pork-barrel/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Empire Center</a> have questioned the state’s economic development practices. &nbsp;</p> <p>But Governor Cuomo need look no further than his own 2013 Tax Reform and Fairness Commission to understand the need for transparency and accountability of business subsidies. &nbsp;In a report written for the commission entitled<a href="http://origin-states.politico.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/files/131115__Incentive_Study_Final_0.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> New York State Business Tax Credits: Analysis and Evaluation</a>, the authors concluded, “There is, however, no conclusive evidence from research studies conducted since the mid-1950s to show that business tax incentives have an impact on net economic gains to the states above and beyond the level that would have been attained absent the incentives. In addition, business tax incentives violate principles of good tax policy and tenets of good budgeting.”</p> <p>Despite the questioning of their efficacy, Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget proposes over $2 billion in new spending and tax credits on business subsidies. Last year, the Assembly and Senate wrote the governor a blank check, increasing economic development spending without passing any legislation that would make the spending more transparent or measure the effectiveness of whether, and which, business subsidies work best. &nbsp;</p> <p>This year, Reinvent Albany and fiscal and transparency watchdog groups are urging<a href="https://reinventalbany.org/2018/03/watchdogs-call-for-assembly-and-senate-one-house-budget-resolutions-that-boost-the-transparency-and-accountability-of-billions-in-business-subsidies/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> the governor and Legislature to act on four measures</a> to make taxpayer spending on business subsidies more transparent and accountable, including the “Database of Deals.”</p> <p>They should act swiftly to restore the public trust, which has been battered by federal indictments and sordid accounts of insider dealing at trial.</p> <p>***<br /> Alex Camarda is senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/alex_camarda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@alex_camarda</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/ReinventAlbany" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@ReinventAlbany</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
Reform Groups Launch 'Restore Public Trust' Campaign 2018-01-04T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-04T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7405:reform-groups-launch-restore-public-trust-campaign Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/39402901692_296107dc65_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Long Island flag" width="600" height="423" /></p> <p>(photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York’s leading government reform groups reacted to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State agenda on Thursday in Albany, holding a press conference to urge the governor and legislative leaders to adopt a package of reforms to help restore public confidence in state government.</p> <p>Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that Cuomo failed to pass any of the reforms he promised in the wake of the alleged bid-rigging schemes associated with his signature economic development programs, government ethics and contracting reform got barely a mention in Cuomo’s 92-minute Wednesday address. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7403-cuomo-s-2018-state-of-the-state-reform-agenda-largely-repeats-past-proposals" target="_blank" rel="noopener">His 2018 policy book includes many of the same reform measures included in his 2017 version</a>, such as closure of the LLC loophole, limits on outside income for state legislators, the creation of a chief procurement officer, and expansion of the oversight of the state inspector general. Critics point out that the latter two measures would not be significant reforms given they would both be under the governor.</p> <p>Citing the six upcoming corruption trials of former high-ranking public officials that begin this month, representatives from New York Public Interest Group, Citizens Union, Reinvent Albany, Common Cause/NY, and League of Women Voters outlined specific actions they believe must be taken to prevent corruption and clean up state government.</p> <p>The coalition is urging state leaders to approve a package of reforms, titled “Restore the Public’s Trust,” which includes procurement reform, transparency in lump-sum budget appropriations, an end to “pay-to-play,” closure of the LLC Loophole, strict limits on outside income for legislators, and the empowerment of “independent, effective, well-resourced” watchdog agencies.</p> <p>The courtroom dramas that are bound to cast a shadow over this legislative session touch on both the executive and legislative branches, as well as state and local government. Two of the trials directly touch Gov. Cuomo’s inner circle of aides, allies, and donors, while the two former legislative leaders, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, will be retried after their corruption convictions were overturned due to a new Supreme Court ruling.</p> <p>The trial of Joseph Percoco, former executive deputy secretary to Gov. Cuomo, is scheduled to begin January 22; former State Senator George Maziarz’s trial will start February 5; former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano will be tried beginning March 12, and former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President and CEO Alain Kaloyeros’ trial is set to begin May 15.</p> <p>“Pay-to-play is a major issue in New York State because of lump sum appropriations in the budget and because of a lack of transparency in the procurement process,” said Jennifer Wilson of League of Women Voters at Thursday’s news conference. “In 2016, we learned that a lot of the RFPs in Buffalo Billion were people who gave huge donations to the governor. Other states have pay to play laws; we can’t allow that in New York State.</p> <p>Especially pointing to the Silver and Skelos sagas, the civic groups are calling on legislative leaders to act.</p> <p>“LLCs loom large in the Skelos and Silver cases,” said NYPIRG Executive Director Blair Horner. “Glenwood Management pumped in more than $10 million into campaign contributions.”</p> <p>“The Senate has to be brought along; there’s no way around it,” Horner said, referring to the fact that campaign finance reforms are more popular in the Democrat-led Assembly than the Republican-led Senate.</p> <p>The cases the groups mentioned are just the latest in a seemingly endless barrage of corruption scandals plaguing state and local government, earning New York its reputation as one of the most corrupt states in the nation. At least 33 legislators have left office since 2000 due to corruption-related issues.</p> <p>Good government groups have been pushing for some of these measures for years, and to some might sound like a broken record, as state Senate leadership has continued to block campaign finance reform and the governor has opposed the type of procurement reform being called for by the groups, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and others. But after last session, good government leaders say there have been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7007-with-session-ending-and-trial-looming-no-legislative-response-to-bid-rigging-scandal" target="_blank" rel="noopener">some encouraging signs</a> on the transparency front, citing legislation from Republican Senator John DeFrancisco, of Syracuse, that progressed through the finance committee, but ultimately did not make it to the floor of the Senate.<br /><br />“Last year we saw some movement on the clean contracting bill from the Comptroller, and on the database of deals, and the governor’s put forth his proposal on prohibiting vendors from making campaign contributions during the bidding process,” said Alex Camarda, of ReInvent Albany.</p> <ul> <li>As presented by the groups, the Restore Public Trust agenda, which they say will be the basis of a “campaign,” includes:<br />Clean Contracting. Basic accountability measures that would result in an open, ethical, and efficient way to award government contracts appropriations, an area which was identified as a key problem in the indictments of the governor’s top aides.</li> <li>Real Budget Transparency. Make lump-sum budget appropriations and the resulting expenditures fully transparent.</li> <li>Ban “Pay to Play.” Strict “pay to play” restrictions on state vendors. The U.S. Attorney’s charges that $800m in state contracts were rigged to benefit campaign contributors to the governor underscores the need to strictly limit contributions from those seeking state contracts.</li> <li>Close the “LLC Loophole.” Current practice allows essentially unlimited campaign contributions via Limited Liability Companies. LLCs have been at the heart of some of Albany’s largest scandals.</li> <li>Strict Limits on Outside Income. Real limits on the outside income for legislators and the executive branch. Moonlighting by top legislative leaders and top members of the executive branch has triggered indictments by the federal prosecutors.</li> <li>Effective Watchdogs. Truly independent, effective, well-resourced, ethics enforcement agencies are needed (e.g. JCOPE, SBOE, ABO).</li> </ul> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/39402901692_296107dc65_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Long Island flag" width="600" height="423" /></p> <p>(photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York’s leading government reform groups reacted to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State agenda on Thursday in Albany, holding a press conference to urge the governor and legislative leaders to adopt a package of reforms to help restore public confidence in state government.</p> <p>Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that Cuomo failed to pass any of the reforms he promised in the wake of the alleged bid-rigging schemes associated with his signature economic development programs, government ethics and contracting reform got barely a mention in Cuomo’s 92-minute Wednesday address. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7403-cuomo-s-2018-state-of-the-state-reform-agenda-largely-repeats-past-proposals" target="_blank" rel="noopener">His 2018 policy book includes many of the same reform measures included in his 2017 version</a>, such as closure of the LLC loophole, limits on outside income for state legislators, the creation of a chief procurement officer, and expansion of the oversight of the state inspector general. Critics point out that the latter two measures would not be significant reforms given they would both be under the governor.</p> <p>Citing the six upcoming corruption trials of former high-ranking public officials that begin this month, representatives from New York Public Interest Group, Citizens Union, Reinvent Albany, Common Cause/NY, and League of Women Voters outlined specific actions they believe must be taken to prevent corruption and clean up state government.</p> <p>The coalition is urging state leaders to approve a package of reforms, titled “Restore the Public’s Trust,” which includes procurement reform, transparency in lump-sum budget appropriations, an end to “pay-to-play,” closure of the LLC Loophole, strict limits on outside income for legislators, and the empowerment of “independent, effective, well-resourced” watchdog agencies.</p> <p>The courtroom dramas that are bound to cast a shadow over this legislative session touch on both the executive and legislative branches, as well as state and local government. Two of the trials directly touch Gov. Cuomo’s inner circle of aides, allies, and donors, while the two former legislative leaders, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, will be retried after their corruption convictions were overturned due to a new Supreme Court ruling.</p> <p>The trial of Joseph Percoco, former executive deputy secretary to Gov. Cuomo, is scheduled to begin January 22; former State Senator George Maziarz’s trial will start February 5; former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano will be tried beginning March 12, and former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President and CEO Alain Kaloyeros’ trial is set to begin May 15.</p> <p>“Pay-to-play is a major issue in New York State because of lump sum appropriations in the budget and because of a lack of transparency in the procurement process,” said Jennifer Wilson of League of Women Voters at Thursday’s news conference. “In 2016, we learned that a lot of the RFPs in Buffalo Billion were people who gave huge donations to the governor. Other states have pay to play laws; we can’t allow that in New York State.</p> <p>Especially pointing to the Silver and Skelos sagas, the civic groups are calling on legislative leaders to act.</p> <p>“LLCs loom large in the Skelos and Silver cases,” said NYPIRG Executive Director Blair Horner. “Glenwood Management pumped in more than $10 million into campaign contributions.”</p> <p>“The Senate has to be brought along; there’s no way around it,” Horner said, referring to the fact that campaign finance reforms are more popular in the Democrat-led Assembly than the Republican-led Senate.</p> <p>The cases the groups mentioned are just the latest in a seemingly endless barrage of corruption scandals plaguing state and local government, earning New York its reputation as one of the most corrupt states in the nation. At least 33 legislators have left office since 2000 due to corruption-related issues.</p> <p>Good government groups have been pushing for some of these measures for years, and to some might sound like a broken record, as state Senate leadership has continued to block campaign finance reform and the governor has opposed the type of procurement reform being called for by the groups, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and others. But after last session, good government leaders say there have been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7007-with-session-ending-and-trial-looming-no-legislative-response-to-bid-rigging-scandal" target="_blank" rel="noopener">some encouraging signs</a> on the transparency front, citing legislation from Republican Senator John DeFrancisco, of Syracuse, that progressed through the finance committee, but ultimately did not make it to the floor of the Senate.<br /><br />“Last year we saw some movement on the clean contracting bill from the Comptroller, and on the database of deals, and the governor’s put forth his proposal on prohibiting vendors from making campaign contributions during the bidding process,” said Alex Camarda, of ReInvent Albany.</p> <ul> <li>As presented by the groups, the Restore Public Trust agenda, which they say will be the basis of a “campaign,” includes:<br />Clean Contracting. Basic accountability measures that would result in an open, ethical, and efficient way to award government contracts appropriations, an area which was identified as a key problem in the indictments of the governor’s top aides.</li> <li>Real Budget Transparency. Make lump-sum budget appropriations and the resulting expenditures fully transparent.</li> <li>Ban “Pay to Play.” Strict “pay to play” restrictions on state vendors. The U.S. Attorney’s charges that $800m in state contracts were rigged to benefit campaign contributors to the governor underscores the need to strictly limit contributions from those seeking state contracts.</li> <li>Close the “LLC Loophole.” Current practice allows essentially unlimited campaign contributions via Limited Liability Companies. LLCs have been at the heart of some of Albany’s largest scandals.</li> <li>Strict Limits on Outside Income. Real limits on the outside income for legislators and the executive branch. Moonlighting by top legislative leaders and top members of the executive branch has triggered indictments by the federal prosecutors.</li> <li>Effective Watchdogs. Truly independent, effective, well-resourced, ethics enforcement agencies are needed (e.g. JCOPE, SBOE, ABO).</li> </ul> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
With Phase One Going on Trial, Cuomo’s Buffalo Investment Moves Ahead with Broken Reform Promises 2017-12-07T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-07T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7353:with-phase-one-going-on-trial-cuomo-s-buffalo-investment-moves-ahead-with-changes-and-broken-reform-promises Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/24961518185_c3f1f27f83_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo jobs western new york" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As federal corruption trials loom for several associates of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the administration is forging ahead with Buffalo Billion II, the second phase in an ambitious plan to revitalize Buffalo’s beleaguered economy and help transform Upstate New York into a hub of technology innovation and jobs. The first phase saw the massive alleged bid-rigging and kickback scandal that rocked state politics when outlined in September 2016 by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office and will loom over Cuomo’s 2018 reelection campaign.</p> <p>In April, the state Legislature approved $500 million in budgetary funds for the Buffalo Billion II, which marks a shift in the investment in Western New York. The initial Buffalo Billion program, touted by Cuomo as a major success in revitalizing that city despite the scandal, poured the bulk of the $1 billion in funds into a controversial solar panel factory, while Buffalo Billion II investments are diverse and largely infrastructural, including the development of waterfront and rail access, tourism, and job training initiatives.</p> <p>Critics -- including lawmakers, financial analysts and good government groups -- acknowledge steps the Cuomo administration has since taken to improve the contracting process, but say they remain skeptical of the Buffalo Billion extension and how it is administered. Calling its approval “a blank check” to the governor with little oversight, they question why these small projects are not being funded through traditional means -- like via local governments -- and whether these investments are tax dollars well-spent. Meanwhile, other promises the governor made in the wake of the scandal were abandoned by Cuomo, who had promised unilateral action that did not materialize.</p> <p>“There’s two problems here. One is the corruption problem, which is obviously paramount in the upcoming trials,” said David Friedfel, director of state affairs for Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan watchdog. “But a second problem that we’ve voiced concern about, which is sort of getting lost in the conversation, is that a lot of these are a bad investment of state taxpayer dollars.”</p> <p>The Buffalo solar panel factory, which received about $750 million in state subsidies, as well as a state-funded nanotechnology hub in Syracuse, are at the center of last year’s sweeping probe by then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office, <a href="https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/nine-defendants-including-joseph-percoco-former-executive-deputy-secretary-governor-and" target="_blank" rel="noopener">which ensnared nine men</a> -- including two who had been powerful state officials -- whose trials may overshadow the 2018 legislative session in Albany, set to begin in January.</p> <p>On January 8, jury selection is scheduled to start in the trial of Cuomo’s former close confidant and aide Joe Percoco, along with three&nbsp;construction and energy executives who had business before the state and are accused of arranging bribes for Percoco and his wife in exchange for Percoco’s government influence.</p> <p>On May 15, jury selection for the trial of former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President and CEO Alain Kaloyeros, whom Cuomo empowered and praised over several years as a key architect of his upstate economic development efforts, and executives from LP Ciminelli, a construction company tied to the factory and Cuomo’ campaign coffers, will commence.</p> <p>Two Syracuse developers, Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, who run COR Development, will be defendants in both trials. Eight defendants in total have pleaded not guilty, while a ninth, lobbyist and former Cuomo ally Todd Howe, pleaded guilty to numerous felony charges and is cooperating with prosecutors. While Cuomo was not directly implicated in <a href="https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/nine-defendants-including-joseph-percoco-former-executive-deputy-secretary-governor-and" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the federal complaint</a>, prosecutors note that he received large campaign donations from the business people involved in the scheme, often at Howe’s behest. The governor also oversaw the economic development programs that were allegedly taken advantage of and dismissed calls for greater independent contracting oversight, both before and after the scandal broke, though he did make some relatively minor adjustments.</p> <p>In November 2016, two months after the charges were outlined, Cuomo <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/statement-governor-andrew-m-cuomo-proposed-ethics-reforms" target="_blank" rel="noopener">expressed dismay</a> over the scandals that were threatening to undercut his signature economic development programs and vowed to quickly strengthen oversight and ethics, though all under his purview. Notably, Empire State Development, the state’s economic development authority, would immediately begin to oversee projects run by entities associated with SUNY Polytechnic, Fort Schuyler Management Corp. and Fuller Road Management Corp., state-affiliated nonprofits created to more quickly disburse economic development funding that Kaloyeros is accused of using to illegally direct contracts.</p> <p>“I believe this public trust and integrity issue must be addressed – directly and forthrightly. I don’t believe in denial as a life strategy. I believe you must face your problems, no matter how unpleasant, and do your best to resolve them,” Cuomo said in <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/statement-governor-andrew-m-cuomo-proposed-ethics-reforms" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a long statement</a> outlining his response to the scandal and news of problems at CUNY. “It is time for action, not words.”</p> <p>Cuomo promised a series of actions and proposals, some that would need legislative approval and others he categorized as “steps we can take immediately.” Most of those promised reforms did not materialize.</p> <p>In the November 2016 statement, Cuomo vowed, “I will order my campaign and my party not to accept campaign contributions from companies once a Request for Proposals has been announced, and for six months following the conclusion for the winner,” adding, “I believe the other state offices and the legislature should do the same and will propose such a law.” According to Cuomo’s office, his pledge was not followed through on.</p> <p>While his campaign did not follow through, in January of this year, Cuomo outlined <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-35th-proposal-2017-state-state-restoring-integrity-and-accountability" target="_blank" rel="noopener">his ethics platform</a> and proposed creating such bans for all government leaders overseeing contracting processes. It did not pass.</p> <p>In November 2016, under other ‘immediate’ actions he would be taking, Cuomo acknowledged that “[t]he contracting systems at CUNY and SUNY have become the focus of US Attorney and IG inquiries in the past several months. To insure more permanent supervision, I will create and appoint separate Inspector Generals for both SUNY and CUNY.” These IGs were not created.</p> <p>Cuomo also said in November 2016, “I will also appoint a Chief Procurement Officer for the Executive branch. That person will be charged with reviewing all state contracts, with an eye towards eliminating any wrongdoing, conflicts of interest or collusion. And just so there is no confusion, I do mean all contracts.” The governor did not appoint such an officer.</p> <p>Instead of immediate action on these promises, they were turned into proposals in Cuomo’s 2017 agenda that did not pass in the April budget or June legislative agreements that followed. Asked about the lack of follow-through on the promises from November 2016, Cuomo’s office pointed to the Legislature. In the November 2016 statement Cuomo had classified the proposals among “actions I can take under my own authority."</p> <p>Enacted or not, critics say that these appointments would make no substitute for outside oversight.</p> <p>Two months later, during <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/f/?id=00000159-85af-d15a-afdf-dfbf04fe0000" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Buffalo leg</a> of his six-stop 2017 State of the State tour, Cuomo made no mention of the scandals or his ethics platform, painting a rosy picture of his administration’s efforts to revitalize the city, and vowing to “double down” on the projects.</p> <p>“Buffalo Billion squared because it takes Buffalo Billion I and it takes Buffalo Billion II, and there’s a synergy between the two of them that will be exponential,” Cuomo said. “The principles of it are going to be to build on Western New York’s renaissance, which you’ve all accomplished already, help more small businesses in downtown areas and strategically invest in regional industries.”</p> <p>As the next phase of those efforts unfold with the backdrop of the corruption trials, the new Buffalo Billion does appear less vulnerable to bid-rigging, in part due to a series of voluntary fixes adopted by Cuomo’s administration, and also because of increased scrutiny from the press and government watchdogs.</p> <p>The shift of economic development projects from under SUNY-affiliated nonprofits to Empire State Development, which can be audited by the comptroller’s office, is a key step, and ESD, a public authority, has modified its own contracting protocols based on recommendations by state-contracted consultants from Guidepost Solutions. (Cuomo announced he was hiring Guidepost to do a review soon after the scandal broke.)</p> <p>Asked for comment about the steps the administration has taken to address the corruption scandal in the Buffalo Billion and which Cuomo promises has followed through on as Buffalo Billion II moves ahead, a spokesperson for Cuomo provided some background information but pointed Gotham Gazette to prior public statements by state officials.</p> <p>“We share your goal of preventing fraud, waste and abuse. ESD has taken substantive&nbsp;steps to strengthen applicable processes to address the concerns you have raised and to&nbsp;implement your recommendations, including our support of strengthened governance provided to non-profits associated with SUNY,” Zemsky of ESD wrote in a letter sent to Guidepost Solutions’ head Bart Schwartz in April.</p> <p>According to the governor's office, those Guidepost-suggested changes include reforms related to procurement, construction, property and equipment acquisition, and grant compliance. More specifically, there are new controls and procedures to improve payment processing and project management‎, with a focus on project timelines, billing, budgeting, documentation verification, payroll, and how RFPs and bids are evaluated.</p> <p>There has been little contract or spending activity related to Buffalo Billion II in 2017, according to records provided by the governor’s office, but a handful of relatively smaller projects <a href="http://www.buffalo.edu/news/ub-in-the-news/2017/11/002.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">have made it</a> past the planning stage. A new building for University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine, is expected to be completed in December and will house an incoming class of students for the semester commencing January 2018. A welcome center on Grand Island, which is expected to become a vital component of New York's tourism industry, drawing in $100 billion and “supporting more than 900,000 jobs,” is expected to be fully constructed and in use by August 2018, <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-western-new-york-highlights-fy-2018-state-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">according to Cuomo’s office</a>.</p> <p>Government watchdogs and reformers commend the government’s efforts to create more accountability for these projects but say they are no replacement for long-term, independent oversight.</p> <p>The watchdogs call for a “database of deals,” which would digitally compile every entity receiving funds from the state along with where each dollar is going; dramatic overhaul of the campaign finance system to eliminate the appearance or reality of pay-to-play; and a bill to restore the powers of the state comptroller to review procurement contracts for SUNY, CUNY, and Office of General Services before they are approved. That power was stripped by Cuomo and the Legislature in 2011, in part to expedite the flow of economic development funds aimed at upstate revitalization, a move that was criticized intensely when the corruption revelations came to light.</p> <p>"As with all of the economic development programs subject to our review, we are closely looking at payment requests,” said Jennifer Freeman, a spokesperson for DiNapoli's office in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The problem is not all contracts and payments are subject to our review, which is why State Comptroller DiNapoli is pushing for major procurement reforms to improve oversight."</p> <p>These long-sought reforms appeared to have some momentum in the 2017 legislative session, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6875-ramped-up-economic-development-funding-less-transparency-in-new-state-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">but wound up going nowhere</a> due to pushback from Cuomo, even as more economic development money was approved.</p> <p>There is less pushback against Buffalo Billion II, in part because the state projects involved are less controversial and more diverse than those announced in 2012. At that time, many questioned the state’s decision to spend $750 million on the SolarCity manufacturing plant that made a splash when it was <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/tesla-and-solarcity-agree-to-2-6-billion-merger-deal-1470050724" target="_blank" rel="noopener">purchased</a> by Tesla’s Elon Musk, but has failed to the deliver the promised jobs. However, those watching Albany, and Buffalo, say questions remain about why the state is overseeing projects typically done by a local development authority or industrial development authority.</p> <p>“In Buffalo, you have the state economic development corporation calling the shots on dinky expenditures on small real estate and street improvement projects,” said John Kaehny, executive director of ReInvent Albany, a watchdog group that has focused on economic development spending, especially upstate. “Is Buffalo Billion II a good investment compared to traditional government spending on clean water, road repair and public transit?”</p> <p>Kaehny added that it is still preferable that the government make many small bets on small businesses, which is the emphasis of Buffalo Billion II, rather than “rolling the dice on giant, high risk, corporate handouts like Buffalo Billion I did with Tesla, Riverbend.”<br /><br />Cuomo, a Democrat who has said he’s seeking a third term in 2018 and appears to be considering a run for president in 2020, may see Buffalo as an opportunity to shape his national image as a leader who successfully resuscitated one of America’s largest, long-suffering post-industrial cities -- succeeding where many others have failed. Though that narrative is likely to be complicated by the corruption scandal, with more to be determined by the trials set to begin in 2018.</p> <p>The governor has called his work in Buffalo successful, pointing to a declining unemployment rate in the formerly industrial city, <a href="https://www.bizjournals.com/buffalo/news/2016/07/26/buffalo-unemployment-rate-drops-to-15-year-low.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a rate</a> that dropped from 7.9 percent in October 2010 to a 15-year-low of 4.9 by October 2016, and there is a chorus of voices backing him up. But Western New York’s job growth continues to lag behind the national average.</p> <p>Part of the boom is related to an increase in construction jobs. For the five-year period ending in 2015, the number of construction jobs in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls Metro Area rose by 10.1 percent, an all-time record, according to Cuomo’s office, and by 9.3 percent in Erie County. The state investment has generated buzz and created an air of optimism and excitement for both Buffalonians and outsiders, including companies that have eyed the state’s second largest city. The city has recently seen investments from General Motors, Geico, Goldman Sachs, General Mills, Sumitomo Rubber, and Moog and Entrepreneur Magazine recently ranked Buffalo second in the nation for start-up communities, according to the governor’s office.</p> <p>The governor and his aides also say young people are flocking back to Buffalo: the number of young adults ages 20 to 34 in the Buffalo-Niagara region <a href="https://www.bizjournals.com/buffalo/news/2015/12/17/yes-buffalos-population-of-young-adults-is-on-the.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has increased</a> by 8.3 percent since 2010.</p> <p>Still, lawmakers whose districts should benefit from the funds have critiques of both phases of the program. Assembly Member Raymond Walter, a Republican from Amherst, has been a vocal critic of the Legislature’s approval of the Buffalo Billion II and has joined calls for reforms in the wake of the the 2016 scandal. While acknowledging that Western New York has been infused with optimism and entrepreneurship, Walter says he attributes some of the economic prosperity to initiatives that predate Cuomo.</p> <p>“My biggest concerns are, from what I've seen, is an inability to actually provide any data that shows that the programs are working,” he said of the initial Buffalo Billion program, noting that SolarCity was initially intended to house many types of industries before it became a solar panel factory. add</p> <p>“The idea all along was we don't want a silver bullet, there's not a silver bullet solution to the economic woes of Western New York. We can't just have one big project, but that's exactly what this is turned into,” said Walter, who got in a heated back and forth with ESD head Howard Zemsky <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7321-assembly-takes-stock-of-state-economic-development-programs-ahead-of-next-negotiations" target="_blank" rel="noopener">last month at an Assembly hearing</a> on the progress of Buffalo Billion and other economic development programs.</p> <p>The governor’s office <a href="https://buffalobillion.ny.gov/about-buffalo-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">says</a> it is creating a “comprehensive and diverse portfolio of investments that collectively is driving the future of Buffalo’s continuing economic recovery.”</p> <p>But while Buffalo Billion II may provide more tangible investments into the area, Walter questioned why the funds were not lined out by project in the 2017 budget, and criticized the opaque process through which it was passed.</p> <p>“We're giving a blank check to the governor, to the Empire State Development, to whoever is going to be administering these funds,” he said. “So yeah, I still have great concern because we've given up all legislative authority over how this money is going to be spent.”</p> <p>Others, like Democratic Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, of Buffalo, says she and her constituents welcome the investment from the state. While she recognizes concerns, Peoples-Stokes said she has witnessed a dramatic change in the long-struggling city in terms of opportunity, entrepreneurship, and investment from major companies, as well as college students choosing to remain in Buffalo’s downtown after graduation.</p> <p>“For me, at the end of the day, to see economic development dollars have a meaningful impact in the core of our city, I’m satisfied with that,” she said. “Because for years, literally years -- this is not my first go around, I’ve been here for 15 years -- I’ve never seen the type of resources put into Buffalo as we’ve seen under Governor Cuomo.”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Correction: An earlier version of this story mistated the trial date of the LP Ciminelli executives.</p> <p>Note: this story has been updated with more information on the reforms adopted from the Guidepost recommendations.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/24961518185_c3f1f27f83_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo jobs western new york" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As federal corruption trials loom for several associates of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the administration is forging ahead with Buffalo Billion II, the second phase in an ambitious plan to revitalize Buffalo’s beleaguered economy and help transform Upstate New York into a hub of technology innovation and jobs. The first phase saw the massive alleged bid-rigging and kickback scandal that rocked state politics when outlined in September 2016 by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office and will loom over Cuomo’s 2018 reelection campaign.</p> <p>In April, the state Legislature approved $500 million in budgetary funds for the Buffalo Billion II, which marks a shift in the investment in Western New York. The initial Buffalo Billion program, touted by Cuomo as a major success in revitalizing that city despite the scandal, poured the bulk of the $1 billion in funds into a controversial solar panel factory, while Buffalo Billion II investments are diverse and largely infrastructural, including the development of waterfront and rail access, tourism, and job training initiatives.</p> <p>Critics -- including lawmakers, financial analysts and good government groups -- acknowledge steps the Cuomo administration has since taken to improve the contracting process, but say they remain skeptical of the Buffalo Billion extension and how it is administered. Calling its approval “a blank check” to the governor with little oversight, they question why these small projects are not being funded through traditional means -- like via local governments -- and whether these investments are tax dollars well-spent. Meanwhile, other promises the governor made in the wake of the scandal were abandoned by Cuomo, who had promised unilateral action that did not materialize.</p> <p>“There’s two problems here. One is the corruption problem, which is obviously paramount in the upcoming trials,” said David Friedfel, director of state affairs for Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan watchdog. “But a second problem that we’ve voiced concern about, which is sort of getting lost in the conversation, is that a lot of these are a bad investment of state taxpayer dollars.”</p> <p>The Buffalo solar panel factory, which received about $750 million in state subsidies, as well as a state-funded nanotechnology hub in Syracuse, are at the center of last year’s sweeping probe by then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office, <a href="https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/nine-defendants-including-joseph-percoco-former-executive-deputy-secretary-governor-and" target="_blank" rel="noopener">which ensnared nine men</a> -- including two who had been powerful state officials -- whose trials may overshadow the 2018 legislative session in Albany, set to begin in January.</p> <p>On January 8, jury selection is scheduled to start in the trial of Cuomo’s former close confidant and aide Joe Percoco, along with three&nbsp;construction and energy executives who had business before the state and are accused of arranging bribes for Percoco and his wife in exchange for Percoco’s government influence.</p> <p>On May 15, jury selection for the trial of former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President and CEO Alain Kaloyeros, whom Cuomo empowered and praised over several years as a key architect of his upstate economic development efforts, and executives from LP Ciminelli, a construction company tied to the factory and Cuomo’ campaign coffers, will commence.</p> <p>Two Syracuse developers, Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, who run COR Development, will be defendants in both trials. Eight defendants in total have pleaded not guilty, while a ninth, lobbyist and former Cuomo ally Todd Howe, pleaded guilty to numerous felony charges and is cooperating with prosecutors. While Cuomo was not directly implicated in <a href="https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/nine-defendants-including-joseph-percoco-former-executive-deputy-secretary-governor-and" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the federal complaint</a>, prosecutors note that he received large campaign donations from the business people involved in the scheme, often at Howe’s behest. The governor also oversaw the economic development programs that were allegedly taken advantage of and dismissed calls for greater independent contracting oversight, both before and after the scandal broke, though he did make some relatively minor adjustments.</p> <p>In November 2016, two months after the charges were outlined, Cuomo <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/statement-governor-andrew-m-cuomo-proposed-ethics-reforms" target="_blank" rel="noopener">expressed dismay</a> over the scandals that were threatening to undercut his signature economic development programs and vowed to quickly strengthen oversight and ethics, though all under his purview. Notably, Empire State Development, the state’s economic development authority, would immediately begin to oversee projects run by entities associated with SUNY Polytechnic, Fort Schuyler Management Corp. and Fuller Road Management Corp., state-affiliated nonprofits created to more quickly disburse economic development funding that Kaloyeros is accused of using to illegally direct contracts.</p> <p>“I believe this public trust and integrity issue must be addressed – directly and forthrightly. I don’t believe in denial as a life strategy. I believe you must face your problems, no matter how unpleasant, and do your best to resolve them,” Cuomo said in <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/statement-governor-andrew-m-cuomo-proposed-ethics-reforms" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a long statement</a> outlining his response to the scandal and news of problems at CUNY. “It is time for action, not words.”</p> <p>Cuomo promised a series of actions and proposals, some that would need legislative approval and others he categorized as “steps we can take immediately.” Most of those promised reforms did not materialize.</p> <p>In the November 2016 statement, Cuomo vowed, “I will order my campaign and my party not to accept campaign contributions from companies once a Request for Proposals has been announced, and for six months following the conclusion for the winner,” adding, “I believe the other state offices and the legislature should do the same and will propose such a law.” According to Cuomo’s office, his pledge was not followed through on.</p> <p>While his campaign did not follow through, in January of this year, Cuomo outlined <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-35th-proposal-2017-state-state-restoring-integrity-and-accountability" target="_blank" rel="noopener">his ethics platform</a> and proposed creating such bans for all government leaders overseeing contracting processes. It did not pass.</p> <p>In November 2016, under other ‘immediate’ actions he would be taking, Cuomo acknowledged that “[t]he contracting systems at CUNY and SUNY have become the focus of US Attorney and IG inquiries in the past several months. To insure more permanent supervision, I will create and appoint separate Inspector Generals for both SUNY and CUNY.” These IGs were not created.</p> <p>Cuomo also said in November 2016, “I will also appoint a Chief Procurement Officer for the Executive branch. That person will be charged with reviewing all state contracts, with an eye towards eliminating any wrongdoing, conflicts of interest or collusion. And just so there is no confusion, I do mean all contracts.” The governor did not appoint such an officer.</p> <p>Instead of immediate action on these promises, they were turned into proposals in Cuomo’s 2017 agenda that did not pass in the April budget or June legislative agreements that followed. Asked about the lack of follow-through on the promises from November 2016, Cuomo’s office pointed to the Legislature. In the November 2016 statement Cuomo had classified the proposals among “actions I can take under my own authority."</p> <p>Enacted or not, critics say that these appointments would make no substitute for outside oversight.</p> <p>Two months later, during <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/f/?id=00000159-85af-d15a-afdf-dfbf04fe0000" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Buffalo leg</a> of his six-stop 2017 State of the State tour, Cuomo made no mention of the scandals or his ethics platform, painting a rosy picture of his administration’s efforts to revitalize the city, and vowing to “double down” on the projects.</p> <p>“Buffalo Billion squared because it takes Buffalo Billion I and it takes Buffalo Billion II, and there’s a synergy between the two of them that will be exponential,” Cuomo said. “The principles of it are going to be to build on Western New York’s renaissance, which you’ve all accomplished already, help more small businesses in downtown areas and strategically invest in regional industries.”</p> <p>As the next phase of those efforts unfold with the backdrop of the corruption trials, the new Buffalo Billion does appear less vulnerable to bid-rigging, in part due to a series of voluntary fixes adopted by Cuomo’s administration, and also because of increased scrutiny from the press and government watchdogs.</p> <p>The shift of economic development projects from under SUNY-affiliated nonprofits to Empire State Development, which can be audited by the comptroller’s office, is a key step, and ESD, a public authority, has modified its own contracting protocols based on recommendations by state-contracted consultants from Guidepost Solutions. (Cuomo announced he was hiring Guidepost to do a review soon after the scandal broke.)</p> <p>Asked for comment about the steps the administration has taken to address the corruption scandal in the Buffalo Billion and which Cuomo promises has followed through on as Buffalo Billion II moves ahead, a spokesperson for Cuomo provided some background information but pointed Gotham Gazette to prior public statements by state officials.</p> <p>“We share your goal of preventing fraud, waste and abuse. ESD has taken substantive&nbsp;steps to strengthen applicable processes to address the concerns you have raised and to&nbsp;implement your recommendations, including our support of strengthened governance provided to non-profits associated with SUNY,” Zemsky of ESD wrote in a letter sent to Guidepost Solutions’ head Bart Schwartz in April.</p> <p>According to the governor's office, those Guidepost-suggested changes include reforms related to procurement, construction, property and equipment acquisition, and grant compliance. More specifically, there are new controls and procedures to improve payment processing and project management‎, with a focus on project timelines, billing, budgeting, documentation verification, payroll, and how RFPs and bids are evaluated.</p> <p>There has been little contract or spending activity related to Buffalo Billion II in 2017, according to records provided by the governor’s office, but a handful of relatively smaller projects <a href="http://www.buffalo.edu/news/ub-in-the-news/2017/11/002.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">have made it</a> past the planning stage. A new building for University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine, is expected to be completed in December and will house an incoming class of students for the semester commencing January 2018. A welcome center on Grand Island, which is expected to become a vital component of New York's tourism industry, drawing in $100 billion and “supporting more than 900,000 jobs,” is expected to be fully constructed and in use by August 2018, <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-western-new-york-highlights-fy-2018-state-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">according to Cuomo’s office</a>.</p> <p>Government watchdogs and reformers commend the government’s efforts to create more accountability for these projects but say they are no replacement for long-term, independent oversight.</p> <p>The watchdogs call for a “database of deals,” which would digitally compile every entity receiving funds from the state along with where each dollar is going; dramatic overhaul of the campaign finance system to eliminate the appearance or reality of pay-to-play; and a bill to restore the powers of the state comptroller to review procurement contracts for SUNY, CUNY, and Office of General Services before they are approved. That power was stripped by Cuomo and the Legislature in 2011, in part to expedite the flow of economic development funds aimed at upstate revitalization, a move that was criticized intensely when the corruption revelations came to light.</p> <p>"As with all of the economic development programs subject to our review, we are closely looking at payment requests,” said Jennifer Freeman, a spokesperson for DiNapoli's office in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The problem is not all contracts and payments are subject to our review, which is why State Comptroller DiNapoli is pushing for major procurement reforms to improve oversight."</p> <p>These long-sought reforms appeared to have some momentum in the 2017 legislative session, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6875-ramped-up-economic-development-funding-less-transparency-in-new-state-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">but wound up going nowhere</a> due to pushback from Cuomo, even as more economic development money was approved.</p> <p>There is less pushback against Buffalo Billion II, in part because the state projects involved are less controversial and more diverse than those announced in 2012. At that time, many questioned the state’s decision to spend $750 million on the SolarCity manufacturing plant that made a splash when it was <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/tesla-and-solarcity-agree-to-2-6-billion-merger-deal-1470050724" target="_blank" rel="noopener">purchased</a> by Tesla’s Elon Musk, but has failed to the deliver the promised jobs. However, those watching Albany, and Buffalo, say questions remain about why the state is overseeing projects typically done by a local development authority or industrial development authority.</p> <p>“In Buffalo, you have the state economic development corporation calling the shots on dinky expenditures on small real estate and street improvement projects,” said John Kaehny, executive director of ReInvent Albany, a watchdog group that has focused on economic development spending, especially upstate. “Is Buffalo Billion II a good investment compared to traditional government spending on clean water, road repair and public transit?”</p> <p>Kaehny added that it is still preferable that the government make many small bets on small businesses, which is the emphasis of Buffalo Billion II, rather than “rolling the dice on giant, high risk, corporate handouts like Buffalo Billion I did with Tesla, Riverbend.”<br /><br />Cuomo, a Democrat who has said he’s seeking a third term in 2018 and appears to be considering a run for president in 2020, may see Buffalo as an opportunity to shape his national image as a leader who successfully resuscitated one of America’s largest, long-suffering post-industrial cities -- succeeding where many others have failed. Though that narrative is likely to be complicated by the corruption scandal, with more to be determined by the trials set to begin in 2018.</p> <p>The governor has called his work in Buffalo successful, pointing to a declining unemployment rate in the formerly industrial city, <a href="https://www.bizjournals.com/buffalo/news/2016/07/26/buffalo-unemployment-rate-drops-to-15-year-low.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a rate</a> that dropped from 7.9 percent in October 2010 to a 15-year-low of 4.9 by October 2016, and there is a chorus of voices backing him up. But Western New York’s job growth continues to lag behind the national average.</p> <p>Part of the boom is related to an increase in construction jobs. For the five-year period ending in 2015, the number of construction jobs in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls Metro Area rose by 10.1 percent, an all-time record, according to Cuomo’s office, and by 9.3 percent in Erie County. The state investment has generated buzz and created an air of optimism and excitement for both Buffalonians and outsiders, including companies that have eyed the state’s second largest city. The city has recently seen investments from General Motors, Geico, Goldman Sachs, General Mills, Sumitomo Rubber, and Moog and Entrepreneur Magazine recently ranked Buffalo second in the nation for start-up communities, according to the governor’s office.</p> <p>The governor and his aides also say young people are flocking back to Buffalo: the number of young adults ages 20 to 34 in the Buffalo-Niagara region <a href="https://www.bizjournals.com/buffalo/news/2015/12/17/yes-buffalos-population-of-young-adults-is-on-the.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has increased</a> by 8.3 percent since 2010.</p> <p>Still, lawmakers whose districts should benefit from the funds have critiques of both phases of the program. Assembly Member Raymond Walter, a Republican from Amherst, has been a vocal critic of the Legislature’s approval of the Buffalo Billion II and has joined calls for reforms in the wake of the the 2016 scandal. While acknowledging that Western New York has been infused with optimism and entrepreneurship, Walter says he attributes some of the economic prosperity to initiatives that predate Cuomo.</p> <p>“My biggest concerns are, from what I've seen, is an inability to actually provide any data that shows that the programs are working,” he said of the initial Buffalo Billion program, noting that SolarCity was initially intended to house many types of industries before it became a solar panel factory. add</p> <p>“The idea all along was we don't want a silver bullet, there's not a silver bullet solution to the economic woes of Western New York. We can't just have one big project, but that's exactly what this is turned into,” said Walter, who got in a heated back and forth with ESD head Howard Zemsky <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7321-assembly-takes-stock-of-state-economic-development-programs-ahead-of-next-negotiations" target="_blank" rel="noopener">last month at an Assembly hearing</a> on the progress of Buffalo Billion and other economic development programs.</p> <p>The governor’s office <a href="https://buffalobillion.ny.gov/about-buffalo-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">says</a> it is creating a “comprehensive and diverse portfolio of investments that collectively is driving the future of Buffalo’s continuing economic recovery.”</p> <p>But while Buffalo Billion II may provide more tangible investments into the area, Walter questioned why the funds were not lined out by project in the 2017 budget, and criticized the opaque process through which it was passed.</p> <p>“We're giving a blank check to the governor, to the Empire State Development, to whoever is going to be administering these funds,” he said. “So yeah, I still have great concern because we've given up all legislative authority over how this money is going to be spent.”</p> <p>Others, like Democratic Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, of Buffalo, says she and her constituents welcome the investment from the state. While she recognizes concerns, Peoples-Stokes said she has witnessed a dramatic change in the long-struggling city in terms of opportunity, entrepreneurship, and investment from major companies, as well as college students choosing to remain in Buffalo’s downtown after graduation.</p> <p>“For me, at the end of the day, to see economic development dollars have a meaningful impact in the core of our city, I’m satisfied with that,” she said. “Because for years, literally years -- this is not my first go around, I’ve been here for 15 years -- I’ve never seen the type of resources put into Buffalo as we’ve seen under Governor Cuomo.”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Correction: An earlier version of this story mistated the trial date of the LP Ciminelli executives.</p> <p>Note: this story has been updated with more information on the reforms adopted from the Guidepost recommendations.</p>
'Open Budget,' Economic Development Transparency Bills Become Law 2017-12-01T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-01T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7346:open-budget-economic-development-transparency-bills-become-law Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/34230498096_8f776460b1_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio public hearing City Council bills" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>De Blasio at a public hearing (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Four government transparency bills that were passed by the City Council on October 31 aged into law on Friday, having gone 30 days without any action in favor or against them by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The bills all relate to increased disclosure by the administration of billions in city government spending and have been praised by good government advocates.</p> <p>Among the bills was one that <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2709949&amp;GUID=A23CF8CE-1F3D-45FA-8C20-7A787B22EEE8&amp;Options=&amp;Search=">requires</a> the administration to publish annual budget documents in a user-friendly, machine-readable format to the city’s online Open Data Portal, allowing the public easier access to information that is currently listed in thousands of line items in the $86 billion city budget. The bill’s lead sponsor was Council Member Ben Kallos.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7284-city-council-to-pass-bills-expanding-oversight-of-economic-development-spending" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The three other bills</a> -- with lead sponsors Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Dan Garodnick, and Corey Johnson -- formed a package aimed at improving transparency at the Economic Development Corporation, a city-run entity that manages and promotes the administration’s job-creation and business-development initiatives. The bills allow the City Council added oversight of EDC, which provides many millions of dollars in financial benefits to projects and businesses each year and also handles the sale and lease of city-owned land. They mandate that EDC provide fiscal impact statements and job creation estimates for projects receiving financial assistance; require EDC to detail their efforts to clawback funds from those agreements that fail to meet their goals; and allow the City Council time to review and comment on proposed economic development agreements.</p> <p>“These new City laws will make it much easier to understand both the big picture of how the City is spending money and the specifics of hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidy deals the City makes with businesses,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a good government group, in a statement Friday. “It will be much easier to see if the taxpayer is getting a good deal. These new laws are a blueprint for what the state should do.”</p> <p>The City Charter provides that if the mayor takes no action on a bill after it is approved by the City Council, within 30 days, it automatically becomes law. In fact, it’s “pretty common” for bills to age into law without the mayor’s signature, said mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, in an email on Friday. She added that if the mayor signed every bill, “we’d be doing bill signings like every day.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Goldstein noted that out of the 25 bills passed by the Council on October 31, all but one aged into law. The only one the mayor signed was Council Member Rafael Espinal’s bill to repeal the city’s antiquated Cabaret Law, which used to require establishments to obtain licences from the city to allow dancing. De Blasio signed the bill on November 27 at Elsewhere, a popular nightclub in Brooklyn.</p> <p>Often, the mayor holds bill-signing ceremonies at City Hall, affixing his signature to numerous bills at a time. At one such ceremony on October 16, for instance, de Blasio signed a dozen bills into law. “It’s really just a timing thing,” Goldstein said in a later email, estimating that perhaps close to 100 bills have similarly lapsed into law in de Blasio’s first term.</p> <p>City Council spokesperson Robin Levine declined to comment for this article.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/34230498096_8f776460b1_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio public hearing City Council bills" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>De Blasio at a public hearing (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Four government transparency bills that were passed by the City Council on October 31 aged into law on Friday, having gone 30 days without any action in favor or against them by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The bills all relate to increased disclosure by the administration of billions in city government spending and have been praised by good government advocates.</p> <p>Among the bills was one that <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2709949&amp;GUID=A23CF8CE-1F3D-45FA-8C20-7A787B22EEE8&amp;Options=&amp;Search=">requires</a> the administration to publish annual budget documents in a user-friendly, machine-readable format to the city’s online Open Data Portal, allowing the public easier access to information that is currently listed in thousands of line items in the $86 billion city budget. The bill’s lead sponsor was Council Member Ben Kallos.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7284-city-council-to-pass-bills-expanding-oversight-of-economic-development-spending" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The three other bills</a> -- with lead sponsors Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Dan Garodnick, and Corey Johnson -- formed a package aimed at improving transparency at the Economic Development Corporation, a city-run entity that manages and promotes the administration’s job-creation and business-development initiatives. The bills allow the City Council added oversight of EDC, which provides many millions of dollars in financial benefits to projects and businesses each year and also handles the sale and lease of city-owned land. They mandate that EDC provide fiscal impact statements and job creation estimates for projects receiving financial assistance; require EDC to detail their efforts to clawback funds from those agreements that fail to meet their goals; and allow the City Council time to review and comment on proposed economic development agreements.</p> <p>“These new City laws will make it much easier to understand both the big picture of how the City is spending money and the specifics of hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidy deals the City makes with businesses,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a good government group, in a statement Friday. “It will be much easier to see if the taxpayer is getting a good deal. These new laws are a blueprint for what the state should do.”</p> <p>The City Charter provides that if the mayor takes no action on a bill after it is approved by the City Council, within 30 days, it automatically becomes law. In fact, it’s “pretty common” for bills to age into law without the mayor’s signature, said mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, in an email on Friday. She added that if the mayor signed every bill, “we’d be doing bill signings like every day.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Goldstein noted that out of the 25 bills passed by the Council on October 31, all but one aged into law. The only one the mayor signed was Council Member Rafael Espinal’s bill to repeal the city’s antiquated Cabaret Law, which used to require establishments to obtain licences from the city to allow dancing. De Blasio signed the bill on November 27 at Elsewhere, a popular nightclub in Brooklyn.</p> <p>Often, the mayor holds bill-signing ceremonies at City Hall, affixing his signature to numerous bills at a time. At one such ceremony on October 16, for instance, de Blasio signed a dozen bills into law. “It’s really just a timing thing,” Goldstein said in a later email, estimating that perhaps close to 100 bills have similarly lapsed into law in de Blasio’s first term.</p> <p>City Council spokesperson Robin Levine declined to comment for this article.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Cuomo Urged to Sign Bill Strengthening Freedom of Information Law 2017-11-28T05:00:00+00:00 2017-11-28T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7338:cuomo-urged-to-sign-bill-strengthening-freedom-of-information-law Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/37312919111_d5ea89ebb2_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo announcement open for business" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Governor Cuomo (via the Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>With just a few weeks before the 2018 legislative session, Governor Andrew Cuomo must soon sign or veto the outstanding legislation that passed both houses earlier this year.</p> <p>Among over 100 pieces of legislation headed for the governor’s desk over the next month is a bill that aims to strengthen the Freedom of Information Law, drafted with the input of many good government and media interests, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6982-for-second-time-legislature-sends-foil-penalty-bill-to-cuomo" target="_blank" rel="noopener">with changes from a previous version vetoed by Cuomo to address his concerns</a>.</p> <p>A growing coalition of these groups, which wield national, state and local influence, is keeping the issue in the public eye by calling on Cuomo to sign the bill, which is aimed at improving government responsiveness to information requests by non-governmental entities. The bill would make it easier for members of the public and organizations to win attorneys’ fees when they have won a court order instructing agencies to release public records, which can happen after a government entity refuses to honor an information request and an appeal is filed.</p> <p>The legislation, introduced by Assemblymember Amy Paulin and Senator Patrick Gallivan, overwhelmingly passed both houses of the Legislature earlier this year, but has not yet been delivered to the governor’s desk for consideration.</p> <p>While a similar attorneys’ fees bill was vetoed by Cuomo in 2015, the current legislation addresses Cuomo’s concerns by creating a two-tier system for potential financial penalties. Cuomo, a second-term Democrat who says he is running for reelection in 2018, will have 10 days to sign the bill into law once he receives it.</p> <p>On the heels of a series of newspaper <a href="https://nypost.com/2017/11/26/a-must-sign-bill-for-gov-cuomo/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">editorials</a> backing the bill’s passage, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a coalition of 33 state media organizations from across the nation, <a href="https://www.rcfp.org/sites/default/files/2017-10-09-letter-to-governor-cuomo-re-fo.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">wrote a letter</a> to the governor Monday urging him to sign the legislation into law.</p> <p>“Public information belongs to the public, and it shouldn’t cost thousands of dollars in legal fees to access it,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in a statement. “If the government is required to pay the legal costs when a court finds they had no reasonable basis to deny a public information request, it provides an incentive for them to comply with legitimate requests in the first place. More information in the hands of the public only strengthens government transparency and accountability.”</p> <p>At the same time, a group of transparency and media groups, including national organizations like Sunlight Foundation and National Freedom of Information Coalition, echoed that sentiment in a statement of support this week calling New York’s Freedom of Information Law “the single most important transparency tool the public has.”</p> <p>The bill amends the state law, often referred to as FOIL, to require the mandatory awarding of attorneys' fees to plaintiffs when the plaintiff substantially prevails on the record request and a court finds that an agency had no reasonable basis for denying access to public records. Under current law, plaintiffs who pursue records in court can seek attorneys’ fees, but the reimbursements are awarded at the judge’s discretion after a plaintiff prevails substantially and proves the government had no reasonable basis for denying access.</p> <p>Based on feedback from Cuomo’s office and <a href="https://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/pdfs/2016%20Annual%20Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recommendations</a> from the Committee on Open Government, the 2017 bill creates a two-tier system, still allowing judges to use their discretion in awarding attorneys’ fees in cases where agencies failed to meet deadlines for complying with FOIL.</p> <p>“We think [the two-tier system] addresses the veto messages that we had prior and conversations we’ve had with the governor’s office,” said Assembly Member Paulin, a Democrat from Scarsdale.</p> <p>Action on the bill will be part of what is expected to be the usual end-of-year flurry of activity by the governor, dealing with legislation before another budget season begins in Albany. A spokesperson for Cuomo said the FOIL bill is under review.<br /> <br />Among those calling for Cuomo to sign the bill into law are open government organizations like BetaNYC and Civic Hall, as well as typical state government watchdog groups like the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, and League of Women Voters, which say they are encouraged by the newfound national attention and support that the bill has drawn.</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, which helped design the current version of the bill, said he believes that the legislation is a “compromise” that is “designed to pass.”</p> <p>“The hope is to ensure that the governor sees the full range of support for the bill,” said Kaehny. “One of the reasons this bill has drawn national attention is because New York’s a big state, but also because freedom of information law and transparency have been under attack for the last year or so.”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/37312919111_d5ea89ebb2_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo announcement open for business" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Governor Cuomo (via the Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>With just a few weeks before the 2018 legislative session, Governor Andrew Cuomo must soon sign or veto the outstanding legislation that passed both houses earlier this year.</p> <p>Among over 100 pieces of legislation headed for the governor’s desk over the next month is a bill that aims to strengthen the Freedom of Information Law, drafted with the input of many good government and media interests, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6982-for-second-time-legislature-sends-foil-penalty-bill-to-cuomo" target="_blank" rel="noopener">with changes from a previous version vetoed by Cuomo to address his concerns</a>.</p> <p>A growing coalition of these groups, which wield national, state and local influence, is keeping the issue in the public eye by calling on Cuomo to sign the bill, which is aimed at improving government responsiveness to information requests by non-governmental entities. The bill would make it easier for members of the public and organizations to win attorneys’ fees when they have won a court order instructing agencies to release public records, which can happen after a government entity refuses to honor an information request and an appeal is filed.</p> <p>The legislation, introduced by Assemblymember Amy Paulin and Senator Patrick Gallivan, overwhelmingly passed both houses of the Legislature earlier this year, but has not yet been delivered to the governor’s desk for consideration.</p> <p>While a similar attorneys’ fees bill was vetoed by Cuomo in 2015, the current legislation addresses Cuomo’s concerns by creating a two-tier system for potential financial penalties. Cuomo, a second-term Democrat who says he is running for reelection in 2018, will have 10 days to sign the bill into law once he receives it.</p> <p>On the heels of a series of newspaper <a href="https://nypost.com/2017/11/26/a-must-sign-bill-for-gov-cuomo/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">editorials</a> backing the bill’s passage, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a coalition of 33 state media organizations from across the nation, <a href="https://www.rcfp.org/sites/default/files/2017-10-09-letter-to-governor-cuomo-re-fo.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">wrote a letter</a> to the governor Monday urging him to sign the legislation into law.</p> <p>“Public information belongs to the public, and it shouldn’t cost thousands of dollars in legal fees to access it,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in a statement. “If the government is required to pay the legal costs when a court finds they had no reasonable basis to deny a public information request, it provides an incentive for them to comply with legitimate requests in the first place. More information in the hands of the public only strengthens government transparency and accountability.”</p> <p>At the same time, a group of transparency and media groups, including national organizations like Sunlight Foundation and National Freedom of Information Coalition, echoed that sentiment in a statement of support this week calling New York’s Freedom of Information Law “the single most important transparency tool the public has.”</p> <p>The bill amends the state law, often referred to as FOIL, to require the mandatory awarding of attorneys' fees to plaintiffs when the plaintiff substantially prevails on the record request and a court finds that an agency had no reasonable basis for denying access to public records. Under current law, plaintiffs who pursue records in court can seek attorneys’ fees, but the reimbursements are awarded at the judge’s discretion after a plaintiff prevails substantially and proves the government had no reasonable basis for denying access.</p> <p>Based on feedback from Cuomo’s office and <a href="https://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/pdfs/2016%20Annual%20Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recommendations</a> from the Committee on Open Government, the 2017 bill creates a two-tier system, still allowing judges to use their discretion in awarding attorneys’ fees in cases where agencies failed to meet deadlines for complying with FOIL.</p> <p>“We think [the two-tier system] addresses the veto messages that we had prior and conversations we’ve had with the governor’s office,” said Assembly Member Paulin, a Democrat from Scarsdale.</p> <p>Action on the bill will be part of what is expected to be the usual end-of-year flurry of activity by the governor, dealing with legislation before another budget season begins in Albany. A spokesperson for Cuomo said the FOIL bill is under review.<br /> <br />Among those calling for Cuomo to sign the bill into law are open government organizations like BetaNYC and Civic Hall, as well as typical state government watchdog groups like the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, and League of Women Voters, which say they are encouraged by the newfound national attention and support that the bill has drawn.</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, which helped design the current version of the bill, said he believes that the legislation is a “compromise” that is “designed to pass.”</p> <p>“The hope is to ensure that the governor sees the full range of support for the bill,” said Kaehny. “One of the reasons this bill has drawn national attention is because New York’s a big state, but also because freedom of information law and transparency have been under attack for the last year or so.”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Assembly Takes Stock of State Economic Development Programs Ahead of Next Negotiations 2017-11-14T05:00:00+00:00 2017-11-14T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7321:assembly-takes-stock-of-state-economic-development-programs-ahead-of-next-negotiations Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/34868772685_4a41dee04d_z.jpg" alt="34868772685 4a41dee04d z" width="640" height="427" /></p> <p>Howard Zemsky in Buffalo (via Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Ahead of the 2018 legislative session, the New York State Assembly’s Economic Development Committee held a hearing Monday in Albany to evaluate the progress of the state’s multitude of economic development programs and hear testimony from companies and organizations that have benefited from state grants.</p> <p>Taking center stage was Howard Zemsky, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s economic development czar as president and CEO of Empire State Development, who defended the state’s jobs programs and was grilled for nearly an hour by members of the committee. Committee members, led by chair Robin Schimminger, a Democrat from Erie County, raised concerns about the effectiveness of Buffalo’s annual 43North competition and Regional Economic Development Council grants; lower-than-expected job production; and increased regulatory burdens on small businesses.</p> <p>Cuomo has staked much of his legacy and devoted billions of state dollars to revitalizing the upstate economy. The state has infused $8 billion a year into economic projects since he took office in 2011, according to <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/06/07/new-york-job-programs-investigation/102323140/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a Gannett Albany review</a>. But as Cuomo’s economic development programs have multiplied each year, the Legislature has failed to pass any meaningful oversight measures to ensure transparency, that beneficiaries are meeting job creation goals, or that grants and incentives are going to well-vetted recipients. While some efforts, such as those aimed at farms and breweries, have been successful, others, like Cuomo’s Start-Up New York program, have fallen short of job creation goals.</p> <p>At Monday’s hearing, Zemsky noted that upstate cities have seen a boom in tech sector jobs, which on average pay more than non-tech sector jobs, and touted a dramatic increase in venture capital investment throughout the state. The Empire State Development head said that ESD takes a “holistic” approach, pointing to the success of its downtown and waterfront revitalization efforts, which aim to attract a younger, more vibrant talent base, and investing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.</p> <p>He briefly defended the Regional Economic Development Councils, which have been accused of favoritism and conflicts of interests, and touted Buffalo as a success story -- a city that has been a major focus for Gov. Cuomo and transformed from a financially depressed post-industrial town to a vibrant hub of entrepreneurship.</p> <p>“A lot of what we have done in Buffalo we have used as a template in many other parts of the state and I’m proud that we took some risks and took some chance,” said Zemsky. “Every year we improve and make adjustments.”</p> <p>Schimminger cited an article noting that three-quarters of companies that are attracted to Buffalo by the 43North program have since left the city and inquired about whether the residency requirements, currently a year, could be extended.</p> <p>“We’re only a few years into the program, but after every year the 43North board reassesses and reevaluates what went right, what didn’t go right, just like we do in government. Is it possible that we might change the regulations, that we might change the time frame? That’s under active discussion,” said Zemsky, noting that many companies retain active connections to Buffalo even after they leave.</p> <p>Zemsky’s presentation rang hollow for at least one committee member, Assemblymember Raymond Walter, a Republican from Amherst, who told Zemsky to provide hard data about the returns delivered by the state’s Buffalo investments rather than “offering platitudes.”</p> <p>“Our job here is to draw a direct connection between what we are doing with taxpayer dollars to that renaissance and I’m not convinced you can do that,” said Walter. “If we could focus on that, rather than the platitudes, that would be great.”</p> <p>Zemsky pointed Walter to ESD’s progress report, insisting the number of new firms has grown and jobs have dramatically accelerated in Buffalo, by “almost any metric,” particularly when compared to other struggling cities.</p> <p>The conversation quickly turned personal, with Zemsky, who is a Buffalo businessman, accusing the Assembly member of opposing the state’s efforts to spur Buffalo’s economy, and demanding, “Do you go to any of the REDC meetings, do you know anything that is actually going on?”</p> <p>At one point during the heated exchange about interpreting Buffalo’s jobs data, which Walter said mostly highlights low-skill jobs growth, Zemsky snapped, “You don’t know anything about the innovation economy.”</p> <p>The biggest indicator of Buffalo’s growth, Zemsky pointed to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/20/upshot/where-young-college-graduates-are-choosing-to-live.html?mtrref=gothamist.com&amp;gwh=8F08A0901526DF9D7B923B841CCE335E&amp;gwt=pay" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the rise</a> of the area’s millennial population over the last decade. “Turning the corner on that is the most important thing we can do,” he said.</p> <p>After Zemsky, the Assembly panel was addressed by various industry leaders and experts, who described how programs like the Start-Up New York jobs program and the Southern Tier Startup Alliance (NYSTAR) have created or retained thousands of jobs and spurred both investment and innovation.</p> <p>A representative of watchdog group ReInvent Albany then presented the positions of good government organizations, calling for the passage of a number of bills introduced in the Legislature last year, which would increase oversight of and transparency in the state’s economic development programs.</p> <p>Among the legislative fixes proposed by Reinvent Albany and others is the creation of a “database of deals,” which would digitally list every entity receiving funds from the state along with where each dollar is going; a bill to restore the powers of the state Comptroller to review procurement contracts for SUNY, CUNY, and Office of General Services; and campaign finance restrictions to curb the appearance or reality of pay-to-play politics.</p> <p>At least two bills, including the database of deals and one requiring nonprofit organizations affiliated with government entities to be subject to the freedom of information law and the open meetings law, are sponsored by Schimminger, but did not make it to the Assembly floor. Legislation related to procurement reform appeared to gain steam early this year in light of a major bid-rigging scandal that will see close associates of and donors to Cuomo on trial for corruption in 2018, but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6875-ramped-up-economic-development-funding-less-transparency-in-new-state-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nothing was passed</a> as the Legislature acquiesced to the governor’s objections.</p> <p>“The only thing the Legislature did do is write a check for $1.8 billion in the extender budget passed in April, a blank check granted by the Legislature to Governor Cuomo for economic development projects with no additional oversight,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany.</p> <p>Schimminger welcomed Camarda’s comments, saying that &nbsp;good government groups are “preaching to the choir” when they call for increased accountability and oversight.</p> <p>“Not a single one of those bills that you mentioned have been blocked by the committee, in fact, many of them -- the database of deals, the Start-Up fix -- have come out of the committee but are delayed elsewhere,” said the Assembly member, referring to the fact that the legislation had been held up in other legislative committees.</p> <p>The wisdom behind Start-Up New York, which creates tax-free zones for new businesses, local development corporations and other economic development programs is the finding that startups create significantly more jobs than companies that have matured 10 to 30 years and drive economic development. But critics say these programs <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/06/07/new-york-job-programs-investigation/102323140/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">continue to fall short</a> of the job creation goals and many beneficiaries of these state incentives have failed to report on sufficient or any progress made through their grants.</p> <p>Despite the fact that several members of Cuomo’s circle are set to appear in court next year for their roles in the bid-rigging scandal involving the state’s Buffalo Billion program, a second round of cash investment to the project was approved in this year’s budget, with no new accountability measures.</p> <p>While Schimminger acknowledged these problems in his opening remarks, the hearing was primarily an information-gathering session, and those outstanding issues will be addressed during the next legislative session, he told Camarda. The governor will unveil his next executive budget in January, leading to months of negotiations and hearings.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/34868772685_4a41dee04d_z.jpg" alt="34868772685 4a41dee04d z" width="640" height="427" /></p> <p>Howard Zemsky in Buffalo (via Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Ahead of the 2018 legislative session, the New York State Assembly’s Economic Development Committee held a hearing Monday in Albany to evaluate the progress of the state’s multitude of economic development programs and hear testimony from companies and organizations that have benefited from state grants.</p> <p>Taking center stage was Howard Zemsky, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s economic development czar as president and CEO of Empire State Development, who defended the state’s jobs programs and was grilled for nearly an hour by members of the committee. Committee members, led by chair Robin Schimminger, a Democrat from Erie County, raised concerns about the effectiveness of Buffalo’s annual 43North competition and Regional Economic Development Council grants; lower-than-expected job production; and increased regulatory burdens on small businesses.</p> <p>Cuomo has staked much of his legacy and devoted billions of state dollars to revitalizing the upstate economy. The state has infused $8 billion a year into economic projects since he took office in 2011, according to <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/06/07/new-york-job-programs-investigation/102323140/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a Gannett Albany review</a>. But as Cuomo’s economic development programs have multiplied each year, the Legislature has failed to pass any meaningful oversight measures to ensure transparency, that beneficiaries are meeting job creation goals, or that grants and incentives are going to well-vetted recipients. While some efforts, such as those aimed at farms and breweries, have been successful, others, like Cuomo’s Start-Up New York program, have fallen short of job creation goals.</p> <p>At Monday’s hearing, Zemsky noted that upstate cities have seen a boom in tech sector jobs, which on average pay more than non-tech sector jobs, and touted a dramatic increase in venture capital investment throughout the state. The Empire State Development head said that ESD takes a “holistic” approach, pointing to the success of its downtown and waterfront revitalization efforts, which aim to attract a younger, more vibrant talent base, and investing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.</p> <p>He briefly defended the Regional Economic Development Councils, which have been accused of favoritism and conflicts of interests, and touted Buffalo as a success story -- a city that has been a major focus for Gov. Cuomo and transformed from a financially depressed post-industrial town to a vibrant hub of entrepreneurship.</p> <p>“A lot of what we have done in Buffalo we have used as a template in many other parts of the state and I’m proud that we took some risks and took some chance,” said Zemsky. “Every year we improve and make adjustments.”</p> <p>Schimminger cited an article noting that three-quarters of companies that are attracted to Buffalo by the 43North program have since left the city and inquired about whether the residency requirements, currently a year, could be extended.</p> <p>“We’re only a few years into the program, but after every year the 43North board reassesses and reevaluates what went right, what didn’t go right, just like we do in government. Is it possible that we might change the regulations, that we might change the time frame? That’s under active discussion,” said Zemsky, noting that many companies retain active connections to Buffalo even after they leave.</p> <p>Zemsky’s presentation rang hollow for at least one committee member, Assemblymember Raymond Walter, a Republican from Amherst, who told Zemsky to provide hard data about the returns delivered by the state’s Buffalo investments rather than “offering platitudes.”</p> <p>“Our job here is to draw a direct connection between what we are doing with taxpayer dollars to that renaissance and I’m not convinced you can do that,” said Walter. “If we could focus on that, rather than the platitudes, that would be great.”</p> <p>Zemsky pointed Walter to ESD’s progress report, insisting the number of new firms has grown and jobs have dramatically accelerated in Buffalo, by “almost any metric,” particularly when compared to other struggling cities.</p> <p>The conversation quickly turned personal, with Zemsky, who is a Buffalo businessman, accusing the Assembly member of opposing the state’s efforts to spur Buffalo’s economy, and demanding, “Do you go to any of the REDC meetings, do you know anything that is actually going on?”</p> <p>At one point during the heated exchange about interpreting Buffalo’s jobs data, which Walter said mostly highlights low-skill jobs growth, Zemsky snapped, “You don’t know anything about the innovation economy.”</p> <p>The biggest indicator of Buffalo’s growth, Zemsky pointed to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/20/upshot/where-young-college-graduates-are-choosing-to-live.html?mtrref=gothamist.com&amp;gwh=8F08A0901526DF9D7B923B841CCE335E&amp;gwt=pay" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the rise</a> of the area’s millennial population over the last decade. “Turning the corner on that is the most important thing we can do,” he said.</p> <p>After Zemsky, the Assembly panel was addressed by various industry leaders and experts, who described how programs like the Start-Up New York jobs program and the Southern Tier Startup Alliance (NYSTAR) have created or retained thousands of jobs and spurred both investment and innovation.</p> <p>A representative of watchdog group ReInvent Albany then presented the positions of good government organizations, calling for the passage of a number of bills introduced in the Legislature last year, which would increase oversight of and transparency in the state’s economic development programs.</p> <p>Among the legislative fixes proposed by Reinvent Albany and others is the creation of a “database of deals,” which would digitally list every entity receiving funds from the state along with where each dollar is going; a bill to restore the powers of the state Comptroller to review procurement contracts for SUNY, CUNY, and Office of General Services; and campaign finance restrictions to curb the appearance or reality of pay-to-play politics.</p> <p>At least two bills, including the database of deals and one requiring nonprofit organizations affiliated with government entities to be subject to the freedom of information law and the open meetings law, are sponsored by Schimminger, but did not make it to the Assembly floor. Legislation related to procurement reform appeared to gain steam early this year in light of a major bid-rigging scandal that will see close associates of and donors to Cuomo on trial for corruption in 2018, but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6875-ramped-up-economic-development-funding-less-transparency-in-new-state-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nothing was passed</a> as the Legislature acquiesced to the governor’s objections.</p> <p>“The only thing the Legislature did do is write a check for $1.8 billion in the extender budget passed in April, a blank check granted by the Legislature to Governor Cuomo for economic development projects with no additional oversight,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany.</p> <p>Schimminger welcomed Camarda’s comments, saying that &nbsp;good government groups are “preaching to the choir” when they call for increased accountability and oversight.</p> <p>“Not a single one of those bills that you mentioned have been blocked by the committee, in fact, many of them -- the database of deals, the Start-Up fix -- have come out of the committee but are delayed elsewhere,” said the Assembly member, referring to the fact that the legislation had been held up in other legislative committees.</p> <p>The wisdom behind Start-Up New York, which creates tax-free zones for new businesses, local development corporations and other economic development programs is the finding that startups create significantly more jobs than companies that have matured 10 to 30 years and drive economic development. But critics say these programs <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/06/07/new-york-job-programs-investigation/102323140/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">continue to fall short</a> of the job creation goals and many beneficiaries of these state incentives have failed to report on sufficient or any progress made through their grants.</p> <p>Despite the fact that several members of Cuomo’s circle are set to appear in court next year for their roles in the bid-rigging scandal involving the state’s Buffalo Billion program, a second round of cash investment to the project was approved in this year’s budget, with no new accountability measures.</p> <p>While Schimminger acknowledged these problems in his opening remarks, the hearing was primarily an information-gathering session, and those outstanding issues will be addressed during the next legislative session, he told Camarda. The governor will unveil his next executive budget in January, leading to months of negotiations and hearings.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>