Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/509 Wed, 21 Feb 2018 01:05:25 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Max & Murphy Podcast: Deconstructing De Blasio's Visit to Albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7462:max-murphy-podcast-deconstructing-de-blasio-s-visit-to-albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7462:max-murphy-podcast-deconstructing-de-blasio-s-visit-to-albany

Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette


February 6, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Deconstructing De Blasio's Visit to Albany

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Mayor de Blasio made his annual trip to Albany Monday to testify at a joint legislative budget hearing. In this episode of the podcast we recap the key moments -- on NYCHA, the MTA, Rikers Island and more -- and break down important takeaways. We also look ahead to next week, when de Blasio will deliver his State of the City address.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Deconstructing De Blasio's Visit to Albany Tue, 06 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
In Albany, De Blasio Budget Testimony Centers on MTA, NYCHA http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7460:in-albany-de-blasio-budget-testimony-centers-on-mta-nycha http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7460:in-albany-de-blasio-budget-testimony-centers-on-mta-nycha de Blasio Albany budget testimony

Mayor de Blasio testifying in Albany (Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Testifying in Albany Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $168 billion executive budget and outlined the city’s funding priorities for the next fiscal year.

De Blasio was the first to testify at a joint legislative budget hearing on local governments, making his annual journey to the Capitol, where he also met privately with Cuomo for an hour, and was scheduled to meet with three of five legislative conference leaders: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

In his opening remarks, de Blasio had mixed reviews for Cuomo’s budget, praising some measures while also urging state legislators to help him beat back others as they negotiate toward a new state budget by the April 1 start of the fiscal year. The mayor outlined several of his own top priorities that require state approval, such as design-build authority, electoral reform, and renewal of the speed camera program.

The mayor’s initial testimony and subsequent back-and-forth with lawmakers included significant focus on transportation and housing issues, especially MTA funding and problems at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), though de Blasio also touched on uncertainty coming from the federal government; criminal justice reforms and their connection to the closure of Rikers Island jails; and other fiscal and policy items.

De Blasio noted the burden placed on New York City by the Trump administration’s recently implemented tax plan, and acknowledged the steep impact of the termination of Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSH) payments, which is expected to cost city hospitals $400 million annually.

“I want to commend the Governor for trying to find ways to blunt the effects of the new tax law and I look forward to working with him, and all of you, on solutions,” he said, adding that the upcoming Trump administration budget proposal is likely to pose additional fiscal challenges for New York City.

De Blasio also outlined more than $750 million in cuts and cost shifts to New York City contained in Cuomo’s executive budget proposal. These include $144 million in additional charter school costs, a $129 million cut to child welfare services, a $65 million cut to special education funding, $31 million less to juvenile justice programs, and a $9 million reduction in rental subsidies for working families leaving shelters. In addition, there is a $211 million gap between what the city was expecting in school aid and the amount designated in the executive budget, according to the mayor’s office.

The mayor criticized the implementation of “Raise the Age,” which requires that 16- and 17-year-olds be removed from adult jails, calling it an unfunded mandate that will cost the city at least $200 million per year. De Blasio noted the executive budget’s elimination of $41 million of state funding for the city’s Close to Home juvenile justice placement program, despite the fact the program’s utilization is expected to triple with the implementation of Raise the Age.

“This cut undermines the signature reform designed to keep kids closer to their families. And it will cost the City $15.3 million in Fiscal 18 and $31 million in Fiscal 19,” said de Blasio. The city’s fiscal year begins July 1, and de Blasio recently outlined his $88.7 billion preliminary budget plan.

De Blasio praised the governor’s inclusion of bail and speedy trial reforms in his executive budget. He said the passage of these measures would reduce the city’s jail population and help to accomplish one of his signature endeavors, “to close Rikers Island for good.”

When questioned about whether he could expedite the closure plan for the jail complex, which is currently seen as a ten-year project, de Blasio told Democratic State Senator Brian Benjamin, of Manhattan, that the passage of all of his policy objectives -- such as parole, speedy trial, and bail reforms, as well as design-build authority for the city -- would allow the city to shrink the timeline.

“Unquestionably, that would take years off the process,” said de Blasio, though he declined to provide an exact projected timeline.

De Blasio also emphasized comprehensive election reform and passage of the Dream Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants, citing threats to immigrants from the federal government. “Given what is happening in our country and New York State can lead by example by helping all of our students,” said de Blasio, speaking on the same day that the Assembly would pass the Dream Act for the eighth time. It continues to stall in the Senate.

On transportation, de Blasio repeatedly cited the “millionaires tax” he wants to see that would create a dedicated funding stream for the MTA and support reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. But he also acknowledged that congestion pricing could work as a revenue-generator for the ailing transportation system run by the MTA.

De Blasio said he was ready to continue conversations and negotiations about how to best support the state-controlled transportation authority, but said that proposals contained in Cuomo’s budget should be taken off the table. He did express support for the general congestion pricing principles put forth by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel, but also indicated he wants to see tweaks.

De Blasio expressed concern that the money could potentially be diverted away from the subways and buses, suggesting a legal lockbox be created to restrict how congestion pricing revenue may be used. He also called for city approval for major transportation projects in the five boroughs.

The mayor took issue with the executive budget shifting the burden of MTA capital costs to the city, and battled with Senate finance Chair Cathy Young, an upstate Republican, over the 1953 law that specifies that city is responsible for all of the subway’s capital costs. While the city technically owns the subway system, the state has controlled it for more than 65 years.

“I absolutely disagree with your legal interpretation,” de Blasio said. “My counsel has looked at it too and has come to a very different conclusion…Let’s face it, the state has been running the MTA for decades now.”

The mayor criticized Cuomo’s “value capture” proposal, “that would grant the MTA the power to raid our property taxes on properties within a one mile radius of certain projects.” He said the proposal would cost the city billions of dollars and force the city to cut back on essential services like police, sanitation, and education.

“I was encouraged by the Governor’s recent comments that portrayed this as a choice for the city, not a mandate,” de Blasio said. “I would urge you to remove this provision from the enacted budget altogether.”

De Blasio made a similar argument about city services when asked by several lawmakers, including Young and Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who lost to de Blasio in last year’s mayoral race, about capping property tax increases in the city. The city is the only area of the state not subject to a cap of 2 percent annual property tax growth. De Blasio, who again pledged that he is about to launch a property tax reform effort, has said that the city must continued to take advantage of increases in property tax values to fund city services.

De Blasio, who designated $200 million for new boilers and heating systems in public housing after thousands of residents suffered outages this winter, called for the state to commit to matching the city’s investment in NYCHA. He also complained that the state has taken months to fulfill a request from the city to allocate funds earmarked for NYCHA from two budgets ago. The city had itself delayed its ask for the funds by several months beyond when it could have filed the request.

The mayor was grilled intensely by lawmakers on his public housing record. Senator Diane Savino, of Staten Island and the Independent Democratic Conference, called the living conditions “deplorable.” In another testy exchange, Senator Young drew attention to lapses in lead inspections at NYCHA apartments, and reports that children living in these residences were found to have high levels of lead in their blood. The scandal has prompted calls for de Blasio to fire NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye, including from Young on Monday. “Why is Shola Olatoye still at NYCHA?” Young repeatedly asked the mayor.

De Blasio acknowledged the mistakes but reaffirmed his previous statements, noting that the lapses began with the previous administration and credited Olatoye for turning the near-bankrupt housing agency around.

When Young pressed the mayor on issues at NYCHA, including unsafe conditions and crime that have “stacked up over the years,” the mayor responded tersely.

“Respectfully, I think it’s very reductionist to add certain facts up and say someone needs to be dismissed, even though they are getting a lot of work done for the people they serve. When you run a facility as big as NYCHA with years of disinvestment, of course there’s problems,” he said, adding that public safety has dramatically improved at NYCHA.

[Related: What's the State Role in NYCHA Oversight?]

During more than two hours of question-and-answer de Blasio was also asked about the financially-struggling public hospital system, where a new CEO has taken over who is promising to build on reforms already underway. The mayor was also asked to support supervised injection facilities for drug addicts and said that a city report is due back soon on the topic. He said it had to be very carefully dealt with.

While the mayor faced many tough questions, especially from Young, he also received a number of kudos, especially from city-based Democratic legislators, like Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan, who said that you wouldn’t know from many of the questions that the city is actually doing quite well.

Later in the day, de Blasio met for an hour with the governor to discuss how to resolve transportation and fiscal challenges in the coming weeks and months.

“It was a productive meeting, we talked about a lot of the same issues that came up in the testimony and, you know, hopefully we can all work together,” de Blasio told reporters when he emerged from Cuomo’s office.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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In Albany, De Blasio Budget Testimony Centers on MTA, NYCHA Mon, 05 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Under 'Threat' from D.C. and Albany, De Blasio Presents $88.67 Billion Preliminary Budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7455:under-threat-from-dc-and-albany-de-blasio-presents-88-67-billion-preliminary-budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7455:under-threat-from-dc-and-albany-de-blasio-presents-88-67-billion-preliminary-budget de Blasio budget presentation Feb 2018

De Blasio's Feb 2018 budget presentation (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


As the state and federal governments continue to pursue policies that threaten the city’s fiscal future, Mayor Bill de Blasio again said he is investing in making New York City the “fairest big city in America” as he proposed spending $88.67 billion for the next city fiscal year, which begins July 1.

On Thursday afternoon, the mayor released his preliminary budget proposal for next fiscal year, which increases city spending by nearly $3 billion from the last time the current year’s budget was modified in November. The modified budget of $85.99 billion was itself a modest increase over the $85.24 adopted budget that was approved in June.

The mayor is proposing an additional $750 million in spending from what was previously projected for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 combined, all of which, he said, is offset by identified savings. He promised additional savings before the budget is adopted in June.

De Blasio’s guiding philosophy in his budget was his promise to make the city fairer. “The city becomes fairer when more kids get the start in life that only some families can afford right now. The city becomes fairer when people who built their neighborhoods up in good times and bad are able to stay in the neighborhood and in the city they love. The city becomes fairer when we reverse the decades-long neglect of public housing in this city. The city becomes fairer when we heal the wounds of the past and we build trust between police and communities through transparency. And the city becomes fairer when we care for New Yorkers who are too often left behind but they’re just as much New Yorkers as any of us,” he said. “These ideas permeate our budget process but it was always against the backdrop of having to be prudent, having to be fiscally responsible, again given the extraordinary level of uncertainty that we’re facing.”

In keeping with previous budgets, de Blasio proposed “strategic investments” in affordable housing, the New York City Housing Authority, the NYPD, tenant harassment safeguards, public health initiatives, criminal justice reforms, seniors and early childhood education.

De Blasio had already announced a few of the new spending initiatives prior to Thursday’s release. After having successfully implemented universal pre-kindergarten in his first term, the mayor hopes to expand the program to all three-year-old through the ‘3-K for All’ program, over the course of several years and with funding help from the state and federal governments. De Blasio had previously begun the program by funding it in two districts, which was then expanded. The preliminary budget proposal funds the program in four more districts -- for a total of 12 districts by 2020 funded at $46.4 million.

Additionally, the city is also increasing funding for anti-bullying efforts in schools to $8.2 million in the new budget, and through the separate capital budget, which funds infrastructure, the city will build four new pre-k locations, with $46 million in capital funding in the current fiscal year and $26 million in fiscal year 2019.

In a news conference on Tuesday, de Blasio said the NYPD would be moving up the rollout of its body camera program by one year, increasing funding from $5.9 million in fiscal year 2018 to $12 million in the fiscal year 2019 budget proposal, to ensure that nearly 18,000 patrol officers are equipped with the cameras by the end of this calendar year.

Responding to withering criticism over boiler failures at NYCHA developments which left residents without heat during a cold snap in the last few weeks, de Blasio recently pledged $200 million for capital upgrades and $13 million in direct spending for boiler repairs, which are included in the budget.  

The mayor also put another $750 million towards his affordable housing plan, the target for which was enhanced in recent months from 200,000 affordable units preserved and built by 2024 to 300,000 by 2026. The Department of Buildings will receive $5.2 million, up from $1.6 million currently, to prevent landlords from using construction to harass tenants. The city will also fund a $2.4 million pilot program in East New York to convert basement units into legal and functional apartments, which was agreed upon when the neighborhood went through a comprehensive rezoning in April 2016.

The budget proposal also addresses the criminal justice system by providing $1.54 million, up from $430,000, to expedite mental competence examinations of criminal defendants, and increase from $200,000 to $5.72 million to provide better services to incarcerated women and their families. Another $4 million will fund health screenings for detainees in jail diversion programs, an increase from $700,000.

Over the years, the de Blasio administration has repeatedly touted “historic” levels of reserve funding socked away for times of economic uncertainty, and the mayor continued in that vein on Thursday. The budget proposal includes $1 billion put away each year in the general reserve, $250 million annually in the Capital Stabilization Reserve (created by this administration to manage costs of capital construction) and $4.25 billion in total in the Retiree Health Benefits Trust Fund. De Blasio has indicated some reserves may have to be used not because of an economic recession but because of federal cuts to the city.

The new spending plan for 2019 also includes $900 million in savings between fiscal years 2018 and 2019 -- from a partial hiring freeze that was implemented last year, agency efficiencies and from savings in debt payments -- and also promises to identify another $500 million by the time the next iteration, the executive budget proposal, is released in a few months (The November modification similarly included $500 million in savings.)

All those funds may be more crucial than before with the city’s economy showing signs of slowing down coupled with actions by the Republican-led U.S. Congress, President Donald Trump, and the state government in Albany. “If all we had to think about was ourselves, this might be a much prettier picture,” de Blasio said Thursday, after touting the city’s economic success in recent years. Citing the federal and state budget challenges, he added, “I think I can safely say, we’ve never quite seen anything like this.”

While budget officials have yet to fully assess the effects of the “draconian” federal tax code overhaul that passed in December and other measures taken by the federal government, they estimate that the city risks losing as much as $700 million. The city’s ailing municipal hospital system, New York City Health+Hospitals, could face a $400 million cut alone, they estimate, if Congress does not restore Disproportionate Share Hospital funding which reimburses local hospitals for care provided to low-income and uninsured patients.

Federal tax reform also cost the city the ability to refinance debt on tax-exempt bonds, which local governments use to fund infrastructure projects. The change could mean an additional burden of $100 million for the city, while another $200 million in capital funding could be lost because the tax law also inadvertently reduced the value of a tax credit that encouraged private entities to invest in affordable housing. Additionally, the legislation capped the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction that residents of high-tax states such as New York rely heavily on.

“A lot of these are double jeopardy dynamics,” de Blasio said. “Your taxes go up and your benefits go down. It’s a dangerous combination and I think we should not underestimate how all this may play out.” He also expressed concern about what the upcoming federal budget may hold for the city.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent executive budget proposal for the state’s next fiscal year, which begins April 1, makes the situation more precarious by including about $400 million in cuts and cost shifts, de Blasio said. De Blasio pegged the “total potential risks from Albany: at “over $750 million” while also questioning limited growth in the governor’s proposed school aid and saying that he is not even included MTA-related cost-shifts that Cuomo is pursuing.

The Cuomo administration pushed back after the mayor's presentation, claiming that the city is actually doing quite well vis a vis the governor's budget plan. “While closing a $4.4 billion gap, this year’s budget sends $16.5 billion in aid to the City– more than 40 percent of funding awarded to all local governments – and a half billion dollar increase over last year," said Morris Peters, a spokesperson for the state Division of Budget, in a statement. "The state’s budget includes a $248 million increase in school aid, $212 million more for the state takeover of Medicaid, and $60 million in additional tax revenue – calling this significant increase a cut is disingenuous and the City should check its math.”

Fiscal watchdogs and independent monitors have generally praised the city’s financial management under de Blasio, but some have repeatedly warned that the city is not putting away sufficient rainy day funds and that ballooning costs from a massive expansion of city government has not been met with adequate cost-saving measures. With this newest budget proposal, the city’s spending will increase by almost $16 billion in comparison with the last budget modification under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which was $72.7 billion in November 2013.

“New York City’s Preliminary Budget for Fiscal Year 2019 continues the ‘wait-and-see’ approach of the previous budget update in November,” said Citizens Budget Commission President Carol Kellermann, in a Thursday statement, “it neither addresses issues spawned by the recently enacted federal tax law and possible budget cuts nor pending State actions that could reduce resources available for city services. Most importantly, no additions will be made to the City’s reserves.”

Kellermann credited the fact that “the cost of new agency needs will be offset by the Citywide Saving Program,” but said the “program relies too much on dwindling debt service savings, and State and Federal reimbursement and not enough on making government more efficient. Before the going gets tough, the Mayor should get going by limiting spending growth, bolstering the savings plan, and adding to reserves.”

CBC wants to see the city do more to build reserves and to alter the capital budget plan to account for new fiscal realities. “Spending growth continues to surpass inflation and the finances at H+H and NYCHA remain precarious,” Kellermann said of the public hospital and public housing systems.

Over the next few months, the preliminary budget proposal will be evaluated by the City Council in dozens of hearings where administration officials and city agency heads will testify. After the Council issues its formal response, the mayor will release his executive budget, which will also undergo another round of hearing before negotiations move behind closed doors.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - this article has been updated.

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Under 'Threat' from D.C. and Albany, De Blasio Presents $88.67 Billion Preliminary Budget Thu, 01 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
MTA Funding Fight May Dominate This Year’s City-State Budget Struggle http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7447:mta-funding-fight-may-dominate-this-year-s-city-state-budget-struggle http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7447:mta-funding-fight-may-dominate-this-year-s-city-state-budget-struggle 36468561375 7f08a42b5b z

Gov. Cuomo in the subway (photo: The Governor's Office)


Three key points of contention between the city and the state have emerged over transit funding, highlighted during Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) Chair Joe Lhota’s testimony at the joint legislative hearing on transportation Thursday in Albany.

The hearing, which included discussion of the MTA plan to restore New York City’s ailing subway system, occurred amid an ongoing feud between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo over the funding of crucial repairs for the deteriorating transit system, which is controlled by the state.

In a four-hour session that was at times good-natured and at others tense, members of the Senate and Assembly repeatedly questioned Lhota on three controversial and relevant aspects of Cuomo’s 2018 agenda: cost shifts of capital funding for the city’s subway system from the state to the city as outlined in Cuomo’s budget; a “value capture” plan to allow the state to reap property tax revenue spurred by transportation improvements in the city; and the recently unveiled congestion pricing plan outlined by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel.

These issues were addressed by de Blasio officials in a press conference call with reporters two days earlier. “We are objecting strongly to language that was inserted into the budget that would create a new, capital liability, a new capital commitment liability on the part of the city for New York City Transit, which is breaking a long-standing history of how the MTA is funded,” said First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan during the call. He and the other officials on the call also pushed back against the value capture proposal, calling it an unprecedented intrusion into the city’s tax system.

Mayor de Blasio himself also expressed his opposition during his weekly appearance on WNYC radio’s The Brian Lehrer Show, saying Friday morning.

“To take our property taxes which pay for our police, our schools, you know, our parks, our sanitation, to try and take from our property taxes for something the State wants is absolutely unacceptable…the first thing the State should do is return the $456 million diverted away from the MTA,” de Blasio said, referring to funds that were earmarked specifically for the MTA diverted by the State to other purposes over the last few years. “Put that money back and then we can discuss how to move forward.”

De Blasio will testify himself at a state legislative budget hearing in Albany on Monday, February 5. MTA funding, including the state’s insistence that the city pay about $450 million toward Lhota’s emergency subway stabilization plan, will likely be topics of discussion.

During his testimony Thursday, Lhota said the state’s $836 million Subway Action Plan launched last summer to restabilize the city's subway service is working, citing the MTA’s ability to prevent the predicted “summer of hell” in 2017, though the data does not necessarily support his claim, as explained by Nicole Gelinas of The New York Post.

“That’s not true — or only true if you compare summer and autumn to winter and spring, instead of a season to the previous year’s season. The latter is a far better measure because of similar crowding and weather,” Gelinas writes.

Despite this, Lhota said he attributes the MTA’s success at preempting a disastrous transportation summer to heightened “vigilance” on the part of the agency, something he said must continue year-round.

He also announced technological improvements coming to the MTA, such as a new signaling technology, a fleet of electric buses, and the Freedom Ticket, which allows Long Island Rail Road commuters to seamlessly transfer to the subway system. "I fully expect it to happen this year," Lhota said of the Freedom Ticket.

Cuomo's executive budget allocates $9.7 billion for the departments of transportation and motor vehicles, the Thruway Authority, and the MTA. However, the budget shifts all of the responsibility for capital costs to the City of New York, which would “require a sevenfold increase in City capital contributions,” according to Citizens Budget Commission President Carol Kellermann.

“What we are talking about here is a radical restructuring of where the [Capital] money comes from,” State Senator Gustavo Rivera, of the Bronx, said to Lhota on Thursday. “Is that correct?”

Lhota said this type of fluctuation is typical of past capital plans for transportation.

“When you look at funding over the last 20 or 30 years, sometimes the city has given more than the state, sometimes the state has given more than the city -- it goes back and forth,” said Lhota. “There was a period of time when the federal government gave more than the city and state in various different five-year capital plans.”

Mayor de Blasio is expected to continue to push back on the proposal in the coming weeks, while also relying on state legislators from the five boroughs to take up the cause in budget negotiations with the governor’s administration.

De Blasio has reluctantly agreed to consider the congestion pricing plan released by Cuomo’s advisory panel. The plan, which is similar to one previously proposed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Cuomo has indicated he will tweak as he also negotiates with the Legislature, outlines a three-year, three-phase program aimed at reducing congestion in Manhattan and raising funds for transit improvements, especially the subway system. It also includes calls for the city to increase enforcement of certain traffic measures, like double-parking and placard abuse, that currently contribute to congestion.

Fully phased in, the Fix NYC proposal would charge cars entering the most congested areas of Manhattan $11.52, while trucks would pay $25.34, and those riding in cabs or for-hire vehicles like Uber would see a $2 to $5 surcharge. The congestion fees would vary based on location and time of day, and would likely apply to non-commercial vehicles driving below 60th Street in Manhattan. The plan calls for new transit investments early on and estimates about $1.5 billion in annual revenue when fully implemented.

De Blasio has previously called general congestion pricing, with new tolls on the East River bridges, a "regressive tax" that would disproportionately impact low- and middle-income commuters from outer boroughs, though there have been holes punched in that argument given the low percentage of people who commute into Manhattan from Queens and Brooklyn that are low-income. The mayor appeared less dismissive of the Fix NYC recommendations, calling them an improvement from prior congestion pricing plans.

At Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers were divided on the congestion pricing recommendations, which will be parsed through the legislative process in the coming weeks. Senator Diane Savino, who sponsored the Move New York version of congestion pricing, approves of congestion pricing as a way to make the city’s transportation system more equitable for commuters from the outer boroughs.

However, Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference representing parts of Staten Island and bits of Brooklyn, questioned whether appointees to the Fix NYC board considered the Move New York plan as a “better proposal” to eliminate “winner and losers” while enabling the city to generate transportation revenue without going through Albany. A key element of Move New York not included in the Fix NYC recommendations is lowering tolls on the Verrazano and other currently-tolled bridges, something Cuomo indicated he wants to consider.

Lhota said that panel produced a plan that they believe is a good starting point and that such concerns have yet be addressed during the legislative process. “The basic concept is there. Now, how do we make it fair?” he said.

“Fairness is important,” agreed Savino, adding, “We need to find a more steady stream of revenue for the MTA region, not just the transit system, but the region itself.”

Alex Matthiessen, the founder and director of Move New York, a group that evolved out of former Mayor Bloomberg’s failed attempt to pass a version of congestion pricing, has also thrown his support behind the Fix NYC plan despite its differences with his group’s proposal.

“I thought that we had created the gold standard of congestion pricing plans, especially for the City of New York, tailored for the City of New York, and these guys actually improved upon our plan in a number of ways,” Matthiessen told Gotham Gazette and City Limits during a recent podcast.

Other lawmakers and transportation experts are not yet sold on congestion pricing. Senator Leroy Comrie, a Queens Democrat, expressed skepticism of the plan, saying it does not solve the problem of congestion in Manhattan nor does it generate a reliable source of revenue for the MTA.

“My concern with congestion pricing is it doesn’t relieve the congestion,” Comrie told Lhota during Thursday’s hearing. “Why are we going to do a program where we are just taking more money from people and still the essential business districts will be crowded with the elements -- it won’t fix the truck traffic in the city, it won’t fix the issue of people coming from New Jersey into the City…so there’s a lot of things wrong with the plan.”

Regarding Cuomo’s value capture plan, the mayor’s office maintains that the administration was not consulted ahead of time, and just learned of it from Cuomo’s executive budget. The budget proposal, which targets zones around transportation projects such as the makeover of Penn Station, the 125th Street Metro-North Railroad stop, and expansion of the Second Avenue Subway, would deprive the city of control over its own potential revenue, de Blasio officials say.

“This is the City’s property tax base, it’s our major source of revenue,” said Fuleihan during the January 23 phone conference. "For the MTA to arbitrarily take City tax revenues, determine what those tax revenues are, on established neighborhoods...it’s outrageous and there is no logical argument for this.”

“The City has significant obligations that we need to keep, that we need to make sure we are able to commit to—safest big city in America, universal pre-K for four-year-olds, expansion of pre-K, we can go on, addressing the opioid crisis,” said Fuleihan.

At the hearing, Lhota fended off criticisms of Cuomo’s plan from New York City lawmakers, including Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat. “I can't emphasize enough why I think that this is a terrible idea, and I was hoping you would agree with me,” Krueger said of the value capture proposal.

When asked by reporters why the city was not consulted in the drafting of the legislation, Lhota said he could not speak for the governor’s office. “You are asking me questions that should be directed at the [executive] chamber,” he said, but noted that Bloomberg used value capture to extend the 7 train to the Upper West Side of Manhattan (something de Blasio officials acknowledged but pointed out was a city decision).

A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office addressed the criticisms saying that other major cities have used this strategy and they expected all affected to be on board with the plan.

“Transit systems in cities across the world use this method, including New York City,” said Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever. “We'd think anyone who wants to improve the subways would support it, and we will work with the legislature and all our local partners throughout the budget process to pass this law.”

Lhota indicated that the value capture tax could be extended indefinitely after the investment is recouped, arguing that there was a good case for the tax to be continued to maintain the quality of the subway service. “There’s unanimity in the entire MTA board that if we are using taxpayer dollars, we should try to recoup some of that wherever we can,” he said. He also said that the state is constitutionally authorized to utilize the value capture plan in other parts of the city, as needed.

Assembly Ways and Means Chairperson Helene Weinstein, a Democrat representing Brooklyn, noted the absence of communication between Cuomo’s administration and the community representatives of affected areas, questioning why the value capture wasn’t applied to suburban areas that are benefiting from major transportation investment. Of the Hudson Yards development on Manhattan’s West Side, she said, “That was a negotiated, agreed-to proposal, that both the city and MTA board worked out, and that worked on properties that were not really developed. There was clearly much more of a nexus between the extension of the 7 line [and the linked value capture program], than this sort of open-ended situation here.”

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

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MTA Funding Fight May Dominate This Year’s City-State Budget Struggle Fri, 26 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
What’s The [Data] Point? $14.3 Billion, with Robert Mujica and Dean Fuleihan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7438:what-s-the-data-point-14-3-billion-with-robert-mujica-and-dean-fuleihan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7438:what-s-the-data-point-14-3-billion-with-robert-mujica-and-dean-fuleihan whats the data point


What's The Data Point? Episode 28 -- $14.3 Billion, with Robert Mujica and Dean Fuleihan [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

robert mujica cbc panel jan23

State Budget Director Robert Mujica and New York City First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan spoke at a CBC event on Wednesday, January 24 to discuss the implications of the recently-passed federal tax reform on the state and city. Mujica and Fuleihan discussed how the state and city are responding, with a great deal of budget fallout to come. Ben and Maria were there and provide an intro and brief discussion of the speeches, and this episode then brings you the full remarks from Mujica and Fuleihan, with enlightening audience Q&A after each. You can also catch the video of the entire event, which included two-panel discussions, at the CBC website.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What’s The [Data] Point? $14.3 Billion, with Robert Mujica and Dean Fuleihan Thu, 25 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Flanagan Provides Few Answers to Big Questions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7442:flanagan-provides-few-answers-to-big-questions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7442:flanagan-provides-few-answers-to-big-questions John Flanagan State Senate

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Flanagan Provides Few Answers to Big Questions Thu, 25 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
10 Burning Questions After Cuomo’s State of the State and Budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7430:10-burning-questions-after-cuomo-s-state-of-the-state-and-budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7430:10-burning-questions-after-cuomo-s-state-of-the-state-and-budget Cuomo budget presentation 2018

Gov. Cuomo during his budget presentation (photo: The Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his executive budget for the next fiscal year on Tuesday, centering his presentation around the threat to New York posed by the new federal tax code and possibilities for combatting it and other policies from Washington, D.C. The budget address came almost two weeks after Cuomo’s State of the State speech, at which he presented his 2018 policy agenda.

In both cases, Cuomo left unsaid key aspects of major proposals -- most notably on reforming the state’s tax code and instituting a congestion pricing scheme in New York City -- indicating that details would be forthcoming through imminent state reports and worked out in discussions with experts, stakeholders, and lawmakers. How the state will deal with those two issues are among a number of big questions unanswered after Cuomo set the table for the 2018 state budget and legislative session. (In the days after his budget presentation, Cuomo's Department of Taxation and Finance released a preliminary report on the federal tax reforms with suggestions for how New York can possibly blunt the impact and the "Fix NYC" group Cuomo empaneled last year released its recommendations for a congestion pricing program. These reports set the stage for public debate, Cuomo to shape his proposals, legislative hearings, and negotiations among state leaders.)

The state is facing a $4.4 billion budget gap. Even if the state adheres, as expected, to the 2 percent spending growth cap that Cuomo has implemented each year, there would still be a $1.7 billion gap to be reckoned with. The state is also expecting millions of dollars in federal cuts to state healthcare programs, though the extent is not yet clear as federal negotiations continue.

Also troubling Cuomo and legislators who will negotiate the new state budget is the recently passed federal tax code overhaul, ushered in by the Republican-controlled Congress and President Donald Trump, which severely limits the state and local tax deduction, disproportionately burdening many New Yorker taxpayers. These changes do not necessarily immediately cut into state funds, but they pose significant threats to the New York economy and could risk out-migration of middle- and upper-income New Yorkers, as Cuomo said when presenting his budget and possible ways to dodge the “economic missile” coming at New York.

The fixes, painted in broad strokes on Tuesday by Cuomo and elaborated on by his budget director Robert Mujica in a post-address session with reporters, include the implementation of a statewide employer-based payroll tax to replace some income taxes and opportunities for charitable contributions that would be deductible from federal adjusted gross income. Addressing the deficit would involved various cuts -- especially to transportation, social services and mental hygiene -- cost shifts, including to New York City, and more than $1 billion in revenue generated by new taxes and fees.

The proposed budget would raise total spending by 2.3 percent, including a 3 percent increase in school aid, a $769-million bump. This includes a $338 million increase in foundation aid, which supplements local funding for school districts to ensure students’ rights to a “sound education,” $50 million for high-needs “community schools,” and $15 million more for universal pre-kindergarten programs.

Also in Cuomo’s spending plan are a number of policy initiatives with little or no financial component, including the Child Victims Act, anti-gun, anti-gang and anti-sexual harassment legislation, electoral reform, and criminal justice reforms.

There is a great deal of policy and budget negotiation to come before the April 1 start of the new fiscal year. Here are ten of the outstanding questions:

1. How will Cuomo close the budget deficit if the Senate GOP is opposed to any tax increases?
The executive budget relies on a slew of new taxes to balance the budget including a tax on opioid manufacturers, internet sales, and e-cigarette products. It also proposes capturing the windfall coming to certain insurance companies -- who benefit from the new corporate tax rate under the federal tax overhaul -- by imposing a 14 percent surcharge on those gains, and the creation of a new pre-licensing course for beginner drivers which will cost $8 each.

“You can’t possibly get anywhere near where you want to be on education and health care unless you raise revenues. It’s just too big a deficit and the choice of cutting education or cutting health care, I don’t think is a place anyone wants to go to this year. So you have to raise revenue,’’ said Cuomo.

When asked by a reporter if he would approve the new taxes, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, of Long Island, replied with a simple, “No.” How Cuomo will sell some or all of them to the Senate majority remains to be seen.

2. What will Cuomo’s congestion pricing plan actually look like?
Cuomo has said that he supports some version of congestion pricing, which would mitigate traffic congestion by charging fees to drivers entering the busiest parts of New York City and would generate revenue for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). While the governor alluded to some general principles, he also said in his budget address that he was waiting for recommendations from the “Fix NYC” panel, which were subsequently released. Cuomo indicated that he won’t be proposing tolls on the East River bridges, explaining that the system can be targeted differently.

“The technology exists, we have to define the zone, we have to determine the fees, we have to determine the hours, and it's literally an on-going spectrum of options. You can change the hours, different rates for different vehicles, different rates for different trucks, and you'll get that full report at the end of this week,” Cuomo said on Tuesday. “My point is, it has to be fair to all people in all industries. You have yellow cars, now black cars, green cars, blue cars, purple cars they all have to be treated the same. I don't want anyone saying they had a competitive advantage or this advantage because we put a surcharge on one versus the other.”

When Fix NYC released its recommendations, Cuomo said he will review them closely and "discuss the alternatives with the legislature over the next several months." He added, "There is no doubt that we must finally address the undeniable, growing problem of traffic congestion in Manhattan's central business district and present a real, feasible plan that will pass the legislature to raise money for MTA improvements, without raising rider fares."

3. What will the state tax code rewrite actually look like? Will a focus on the deficit and the tax scheme make almost everything else deprioritized?
On Tuesday, Cuomo announced the New York State Taxpayer Protection Act, but presented it as possible options, including restructuring the state tax code by shifting from an employee-paid system to an employer-paid system through a new payroll tax. There would be many details to work through in making such a change, as Cuomo indicated the state would not totally eliminate the personal income tax system.

“Restructuring the tax code is complicated, there's no doubt about it, but it's also simple at the same time,” said Cuomo. “Washington hit a button and launched an economic missile and it says ‘New York’ on it and it's heading our way. You know what my recommendation is? Get out of the way before it lands. They want to shoot at our tax code the way it was? We change the tax code and we change it in a way that thwarts their attack.”

On Wednesday the Department of Taxation and Finance issued a preliminary report highlighting options for the state. The administration would have to figure out how to convince employers to opt into the new payroll tax system if it wants to move forward with that reform as part of the overhaul. Designing that proposal and a new overall state tax system will be no small task, even if Cuomo could do so unilaterally.

Making up for the local property tax deduction will be more complicated, Cuomo acknowledged. Localities will have to find innovative ways to share services and cut costs. Governments can also potentially circumvent the cuts by setting up charitable organizations for education and healthcare, which taxpayers could contribute to in order to receive deductions.

4. How will the sexual harassment claim rocking the IDC impact budget talks over sexual harassment legislation?
Earlier this month, there seemed to be consensus in Albany that the issue of workplace sexual harassment must be addressed legislatively, both in government and the private sector. Republican and Democratic lawmakers in both houses acknowledged a need for comprehensive protections for women following a national outcry over the issue. 

In his State of the State and executive budget, Cuomo called for consistent sexual harassment guidelines for all levels of government and said public funds should not be used in settlements. Furthermore, Cuomo proposed banning confidential settlements and said that any entities with business before the state would be required to disclose how many sexual harassment cases they have settled.

These proposals and the negotiations to come will also be informed by a recent claim by a former Senate staffer, Erica Vladimer, who told a Huffington Post reporter that in 2015 she had been forcibly kissed outside a bar by Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, her boss at the time. Klein will be one of the ‘four men in the room’ who decide what goes into the final budget bills at the end of March. He and members of the IDC have vehemently denied Vladimer’s claim, and Klein has requested an investigation by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) while proclaiming his innocence.

Klein has continued to express support for pushing ahead with new sexual harassment laws. It is unclear how and when the investigation will unfold, or what effect it will have on the legislative negotiations.

5. Is there any real hope for bail and other criminal justice reforms Cuomo is seemingly prioritizing as a big-ticket issue this year?
Cuomo’s executive budget builds on last year’s passage of legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years old with a comprehensive package on pretrial justice reform. The governor’s plan includes a significant reduction of the use of cash bail, discovery reform to ensure that defendants’ lawyers have access to all evidence cited in a case, and speedy trial enforcement.

“These changes will build on the reforms enacted during my tenure as governor. Last year, we raised the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18, affecting thousands of young people who will have a brighter future,” he said.

Certain advocates called the governor’s bail, discovery, and speedy trial bills “good starting points for progressive reform,” but criticized the bail bill for its broad allowance of “preventative detention” -- when a judge determines that a person’s release would impede an investigation -- which would still require people to pay for their supervised release. Some also took issue with the speedy trial proposal, which they said does little to address structural problems created by New York’s prosecutorial readiness rule, which starts the “speedy trial” clock from the time of the prosecution’s declaration of trial readiness rather than from the start of the defendant’s case.

“The governor’s budget bill is a starting point and we look forward to working with the administration and the state legislature to push for the reforms necessary to make sure that in New York, as the governor noted in his State of the State speech, ‘Race and wealth should not be factors in our justice system,’” said Gabriel Sayegh, co-executive director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice.

Bail reform has been a point of contention in Albany for years, and given how contentious the “raise the age” debate was during the 2017 budget negotiations, getting the Senate Majority on board with these ambitious criminal justice initiatives may be especially difficult for Cuomo. While the governor is known for pushing through his top priorities, it is not clear how much political capital he is going to put into seeing these reforms passed.

6. Will Cuomo and the IDC be able to get electoral reform of some kind passed?
Electoral reform groups rejoiced when the budget estimated that the implementation of early voting would cost counties approximately $6.4 million, though it stopped short of providing funds for the initiative. Early voting has passed the Democrat-controlled Assembly multiple times, but has been stalled by the Republican-led Senate.

The “Let NY Vote” coalition of grassroots groups applauded the governor in a statement. “This is a bipartisan, no brainer: New Yorkers should be able to exercise their basic democratic rights without unnecessary barriers. We are looking forward to negotiating with the state legislature to ensure early voting receives adequate funding," they wrote.

IDC leader Klein, whose group of breakaway Democrats forms a ruling coalition with Senate Republicans, has also said that early voting will be a priority this year, but expansion of voting rights is something Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has so far not buckled on. Early voting is one of a handful of electoral reforms being pushed by Cuomo and other Democrats, also including same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting.

7. What impact will Cuomo not calling special elections have on the budget process?
The days available for Cuomo to call a special election for the 11 vacant Senate and Assembly seats, to ensure that these districts have representation during budget negotiations, are quickly evaporating. While Cuomo could have called the special election as soon as January 1, he has declined to do so, having previously raised questions around ‘politicizing’ the budget process. There is a chance that if the two Senate seats -- previously held by George Latimer and Ruben Diaz, Sr. -- are filled by Democrats, it could shift the balance of power in that chamber.

The election may be held no less than 70 days after the governor’s proclamation, which means Cuomo has approximately a week left to have the seats filled before March 31, when the state’s $160-billion plus budget is due. Aside from the questions around Senate control, government reform groups and others have pointed out that New Yorkers in the 11 districts at hand do not currently have equal representation during budget and legislative business.

8. How will MTA funding play out?
In his executive budget, the governor did outline his plan for stabilizing the ailing transit system that serves the New York City area, but the fine print included swelling New York City’s responsibility for the MTA’s capital improvements, as first noted by Politico New York.

Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog, termed the measures an “unjustified shift” of costs to the city. “The Executive Budget asserts the responsibility for funding New York City subway and bus capital improvements should rest solely with the City of New York, which would require a sevenfold increase in City capital contributions,” said CBC President Carol Kellerman, in a statement on the proposed budget. “In addition, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) would be authorized to establish Transportation Improvement Districts within New York City that capture revenues from rising property values - without the City's approval. These proposals are an attempt to impose an onerous cost shift onto New York City residents and businesses, who already pay an estimated 72 percent of MTA dedicated taxes and subsidies.”

An unnamed state official told Politico that the state was reinforcing a 1981 law that already requires the city to fund its subways, a claim that has been called dubious by a number of experts. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will no doubt raise the question of MTA funding when he testifies at a legislative budget hearing in Albany on February 5.

9. Will Cuomo's pledge to continue all his economic development programs be scrutinized?
During previous budget negotiations, Cuomo faced little pushback for inclusion in the budget bills of his signature economic development programs, despite corruption trials and questions about their transparency and effectiveness.

“All the investments continue, all the upstate investments, all the projects continue upstate and downstate, economic development. We would have another round of our REDCs of URIs and Downtown Revitalization,” said Cuomo, referring to his Regional Economic Development Councils and Upstate Revitalization Initiatives.

Budget watchdogs, like CBC, noted that once again the governor introduced funding for programs without accompanying them with meaningful reform. “Despite a lack of tangible success, the Governor continues to propose excessive spending on economic development initiatives, including a $300 million High Technology Innovation and Economic Development Infrastructure Program and $600 million for a life sciences laboratory in the Capital District,” said CBC's Kellermann. “The Governor and Legislature need to adopt significant reforms to the State's economic development program.”

Senate Majority Leader Flanagan has vowed to push back this time, particularly against Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils, which have been criticized for lack of transparency and favoritism. “I think there’s questions that should be rightly asked about the councils, their independence, what type of disclosure they should have to do,” Flanagan told reporters on Wednesday at the Capitol. “I guarantee you this, whatever is done will be done legally and in the full discourse publicly.”

Still, Flanagan made similar statements last year, and yet virtually all of the governor’s economic development projects were pushed through with little scrutiny during the budget process. What did not pass, were any of the contracting or transparency reforms that were being pushed by outside watchdogs or members of the Legislature.

10. Will Cuomo push for marijuana legalization?
The executive budget proposes funding a taskforce to examine the economic, health, and public safety impact on New Yorkers of marijuana legalization happening in neighboring states of Massachusetts, and likely soon, New Jersey.

Cuomo is a known detractor of the drug, though he reluctantly allowed the state to pass a limited medical marijuana program in 2014. It’s unclear what he will do with the data collected by the study, but his interest in looking at marijuana legalization appears to be in some small part a rebuke against the recent moves by the federal government to step up marijuana regulation and enforcement.

“Marijuana — things are happening. New Jersey may legalize marijuana. Massachusetts already has. On the other hand, Attorney General Sessions says he's going to end marijuana in every state,” said Cuomo, later adding. “It'd be nice to have some facts in the middle of the debate once in a while.”

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note: this article has been updated with some new information as it has been released since Cuomo's budget address.

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10 Burning Questions After Cuomo’s State of the State and Budget Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:57:37 +0000
Cuomo Omits Design-Build for New York City from Budget Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7425:cuomo-omits-design-build-for-new-york-city-from-budget-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7425:cuomo-omits-design-build-for-new-york-city-from-budget-plan Cuomo construction

Gov. Cuomo at a construction scene (photo: The Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly extolled the virtues of design-build, a process that allows state authorities to seek combined design and construction bids for infrastructure projects from a single entity, saving billions of dollars and valuable time. Streamlining procurement and construction, it is a tool currently employed by five state agencies.

But, even as design-build is praised as a commonsense measure to ensure government savings, the state continues to deny New York City the authority to implement it. Cuomo’s $168 billion budget proposal, unveiled Tuesday, makes no mention of extending design-build to the city despite support for it from a bipartisan group of state legislators, persistent pleas from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the governor’s own repeated contention that the city should be allowed to use the process.

Design-build is one of de Blasio’s top priorities for the legislative session in Albany and his administration has made it clear to the governor’s office that they are seeking its authorization for several city agencies. A bill passed by the state Assembly last year, sponsored by Assemblymember Michael Benedetto, would have authorized the process for eight infrastructure projects in the city, including the reconstruction of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and the overhaul of the NYPD’s training facility in Rodman’s Neck. The bill failed in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

According to estimates from the mayor’s office, design-build would save about $158 million from the $2.5 billion budget for the eight projects and, on average, has reduced project completion for state projects by 18 months.  

“We’ve been asking for the ability to use Design Build in New York City for years,” said mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, in an emailed statement. “At a time when the federal government is taking every swing they can at New York City, it’s critically important for us to be able to use all the tools available to save money, complete projects faster, and minimize disruptions to residents and businesses – clearly, the State agrees when it comes to its own projects.”

State agencies such as the Port Authority, the Department of Transportation and the State Thruway Authority have used design build in more than 30 projects, including the Tappan Zee Bridge and the Long Island Rail Road, saving billions over the years. “The Governor is the single biggest proponent of expanding design-build because it saves time and taxpayer money on major infrastructure projects,” said Peter Ajemian, a spokesperson for Cuomo, in an email. “His budget proposal includes design-build for state agencies to fund the state’s capital plan, and we will have discussions with the legislature about expanding it to all local governments.”

The Citizens Budget Commission, a city-based independent fiscal watchdog, called the exclusion of city agencies from design-build authorization “disappointing” news, in a tweet on Wednesday morning. CBC estimated in 2016 that the city could save as much as $2 billion over ten years by employing design build for city bridges.

Last week, a group of state Senators and Assembly members wrote to the governor, stressing the urgency of design-build for the BQE and emphasizing that “prolonged reconstruction could damage the region’s economy,” according to a New York Daily News report. The letter noted that the city’s Department of Transportation faces a Spring deadline to begin procurement for the BQE rehabilitation if they want to use design-build. The effort was led by Senator Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon.

“We know this reconstruction project isn’t going to be easy for our communities and New Yorkers from Carroll Gardens to Brooklyn Heights to Downtown Brooklyn to Williamsburg to Greenpoint will be on the front lines,” said Kavanagh, in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “but design-build could lessen the burden.”  

Kavanagh also said it was “disappointing” that the governor’s executive budget proposal did not include authorization for the city and that he would continue to make the case for it. “This streamlined process would save taxpayer dollars and shorten the project timeline. Most importantly, design-build would help keep trucks off local roads and ensure that while we’re fixing the BQE, we do as little damage as possible to Brooklyn’s neighborhoods,” he said.

db graph

[Related: De Blasio Lays Out Initial 2018 Albany Priorities]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Graph provided by the de Blasio administration.

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Cuomo Omits Design-Build for New York City from Budget Plan Wed, 17 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Lays Out Initial 2018 Albany Priorities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7411:de-blasio-lays-out-initial-2018-albany-priorities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7411:de-blasio-lays-out-initial-2018-albany-priorities de Blasio Albany agenda

Mayor de Blasio in the snow (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


The state Legislature is back in session, beginning the months-long process of deliberating on its $160-billion budget and legislation for the coming fiscal year that starts April 1. For New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a second-term Democrat, it poses the annual opportunity to lobby for the city’s priorities, including small and large policy changes and additional funding for city agencies.

De Blasio had mixed successes in the state capitol, where he has few allies, during his first term, and this year may present the most challenging fiscal situation since the mayor came to office given the new federal tax code, reductions in federal funding, and the $4.4 billion state budget gap that Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature must close.

Cuomo gave his State of the State address last week, where he released his 2018 policy agenda with de Blasio present in the audience. There was plenty for the mayor to chew on, both in the speech and the accompanying policy book that lays out a vast agenda, only some of which will actually be prioritized by the governor. Cuomo’s speech focused on women’s rights and anti-sexual harassment policies, criminal justice reforms, and the federal tax overhaul, which he has vowed to fight, first with a lawsuit. The governor also mentioned specific projects he intended to fund in the city, a continued focus on big infrastructure projects that largely involve the five boroughs, and the prospects of supporting needed subway upgrades through a yet-released congestion pricing scheme.

[Read: New York City Takeaways from Governor Cuomo's 2018 State of the State]

As part of the annual budget ritual, de Blasio will head to Albany later this month to testify hat-in-hand before a joint legislative hearing of Senate and Assembly leaders. This is expected to come after Cuomo outlines his executive budget plan on January 16 and before de Blasio releases his own preliminary budget for the city’s next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Both after attending Cuomo’s speech and in other venues, the mayor has spoken of the broad strokes of his Albany agenda. Among other things, he wants to see more funding for education, affordable housing, and mass transit. He hopes the Legislature will approve an expansion of speed cameras around public schools, new electoral and voting laws to expand ballot access and participation, and a repeal of a civil rights law that the city argues protects police officers’ disciplinary records from public disclosure.

The dynamics of the mayor’s negotiations with state government officials may prove slightly different this year, though it is unclear how things will play out. Cuomo must close the budget deficit while also reacting to the new federal tax code that is set to significantly increase the overall tax burden on many New Yorkers given the reduction in taxpayers’ ability to deduct their state and local taxes from their federal liability. The governor may seek to offload expenses to the city as he has done on multiple occasions. The mayor has few friends in the Republican-led state Senate, though he has allies in the Democrat and New York City-dominated Assembly.

De Blasio may have little to lose by standing up to a governor facing reelection this year and seeking to secure his left flank, or to a Senate GOP with a razor-thin majority that is under threat. The Trump administration also poses a common foe for the city and state, Democrats and Republicans, to do battle with, which could mean increased cooperation in certain areas.

When asked by a reporter at a January 5 news conference if his ability to negotiate with the governor had changed considering the political landscape of 2018, de Blasio mused that he felt “very liberated” but would continue to follow his first-term script. “Look, I think the simple way to think about this is not to look for too many tea leaves,” he said. “Always have said I’m ready to work with the governor when he proposes things that are good for New York City, and if he does something that is going to hurt the people of New York City, I’ll take him on. And that’s how I’m going to look at each and every issue. That is going to be unchanging.”

At time when the city has billions of dollars squirrelled away, and the state faces its shortfall, the governor’s representatives have repeatedly reference city reserves as ripe for picking. At a December 29 news conference, Gotham Gazette asked the mayor if he was taking preemptive actions to avoid the governor seeking to move costs to the city, as he most controversially did two years ago with CUNY and Medicaid in a move that was mostly beat back.

“You know, I’m hoping for a good faith situation where there’s a lot of communication and coordination,” de Blasio said. He warned that the biggest threat to the city was no longer an expected economic downturn but the federal tax plan, and that he would protect the city’s reserves. “And the notion that we have strong surpluses is not an open season call for New York State to raid New York City’s resources,” he said. “We need them because if anything goes wrong, if we sustain federal cuts we will also sustain state cuts...So, they can talk about it all they want, it’s not going to change my approach.”

Education Aid
The mayor is continuing his push for the state to fully abide by the state Supreme Court’s Campaign for Fiscal Equity ruling requiring equitable state funding for public schools. Last year, the mayor estimated that the state was underfunding the city to the tune of about $1.6 billion.  

More practically, a significant priority for the mayor is his proposed expansion of early childhood education to all three-year-olds in the city, building on his signature first-term accomplishment of implementing universal pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds. (The UPK program was put into effect largely with state funding, after the mayor’s calls to fund it through a tax on the wealthy were opposed by the governor and Senate GOP.)

The “3-K for All” program is set to expand to eight districts by 2021 and will cost the city roughly $177 million that year. The city already has another $200 million invested annually in the Early Learn program for three-year-olds from low-income families and a full-scale expansion of 3-K to all 32 school districts in the city would cost an additional $700 million sourced from federal and state coffers, according to city estimates.

“We want to continue the progress we’ve made in our public schools,” de Blasio said, at a news conference after the governor’s address. “We have our highest graduation rate ever. We’ve had continual progress on test-score improvement. We want to go farther. We need to see state education aid continue to expand. We particularly are interested in using that aid to address some key strategic initiatives, such as creating the 3-K program on a universal basis.”

Affordable Housing and Homelessness
The mayor’s affordable housing plan target, which he recently increased from 200,000 to 300,000 affordable rental units, relies on a multi-faceted approach to preserving existing units while creating more housing across the city. It also involves investing in public housing developments and supportive housing for formerly homeless, disabled, and mentally ill individuals.

De Blasio has continued to express frustration with the slow pace of funds being disbursed by the state despite numerous pledges made by the governor and the Legislature. He noted, for instance, funding promised toward the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) in the state budget from two years ago. “We’re still waiting to see some of that funding reach the people who live in public housing,” he said.

Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for the mayor on budgetary matters, did not have exact figures for the amount of aid the city is requesting on numerous fronts. On NYCHA funding, she emailed saying the mayor wants “to see the previously authorized moneys [sic] actually flow, rather than continue to be inexplicably held up. Though of course we’d also welcome more funding!”

De Blasio also noted that the city is already taking measures to create 15,000 units of supportive housing while the state has been lax in following up on its own promise to fund another 20,000 units. “We need to see that plan take off and start to have an impact on the ground in New York City so it can help us address homelessness,” he said. In total, the state allocated $2.5 billion in last year’s budget for affordable and supportive housing. It’s unclear, however, how much of that has been utilized and in the city.

During his State of the State, Cuomo indicated that the state will look to withhold funding from localities deemed to not be doing enough to get homeless people off the streets. It was not clear if he believes New York City fits that category. When asked about it, de Blasio dismissed the idea, saying that the city has the most robust street-outreach program it's ever had.

Public Safety
De Blasio and his allies failed to convince the Legislature last year to approve more speed cameras around public schools, a priority in his Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic fatalities in the city. Vision Zero was continuously successful over the mayor’s first term and the administration announced on Monday that there were a total of 214 traffic fatalities in 2017, an all-time low.

The mayor has advocated for expanding the speed camera program from 140 school zones where it is currently active to 750 school zones citywide, citing a report that found, among other results, that crashes with injuries declined by 15 percent at camera locations between 2014 and 2016, and pedestrian injuries fell by 23 percent in the same time. Like on many fronts, the city needs Albany approval to act.

“We need to continue that progress,” the mayor said at the January 3 new conference, noting that the city was safer in 2017 than ever before. “One of the things that would help us the most, again, is those speed cameras around schools to help us protect kids and community members.”

Design-Build
In his budget testimony in Albany last year, de Blasio emphasized that giving New York City approval to use design-build -- which allows agencies to solicit combined design-and-construction bids for capital projects -- would save $450 million from $7.3 billion estimated for a specific list of projects. A bill passed by the state Assembly authorized design-build for eight projects, to save an estimated $158 million, according to Goldstein, the mayoral spokesperson.

The mayor reiterated on January 3 that design-build was essential for the city, particularly with the threat of federal budget cuts to city agencies and for infrastructure projects. “I think it becomes more important than ever,” he said. “This year, given that we will see tight fiscal conditions, design-build is a common sense way to help us save the taxpayers money, and get more done more quickly. So, we’ll be making that a top item on the agenda.”

The state has used design-build for several years on certain major projects and saved billions of dollars, according to Gov. Cuomo, who regularly touts the process as effective and inefficient. Cuomo has said he supports expanding it to city use, but it has not moved through the Senate.

Police Transparency
De Blasio has faced strong criticism from police reform advocates over his administration’s shielding of the disciplinary records of police officers, particularly in the case of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a department-prohibited chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014. Under de Blasio, the NYPD changed its policy of disclosing “personnel orders” containing summaries of disciplinary actions against an officer, insisting that they had mistakenly done so in violation of Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Code.

The mayor has instead put the onus on the Legislature to repeal the law. At a January 5 news conference releasing the latest crime statistics, de Blasio told Gotham Gazette it would be a priority for him this year. “I think this is the year. I’d love to see 50-a resolved once and for all,” he said, conceding that it might only happen if the state Senate, currently controlled by Republicans, flips to Democrat control. “But I think this is a powerful year to go and try and see if we can have a breakthrough. And there’s a lot of people in the state who think it’s the right thing to do to have that greater transparency. So we’ll be working for it.”

Voting reform
Governor Cuomo’s 2018 priorities include a “Democracy Agenda” of voting reform, political advertisement transparency, and election security initiatives. (He is also proposing a similar slate of campaign finance and government ethics reforms that he offered last year.) Though de Blasio had himself promised a major push on voting reform last year, his effort amounted to little more than a conference call with reporters. The mayor said he had to re-prioritize given the challenges of getting renewal of mayoral control of city schools approved.

This year, the mayor has promised to follow through, saying he was “heartened” to hear the governor address things like early voting in his speech. “We’re going to focus on it intensely, and we’re going to be organizing people all over New York City to put pressure on their legislators, on the Governor to get this done, and, obviously, working with allies all over the state,” de Blasio said.

Transit Funding
The year begins with de Blasio and Cuomo arguing over whether the city will contrivute half the $800-plus million subway rescue plan put forward several months ago by MTA Chair Joe Lhota. De Blasio has insisted that the state use the nearly identifical amount it has raided from the MTA over the last few years. Cuomo and Lhota have told de Blasio to simply put up the money.

Meanwhile, one of the mayor’s priorities that seems least likely to succeed is a so-called millionaires tax to fund the MTA and subsidized MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. The governor and Senate GOP, already averse to new taxes, have indicated that the proposal would be dead on arrival. But the mayor has only doubled down, reinvigorated in his effort by his reelection and the recently approved federal tax plan. “[G]iven that the Trump tax plan was a giveaway to the wealthy and corporations, I think it makes even more sense to have a millionaire’s tax,” he said on his weekly “Ask The Mayor” segment on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on January 5. Critics point out, though, that the wealthy in New York are not necessarily projected to make out very well under the new tax plan, unlike higher earners in other, low-tax states.

De Blasio has also repeatedly rejected congestion pricing as an alternative to raise revenue for the MTA while also reducing traffic congestion in Manhattan. Despite evidence to the contrary, he has insisted that it would be a “regressive tax” that harms outer borough commuters and that he has yet to see a proposal he could support. “The first concern I have is that I don’t think it is the best way to address the MTA crisis,” de Blasio told Lehrer. “I think a millionaire’s tax is a better way and it’s a live, actual proposal. You can see it. You can touch it.” Though Cuomo has floated the idea, he did not propose any details in his State of the State address last week, saying that a panel he formed will present options in the coming weeks.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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De Blasio Lays Out Initial 2018 Albany Priorities Mon, 08 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Criticized for Failing to Call Special Election January 1 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7399:cuomo-criticized-for-failing-to-call-special-election-january-1 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7399:cuomo-criticized-for-failing-to-call-special-election-january-1 Cuomo Flanagan Long Island

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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