Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/510 Fri, 18 Jan 2019 22:59:41 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Promising Sweeping Change, Cuomo Outlines State of the State Policy Agenda and $175 Billion Budget Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8202-promising-sweeping-change-cuomo-outlines-state-of-the-state-policy-agenda-and-175-billion-budget-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8202-promising-sweeping-change-cuomo-outlines-state-of-the-state-policy-agenda-and-175-billion-budget-plan cuomo sotos ja

(photo via the Governor's office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat starting his third term, laid out an ambitious social, economic, and racial “justice agenda” at his State of the State speech on Tuesday as he also presented a $175.2 billion executive budget proposal for the 2020 state fiscal year that begins April 1.

Speaking at the Hart Theater in Albany, Cuomo celebrated full Democratic control of the State Legislature for the first time in his tenure and promised quick movement on a raft of legislation within the first 100 days of the new legislative session, which began last week. “We’re off with a bang,” Cuomo mused, as he began his roughly 80-minute speech by playing a video of the Tuesday morning demolition of the old Tappan Zee bridge. Indeed, the returning Democratic majority in the Assembly and new majority in the Senate have already begun passing bills long-stalled in what had been the Republican-led upper chamber, including several voting reforms and protections for LGBT New Yorkers -- all legislation Cuomo is expected to soon sign.

Cuomo had already articulated much of his State of the State policy agenda in the previous weeks, but added new elements both in his speech and the accompanying policy book, while also reviewing what he sees as his top accomplishments and connecting policy plans to his budget outline. He also repeatedly took issue with federal policies, such as tax reforms he said are causing crises in the state, and sought to juxtapose New York with the Trump administration on issues like immigration.

With both the Assembly and Senate under the party’s control, Cuomo and the Legislature are in a position to advance sweeping progressive bills and a budget that would make significant shifts in everything from education and health care to elections, women’s rights, the criminal justice system, environmental and rent regulations, mass transit, and labor protections, to name a few. The governor outlined policies from ending the use of cash bail to legalizing recreational adult use of marijuana to a “Green New Deal” for New York that increases investments in renewable energy. He also outlined sweeping campaign finance and government ethics reform plans, some of which may set up clashes with the Legislature, and made a surprise announcement that he and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli had come to an agreement about contract pre-review that the governor had previously resisted.

As he has done since running for reelection, and most forcefully in his inaugural speech on Ellis Island on New Year’s Day, Cuomo presented New York as a countervailing force to the federal government under President Donald Trump and as a vanguard for progressive policies in the nation. Though he has dismissed rumors that he harbors greater ambitions for 2020, the speech could easily sketch the outline of a presidential campaign.

“We face real challenges in the state of New York,” Cuomo said. “We have a federal government that is assaulting our values, our liberties, our rights and our economy.”

Cuomo noted that the state would have to fill a budget gap of $3.1 billion, even as he boasted of his record on fiscal management, reduction in taxes to their lowest in decades, and positive credit ratings for the state. But he warned of slowing revenues, blaming the 2017 federal tax code overhaul that reduced the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction that New York taxpayers can claim. While pointing to an increased overall tax burden for many New Yorkers, especially those who pay high property taxes, Cuomo pitched proposals to reduce taxes on the middle-class at a cost of $1.8 billion and to permanently cap property tax increases at 2 percent annually (everywhere outside New York City), something the state has done annually for several years.

On both education and health care funding, which comprise the two largest chunks of the state budget, Cuomo proposed a 3.6 percent increase. He proposed a total education budget of $27.7 billion, an increase of $1 billion, and floated a new funding method called the “Education Equity” formula, to ensure that state aid to poorer districts is distributed equitably to poorer schools, rather than what he depicted as the lopsided distribution under the current ‘Foundation Aid’ formula that does not dictate where money goes within districts. Education funding may also form the basis for disagreement with the Legislature, both houses of which are likely to push for more than a $1 billion increase in overall state funding to localities.

Health care spending would increase to $19.6 billion, up from $18.9 billion, though the governor also warned of federal cuts, including $2.5 billion to Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments and $1 billion to cost-share reduction payments, besides the perennial threat from Republicans seeking to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

A leader who wants to be known as a builder, and one who can get large projects completed, Cuomo touted his successful infrastructure projects and those that will come to completion in the next few years. At the same time, he took no ownership of the crisis at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), seeking, as he has done in the past, to deflect blame for the crumbling subway system and the mismanaged agency where he appoints the largest share of board members and its leadership. Cuomo proposed overhauling the agency to clarify who controls it, though he already does, in effect, but did not offer specifics. He also reiterated a push for a congestion pricing proposal that he said could bring in $15 billion for the agency (apparently over a ten-year window, though details have not been released), far short of its estimated needs, and insisted that any other need should be split evenly between the city and state, setting up another battle with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Cuomo proposed a broad agenda of women’s rights protections, including codifying the protections of Roe v. Wade by amending the state constitution, passing the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act. He also said he would enact the Equal Rights Amendment, outlaw revenge pornography, eliminate the statute of limitations for rape, modernize the pay equity law and take efforts to reduce maternal mortality rates and the related racial disparities.

Touting the state’s passage of strong gun protections in his first term -- Cuomo mentioned he was speaking on the sixth anniversary of passage of his signature SAFE Act legislation -- the governor pushed for enacting new regulations including a “red flag” bill, expanding the waiting period for background checks, and banning bump stocks, all of which appear likely to sail through the Legislature.

The governor also put forth his version of a Green New Deal, which would move the state towards 100 percent clean energy by 2040. He said he would create a new Climate Action Council to reduce the state’s carbon footprint, establish a $70 million property tax compensation fund to incentivize localities to close obsolete power plants and transition to clean energy, and announced several investments in clean water infrastructure and expanding environmental protection efforts.

Cuomo called for the passage of several other bills that languished for years when Republicans controlled the Senate, including the Jose Peralta Dream Act (renamed for the state Senator who passed away last year and had championed it), the Child Victims Act, and reformed rent regulations to protect tenants and the state’s affordable housing stock.

He also reiterated a call for a criminal justice reform package that would eliminate cash bail and enact speedy trial reform and discovery reform. In further outlining his support for legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults, Cuomo said it is expected to bring in about $300 million in annual tax revenue for the state, though the governor’s proposal would allow municipalities to opt out of allowing marijuana stores. He insisted that legalization would have to go hand-in-hand with decriminalization, pushing for automatically sealing certain marijuana-related criminal records, and investment in communities.

“Let's stop the disproportionate impact on communities of color," he said. “Let's create an industry that empowers the poor communities that paid the price and not the rich corporations that come in to make a profit.”

Toward the end of his speech, Cuomo again performed the annual ritual of discussing the need for building public trust in government and preventing the repeated scandals that have rocked the state, including his administration and many legislators. The governor outlined a host of proposals -- many repeated from past years, several new -- meant to ensure greater transparency in government and prevent public corruption.

He unveiled a “Lobbying Code of Conduct” which would lower the threshold for financial disclosure of lobbying, expand the period of time that legislators and policy-makers in state government are banned from lobbying after they leave their positions, and require increased conflicts of interest disclosures by lobbyists. If the Legislature refuses to take up the idea, Cuomo said he would unilaterally prohibit any lobbyists that do not voluntarily follow the code from lobbying the executive branch. Additionally, he proposed a number of campaign finance reforms -- banning corporate contributions, establishing a public campaign financing program, reducing contribution limits, and completely closing the LLC loophole (with expressed intention for further action, the state Legislature passed bills on Monday to severely limit contributions from LLCs but it remains open to exploitation).

Cuomo also announced a proposal to expand the Freedom of Information Law to cover the state Legislature, an idea that has been around for decades but rejected by legislators, and the state procurement reforms on which he reached an agreement with Comptroller DiNapoli.

In a news conference in Albany after the governor’s speech, Mayor de Blasio broadly praised the platform that Cuomo set out to achieve. In particular, he was encouraged that Cuomo separately proposed extending mayoral control of New York City schools, set to expire in June, by three years. In previous years when it was due to expire, the governor had also suggested a three-year extension but he and Republicans in the Senate had used mayoral control as leverage to extract concessions from the city. There may still be some appetite in both branches for pushing de Blasio on his leadership of city schools.

The mayor did strike a note of caution about a few items. He insisted on the need for a long-term funding stream for the MTA -- he has been hesitant to fully embrace congestion pricing and has instead said a millionaire’s tax would be the best solution -- and said Cuomo’s portrayal of the history of the agency’s funding -- that the state has stepped in to fund it in recent years while the city has been reducing its contributions -- “simply wasn’t accurate.” As he has indicated in the past, he disagreed that the city should bear half the costs of funding shortfalls in MTA needs. He also pushed back against the governor’s critique of the city’s school funding formula, insisting that the city has consistently sent money to the schools that need it most.

De Blasio promised he would have more to say as he and his team review Cuomo’s proposals in fine print, and offer their own rebuttals to Cuomo’s depiction of MTA and school funding.

The governor’s speech now sets the stage for negotiations with the Legislature, which will soon issue its own budget priorities. However, it appears that the pace of action in Albany will be far different from past years where almost every significant legislative action was lumped into a big budget agreement right around the April 1 deadline. Legislators have already shown they plan to pass legislation and send it to Cuomo to sign.

And for the first time this year, there will no longer be the infamous “three men in a room” negotiating the spending plan for the next year, as Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the first female leader of a legislative chamber, will join the governor and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in hashing out policy and budget deals as those negotiations are needed.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Promising Sweeping Change, Cuomo Outlines State of the State Policy Agenda and $175 Billion Budget Plan Tue, 15 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
The Case Against Public Campaign Financing in New York http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8199-the-case-against-public-campaign-financing-in-new-york http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8199-the-case-against-public-campaign-financing-in-new-york senator cat young

Senator Young, the author (photo: @SenatorCathyYoung)


It’s a new day in New York. On January 1, the Senate Republican Conference, our state’s last line of defense against tax-and-spend, downstate-centric policies, assumed its new role as the minority party in the New York State Senate.

While many in New York are cheering this change, many others are wary. They should be.

A host of progressive, and in some cases, extremist, agenda items are being pushed by Governor Cuomo and the Democratic majorities in each house of the Legislature.

One of the first items on their list is passage of legislation enacting a statewide system of public campaign financing, modeled after New York City’s matching-funds program. Democrats claim there is broad support for such a change and that it would increase political competitiveness and reduce corruption.

Facts show that they are wrong.

No one would argue that corruption is not a problem in New York’s political system. Senate Republicans took the lead in passing a sweeping package of reforms in 2018 - widely lauded by good government groups - that would have targeted Albany’s “pay-to-play” culture and other corruption culprits. It died in the Democrat-led Assembly.

Democrats claim that public financing of campaigns is a cure for the corruption problem. The city’s small donor matching funds program, enacted in 1989, provides participating candidates with $6 for every $1 a New York City resident donates, up to $175 (and those numbers are set to increase in future elections). The system was intended to bring integrity to the campaign process by empowering small donors and diminishing the influence of special interests.

However, an honest examination of the system shows it has fallen far short of its laudable goals. In fact, the system has proven to be an additional channel for campaign corruption.

Establishment of the public financing system has allowed ethically challenged candidates and their operatives to cheat the taxpayer-funded program by creating fake donors, called “straw donors,” to receive matching funds. Former comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu, a newly-elected State Senator, was fined more than $26,000 for a straw-donor scandal that resulted in jail time for an aide and a fund-raiser. He has a lot of company: Bill de Blasio, Malcolm Smith, Anthony Weiner, Dan Halloran, Jesse Hamilton, Albert Alvarez, Al Baldeo, Ron Reale are just a few of many city politicians associated with public campaign finance scandals.

It is not a track record that inspires confidence.

Supporters of publicly financed campaigns also promote the feel-good idea that the system encourages political competition by making it easier for political newcomers and less well-funded outsiders to run for office. A December 2017 Georgetown Public Policy Review found this theory to simply be wishful thinking.

Its examination of incumbent re-election rates for state legislators in states offering taxpayer-funded campaign programs and those without such programs found no statistically significant difference. Incumbency rates for the groups were 89 and 91 percent, respectively.

Similarly, the hoped-for impact on civic engagement also has not been realized. In the first two mayoral elections under public financing in New York City, 1989 and 1993, voter turnout was 60 percent and 57 percent. In 2013 turnout was 26 percent and in 2017, it was 23.9 percent. These decreases have occurred even as the size of the taxpayer-funded match has risen significantly, starting as 1:1 in 1989 rising to 6:1 in the most recent election. It is now moving to 8:1.

Given these poor results, it is impossible to justify using taxpayer dollars for such a system. In New York City, the fiscal year 2018 budget for the Campaign Finance Board was $56.7 million, including $10.6 million for staff and $40.2 million for campaign matching funds. The cost to implement a system similar to the city’s on a statewide scale has been estimated at between $200 million and $300 million. With New York State projected to have a $3 billion budget deficit in the forthcoming fiscal year, and a slowing stock market that will only make the deficit worse, the notion of creating a vast, new state bureaucracy to dole out taxpayer funds to political candidates is irrational.   

Even absent any deficit, diverting taxpayer funds to pay for political campaigns and negative television ads is indefensible.

As Stephen Eide, a scholar with the Manhattan Institute, argues “what governments spend taxpayer dollars on is as significant as how much they spend. Unlike public financing for, say, cleaner streets or better schools, public financing of elections provides a private benefit – serving the needs of officeholders, staffers and consultants engaged in politics as a career.”

All this begs the question: where does the public stand on taxpayer-financed campaigns? Studies indicate that the majority of the public is opposed. Recent surveys (Quinnipiac, 2017) found that 54 percent of survey respondents were opposed to public campaign financing; 12 percent had no opinion; and only 34 percent were in favor.

While one-party rule is now a reality in New York state government, those in power need to remember their overriding duty is to act in the best interests of all New Yorkers.

Public campaign financing is a device to benefit politicians, not the public. New York can’t afford it fiscally or ethically -- not now, not ever.

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State Senator Catharine M. Young represents the 57th District, including Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, and portions of Livingston County. She is the Ranking Republican member on the Senate committees of Elections and Ethics and Internal Governance. On Twitter @SenatorYoung.

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

Note: this column has been updated with the latest budget deficit forecast provided by Governor Cuomo on January 15.

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The Case Against Public Campaign Financing in New York Tue, 15 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
As Session Starts, Legislators and Advocates Push Overhaul of State Ethics Enforcement http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8184-as-session-starts-legislators-and-advocates-push-overhaul-of-state-ethics-enforcement http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8184-as-session-starts-legislators-and-advocates-push-overhaul-of-state-ethics-enforcement comprehensive reform gov

(photo via the Governor's Office)


As the state Legislature returns to session on Wednesday with Democrats in control of both chambers for the first time in a decade, State Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan and Assemblymember Robert Carroll from Brooklyn are set to introduce a resolution that would amend the state constitution, adding new provisions to prevent and combat public corruption.

The resolution, first introduced late in last year’s session, would add a new section on state government integrity to the state constitution and would consolidate two agencies that are currently charged with monitoring and tackling corruption -- the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and the Legislative Ethics Commission -- into a new New York State Commission on Government Integrity. The effort is aimed at dealing with a long-standing problem in New York state government that recently saw the leaders of both houses of the Legislature convicted of public corruption, along with many other legislators who were removed from or left office due to ethical issues over the course of decades.

“We think this is the way to create a truly independent ethics body,” Assemblymember Carroll said in a phone interview on Tuesday, shortly after a rally outside the State Senate chambers alongside Senator Krueger and a cohort of government reform advocates. One of the central criticisms of JCOPE, which was created in 2011, is that it is too closely tied to the governor and legislators to be effective, making it a limited deterrent and a weak enforcer.

The proposed resolution would have to be passed by the current Legislature and again by the next elected Legislature in the 2021-2022 session, after which it would be presented to voters as a ballot question for their approval. If successful during this session and in 2021, Carroll estimated that the new law could go into effect by January 2022.

It would create the new nine-member commission -- five of whom would be appointed by the judiciary; two appointments jointly by the governor, comptroller, and attorney general; and two by legislative conference leaders whose parties are the top-two voter getters in a previous gubernatorial election. The commission would be empowered to issue civil sanctions and censures against legislators, would be able to suspend, demote, or terminate a non-elected employee, and make referrals for criminal prosecution. It would also serve as an independent counsel to legislators and state employees seeking informal ethics advice that can later be used in their defense. Those who have served as political party officials, state employees or lobbyists within the previous three years would be barred from being appointed.

Though the proposal does not require Governor Andrew Cuomo’s support, Carroll hoped that it would receive it nonetheless. “I hope the governor sees this is a major ingredient in reforming our broken political system in Albany,” he said.

During the only general election debate against his Republican opponent Marc Molinaro, Cuomo had signalled support for reforming JCOPE. “Change begins with the thin edge of a wedge,” Cuomo said, using a phrase he has often employed, in this case to indicate that he was pleased to accomplish something on ethics reform, and can then use it to do more.

He added, “I believe we need more independence on JCOPE, I believe we need totally independent appointees and not necessarily representatives of both houses. I’d be open to a number of configurations, but they’d have to be independent.” In a statement on Tuesday, Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson for Cuomo, reiterated that stance, but stopped short of endorsing the Carroll-Krueger plan: “As the Governor has previously said, we are open to changes to the structure of ethics enforcement and we will review any proposals that are introduced.”

Both Carroll and Krueger, Democrats like Cuomo, argue that a constitutional amendment is essential, particularly with renewed attention in this last election cycle to the activities of JCOPE, headed by Seth Agata, a former Cuomo aide nominated by the governor and appointed as executive director by the agency's commissioners in similar fashion to his predecessors. The state agency, which monitors lobbying at the state level besides ethics violations, has been widely criticized as inefficient and overly vulnerable to political interference, while at the same time being entirely opaque to the public and lacking clear jurisdiction.

In particular, Krueger said the agency has failed to investigate incidents and allegations of sexual harassment, even when they are made widely known. For instance, in January 2018, then-State Senator and Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein was accused of forcible kissing a former staffer, Erica Vladimer, but JCOPE has yet to make clear whether it is investigating the claim and has not provided any information to either the public, press, or Vladimer in the year since since she spoke out. JCOPE officials have pushed back against such criticism, noting that divulging information about investigations is against the law. At a March 2018 meeting, Commission Chair Michael Rozen said the agency's silence does not indicate action or inaction. "No conclusions should be inferred by the Commission’s silence," he said.

The new agency, on the other hand, would have to establish a dedicated unit for sexual harassment investigations and would also have more expansive transparency provisions, being subject to the same Freedom of Information Law that currently applies to the executive branch (there are ongoing negotiations about extending FOIL to the Legislature).

Last year, JCOPE’s lack of transparency was put to the legal test. New York Republican party chair Ed Cox and Molinaro, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, sued the agency to force a vote on an investigation into Joe Percoco, the former top Cuomo aide who was convicted on federal corruption charges last year. During the trial, Percoco was found to have improperly used his executive chamber office while working on Cuomo’s campaign, but he was never investigated by JCOPE. On December 19, a state supreme court judge ruled that the agency must take a vote within 30 days and then inform the judge, though they were not ordered to release the details of the vote to the public.

“I don’t think that current model is working and I think we need to fix that...It’s just not designed to do its job,” Krueger said of JCOPE in a December interview. She and Carroll were joined at the state Capitol building on Tuesday by representatives of groups including Common Cause New York, Reinvent Albany, the League of Women Voters of the State of New York, the New York Public Interest Research Group, the New York City Bar Association, as well as a few legislators, such as Senator Jen Metzger and Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried and Carrie Woerner.

What remains unclear is whether the leaders of both legislative chambers will support the proposal. Requests for comment to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ offices went unanswered.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated to clarify that Seth Agata was appointed by JCOPE commissioners, not the governor. It has also been updated to include public statements made by JCOPE chair Michael Rosen about why the agency does not comment on investigations. 

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As Session Starts, Legislators and Advocates Push Overhaul of State Ethics Enforcement Tue, 08 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
After Six Years, New York Must Finally Pass the Dream Act http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8177-after-six-years-new-york-must-finally-pass-the-dream-act http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8177-after-six-years-new-york-must-finally-pass-the-dream-act macaulay honors college

(photo via CUNY Office of Communications)


Every year thousands of undocumented youth graduate from high school with a singular hope of realizing their American Dream and making it to college. Too often, though, these dreams are deferred as immigrant youth are denied fair and equal access to state financial aid.

There is a solution to this injustice: the New York Dream Act. The bill would promote education equity, ensuring that every student has an equal opportunity to fulfill their dream of attending college by allowing immigrant youth access to New York’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). For too long, Republican opposition has allowed this legislation to languish in Albany. Now, with Democratic control of both chambers of the Legislature, it’s time to put this bill in the hands of Governor Cuomo, who has already signaled his eagerness to sign the Dream Act into law in the first 100 days of the 2019 legislative session.

While states cannot change the federal immigration status of undocumented youth, they can take steps to protect and expand opportunities for them in the face of xenophobic attacks lobbed from Washington. As the original and current sponsors of the Dream Act in the New York State Assembly, where it has passed six times before, we know New York ought finally to embrace its moral responsibility and allow our immigrant youth true access to college education.

Several states, including Texas, New Mexico, and Minnesota, have already passed bills that provide tuition equity for all students, regardless of immigration status. The Garden State became the latest to join the effort this year when Governor Phil Murphy signed the New Jersey Dream Act, allowing undocumented students there access to college. Shamefully, New York, long known as a beacon of immigrants, has lagged behind.

Take for example the story of Olivert Saldivia. Olivert graduated high school in 2015 but he faced a huge barrier to realizing his dream of attending college without access to state financial aid. Unlike their peers, undocumented students like Olivert do not qualify for student loans, work-study, or any other financial assistance, leading to uncertainty and doubt about their future.

Undeterred and fueled by the knowledge that he wasn’t the only one who had dubious dreams of attending college, Olivert teamed up with the community organization Make the Road New York to fight for the Dream Act. Today, while working several jobs and with the assistance of private scholarships, Olivert is a year and a half away from graduating as a mechanical engineer from the New York City College of Technology. His story is not unique, but still more aspiring students like him have been prevented from pursuing higher education altogether. 

Francisco Moya, now a City Council Member representing Queens, was the lead sponsor of this legislation in the State Assembly from 2013 to 2017. Year after year the State Assembly delivered on its promises to undocumented youth, passing the Dream Act for six consecutive years. Yet, it has made it to the Senate floor just once. In its lone 2014 appearance before the Republican-controlled Senate, the bill came up two votes short.

Now, with Assemblymember Carmen de la Rosa as the new lead sponsor carrying the Dream Act, the Assembly is poised to pass it again. But passage through that body is not enough for our communities and that’s why are fighting to make sure the Senate finally sends this bill to the governor’s desk.

The moral case aside, the New York Dream Act is also a smart deal for New York. With regards to the state budget, the cost is negligible, according to reports by the independent and nonprofit research organization Fiscal Policy Institute and the New York State Comptroller, and would bring much larger benefits in terms of the tax revenue increase and economic contributions of the students who would be able to attend and graduate college. A person who earns a bachelor’s degree pays more than $60,000 in additional state taxes over time compared to someone with only a high school diploma.

Undocumented youth have waited long enough. In 2019, with a Democratic majority in both New York Assembly and Senate, there is no reasonable explanation as to why we cannot deliver for our immigrant youth in making sure they have equal access to state financial aid.

We believe in a New York where your immigration status should never be a barrier to access for a quality education. This is our time to send a strong message to the Trump Administration: New York protects and supports its immigrant youth.

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Francisco Moya is the City Council Member representing the 21st district and prior sponsor of the New York Dream Act in the state Assembly. Carmen de la Rosa is the Assemblymember representing New York’s 72nd district and current sponsor of the New York Dream Act. On Twitter @FranciscoMoyaNY & @CnDelarosa.

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

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After Six Years, New York Must Finally Pass the Dream Act Tue, 08 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Now’s the Time for Automatic Voter Registration in New York http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8170-now-s-the-time-for-automatic-voter-registration-in-new-york http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8170-now-s-the-time-for-automatic-voter-registration-in-new-york primary voting parkslope

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Over the last several decades, 15 states across the country – both red and blue – have modernized their voting laws, including our neighbors in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Unfortunately, here in New York we remain mired in the past, refusing to implement reforms to fix the state’s poor electoral system and erecting arbitrary barriers to voter participation.

The results are clear: New York routinely has some of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country. In 2018, New York ranked 48th in turnout. Also important to this discussion is that in the midst of the 2016 election, upwards of 200,000 voters were illegally purged from the voter rolls in Brooklyn due to errors at the New York City Board of Elections.

Now, more than ever, New York has an obligation to make it simpler – not harder – for people to vote.

This legislative session in Albany, we can make real change. New York can move our elections into the future by passing Automatic Voter Registration, or AVR.

The idea behind AVR is simple: instead of putting the burden of registering to vote on individuals, the state automatically registers them when they interact with government agencies and they can elect not to participate if they so choose. Here’s an example of how it would work.

When an eligible voter goes to the DMV or enrolls in Medicaid, he or she is already supplying a variety of data – name, birthdate, address, etc. From that single interaction, New Yorkers can and should be able to sign up for the service they’re seeking and register or update their voting information.   

Automatic Voter Registration would securely collect and electronically transfer the data of eligible voters to the state Board of Elections, which would then send a pre-paid postcard to the voter to give them the chance to opt out of registration. If the individual doesn’t opt out, he or she is added to the rolls.

It's simple, it’s commonsensical, and it promotes civic engagement. AVR not only allows more individuals to participate in the democratic process by easing the registration process, it also ensures that voter rolls are accurate and up-to-date.

And we know it works.

In Oregon, for instance, 94 percent of individuals who interacted with the DMV and were eligible to vote were registered. Research suggests that 44 percent of the new registrants subsequently voted, leading Oregon to have the largest turnout increase between 2012 and 2016 of any state. In 2018, it had one of the highest turnout rates in the country.

AVR also saves the state money by eliminating the costs of provisional ballots, costly paper transactions, and manual data entry. Across the country, localities have saved an average of about $3.54 in costs per registration by moving from a paper to an electronic method.

And the time freed up allows election officials to focus less on data entry and more on running elections smoothly and efficiently. That’s something New York desperately needs.

The question is whether we have the will.

Here at home, polling released by a new New York advocacy effort, AVR NOW, from Civis Analytics shows there is positive support for AVR in almost every single New York state Senate district. Statewide, a supermajority of 64 percent of New York voters support AVR. That’s not surprising here in New York because even the most casual voter knows our elections are dysfunctional.

This session, New York has a chance to modernize our elections, tear down arbitrary barriers to voting, and reaffirm that our state works for all the people.

We should seize it.

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State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens is the incoming Deputy Majority Leader and author of New York's Automatic Voter Registration bill. Sean McElwee is a policy analyst, writer and co-founder of Data for Progress. On Twitter @SenGianaris & @SeanMcElwee.

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

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Now’s the Time for Automatic Voter Registration in New York Wed, 02 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
35 Questions for New York Politics in 2019 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8168-35-questions-for-new-york-politics-in-2019 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8168-35-questions-for-new-york-politics-in-2019 Cuomo de Blasio Amazon

Cuomo & de Blasio celebrate Amazon to NY (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


1. Will Kirsten Gillibrand and/or Michael Bloomberg run for President?

2. Will Andrew Cuomo explore a presidential run?

3. How will Chuck Schumer perform as Senate minority leader amid a new power dynamic in Washington? What impact will Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have as she officially takes office and the year progresses? What other New York representatives will make significant impact in the new Washington, especially given new powerful committee roles? Will Gateway funding from the federal government come through? Are there other major decisions related to federal funding or policy that impact New York?

4. How will Cuomo’s third term start, with major accomplishments, acrimony with legislators - both? How much of his outlined "first 100 days" agenda will he get passed in that time period?

5. What will and won’t pass in Albany before and through a budget deal at the end of March? Will the budget be on time? How will the changes in the federal tax code affect New York? Where will the areas of more easy agreement be among the legislative majorities and Cuomo? What subjects will prove most contentious? What will be left over to the legislative session after the budget?

6. Will the Reproductive Health Act sail through? The Child Victims Act (with what details)? Will marijuana be legalized and if so, what will the regulations look like? Will congestion pricing pass? The Dream Act? Which pieces of gun control will pass? What will the New York Green New Deal look like exactly? Will cash bail be abolished? Will anything be done about plastic bags? Will rent regulations, such as and especially vacancy decontrol, be reformed/eliminated/extended? Will there be hearings and real debate over single-payer health care (the New York Health Act)? Will there be any movement on granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants? Will sweeping voting reforms actually be passed? Will there be strong new state government ethics and campaign finance laws? And so on...

7. Where will the annual fight over education aid land this year? What other key education battles will emerge? Will there be legislation related to teacher evaluations? Will anything happen regarding admissions to New York City’s specialized high schools? Will mayoral control of New York City schools be extended? What will happen with the charter school cap? Will mayoral control be extended to another municipality, like Rochester?

8. How will Andrea Stewart-Cousins perform as Senate Majority Leader and how will the new Senate Democratic majority run the chamber? Which new state senators will set themselves apart?

9. Will the Legislature hold tough oversight hearings? Will there be one on the MTA? Will there be hearings on sexual misconduct in government and the private sector? Will laws meant to prevent sexual misconduct passed in 2018 be strengthened in 2019?

10. How will Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie approach the new world order in Albany? How will Heastie’s relationship with Cuomo evolve? How hard left will the Assembly Democrats push?

11. Will state lawmakers take any significant action to change the outcomes of the decisions of the legislative and executive compensation commission?

12. How will Letitia James perform as Attorney General? Will her efforts to investigate President Donald Trump, his associates and enterprises, show results? Will she be the independent actor she has promised with regard to Governor Cuomo and other elected officials?

13. What next steps will Comptroller Tom DiNapoli take in his management of the state pension fund, especially with regard to fossil fuel companies and the question of divestment? How will DiNapoli approach his oversight role?

14. Who will be the next head of the MTA? Will the MTA be restructured? Can the next MTA chair, Andy Byford, Governor Cuomo and state legislators save the subways? Can they, along with Mayor de Blasio, resuscitate the buses? Will MTA labor and construction costs be reined in? How will the MTA’s capital needs be funded?

15. Can Cuomo and de Blasio work together productively on anything? Many things?

16. Will Mayor de Blasio regain some mojo? Will the mayor put forth new, exciting ideas?

17. Who will be the next Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development? Will there be (m)any high-profile departures of top administration officials?

18. How will de Blasio’s programs evolve and proceed in 2019 -- will he adjust his affordable housing plan further? Will he figure out funding for the BQX by securing the federal dollars he says are needed? Can he again rethink his approach to homelessness to more quickly reduce the number of people living in shelters? Which neighborhoods will the city rezone in 2019?
Will crime continue to drop? Will the city become safer for pedestrians and bicyclists? Will the mayor do anything serious about street congestion?

19. What’s next in the process for Amazon to create a Queens campus? Will there be sustained protests? How will community outreach go? Will there be changes to the deal announced, like some planned return/investment of subsidies? Is there anything opponents, especially in the state Legislature, can do to stop or significantly alter the deal? How will the Cuomo-de Blasio alliance on Amazon evolve? Will they stay united in defense of the project or will the like-mindedness fray given de Blasio’s comments about subsidies?

20. What will be the result of the NYPD trial of Officer Daniel Pantaleo? Will anything larger change in how the NYPD deals with accountability for its officers? Will the state repeal or drastically alter the 50-a section of civil rights law that relates to making officers’ personnel records publicly available?

21. Who will run NYCHA? Will the federal government insert itself in a new, formal way? Will Mayor de Blasio appoint someone new as Chair? Will de Blasio and NYCHA move ahead aggressively with the new NYCHA 2.0 plan that de Blasio and others unveiled at the end of 2018?

22. How will Margaret Garnett perform as Department of Investigation commissioner? Will anything come of the reported investigation into whether Mayor de Blasio or City Hall officials interfered with a city investigation into the education yeshivas provide?

23. Where will things go with oversight of those yeshivas and new state guidelines to ensure they are providing substantially equivalent secular education to public schools?

24. Will anyone do anything about rampant parking placard abuse?

25. Will anything be done to help distressed taxi drivers in the city, especially with regard to medallion debt? What’s next in terms of regulating Uber/Lyft and such companies?

26. How aggressively will the city, the Department of Education and Chancellor Richard Carranza push local school districts to pass rezonings and changes in admissions policies aimed at racial integration? What will happen with de Blasio’s Renewal Schools program? How will the rollout of de Blasio’s “3-K” program proceed?

27. Who will be the next New York City Public Advocate (the election is February 26!)? Who will run in the fall election for that same position?

28. How will Speaker Corey Johnson perform as acting Public Advocate from January 1 to February 27? How else will Johnson make his mark in 2019? Will he give a State of the City speech and announce bold proposals? What will his push for city control of the subways and buses look like? Will the City Council pass bills the Mayor doesn’t agree to? Will it force the Mayor to use his first veto since taking office?

29. What will be the key battles in the next city budget negotiations? Will de Blasio and the City Council take steps to increase savings and reduce spending?

30. What will the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission put on the November ballot? How will those proposals fare? Will there be major overhauls to how New York City does its budgeting and/or land use? Will there be instant-runoff voting?

31. Who will be the next Queens District Attorney? Will there be competitive races in the Bronx or on Staten Island for those two DA positions?

32. Will Chirlane McCray’s political plans become clearer? Will we get any sense of what Mayor de Blasio is eyeing post-mayoralty?

33. What will be the next steps in the early 2021 mayoral campaign -- will Corey Johnson join Scott Stringer, Ruben Diaz, Jr., and Eric Adams as candidates clearly intent on running? Who else might float their names or signal their exploration? Who will take the first steps toward running for City Comptroller in 2021? Who else will emerge as candidates for the various borough president positions? (We know Jimmy Van Bramer is running for Queens BP and Robert Cornegy Jr. is running for Brooklyn BP)

34. Will there be apparent jockeying to become the next City Council Speaker?

35. What steps will Republicans in New York take to remake the party and prepare for future elections? What role will 2018 gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro have moving forward? Can the party develop its bench, and better line candidates up for citywide, statewide, and other key positions? Can it set the groundwork to regain the state Senate in 2020? Will the state party and party leaders rethink their approach to President Trump?

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

This article has been updated.

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35 Questions for New York Politics in 2019 Tue, 01 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
The 10 Most-Read Gotham Gazette Stories of 2018 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8165-the-10-most-read-gotham-gazette-stories-of-2018 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8165-the-10-most-read-gotham-gazette-stories-of-2018 Cuomo Stewart-Cousins Klein

(photo: The Governor's Office)


As 2018 comes to a close, we’re looking back at some of our “best” and most-read articles of the year. In a separate post, we’ll highlight some of the “best” pieces we reported that aren’t among our top ten most-read articles, which are listed below. This list does not include articles like election guides or candidate lists or even our summaries of voter turnout numbers, all of which are often among our most-read posts, as was our article that reported on the mayor's charter revision commission announcing which questions it would put on the November ballot.

The list below also does not include opinion pieces, though several of the op-ed columns that we published this year did qualify in terms of page-views. But this list is for reporting done by Gotham Gazette, and here it is, our ten most-read articles of 2018:

   myrie rally

1. Conflict Escalates Between Working Families Party and Independent Democratic Conference
by Ben Max, March 2018
In late February the Working Families Party announced a series of candidates it was backing to challenge members of the Independent Democratic Conference in state Senate primaries. While a lot changed from February to the September primaries, in the end six WFP-backed candidates defeated members of what had been the eight-member IDC, with the WFP working alongside an extremely organized and energized group of other activists set on unseating IDC members and flipping the state Senate to Democrats.
Read the March article about the WFP escalating its efforts to unseat IDC members.

   marc molinaro

2. In Run for Governor, Marc Molinaro Will Make A Character Argument
by Ben Max, March 2018
As Republican Marc Molinaro launched his campaign for governor, this profile outlined how he would pitch himself to voters as a person of integrity and good leadership, and juxtaposed as such to the image he would portrary of Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Dutchess county executive ran a spirited and earnest campaign, regularly hitting the themes of this initial Gotham Gazette look at his candidacy, which was based on an hourlong interview with Molinaro while he was deciding whether to run or not. In the end, Cuomo dispatched Cynthia Nixon in the Democratic primary, then beat Molinaro and others in the general election, winning a third term.
Read the March article about how Molinaro would present himself to the statewide electorate and his stances on several key issues.

   rezoning de blasio

 3. Questions Arise as De Blasio Administration Rezones Series of Low-Income Neighborhoods
by Sam Raskin, March 2018
Mayor de Blasio's administration has pushed through several neighborhood rezonings aimed at adding housing density, building affordable housing, and making neighborhood improvements. All of them have occurred in low-income neighborhoods, a phenomenon not lost on many. In this piece, we examine the trend and what it means as areas like East New York, East Harlem, and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx are rezoned.
Read the March article about the de Blasio administration's approach to neighborhood rezonings, and which areas of the city appear to be off limits in terms of seeking added housing density.

   cuomo state senate

4. Major Cuomo Supporters Don’t Want a Democratic State Senate
by Ben Brachfeld, April 2018
As Governor Cuomo professed his full support for helping to flip the state Senate to Democrats, this article examined the fact that many of Cuomo's biggest supporters were also supporters of a Republican Senate. The Democratic governor had, after all, himself been seen as supportive of a split Legislature, with Democrats in control of the Assembly, so that he could triangulate, carefully craft which progressive policies he wanted to pass, and keep fiscal restraints in place, while also pushing ahead a charter school and real estate friendly agenda that aligned with his beliefs.
Read the April article outlining the main Cuomo backers who also backed a Republican state Senate.

   cynthia nixon

5. Is Cynthia Nixon Qualified To Be Governor?
by Ashley Hupfl, April 2018
From the moment she declared her candidacy for governor, Cynthia Nixon was dogged by one key question: what makes you qualified to lead the state of New York and run its government? Nixon gave various answers to the question, mostly saying that she had the right values and the right policy plans. In this article, we explored her qualifications and the general question of what makes someone qualified to be governor.
Read the April article discussing Nixon's resume and what it means to be qualified to become governor.

   hamilton adams

6. Senator Facing Tough Primary is Spending $1 Million from Brooklyn Borough President
by Daniel Yadin, August 2018
State Senator Jesse Hamilton, who became a member of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, was the preferred successor to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams when Adams left the Senate to take his borough presidency position. The two close friends remained tight as Hamilton fought for his political life against a variety of forces looking to unseat him and other members of the IDC, and Adams was helpful to Hamilton in an unprecedented move of providing city funds for Hamilton to dedicate to projects in his Senate district.
Read the article that exposed the fact that Senator Hamilton was generously allocated participatory budgeting money by his close ally Borough President Adams as the senator was in a tough reelection campaign that he ultimately lost to Zellnor Myrie.

   corey johnson

7. Now Pursuing Diversity, New City Council Speaker Has Employed Mostly White Men
by Samar Khurshid, January 2018
During the race to become the next speaker of the City Council, questions were raised about diversity in city government leadership given the fact that the mayor and comptroller were both white men, along with top statewide positions. As Corey Johnson won that race, he talked about both the diversity he would bring to the role as an openly gay and HIV positive person, and the diversity he promised he would bring to the Council under his leadership. But a review of Johnson's hiring as a City Council member showed a track record of largely employing white men.
Read the January 2018 article that examined new Speaker Corey Johnson's past staffing demographics and his pledge to hire a diverse staff as speaker amid questions about the elevation of another white man to a powerful city government position.

   klein gjonaj

8. Close Ties Among Bronx Electeds, Campaign Consultants, Lobbyists and Donors
by Jake Shore, October 2018
There are often blurry lines in politics, especially when government and campaigns are concerned, involving lobbyists, consultants, donors, and elected officials who have various relationships. Some of the closest ties in New York politics have included State Senator Jeff Klein and City Council Member Mark Gjonaj, along with consultants and lobbyists who have worked with them, and donors who have given to their campaigns.
Read the October 2018 article that examined the close ties among Klein, Gjonaj, campaign consultants and donors, and others in their orbits.  

   de blasio bratton oneill nypd crime

9. Why Does Crime Keep Falling in New York City?
by Samar Khurshid, January 2018
While New York City has seen decades of declining crime numbers, part of a national and international trend, do we really know why? In this article we explored the theories and the facts about New York City's remarkable crime decline.
Read the January 2018 article that examined the decades-long crime decline in the city, which has continued under Mayor Bill de Blasio, some of the reasons experts provide for the trend, and what can actually be supported by data.

   cuomo vital brooklyn

10. A Closer Look at 'Vital Brooklyn,' Cuomo's Plan for 'One of the Greatest Areas of Need in the Entire State'
by Rachel Holliday Smith, December 2018
Governor Cuomo surprised many people when he first announced in 2017 a state investment of $1.4 billion in Central Brooklyn, with the governor explaining that "Vital Brooklyn" was a program to bring much-needed resources to an area of the city and state with some of the most significant challenges facing New Yorkers, including poor health, bad schools, lack of park space, and more. The program hadn't been a heralded or even named part of the prior state budget deal, but Cuomo explained it as a major initiative and went on to make many Vital Brooklyn announcements, including several in the lead up to the 2018 primary election wherein he was attempting to defeat Cynthia Nixon while relying on a political base including Central Brooklyn voters.
Read the December 2018 article that examines what exactly Vital Brooklyn is, where the money comes from and is going, and how Cuomo has used the program to make those many announcements.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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The 10 Most-Read Gotham Gazette Stories of 2018 Sun, 30 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
WATCH: State Senator-Elect Jessica Ramos on Heading to Albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8155-watch-state-senator-elect-jessica-ramos-on-heading-to-albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8155-watch-state-senator-elect-jessica-ramos-on-heading-to-albany jessica ramos mnn

State Senator-elect Jessica Ramos (photo: Gotham Gazette)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

mnn jessica ramos

Jessica Ramos won an unlikely victory in the Democratic primary to then cruise to victory in the general election and become State Senator-elect for her Queens district that includes neighborhoods like Corona and Jackson Heights. Ramos was part of a wave of challengers who unseated former members of the Senate's Independent Democratic Conference, a group of rogue Democrats who formed a power-sharing coalition with Republicans. As part of Agenda 2019 and on Manhattan Neighborhood Network, Ramos talked with hosts Ben Max and Jarrett Murphy about her top priorities and the new power landscape she's entering in Albany, where she will be part of the new Democratic majority in the Senate, her approach to Governor Andrew Cuomo, and much more. Watch:

 Gotham Gazette:

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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WATCH: State Senator-Elect Jessica Ramos on Heading to Albany Thu, 27 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
WATCH: A Veteran & A Rookie Discuss 2019 Plans for New State Senate Majority http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8154-watch-a-veteran-a-rookie-discuss-2019-plans-for-new-state-senate-majority http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8154-watch-a-veteran-a-rookie-discuss-2019-plans-for-new-state-senate-majority nys senator elect state senate majority deputy leader mnn

(photo: @MNN59)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

mnn js mg

Democrats won control of the State Senate in November and are set to take the majority in January, giving the party full control of state government. Senator Michael Gianaris, soon-to-be deputy leader of the conference, and newly-elected Julia Salazar, who will be the senator representing parts of northern Brooklyn, joined hosts Ben Max and Jarrett Murphy to discuss the year ahead, their individual priorities and where the Democratic majority plans to take the state.

 Gotham Gazette:

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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WATCH: A Veteran & A Rookie Discuss 2019 Plans for New State Senate Majority Thu, 20 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
As We Close Rikers, Criminal Justice Reformers are Ready for Full Partnership in Albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8143-as-we-close-rikers-criminal-justice-reformers-are-ready-for-full-partnership-in-albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8143-as-we-close-rikers-criminal-justice-reformers-are-ready-for-full-partnership-in-albany guards rikers

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

Riding high on the crest of a Democratic blue wave powered by grassroots progressives, New York Democrats finally took back the state Senate for the first time in nearly a decade. With this accomplishment comes a responsibility to finally act upon a long list of priorities that have been stymied by the Republican-controlled upper chamber of the Legislature in Albany.  

Chief among these priorities is criminal justice reform, a topic that the New York City Council has been tackling aggressively for some time. Perhaps the Council’s most ambitious effort in this sphere has been to close all jails on Rikers Island. The decrepit jails on this island embody human misery and tragedy and it is our moral imperative to close them forever.

Any realistic effort to close these jails requires reducing the pretrial detention population, as close to 90 percent of those housed on Rikers are merely accused and not convicted of crimes. While the city has managed to take several bold steps in this area, state action will be required to make the dream of closing Rikers a reality. Over the past few years, our efforts at state reform have been hamstrung by an uncooperative state Senate. Throughout the process, our progressive allies in the Assembly majority and Senate minority voiced support for progressive criminal justice reform but were unable to move key bills to fruition.

Their inability to move legislation through the Senate did not stop some state elected officials from crafting bills that would greatly improve our criminal justice system. This legislation now stands a strong chance of passing once the new Democratic majority sits for the 2019 legislative session.

agenda19v2 aFirst and foremost, bail and speedy trial reform must be prioritized. Both efforts would go a long way towards a more equitable criminal justice system writ large, while lowering the detainee population on Rikers Island. While we here on the City Council have done much to make our bail system fairer, only Albany can implement the deep and systemic reform necessary to make our pretrial detention system truly fair and just. There are a number of bills in the Assembly and Senate that either significantly restrict or eliminate cash bail, encourage the use of monitored release in lieu of detention, and help ensure that pretrial detention is reserved for only the most severe cases. Any of this legislation would go a long way towards fixing what is a fundamentally broken and unfair bail system.

Meanwhile, speedy trial reform is arguably even more important in reducing pretrial detention. Given that close to 90 percent of the jail population is pretrial detainees, cutting the speed with which cases are resolved has a direct and massive impact on the jail population: a 25 percent faster system would mean close to a 25 percent reduction in the jail population. Much like our state’s bail laws, our speedy trial laws are outdated and ineffective, lagging far behind the federal system and other states. As they say, justice delayed is justice denied, so resolving criminal prosecutions faster not only reduces our jail population, it also helps our criminal justice system as a whole. While Senate Democrats tried to push for some minor reforms to our broken speedy trial laws in recent years, our new Senate leaders must be aggressive in tackling this issue.

There are also lesser-discussed issues that could be enormously transformative, such as parole reform. Approximately 16 percent of the population of Rikers Island jails is incarcerated for parole violations, and the state controls this issue in its entirety. According to a report issued by Columbia University’s Justice Lab, the state parolee population is the only jail group that saw an increase in its size over the past four years. Thankfully, Albany is aware of the issue, evident in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State speech, in which he touched on the importance of parole reform. When the new state Legislature convenes in January, it can move to shorten parole terms, incentivize good behavior, and require speedier hearings on these issues.

Though its impact on our jail population may not immediately be apparent, discovery reform should also prove critical in helping the city to run a more just criminal justice system and to close Rikers Island jails. Discovery is the process by which the prosecution provides its evidence to the defense. New York State has among the most restrictive discovery laws in the country. While the issue may seem complex, it is actually fairly simple: since well over 95 percent of criminal prosecutions result in a plea or dismissal, the faster the defense is able to assess the strength of the prosecution’s case, the faster a plea or dismissal can be reached. Luckily, there is already legislation in Albany to ameliorate the situation, and our new leaders should embrace these progressive reforms.  

Over the past several years, we here at the City Council worked hard to bring our criminal justice system into the 21st century. However, there has always been a limit to what we can accomplish without willing partners in Albany. In early January, when our fellow Democrats in the state Senate take their seats as the new majority and work with the Democratic majority in the Assembly, the possibilities for progressive criminal justice reform will widen tremendously.

The progressive activists who helped make Democratic victories a reality in November will be watching the new Legislature closely. It is imperative that our state elected officials finally act to create a criminal justice system in New York that reflects our values as a state and a city.

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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Diana Ayala, Margaret Chin, and Stephen Levin are members of the New York City Council, representing parts of the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn, and members of the Council’s Progressive Caucus. Their districts are all slated to be home to new or larger jails as Rikers Island facilities are closed. On Twitter @DianaAyalaNYC & @CM_MargaretChin & @StephenLevin33.

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

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As We Close Rikers, Criminal Justice Reformers are Ready for Full Partnership in Albany Sun, 16 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000