Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/state-legislature 2018-12-12T07:39:44+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Commission Recommends Pay Increases and Ethics Reforms for State Legislators 2018-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8125-commission-recommends-pay-increases-and-ethics-reforms-for-state-legislators Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/senatechamberalbany2.jpg" alt="senatechamberalbany2" /></p> <p>(Photo via Wiki Commons)</p> <hr /> <p>Statewide elected officials, legislators and agency heads are slated to get pay raises next year following recommendations issued Thursday by a four-member panel that was created in this year’s state budget.</p> <p>The New York State Compensation Committee voted on Thursday to raise the salaries of legislators for the first time in nearly twenty years, as well as for the four statewide offices and for executive agency commissioners. The committee will publicly release a report and deliver it to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature on Monday outlining their binding recommendations on phasing in the salary increases over three years, accompanied by certain ethics reform measures. The raises will go into effect by January 1 unless the state legislature meets and rejects them.</p> <p>The committee -- which included State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former State Comptroller and SUNY Board Chair Carl McCall, and former New York City Comptroller and CUNY Board Chair Bill Thompson -- was created in the state budget to determine an appropriate raise for legislators, based on cost of living and on salaries for legislators in other states. The current base pay for state legislators stands at $79,500 and has remained unchanged since 1999.</p> <p>Per the panel’s unanimous recommendations, salaries for legislators will be raised to $130,000 by 2021, with lawmakers set to receive $110,000 in 2019 and $120,000 in 2020. The commission also recommended limiting outside income for legislators to 15 percent of their salary, in line with the rules for members of Congress, and the elimination of committee stipends -- commonly referred to as lulus -- for all but the top leadership in both legislative chambers.</p> <p>“I think in looking at the fact that they haven’t had a raise in twenty years...when you talk about the issues of fairness, it is not the right thing,” Thompson said, arguing that the idea that legislators only work part-time is a mischaracterization due to their in-district work. The limits on outside income will take effect in 2020, because, according to McCall, legislators would need time to disengage from their outside income-generating activities and could not do so right away.</p> <p>The panel also endorsed raising the governor’s salary to $250,000 by 2021, up from the current $179,000. The lieutenant governor, attorney general, and state comptroller, each of whom currently make $151,000, will see their pay rise to $210,000 salary by 2021. DiNapoli recused himself from that vote.</p> <p>The pay raise committee was originally meant to be chaired by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, but DiFiore announced in May that she would not serve because she believed a judge determining legislative pay was unconstitutional. The broader constitutionality of the committee has also been challenged, as it is still unclear whether a pay raise can be authorized by outside officials or if it must be approved by the legislature. The panel members, however, insisted that their recommendations are enforceable for all their proposals except the raises for the governor and lieutenant governor, which must be approved by a joint resolution of the legislature. They also maintained that tying the raises to an outside income limitation and curbing committee stipends was within their authority, which could potentially invite legal challenges going forward.</p> <p>When the salary raises are fully implemented by 2021, New York will surpass California and have the highest-paid governor and legislature in the nation. McCall noted that coupling the pay increase with outside income limitations would also quell the discontent New Yorkers feel about giving raises to a legislature that has long been marred by scandal and corruption. “We really have to make sure that we send the signals to the public about how serious they are about doing their job and doing it well,” McCall said.</p> <p>For executive agency heads, the panel proposed four classes of salary, a decrease from the current six, which will be assigned depending on the agency. By 2021, commissioners in the top class will make $220,000 and commissioners in the bottom class will make $170,000.</p> <p>Legislative leaders have expressed support for the panel’s recommendations. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced her support for the measure on Thursday, hours before the meeting, while also concurrently declaring support for ethics reform. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie testified to the Commission last week in favor of the raise, noting that legislators have financial strains similar to their constituents. “They too must finance college loans, meet the cost of child care, and provide for the wellbeing of elderly parents and loved ones at home,” Heastie said. He further argued that, because so many legislators live in the expensive New York City metro area, a pay raise was warranted to more adequately reflect the high cost of living here.</p> <p>The New York Public Interest Research Group, which advocates for government reform, was skeptical of the panel’s recommendations, pushing for a more comprehensive set of “corruption-busting” reforms. “While we agree that the Congressional model is appropriate to regulate legislators’ outside income, advancing a reform in this area alone is inadequate,” said NYPIRG’s Blair Horner, in a statement. “We note that the ethical problems that have plagued the state have not been limited to the legislative branch. Given the stunning pay-to-play scandals that have rocked government, reforms in that area must be addressed. Failure to do so highlights the inadequacy of the reform package.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/senatechamberalbany2.jpg" alt="senatechamberalbany2" /></p> <p>(Photo via Wiki Commons)</p> <hr /> <p>Statewide elected officials, legislators and agency heads are slated to get pay raises next year following recommendations issued Thursday by a four-member panel that was created in this year’s state budget.</p> <p>The New York State Compensation Committee voted on Thursday to raise the salaries of legislators for the first time in nearly twenty years, as well as for the four statewide offices and for executive agency commissioners. The committee will publicly release a report and deliver it to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature on Monday outlining their binding recommendations on phasing in the salary increases over three years, accompanied by certain ethics reform measures. The raises will go into effect by January 1 unless the state legislature meets and rejects them.</p> <p>The committee -- which included State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former State Comptroller and SUNY Board Chair Carl McCall, and former New York City Comptroller and CUNY Board Chair Bill Thompson -- was created in the state budget to determine an appropriate raise for legislators, based on cost of living and on salaries for legislators in other states. The current base pay for state legislators stands at $79,500 and has remained unchanged since 1999.</p> <p>Per the panel’s unanimous recommendations, salaries for legislators will be raised to $130,000 by 2021, with lawmakers set to receive $110,000 in 2019 and $120,000 in 2020. The commission also recommended limiting outside income for legislators to 15 percent of their salary, in line with the rules for members of Congress, and the elimination of committee stipends -- commonly referred to as lulus -- for all but the top leadership in both legislative chambers.</p> <p>“I think in looking at the fact that they haven’t had a raise in twenty years...when you talk about the issues of fairness, it is not the right thing,” Thompson said, arguing that the idea that legislators only work part-time is a mischaracterization due to their in-district work. The limits on outside income will take effect in 2020, because, according to McCall, legislators would need time to disengage from their outside income-generating activities and could not do so right away.</p> <p>The panel also endorsed raising the governor’s salary to $250,000 by 2021, up from the current $179,000. The lieutenant governor, attorney general, and state comptroller, each of whom currently make $151,000, will see their pay rise to $210,000 salary by 2021. DiNapoli recused himself from that vote.</p> <p>The pay raise committee was originally meant to be chaired by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, but DiFiore announced in May that she would not serve because she believed a judge determining legislative pay was unconstitutional. The broader constitutionality of the committee has also been challenged, as it is still unclear whether a pay raise can be authorized by outside officials or if it must be approved by the legislature. The panel members, however, insisted that their recommendations are enforceable for all their proposals except the raises for the governor and lieutenant governor, which must be approved by a joint resolution of the legislature. They also maintained that tying the raises to an outside income limitation and curbing committee stipends was within their authority, which could potentially invite legal challenges going forward.</p> <p>When the salary raises are fully implemented by 2021, New York will surpass California and have the highest-paid governor and legislature in the nation. McCall noted that coupling the pay increase with outside income limitations would also quell the discontent New Yorkers feel about giving raises to a legislature that has long been marred by scandal and corruption. “We really have to make sure that we send the signals to the public about how serious they are about doing their job and doing it well,” McCall said.</p> <p>For executive agency heads, the panel proposed four classes of salary, a decrease from the current six, which will be assigned depending on the agency. By 2021, commissioners in the top class will make $220,000 and commissioners in the bottom class will make $170,000.</p> <p>Legislative leaders have expressed support for the panel’s recommendations. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced her support for the measure on Thursday, hours before the meeting, while also concurrently declaring support for ethics reform. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie testified to the Commission last week in favor of the raise, noting that legislators have financial strains similar to their constituents. “They too must finance college loans, meet the cost of child care, and provide for the wellbeing of elderly parents and loved ones at home,” Heastie said. He further argued that, because so many legislators live in the expensive New York City metro area, a pay raise was warranted to more adequately reflect the high cost of living here.</p> <p>The New York Public Interest Research Group, which advocates for government reform, was skeptical of the panel’s recommendations, pushing for a more comprehensive set of “corruption-busting” reforms. “While we agree that the Congressional model is appropriate to regulate legislators’ outside income, advancing a reform in this area alone is inadequate,” said NYPIRG’s Blair Horner, in a statement. “We note that the ethical problems that have plagued the state have not been limited to the legislative branch. Given the stunning pay-to-play scandals that have rocked government, reforms in that area must be addressed. Failure to do so highlights the inadequacy of the reform package.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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</p>
WATCH: Agenda 2019: Movement Expected on Reform, But What Will It Look Like? 2018-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8119-watch-agenda-2019-movement-expected-on-reform-but-what-will-it-look-like Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mnn-agenda-ep2.jpg" alt="mnn agenda ep2" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: @MNN59)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mnn59-agenda-ep2.jpg" alt="mnn59 agenda ep2" width="194" height="181" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />As part of Agenda 2019, the project from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, hosts Ben Max and Jarrett Murphy were joined on Manhattan Neighborhood Network by State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, and Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, to discuss reform issues and the year ahead. Topics included voting and election reform, government ethics reform, and campaign finance reform. Krueger's new Democratic majority in the state Senate are pledging to work with the Democratic Assembly majority and Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo to usher through a long list of stalled reforms, but what will actually get done? And what should it look like? Watch:</p> <p><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Z-NHHZpuvcA" width="560" height="315" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " width="261" height="131" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mnn-agenda-ep2.jpg" alt="mnn agenda ep2" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: @MNN59)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mnn59-agenda-ep2.jpg" alt="mnn59 agenda ep2" width="194" height="181" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />As part of Agenda 2019, the project from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, hosts Ben Max and Jarrett Murphy were joined on Manhattan Neighborhood Network by State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, and Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, to discuss reform issues and the year ahead. Topics included voting and election reform, government ethics reform, and campaign finance reform. Krueger's new Democratic majority in the state Senate are pledging to work with the Democratic Assembly majority and Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo to usher through a long list of stalled reforms, but what will actually get done? And what should it look like? Watch:</p> <p><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Z-NHHZpuvcA" width="560" height="315" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " width="261" height="131" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Agenda 2019: High Hopes for Long-Awaited Reforms 2018-12-03T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-03T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8117-agenda-2019-high-hopes-for-long-awaited-reforms Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/41505108962_8856f0a733_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo democracy protection" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo signs legislation (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>The 2018 election cycle in New York laid bare the myriad failings of the state’s political system that advocates and reform-minded elected officials have long recognized. Several candidates, many in it for the first time, ran competitive races on the backs of small dollar donors while highlighting the lax campaign finance laws that allow wealthy interests to fund campaigns across the state. Corruption in government and ethics reforms were salient issues, particularly so in the gubernatorial and attorney general races. In New York City, chaotic Election Day administration brought renewed scrutiny to the long mismanaged Board of Elections as well as the state’s arcane voting and elections laws. And voters, for the first time in a long time, seemed to be paying attention to it all.</p> <p>“There is a tremendous amount of demand for democracy reforms,” said Sarah Goff, associate director at Common Cause New York, a government reform advocacy group. “The state Legislature has the unique opportunity, with the dramatic shift in landscape, to prove to voters that they got the message.”</p> <p>As Democrats won full control of the state Legislature and, yet again, the governorship on November 6, government reform advocates like Goff rejoiced. After years of legislative paralysis on their priorities -- aided in no small part by Republican obstructionism and abetted somewhat by lackluster Democratic commitment -- a slew of election, campaign finance, and other reforms now seem all but assured to pass in 2019 (though few are counting any chickens before they hatch).</p> <p>Democrats who overwhelmingly controlled the Assembly have been approving measures for years that would open up elections, limit the power of big money, and create more accountability in government. The party now also controls the state Senate for the first time in nearly a decade and with a strong margin that is likely immune to the internal divisions that cost Democrats the chamber in the past. Democratic leaders -- Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and newly-minted Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins -- made concrete promises on the campaign trail and will no longer have any excuses for failing to follow through on professed priorities like early voting, lower individual campaign donation limits, and a public-matching campaign finance program -- among several others.</p> <p>“The Governor will continue to lead the fight to strengthen our democracy and restore confidence in government by advancing additional ethics and voting reforms, including but not limited to closing the LLC loophole, restricting outside income, creating a full-time legislature, expanding financial disclosure requirements, and instituting early voting and automatic and same-day voter registration,” said Hazel Crampton-Hays, a Cuomo spokesperson in an email. “We look forward to working with the Assembly and new Senate Democratic Majority to pass these critical priorities this session.”</p> <p>Most of the broad election and voting reforms that Democrats are promising are also backed by the new Fair Elections for New York coalition, comprised of 91 organizations including government reform groups, political clubs, labor unions, faith-based organizations, and grassroots advocates fighting for everything from immigration and tenant reform to environmental protections. It’s an eclectic alliance that brings together both partisan and nonpartisan groups because, they say, they recognize that strengthening New York’s democracy is the first domino in improving, on multiple fronts, the everyday lives of New Yorkers.</p> <p>“The need for an overhaul of New York’s voting and campaign financing system is apparent and well documented,” the coalition members wrote in <a href="https://fairelectionsny.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Fair-Elections-Letter.pdf">a letter sent Monday</a>, November 26, to the governor and state Legislature. “It is inherently inequitable, unfair and allows an exorbitant amount of power to be concentrated in the hands of the very few wealthy and well-connected.”</p> <p>“I think this is going to be one of the most productive sessions in the history of New York State,” State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who will be deputy majority leader to Stewart-Cousins starting in January, told Gotham Gazette after an unrelated news conference in City Hall Park.</p> <p>Still, pushing through a long list of reforms, some more controversial than others, will not be easy. There are many details to work out, and some politically contentious issues to decide, starting with whether legislators will get a pay raise for the first time in two decades, and whether there will be clear agreement on ethics reforms to accompany such a raise. While there seems to be widespread agreement on passing early voting, will partisan lawmakers take on restructuring the New York City Board of Elections, a move that would likely happen in spite of protests from local party affiliates? These are just a few of the many questions that face Democrats in state government, starting with the governor, as the 2019 session looms.</p> <p>“This isn’t just a moment that’s happening in New York State,” said Joanna Zdanys, counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, which is part of the Fair Elections coalition. “I think that the election this November showed that democracy reform is a major priority in jurisdictions small and larger across the country, on the local level as well as the national stage.”</p> <p><strong>Voting Reform</strong><br />Voter turnout <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8056-voter-turnout-booms-in-new-york">surged</a> in New York in both the September primary and the November general. More than 45.6 percent of registered New Yorkers cast a vote on November 6, up from 33.2 percent in 2014, largely driven by a “blue wave” of Democratic voters incensed and energized since the election of President Donald Trump. But turnout has, more often than not, been anaemic in past elections. In the 2016 presidential, for instance, New York ranked 41 out of 50 states for turnout.</p> <p>Advocates say these dismal numbers owe to “passive voter suppression” stemming from the state’s outdated voting laws. New York is one of only 13 states that do not allow early voting, and registration and party enrollment deadlines are needlessly long, all serving to limit, intentionally or not, participation in elections.</p> <p>There have been a few incremental efforts at the state and city levels to expand and protect the franchise, but larger reforms have been blocked by the Republican Senate while Democrats like Cuomo and Heastie have kept them on the backburner in terms of policies they’ve pushed to bring Senate Republicans along during annual compromises.</p> <p>Governor Cuomo also <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-executive-order-restore-voting-rights-new-yorkers-parole">signed an executive order</a> in April restoring voting rights to parolees (Those on probation were already allowed to vote). The New York City Council pushed that measure further by passing a law mandating that individuals released from city jails be given a written notice about their voting rights and a voter registration form. The Council has taken other steps as well, expanding access to interpreters at polling sites in immigrant-rich communities.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio attempted to leave his own imprint on the voting system by launching the <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/democracy.page">DemocracyNYC initiative</a>, which includes a ten-point plan to encourage more voters to register, to ease access to the polls, and to provide more transparency around lobbyist activities and civic education in city schools, among other measures.</p> <p>A larger package of reforms that advocates want and that can bring substantive change has repeatedly failed in the Senate and when Democrats take the chamber in the upcoming legislative session in January, they have pledged quick movement on seeing at least some of them through. These include automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, no-excuse absentee ballots, electronic pollbooks, shortening party (change of) enrollment deadlines (which are the longest in the country) and pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds.</p> <p>However, the first item that’s likely to pass is early voting. Ahead of state budget negotiations this year, Cuomo proposed funding an 12-day early voting program and the measure did not budge. What many see as the pressing need to implement early voting was bolstered after the Election Day debacle in New York City, where higher turnout, a complicated ballot design, bad weather, aging ballot scanning equipment and a lack of preparedness by the city BOE together created long lines at the polls and frustrated voters and elected officials. Early voting, government reformers agreed, would have preempted those issues, though turnout was not so high that the system should have buckled under conditions that did not include the weather-ballot combination. Still, early voting, which exists in more than three dozen states, is also seen as an issue of equity and fairness, giving people the opportunity to vote on multiple days, which is especially relevant for those with little control of their work schedules, among others.</p> <p>“I think there will definitely be a very clear consequential order to how things move and a clear cadence from where we sit and where the coalition sits,” Goff of Common Cause said. “Early voting is a easy no-brainer, this can easily be done in the first 30 days. We are...very optimistic that this will happen very quickly.”</p> <p><strong>Elections and Campaign Finance Reform</strong><br />Earlier this year, in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, the state Legislature passed and the governor signed the New York State Democracy Protection Act, which instituted new regulations for online political advertisements including disclosure of who purchased them and requiring the BOE to archive all online ads.</p> <p>While those were <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7623-cuomo-touts-political-ad-transparency-law-as-other-reforms-languish">lauded as important measures</a> to provide more transparency in campaign expenditures, it’s on the fundraising side that things remain opaque, and reformers say the state’s laws need substantive improvement. A significant proportion of campaign contributions flow to candidates through limited liability companies, which are not required to disclose their owners and can help individuals and corporate entities evade limits on donations (which are already far too high, many argue). The LLC loophole is, perhaps, the most derided aspect of state elections and one that both Democrats and Republicans exploit, though it has most benefited Cuomo and Senate Republicans, two entities most friendly to real estate interests, which are often behind the creation of LLCs.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“Corporations shouldn’t be allowed to buy elections,” said Julissa Bisono, lead organizer at Make the Road New York, an immigrant-advocacy group and another Fair Elections coalition member. “Every year we are up in Albany fighting on housing, fighting on more funding for our schools and it’s just been really difficult to pass legislation because big corporations are contributing money to these elected officials...so that they will block legislation that would affect low income communities, and communities of color.”</p> <p>Cuomo, <a href="https://citylimits.org/2018/09/07/coming-to-grips-with-the-two-decade-deluge-of-llc-money-into-new-yorks-democracy/">the biggest beneficiary</a> of LLC donations in recent election cycles, has repeatedly vowed to close it but did not put significant political capital&nbsp;into doing so, blaming Senate Republicans for blocking the legislation. Next year, that is expected to change as the governor has made it among his top priorities and Democrats will take control of the Senate having run on the issue.</p> <p>Democratic control over both the Assembly and Senate also bolsters the odds of the state adopting a public campaign financing program, possibly similar to New York City’s voluntary program that matches small dollar donations with public funds to help level the playing field for candidates. A pilot program for the state comptroller race in 2014 <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7428-four-years-later-2014-state-campaign-finance-pilot-all-but-forgotten">failed to gain any traction</a> but there has been renewed attention in this last cycle to campaign financing and how it determines not only who is elected to office but what legislation eventually makes it through the Legislature.</p> <p>“There is absolutely no excuse not to get rid of the LLC loophole and no excuse not to bring publicly financed campaigns to a vote,” said Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, in an email. Teachout unsuccessfully ran in the gubernatorial primary in 2014 and in the attorney general primary this year, both times emphasizing the need to tackle rampant corruption in state politics, starting with campaign finance reform. “If there are people out there who oppose publicly financed campaigns, we need to know now and be ready to primary them,” she added.</p> <p>There are other ways that New York can also tweak election management to encourage both turnout and efficient administration. This year, the state held two primaries, one in June for congressional races and the September primary for state races. Advocates have repeatedly pointed out that multiple primary elections both confuse voters and lead to fatigue, questioning why the state Legislature would spend more money on separate ones instead of consolidating them to be held on a single day.</p> <p>The New York City BOE’s election fiasco has also prompted calls for reforming the agency, which is funded by the city but is technically a state entity. The City Council and Mayor de Blasio have sought to improve the board’s functioning by professionalizing its staff and reducing the influence of partisan appointees, though there is little enthusiasm even among Democrats for removing the county political parties from nominating BOE commissioners. The Board is under no obligation to heed the city’s authority.</p> <p>“We see it every election day, that the board of elections is in desperate need of reform,” Gianaris said. “Once we have an elections committee chair which should be in the next couple of weeks, that should be something we focus on pretty aggressively.”</p> <p><strong>Ethics Reform</strong><br />Good government advocates are looking to the New York City Council as an exemplar of the types of reforms that the state Legislature should pass. In 2016, Council members voted to give themselves, and other city elected officials, significant pay raises. But at the same time, the Council banned almost all types of outside income for members, eliminated committee chair stipends, also known as lulus (which were open to abuse as reward and punishment and salary padding), and improved financial disclosure requirements.</p> <p>“Albany should look to all the things we’ve gotten done in the City Council over the past five years,” said City Council Member Ben Kallos, who previously chaired the governmental operations committee and helped lead the reform effort, “and it starts with no outside income, no more lulus, campaign finance reform...I believe that those three things would help clean up a lot of the corruption in Albany.”</p> <p>To the dismay of good government groups and activists, however, the governor and Legislature have repeatedly wrestled over ethics reform with little to show for it. Cuomo infamously came to power promising that he would clean up Albany but later shut down the Moreland Commission that he had set up to fulfil that very pledge in the face of a resistant Legislature that kept seeing its members hauled off to jail. The compromise Cuomo struck with the Legislature created the state-run Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which many have criticized for being an inefficient agency with too-close ties to the governor and legislative leaders, who appoint its members.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " width="261" height="131" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>Democrats who ran for attorney general either called for scrapping JCOPE or restructuring it. Even Cuomo conceded, in his general election debate with Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, that he would like to see a more independent JCOPE, which oversees ethical behavior in state government. Cuomo suggested that there could be different ways its members are appointed, but did not put forth a concrete proposal.</p> <p>And though he was initially silent when the state Board of Elections proposed new rules that could curb the powers of its own enforcement counsel, Risa Sugarman, who investigates campaign finance wrongdoing, the governor did criticize the BOE when the rules were later approved.</p> <p>Cuomo has insisted, and reform advocates agree, that state legislators should work fulltime and that outside income should be limited or prohibited while financial disclosure requirements should be expanded. It was outside income that was central to the recent corruption convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican.</p> <p>But the governor sought to convince the Legislature to pass those ethics reform by leveraging the work of a state commission created in 2015 to look at pay raises for state elected officials. Legislators have not received a pay bump since 1999 and Cuomo said they shouldn’t unless they approved new reforms. That commission came to a contentious end with Cuomo’s appointees <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6625-state-pay-commission-implodes-as-cuomo-appointees-effectively-kill-salary-increases">effectively killing</a> any chance of increasing compensation for legislators.</p> <p>This year, Cuomo and the Legislature again empanelled a pay raise commission through the state budget and it has already been <a href="https://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/pay-raise-albany-commission-1.23487143">beset with troubles</a> over the constitutionality of its composition. But, it is set to issue binding recommendations that would go into effect unless the Legislature meets to vote them down -- in effect, lawmakers set up a system that would give them raises with their fingerprints removed. But, there is also controversy around pay raises without agreements to accompanying reforms, something legislative leaders have resisted.</p> <p>Another significant step towards accountability in Albany could happen under the attorney general’s office. During the Democratic primary, the four candidates agreed that the attorney general must be able to independently investigate state officials, which the office can currently only do in most cases after receiving a referral from the governor or another entity with that power, such as a local U.S. Attorney or even the state comptroller, in some instances. All the candidates agreed that the office should have a permanent, standing referral to do so and Attorney General-elect Letitia James has promised to immediately seek that authority after taking office. Still, it is something that then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo called for when he was in the role but has not provided since becoming governor himself.</p> <p><strong>One Charter, Two Commissions</strong><br />New York City voters overwhelmingly <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8073-next-steps-for-3-city-charter-revisions-passed-election-day">approved three ballot measures</a> on November 6, which lowered campaign contribution limits, imposed term limits on community boards, and created a new civic engagement commission that will also work to improve and report on poll site interpretation services.</p> <p>But more sweeping changes may lie on the horizon. The three 2018 referenda were placed on the ballot by a Charter Revision Commission empaneled by mayoral fiat. A separate commission was created soon after through City Council legislation with appointees chosen by the mayor, the Council speaker, the public advocate, the comptroller, and the five borough presidents. That commission is taking a far more expansive look at the city’s governing document and the powers and responsibilities it delineates to the different parts of city government.</p> <p>As envisioned by Letitia James and Gale Brewer, who proposed the initial legislation, the commission could alter the structure of city government in a way that hasn’t been done since 1989 by a previous commission. “I think the Charter Revision Commission will really be the biggest place where we talk about what the functions of government are” said City Council Member Keith Powers, “how do the mayor and the City Council interact with each other, what agencies should be empowered here, how to do budgeting, things like that.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7990-elected-officials-present-broad-proposals-to-2019-charter-revision-commission">Elected Officials Present Broad Proposals to 2019 Charter Revision Commission</a>]</p> <p>The 2019 commission appears to be looking at budget and land use processes, and may also take up two prominent issues that the mayor’s commission punted on -- <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8062-with-nod-from-de-blasio-and-push-from-johnson-momentum-for-ranked-choice-voting-in-new-york-city">instant runoff voting</a>, also known as ranked choice voting, and setting up a system of independent redistricting of City Council districts.</p> <p><strong>Rules of the Room</strong><br />Under City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and his predecessor, Melissa Mark-Viverito, the 51-member legislative body has passed a series of reforms and rules changes to give more power to members, create more transparency in how bills become law, and improved the internal culture of the Council. While Mark-Viverito did so through formal rules reforms, Johnson has <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7726-johnson-makes-series-of-city-council-changes-but-sidelines-formal-rules-reforms">made more administrative changes</a> in keeping with some promises he made while running for speaker, though he has yet to move on others.</p> <p>Reformers say that must happen in Albany as well. Under Cuomo, the Legislature has passed eight on-time or nearly-on-time budgets, but to do so, the governor has repeatedly employed a mechanism called a “message of necessity” that allows rushed votes on massive packages of legislation with little to no public review or debate. The entire process draws the ire of some legislators and virtually all reform advocates each year.</p> <p>“We would love to see this year’s state Legislature no longer do these end of session big uglies,” Goff said, referring to the omnibus legislative package regularly passed at the end of the legislative session, “where ethics reform is crammed in at the last minute at 4 a.m. behind closed doors, and sort of gets carted out with minimal conversation and public engagement.” She hoped that the newly elected progressive Democrats, first-time legislators many of them, will help “crack some of the calcified power structure and culture in Albany.”</p> <p>Teachout argued for democratizing the Legislature, as did Assembly minority leader Brian Kolb, a reform-minded Republican.</p> <p>“We should allow for a simple majority of members to bring any bill to the floor for consideration and a vote, regardless of leadership objections,” Teachout said. “For too long, Albany is where responsibility goes to die -- electeds say they support one thing, but without a public vote, we don't know what they are saying behind closed doors.”</p> <p>Kolb drew a parallel between Democrats in the House of Representatives and in the state Senate. Both chambers returned to Democratic control in the midterms, with young, first-time electeds who are now leading calls for empowering rank-and-file members. He said term limits were necessary, for leadership and committee chairs, for that to happen. “[B]ecause that’s where power becomes basically consolidated as people get to stay in these positions for a long, long time,” he said. “We think that there should be a change to that process that would break up the monopoly of power. And of course...any statewide legislative negotiations should include the minority party in both houses of the legislature, whether it’s the budget or anything else that matters.”</p> <p>There are indication that, at least in the State Senate, there may be a culture shift. “There has been a lot of justified criticism of Albany that it’s too driven by the leadership and people don’t have a say,” Gianaris said. “We have 15 new members, I think [Majority Leader] Andrea Stewart-Cousins has made it clear that she intends to talk to all those members and make sure we have consensus on whatever we’re going to do.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article incorrectly stated that the governor and the state legislature appoint the executive director of JCOPE. They only appoint its commissioners. The article has been updated. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/41505108962_8856f0a733_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo democracy protection" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo signs legislation (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>The 2018 election cycle in New York laid bare the myriad failings of the state’s political system that advocates and reform-minded elected officials have long recognized. Several candidates, many in it for the first time, ran competitive races on the backs of small dollar donors while highlighting the lax campaign finance laws that allow wealthy interests to fund campaigns across the state. Corruption in government and ethics reforms were salient issues, particularly so in the gubernatorial and attorney general races. In New York City, chaotic Election Day administration brought renewed scrutiny to the long mismanaged Board of Elections as well as the state’s arcane voting and elections laws. And voters, for the first time in a long time, seemed to be paying attention to it all.</p> <p>“There is a tremendous amount of demand for democracy reforms,” said Sarah Goff, associate director at Common Cause New York, a government reform advocacy group. “The state Legislature has the unique opportunity, with the dramatic shift in landscape, to prove to voters that they got the message.”</p> <p>As Democrats won full control of the state Legislature and, yet again, the governorship on November 6, government reform advocates like Goff rejoiced. After years of legislative paralysis on their priorities -- aided in no small part by Republican obstructionism and abetted somewhat by lackluster Democratic commitment -- a slew of election, campaign finance, and other reforms now seem all but assured to pass in 2019 (though few are counting any chickens before they hatch).</p> <p>Democrats who overwhelmingly controlled the Assembly have been approving measures for years that would open up elections, limit the power of big money, and create more accountability in government. The party now also controls the state Senate for the first time in nearly a decade and with a strong margin that is likely immune to the internal divisions that cost Democrats the chamber in the past. Democratic leaders -- Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and newly-minted Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins -- made concrete promises on the campaign trail and will no longer have any excuses for failing to follow through on professed priorities like early voting, lower individual campaign donation limits, and a public-matching campaign finance program -- among several others.</p> <p>“The Governor will continue to lead the fight to strengthen our democracy and restore confidence in government by advancing additional ethics and voting reforms, including but not limited to closing the LLC loophole, restricting outside income, creating a full-time legislature, expanding financial disclosure requirements, and instituting early voting and automatic and same-day voter registration,” said Hazel Crampton-Hays, a Cuomo spokesperson in an email. “We look forward to working with the Assembly and new Senate Democratic Majority to pass these critical priorities this session.”</p> <p>Most of the broad election and voting reforms that Democrats are promising are also backed by the new Fair Elections for New York coalition, comprised of 91 organizations including government reform groups, political clubs, labor unions, faith-based organizations, and grassroots advocates fighting for everything from immigration and tenant reform to environmental protections. It’s an eclectic alliance that brings together both partisan and nonpartisan groups because, they say, they recognize that strengthening New York’s democracy is the first domino in improving, on multiple fronts, the everyday lives of New Yorkers.</p> <p>“The need for an overhaul of New York’s voting and campaign financing system is apparent and well documented,” the coalition members wrote in <a href="https://fairelectionsny.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Fair-Elections-Letter.pdf">a letter sent Monday</a>, November 26, to the governor and state Legislature. “It is inherently inequitable, unfair and allows an exorbitant amount of power to be concentrated in the hands of the very few wealthy and well-connected.”</p> <p>“I think this is going to be one of the most productive sessions in the history of New York State,” State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who will be deputy majority leader to Stewart-Cousins starting in January, told Gotham Gazette after an unrelated news conference in City Hall Park.</p> <p>Still, pushing through a long list of reforms, some more controversial than others, will not be easy. There are many details to work out, and some politically contentious issues to decide, starting with whether legislators will get a pay raise for the first time in two decades, and whether there will be clear agreement on ethics reforms to accompany such a raise. While there seems to be widespread agreement on passing early voting, will partisan lawmakers take on restructuring the New York City Board of Elections, a move that would likely happen in spite of protests from local party affiliates? These are just a few of the many questions that face Democrats in state government, starting with the governor, as the 2019 session looms.</p> <p>“This isn’t just a moment that’s happening in New York State,” said Joanna Zdanys, counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, which is part of the Fair Elections coalition. “I think that the election this November showed that democracy reform is a major priority in jurisdictions small and larger across the country, on the local level as well as the national stage.”</p> <p><strong>Voting Reform</strong><br />Voter turnout <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8056-voter-turnout-booms-in-new-york">surged</a> in New York in both the September primary and the November general. More than 45.6 percent of registered New Yorkers cast a vote on November 6, up from 33.2 percent in 2014, largely driven by a “blue wave” of Democratic voters incensed and energized since the election of President Donald Trump. But turnout has, more often than not, been anaemic in past elections. In the 2016 presidential, for instance, New York ranked 41 out of 50 states for turnout.</p> <p>Advocates say these dismal numbers owe to “passive voter suppression” stemming from the state’s outdated voting laws. New York is one of only 13 states that do not allow early voting, and registration and party enrollment deadlines are needlessly long, all serving to limit, intentionally or not, participation in elections.</p> <p>There have been a few incremental efforts at the state and city levels to expand and protect the franchise, but larger reforms have been blocked by the Republican Senate while Democrats like Cuomo and Heastie have kept them on the backburner in terms of policies they’ve pushed to bring Senate Republicans along during annual compromises.</p> <p>Governor Cuomo also <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-executive-order-restore-voting-rights-new-yorkers-parole">signed an executive order</a> in April restoring voting rights to parolees (Those on probation were already allowed to vote). The New York City Council pushed that measure further by passing a law mandating that individuals released from city jails be given a written notice about their voting rights and a voter registration form. The Council has taken other steps as well, expanding access to interpreters at polling sites in immigrant-rich communities.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio attempted to leave his own imprint on the voting system by launching the <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/democracy.page">DemocracyNYC initiative</a>, which includes a ten-point plan to encourage more voters to register, to ease access to the polls, and to provide more transparency around lobbyist activities and civic education in city schools, among other measures.</p> <p>A larger package of reforms that advocates want and that can bring substantive change has repeatedly failed in the Senate and when Democrats take the chamber in the upcoming legislative session in January, they have pledged quick movement on seeing at least some of them through. These include automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, no-excuse absentee ballots, electronic pollbooks, shortening party (change of) enrollment deadlines (which are the longest in the country) and pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds.</p> <p>However, the first item that’s likely to pass is early voting. Ahead of state budget negotiations this year, Cuomo proposed funding an 12-day early voting program and the measure did not budge. What many see as the pressing need to implement early voting was bolstered after the Election Day debacle in New York City, where higher turnout, a complicated ballot design, bad weather, aging ballot scanning equipment and a lack of preparedness by the city BOE together created long lines at the polls and frustrated voters and elected officials. Early voting, government reformers agreed, would have preempted those issues, though turnout was not so high that the system should have buckled under conditions that did not include the weather-ballot combination. Still, early voting, which exists in more than three dozen states, is also seen as an issue of equity and fairness, giving people the opportunity to vote on multiple days, which is especially relevant for those with little control of their work schedules, among others.</p> <p>“I think there will definitely be a very clear consequential order to how things move and a clear cadence from where we sit and where the coalition sits,” Goff of Common Cause said. “Early voting is a easy no-brainer, this can easily be done in the first 30 days. We are...very optimistic that this will happen very quickly.”</p> <p><strong>Elections and Campaign Finance Reform</strong><br />Earlier this year, in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, the state Legislature passed and the governor signed the New York State Democracy Protection Act, which instituted new regulations for online political advertisements including disclosure of who purchased them and requiring the BOE to archive all online ads.</p> <p>While those were <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7623-cuomo-touts-political-ad-transparency-law-as-other-reforms-languish">lauded as important measures</a> to provide more transparency in campaign expenditures, it’s on the fundraising side that things remain opaque, and reformers say the state’s laws need substantive improvement. A significant proportion of campaign contributions flow to candidates through limited liability companies, which are not required to disclose their owners and can help individuals and corporate entities evade limits on donations (which are already far too high, many argue). The LLC loophole is, perhaps, the most derided aspect of state elections and one that both Democrats and Republicans exploit, though it has most benefited Cuomo and Senate Republicans, two entities most friendly to real estate interests, which are often behind the creation of LLCs.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“Corporations shouldn’t be allowed to buy elections,” said Julissa Bisono, lead organizer at Make the Road New York, an immigrant-advocacy group and another Fair Elections coalition member. “Every year we are up in Albany fighting on housing, fighting on more funding for our schools and it’s just been really difficult to pass legislation because big corporations are contributing money to these elected officials...so that they will block legislation that would affect low income communities, and communities of color.”</p> <p>Cuomo, <a href="https://citylimits.org/2018/09/07/coming-to-grips-with-the-two-decade-deluge-of-llc-money-into-new-yorks-democracy/">the biggest beneficiary</a> of LLC donations in recent election cycles, has repeatedly vowed to close it but did not put significant political capital&nbsp;into doing so, blaming Senate Republicans for blocking the legislation. Next year, that is expected to change as the governor has made it among his top priorities and Democrats will take control of the Senate having run on the issue.</p> <p>Democratic control over both the Assembly and Senate also bolsters the odds of the state adopting a public campaign financing program, possibly similar to New York City’s voluntary program that matches small dollar donations with public funds to help level the playing field for candidates. A pilot program for the state comptroller race in 2014 <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7428-four-years-later-2014-state-campaign-finance-pilot-all-but-forgotten">failed to gain any traction</a> but there has been renewed attention in this last cycle to campaign financing and how it determines not only who is elected to office but what legislation eventually makes it through the Legislature.</p> <p>“There is absolutely no excuse not to get rid of the LLC loophole and no excuse not to bring publicly financed campaigns to a vote,” said Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, in an email. Teachout unsuccessfully ran in the gubernatorial primary in 2014 and in the attorney general primary this year, both times emphasizing the need to tackle rampant corruption in state politics, starting with campaign finance reform. “If there are people out there who oppose publicly financed campaigns, we need to know now and be ready to primary them,” she added.</p> <p>There are other ways that New York can also tweak election management to encourage both turnout and efficient administration. This year, the state held two primaries, one in June for congressional races and the September primary for state races. Advocates have repeatedly pointed out that multiple primary elections both confuse voters and lead to fatigue, questioning why the state Legislature would spend more money on separate ones instead of consolidating them to be held on a single day.</p> <p>The New York City BOE’s election fiasco has also prompted calls for reforming the agency, which is funded by the city but is technically a state entity. The City Council and Mayor de Blasio have sought to improve the board’s functioning by professionalizing its staff and reducing the influence of partisan appointees, though there is little enthusiasm even among Democrats for removing the county political parties from nominating BOE commissioners. The Board is under no obligation to heed the city’s authority.</p> <p>“We see it every election day, that the board of elections is in desperate need of reform,” Gianaris said. “Once we have an elections committee chair which should be in the next couple of weeks, that should be something we focus on pretty aggressively.”</p> <p><strong>Ethics Reform</strong><br />Good government advocates are looking to the New York City Council as an exemplar of the types of reforms that the state Legislature should pass. In 2016, Council members voted to give themselves, and other city elected officials, significant pay raises. But at the same time, the Council banned almost all types of outside income for members, eliminated committee chair stipends, also known as lulus (which were open to abuse as reward and punishment and salary padding), and improved financial disclosure requirements.</p> <p>“Albany should look to all the things we’ve gotten done in the City Council over the past five years,” said City Council Member Ben Kallos, who previously chaired the governmental operations committee and helped lead the reform effort, “and it starts with no outside income, no more lulus, campaign finance reform...I believe that those three things would help clean up a lot of the corruption in Albany.”</p> <p>To the dismay of good government groups and activists, however, the governor and Legislature have repeatedly wrestled over ethics reform with little to show for it. Cuomo infamously came to power promising that he would clean up Albany but later shut down the Moreland Commission that he had set up to fulfil that very pledge in the face of a resistant Legislature that kept seeing its members hauled off to jail. The compromise Cuomo struck with the Legislature created the state-run Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which many have criticized for being an inefficient agency with too-close ties to the governor and legislative leaders, who appoint its members.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " width="261" height="131" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>Democrats who ran for attorney general either called for scrapping JCOPE or restructuring it. Even Cuomo conceded, in his general election debate with Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, that he would like to see a more independent JCOPE, which oversees ethical behavior in state government. Cuomo suggested that there could be different ways its members are appointed, but did not put forth a concrete proposal.</p> <p>And though he was initially silent when the state Board of Elections proposed new rules that could curb the powers of its own enforcement counsel, Risa Sugarman, who investigates campaign finance wrongdoing, the governor did criticize the BOE when the rules were later approved.</p> <p>Cuomo has insisted, and reform advocates agree, that state legislators should work fulltime and that outside income should be limited or prohibited while financial disclosure requirements should be expanded. It was outside income that was central to the recent corruption convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican.</p> <p>But the governor sought to convince the Legislature to pass those ethics reform by leveraging the work of a state commission created in 2015 to look at pay raises for state elected officials. Legislators have not received a pay bump since 1999 and Cuomo said they shouldn’t unless they approved new reforms. That commission came to a contentious end with Cuomo’s appointees <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6625-state-pay-commission-implodes-as-cuomo-appointees-effectively-kill-salary-increases">effectively killing</a> any chance of increasing compensation for legislators.</p> <p>This year, Cuomo and the Legislature again empanelled a pay raise commission through the state budget and it has already been <a href="https://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/pay-raise-albany-commission-1.23487143">beset with troubles</a> over the constitutionality of its composition. But, it is set to issue binding recommendations that would go into effect unless the Legislature meets to vote them down -- in effect, lawmakers set up a system that would give them raises with their fingerprints removed. But, there is also controversy around pay raises without agreements to accompanying reforms, something legislative leaders have resisted.</p> <p>Another significant step towards accountability in Albany could happen under the attorney general’s office. During the Democratic primary, the four candidates agreed that the attorney general must be able to independently investigate state officials, which the office can currently only do in most cases after receiving a referral from the governor or another entity with that power, such as a local U.S. Attorney or even the state comptroller, in some instances. All the candidates agreed that the office should have a permanent, standing referral to do so and Attorney General-elect Letitia James has promised to immediately seek that authority after taking office. Still, it is something that then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo called for when he was in the role but has not provided since becoming governor himself.</p> <p><strong>One Charter, Two Commissions</strong><br />New York City voters overwhelmingly <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8073-next-steps-for-3-city-charter-revisions-passed-election-day">approved three ballot measures</a> on November 6, which lowered campaign contribution limits, imposed term limits on community boards, and created a new civic engagement commission that will also work to improve and report on poll site interpretation services.</p> <p>But more sweeping changes may lie on the horizon. The three 2018 referenda were placed on the ballot by a Charter Revision Commission empaneled by mayoral fiat. A separate commission was created soon after through City Council legislation with appointees chosen by the mayor, the Council speaker, the public advocate, the comptroller, and the five borough presidents. That commission is taking a far more expansive look at the city’s governing document and the powers and responsibilities it delineates to the different parts of city government.</p> <p>As envisioned by Letitia James and Gale Brewer, who proposed the initial legislation, the commission could alter the structure of city government in a way that hasn’t been done since 1989 by a previous commission. “I think the Charter Revision Commission will really be the biggest place where we talk about what the functions of government are” said City Council Member Keith Powers, “how do the mayor and the City Council interact with each other, what agencies should be empowered here, how to do budgeting, things like that.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7990-elected-officials-present-broad-proposals-to-2019-charter-revision-commission">Elected Officials Present Broad Proposals to 2019 Charter Revision Commission</a>]</p> <p>The 2019 commission appears to be looking at budget and land use processes, and may also take up two prominent issues that the mayor’s commission punted on -- <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8062-with-nod-from-de-blasio-and-push-from-johnson-momentum-for-ranked-choice-voting-in-new-york-city">instant runoff voting</a>, also known as ranked choice voting, and setting up a system of independent redistricting of City Council districts.</p> <p><strong>Rules of the Room</strong><br />Under City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and his predecessor, Melissa Mark-Viverito, the 51-member legislative body has passed a series of reforms and rules changes to give more power to members, create more transparency in how bills become law, and improved the internal culture of the Council. While Mark-Viverito did so through formal rules reforms, Johnson has <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7726-johnson-makes-series-of-city-council-changes-but-sidelines-formal-rules-reforms">made more administrative changes</a> in keeping with some promises he made while running for speaker, though he has yet to move on others.</p> <p>Reformers say that must happen in Albany as well. Under Cuomo, the Legislature has passed eight on-time or nearly-on-time budgets, but to do so, the governor has repeatedly employed a mechanism called a “message of necessity” that allows rushed votes on massive packages of legislation with little to no public review or debate. The entire process draws the ire of some legislators and virtually all reform advocates each year.</p> <p>“We would love to see this year’s state Legislature no longer do these end of session big uglies,” Goff said, referring to the omnibus legislative package regularly passed at the end of the legislative session, “where ethics reform is crammed in at the last minute at 4 a.m. behind closed doors, and sort of gets carted out with minimal conversation and public engagement.” She hoped that the newly elected progressive Democrats, first-time legislators many of them, will help “crack some of the calcified power structure and culture in Albany.”</p> <p>Teachout argued for democratizing the Legislature, as did Assembly minority leader Brian Kolb, a reform-minded Republican.</p> <p>“We should allow for a simple majority of members to bring any bill to the floor for consideration and a vote, regardless of leadership objections,” Teachout said. “For too long, Albany is where responsibility goes to die -- electeds say they support one thing, but without a public vote, we don't know what they are saying behind closed doors.”</p> <p>Kolb drew a parallel between Democrats in the House of Representatives and in the state Senate. Both chambers returned to Democratic control in the midterms, with young, first-time electeds who are now leading calls for empowering rank-and-file members. He said term limits were necessary, for leadership and committee chairs, for that to happen. “[B]ecause that’s where power becomes basically consolidated as people get to stay in these positions for a long, long time,” he said. “We think that there should be a change to that process that would break up the monopoly of power. And of course...any statewide legislative negotiations should include the minority party in both houses of the legislature, whether it’s the budget or anything else that matters.”</p> <p>There are indication that, at least in the State Senate, there may be a culture shift. “There has been a lot of justified criticism of Albany that it’s too driven by the leadership and people don’t have a say,” Gianaris said. “We have 15 new members, I think [Majority Leader] Andrea Stewart-Cousins has made it clear that she intends to talk to all those members and make sure we have consensus on whatever we’re going to do.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article incorrectly stated that the governor and the state legislature appoint the executive director of JCOPE. They only appoint its commissioners. The article has been updated. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p>
As Democratic Senate Becomes Reality, Unclear How Hard Assembly Majority Will Push Prior Agenda 2018-11-25T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-25T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8083-as-democratic-senate-becomes-reality-unclear-how-hard-assembly-majority-will-push-prior-agenda Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/how-hard-push.jpg" alt="how hard push" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (photo via the Governor's office}</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>As New York lurches out of election season and looks to what issues the state legislative session in 2019 could tackle, the Assembly is in an unfamiliar position as something more than a purgatory for progressive priorities. For years, the lower house of the Legislature was a place where progressive goals like criminal justice and voting reforms, the DREAM Act, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, the New York Health Act, and the Climate and Communities Protection Act could reliably be passed thanks to a huge Democratic majority. And every time those bills passed the Assembly, the state Senate, controlled by either Republicans or an alliance of Republicans and breakaway Democrats, would almost always keep the companion legislation in committee, far from a floor vote.</p> <p>But with Democrats about to take control of the state Senate in addition to the governor’s mansion, the Assembly will in 2019 have a chance to actually see bills they’ve passed every year get a real debate in Albany. And advocates and activists are waiting expectantly for just that scenario to happen, their sense of urgency heightened in the Trump era, which led their efforts to help flip the state Senate so it is no longer a roadblock.</p> <p>While the state Senate Democrats will not be in the same political universe as the outgoing Republican majority, the conference will still need to sort out its priorities, including how those of some of its tax-averse suburban and upstate members, who’ll need to win re-election in 2020, align with the city-dominated Assembly. One-party rule may not be the rubber stamp <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8009-senate-republicans-leave-molinaro-out-of-only-hope-messaging" target="_blank" rel="noopener">that Republicans warned it would be</a> during the election, especially as the new state Senate majority will have to get its footing under a dominating and fairly moderate governor. Cuomo also <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7969-cuomo-begins-push-to-flip-state-senate-and-house-of-representatives" target="_blank" rel="noopener">campaigned for</a> the newly-elected state Senators from Long Island, as well as the Hudson Valley’s Peter Harckham and Brooklyn’s Andrew Gounardes, which in theory, and his own telling, gives him some sway over them that may counteract the influence of grassroots activists who worked to elect a Democratic Senate.</p> <p>By appearances, a wave of progressive legislation bursting out of Albany and washing over New York would be an expected natural occurrence. Democrats are in possession of a supermajority in the Assembly and Senate, one whose membership stretches from Suffolk County to upstate and western New York and whose new members did not shy away from embracing far-left progressive priorities like single-payer healthcare. Carl Heastie, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/07/upshot/ranking-carl-heastie-by-ideological-score.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">once found to be one of the most liberal legislators in all of America</a>, remains the Assembly Speaker, and Democrats have a 106-43 advantage in the chamber. One significant question now hanging over state government: how hard left will the Assembly push?</p> <p>Their long-sought situation in the Legislature leaves progressive activists like Jonathan Westin, the executive director of economic justice organization New York Communities for Change, feeling hopeful for the session to come. “I think the Assembly has been committed to a lot of progressive legislation for a long time and we expect them to continue to do that,” Westin told Gotham Gazette. “A lot of the grassroots base is ready to push but at the same time we feel pretty confident that the Assembly is gonna go forward and pass a lot of these bills.”</p> <p>In his first year as speaker, Heastie <a href="https://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2015/02/ny_state_assembly_speaker_carl_heasties_priorities_minimum_wage_higher_ed_housin.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">laid out a series of now-familiar priorities</a> for the 2015 Assembly Democrats. Passing the DREAM Act, raising the state’s minimum wage, reforming the state’s rent laws in a more tenant-friendly direction. While the DREAM Act has still not come to the floor of the state Senate <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/nyregion/new-york-senate-rejects-measure-to-give-illegal-immigrants-state-tuition-aid.html?ref=nyregion&amp;_r=0&amp;gwh=CCC9DCBD03DC8F8F09DB489A0951BB32&amp;gwt=regi" target="_blank" rel="noopener">since a failed 2014 vote</a> and the state’s rent stabilization laws <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2015/06/accord-reached-on-421-a-program-rent-law-renewal-023406" target="_blank" rel="noopener">were renewed but not drastically changed</a> in 2015, progressives did see a victory when Cuomo prioritized and pushed through the Republican Senate <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-new-york-minimumwage/new-yorks-cuomo-signs-two-tier-minimum-wage-law-in-push-for-state-wide-15-hour-idUSKCN0X11Y1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a $15 minimum wage program of sorts in 2016</a>.</p> <p>Heastie used the 2018 legislative session to <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/Press/files/20180205.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">again push for the DREAM Act</a> to become law, and also <a href="https://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/files/20180515.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">highlighted Assembly legislation</a> to alter a suite of rent regulations essential to hundreds of thousands of units of affordable housing in New York City. Assembly Democrats also passed the New York Health Act, which would institute single-payer health care, <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/Press/files/20180614.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">for the fourth straight year in 2018</a>, <a href="https://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/files/20180507a.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">GENDA for the tenth straight year</a>, major climate change fighting legislation (the CCPA) <a href="http://www.nyrenews.org/news/2018/6/21/cuomo-senate-punt-again-on-climate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">for the third straight year</a>, and the Reproductive Health Act , which would codify Roe v. Wade into state law, <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/Press/files/20180313d.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">for the fifth straight year</a>.</p> <p>What’s different about the upcoming legislative session is not only have Democrats captured the state Senate, but a good chunk of the new legislators going to Albany are staunch progressive voices who were sent to office by furious left-wing organizing both old and new.</p> <p>Democrats like Zellnor Myrie and Jessica Ramos made things like major overhauls of the rent laws and repeal of the Urstadt Law, which keeps New York City from setting its own rent-stabilization laws, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/RamosforStateSenate/videos/landlord-loopholes-we-must-close-in-order-to-protect-renters-%EF%B8%8F-mcis%EF%B8%8F-vacancy-dec/222969148397305/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">centerpieces</a> of their insurgent state Senate <a href="https://zellnorforstatesenate.com/platform/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">campaigns</a>. In the Hudson Valley, newly-elected Senators Harckham and Jen Metzger both embraced the New York Health Act as feasible and worthwhile, and DREAM Act-supporting activists from Make the Road Action, the immigrant and working class advocacy organization, <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/campaigns-elections/will-democratic-volunteers-help-swing-state-senate.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">helped power</a> Long Island state Senator John Brooks and state Senator-elect Jim Gaughran to their swing-district wins.</p> <p>On the other hand, there are already <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-senate-democrats-seddio-jacobs-schaffer-zellner-20181111-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">powerful figures in the party suggesting</a> that long-sought leftist priorities are toxic outside of New York City, leadership in the Legislature will have to tamp down enthusiasm for any bills that might raise taxes, and Cuomo said in an interview that he thinks something like single-payer health care <a href="https://twitter.com/DaveCoIon/status/1063105886745444353" target="_blank" rel="noopener">will get bottled up by the governing processes</a> that separate campaign rhetoric from reality.</p> <p>Incoming Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins herself said “We’re not coming in there to raise people’s taxes,” <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in an interview on WBAI’s Max &amp; Murphy</a>. But she did also lay out priorities for the conference to start, naming things like reproductive rights, the Child Victims Act, and said, “I’m sure that will be able to do something about that early on” when it comes to instituting early voting in New York.</p> <p>In the Assembly, Heastie sent out a list of priorities just after the election, a mashup of specific socially liberal and more vague fiscally liberal policies that are familiar to many. Called out by name for passage are the Child Victims Act, the Reproductive Health Act, banning gun bump stocks, speedy trial reform, and electoral &nbsp;and campaign finance reforms like no-fault absentee voting, closing the LLC loophole, and early voting.</p> <p>But while the speaker wrote that New Yorkers “deserve a healthcare system that guarantees coverage for all,” there’s no mention of the New York Health Act or the state-run single-payer system it would create. No specifics are listed for the rent reforms while Heastie states “The Assembly Majority is ready to pass legislation to extend and strengthen programs that protect low and middle income tenants to keep them from being priced out of their homes and communities,” (though Heastie <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/housing/democrats-control-state-senate-real-estate-fears-worst.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reportedly told a pair of real estate representatives</a> at the Somos conference that vacancy decontrol and preferential rent are history) and the DREAM Act is nowhere to be found, nor a mention of any environmental policy (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8028-climate-change-and-what-to-do-about-it-largely-missing-from-governor-s-race" target="_blank" rel="noopener">though that isn’t a total aberration</a>). Heastie's office declined an interview request, pointing Gotham Gazette to the speaker's post-election missive.</p> <p>And even though some of the more famous liberal priorities aren’t mentioned by name, the focus on electoral reform appears to be a place where the base and the Assembly line up perfectly, with the upcoming Senate majority and Cuomo apparently in the same mindset, too, though the details will need to be hammered out.</p> <p>Working Families Party political director Bill Lipton told Gotham Gazette that he doesn’t expect the Assembly’s “long, progressive history” to change under Carl Heastie and a new Albany order, and that he’s happy to see people willing to tackle electoral issues.</p> <p>“We can't repair the damage unless we face head on the contradiction of financing election campaigns with wealthy donors who want tax cuts, contracts and loopholes for themselves,” Lipton wrote to Gotham Gazette in a statement. “The result both nationally and here in New York has been disastrous,” Lipton wrote, while highlighting <a href="https://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;bn=A9281&amp;term=2015&amp;Memo=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a small-donor matching funds program</a> that he hopes the state institutes now that there’s a Democratic trifecta. Campaign finance reform is something Cuomo has long-pledged support for, not moved through the Republican Senate, and promised to deliver with a fully Democratic Legislature.</p> <p>Westin also endorsed a starting focus on electoral reform: “the one thing that's been in common in New York is the influence of real estate money and we have to clean it up once and for all. Carl and the Assembly have a real opportunity to do that, and I think is one of the biggest things that needs to happen quickly,” he said.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>There is some reason for progressives to have concerns in the Assembly though, according to Sean McElwee, the co-founder of progressive think tank Data for Progress. While McElwee pointed to the progressive wave that elected a large piece of the Democrats’ state Senate majority, that energetic mandate wasn’t seen in Assembly elections. “In the Assembly you've basically had a bunch of Democrats who were like the [Republican] House of Representatives under Obama. They kept passing an Obamacare repeal, and once it was time to pass it for real, there were some cold feet. I worry about that dynamic with the Assembly. When I've talked to the New York Renews coalition about the CCPA, they've said silently, ‘Yeah we're gonna have real problems in the Assembly when it comes time to pass this,’ and the same for Medicare for All advocates.”</p> <p>It’s not an out-of-hand fear for progressives, who can look to neighboring New Jersey and the fact that legislators <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/nj-democrats-loved-the-idea-of-taxing-the-rich---until-they-actually-could-do-it/2018/05/23/259e55c8-5d4f-11e8-a4a4-c070ef53f315_story.html?noredirect=on&amp;utm_term=.e8773c33c162" target="_blank" rel="noopener">backed away from pledges to tax the rich</a> and <a href="https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/new-jersey/2018/10/22/nj-lawmakers-miss-october-deadline-vote-legal-weed/1731485002/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">didn’t get a slam dunk on legalizing recreational marijuana</a> despite Democrats having total control of the government.</p> <p>But those activists who powered the anti-IDC candidates and Long Island Democrats to victories aren’t planning on sitting on their hands. “We may see some Assemblypeople who previously voted for some things be hesitant about putting their votes behind them,” Mia Pearlman, the co-founder of progressive grassroots organization True Blue New York, told Gotham Gazette. “So if it comes to that, we fully plan to be lobbying in Albany and on the ground in the district of any elected representative who we feel can be swayed, needs to be swayed, needs support, needs pressure to vote for legislation that we're supporting.” Pearlman did say that even though there might be some hesitant members, she felt that there were also plenty of members of the Assembly who were ready to get to work on passing the bills that had died in the Senate in past years.</p> <p>While Pearlman echoed the call to tackle an issue like electoral reform early on, she also said she and her allies very much expect the Assembly to make reasonable progress on the other bills that have been stymied in previous years. On something like the New York Health Act, for instance, she said that while the bill doesn’t have to be passed for the sake of being passed, she wants to see an actual debate move forward on it to find the best way possible to provide universal comprehensive healthcare coverage, a line of thinking that aligned with Harckham’s call for hearings and passing a bill by the end of his first two-year term.</p> <p>“The idea that it's somehow a victory for the Assembly to have such a big majority solely so they can say ‘Yay we have a majority’ is sort of absurd,” Pearlman said. “The purpose of having a big majority is to actually do something with it, to pass legislation, not just pat ourselves on the back and say ‘Look how many members we have.’ So we expect after all these years of waiting that they'll use that majority to write legislation and get things done.”</p> <p>The Assembly could, in theory, pass the existing version of all of the bottled up left-leaning bills that haven’t made it out of the state Senate for years, and put the onus on the new Senate, as well as the governor. But it seems needlessly adversarial for the Assembly to get off on that kind of footing with a more ideologically similar Senate conference, which in all likelihood they’ll need in negotiations with a governor more prone to triangulation, political centrism, and describing his <a href="https://www.thedailybeast.com/andrew-cuomo-wont-stop-lying-now-to-cynthia-nixon-he-admits-it" target="_blank" rel="noopener">progressive opponents</a> as “<a href="https://www.dailyfreeman.com/news/cuomo-coasts-in-ny-dem-primary-for-governor-lt-gov/article_b2905a1f-e322-5b84-9a5c-7bedf633934c.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">dreamers not doers</a>” than he’s known for bold leftism.</p> <p>The new situation in Albany is also an opportunity for government to work differently, Pearlman suggested, opening things up and making it more transparent, especially during the budget season. “We don't have to have three men in a room or two men and a woman in the room, that is not written in our state constitution that the budget has to be written at the last possible minute behind closed doors,” Pearlman said. “What we're hoping is that the conference leaders will look at the process of how things are done in Albany and demand they're done in a more transparent and more equitable and better way.”</p> <p>At the moment though, Stewart-Cousins doesn’t seem keen on blowing up the process, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8085-andrea-stewart-cousins-on-taking-the-senate-reins-the-democratic-agenda-getting-inside-the-room" target="_blank" rel="noopener">as she told Max &amp; Murphy</a>, “I’m interested to see how this thing really works as well. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of opinions once I’ve actually been part of it,” in response to whether she plans to make the budget process more transparent.</p> <p>Cuomo also campaigned on keeping state spending tethered to the (<a href="https://cbcny.org/research/when-2-percent-isnt-2-percent" target="_blank" rel="noopener">somewhat rhetorical</a>) two percent cap he instituted during his first term, and has <a href="https://twitter.com/ZackFinkNews/status/1064553822717190145" target="_blank" rel="noopener">flatly said</a> an additional tax on high-earners to raise revenue for the MTA will not be happening, even speaking for the Legislature before the next session has started. So as for what might make it through the budget, McElwee said he predicts progressives can get “one big budget-buster” through the process each year, and if he had to play favorites, he’d pick the Climate and Communities Protection Act. “For me and I think a lot of millennials, climate change is the biggest existential threat we change. And I think a policy that can mitigate that while also creating jobs and infrastructure would be a sort of progressive model for the county,” he said.</p> <p>But ultimately, progressive activists say they aren’t taking anything for granted, even as people talk about the Democratic majority in the state Senate as a permanent one. “Politics is all about waves and momentum, and if you don't capitalize on the momentum you never know where you're gonna end up in the future,” Westin told Gotham Gazette. “I think our belief is we need to pass all the priorities this cycle, as you see even on the federal level and clearly in the state too, you never know what the next configuration is going to look like, and we don't want to waste this opportunity.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/how-hard-push.jpg" alt="how hard push" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (photo via the Governor's office}</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>As New York lurches out of election season and looks to what issues the state legislative session in 2019 could tackle, the Assembly is in an unfamiliar position as something more than a purgatory for progressive priorities. For years, the lower house of the Legislature was a place where progressive goals like criminal justice and voting reforms, the DREAM Act, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, the New York Health Act, and the Climate and Communities Protection Act could reliably be passed thanks to a huge Democratic majority. And every time those bills passed the Assembly, the state Senate, controlled by either Republicans or an alliance of Republicans and breakaway Democrats, would almost always keep the companion legislation in committee, far from a floor vote.</p> <p>But with Democrats about to take control of the state Senate in addition to the governor’s mansion, the Assembly will in 2019 have a chance to actually see bills they’ve passed every year get a real debate in Albany. And advocates and activists are waiting expectantly for just that scenario to happen, their sense of urgency heightened in the Trump era, which led their efforts to help flip the state Senate so it is no longer a roadblock.</p> <p>While the state Senate Democrats will not be in the same political universe as the outgoing Republican majority, the conference will still need to sort out its priorities, including how those of some of its tax-averse suburban and upstate members, who’ll need to win re-election in 2020, align with the city-dominated Assembly. One-party rule may not be the rubber stamp <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8009-senate-republicans-leave-molinaro-out-of-only-hope-messaging" target="_blank" rel="noopener">that Republicans warned it would be</a> during the election, especially as the new state Senate majority will have to get its footing under a dominating and fairly moderate governor. Cuomo also <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7969-cuomo-begins-push-to-flip-state-senate-and-house-of-representatives" target="_blank" rel="noopener">campaigned for</a> the newly-elected state Senators from Long Island, as well as the Hudson Valley’s Peter Harckham and Brooklyn’s Andrew Gounardes, which in theory, and his own telling, gives him some sway over them that may counteract the influence of grassroots activists who worked to elect a Democratic Senate.</p> <p>By appearances, a wave of progressive legislation bursting out of Albany and washing over New York would be an expected natural occurrence. Democrats are in possession of a supermajority in the Assembly and Senate, one whose membership stretches from Suffolk County to upstate and western New York and whose new members did not shy away from embracing far-left progressive priorities like single-payer healthcare. Carl Heastie, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/07/upshot/ranking-carl-heastie-by-ideological-score.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">once found to be one of the most liberal legislators in all of America</a>, remains the Assembly Speaker, and Democrats have a 106-43 advantage in the chamber. One significant question now hanging over state government: how hard left will the Assembly push?</p> <p>Their long-sought situation in the Legislature leaves progressive activists like Jonathan Westin, the executive director of economic justice organization New York Communities for Change, feeling hopeful for the session to come. “I think the Assembly has been committed to a lot of progressive legislation for a long time and we expect them to continue to do that,” Westin told Gotham Gazette. “A lot of the grassroots base is ready to push but at the same time we feel pretty confident that the Assembly is gonna go forward and pass a lot of these bills.”</p> <p>In his first year as speaker, Heastie <a href="https://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2015/02/ny_state_assembly_speaker_carl_heasties_priorities_minimum_wage_higher_ed_housin.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">laid out a series of now-familiar priorities</a> for the 2015 Assembly Democrats. Passing the DREAM Act, raising the state’s minimum wage, reforming the state’s rent laws in a more tenant-friendly direction. While the DREAM Act has still not come to the floor of the state Senate <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/nyregion/new-york-senate-rejects-measure-to-give-illegal-immigrants-state-tuition-aid.html?ref=nyregion&amp;_r=0&amp;gwh=CCC9DCBD03DC8F8F09DB489A0951BB32&amp;gwt=regi" target="_blank" rel="noopener">since a failed 2014 vote</a> and the state’s rent stabilization laws <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2015/06/accord-reached-on-421-a-program-rent-law-renewal-023406" target="_blank" rel="noopener">were renewed but not drastically changed</a> in 2015, progressives did see a victory when Cuomo prioritized and pushed through the Republican Senate <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-new-york-minimumwage/new-yorks-cuomo-signs-two-tier-minimum-wage-law-in-push-for-state-wide-15-hour-idUSKCN0X11Y1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a $15 minimum wage program of sorts in 2016</a>.</p> <p>Heastie used the 2018 legislative session to <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/Press/files/20180205.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">again push for the DREAM Act</a> to become law, and also <a href="https://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/files/20180515.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">highlighted Assembly legislation</a> to alter a suite of rent regulations essential to hundreds of thousands of units of affordable housing in New York City. Assembly Democrats also passed the New York Health Act, which would institute single-payer health care, <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/Press/files/20180614.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">for the fourth straight year in 2018</a>, <a href="https://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/files/20180507a.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">GENDA for the tenth straight year</a>, major climate change fighting legislation (the CCPA) <a href="http://www.nyrenews.org/news/2018/6/21/cuomo-senate-punt-again-on-climate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">for the third straight year</a>, and the Reproductive Health Act , which would codify Roe v. Wade into state law, <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/Press/files/20180313d.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">for the fifth straight year</a>.</p> <p>What’s different about the upcoming legislative session is not only have Democrats captured the state Senate, but a good chunk of the new legislators going to Albany are staunch progressive voices who were sent to office by furious left-wing organizing both old and new.</p> <p>Democrats like Zellnor Myrie and Jessica Ramos made things like major overhauls of the rent laws and repeal of the Urstadt Law, which keeps New York City from setting its own rent-stabilization laws, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/RamosforStateSenate/videos/landlord-loopholes-we-must-close-in-order-to-protect-renters-%EF%B8%8F-mcis%EF%B8%8F-vacancy-dec/222969148397305/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">centerpieces</a> of their insurgent state Senate <a href="https://zellnorforstatesenate.com/platform/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">campaigns</a>. In the Hudson Valley, newly-elected Senators Harckham and Jen Metzger both embraced the New York Health Act as feasible and worthwhile, and DREAM Act-supporting activists from Make the Road Action, the immigrant and working class advocacy organization, <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/campaigns-elections/will-democratic-volunteers-help-swing-state-senate.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">helped power</a> Long Island state Senator John Brooks and state Senator-elect Jim Gaughran to their swing-district wins.</p> <p>On the other hand, there are already <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-senate-democrats-seddio-jacobs-schaffer-zellner-20181111-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">powerful figures in the party suggesting</a> that long-sought leftist priorities are toxic outside of New York City, leadership in the Legislature will have to tamp down enthusiasm for any bills that might raise taxes, and Cuomo said in an interview that he thinks something like single-payer health care <a href="https://twitter.com/DaveCoIon/status/1063105886745444353" target="_blank" rel="noopener">will get bottled up by the governing processes</a> that separate campaign rhetoric from reality.</p> <p>Incoming Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins herself said “We’re not coming in there to raise people’s taxes,” <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in an interview on WBAI’s Max &amp; Murphy</a>. But she did also lay out priorities for the conference to start, naming things like reproductive rights, the Child Victims Act, and said, “I’m sure that will be able to do something about that early on” when it comes to instituting early voting in New York.</p> <p>In the Assembly, Heastie sent out a list of priorities just after the election, a mashup of specific socially liberal and more vague fiscally liberal policies that are familiar to many. Called out by name for passage are the Child Victims Act, the Reproductive Health Act, banning gun bump stocks, speedy trial reform, and electoral &nbsp;and campaign finance reforms like no-fault absentee voting, closing the LLC loophole, and early voting.</p> <p>But while the speaker wrote that New Yorkers “deserve a healthcare system that guarantees coverage for all,” there’s no mention of the New York Health Act or the state-run single-payer system it would create. No specifics are listed for the rent reforms while Heastie states “The Assembly Majority is ready to pass legislation to extend and strengthen programs that protect low and middle income tenants to keep them from being priced out of their homes and communities,” (though Heastie <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/housing/democrats-control-state-senate-real-estate-fears-worst.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reportedly told a pair of real estate representatives</a> at the Somos conference that vacancy decontrol and preferential rent are history) and the DREAM Act is nowhere to be found, nor a mention of any environmental policy (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8028-climate-change-and-what-to-do-about-it-largely-missing-from-governor-s-race" target="_blank" rel="noopener">though that isn’t a total aberration</a>). Heastie's office declined an interview request, pointing Gotham Gazette to the speaker's post-election missive.</p> <p>And even though some of the more famous liberal priorities aren’t mentioned by name, the focus on electoral reform appears to be a place where the base and the Assembly line up perfectly, with the upcoming Senate majority and Cuomo apparently in the same mindset, too, though the details will need to be hammered out.</p> <p>Working Families Party political director Bill Lipton told Gotham Gazette that he doesn’t expect the Assembly’s “long, progressive history” to change under Carl Heastie and a new Albany order, and that he’s happy to see people willing to tackle electoral issues.</p> <p>“We can't repair the damage unless we face head on the contradiction of financing election campaigns with wealthy donors who want tax cuts, contracts and loopholes for themselves,” Lipton wrote to Gotham Gazette in a statement. “The result both nationally and here in New York has been disastrous,” Lipton wrote, while highlighting <a href="https://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;bn=A9281&amp;term=2015&amp;Memo=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a small-donor matching funds program</a> that he hopes the state institutes now that there’s a Democratic trifecta. Campaign finance reform is something Cuomo has long-pledged support for, not moved through the Republican Senate, and promised to deliver with a fully Democratic Legislature.</p> <p>Westin also endorsed a starting focus on electoral reform: “the one thing that's been in common in New York is the influence of real estate money and we have to clean it up once and for all. Carl and the Assembly have a real opportunity to do that, and I think is one of the biggest things that needs to happen quickly,” he said.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>There is some reason for progressives to have concerns in the Assembly though, according to Sean McElwee, the co-founder of progressive think tank Data for Progress. While McElwee pointed to the progressive wave that elected a large piece of the Democrats’ state Senate majority, that energetic mandate wasn’t seen in Assembly elections. “In the Assembly you've basically had a bunch of Democrats who were like the [Republican] House of Representatives under Obama. They kept passing an Obamacare repeal, and once it was time to pass it for real, there were some cold feet. I worry about that dynamic with the Assembly. When I've talked to the New York Renews coalition about the CCPA, they've said silently, ‘Yeah we're gonna have real problems in the Assembly when it comes time to pass this,’ and the same for Medicare for All advocates.”</p> <p>It’s not an out-of-hand fear for progressives, who can look to neighboring New Jersey and the fact that legislators <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/nj-democrats-loved-the-idea-of-taxing-the-rich---until-they-actually-could-do-it/2018/05/23/259e55c8-5d4f-11e8-a4a4-c070ef53f315_story.html?noredirect=on&amp;utm_term=.e8773c33c162" target="_blank" rel="noopener">backed away from pledges to tax the rich</a> and <a href="https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/new-jersey/2018/10/22/nj-lawmakers-miss-october-deadline-vote-legal-weed/1731485002/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">didn’t get a slam dunk on legalizing recreational marijuana</a> despite Democrats having total control of the government.</p> <p>But those activists who powered the anti-IDC candidates and Long Island Democrats to victories aren’t planning on sitting on their hands. “We may see some Assemblypeople who previously voted for some things be hesitant about putting their votes behind them,” Mia Pearlman, the co-founder of progressive grassroots organization True Blue New York, told Gotham Gazette. “So if it comes to that, we fully plan to be lobbying in Albany and on the ground in the district of any elected representative who we feel can be swayed, needs to be swayed, needs support, needs pressure to vote for legislation that we're supporting.” Pearlman did say that even though there might be some hesitant members, she felt that there were also plenty of members of the Assembly who were ready to get to work on passing the bills that had died in the Senate in past years.</p> <p>While Pearlman echoed the call to tackle an issue like electoral reform early on, she also said she and her allies very much expect the Assembly to make reasonable progress on the other bills that have been stymied in previous years. On something like the New York Health Act, for instance, she said that while the bill doesn’t have to be passed for the sake of being passed, she wants to see an actual debate move forward on it to find the best way possible to provide universal comprehensive healthcare coverage, a line of thinking that aligned with Harckham’s call for hearings and passing a bill by the end of his first two-year term.</p> <p>“The idea that it's somehow a victory for the Assembly to have such a big majority solely so they can say ‘Yay we have a majority’ is sort of absurd,” Pearlman said. “The purpose of having a big majority is to actually do something with it, to pass legislation, not just pat ourselves on the back and say ‘Look how many members we have.’ So we expect after all these years of waiting that they'll use that majority to write legislation and get things done.”</p> <p>The Assembly could, in theory, pass the existing version of all of the bottled up left-leaning bills that haven’t made it out of the state Senate for years, and put the onus on the new Senate, as well as the governor. But it seems needlessly adversarial for the Assembly to get off on that kind of footing with a more ideologically similar Senate conference, which in all likelihood they’ll need in negotiations with a governor more prone to triangulation, political centrism, and describing his <a href="https://www.thedailybeast.com/andrew-cuomo-wont-stop-lying-now-to-cynthia-nixon-he-admits-it" target="_blank" rel="noopener">progressive opponents</a> as “<a href="https://www.dailyfreeman.com/news/cuomo-coasts-in-ny-dem-primary-for-governor-lt-gov/article_b2905a1f-e322-5b84-9a5c-7bedf633934c.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">dreamers not doers</a>” than he’s known for bold leftism.</p> <p>The new situation in Albany is also an opportunity for government to work differently, Pearlman suggested, opening things up and making it more transparent, especially during the budget season. “We don't have to have three men in a room or two men and a woman in the room, that is not written in our state constitution that the budget has to be written at the last possible minute behind closed doors,” Pearlman said. “What we're hoping is that the conference leaders will look at the process of how things are done in Albany and demand they're done in a more transparent and more equitable and better way.”</p> <p>At the moment though, Stewart-Cousins doesn’t seem keen on blowing up the process, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8085-andrea-stewart-cousins-on-taking-the-senate-reins-the-democratic-agenda-getting-inside-the-room" target="_blank" rel="noopener">as she told Max &amp; Murphy</a>, “I’m interested to see how this thing really works as well. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of opinions once I’ve actually been part of it,” in response to whether she plans to make the budget process more transparent.</p> <p>Cuomo also campaigned on keeping state spending tethered to the (<a href="https://cbcny.org/research/when-2-percent-isnt-2-percent" target="_blank" rel="noopener">somewhat rhetorical</a>) two percent cap he instituted during his first term, and has <a href="https://twitter.com/ZackFinkNews/status/1064553822717190145" target="_blank" rel="noopener">flatly said</a> an additional tax on high-earners to raise revenue for the MTA will not be happening, even speaking for the Legislature before the next session has started. So as for what might make it through the budget, McElwee said he predicts progressives can get “one big budget-buster” through the process each year, and if he had to play favorites, he’d pick the Climate and Communities Protection Act. “For me and I think a lot of millennials, climate change is the biggest existential threat we change. And I think a policy that can mitigate that while also creating jobs and infrastructure would be a sort of progressive model for the county,” he said.</p> <p>But ultimately, progressive activists say they aren’t taking anything for granted, even as people talk about the Democratic majority in the state Senate as a permanent one. “Politics is all about waves and momentum, and if you don't capitalize on the momentum you never know where you're gonna end up in the future,” Westin told Gotham Gazette. “I think our belief is we need to pass all the priorities this cycle, as you see even on the federal level and clearly in the state too, you never know what the next configuration is going to look like, and we don't want to waste this opportunity.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Assemblymember Walker, Sponsor of Bail Reform Bill, Optimistic About 2019 2018-11-18T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-18T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8084-assemblymember-walker-sponsor-of-bail-reform-bill-optimistic-about-2019 Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/assembly-sponsor-bail.jpg" alt="assembly sponsor bail" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Assemblymember Latrice Walker (photo: Kevin Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Assemblymember Latrice Walker, a Brooklyn Democrat, has been pushing for criminal justice reform in New York, and believes that 2019 will hold long-sought progress. Among the several pieces of legislation introduced in the Democrat-dominated Assembly that address criminal justice reform, one of the most significant proposals is Walker’s <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A10137&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Memo=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bail reform bill</a>, which passed the Assembly in June but did not move in the Republican-controlled state Senate.</p> <p>With Democrats having taken the majority in the state Senate through this month’s elections, next year could bring sweeping changes to the criminal justice system in New York, with bail reform atop the priorities for many elected officials, advocates, and others, including Walker, soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat entering his third term. The two legislative majorities and governor will have to work out the details of any reforms, of course, and there are different bail reform proposals.</p> <p>The need for such reform is evident in Walker’s district, she explains. Representing neighborhoods such as Brownsville and Ocean Hill, Walker, a Brownsville native herself, has seen the current system’s effects first-hand. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8072-max-murphy-podcast-bail-reform-with-assemblymember-latrice-walker" target="_blank" rel="noopener">During a recent appearance on the Max &amp; Murphy show on WBAI radio</a>, Walker explained the “billion-dollar blocks” in her district, which is home to significant poverty, and elsewhere, as areas from which many people have gone to jail or prison, with government spending totaling billions of dollars to detain those people. It’s a way of both pointing out the high costs of mass incarceration and the lack of investment in those same communities for helping people escape poverty and related problems.</p> <p>Walker believes the current criminal justice system is based around punishing people, and that bail should not be part of that picture, but one area for reform that can then stop feeding the larger problem.</p> <p>“Bail is supposed to just ensure a person’s return to court. We know that the constitution declares that it’s not supposed to be cruel, unusual, and it’s not supposed to be punishment. And I think that that’s the term that many people forget about New York’s bail system,” Walker said. She’s observed that there has been a rubric of sorts set up in courts where there is more focus on the type of crime allegedly committed, the individual, and the neighborhood in which they live, to determine whether a person is required to post bail.</p> <p>With her proposal, Walker aims to make the system what it was supposed to be, she says. “It bewilders me when I see attorneys, judges and the like say to me, even across the state of New York, ‘well there has to be some system or something put in place that will ensure that bad people don’t get put back into the streets,’ but that’s not what bail is about, and that’s what I’m here to defend.”</p> <p>Of course there are certain alleged crimes where the defendant should either have conditions put on their release or not be released at all, argue Walker and others pushing for bail reform, especially major changes or an end to cash bail, but there are many, many others where bail has simply become a punishment of poverty, leading many poor people to spend time in jail for lower-level offenses.</p> <p>“The bail bill that I introduced allows for an automatic release on a person’s own recognizance in certain situations where their violations, misdemeanors -- other than sex offense misdemeanors, non-violent felonies, and two categories of violent felonies,” Walker explained. A person is not released on their own recognizance if they’ve committed sex offense misdemeanors or most violent felonies. However, the two categories of violent felonies the bill does exempt are burglary or robbery in the second degree, as well as falsely reporting an incident in the second degree.</p> <p>Walker’s proposal was developed by looking at bail “in the context of speedy trial” and “discovery reform,” she said, which are two other major categories of criminal justice reform Democrats pledge to pursue in Albany next year, where state Senate Republicans had largely disagreed with the bills put forth by Assembly majority and Senate minority Democrats.</p> <p>The bill would also allow for a defendant to be released on non-monetary conditions but with court-ordered monitoring. Depending on what the court decides, the defendant could be monitored by a pre-trial services agency, the imposition of travel restrictions, and as mentioned by Walker on WBAI, through the use of electronic monitoring systems.</p> <p>In the cases such as violent felonies, sex offense misdemeanors, and situations where the person released on recognizance or under non-monetary conditions fails to follow through with the conditions of their release, monetary bail can be set. In cases where a person is charged with sex offense felonies, terrorism crimes, class A felonies, witness intimidation, or felonies involving intent to causes injury or death, monetary bail may also be set, though remand without bail (no pre-trial release at all) is also an option.</p> <p>C<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>ourt-ordered electronic location monitoring would be applicable to defendants when "no other realistic conditions (would) suffice to reasonably assure the defendant's return to court" or when they are charged with a felony, misdemeanor domestic violence, a misdemeanor sex offense, or other crimes outlined in the bill.</p> <p>Walker recognizes that there are opponents of her plan to her right and her left, and says she’s taken into account the concerns some may have with parts of her proposal. The non-monetary condition situation, as she put it, brings about the question of whether mass incarceration is going to be allowed to be replaced by mass surveillance.</p> <p>“I wanted to be able to protect that because this new electric monetary system is a new iteration of the billion dollar blocks. Now instead of incarcerating people, you’re got everyone in the ankle bracelets,” said Walker. The widespread use of ankle bracelets is a secondary set-up that Walker said “sets up a system that we’re trying to do away with.”</p> <p>There have been other versions of bail reform introduced in the Assembly, one of them by Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell of Manhattan. When asked if there are any significant differences between the two versions of bail reform, Walker highlighted only one.</p> <p>“In my bill, where a person is still required to be remanded in pre-trial jail, you have discovery reform procedures that kick into play. There is a certain number of time, I believe it’s five days, by which the defense is able to request of the prosecution a discovery evidence or any evidence that might lead to that person being acquitted at the end of a trial,” she explained. This component of her plan gives the person being charged with a crime other mechanisms to “put forth a formidable defense.”</p> <p>According to the listing of Walker’s bill in the Assembly legislation database, the purpose of the bill is to significantly amend “New York's antiquated cash bail system” for the first in “nearly fifty years.”</p> <p>“This legislation would move our state toward a more intelligent, individualized system of pre-trial release, monitoring and, when necessary, detention,” the bill states. “The bill is designed to end the current, reflexive overreliance on monetary bail, which each year results in the unnecessary and expensive pre-trial jailing of thousands of persons simply because they cannot afford a modest sum as collateral.”</p> <p>The Assembly passed Walker’s bill in June as part of a broader criminal justice reform package. <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A05033&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">O’Donnell’s bill</a>, known as the "bail elimination act of 2018," would fully eliminate the use of cash bail while also ensuring “provisions for pretrial detention,” but has not been voted on in the Assembly.</p> <p>However, O’Donnell’s bill does have a “same-as” bill in the Senate, whereas Walker’s does not. That may well change come January when the new Legislature begins its work.</p> <p>Walker said she remains “blindly optimistic,” though she is aware that there are other things that may take priority when the new legislative session begins and Democrats in control of the legislative and executive branches start getting to a long agenda, and that Democrats are not a “monolithic body.”</p> <p>“I anticipate that bail reform, and criminal justice reform will remain an in-vogue topic,” she said.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Listen to the full conversation: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8072-max-murphy-podcast-bail-reform-with-assemblymember-latrice-walker" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Assemblymember Latrice Walker on Max &amp; Murphy</a> Nov. 14 2018]&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Annie Abreu, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/assembly-sponsor-bail.jpg" alt="assembly sponsor bail" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Assemblymember Latrice Walker (photo: Kevin Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Assemblymember Latrice Walker, a Brooklyn Democrat, has been pushing for criminal justice reform in New York, and believes that 2019 will hold long-sought progress. Among the several pieces of legislation introduced in the Democrat-dominated Assembly that address criminal justice reform, one of the most significant proposals is Walker’s <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A10137&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Memo=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bail reform bill</a>, which passed the Assembly in June but did not move in the Republican-controlled state Senate.</p> <p>With Democrats having taken the majority in the state Senate through this month’s elections, next year could bring sweeping changes to the criminal justice system in New York, with bail reform atop the priorities for many elected officials, advocates, and others, including Walker, soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat entering his third term. The two legislative majorities and governor will have to work out the details of any reforms, of course, and there are different bail reform proposals.</p> <p>The need for such reform is evident in Walker’s district, she explains. Representing neighborhoods such as Brownsville and Ocean Hill, Walker, a Brownsville native herself, has seen the current system’s effects first-hand. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8072-max-murphy-podcast-bail-reform-with-assemblymember-latrice-walker" target="_blank" rel="noopener">During a recent appearance on the Max &amp; Murphy show on WBAI radio</a>, Walker explained the “billion-dollar blocks” in her district, which is home to significant poverty, and elsewhere, as areas from which many people have gone to jail or prison, with government spending totaling billions of dollars to detain those people. It’s a way of both pointing out the high costs of mass incarceration and the lack of investment in those same communities for helping people escape poverty and related problems.</p> <p>Walker believes the current criminal justice system is based around punishing people, and that bail should not be part of that picture, but one area for reform that can then stop feeding the larger problem.</p> <p>“Bail is supposed to just ensure a person’s return to court. We know that the constitution declares that it’s not supposed to be cruel, unusual, and it’s not supposed to be punishment. And I think that that’s the term that many people forget about New York’s bail system,” Walker said. She’s observed that there has been a rubric of sorts set up in courts where there is more focus on the type of crime allegedly committed, the individual, and the neighborhood in which they live, to determine whether a person is required to post bail.</p> <p>With her proposal, Walker aims to make the system what it was supposed to be, she says. “It bewilders me when I see attorneys, judges and the like say to me, even across the state of New York, ‘well there has to be some system or something put in place that will ensure that bad people don’t get put back into the streets,’ but that’s not what bail is about, and that’s what I’m here to defend.”</p> <p>Of course there are certain alleged crimes where the defendant should either have conditions put on their release or not be released at all, argue Walker and others pushing for bail reform, especially major changes or an end to cash bail, but there are many, many others where bail has simply become a punishment of poverty, leading many poor people to spend time in jail for lower-level offenses.</p> <p>“The bail bill that I introduced allows for an automatic release on a person’s own recognizance in certain situations where their violations, misdemeanors -- other than sex offense misdemeanors, non-violent felonies, and two categories of violent felonies,” Walker explained. A person is not released on their own recognizance if they’ve committed sex offense misdemeanors or most violent felonies. However, the two categories of violent felonies the bill does exempt are burglary or robbery in the second degree, as well as falsely reporting an incident in the second degree.</p> <p>Walker’s proposal was developed by looking at bail “in the context of speedy trial” and “discovery reform,” she said, which are two other major categories of criminal justice reform Democrats pledge to pursue in Albany next year, where state Senate Republicans had largely disagreed with the bills put forth by Assembly majority and Senate minority Democrats.</p> <p>The bill would also allow for a defendant to be released on non-monetary conditions but with court-ordered monitoring. Depending on what the court decides, the defendant could be monitored by a pre-trial services agency, the imposition of travel restrictions, and as mentioned by Walker on WBAI, through the use of electronic monitoring systems.</p> <p>In the cases such as violent felonies, sex offense misdemeanors, and situations where the person released on recognizance or under non-monetary conditions fails to follow through with the conditions of their release, monetary bail can be set. In cases where a person is charged with sex offense felonies, terrorism crimes, class A felonies, witness intimidation, or felonies involving intent to causes injury or death, monetary bail may also be set, though remand without bail (no pre-trial release at all) is also an option.</p> <p>C<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>ourt-ordered electronic location monitoring would be applicable to defendants when "no other realistic conditions (would) suffice to reasonably assure the defendant's return to court" or when they are charged with a felony, misdemeanor domestic violence, a misdemeanor sex offense, or other crimes outlined in the bill.</p> <p>Walker recognizes that there are opponents of her plan to her right and her left, and says she’s taken into account the concerns some may have with parts of her proposal. The non-monetary condition situation, as she put it, brings about the question of whether mass incarceration is going to be allowed to be replaced by mass surveillance.</p> <p>“I wanted to be able to protect that because this new electric monetary system is a new iteration of the billion dollar blocks. Now instead of incarcerating people, you’re got everyone in the ankle bracelets,” said Walker. The widespread use of ankle bracelets is a secondary set-up that Walker said “sets up a system that we’re trying to do away with.”</p> <p>There have been other versions of bail reform introduced in the Assembly, one of them by Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell of Manhattan. When asked if there are any significant differences between the two versions of bail reform, Walker highlighted only one.</p> <p>“In my bill, where a person is still required to be remanded in pre-trial jail, you have discovery reform procedures that kick into play. There is a certain number of time, I believe it’s five days, by which the defense is able to request of the prosecution a discovery evidence or any evidence that might lead to that person being acquitted at the end of a trial,” she explained. This component of her plan gives the person being charged with a crime other mechanisms to “put forth a formidable defense.”</p> <p>According to the listing of Walker’s bill in the Assembly legislation database, the purpose of the bill is to significantly amend “New York's antiquated cash bail system” for the first in “nearly fifty years.”</p> <p>“This legislation would move our state toward a more intelligent, individualized system of pre-trial release, monitoring and, when necessary, detention,” the bill states. “The bill is designed to end the current, reflexive overreliance on monetary bail, which each year results in the unnecessary and expensive pre-trial jailing of thousands of persons simply because they cannot afford a modest sum as collateral.”</p> <p>The Assembly passed Walker’s bill in June as part of a broader criminal justice reform package. <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A05033&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">O’Donnell’s bill</a>, known as the "bail elimination act of 2018," would fully eliminate the use of cash bail while also ensuring “provisions for pretrial detention,” but has not been voted on in the Assembly.</p> <p>However, O’Donnell’s bill does have a “same-as” bill in the Senate, whereas Walker’s does not. That may well change come January when the new Legislature begins its work.</p> <p>Walker said she remains “blindly optimistic,” though she is aware that there are other things that may take priority when the new legislative session begins and Democrats in control of the legislative and executive branches start getting to a long agenda, and that Democrats are not a “monolithic body.”</p> <p>“I anticipate that bail reform, and criminal justice reform will remain an in-vogue topic,” she said.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Listen to the full conversation: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8072-max-murphy-podcast-bail-reform-with-assemblymember-latrice-walker" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Assemblymember Latrice Walker on Max &amp; Murphy</a> Nov. 14 2018]&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Annie Abreu, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Taking the Senate Reins, the Democratic Agenda & Getting Inside 'The Room' 2018-11-18T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-18T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8085-andrea-stewart-cousins-on-taking-the-senate-reins-the-democratic-agenda-getting-inside-the-room Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/stewart-cousins-senate.jpg" alt="stewart cousins senate" width="600" /></p> <p>Andrea Stewart-Cousins (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>After the election results from earlier this month, Andrea Stewart-Cousins is set to become majority leader of the state Senate and, beginning in January, to preside over the chamber as it works with Democrats in charge of the Assembly and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat headed into his third term, to address a long-delayed liberal agenda. Stewart-Cousins, who represents parts of Westchester, will become the first woman and first woman of color to lead a legislative chamber in New York.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Appearing on the Max &amp; Murphy program on WBAI radio</a>, Stewart-Cousins discussed her approach to leading the Senate, outlined a few priorities for the upcoming session, explained some ways in which Democrats will differ from Republican who have led the upper chamber, and commented on becoming one of three people who will be in “the room,” ultimately making major decisions about the state budget and legislation along with Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.</p> <p>When asked, Stewart-Cousins mostly demurred about what issues would be at the top of the Senate agenda, saying that, especially with 15 new members in her roughly 40-member majority conference, senators would first need to meet and discuss how they will approach the upcoming legislative session.</p> <p>“I have avoided that ‘my first hundred days will look like this’ and ‘this is the batting order,’” Stewart-Cousins said, repeating the terms of the question from one of the hosts. “Because I think the first and foremost thing we’re going to do is [create] the type of conference and senators that people have frankly been voting for again and again and not been getting.”</p> <p>However, some policies she did mention were those that had already been set as first-order-of-business and seemingly non-controversial among virtually all Democrats: early voting, the Child Victims Act, and the Reproductive Health Act. These are among many policies Stewart-Cousins said “have not been able to move under Republican leadership for so many years” that Democrats plan to get to.</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins noted that she has faith in the new members of the Senate, some of whom are part of a younger and more progressive movement that successfully claimed many of the seats formerly held by members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group that had formed a coalition with the Republicans, at times giving them the seats for a majority. While these new members certainly won’t cut deals with Republicans, they still may not be on the same page with more senior members of the body, perhaps pushing for different, more progressive priorities like single-payer health care.</p> <p>“We have 15 brand new members and we have to make sure everyone is up to speed,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I am so impressed with every single one of them that I have no doubt that the leadership they will provide, along with my current members, will be absolutely outstanding.”</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins was also hesitant to name specifics when asked what legislation she sees as being tougher to pass, suggesting with a laugh that there could be conflict about anything and everything.</p> <p>“I almost want to say all of the above because, you know, we’re Democrats,” she said with a chuckle. “I think everyone agrees on the outcomes we want, it’s just how to get there.”</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins stressed her belief that Democratic takeover of the Senate is a major step forward for the state, as rather than having to debate over why policies that, for example, raise the minimum wage or ensure access to quality affordable healthcare, are necessary, the new Democrat supermajority will only have to decide on how to best design said policies.</p> <p>“We’re not starting at convincing people that these things are important,” she said. “Now we’re starting a conversation where we understand [what] the objectives are.”</p> <p>“Guess what, we’ll have a conference that is willing to acknowledge climate change and therefore, work towards ensuring our planet’s future,” she continued.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>While expectations are high about addressing climate change, criminal justice reform, gun control, voting and campaign finance reform, tightening rent regulations, and more, there have been concerns that if Democrats were to flip the Senate and full control of state government that taxes would go up in order for the new regime to pay for all its new programs. But, during the campaign and since, Stewart-Cousins and others in her incoming majority have said they have no plans to raise taxes, an approach in line with Cuomo’s, but not necessarily Assembly Democrats.</p> <p>Asked on Max &amp; Murphy if she is indeed committed to not raising taxes, Stewart-Cousins reiterated her stance, and pointed to the federal tax reforms passed in late 2017 that are likely to negatively affect many New Yorkers due to the new cap and local and state deductions from federal tax obligations.</p> <p>“We are not coming in there to raise people’s taxes,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We understand that New York is a big state and we understand that we need to make sure that it is affordable. I’m personally concerned about the impact of this federal tax bill on the New York taxpayers, and I think most people in our position are.”</p> <p>Taxpayers will find out if Democrats stay true to their promise in their first big test: the next state budget, which Stewart-Cousins and her conference will have significant influence on, as the new Senate majority leader negotiates with Cuomo and Heastie. As the first woman to lead a legislative majority, she will be entering that negotiating room that has been male-dominated. When asked what that may mean, Stewart-Cousins said it shows progress made and more to do.</p> <p>“I think it means that people see that once again another glass ceiling, marble ceiling, whatever you want to call it, has been broken,” she said. “We make certain assumptions about how far we’ve come, and we have in many ways, but I think everyday we’re also being reminded that there is more ground that has to be covered more ceilings to break.”</p> <p>When asked if she has any plans on how to change the backroom process that often leads to major budget and legislative agreements that are voted on with virtually no public review, Stewart-Cousins said she couldn’t yet say.</p> <p>“It’d be impossible to say, because I’ve never been in it,” she said, pausing to laugh. “I’m interested to see how this thing really works as well. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of opinions once I’ve actually been part of it.”</p> <p>When it comes to those outside the Democratic conference, Stewart-Cousins said that she has not spoken to any Republicans who want to switch conferences, but would be happy to meet with Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who previously gave Republicans a one-seat majority in the Senate, about his role in the upcoming session. She said Felder had reached out and they would set something up, though he is not expected to command any special perks as he had from Republicans for helping give them the majority.</p> <p>Of the former IDC members who kept their seats, Senators Diane Savino and David Carlucci, Stewart-Cousins said they have been and continue to be part of the Democratic conference, which they returned to in an April deal reached by Governor Andrew Cuomo.</p> <p>[Listen to the full conversation: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Max &amp; Murphy</a>&nbsp;Nov. 14, 2018]</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/stewart-cousins-senate.jpg" alt="stewart cousins senate" width="600" /></p> <p>Andrea Stewart-Cousins (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>After the election results from earlier this month, Andrea Stewart-Cousins is set to become majority leader of the state Senate and, beginning in January, to preside over the chamber as it works with Democrats in charge of the Assembly and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat headed into his third term, to address a long-delayed liberal agenda. Stewart-Cousins, who represents parts of Westchester, will become the first woman and first woman of color to lead a legislative chamber in New York.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Appearing on the Max &amp; Murphy program on WBAI radio</a>, Stewart-Cousins discussed her approach to leading the Senate, outlined a few priorities for the upcoming session, explained some ways in which Democrats will differ from Republican who have led the upper chamber, and commented on becoming one of three people who will be in “the room,” ultimately making major decisions about the state budget and legislation along with Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.</p> <p>When asked, Stewart-Cousins mostly demurred about what issues would be at the top of the Senate agenda, saying that, especially with 15 new members in her roughly 40-member majority conference, senators would first need to meet and discuss how they will approach the upcoming legislative session.</p> <p>“I have avoided that ‘my first hundred days will look like this’ and ‘this is the batting order,’” Stewart-Cousins said, repeating the terms of the question from one of the hosts. “Because I think the first and foremost thing we’re going to do is [create] the type of conference and senators that people have frankly been voting for again and again and not been getting.”</p> <p>However, some policies she did mention were those that had already been set as first-order-of-business and seemingly non-controversial among virtually all Democrats: early voting, the Child Victims Act, and the Reproductive Health Act. These are among many policies Stewart-Cousins said “have not been able to move under Republican leadership for so many years” that Democrats plan to get to.</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins noted that she has faith in the new members of the Senate, some of whom are part of a younger and more progressive movement that successfully claimed many of the seats formerly held by members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group that had formed a coalition with the Republicans, at times giving them the seats for a majority. While these new members certainly won’t cut deals with Republicans, they still may not be on the same page with more senior members of the body, perhaps pushing for different, more progressive priorities like single-payer health care.</p> <p>“We have 15 brand new members and we have to make sure everyone is up to speed,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I am so impressed with every single one of them that I have no doubt that the leadership they will provide, along with my current members, will be absolutely outstanding.”</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins was also hesitant to name specifics when asked what legislation she sees as being tougher to pass, suggesting with a laugh that there could be conflict about anything and everything.</p> <p>“I almost want to say all of the above because, you know, we’re Democrats,” she said with a chuckle. “I think everyone agrees on the outcomes we want, it’s just how to get there.”</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins stressed her belief that Democratic takeover of the Senate is a major step forward for the state, as rather than having to debate over why policies that, for example, raise the minimum wage or ensure access to quality affordable healthcare, are necessary, the new Democrat supermajority will only have to decide on how to best design said policies.</p> <p>“We’re not starting at convincing people that these things are important,” she said. “Now we’re starting a conversation where we understand [what] the objectives are.”</p> <p>“Guess what, we’ll have a conference that is willing to acknowledge climate change and therefore, work towards ensuring our planet’s future,” she continued.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>While expectations are high about addressing climate change, criminal justice reform, gun control, voting and campaign finance reform, tightening rent regulations, and more, there have been concerns that if Democrats were to flip the Senate and full control of state government that taxes would go up in order for the new regime to pay for all its new programs. But, during the campaign and since, Stewart-Cousins and others in her incoming majority have said they have no plans to raise taxes, an approach in line with Cuomo’s, but not necessarily Assembly Democrats.</p> <p>Asked on Max &amp; Murphy if she is indeed committed to not raising taxes, Stewart-Cousins reiterated her stance, and pointed to the federal tax reforms passed in late 2017 that are likely to negatively affect many New Yorkers due to the new cap and local and state deductions from federal tax obligations.</p> <p>“We are not coming in there to raise people’s taxes,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We understand that New York is a big state and we understand that we need to make sure that it is affordable. I’m personally concerned about the impact of this federal tax bill on the New York taxpayers, and I think most people in our position are.”</p> <p>Taxpayers will find out if Democrats stay true to their promise in their first big test: the next state budget, which Stewart-Cousins and her conference will have significant influence on, as the new Senate majority leader negotiates with Cuomo and Heastie. As the first woman to lead a legislative majority, she will be entering that negotiating room that has been male-dominated. When asked what that may mean, Stewart-Cousins said it shows progress made and more to do.</p> <p>“I think it means that people see that once again another glass ceiling, marble ceiling, whatever you want to call it, has been broken,” she said. “We make certain assumptions about how far we’ve come, and we have in many ways, but I think everyday we’re also being reminded that there is more ground that has to be covered more ceilings to break.”</p> <p>When asked if she has any plans on how to change the backroom process that often leads to major budget and legislative agreements that are voted on with virtually no public review, Stewart-Cousins said she couldn’t yet say.</p> <p>“It’d be impossible to say, because I’ve never been in it,” she said, pausing to laugh. “I’m interested to see how this thing really works as well. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of opinions once I’ve actually been part of it.”</p> <p>When it comes to those outside the Democratic conference, Stewart-Cousins said that she has not spoken to any Republicans who want to switch conferences, but would be happy to meet with Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who previously gave Republicans a one-seat majority in the Senate, about his role in the upcoming session. She said Felder had reached out and they would set something up, though he is not expected to command any special perks as he had from Republicans for helping give them the majority.</p> <p>Of the former IDC members who kept their seats, Senators Diane Savino and David Carlucci, Stewart-Cousins said they have been and continue to be part of the Democratic conference, which they returned to in an April deal reached by Governor Andrew Cuomo.</p> <p>[Listen to the full conversation: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Max &amp; Murphy</a>&nbsp;Nov. 14, 2018]</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

***
by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Max & Murphy Podcast: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins 2018-11-14T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-14T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p><strong>November 14, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/asc_andreastewartcousinswbai-crp.jpg" alt="asc andreastewartcousinswbai crp" width="209" height="167" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins is on the verge of becoming the majority leader of the New York State Senate -- and she'll be the first woman and first woman of color to lead a legisative chamber in New York. Just more than a week after Democrats dominated Election Day in New York to flip the upper chamber of the state Legislature and ensure full Democratic control of state government, Stewart-Cousins joined the show to discuss her vision for the path ahead.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/530039823&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="180" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p><strong>November 14, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/asc_andreastewartcousinswbai-crp.jpg" alt="asc andreastewartcousinswbai crp" width="209" height="167" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins is on the verge of becoming the majority leader of the New York State Senate -- and she'll be the first woman and first woman of color to lead a legisative chamber in New York. Just more than a week after Democrats dominated Election Day in New York to flip the upper chamber of the state Legislature and ensure full Democratic control of state government, Stewart-Cousins joined the show to discuss her vision for the path ahead.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/530039823&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="180" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Max & Murphy Podcast: Assemblymember Latrice Walker 2018-11-14T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-14T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8072-max-murphy-podcast-bail-reform-with-assemblymember-latrice-walker Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p><strong>November 14, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Bail Reform with Assemblymember Latrice Walker<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/latrice-walker-wbai-org.jpg" alt="latrice walker wbai org" width="134" height="200" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Assemblymember Latrice Walker, a Brooklyn Democrat, joined the show to discuss her push for criminal justice reform, among other issues, including the prospects for a wave of Democratic legislation to pass through the state Legislature in 2019 after the state Senate flipped and will potentially work with the long-standing Assembly majority to pass long-stalled bills.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/530038692&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="180" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p><strong>November 14, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Bail Reform with Assemblymember Latrice Walker<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/latrice-walker-wbai-org.jpg" alt="latrice walker wbai org" width="134" height="200" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Assemblymember Latrice Walker, a Brooklyn Democrat, joined the show to discuss her push for criminal justice reform, among other issues, including the prospects for a wave of Democratic legislation to pass through the state Legislature in 2019 after the state Senate flipped and will potentially work with the long-standing Assembly majority to pass long-stalled bills.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/530038692&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="180" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
With Full Democratic Control, Sponsors of New York Single-Payer Health Care Hopeful About 2019 2018-11-13T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8066-with-full-democratic-control-sponsors-of-new-york-single-payer-health-care-hopeful-about-2019 Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/29874812518_530478a409_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo health care" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo:&nbsp;Kevin Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Though Governor Andrew Cuomo has not expressed support for instituting a single-payer health care system in New York, his fellow Democrats campaigned on the issue as they flipped control of the state Senate, landing all of state government into Democratic hands and providing a significant boost of optimism to the lead sponsors of the New York Health Act, which would create a government-administered single-payer health care system.</p> <p>The bill has passed the Democrat-dominated state Assembly several times and all the members of Senate Democratic conference signed on as co-sponsors at the end of last legislative session in a unified show of support for the program heading into the election season.</p> <p>Cuomo has said he supports a Medicare for all-type system at the federal level, but cast doubts on the cost and complexity of doing it in New York, and since their resounding wins on Election Day, the incoming leaders of the Democratic Senate majority have indicated that the massive undertaking of single-payer is not at the top of the agenda.</p> <p>Still, with Democratic control of the Senate and the Assembly by wide margins, single-payer healthcare could be passed as early as the 2019 session, according to Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee and lead sponsor of the New York Health Act.</p> <p>“It was clear in the country and New York that healthcare was the number one issue on voters’ minds,” Gottfried said, before pointing to his legislation. “A solid majority of the new state Senate has either been a cosigner, voted for it in the Assembly, or campaigned on it. So I think we’re on track to get it passed in the Assembly and state Senate.”</p> <p>The <a href="https://legislation.nysenate.gov/pdf/bills/2017/S4840" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Health Act</a> would replace health insurance companies with New York state government as the payer of healthcare costs for all New Yorkers. It has been <a href="https://www.pressconnects.com/story/news/local/2018/06/17/ny-assembly-oks-universal-health-care-bill-halted-senate/708708002/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">passed</a> in the Assembly four years running but has yet to be voted on in the Senate, where Republicans have held control. All of the other 30 Democratic senators joined lead sponsor Senator Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx to co-sponsor the legislation, though the Senate Democratic conference is seeing significant turnover due to primary wins by insurgent challengers. But, those challengers have in general been even more vocally supportive of single-payer health care than their more moderate predecessors. These facts give Gottfried confidence that the New York Health Act will pass during the 2019 session, which begins in January.</p> <p>But the bill still faces an uphill battle, in part because of the massive changes it would institute, and the fact that though it might reduce overall individual and business healthcare costs after implementation, for the state to run the system it would require raising taxes significantly, something many Democrats have <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8047-tax-issues-at-center-of-new-york-elections-albany-year-to-come" target="_blank" rel="noopener">promised</a> not to do and Cuomo is vehemently opposed to. It would also drastically impact the state’s private and public hospitals, the health insurance industry, and more. Some of the changes would of course be beneficial to New Yorkers, but the undertaking is complex and the New York Health Act as currently written leaves a lot of detail undetermined, including funding.</p> <p>The governor has repeatedly opposed single-payer healthcare at the state level, <a href="https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Cuomo-Universal-healthcare-easier-on-federal-13194080.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">suggesting</a> that it would be more rational and financially feasible if administered by the federal government. Cuomo questioned in the past how a single-payer system could be put in place without doubling the tax burden, and cited <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/sallypipes/2018/06/25/is-statewide-single-payer-feasible-or-is-it-just-california-dreamin/#7e0d989c636a" target="_blank" rel="noopener">California’s</a> and <a href="https://www.politico.com/story/2014/12/single-payer-vermont-113711" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Vermont’s</a> debates over single-payer — which both ended when supporters were not able to answer one question: where would the funding come from? — as paragons of the impracticality of state-level single-payer.</p> <p>Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, is confident that with his fellow lead sponsor Senator Rivera, who is likely to be the Senate health committee chair come January, and other legislators, he will be able to sway Cuomo to support the legislation.</p> <p>“He’s obviously not on board yet, but he and his staff are very open to working with the Legislature on the issue,” Gottfried said. “I’m convinced we can satisfy their concerns.”</p> <p>And after a recent <a href="https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/pnhpnymetro/pages/3980/attachments/original/1533068488/RAND_NYHA_full_study_RR2424_compiled.pdf?1533068488" target="_blank" rel="noopener">study</a> by RAND Corporation concluded that the New York Health Act would result in a reduction of administrative costs, provide all New Yorkers with healthcare, and reduce healthcare costs for most, Gottfried says the financing of the bill will not be a problem.</p> <p>“New Yorkers are all going to have to think about what they will do with the hundreds of thousands of dollars that will end up in their pockets, and that’s a nice problem to have,” Gottfried said.</p> <p>The study has a caveat, however, stating in its conclusion that “the estimated effects depend heavily on the assumptions about provider payments, administrative costs and drug prices.” <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2018/08/01/rand-study-finds-single-payer-viable-in-new-york-but-with-big-caveats-536072" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Politico</a> highlighted these assumptions as well as the likely tax increases that have largely been brushed aside by Democrats supporting the legislation. Wealthy people leaving the state, companies restructuring, the cost of hospital expenses rising at a faster rate or the Trump administration not issuing a federal waiver to redirect all healthcare-related funds to the new state entity are all possible events that could result in RAND’s conclusion falling apart.</p> <p>For it to work, while health care costs drop, taxes would undoubtedly increase significantly for many New Yorkers. As cited by Politico, “a household reporting $150,000 in income would see its state tax rate increase from 6.45 percent in 2017 to 18.3 percent,” under one model scenario. Additionally, those who receive Medicaid or fall under the state’s Essential Plan, which subsidizes health insurance for low-income New Yorkers, have less to gain from the expansion. According to RAND, though, 1.2 million New Yorkers would gain health coverage.</p> <p>It is likely that funds for New York single-payer health care would partially come from a new payroll tax, which RAND projects to fall largely on employers. However, RAND suggests the health act payroll tax would cost less for businesses already contributing toward employee health insurance and the Medicare payroll tax, estimating decreases in employer costs fairly quickly.</p> <p>Concerns about businesses and high-income individuals leaving the state persist, with a tax atmosphere in New York that many, including Cuomo, acknowledge is already burdensome and became more so for many taxpayers, especially top earners, under the new federal tax code.</p> <p>Senator Rivera, aware that cost is the primary argument against single-payer health care, repeatedly emphasized the need to work towards a version of the bill that would reduce the financial strain.</p> <p>“I will continue working diligently with Assembly Member Gottfried, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and the Senate Democratic Conference to make the New York Health Act a bill that is not only fiscally responsible, but that provides comprehensive coverage to all New Yorkers,” Rivera wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The bill and its potential ramifications have been studied closely by Bill Hammond, director of health policy at The Empire Center, a think tank. "Regardless of which party controls the state Senate, the New York Health Act remains a wildly unrealistic idea," Hammond said by email.&nbsp;"It means putting New York's entire health-care system — representing one-fifth of the economy — in the hands of the same state government that struggles to run the subways.&nbsp;It requires massive, draconian tax hikes, enough to roughly triple total state revenues."</p> <p>"Plus, a true single-payer plan would need federal waivers that the Trump administration has vowed to block," Hammond continued, also noting a political angle -- that if Democrats spend great sums of money and political capital on a health care overhaul of this magnitude, what will they ignore, like fighting climate change or improving mass transit.</p> <p>"It was easy to cast a symbolic yes vote for a single-payer bill that had no chance of passing," Hammond said. "Now that that it might actually happen, supporters are going to be forced to confront the practical realities. Then, hopefully, they’ll focus on helping the 6% of New Yorkers who still lack insurance, rather than disrupting coverage for those who already have it."</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>Rivera acknowledged that moving to single-payer would not satisfy everyone, especially those who benefit from the current system, and that there are negotiations to come that will likely adjust the bill to make it more palatable to holdouts.</p> <p>“The biggest challenge will be to reach a consensus among stakeholders that the NY Health Act is feasible [and] fiscally responsible,” Rivera wrote.</p> <p>Citing “healthcare practitioners, prescription drug companies, healthcare providers, employers, unions and New Yorkers,” as the various groups involved, Rivera also mentioned courting Cuomo as an important step to take in the coming legislative session.</p> <p>“Our main priority for the next legislative session is to continue shaping the bill so that it is feasible, affordable, that the Governor is willing to sign, and that primarily, provides quality healthcare for everybody,” Rivera wrote. “During the next legislative session, we will focus on making the necessary amendments to the bill so that it truly reflects the different healthcare needs affecting all New Yorkers.”</p> <p>For now, it is very difficult to imagine Cuomo coming on board, especially given the pains he’s taken to keep state spending increases at around 2 percent per year and to lower taxes. Asked about single-payer health care during a Thursday appearance on The Capitol Pressroom with host Susan Arbetter, Cuomo painted it as unrealistic given budget constraints. He said Democrats are generally in agreement on the concept, but legislators will have to deal with reality in working with him on a state budget next year, while he also said he thinks it's much more workable on the federal level. “Single-payer health plan, for example," Cuomo said, "conceptually I think it’s the right way to go in. I believe it’s more feasible financially on the national level. No state has been able to finance the transition costs.”</p> <p>A variety of factors, including the challenge of getting Cuomo’s support and not wanting to come into power quickly pursuing something as revolutionary as single-payer health care, may be why the likely next Senate majority leader, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8061-agenda-2019-major-policy-tests-ahead-for-state-and-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Andrea Stewart-Cousins</a>, and her likely deputy, Senator <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8024-two-tiered-agenda-for-democrats-if-they-take-state-senate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Michael Gianaris</a>, have not highlighted it as top priorities for the coming session.</p> <p>Assemblymember Gottfried noted that state Senators’ public approval of the bill gives him no reason not to “take them at their word,” and said he expects the legislation to move through the Legislature. He knows that private health insurers are certain to vehemently oppose the continued push.</p> <p>“The insurance industry will be fiercely lobbying against the bill and they have a lot of money, going up against their lobbying will take a lot of work,” Gottfried said. “but I’m convinced with so many senators on the record in support of the bill, we will prevail.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

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</p> <p>This article has been updated with Cuomo's comments from 11/15/18 on The Capitol Pressroom.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/29874812518_530478a409_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo health care" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo:&nbsp;Kevin Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Though Governor Andrew Cuomo has not expressed support for instituting a single-payer health care system in New York, his fellow Democrats campaigned on the issue as they flipped control of the state Senate, landing all of state government into Democratic hands and providing a significant boost of optimism to the lead sponsors of the New York Health Act, which would create a government-administered single-payer health care system.</p> <p>The bill has passed the Democrat-dominated state Assembly several times and all the members of Senate Democratic conference signed on as co-sponsors at the end of last legislative session in a unified show of support for the program heading into the election season.</p> <p>Cuomo has said he supports a Medicare for all-type system at the federal level, but cast doubts on the cost and complexity of doing it in New York, and since their resounding wins on Election Day, the incoming leaders of the Democratic Senate majority have indicated that the massive undertaking of single-payer is not at the top of the agenda.</p> <p>Still, with Democratic control of the Senate and the Assembly by wide margins, single-payer healthcare could be passed as early as the 2019 session, according to Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee and lead sponsor of the New York Health Act.</p> <p>“It was clear in the country and New York that healthcare was the number one issue on voters’ minds,” Gottfried said, before pointing to his legislation. “A solid majority of the new state Senate has either been a cosigner, voted for it in the Assembly, or campaigned on it. So I think we’re on track to get it passed in the Assembly and state Senate.”</p> <p>The <a href="https://legislation.nysenate.gov/pdf/bills/2017/S4840" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Health Act</a> would replace health insurance companies with New York state government as the payer of healthcare costs for all New Yorkers. It has been <a href="https://www.pressconnects.com/story/news/local/2018/06/17/ny-assembly-oks-universal-health-care-bill-halted-senate/708708002/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">passed</a> in the Assembly four years running but has yet to be voted on in the Senate, where Republicans have held control. All of the other 30 Democratic senators joined lead sponsor Senator Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx to co-sponsor the legislation, though the Senate Democratic conference is seeing significant turnover due to primary wins by insurgent challengers. But, those challengers have in general been even more vocally supportive of single-payer health care than their more moderate predecessors. These facts give Gottfried confidence that the New York Health Act will pass during the 2019 session, which begins in January.</p> <p>But the bill still faces an uphill battle, in part because of the massive changes it would institute, and the fact that though it might reduce overall individual and business healthcare costs after implementation, for the state to run the system it would require raising taxes significantly, something many Democrats have <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8047-tax-issues-at-center-of-new-york-elections-albany-year-to-come" target="_blank" rel="noopener">promised</a> not to do and Cuomo is vehemently opposed to. It would also drastically impact the state’s private and public hospitals, the health insurance industry, and more. Some of the changes would of course be beneficial to New Yorkers, but the undertaking is complex and the New York Health Act as currently written leaves a lot of detail undetermined, including funding.</p> <p>The governor has repeatedly opposed single-payer healthcare at the state level, <a href="https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Cuomo-Universal-healthcare-easier-on-federal-13194080.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">suggesting</a> that it would be more rational and financially feasible if administered by the federal government. Cuomo questioned in the past how a single-payer system could be put in place without doubling the tax burden, and cited <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/sallypipes/2018/06/25/is-statewide-single-payer-feasible-or-is-it-just-california-dreamin/#7e0d989c636a" target="_blank" rel="noopener">California’s</a> and <a href="https://www.politico.com/story/2014/12/single-payer-vermont-113711" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Vermont’s</a> debates over single-payer — which both ended when supporters were not able to answer one question: where would the funding come from? — as paragons of the impracticality of state-level single-payer.</p> <p>Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, is confident that with his fellow lead sponsor Senator Rivera, who is likely to be the Senate health committee chair come January, and other legislators, he will be able to sway Cuomo to support the legislation.</p> <p>“He’s obviously not on board yet, but he and his staff are very open to working with the Legislature on the issue,” Gottfried said. “I’m convinced we can satisfy their concerns.”</p> <p>And after a recent <a href="https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/pnhpnymetro/pages/3980/attachments/original/1533068488/RAND_NYHA_full_study_RR2424_compiled.pdf?1533068488" target="_blank" rel="noopener">study</a> by RAND Corporation concluded that the New York Health Act would result in a reduction of administrative costs, provide all New Yorkers with healthcare, and reduce healthcare costs for most, Gottfried says the financing of the bill will not be a problem.</p> <p>“New Yorkers are all going to have to think about what they will do with the hundreds of thousands of dollars that will end up in their pockets, and that’s a nice problem to have,” Gottfried said.</p> <p>The study has a caveat, however, stating in its conclusion that “the estimated effects depend heavily on the assumptions about provider payments, administrative costs and drug prices.” <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2018/08/01/rand-study-finds-single-payer-viable-in-new-york-but-with-big-caveats-536072" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Politico</a> highlighted these assumptions as well as the likely tax increases that have largely been brushed aside by Democrats supporting the legislation. Wealthy people leaving the state, companies restructuring, the cost of hospital expenses rising at a faster rate or the Trump administration not issuing a federal waiver to redirect all healthcare-related funds to the new state entity are all possible events that could result in RAND’s conclusion falling apart.</p> <p>For it to work, while health care costs drop, taxes would undoubtedly increase significantly for many New Yorkers. As cited by Politico, “a household reporting $150,000 in income would see its state tax rate increase from 6.45 percent in 2017 to 18.3 percent,” under one model scenario. Additionally, those who receive Medicaid or fall under the state’s Essential Plan, which subsidizes health insurance for low-income New Yorkers, have less to gain from the expansion. According to RAND, though, 1.2 million New Yorkers would gain health coverage.</p> <p>It is likely that funds for New York single-payer health care would partially come from a new payroll tax, which RAND projects to fall largely on employers. However, RAND suggests the health act payroll tax would cost less for businesses already contributing toward employee health insurance and the Medicare payroll tax, estimating decreases in employer costs fairly quickly.</p> <p>Concerns about businesses and high-income individuals leaving the state persist, with a tax atmosphere in New York that many, including Cuomo, acknowledge is already burdensome and became more so for many taxpayers, especially top earners, under the new federal tax code.</p> <p>Senator Rivera, aware that cost is the primary argument against single-payer health care, repeatedly emphasized the need to work towards a version of the bill that would reduce the financial strain.</p> <p>“I will continue working diligently with Assembly Member Gottfried, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and the Senate Democratic Conference to make the New York Health Act a bill that is not only fiscally responsible, but that provides comprehensive coverage to all New Yorkers,” Rivera wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The bill and its potential ramifications have been studied closely by Bill Hammond, director of health policy at The Empire Center, a think tank. "Regardless of which party controls the state Senate, the New York Health Act remains a wildly unrealistic idea," Hammond said by email.&nbsp;"It means putting New York's entire health-care system — representing one-fifth of the economy — in the hands of the same state government that struggles to run the subways.&nbsp;It requires massive, draconian tax hikes, enough to roughly triple total state revenues."</p> <p>"Plus, a true single-payer plan would need federal waivers that the Trump administration has vowed to block," Hammond continued, also noting a political angle -- that if Democrats spend great sums of money and political capital on a health care overhaul of this magnitude, what will they ignore, like fighting climate change or improving mass transit.</p> <p>"It was easy to cast a symbolic yes vote for a single-payer bill that had no chance of passing," Hammond said. "Now that that it might actually happen, supporters are going to be forced to confront the practical realities. Then, hopefully, they’ll focus on helping the 6% of New Yorkers who still lack insurance, rather than disrupting coverage for those who already have it."</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>Rivera acknowledged that moving to single-payer would not satisfy everyone, especially those who benefit from the current system, and that there are negotiations to come that will likely adjust the bill to make it more palatable to holdouts.</p> <p>“The biggest challenge will be to reach a consensus among stakeholders that the NY Health Act is feasible [and] fiscally responsible,” Rivera wrote.</p> <p>Citing “healthcare practitioners, prescription drug companies, healthcare providers, employers, unions and New Yorkers,” as the various groups involved, Rivera also mentioned courting Cuomo as an important step to take in the coming legislative session.</p> <p>“Our main priority for the next legislative session is to continue shaping the bill so that it is feasible, affordable, that the Governor is willing to sign, and that primarily, provides quality healthcare for everybody,” Rivera wrote. “During the next legislative session, we will focus on making the necessary amendments to the bill so that it truly reflects the different healthcare needs affecting all New Yorkers.”</p> <p>For now, it is very difficult to imagine Cuomo coming on board, especially given the pains he’s taken to keep state spending increases at around 2 percent per year and to lower taxes. Asked about single-payer health care during a Thursday appearance on The Capitol Pressroom with host Susan Arbetter, Cuomo painted it as unrealistic given budget constraints. He said Democrats are generally in agreement on the concept, but legislators will have to deal with reality in working with him on a state budget next year, while he also said he thinks it's much more workable on the federal level. “Single-payer health plan, for example," Cuomo said, "conceptually I think it’s the right way to go in. I believe it’s more feasible financially on the national level. No state has been able to finance the transition costs.”</p> <p>A variety of factors, including the challenge of getting Cuomo’s support and not wanting to come into power quickly pursuing something as revolutionary as single-payer health care, may be why the likely next Senate majority leader, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8061-agenda-2019-major-policy-tests-ahead-for-state-and-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Andrea Stewart-Cousins</a>, and her likely deputy, Senator <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8024-two-tiered-agenda-for-democrats-if-they-take-state-senate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Michael Gianaris</a>, have not highlighted it as top priorities for the coming session.</p> <p>Assemblymember Gottfried noted that state Senators’ public approval of the bill gives him no reason not to “take them at their word,” and said he expects the legislation to move through the Legislature. He knows that private health insurers are certain to vehemently oppose the continued push.</p> <p>“The insurance industry will be fiercely lobbying against the bill and they have a lot of money, going up against their lobbying will take a lot of work,” Gottfried said. “but I’m convinced with so many senators on the record in support of the bill, we will prevail.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>This article has been updated with Cuomo's comments from 11/15/18 on The Capitol Pressroom.</p>
Cuomo's Third Term Agenda Takes Shape 2018-11-10T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-10T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8065-cuomo-s-third-term-agenda-takes-shape Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/44645343474_abab33fd90_z.jpg" alt="Governor Cuomo third term" width="600" height="501" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Mike Groll/The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, was comfortably reelected to a third term on November 6, priding himself on having won a strong mandate from voters to carry out his agenda. But that agenda was far from clear during the campaign as Cuomo declined to articulate a cogent vision for the next four years and instead largely touted accomplishments from his first two terms in office and focused on fighting President Donald Trump and other Republicans in Washington, D.C.</p> <p>At times, Cuomo also expressed support for broad progressive proposals that have languished under his watch for years, failures due to Republican control of the state Senate, he said, while campaigning for Democratic takeover of the upper chamber and thus entire Legislature, which occurred in convincing fashion when the votes were cast.</p> <p>In the closing weeks of the election and in interviews afterwards, Cuomo has more directly laid out a policy roadmap and, with the state Senate soon to be in Democratic hands and an overwhelming Democratic majority in the Assembly, he will have even more ability than in the past to advance his priorities. On the other hand, the more moderate Cuomo may also have new battles on his hands with a Legislature controlled by his party-mates as opposed to the split control that allowed him to triangulate.</p> <p>During two radio interviews that, along with his Trump-focused election night speech, made up his victory lap this past week, Cuomo asserted that his win margin and the help he gave to Senate candidates would give him more weight in Albany next year. “When you have a larger mandate electorally, the other elected officials know you’ve literally come into government with a stronger hand, and having a larger victory helps you governmentally, I believe that,” he said in a WVOX interview with Bill O’Shaughnessy. “It’s not determinative, but it does.”</p> <p>Ahead of the September primary, facing a spirited challenge from actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7928-ahead-of-primary-cuomo-gives-limited-insight-into-third-term-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Cuomo said little</a> about concrete ideas for a third term. But early indications are that he will likely move ahead on a raft of socially progressive bills while maintaining his centrist approach to fiscal and economic policy. “We are going to be the most aggressive state in terms of progressive measures and the most intelligent and aggressive in terms of economic development,” Cuomo said in the WVOX interview, touting that he is able to be the best of both Democratic and Republican principles. As Cuomo suggested, most legislation will likely sail through both chambers of the state Legislature with ease. But there will undoubtedly be some issues that will prove divisive even among Democrats, particularly between suburban and upstate legislators on one hand and those representing New York City on the other, or between what legislative majorities get behind and what Cuomo prizes.</p> <p>In the recent radio interviews, Cuomo spoke of several policies that he wants to advance immediately at the start of the legislative session in January, which will coincide with his annual State of the State address and Executive Budget presentation, setting out in much more concrete terms his priorities for the year. For now, Cuomo has highlighted measures including codifying new abortion protections into state law, passing voting and ethics reforms, expanded gun control measures, the DREAM Act, and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. During the campaign, appearing with state Senate candidates in Long Island, the Hudson Valley and New York City, Cuomo signed several pledges along those lines as well.</p> <p>“[N]one of these things could get done with a Republican Senate,” he said on WVOX. “We can now get them done with a Democratic Senate. And they are significant, they are issues that frankly have bothered me and a lot of other New Yorkers for years.”</p> <p>During Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation proceedings to the Supreme Court, amid a national outcry over how it could affect abortion protections across the country, Cuomo promised to pass the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify the protections of Roe v. Wade, within the first 30 days of the legislative session. “I am going to do everything possible. I'm going to send up the bill as soon as the session starts,” he told radio host Alan Chartock on The Capitol Connection.</p> <p>He also pledged to push for voting, government ethics, and campaign finance reforms. Though he has benefited greatly from campaign donations from limited liability companies, which do not have to disclose their ownership and are used to circumvent contribution limits, he has repeatedly expressed support for closing the LLC loophole and has promised to prioritize that measure. He also said he would push to make legislative positions full-time, banning outside income, which he has attempted to leverage over the Legislature in the past when an outside commission was exploring pay raises for state elected officials. A new commission created by Cuomo and legislative leaders last year is due with binding recommendations in the coming weeks, meaning the conversation around reforms attached to pay raises will be ripe for the start of the year.</p> <p>Cuomo has expressed support for a public campaign finance system in the past, as have Democrats in the Legislature, so it is expected that he will also work to enact such a system in the new session.</p> <p>Following another election administration debacle in New York City, there’s also expected to be quick movement on voting reforms, including establishing early voting and no-excuse absentee ballots, both items that Cuomo has pledged to advance. Cuomo even sought to fund a pilot program for early voting earlier this year, proposing $7 million in funding prior to the passage of the state budget, but the idea did not gain much traction, particularly among Senate Republicans.</p> <p>Gun control has been a signature policy issue for Cuomo, who acted quickly following the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting to pass the SAFE Act in New York. He has proposed new measures for the next legislative session, including a Red Flag Gun Protection bill that would allow courts to order the seizure of guns from the homes of individuals deemed a safety risk to themselves or the public, and to prevent those individuals from purchasing any firearms. Cuomo attempted to pass the measure this year, launching a cross-state bus tour to advocate for it, but was unsuccessful. He’s also pledged to alter the background check wait period for gun purchases from three to ten days.</p> <p>Cuomo has also been vocal about passing the Child Victims Act, which gives victims of child abuse greater legal recourse when they are adults by expanding the statute of limitations to bring civil lawsuits against their abusers or institutions. The legislation has repeatedly failed in the Republican-controlled Senate while passing in the Democrat-led Assembly.</p> <p>Other criminal justice reforms are also expected to be on the docket as Cuomo has pushed for bail and speedy trial reform. A bill to eliminate cash bail and Kalief’s Law -- a speedy trial bill named for Bronx youth Kalief Browder who spent two years on Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime and later died by suicide after being released when the charges were dropped -- both passed the Assembly this year and would likely be approved by a Democratic Senate next year.</p> <p>The governor prides himself on being a builder, in the vein of Robert Moses, and in two speeches ahead of the election to the Association for a Better New York and the Business Council of New York State, he touted his plan to invest $150 billion in infrastructure -- in state, local, federal, and private funding -- in projects spanning into his third term (he raised the estimate by $50 billion as he eyed the next four years and new investments). He pegged $66 billion to transportation projects and $32 billion to environmental facilities. The investments are meant to build on a $100 billion program that is already underway which includes modernizing airports, train and bus stations, and repairing and building bridges around the state. One essential goal of the coming years for Cuomo is figuring out funding for the Gateway project, the new tunnels to connect New York and New Jersey. Cuomo has recently pleaded with President Trump to return federal money to the table to fund half the project, with New York and New Jersey set to split the other half, after Trump had reneged on an Obama era commitment.&nbsp;</p> <p>Environmental conservation issues are also on the governor’s list and he has promised to advance his “Save Our Waters” bill to prohibit offshore drilling and exploration, and drilling infrastructure off the Long Island coast. Like on other issues, there are pending battles between Cuomo and legislators (and advocates) over environmental policy, including how quickly the state is moving to renewable energy and other efforts to take on climate change.</p> <p>On the fiscal front, Cuomo, who prides himself on having passed eight on-time or nearly on-time budgets, has repeatedly vowed to continue the state’s 2 percent property tax cap and to keep state spending increases from going beyond 2 percent each year. Though Cuomo has used some budgeting gimmicks to account for the 2 percent annual growth, which has at times really been closer to 3 or 4 percent, he is largely praised by fiscal watchdogs for his restraint. Tax rates will, as always, be a topic of discussion in Albany in 2019, and while Cuomo is likely to insist on little movement and Democratic legislators are already explaining that they do not plan to raise taxes, as has been the warning about them from Republicans, the parties will at least have to deal with whether to extend the expiring “millionaires tax” that Cuomo and a split Legislature have passed multiple times, while reducing other rates over the years. The state is facing projected budget deficits and the impact of federal tax reform is yet to be seen in full. Cuomo's initial attempts to mitigate the negative effects of the tax overhaul and, specifically, its new cap on state and local tax deductions from federal taxes, have not panned out.</p> <p>Cuomo will likely also revive legislation for a speed camera program in New York City that lapsed in the face of Republican recalcitrance in the Senate. The governor and elected officials in the city implemented a workaround for the program which required an executive order but Cuomo has since promised to push the bill, which provides for cameras in school zones, through the Legislature.</p> <p>There are several issues on which Cuomo might find himself at odds with one or both houses of the Legislature, even if there is widespread agreement on overarching goals.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>Cuomo has pushed for a comprehensive congestion pricing program to fund the MTA, arrest the decline of New York City’s subway system, and reduce the clog of Manhattan streets. But Democrats, particularly in the outer boroughs and in suburban areas around the city, are far from unanimous on the proposal. Cuomo seemed to recognize these differences in appearances in early October on Long Island and South Brooklyn. In Long Island, he pledged to make the city “pay its fair share for the MTA,” while at the Brooklyn event, he pledged to secure funding for the beleaguered transit authority through congestion pricing.</p> <p>The fight for increased education funding occupies Albany each year and Cuomo has been criticized as failing to fully comply with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling that would require billions more in state funds being sent to struggling public schools (he and his administration argue that they are in compliance and due funds have been allocated). Several Democrats elected to the Senate this year made fair student funding a part of their platform and will probably push for increased funding for urban districts from the governor, who has insisted each year that his administration is funding schools at record levels. There may be a more vigorous discussion this year about the exact formulas used for state school aid.</p> <p>Charter schools, privately-run public schools, are an additional aspect of that debate. Senate Republicans hold a more favorable position on charters and have clashed with Democrats in the Assembly over providing them with increased per-pupil funding, not to mention increasing the cap on the number of charters that can be awarded to start new schools. But Cuomo has long been a charter school champion, and the charter sector has also donated large sums of money to his campaign, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-cuomo-fundraising-molinaro-james-wofford-dinapoli-trichter-20181029-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">as much as $130,000</a> in the days leading up to the election. Cuomo has repeatedly stated that he supports charter schools and has in the past done a great deal to ensure their growth. The charter cap will be a subject of negotiation in 2019, and it may again be tied to mayoral control of New York City schools, which is again set to expire next year.</p> <p>Perhaps the most contentious debate in next year’s session will come near the tail end when rent stabilization laws are set to expire. Real estate interests have been another particularly generous segment of donors to Cuomo, as well as to many state legislators, and though the governor has pledged to “protect and expand rent stabilization in New York City,” he’s likely to face strong lobbying and opposition from the industry. Within his own party, a slate of newly elected progressive Senators refused real estate donations when they ran for office and have promised to fight for stronger tenant protections and more affordable housing. As on many topics, the discussion among Cuomo and his fellow Democrats is likely to come down to how far they can agree to go as they move in a progressive direction.</p> <p>While there will be a lot of like-mindedness in Albany come January, along with some of the contentious issues mentioned, there may also be more protracted battles over whether the state should move toward a single-payer health care system, legalize recreational marijuana, and provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. There may also be conflict around Cuomo's economic development spending with regard to how much influence the Legislature seeks and whether the Democratic majorities demand additional transparency and accountability in how the money is spent.</p> <p>In January, Cuomo will present his State of the State address, setting the stage for the year ahead. It remains to be seen how ambitious he will be with his party controlling the entire state government and with no Republican obstruction that he can scapegoat for any failures.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/44645343474_abab33fd90_z.jpg" alt="Governor Cuomo third term" width="600" height="501" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Mike Groll/The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, was comfortably reelected to a third term on November 6, priding himself on having won a strong mandate from voters to carry out his agenda. But that agenda was far from clear during the campaign as Cuomo declined to articulate a cogent vision for the next four years and instead largely touted accomplishments from his first two terms in office and focused on fighting President Donald Trump and other Republicans in Washington, D.C.</p> <p>At times, Cuomo also expressed support for broad progressive proposals that have languished under his watch for years, failures due to Republican control of the state Senate, he said, while campaigning for Democratic takeover of the upper chamber and thus entire Legislature, which occurred in convincing fashion when the votes were cast.</p> <p>In the closing weeks of the election and in interviews afterwards, Cuomo has more directly laid out a policy roadmap and, with the state Senate soon to be in Democratic hands and an overwhelming Democratic majority in the Assembly, he will have even more ability than in the past to advance his priorities. On the other hand, the more moderate Cuomo may also have new battles on his hands with a Legislature controlled by his party-mates as opposed to the split control that allowed him to triangulate.</p> <p>During two radio interviews that, along with his Trump-focused election night speech, made up his victory lap this past week, Cuomo asserted that his win margin and the help he gave to Senate candidates would give him more weight in Albany next year. “When you have a larger mandate electorally, the other elected officials know you’ve literally come into government with a stronger hand, and having a larger victory helps you governmentally, I believe that,” he said in a WVOX interview with Bill O’Shaughnessy. “It’s not determinative, but it does.”</p> <p>Ahead of the September primary, facing a spirited challenge from actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7928-ahead-of-primary-cuomo-gives-limited-insight-into-third-term-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Cuomo said little</a> about concrete ideas for a third term. But early indications are that he will likely move ahead on a raft of socially progressive bills while maintaining his centrist approach to fiscal and economic policy. “We are going to be the most aggressive state in terms of progressive measures and the most intelligent and aggressive in terms of economic development,” Cuomo said in the WVOX interview, touting that he is able to be the best of both Democratic and Republican principles. As Cuomo suggested, most legislation will likely sail through both chambers of the state Legislature with ease. But there will undoubtedly be some issues that will prove divisive even among Democrats, particularly between suburban and upstate legislators on one hand and those representing New York City on the other, or between what legislative majorities get behind and what Cuomo prizes.</p> <p>In the recent radio interviews, Cuomo spoke of several policies that he wants to advance immediately at the start of the legislative session in January, which will coincide with his annual State of the State address and Executive Budget presentation, setting out in much more concrete terms his priorities for the year. For now, Cuomo has highlighted measures including codifying new abortion protections into state law, passing voting and ethics reforms, expanded gun control measures, the DREAM Act, and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. During the campaign, appearing with state Senate candidates in Long Island, the Hudson Valley and New York City, Cuomo signed several pledges along those lines as well.</p> <p>“[N]one of these things could get done with a Republican Senate,” he said on WVOX. “We can now get them done with a Democratic Senate. And they are significant, they are issues that frankly have bothered me and a lot of other New Yorkers for years.”</p> <p>During Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation proceedings to the Supreme Court, amid a national outcry over how it could affect abortion protections across the country, Cuomo promised to pass the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify the protections of Roe v. Wade, within the first 30 days of the legislative session. “I am going to do everything possible. I'm going to send up the bill as soon as the session starts,” he told radio host Alan Chartock on The Capitol Connection.</p> <p>He also pledged to push for voting, government ethics, and campaign finance reforms. Though he has benefited greatly from campaign donations from limited liability companies, which do not have to disclose their ownership and are used to circumvent contribution limits, he has repeatedly expressed support for closing the LLC loophole and has promised to prioritize that measure. He also said he would push to make legislative positions full-time, banning outside income, which he has attempted to leverage over the Legislature in the past when an outside commission was exploring pay raises for state elected officials. A new commission created by Cuomo and legislative leaders last year is due with binding recommendations in the coming weeks, meaning the conversation around reforms attached to pay raises will be ripe for the start of the year.</p> <p>Cuomo has expressed support for a public campaign finance system in the past, as have Democrats in the Legislature, so it is expected that he will also work to enact such a system in the new session.</p> <p>Following another election administration debacle in New York City, there’s also expected to be quick movement on voting reforms, including establishing early voting and no-excuse absentee ballots, both items that Cuomo has pledged to advance. Cuomo even sought to fund a pilot program for early voting earlier this year, proposing $7 million in funding prior to the passage of the state budget, but the idea did not gain much traction, particularly among Senate Republicans.</p> <p>Gun control has been a signature policy issue for Cuomo, who acted quickly following the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting to pass the SAFE Act in New York. He has proposed new measures for the next legislative session, including a Red Flag Gun Protection bill that would allow courts to order the seizure of guns from the homes of individuals deemed a safety risk to themselves or the public, and to prevent those individuals from purchasing any firearms. Cuomo attempted to pass the measure this year, launching a cross-state bus tour to advocate for it, but was unsuccessful. He’s also pledged to alter the background check wait period for gun purchases from three to ten days.</p> <p>Cuomo has also been vocal about passing the Child Victims Act, which gives victims of child abuse greater legal recourse when they are adults by expanding the statute of limitations to bring civil lawsuits against their abusers or institutions. The legislation has repeatedly failed in the Republican-controlled Senate while passing in the Democrat-led Assembly.</p> <p>Other criminal justice reforms are also expected to be on the docket as Cuomo has pushed for bail and speedy trial reform. A bill to eliminate cash bail and Kalief’s Law -- a speedy trial bill named for Bronx youth Kalief Browder who spent two years on Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime and later died by suicide after being released when the charges were dropped -- both passed the Assembly this year and would likely be approved by a Democratic Senate next year.</p> <p>The governor prides himself on being a builder, in the vein of Robert Moses, and in two speeches ahead of the election to the Association for a Better New York and the Business Council of New York State, he touted his plan to invest $150 billion in infrastructure -- in state, local, federal, and private funding -- in projects spanning into his third term (he raised the estimate by $50 billion as he eyed the next four years and new investments). He pegged $66 billion to transportation projects and $32 billion to environmental facilities. The investments are meant to build on a $100 billion program that is already underway which includes modernizing airports, train and bus stations, and repairing and building bridges around the state. One essential goal of the coming years for Cuomo is figuring out funding for the Gateway project, the new tunnels to connect New York and New Jersey. Cuomo has recently pleaded with President Trump to return federal money to the table to fund half the project, with New York and New Jersey set to split the other half, after Trump had reneged on an Obama era commitment.&nbsp;</p> <p>Environmental conservation issues are also on the governor’s list and he has promised to advance his “Save Our Waters” bill to prohibit offshore drilling and exploration, and drilling infrastructure off the Long Island coast. Like on other issues, there are pending battles between Cuomo and legislators (and advocates) over environmental policy, including how quickly the state is moving to renewable energy and other efforts to take on climate change.</p> <p>On the fiscal front, Cuomo, who prides himself on having passed eight on-time or nearly on-time budgets, has repeatedly vowed to continue the state’s 2 percent property tax cap and to keep state spending increases from going beyond 2 percent each year. Though Cuomo has used some budgeting gimmicks to account for the 2 percent annual growth, which has at times really been closer to 3 or 4 percent, he is largely praised by fiscal watchdogs for his restraint. Tax rates will, as always, be a topic of discussion in Albany in 2019, and while Cuomo is likely to insist on little movement and Democratic legislators are already explaining that they do not plan to raise taxes, as has been the warning about them from Republicans, the parties will at least have to deal with whether to extend the expiring “millionaires tax” that Cuomo and a split Legislature have passed multiple times, while reducing other rates over the years. The state is facing projected budget deficits and the impact of federal tax reform is yet to be seen in full. Cuomo's initial attempts to mitigate the negative effects of the tax overhaul and, specifically, its new cap on state and local tax deductions from federal taxes, have not panned out.</p> <p>Cuomo will likely also revive legislation for a speed camera program in New York City that lapsed in the face of Republican recalcitrance in the Senate. The governor and elected officials in the city implemented a workaround for the program which required an executive order but Cuomo has since promised to push the bill, which provides for cameras in school zones, through the Legislature.</p> <p>There are several issues on which Cuomo might find himself at odds with one or both houses of the Legislature, even if there is widespread agreement on overarching goals.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>Cuomo has pushed for a comprehensive congestion pricing program to fund the MTA, arrest the decline of New York City’s subway system, and reduce the clog of Manhattan streets. But Democrats, particularly in the outer boroughs and in suburban areas around the city, are far from unanimous on the proposal. Cuomo seemed to recognize these differences in appearances in early October on Long Island and South Brooklyn. In Long Island, he pledged to make the city “pay its fair share for the MTA,” while at the Brooklyn event, he pledged to secure funding for the beleaguered transit authority through congestion pricing.</p> <p>The fight for increased education funding occupies Albany each year and Cuomo has been criticized as failing to fully comply with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling that would require billions more in state funds being sent to struggling public schools (he and his administration argue that they are in compliance and due funds have been allocated). Several Democrats elected to the Senate this year made fair student funding a part of their platform and will probably push for increased funding for urban districts from the governor, who has insisted each year that his administration is funding schools at record levels. There may be a more vigorous discussion this year about the exact formulas used for state school aid.</p> <p>Charter schools, privately-run public schools, are an additional aspect of that debate. Senate Republicans hold a more favorable position on charters and have clashed with Democrats in the Assembly over providing them with increased per-pupil funding, not to mention increasing the cap on the number of charters that can be awarded to start new schools. But Cuomo has long been a charter school champion, and the charter sector has also donated large sums of money to his campaign, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-cuomo-fundraising-molinaro-james-wofford-dinapoli-trichter-20181029-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">as much as $130,000</a> in the days leading up to the election. Cuomo has repeatedly stated that he supports charter schools and has in the past done a great deal to ensure their growth. The charter cap will be a subject of negotiation in 2019, and it may again be tied to mayoral control of New York City schools, which is again set to expire next year.</p> <p>Perhaps the most contentious debate in next year’s session will come near the tail end when rent stabilization laws are set to expire. Real estate interests have been another particularly generous segment of donors to Cuomo, as well as to many state legislators, and though the governor has pledged to “protect and expand rent stabilization in New York City,” he’s likely to face strong lobbying and opposition from the industry. Within his own party, a slate of newly elected progressive Senators refused real estate donations when they ran for office and have promised to fight for stronger tenant protections and more affordable housing. As on many topics, the discussion among Cuomo and his fellow Democrats is likely to come down to how far they can agree to go as they move in a progressive direction.</p> <p>While there will be a lot of like-mindedness in Albany come January, along with some of the contentious issues mentioned, there may also be more protracted battles over whether the state should move toward a single-payer health care system, legalize recreational marijuana, and provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. There may also be conflict around Cuomo's economic development spending with regard to how much influence the Legislature seeks and whether the Democratic majorities demand additional transparency and accountability in how the money is spent.</p> <p>In January, Cuomo will present his State of the State address, setting the stage for the year ahead. It remains to be seen how ambitious he will be with his party controlling the entire state government and with no Republican obstruction that he can scapegoat for any failures.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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