Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/638 Thu, 19 Oct 2017 04:01:43 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Cuomo Proposed New Wall Street Regulation, But Left It Out of NYC Speech http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6712:cuomo-proposes-new-wall-street-regulation-but-left-it-out-of-nyc-speech http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6712:cuomo-proposes-new-wall-street-regulation-but-left-it-out-of-nyc-speech Cuomo state of the state new york city

Gov. Cuomo (photo: The Governor's Office on flickr)


As part of his 2017 policy agenda, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Sunday a plan to ban bad actors from the financial services industry. Cuomo’s proposal would empower a state agency, the Department of Financial Services, with the authority to mete out such punishment to those deemed to have violated the public trust.

However, when he launched his three-day, six-event State of the State tour in New York City on Monday morning, just a few blocks from Wall Street, home to the country’s financial industry giants, Cuomo made no mention of the proposal, which his Sunday press release said would ”better help prevent situations like the one seen recently at Wells Fargo.”

Cuomo’s 2017 agenda has been defined by an overarching focus on addressing “middle class anger” stemming from economic anxiety and a lack of inclusion in the state’s overall economic recovery since the Great Recession. In his New York City speech he alluded to perpetrators whose behavior led to that economic downturn, Wall Street bankers and insurance companies responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis.

“In the recession of 2007 the middle class saw their hard earned equity in their homes stolen,” Cuomo said from 1 World Trade Center. “Nearly half the homes of our middle class are not yet back to their pre-recession value. Just think of it. That home equity was their life’s work, their security blanket, the payment for their daughter’s wedding, it was their business loan, and their child’s college tuition. It was taken through no fault of their own. But they never got it back and no one even went to jail. Justice was never done. And that is not the American way.”

The sixth plank from Cuomo’s 2017 policy agenda seeks to address that broader issue by giving the state Superintendent of Financial Services the ability to ban individuals from working in the banking and insurance industries in New York if they are found guilty of egregious wrongdoing.

That the governor didn’t bring it up in his roughly 45-minute speech appears to be an odd omission, given the location of the speech and the fact that parts of it were specifically tailored to New York City. The governor’s entire 2017 agenda does contain 149 proposals, though only 19 had been made public by the end of his two speeches on Monday. Cuomo did not mention every region-specific proposal at its relevant stop on his tour. The governor’s office told Gotham Gazette there is nothing to the fact that Cuomo did not discuss the proposal during his New York City speech.

“Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York has made great strides in establishing a strong financial regulator and protecting consumers from unscrupulous practices,” said Abbey Fashouer, a spokesperson for the governor, in an email. “By banning bad actors from the financial services industry, we are taking another major step forward that will ensure that those who seek to defraud the hardworking people of New York are held accountable.”

The proposal is indeed an aggressive move to regulate the financial services industry and would give the Department of Financial Services (DFS) powers that federal regulators currently possess, a move allowed under federal law. “There is no federal preemption issue,” Department of Financial Services Superintendent Maria Vullo told Gotham Gazette. “National banks and financial institutions must comply with New York State law. The proposal is a New York State statute that would authorize the Department of Financial Services to pursue individuals who commit bad acts that impact New Yorkers.”

How the proposal will be received by state legislators and by those it seeks to regulate remains to be seen. The governor, in the announcement of the proposal, directly referred to the “excesses and systematic abuse” in the Wells Fargo case, where employees used customer information to create fake bank accounts and inflate their figures. A Wells Fargo spokesperson declined to comment on Cuomo’s proposal. Since the scandal broke in September, the bank has been attempting to make amends for its employees’ misdeeds. “We also recognize that aside from the financial impact, we’ve broken trust with some customers and...our priority is to restore trust with our customers,” Wells Fargo executive Justin Thornton told the Wall Street Journal in December.

The governor’s proposal has not been fleshed out entirely and state legislative leaders have yet to weigh in. “We will review it once we see the language,” said Mike Whyland, spokesperson for Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in an email to Gotham Gazette. Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Cuomo’s proposal indicates a plan to expand financial services law, but without further clarity or bill language, legislators, industry representatives, advocacy groups, and others have little to go on.

“The New York Insurance Association (NYIA) will be reviewing the proposal and considering whether or not the measures outlined are an appropriate approach,” said Ellen Melchionni, president of the insurance trade association, in a statement.

Cuomo created the Department of Financial Services in 2011, shortly after taking office as governor, in order to create stronger oversight of the industry, which calls New York home. Since, DFS and other state entities, like the Attorney General’s office, have reached billions of dollars in settlements with financial institutions.

Marcus Stanley, policy director for Americans for Financial Reform, a nonpartisan coalition that focuses on accountability in the industry, said the governor’s proposal was a “standard thing” for a state regulator. “I’m surprised they don’t have it already,” he said. He noted that despite numerous instances of misconduct over many years, federal regulators have tended not to use their power to ban individuals from the industry. “It’s a good thing for states to step into the gap,” he said. Although, he added, “It depends on whether they use [that power] and how they use it.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Cuomo Proposed New Wall Street Regulation, But Left It Out of NYC Speech Thu, 12 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
A Cheat Sheet to Governor Cuomo's 2017 State of the State Proposals http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6710:all-of-governor-cuomo-s-2017-state-of-the-state-proposals http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6710:all-of-governor-cuomo-s-2017-state-of-the-state-proposals Cuomo State of the State image presser

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office on flickr)


Breaking with decades of tradition, Governor Andrew Cuomo decided this year to deliver a series of State of the State addresses, making six speeches over three days to outline his 2017 agenda and tout some of his accomplishments during his first six years as governor.

Cuomo began his six-stop tour in New York City on Monday, January 9 and concluded it in Albany on Wednesday, January 11. He tailored each speech and presentation to the particular region, and, in total, his administration announced 37 often broad proposals, most with several sub-planks. For example, there are 10 points to the 35th proposal, which is restoring trust in government through sweeping ethics reform. The governor has a nearly 400-page policy book that he is delivering to the Legislature and has made public. The books contains about 150 proposals in sum.

Some of the proposals are region- or city-specific, many are for the entire state. Various elements will need approval from or compromise with the Legislature. Cuomo starts the year feuding with legislative leaders, especially Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrat.

After outlining his policy agenda for 2017, Cuomo must release his Executive Budget proposal for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, then negotiate with legislative leaders, particularly Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat. Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, of the Bronx, will also be heavily involved in negotiations -- the IDC is again forming a coalition with Senate Republicans. A new state budget is due by April 1.

A cheat-sheet to Cuomo's State of the State proposals:

1. Tuition-free public college for middle-class students:
-Ultimately tuition will be free for families/individuals earning less than $125,000 per year
-This program will be phased in over three years--it’ll be for people and families earning less than $100,000 in Fall 2017, going to $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019
-The program, the Excelsior Scholarship, was unveiled by Cuomo with Senator Bernie Sanders
More

2. Transforming Kennedy Airport:
-It would involve improving roadways around the Airport to reduce congestion
-He would also either, 1. Increase the capacity of the AirTrain, or 2. Have a 1-seat ride from Manhattan to JFK
-Cuomo also wants to connect all the terminals at JFK
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3. Expanded Child Care Tax Creidt:
-Child care tax benefits would increase for those making at least $50,000 a year but less than $150,000 a year
-Those earning between $60,000 a year and $150,000 a year will see their benefits more than double under this plan
-Over 200,000 taxpayers affected
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4. Protecting New Yorkers from Cyber Attacks:
-Cuomo proposes strengthening cybercrime and identity theft laws
-Cuomo wants to “establish a Cyber Incident Response Team within the office of Counter Terrorism.”
-This team “will serve as a go-to resource for non-Executive agencies, local governments, and public authorities in how to better protect their information technology assets, critical operating systems and data from cyber-attacks, malware and ransomware.”
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5. Protecting Seniors from Financial Exploitation and Foreclosure
-Establish “an Elder Abuse Certification Program for banks located in New York State, amending the banking law to empower banks to place holds on potentially fraudulent transactions, and strengthening legislation that will protect senior homeowners with reverse mortgages.”
-Several measures to further protect seniors from financial exploitation
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6. Banning Bad Actors from the Financial Services Industry for Egregious Conduct
-This proposal would “empower the state Superintendent of Financial Services to ban certain bad actors from the banking and insurance industries for misconduct like that seen in the Wells Fargo scandal.”
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7. Further Strengthen New York’s Efforts to Crack Down on Wage Theft
-“[A]mend State law to hold the top 10 members of out-of-state limited liability companies personally financially liable for unsatisfied judgments for unpaid wages.”
-Such laws apply to in-state Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) but not out-of-state LLCs.
-“Further, the Governor will advance legislation to empower the Labor Commissioner to directly enforce all wage liabilities on behalf of workers with unpaid wage claims. Combined, these measures will get more money back into the hands of the hardworking New Yorkers who earned it.”
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8. Install Over 500 New Charging Stations to Promote Electric Vehicle Use
-500 new workplace charging stations
-69 charging stations along the New York State Thruway
-Encourage electric motor vehicle use and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions
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9. Modernizing Voting in New York to Increase Participation in the Democratic System
-“[A]llow early voting, and adopt both automatic voter registration and same day voter registration.”
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10. Close Indian Point power plant by 2021
-Unit 2 Reactor to close April 2020 and Unit 3 Reactor April 2021
-End use of a plant with numerous safety violations
-“Current Indian Point Employees will be Offered relocation and opportunities with other plants and utilities within the state; training in renewable technologies"
-“Entergy will provide $15 million in funding for environmental and community benefits"
-Cuomo is working on replacement resources so that there can be no cost increases in electricity after Indian Point closes
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11. Invest $650 Million to Fuel the Growth of a World-Class Life Sciences Cluster in New York
-$250 million for tax incentives for life science companies
-$200 million for “state capital grants to support investment in wet-lab and innovation space”
-$100 million for “investment capital for early stage life science initiatives”
-At least $100 million for “operating support from private sector partnerships”
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12. Launch the “New York Promise” Agenda to Advance Social Justice and Affirm New York’s Progressive Values
-Reforms of the Criminal Justice System including “overhauling New York’s antiquated bail system, ensuring access to a speedy trial, raising the age of criminal responsibility, improving witness identification procedures, recording police interrogations for serious offenses, and extending the Hurrell-Harring settlement reforms statewide.”
-Signed two executive orders to make it more likely for people to get equal pay for equal work.
-Help immigrants by “implementing the Empire State Immigrant Defense Project; expanding the naturalization services offered at the state’s Office of New Americans; pressing for passage of the DREAM Act; and convening the New York State Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigrants to make recommendations that support the integration and success of immigrants and their families.”
-Establish a Statewide Hate Crimes Task Force
-Form an Interfaith Advisory Council led by Cardinal Dolan to “help achieve a greater understanding and tolerance of all religions and cultures, promote open-mindedness and inclusivity, and bolster the state’s efforts to protect all New Yorkers.”
More

13. Expand After-School Education to Children in High-Need Areas Across the State
-$35 million pilot program
-“[C]reate 22,000 new after-school slots in high-need areas across the state.”
More

14. Lower Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Cap by 30 Percent Between 2020 and 2030
-Cuomo “has called upon RGGI states to join New York in an effort to continue to lead the fight against climate change and drive the nation’s transition toward a clean energy economy.” (RGGI = Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative)
-Lowers greenhouse gas emissions in New York and other states
-“By reviewing the RGGI program and adjusting the cap to reflect the progress made in just a few short years, New York and neighboring states will continue to reduce emissions annually after 2020 and ensure that power sector emission reductions continue through 2030.”
More

15. Regional Investments to Move New York City Forward
-Investments in New York City’s outer boroughs
-$50 million investment in the Montefiore Health System
-Transform health and wellness in Brooklyn through measures such as affordable housing with “features such as exercise rooms, rooftop gardens, and health clinics,” the expansion of New York’s Land Bank Program, and the establishment of “Brooklyn as a primary location for the FreshConnect Mobile Markets and FreshConnect Checks program expansion to increase access to healthy foods in the area.”
-Permanent toll reductions at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge for Staten Island residents
-$10 million for upgrading the Orchard Beach Pavilion in Pelham Bay Park
-$108 million for the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx
-“[I]ncorporate the Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities into CUNY”
More

16. $500 Million Buffalo Billion Phase II ("Buffalo Billion squared")
-“[E]xpansion of the Buffalo Billion initiative to continue building on the renewed economic engines and reinvigorated civic spirit throughout Buffalo and the entire Western New York region.”
-“[I]mplement revitalization and smart growth efforts; improve workforce development and job training; grow advanced manufacturing, tourism and life sciences; and connect communities and economic progress through rail expansion.”
-“[D]evelop a new commuter rail and multi-modal station in downtown Buffalo and completing Buffalo’s light rail extension to University at Buffalo’s North Campus will provide 20,000+ students access to downtown Buffalo and the waterfront, as well as connect urban job seekers with suburban employment centers, helping Buffalo to deliver economic inclusion for all the region’s workers.”
-A Buffalo Blueway, which would “create a network of expanded public access points to waterways and historic, cultural and natural assets to spur revitalization and tourism in the Buffalo/Niagara Region.”
-Investment at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus
-Doubles down on program with widespread alleged corruption involving Cuomo aides, associates, and donors
More

17. Invest $2 Billion in Clean Water Infrastructure and Water Quality Protection
-“[I]nvestment in drinking water infrastructure, wastewater infrastructure and source water protection.”
-“Funding for projects will prioritize regional and watershed level solutions, and incentivize consolidation and sharing of water and wastewater services.”
-Drinking water and wastewater infrastructure upgraded
-Advanced treatment installed for both drinking water and wastewater, and advanced filtration systems installed for drinking water
-Green infrastructure and open spaces built for source water protection
-“[E]nsuring proper management and storage of common contaminants like manure and road salt to prevent runoff; and increasing the state Superfund to expedite the cleanup of hazardous waste that may impact sources of drinking water.”
-Follows (ongoing) water quality crisis in Hoosick Falls and questions about water quality in other places in New York
More

18. Enable Access to Ride-hailing Apps Throughout New York
-Ride-hailing apps are legal and regulated in New York City but not in the rest of the state
-Legalize and regulate throughout the state
-Create regulatory framework including zero-tolerance policy with drugs and alcohol, DMV licensing and regulating of ridesharing companies, consumer protections for users, and more
More

19. New $10 Million Photonics Venture Challenge in Rochester
-“This business competition will aim to support start-up companies that commercialize these rapidly developing technologies through a business accelerator program and a top award of $1 million to the most promising start-up company.”
-“[M]odeled after Western New York’s 43North, a $5 million start-up competition funded by Governor Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative where cash prizes are awarded to some of the best entrepreneurs and start-ups from around the world.”
More

20. Complete the Empire State Trail by 2020
-“The state will develop 350 miles of new trail in three phases to create a 750-mile pathway for hiking and biking along scenic vistas and through charming, historic communities.”
-“The Empire State Trail will span much of the state, from the New York Harbor up through the Adirondack Mountains to the Canadian border – and from the shores of Lake Erie along the historic Erie Canal to the heart of the Capital Region.”
-Gaps closed in the Erie Canalway and the Hudson River Valley Greenway, as well as connect the two trails
-When complete, “the largest state multi-use trail in the nation.”
More

21. Build the Town of Woodbury Transit and Economic Development Hub
-“[E]xpand the Route 32 corridor, replace the Route 32 bridge over Route 17, reconfigure the ramp leading to the New York State Thruway, and add a solar-powered bus station and a commuter parking lot and an interconnected traffic system to improve access and allow for increased commercial activity.” (Orange County)
More

22. Extend the Empire State Excellence in Teaching Awards
-Honor 60 additional teachers
-“Winners will receive an honor from the Governor, the opportunity to advise education policy makers, and a stipend of $5,000.”
-“The funds can be used for continued learning and professional endeavors.”
More

23. Empower Voters to Reduce Property Taxes and Costs of Local Government
-This plan “requires county officials to develop localized plans that find real, recurring property tax savings”
-Cost-saving plans would be up for voter referendum in the November 2017 elections
-“If the plan is not approved by a majority of voters, the county government must prepare a new plan for approval in November 2018.”
More

24. $160 Million to Transform Long Island
-$80 million for improvements at 16 LIRR Stations
-$40 million will “support economic growth, environmental sustainability and water quality in business districts in Smithtown and Kings Park.”
More

25. Nation's Largest Offshore Wind Energy Project Off Long Island Coast and Unprecedented Commitment to Develop up to 2.4 Gigawatts of Offshore Wind Power by 2030
-Long Island Power Authority to approve of a wind project 30 miles southeast of Montauk, for 90 megawatts of power
-“[A]n unprecedented commitment to develop up to 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, enough power generation for 1.25 million homes and the largest commitment in U.S. history.”
-“[C]alls on state agencies to ensure a 79,000 acre lease area capable of siting approximately 800 megawatts of offshore wind off of the Rockaway Peninsula is developed cost-effectively and responsibly to customers.”
-Help New York reach its goal of 50% of energy needs met by renewable sources by 2030
-“[T]he Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to undertake a comprehensive study to determine the most rapid, cost-effective, and responsible pathway to reach 100 percent renewable energy statewide.”
More

26. Actions to Combat the Heroin and Opioid Epidemic in New York
-"[E]liminate insurance prior authorization for inpatient treatment to include outpatient treatment.”
-“[T]en 24/7 urgent access centers with crisis intervention on-call services, one in each region of the state.”
-“[R]equire emergency department prescribers to consult the Prescription Monitoring Program Registry to combat “Doctor Shopping"
-"[L]egislation to create New York’s first recovery high schools in regions of the State hit especially by the disease of addiction.”
More

27. "Buy American" Plan will Implement the Nation's Strongest State Procurement Laws Mandating the Preference of American Products
-"[A]ll state entities will be required to give preference to American-made goods and products in any new procurements more than $100,000.”
-Other states have “buy American incentives” and New York is missing out on the opportunity to incentivize people to buy American
-“To qualify as “American-made” under Governor Cuomo’s proposal, end manufacturing processes should take place in the United States and more than sixty percent of the components of the manufactured good should be of domestic origin.” There are a few exceptions to this requirement, though.
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28. Saab to Establish North American Headquarters for Defense and Security Division in New York State
-Saab is in military defense and civil security, and will invest $55 million to relocate to New York State.
-Saab plans “strongly align with the region’s “CNY Rising” Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI) plan.”
More

29. New Independent Study of All Possible Options to Replace I-81 Viaduct in Central New York
-This viaduct is in Syracuse and is in need of a replacement
-“The New York State Department of Transportation will engage an independent expert with international tunnel expertise to conduct the study.”
More

30. $45 Million Revitalization of Syracuse Hancock International Airport
-“[W]ide-scale redesign of the grand hall, food, beverage and retail concessions, and the exterior façade. In addition, a new Regional Aviation History Museum, glass pedestrian bridge, and eco-friendly roof will be built along with new flooring and furniture to provide a welcoming atmosphere for travelers from across the world.”
-Expected to create 850 construction jobs
-Additional funding will come from the airport, county, and federal government; with estimated completion date in 2019
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31. Foster the Industrial Hemp Industry in New York State
-“[T]he Governor has proposed to amend legislation to further grow the industry and authorize farmers to work with the state to conduct hemp research as an agricultural commodity.”
-“[T]he Governor will host the first-ever Industrial Hemp Summit in the Southern Tier”
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32. $38 Million Revitalization of Plattsburgh International Airport
-Modernize the airport, including “the construction of a new air cargo receiving and distribution center.” This “will allow existing manufacturers to transport their own materials, create jobs, and attract new companies to the region.”
More

33. Protect New Yorkers from Soaring Prescription Drug Prices
-Three-pronged plan. One, to “effectively create a price ceiling for certain high cost prescription drugs reimbursed under the Medicaid program by requiring a 100 percent supplemental rebate for any amount that exceeds a benchmark price recommended by the state's Drug Utilization Review Board.”
-Two, to have “a surcharge on any amount by which the price of these high-priced drugs exceeds the benchmark recommended by the Drug Utilization Review Board in the Medicaid context, when these drugs are sold into the state.”
-Three, to have Pharmacy Benefit Managers register with the State, “and be subject to new regulations requiring disclosure of financial incentives or benefits for promoting the use of certain drugs, as well as other financial arrangements affecting customers.”
More

34. Launch the Empire Star Public Service Award to Recognize the Meaningful Contributions of Public Employees
-Award will go to those who “go beyond simply what is routinely asked of them and display an admirable level of dedication and pride in their work.”
-“Individuals or teams will be nominated by their fellow state employees via the Empire Star Public Service Award website and an Awards Selection Committee will review all nominations and recommend winners to the Governor.”
-Winners get a $5,000 scholarship for professional development.
More

35. Restoring the Integrity and Accountability of State Government Through Comprehensive Ethics Reform
-Ten-point plan: limiting outside income and having a full-time Legislature (imposed through constitutional amendment), term limits (imposed through constitutional amendment), “requiring members of the Legislature to obtain an advisory opinion before earning outside income,” closing the so-called LLC Loophole and other campaign finance reforms including a public-financing system, “subjecting local elected officials to financial disclosure requirements,” reform to the state’s Freedom of Information Law, “expanding the State Inspector General's authority to SUNY and CUNY not-for-profits,” “new Inspectors General for the Port Authority and the State Education Department,” and “ensuring greater oversight of the state's procurement process.”
-Governor Cuomo: “State government must do more to restore the public trust because as public servants we earn the trust of the people we serve. Unfortunately, in Albany there have been a series of breaches of that trust. We must take action to show the people of this state that we get it, and that when someone does something wrong, they are punished to the full extent of the law and we have a system that is going to catch them. We have been doing historic work at the state level – the government is doing more than ever before – but imagine what we could do if we had the complete confidence of the people. If we had that confidence, there is nothing we couldn’t do – and I am not going to stop until I get there.”
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36. Grow New York's 21st Century Workforce and Advance the Tech Economy
-Ideas including establishing a Tech Workforce Training Fund; starting the the New York Tech Workforce Development Task Force; starting more Early College High Schools, which would “provide high-performing, at-risk students the opportunity to receive hands-on training, a free associate’s degree and first-in-line job opportunities upon graduating; expanding the Master Teacher Program so that more teachers are trained in computer science; and establish what Cuomo calls a “tech workforce training fund.”
-Launch the New York Tech Workforce Task Force, “a body of industry experts, academic leaders, and state officials who will inform New York’s K-12, college, workforce and economic development investments and ensure their continued alignment with 21st century workforce demands.”
-A tax credit for incumbent worker training.
More

37. Encourage Recent College Graduates to Become First-Time Homeowners in Upstate Communities
-“Graduate to Homeownership” program would help recent college grads with homebuyer assistance to purchase homes upstate so that college grads can remain upstate.
-According to the Governor, “This $5 million pilot program will incentivize homeownership with subsidized low interest loans, down payment assistance and homebuyer education courses to encourage young people to stay and continue revitalizing Upstate New York’s downtown areas.”
-This is an initial pilot program of $5 million aimed at keeping upstate students in their home or school communities and reversing population and job losses.
More

Governor Cuomo's full 2017 State of the State policy book

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by Brendan Birth and Ben Max

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated.

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A Cheat Sheet to Governor Cuomo's 2017 State of the State Proposals Wed, 11 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Speaking Directly to 'Middle Class Anger,' Cuomo Offers Something for Everyone http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6705:speaking-directly-to-middle-class-anger-cuomo-offers-something-for-everyone http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6705:speaking-directly-to-middle-class-anger-cuomo-offers-something-for-everyone Cuomo SOTS NYC

Gov. Cuomo delivers his NYC State of the State (photo: Cuomo's office)


Invoking a populist message of economic inclusiveness and social progress that faces dire threats from a changing national reality, Governor Andrew Cuomo kicked off his 2017 State of the State tour on Monday morning in New York City.

On the 64th floor of 1 World Trade Center, at the first of six planned events around the state, the governor spoke to a seated assembly of more than 100 people, including state and local elected officials and everyday New Yorkers, relaying an overall message that kept with his recent record but was also engineered as a response to the widespread “middle class anger” evident in the 2016 presidential election.

Titled “Excelsior, Ever Upward” after New York’s state motto, the governor’s State of the State was pegged largely as a stimulus for middle class economic improvement and opportunity, but had something for nearly everyone in the Greater New York City area.

Cuomo pledged a child care tax credit, tuition-free public college for about 80 percent of New York households, more jobs through investment in the private sector and public-private partnership, support for the homeless and funding for affordable housing, all while New York will be vigilant, he said, protecting and promoting the state’s progressive social bonafides. The governor spoke of criminal justice reform and improving access to voting, expanding and improving mass transit, protecting a woman’s right to choose, and defending quality healthcare.

Cuomo likened New York to a hardy ship sailing choppy waters, where economic development has been swift but the middle class feels left behind, where social progress has been significant but people’s rights now feel under attack.

“The ship of state is doing very well and is stronger than it has been in decades,” Cuomo said. “But at the same time, the troubling reality is, the sea upon which our ship of state sails is as rough and tempest-tossed as it has been in over 50 years.”

The state’s progress on women’s rights, climate change, affordable healthcare, and public education is being threatened, the governor said, in a reference to national developments since Donald Trump won the presidential election. Without mentioning President-elect Trump by name, Cuomo emphasized throughout his speech that progressive values and equitable economic growth are not mutually exclusive and that New York would continue to promote the state’s middle class while upholding its secular progressivism.

He also indicated that there was a lot to learn from the results of the election and that New York would show the way. While Cuomo was outlining his 2017 agenda -- much of which will have to be negotiated with the state Legislature -- he also further positioned himself as a national Democratic leader, perhaps with an eye on the 2020 presidential race.

“We all heard the roar on Election Day and we must respond,” he said, insisting that the state must follow two crucial paths -- acknowledging and addressing the issues faced by the middle class and preventing “misdirected anger from doing damage to our country’s core values.” In that vein, Cuomo announced the Middle Class Economic Recovery Act -- a set of proposals aimed at creating jobs and infrastructure, improving access to education, and lowering the tax burden for the middle class.

Some of Cuomo’s proposals outlined Monday were new, some had been announced in the week leading up to his three-day, six-stop State of the State tour. The previously-proposed include a doubling of a child care tax credit that will benefit about 200,000 families and free college tuition at CUNY and SUNY for families making up to $125,000. On Monday, he announced a pilot program with 22,000 slots for afterschool mentoring and tutoring.

These ideas led Cuomo to say, with clear reference to the presidential election, "I believe these measures will help alleviate the middle class anger. Properly focused, the energy generated by that anger, in a positive way, it can become a great force for reform. But misdirected anger can be destructive. It can scapegoat and it can demonize, it can spread fear of those who are different, and it can destroy the uniquely American values and progressive principles that are the foundation of this society."

Cuomo also said the state would invest $650 million in the Life Sciences industry, partnering with industry giant Johnson & Johnson to create a hub in New York City. This investment will create about 25,000 middle class jobs and between $3 billion and $4 billion in economic output for the state, according to the Partnership for New York City.

The governor’s proposals elicited varying degrees of enthusiasm from many who applauded his ideas, some with skepticism around implementation, viability in the Legislature, or funding.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who remains on cold terms with Cuomo, said Cuomo outlined some “promising” ideas, but said he cannot give a full assessment until he sees the governor’s Executive Budget, which is due out by January 17.

At an unrelated press conference later in the day, de Blasio quickly said “No” when Gotham Gazette asked if the budget communication from Cuomo’s office has been to his liking, fitting an annual pattern. Last year, Cuomo surprised the mayor in Albany on the day of his combined State of the State and budget address with proposed cost-shifts to the city.

"Because the speech for the first time was not accompanied by the budget, we don’t know yet the ramifications of everything that was being talked about in the speech,” de Blasio told reporters on Monday, “which is why I’ll express my praise for some of the things I heard but until we see the details, and particularly the budgetary details, we can't pass a final judgement. It was different...than what we heard at the State of the State last year, but we just have to be very sober about the fact that budget documents are really where the rubber hits the road and we gotta see that.”

About Cuomo’s budget, de Blasio said, “I don’t know what it looks like because we haven’t been given anything.”

“It doesn’t shock me,” the mayor added. “You know, at the last moment we will be told what the budget looks like and then we’ll be able to analyze what it means and I’ll be very straightforward with the people of New York City about what it means for all of us. But we haven’t been given any inkling yet.”

On the other hand, Comptroller Scott Stringer, who was also in attendance for the speech, was full of praise for Cuomo. “Today [Governor Cuomo] made a very strong case for a vision for New York State and New York City,” Stringer said after the speech, “that I believe goes a long way to helping the struggling middle class, the poorest people among us.”

As is customary in State of the State speeches, Cuomo spent some of his Monday morning address looking back at accomplishments, touting the socio-economic progress under his leadership, including the passage of marriage equality, paid family leave, a $15 minimum wage program, and common-sense gun control. He also spoke of a second path forward, alongside the Middle Class Economic Recovery Act, that includes protections for the state’s most vulnerable populations.

Termed the “New York Promise Agenda,” the broad-based proposals include criminal justice reform, voting access, women’s rights protections, fighting homelessness, preventing faith-based discrimination, protecting the environment, and improving immigrants rights and access to education. Many of these proposals were obvious responses to the rhetoric of Donald Trump and the records of Trump’s proposed appointees.

Cuomo sought, in his speech, to reassure New Yorkers that the state would do everything in its power to protect against the possible negative consequences of national policies under a Trump administration. For instance, pledging to protect the 2.7 million New Yorkers currently insured under the Affordable Care Act should it be repealed; announcing a public-private partnership to provide legal counsel to immigrants and recommitting to passing the DREAM Act to ensure that immigrants, often the target of President-elect Trump’s ire, have access to education; stressing unqualified support for a woman’s right to choose, which could be threatened if a conservative-leaning Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade; and creating a dedicated hate crimes task force to combat the rise in faith-based discrimination and attacks since the presidential election.

“We will not stop working until the bright light of opportunity shines on all New Yorkers,” Cuomo said, emphasizing also the need for economic equity in the educational system, racial and economic justice in the judicial system and voter empowerment in the electoral system. Some of the items in Cuomo’s Promise Agenda are reliant on the state Legislature, where Republicans who control the Senate have been unsupportive of the Dream Act, codifying Roe v. Wade into state law, raising the age of adult criminal responsibility, and more that Cuomo has proposed.

As Cuomo spoke from New York City, he mentioned the need to restore “trust in government,” but did not address government ethics, despite the facts that his administration has seen a major corruption scandal in the past year and that the state Legislature has continued to see a parade of indictments. According to a Cuomo spokesperson, the governor will outline his ethics agenda during his last State of the State speech, on Wednesday afternoon in Albany.

While many of the governor’s proposals were known before he gave his address, unveiled over the last week in news conferences and press releases, among the new announcements were a number of New York City-specific initiatives, including several aimed at boosting each of the “outer boroughs.”

The governor announced that the city would receive an unprecedented level of funding for education. He also pledged, among other borough-centric proposals, $108 million in state funding for the stalled redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx; $50 million for the Montefiore Health System; $10 million for the redevelopment of the Orchard Beach pavilion, permanently reduced Verrazano Bridge tolls for Staten Island residents; and investments in healthcare, nutrition and healthy food programs in Brooklyn. He also reiterated plans to upgrade JFK Airport in Queens and criticized Rikers Island jail complex, though he stopped short of calling for its closure.

Crucially, the governor’s initial State of the State speech came more than a week before he is due to release his Executive Budget for the next fiscal year, which throws much uncertainty into the mix as to how he proposes to pay for his ambitious proposals and whether the budget will include any surprise announcements. The State of the State, or in this case the six State of the States, set the governor’s policy and spending priorities, and the tone for negotiations with the state Legislature. A fiscal year 2017-2018 budget is due by April 1.

Last year, Cuomo attempted to shift hundreds of millions of dollars in CUNY and Medicaid costs to New York City. The move was beat back by de Blasio and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx. The mayor has repeatedly indicated he is eagerly awaiting budget information from the Cuomo administration and is expecting surprises like last year.

The governor on Monday also called on the state legislative leaders to sign a memorandum of understanding to release more of the $2 billion the parties set aside last year to create 100,000 units of affordable and supportive housing across the state, which would significantly benefit New York City, where de Blasio has been struggling to bring a homelessness crisis under control. Only a small portion of the money was released last year and advocates and providers have been protesting the governor calling on him to come to terms with Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to release the rest so that projects can move.

The governor concluded his speech with a call for unity, recalling how New Yorkers, and Americans, came together in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks. “When we are at our best, we don’t focus on disparity, we focus on commonality,” he said. “That’s what this is all about....It’s about pulling people together.”

The governor will have to do just that if he hopes to pass those proposals which will require approval from the Legislature where he currently has no shortage of enemies. The two legislative leaders declined to attend any of the six State of the State events, expressing their displeasure at the governor for interfering in the work of an independent commission that would have given lawmakers pay raises for the first time in years and then leveraging ethics reform to consider a special legislative session in December. The Legislature was also due in session on Monday and Tuesday, making it hardly possible that any state lawmakers could attend the first four of Cuomo’s speeches.

Legislators would need to stay in Albany an extra day to attend Cuomo’s Wednesday speech in the capital area.

Cuomo’s initial speech and his state tour have gotten mixed reviews, sometimes along party lines. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a fellow Democrat and sometimes Cuomo rival who attended the New York City speech, gave initial positive feedback. “It was really more of a reaffirmation of the fundamental New York values that many people feel have been challenged by some of the statements of the president elect and the resumes of some of his nominees,” Schneiderman said. “This is a day for setting forth a vision. The battles over the specifics, the programs, whatever does come out of Washington await another day.”

Outside the World Trade Center, state Republican Party Chair Ed Cox held court with reporters, criticizing the governor as he had promised to do at each State of the State event. “He’s running from the Legislature,” Cox said of Cuomo’s decision to tour the state. “He can’t face criticism.”

Cox did have minor qualified praise for the governor’s presentation. “There’s some good things -- I think tuition relief is good,” he said. “I think the costs are going to be a lot larger than he thinks they are. I think it’s gonna end up as an extension of TAP [Tuition Assistance Program], but the real costs are not tuition...the real costs are for books, room, food. This is gonna be minimal relief, but I’m sure it’s going to be looked at favorably in the Legislature.”

But Cox criticized the governor for convening a speech attended by “groups selected by him, not groups that include the opposition. And that’s the problem.”

On Monday afternoon, Cuomo headed to Buffalo for the second event of his tour. There he announced the 16th plank in his State of the State agenda -- a $500 million expansion of the Buffalo Billion economic development program, which is at the center of the federal corruption charges against Cuomo aides and donors.

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

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Speaking Directly to 'Middle Class Anger,' Cuomo Offers Something for Everyone Mon, 09 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Concerned with Lack of Clarity as State Budget Deadline Nears http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6248:de-blasio-concerned-with-lack-of-clarity-as-state-budget-deadline-nears http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6248:de-blasio-concerned-with-lack-of-clarity-as-state-budget-deadline-nears de blasio on phone we don't know with who

De Blasio (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)


 

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday afternoon that he has been in regular contact with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and that he spoke with Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier in the day, but that he did not gain much clarity as Albany budget negotiations enter their final days.

A new state budget is due by midnight Thursday, with the state's fiscal year beginning Friday, April 1. There are several areas of budget concern for de Blasio and others who represent New York City, including Heastie. On Monday, de Blasio repeatedly cited Heastie and the Democratically-controlled Assembly as essential allies in the fight to protect city interests throughout negotiations.

At an unrelated press conference at 1 Police Plaza, Gotham Gazette asked the mayor what he is watching for as state lawmakers negotiate the final details of a $140-plus billion budget. While expressing frustration about the lack of clarity, de Blasio said, "What I can tell you for sure, I've spoken to Speaker Heastie today and yesterday. He has, and the Assembly has, consistently supported the interests of New York City."

It appears that de Blasio and others are again depending on Heastie to be the strongest defender of New York City during "three men in a room" negotiations with Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican.

"I spoke to the governor this morning, and I still don't have real answers," de Blasio said Monday. "There's no budget language."

Cuomo's Executive Budget, unveiled in January, caused concern for de Blasio on several fronts, including hundreds of millions of dollars in proposed CUNY and Medicaid cost shifts to the city. The governor also upset de Blasio by proposing a new layer of state approval in the process by which the state allocates federal affordable housing bonds to the city, among other measures de Blasio and his allies have been fighting.

"[T]here have been voices speaking out since February saying that the city should not suffer cutbacks when it comes to CUNY and when it comes to Medicaid," de Blasio said Monday. "We shouldn't have our affordable housing efforts undermined by needless bureaucracy. We should get more support in our efforts to end homelessness - these issues have been talked about now for months and months."

"This is supposed to be one of the decision days," the mayor added, referring to the fact that state budget bills would need to be printed Monday in order to have the required three-day aging period so that they can be voted on and passed by Thursday night's deadline. No deal has been reached, no bills were printed, so the governor is likely to issue "messages of necessity" to waive the aging period. Cuomo has prided himself on leading a new era of on-time budgets and more functional and responsible government.

The governor told reporters on Friday that he is reluctant to use messages of necessity, but that he does when needed. While the governor, whose tenure began in 2011, has indeed shepherded through on-time budgets (last year's was technically late by a few minutes), state government remains dogged by corruption scandals. Last year saw both legislative leaders convicted on federal corruption charges in separate cases.

Cuomo, who vowed to clean up Albany and has not been able to, unveiled an aggressive ethics reform plan in his January State of the State address, but has said little about it since and all parties have indicated that ethics will not be part of the budget.

Asked about whether he is troubled that ethics reform won't be taken up in the state budget, de Blasio said Monday, "I want to see ethics reform in Albany." Citing "public financing of elections and obviously a lot more disclosure," de Blasio said state lawmakers must act, but he cut Cuomo, Heastie, and others slack in terms of when. "Whether it happens now or it happens in the legislative session is less important to me than the fact that it needs to happen," de Blasio said.

On more urgent budgetary matters, after months of questions Cuomo's office said last week that it was tabling the CUNY cost shifts, but that it would be appointing a monitor to find efficiencies in the joint city-state system. It was a message met with some relief at City Hall, but de Blasio still said Monday that he wants to see budget language.

"There's no confirmation or guarantees related to CUNY, related to Medicaid or any of these other issues," de Blasio said, sounding at least a little frustrated. "And the things I talked about back in February when I gave my budget testimony in Albany, I talked about the fact that the State was going to take away some of our sales tax revenue in a way that we thought was arbitrary and unfair, and now things have been resolved on that front. So I want to see action, and I want to see real language that we can take to the bank right now."

De Blasio continued: "You know, the same reality as the day after the governor's State of the State is true. He said none of this would cost New York City a penny and I said I will hold him to it. I'll take a man's word but I'll hold him to it, and I'll still hold him to it because as of this moment, there are no guarantees and we need them. The people of New York City need those guarantees."

A spokesperson for Governor Cuomo declined to comment in response to de Blasio.

On other issues of concern to the mayor, it appears both mayoral control of city schools and a renewed property tax break to incentivize affordable housing development will have to wait for the legislative session after a budget is settled.

The governor proposed a three-year extension of mayoral control, which expires in June, but Senate Republicans have rejected both that proposal and the Assembly Democrats' call for a longer extension. Last week, the Senate announced it would be calling de Blasio to testify at two May hearings on his education leadership.

There's been almost no talk of a new 421-a program, or something like it, to spur affordable housing development through tax abatements. The expiration of the previous system is one of the key sources of tension between de Blasio and Cuomo.

In Albany, de Blasio has had to rely on Heastie, the Bronx Democrat thrust into the Speaker's chair last year when Sheldon Silver was indicted on the federal corruption charges that led to his conviction.

On Monday, de Blasio credited Heastie and other Assembly Democrats for sticking up for the city, as Silver was infamous for doing. The Assembly, de Blasio said, "fought hard to make sure that there would be no cuts to our budget in terms of CUNY and in terms of Medicaid; there would be nothing that would stand in the way of our efforts to create affordable housing. The Assembly and its one house bill went out of its way to say the State would have to do more to help us deal with homelessness. So the Assembly has been very consistent."

Once de Blasio sees the details of the state budget, he'll have to adjust his city spending plan for fiscal year 2017 accordingly. De Blasio's preliminary $82 billion spending plan, which did not account for the CUNY and Medicaid cost shifts, is in the midst of a series of City Council hearings. The city's fiscal year begins July 1.

Further north, Heastie said a few words Monday to reporters trying to find out how the closed-door budget negotiations were going. "Albany is the art of the compromise," Heastie said in the capital on Monday, adding that the big-ticket items of minimum wage and paid family leave are being debated. Cuomo's two major policy priorities - both of which de Blasio supports - have taken center stage, though many other smaller issues could become part of a larger compromise by the time the budget is announced.

"I think in some regards we are able to move forward," Heastie said, "but there's still some outstanding issues about how the City of New York comes out of this."

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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De Blasio Concerned with Lack of Clarity as State Budget Deadline Nears Tue, 29 Mar 2016 04:21:50 +0000
Several Significant Questions About The Governor's Budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6203:several-significant-questions-about-the-governors-budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6203:several-significant-questions-about-the-governors-budget Cuomo built to lead sots

Gov. Cuomo at his State of the State (via The Governor's Office)


Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2016-2017 budget proposal has legislators and budget experts scratching their heads as to how major capital projects will be paid for, how the state plans to make good on a promise to fund the MTA, and how certain measures might affect funding for New York City. Many are wondering if the governor will keep his pledge that his plan to shift millions in costs for CUNY and Medicaid "won't cost New York City a penny."

These questions linger almost two months after the plan was first released, rankling Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council members, and city-based state legislators, and alarming budget watchdogs.

Only one month remains until the April 1 start of the new fiscal year and budget negotiations have been muted. State of Politics reports that there was an initial budget conversation on Wednesday morning among Cuomo and legislative leaders. The way Cuomo has positioned things, there are questions about whether the State Assembly and Speaker Carl Heastie, de Blasio's most important ally, will be willing and able to take on the political cost of going to battle for the city - on CUNY, Medicaid, and other issues like affordable housing bonds and homelessness-prevention vouchers. The Legislature recently finished holding budget hearings and the Assembly and Senate one-house budgets are expected imminently.

Potential state cuts loomed large over the initial New York City Council preliminary budget hearing on Tuesday, at which de Blasio's budget director reiterated several times that possible state cuts could be crippling to the city, but that the city plans to hold the governor to his word and that Assembly Democrats will be essential in the process.

Cuomo's move to have New York City assume additional MTA, CUNY, and Medicaid cuts are among his most controversial, along with the governor's plan to take more control of affordable housing being built in the city. While many await more detail from the governor as the clock ticks, there is also mystery around major infrastructure projects for the metropolitan region that the governor is overseeing as well as a proposal from the governor to create a new entity to take more control of such projects.

As the governor pushes other policies that city Democrats back, like a minimum wage increase and paid family leave, he appears to be exacting whatever costs from the city he can in order to both undermine de Blasio and help the state pay its obligations.

Cuomo has a variety of government ethics reform proposals in his budget, but he has not been promoting them publicly, leaving many to wonder their fate. Meanwhile, in recent days new light has been shone on billions of dollars in the governor's budget with no determined purpose, to be used by Cuomo and legislative leaders as they see fit at a later date.

The City's Burden
A recent evaluation of New York City finances by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli warned that Governor Cuomo's budget provides major economic threat to the city. "The largest and most immediate budget risk is the proposed state Executive Budget, which includes three proposals that would increase the city's costs by $985 million in FY 2017 and by about $1.2 billion in each subsequent year (a total of $4.8 billion during the financial plan period)," reads the comptroller's report.

It continues: "The two proposals with the greatest budgetary impact ($785 million in FY 2017 alone) would require New York City to pay a larger share of the local cost of Medicaid and of the costs of the senior colleges of the City University of New York. After the release of the Executive Budget, the Governor stated that efficiencies would be identified to mitigate the budgetary impact of these proposals, but such savings have not yet been identified."

The Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog based in New York City, quickly cried foul over the proposals in Cuomo's budget that would move costs for CUNY and Medicaid to the city (both are joint city-state programs that the state has traditionally supported to a far greater degree than the city).

CBC estimates the shift would cost the city $800 million. De Blasio pledged he would do "whatever it takes" to stop the plan, saying it could impact major plans to expand pre-kindergarten and other initiatives. As focus on the budget measure intensified Cuomo characterized the plan as a mutual agreement between the city and state to find efficiencies in the programs. De Blasio had only met briefly with Cuomo before the State of the State address and said he had learned about the shift that could cost the city nearly a billion dollars when most New Yorkers did.

Cuomo, in a NY1 interview, claimed "At the end of the day, what you will see is it won't cost New York City a penny, but we will make joint streamlining policy efficiency changes."

Some observers expected Cuomo to adjust the plan in his 30-day budget amendments, but nothing about it changed - apparently leaving it up to the city's allies in the Legislature to negotiate it.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, the city's most powerful advocate in Albany, has expressed major concern over the plans, but it appears that he would have to own the cost of a change as part of budget negotiations, possibly preempting other major initiatives his conference wants.

E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center, a budget-focused think tank, said he believes that undoing Cuomo's plan would cost Heastie "$500 million" during negotiations which would limit what else Assembly Democrats could bargain for given that Cuomo appears committed to a 2 percent overall cap on spending growth.

The governor's budget makes for 1.7 percent spending growth so there isn't much room for new initiatives and losing the savings created by the cost shift would further tighten the equation. "1.7 to 2 [percent] is $300 million," said McMahon, "So $500 million is a pretty significant number in budget negotiations."

Dave Friedfel of the CBC agrees. "To add $500 million back on to the budget would blow through the governor's spending cap. It will have a major impact on negotiations," Friedfel said.

The Fiscal Policy Institute, also a think tank, argued in its budget testimony that the state should scrap the 2 percent spending cap. "There is no reason to hold annual spending growth below two percent if it means that we are under-investing in education and poverty reduction," reads the FPI testimony. "This unforced austerity has already caused the state to underinvest in several critical areas, and the continuation of the cap guarantees further harmful cuts to local governments, education and human service programs."

Meanwhile, Heastie has pressed for a millionaire's tax that would allow the state to spend more on education. The Cuomo administration has derided the plan and Heastie has fired back. Mayor de Blasio has continued to express support for raising taxes on the highest earners, but he has not made a focused push on the issue since his efforts failed in 2014.

Asked about whether there have been joint efforts between the Cuomo and de Blasio administrations to find efficiencies as the governor discussed, Morris Peters, spokesperson for the division of budget, said in a statement: "We have been having conversations with our partners in government and we will continue to do so."

During City Council budget testimony on Tuesday, de Blasio's budget director Dean Fuleihan said that talks had yet to occur between the city and state but that he expects them to take place soon.

"I've also said I'm going to take him at his word, but I'll hold him to it," de Blasio told a gathering of the state Legislature's Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Caucus last month, referring to Gov. Cuomo and the CUNY and Medicaid cuts. "When the budget is passed on April 1 I fully expect there won't be any negative impact on New York City," de Blasio continued. "He said it won't cost us a single cent. That's what we expect, and I think a lot of people are going to make sure that happens."

Construction & Housing Takeovers
Another, little-discussed measure contained in Gov. Cuomo's budget would see the creation of "The New York State Design and Construction Corp." that would be given oversight of public construction projects worth over $50 million. The DCC would be a subsidiary of the state's Dormitory Authority and would be headed by three commissioners, all appointed by the governor.

"The DCC's primary purpose will be to provide additional project management expertise and oversight on significant public works projects undertaken by state agencies, departments, public authorities and public benefit corporations throughout the state," reads the governor's State of the State policy book.

The proposal has raised concerns for legislators and budget watchdogs who believe Cuomo is trying to have more influence over independent authorities like the MTA. The MTA board is made up of members appointed by the city and other localities serviced by the agency. The Governor also appoints members and names the chair. Representatives of Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) are concerned the body would create more bureaucracy and confusion. For example, the DCC could void contracts signed by the MTA. CBC has written legislators urging them to oppose the plan.

John Kaehny, of watchdog group Reinvent Albany, said he was taken aback by the plan. "The Dormitory Authority is the premier slush fund for pork barrel spending. To house a project management agency within it is alarming. We agree with budget watchdog groups who view this as a power grab and another attempt to reduce transparency and accountability."

"What is his motivation for proposing this unprecedented design and construction corporation?" asked McMahon, of The Empire Center. "It will allow [Cuomo] to reach in and take control of any project he wants. The governor is the kind of guy who will say 'Stop that, give it to me, I can do it better!' The governor likes to draw power to the center, to the top, to him."

Cuomo is also looking to increase the state's say over New York City development of affordable housing. Per the governor's plans, The Public Authorities Control Board would be allowed to veto individual housing projects proposed by the city that utilize tax-exempt bonds, given to the state by the federal government, which the state then allocates to municipalities.

Cuomo administration officials say the plan would add a new level of transparency to a system that allocates billions of dollars to construction each year. City officials and affordable housing developers say that there is no need for another level of bureaucracy.

The Control Board is made up of the governor and both legislative leaders. Mayor de Blasio has panned the proposal, as have a number of contractors and housing advocates who worry the plan will create overlap and uncertainty around badly-needed projects that increase affordable housing stock. The Real Estate Board of New York has also raised concerns that more state say would create uncertainty and possibly confuse lending institutions.

"We think adding these additional layers will only slow down the process at a point where thousands and thousands of people are waiting for housing that will allow them and their families to be able to make ends meet," de Blasio told legislators during budget testimony earlier this year.

Adding to the drama around the city's affordable housing plans, De Blasio administration officials, housing advocates and developers are also growing nervous that Cuomo may continue to divert some of the flow of federal housing bonds that the city relies on to create affordable housing. After doing so with millions of dollars in bonds that the city thought it could count on in 2015, Cuomo is considering using the bonds for the state's newly expanded role in creating affordable housing. During his State of the State, Cuomo outlined general plans to invest billions in affordable housing, but he has yet to flesh those plans out. His policy book promised details "in the coming weeks."

MTA Financing
Last year, Cuomo and his MTA Chair Thomas Prendergast began a campaign to push the city to contribute more to the MTA capital plan. Eventually a deal was struck where the city agreed to contribute $2.5 billion and the governor pledging an additional $7.3 billion, bringing the state's total pledged contribution to $8.3 billion, all part of the $26 billion overall five-year plan. For months Cuomo was asked how the state would pay its share and he retorted that the question would be answered in his budget.

His budget plan simply raised more questions. Cuomo's plan appropriates $1 billion for the MTA capital plan and pledges to provide more of the promised $8.3 billion when the MTA spends through other capital funding. The city has in turn put off its commitment to extra funding since the city-state agreement was contingent upon parallel fund allocation.

Budget experts believe the Cuomo administration will allow the MTA to issue bonds to raise the $7.3 billion once it spends the funds it has on hand. "[The governor] already committed to $8.3 million for the MTA and we all wondered where that would come from," said McMahon. "The answer is that the MTA commitment he signed was not worth the paper it was written on. Once the MTA is done spending money it raises itself, the state will direct them to issue their own bonds."

Jamison Dague of CBC said that while the MTA has a backlog of projects that need to be addressed, he would like to see the state spell out specific funding for the agency. "What they've done here is tell the MTA, 'You have resources to draw down before we come in with the pledge.' The MTA has a lot of capital funding sources they are still trying to spend."

However, Dague said knowing where the state funding is coming from is prudent for both the MTA and state's long-term planning. "You always want to identify revenue for big capital work before you get going with big contracts," Dague said.

Legislators expressed outrage over the plan during a budget hearing last week. "I have no idea how we can actually do a capital program and actually approve a capital program with language that 'it'll be there when you need it.' Corporate America would laugh at this. Any country would be surprised with this type of approach in funding," said Senator Marty Golden, a Republican from Brooklyn, according to Politico New York.

The Cuomo administration has vigorously defended its position. "The Governor put unambiguous and iron-clad language in the budget to make good on his commitment to provide $8.3 billion towards the MTA's capital plan," Morris Peters of the Division of The Budget told Gotham Gazette in a statement. Peters pointed to budget legislation that he said would cement the state's commitment to funding the MTA "in law."

Infrastructure Spending
This year's State of the State address was centered around the idea that Cuomo is rebuilding New York. "Built to Lead" was the theme and the governor announced a myriad of projects including revamping Penn Station, retooling the Javits Center, reconstructing LaGuardia Airport, and a major contribution to the rail tunnel underneath the Hudson River. The combined cost of the projects is estimated at over $100 billion.

Budget watchdogs say Cuomo's plans are bold but not backed up with detailed funding mechanisms. The governor's budget points to federal funding, cash from public authorities, and investment from public/private partnerships to fund a number of the projects. It leaves the state assuming $29 billion of project costs. Watchdogs say the budget only appropriates two-thirds of that cash. "I think the situation was created by the governor's desire to portray himself as having a grand plan. So we all wondered: 'With what money?'" said McMahon.

Cuomo has also already allocated billions of dollars worth of the state's bank settlement funds to other projects such as upstate revitalization. The state is also relatively close to bumping up against a borrowing cap that was signed into law under Gov. George Pataki, so it is unlikely the state could fund all of the projects if it wanted to.

"I think the governor's ambition is admirable," said Dague of CBC. "But one of the concerns is he has promised to take on so many projects while leaving the funding details to be filled in. Another concern the legislature has is that the projects aren't being put through rigorous analysis. There isn't a discussion of how the state makes use of its limited capital projects funds--why this and not that. And there also is the question in some cases of: 'Why are these projects in the governor's budget and not the MTA's?'"

Peters, of Cuomo's administration, said that the budget clearly lays out how Cuomo's grand plans will be paid for. The list of major infrastructure projects are funded by a combination of resources, including from the state and federal governments, public authorities, and private investment, as clearly laid out in our budget materials."

Cash Stash
Another major concern for budget watchdogs is the $2.4 billion in funds stashed in 80 different pots in this year's executive budget not labeled for any specific use, as identified by good government group Citizens Union in a new report.

It is actually common for the governor and both houses of the Legislature to create slush funds in the budget each year. The practice came under increased scrutiny last year after the arrest of (now former) Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who used cash from one of those pots of money in a scheme to earn referral fees through his law firm. Silver has been convicted on federal corruption trials and faces sentencing soon.

This year, according to the Citizens Union "spending in the shadows" report, the governor has $2.2 billion worth of this discretionary money, the Senate $815 million, and $686 million for the Assembly. Last year, Cuomo inserted language into the budget that would have required legislators to reveal their connections to any organization that received funding from these pots of cash, but he has not reinserted the language this year. Cuomo has outlined a series of ethics reforms that he says he intends to negotiate with legislative leaders

"With former Speaker Silver convicted in part because of his access to and illegal use of a healthcare-related lump sum pot, we need no greater reason to reform this form of budgeting," said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, in a statement. "We need a whole new set of rules and level of transparency to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to personally enrich elected officials or used in unseemly pay to play schemes."

Policy Questions
Cuomo has again packed his budget with his major legislative priorities, a practice that has earned the governor criticism - some say that the budget should only include operational and capital spending, not new policy. This year, Cuomo is including an increase of the minimum wage toward $15 per hour, paid family leave, and raising the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18, among other policies.

The governor has the support of Assembly and Senate Democrats on the outlines of all of these issues while Senate and Assembly Republicans have voiced varying levels of dissent. The Governor recently told reporters the minimum wage issue might be removed from the budget debate.

Assembly Democrats, who control that chamber, are pushing for The DREAM Act, which Cuomo has included in his budget but has not rallied for publicly this year. Senate Republicans, who control that chamber, have been vigorously opposed to the plan, which would allow undocumented residents access to education aid.

Also on the Assembly to-do list is the millionaire's tax they argue will allow an increase in education spending, among other things. The Cuomo administration and the Senate have both rejected the idea.

Cuomo has remained nearly silent on the package of ethics reforms he pitched in January. Although he's taken to touring the state in an RV to tout his wage plan at a series of rallies, he has discussed ethics reform when prompted by reporters. His plans would strictly limit legislators outside income and close the LLC loophole that allows corporate donors to avoid campaign finance limits.

The governor was asked about the lack of discussion around ethics reform during one of his RV stops last week. He replied that discussions were happening "in phases."

"There's not a lot of continuity between $15 minimum wage and ethics," he said. "It's kind of a hard transition: 'I want to talk to you about a $15 minimum wage, oh, and now I wanna talk to you about limiting income for legislators.' It's not the most fluid transition. Maybe you could do it. It's tough for me."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been changed to reflect the report of the initial budget meeting between Cuomo and legislative leaders.

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Several Significant Questions About The Governor's Budget Wed, 02 Mar 2016 22:16:00 +0000
Next Steps the State Must Make to Create and Maintain Affordable Housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6161:next-steps-the-state-must-make-to-create-and-maintain-affordable-housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6161:next-steps-the-state-must-make-to-create-and-maintain-affordable-housing groundbreaking cuomo others

photo: a groundbreaking, via the Governor's Office


As the Legislature moves ahead with its 2016 session in Albany, a top priority must be creating and maintaining affordable housing across the state. We cannot be content with fellow New Yorkers sleeping in three-quarter houses, with too many to a room, because it’s the only alternative. It is only so long until the next severely rent burdened tenant - spending more than 50 percent of their earnings on rent - ends up homeless because they cannot afford their apartment.

Governor Cuomo’s State of the State agenda – including 20,000 units of supportive housing over 15 years and 100,000 units of permanent affordable housing - is a welcome first step. Now, there are steps the Legislature should take to spur the development and protection of affordable housing. As President Obama’s call to end chronic homelessness among veterans displays, when government acts and we mobilize on that action, we can address long-term, entrenched issues and ensure individuals have a safe and affordable place to live.

A high priority for Albany should be a new 421-a property tax credit for real estate developers who build affordable housing.

After developers and labor were unable to come to an agreement on construction wages by January 15, the 421-a tax credit expired. Still, Albany can seize the opportunity and craft a new program that maximizes the cost-effective development of truly affordable housing. For example, a new 421-a credit should not include a tax break for condo development. Approximately two-thirds of New York City’s households are renters. Moreover, the median household income of renters in New York City - about $41,000 annually according to the Furman Center’s 2014 State of New York City’s Housing & Neighborhoods - is unlikely enough to afford a co-op or condo.

The Legislature must also adequately fund the 20,000 units of supportive housing announced by Cuomo. In particular, Albany must ensure state contracts with supportive housing providers promote the long-term viability of the units. A consistent challenge that we at Urban Pathways face in operating scattered-site supportive housing - apartments in various private buildings throughout communities - is that the service contracts lack rent escalations. As scattered-site units are in market-rate apartments, they are subject to rent increases, making rent escalation provisions critical to their preservation.

Lastly, after March of this year, the state will receive National Housing Trust Fund dollars. New York will be obligated to spend these funds - potentially $20 million - predominantly on rental housing for extremely low-income (ELI) households. ELI households are those with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income (ranging from about $18,150 for a one-person household to $29,500 for a four-person household in New York City). This is another opportunity for the state to invest in adequate exit options for homeless individuals throughout the state.

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Nicole Bramstedt is the Director of Policy at Urban Pathways, a nonprofit social services and supportive housing organization. On Twitter at @UrbanPathwaysNY

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

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Next Steps the State Must Make to Create and Maintain Affordable Housing Wed, 10 Feb 2016 18:05:44 +0000
In Albany, Bharara Challenges Lawmakers to Act, Not Enable http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6155:in-albany-bharara-challenges-lawmakers-to-act-not-enable http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6155:in-albany-bharara-challenges-lawmakers-to-act-not-enable bharara

Preet Bharara (photo: Buck Ennis)


Asked how he can spur legislators to enact major ethics reforms during his visit to Albany on Monday, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said he has a "particularly blunt incentive...the avoidance of prison." The reminder from Bharara comes as legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are quietly discussing possible ethics reforms behind closed doors--reforms none of them have appeared interested in discussing publicly since Cuomo outlined his platform in his State of the State address last month.

Speaking before a captive audience, Bharara focused on the lack of a public conversation on ethics by lawmakers and the strict control legislative leaders have over rank-and-file members, and called on legislators to speak up against the norm and blow the whistle on corruption. The crusading U.S. attorney delivered prepared remarks and sat for an interview at an event on public corruption hosted by WAMC public radio and good government groups.

Bharara didn't need an indictment to send lawmakers scurrying for the exits during his visit. Earlier Monday at the Albany Hilton where they both addressed the New York Conference of Mayors, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan bolted up a flight of stairs before Bharara, the man who successfully prosecuted Flanagan's predecessor, Dean Skelos, took the stage.

Flanagan unsuccessfully tried to avoid reporters who inquired why he wasn't staying for Bharara's remarks. He said that he had "appointments" in his office. Flanagan refused to answer questions about what ethics reforms he might support this session, continuing what has been a deafening silence from legislative leaders on ethics reform for the last month.

Flanagan also avoided mentioning ethics in his speech to the mayors conference--Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb both discussed the need for reform. Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Carl Heastie did not attend the event, his surrogate, Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, spoke instead and also avoided discussing reform.

"They're afraid they're going to get asked questions by the press about ethics reform," said Barbara Bartoletti of The League of Women Voters. "I would doubt we will hear anything from them on it soon. We have said 'please open up these leaders' meetings and tell us what issues you're looking at in the budget' but this governor has not done that."

Silence from both majority leaders and Gov. Cuomo has become the norm since earlier this year when Cuomo proposed a series of significant reforms that include restricting legislators' outside income, closing the LLC loophole, and public financing of elections. Flanagan has openly questioned the need for more reforms, while Heastie has said that his conference is open to discussing a number of proposals.

Cuomo has avoided holding a press conference with the Albany press corp for nearly 230 days, though he has taken a series of questions after events on a number of occasions. The lack of public leadership on ethics gave Bharara, who already attracts massive attention for his high-profile prosecutions, even more of a spotlight on the issue.

Bharara has been cursed and bemoaned by legislators for painting them all as corrupt. On Monday, he seemed at points to be trying a softer approach. While he did speak in stark terms at times, Bharara kept a fairly subdued tone and was quick to crack a joke as he spoke of the nobility in public service, the existence of "good" legislators who speak out against corruption and the "three men in a room" system that dominates decision-making in Albany.

As he said the key to undoing a culture of corruption in any institution is the good actors taking action rather than enabling the bad actors, the U.S. attorney said he expects more legislators will soon buck the closed leadership system. He also cited a recent Siena Poll that showed 92 percent of those surveyed think public corruption is a major problem.

"I heard a very strong exhortation to empower the good people in the legislature to stand up and that's basically what needs to happen," said Susan Lerner of Common Cause NY. "I think it was absolutely the right message and it's not scolding. I think it is important to empower change."

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, introduced Bharara on Monday afternoon, noting the many lawmakers who have been removed from office in recent years due to corruption. Dadey agreed that Bharara went out of his way to acknowledge legislators who want reform. "He was acknowledging that there are lot of good people serving in the legislature who are tarred by the brush of corruption, by the actions of those who have been convicted," Dadey told Gotham Gazette. "That being said, they have a responsibility to address this issue of corruption and for them to swing too low and not truly address the core issues contributing to all of this is an abdication of their responsibility as state legislators."

Bharara wasn't all sunshine and roses by any means. He lashed out at legislators for "whining" and failing to blow the whistle on corruption. "People knew, people knew before the prosecutors showed up, before the FBI showed up," he said. "People always know. You think no one knew Sheldon Silver was corrupt before he was put in handcuffs? Not a chance."

He also shamed those in the Assembly who tried to keep Silver as leader even after he was indicted. Bharara said that police or teachers who had been arrested and faced a 35-page indictment would find themselves on "desk duty" or in a "rubber room."

Bharara called for there to be more respect for public service by public servants and continued to challenge them to live up to the jobs they hold. He mocked Silver's defense strategy that his behavior was just "politics as usual" asserting that that defense unfairly tarred his fellow lawmakers.

"Looking the other way is not leadership," he said, "blaming the prosecutors is not leadership, kicking the can is not leadership, accepting lies and half-truths is not leadership, making excuses is not leadership, whining is not leadership."

What Bharara did not offer was specifics, though he did give a half-blessing to a few reforms, like pension forfeiture for those lawmakers convicted of wrongdoing. Bharara declined to weigh in definitively on proposed reforms such as increasing legislators' pay and banning outside income, though he did say that there is a good argument to be made for limiting such income.

The U.S. attorney would not comment on his investigation into Cuomo's' Buffalo Billion economic development plan. "We aren't closing up shop anytime soon," Bharara said smiling.

Lerner said she thinks Bharara's visit comes at an important time when the legislature is negotiating reforms behind closed doors and cautioned patience as the process plays out. "The most important thing right now is not what they say publicly but are there internal discussions going on and I believe there are. Like the U.S. Attorney said, we need reform-minded people pushing the leaders for change. I'm very happy not to go to one more press conference that results in nothing. We want them to talk amongst themselves and come to a conclusion that they need to adopt reforms, and that could be a quiet time where they aren't saying much to me and you."

Concern is growing amongst reform advocates that Assembly Democrats have fallen back to their default position under Silver of waiting to voice their individual opinions until they are told what the leader has decided. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans appear desperate not to pass any of Cuomo's substantive reforms. Bartoletti said she expects the issue of reform could slip away given that this is an election year, unless Bharara bags another big indictment.

Bharara made it clear on Monday that he is ready to serve as a constant reminder that reform is needed. "This moment in history calls for something more than just talk," Bharara said. "There's been a lot of talk."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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In Albany, Bharara Challenges Lawmakers to Act, Not Enable Tue, 09 Feb 2016 01:31:58 +0000
Good Government Groups Rate Cuomo's Ethics Package http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6104:good-government-groups-rate-cuomos-ethics-package http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6104:good-government-groups-rate-cuomos-ethics-package cuomo sots scene

Scene at Gov. Cuomo's State of the State (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


On Tuesday in Albany, the heads of three major good government groups gave their evaluation of the ethics proposals Gov. Andrew Cuomo included in his State of the State address and budget presentation last week. Susan Lerner of Common Cause, Dick Dadey of Citizens Union and Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group expressed general contentment with most of what Cuomo unveiled during a press conference, but gathered to call for follow through and one key addition to the agenda.

The groups are quite pleased with Cuomo's plan to shut the LLC loophole, which allows donors to skirt the state's campaign contribution limits by creating multiple fronts. "We think the language the governor has proposed is strong and clear, and we do not have any suggestions for strengthening it, so please note that sometimes you can make good government groups happy," said Lerner regarding the loophole. Cuomo has been the greatest benefactor of the current system, though in the past he has expressed a belief that it should be closed while not necessarily fighting for that reform.

Lerner said she was also encouraged to see a public campaign finance proposal and election reforms put forward in Cuomo's plan.

Horner said that it was "proper" for Cuomo to put forth a bill limiting lawmakers' outside income to 15 percent of their state salary, which is currently $79,500, but may soon be increased. Still, he expressed disappointment that a measure of the bill that limits legislators from accepting advances from book sales does not apply to the executive branch (Cuomo recently received hundreds of thousands of dollars for penning a memoir). Overall Horner said he thought the proposal would "significantly reduce lawmakers' temptation to use private office for public gain."

"The governor was given a historic opportunity to overhaul the state's campaign finance and election laws and in his State of the State message he largely delivered," said Horner.

Dadey, however, said Cuomo made a grave oversight by not proposing any bill that tackles "slush funds" in the state budget, pots of money that have been abused by legislators, as spotlighted in the cases against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former state Senator Malcolm Smith.

Dadey said that the pots of money are "rife with potential for corruption," and said that the governor and the legislature should shed more light on how the money is used. "These lump sums must not be allowed to exist in such large categories...but rather lined out in budget," said Dadey. "If there is a reason for them to continue to exist that needs to be publically disclosed."

The groups praised Cuomo's plan to make reforms to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, by making the ethics watchdog subject to public meetings laws and requiring lawmakers to disclose their actual income rather than a range. However, they said Cuomo didn't go far enough and that the structure of the board must be revamped to avoid deadlocks, the Comptroller and Attorney General should be allowed to appoint representatives, and the executive director should not be hired directly from the legislative or executive branches.

Dadey dismissed concerns that Cuomo did not make his ethics package part of his budget bills which would give him the upper hand in negotiations with the legislature. "I think they're so important that they have to stand alone. That's what I would like to think," said Dadey.

The groups had previously introduced a "Clean Conscience Pledge" at the start of the year, asking lawmakers and the governor to sign on to working to do everything they can to pass legislation limiting outside income, closing the LLC loophole, and making clear the purpose and recipients of discretionary funds in the budget.

So far 22 legislators have signed the pledge. Four of the signees are from the 103-member Assembly Democratic Majority, no members of the 31-member Republican Senate Majority have signed, nor has Governor Cuomo, a Democrat.

Asked by Gotham Gazette if they had had discussions with members of the majorities about the pledge or received indications why more legislators have not signed, Horner responded: "These are tough proposals. I think the houses want to process how they're going to respond to the governor's package and the pledge. This is really an opportunity for lawmakers who are often cut out of process to express a point of view. I'm urging them to get on the stick on this quickly to let the public know you want Albany cleaned up and this is the easiest way to show it."

[Related: Cuomo Unveils Ethics Plan to Questions of Follow Through]

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Good Government Groups Rate Cuomo's Ethics Package Wed, 20 Jan 2016 22:53:50 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, Jan. 11-15 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6093:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-jan-11-15 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6093:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-jan-11-15 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday January 15

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Governor Cuomo gives his State of the State address, via the governor's office

andrew cuomo mario cuomo

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. State of the State: Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his combined State of the State and budget address on Wednesday. The plan has major infrastructure components to it as well as efforts to achieve social and economic justice, as the governor put it. Some of Cuomo’s 2016 “Built to Lead” agenda will place new financial strains on New York City, as the plan would end the state’s payment of some of the city’s Medicaid costs and change how CUNY is funded. Those changes and others are expected by some experts to cost the city $1 billion starting in the next fiscal year. In response, Mayor de Blasio has called the budget proposal “debilitating,” and said he would use “any means necessary” to restore the millions in state financing. Cuomo appeared to strike a conciliatory tone on Thursday, saying the city and state would work together to find Medicaid and CUNY efficiencies. [Read: Cuomo Outlines $144 Billion Budget & Cuomo Unveils Ethics Plan to Questions Of Follow Through]

2. Cuomo Cleared: On Monday, the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced there was not enough evidence to prove a federal crime in the investigation into Governor Cuomo’s interference with and closure of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.

3. Gun Courts: On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio announced “Project Fast Track,” which aims to reduce gun violence in New York City through the creation of a new Gun Violence Suppression Division in the NYPD and by designating judges to fast-track illegal gun cases and resolve the cases within six months. [Read: City to Open Gun Courts to Expedite Prosecutions]

4. Spotlight on Sexual Assault: The alleged gang-rape in a Brownsville playground last Thursday, the rise in the number of reported rapes in 2015, and NYPD Commissioner Bratton’s suggestion that women going home late at night use the “buddy system” have led sexual assault to become the focus of public discussion this week. On Monday, lawmakers and advocates rallied outside City Hall to call for more legislation and resources to protect women from sexual assault. [Read: To Combat Increase in Reported Rapes, Experts Point to Prevention & Sexual Assault Becomes Focus of Public Discussion]

5. 421-a, Uber, Carriage Horses: Negotiations between construction unions and real estate developers to extend the controversial 421-a development tax break are at a standstill, with both sides certain they will not reach an agreement by the Friday deadline to renew the program. Meanwhile, the city releases its long-awaited study of the for-hire vehicle industry, leading to little other than acknowledgement that the city is unlikely to pursue a cap to Uber’s growth. And, a deal on reducing horse carriages appeals imminent. [Read: Negotiations to Extend Important Affordable Housing Tax Break Said to Reach Impasse]

THIS WEEK’S NUMBERS:

  • $145 billion budget was laid out by Governor Cuomo during his annual state of the state and budget address.
  • $20 billion commitment to combat homelessness was announced by Governor Cuomo during the address, with $10 billion earmarked for 100,000 permanent affordable housing units and $10 billion for 6,000 new supported beds over 5 years, 1,000 emergency shelter beds, and other services, Gotham Gazette reports.
  • $1 billion is about how much experts estimate the changes in funding to CUNY and state payment of Medicaid costs will cost New York City starting in the next fiscal year, Capital New York reports.
  • 78.1% of public school students in New York graduated on time last june, up from 76.4% the previous year, marking an increase for the third year in a row, Gannett Albany reports. Meanwhile, the graduation rate in New York City crept above 70% for the first time.
  • 1,439 rapes reported in 2015, up 6.3% from 1,354 in 2014, Gotham Gazette reports.
  • 1.4 million New Yorkers - 16.5% of the population - are food insecure, Gotham Gazette reports.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

It was a good week for Governor Andrew Cuomo, after he was cleared by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office in the investigation into his interference with the shutdown of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.

It was a bad week for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who came under fire for suggesting women should use the “buddy system” when coming home late at night to avoid becoming the victim of sexual assault. The NYPD has also been criticized this week for not notifying the public of the alleged gang rape in a Brownsville playground sooner.

THE FLASH:

Around this time 27 years ago, on January 13, 1989, subway gunman Bernhard Goetz was sentenced to a year in prison for possessing an unlicensed gun which he used to shoot four people he said were going to rob him.

Around this time 116 years ago, on January 10, 1900, bids went out for the construction of an underground railroad line running between City Hall and the Bronx. The city’s first subway opened four years later.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK

Special Election Spotlights Machine Politics in The Bronx, by Gabe Ponce de León

To Combat Increase in Reported Rapes, Experts Point to Prevention, by Meg O'Connor

Cuomo Outlines $144 Billion Budget, by David Howard King

Cuomo Unveils Ethics Plan to Questions of Follow Through, by David Howard King

At Hearing on Hunger, Council Presses De Blasio Administration on SNAP Participation, by Ryan Brady

New Data Indicates IDNYC Popularity Among Immigrants, by Samar Khurshid

Cuomo Heads Into State of the State After Big Announcements, With More to Say, by Ben Max

Assembly Democrats Reject Republican Rules Changes, Promise Own Proposals Soon, by David Howard King

Council to Assess Hunger Problem, City Efforts to Reduce It, by Ryan Brady

New York One Signature Away from Calling for Overturn of Citizens United, by Samar Khurshid

Sexual Assault Becomes Focus of Public Discussion, by Ben Max

To Meet Staten Island Needs, Borough President Focuses on Beating Bureaucracy, by Meg O'Connor

Don't Be Seduced By Sexy Transportation Projects, by Philip M. Plotch and Nicholas D. Bloom (opinion)

A Case for None-Time-Limited Supportive Housing for Young Adults, by Colleen Jackson (opinion)

More Cities Should Do What States and Federal Government Aren't on Minimum Wage, by JoEllen Chernow (opinion)

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

Governor Andrew Cuomo sat down with NY1's Errol Louis for an interview Wednesday after laying out his vision for the year in his State of the State address.

Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks discussed the ways the de Blasio administration is dealing with the homelessness crisis and the governor’s plans to audit the city’s shelter system with Errol Louis NY1.

Mary Brosnahan, executive director of Coalition for the Homeless, talks about the new proposals for addressing New York City's homeless population on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC.

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NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

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by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

 

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The Week That Was in New York Politics, Jan. 11-15 Fri, 15 Jan 2016 19:44:06 +0000
Cuomo Heads Into State of the State After Big Announcements, With More to Say http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6083:cuomo-heads-into-state-of-the-state-after-big-announcements-with-more-to-say http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6083:cuomo-heads-into-state-of-the-state-after-big-announcements-with-more-to-say cuomo church sots

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin, Governor's Office)


Governor Cuomo is going big. Decrying a state that has lost its ambition for transformative projects like the Erie Canal, the governor has spent the past week traveling the state and announcing major infrastructure, transportation, and economic development plans. Cuomo has also revealed new pieces of his $15 minimum wage campaign and criminal justice reform policies, among others, as he sets his agenda for 2016 and frames budget negotiations in Albany.

So far, Cuomo has outlined 14 planks of his 2016 platform, providing an extensive preview of his State of the State and budget address, which he will give on Wednesday in the capital. Still, there are key pieces of his speech that the governor has kept under wraps, including what he has said are top priorities: government ethics, homelessness, and education.

It is also unclear what priority, if any, Cuomo will give to policies like the DREAM Act, which he has assured proponents will be in his budget again, but has not given indication of its place in his speech. Advocates are also hopeful that the governor includes a significant paid family leave proposal on Wednesday, and many are watching to see if he unveils a plan for a statewide policy on car-hailing apps, like Uber.

While the governor is clearly going big on infrastructure - with plans that could total $100 billion in costs, according to his office - he has promised to lead with ethics as lawmakers continue to fall to corruption convictions, trust in Albany is low, and New Yorkers say Cuomo has not done enough to clean up state government.

"Top of my agenda is going to be ethics reform," Cuomo, a Democrat, said Jan. 3 on NY1. "We have done a lot in Albany, but we haven't done enough. And I'm going to push the legislature very hard to adopt more aggressive ethics legislation, more disclosure, more enforcement, etcetera."

What exactly this will include is unclear, but good government groups, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and many others have put forth recommendations. Chief among these are limiting legislators' outside income and closing the infamous LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited campaign donations. Whether Cuomo broaches a public campaign finance system will help gauge how bold he's going on reform.

Wherever ethics does fall, that portion of Cuomo's address is likely to be dwarfed by the volume of discussion of the infrastructure plans the governor has outlined and his discussion of economic justice, including his minimum wage crusade.

The infrastructure plans, which include a new track on the Long Island Rail Road, a revamped Penn Station, road and bridge upgrades, and more, will be attached to the governor's previously announced projects led by a new Tappan Zee Bridge and LaGuardia Airport.

During a Jan. 5 appearance on Long Island, Cuomo said of New Yorkers, "we don't think big anymore. And we don't believe we're capable of doing big anymore. And we don't believe government is a vehicle to do big anymore." But, he promised to resurrect New York's "big" thinking as he announced new plans and referenced ongoing building - all under the banner of this year's tagline: New York State, Built to Lead.

"This year in the State of the State we are going to propose the largest construction project program in modern political history in the state of New York," Cuomo promised. "Roads and bridges upstate, airports upstate and downstate, new mass transit, new attractions, new rail transit and new mass transit downstate which is desperately needed. And we are going to do it region by region."

While Cuomo has outlined the meat of his building plans, he has not gone into detail on how it will all be funded, though he has promised to do so on Wednesday in his executive budget.

Cuomo has called the budget "the most complex piece of legislation we pass," which is true in part because it is a way of doing business in Albany that a good deal of policy is unnecessarily included in budget negotiations. For the governor, whomever it may be, forcing additional policy into the budget is a way of using executive leverage that doesn't exist in post-budget legislative session. For the second straight year, Cuomo is combining his State of the State, which is usually a more policy-focused speech, with the announcement of his budget.

A budget deal is due by April 1, whereas the legislative session continues into June.

Budget watchdogs are eagerly awaiting the details of Cuomo's spending plans. Nicole Gelinas, of the Manhattan Institute, recently wrote in City and State that "Cuomo evidently did not make an important resolution: stop announcing huge infrastructure projects without a way to pay for them."

"The risk in starting lots of new projects without having a way to pay for them," Gelinas wrote, "is that the governor will force the MTA and the rest of the state to scrimp on old stuff that people don't see, like replacing subway tracks and signals."

After all the drama that accompanied Cuomo's negotiations with Mayor Bill de Blasio over an MTA capital spending plan, Cuomo may try to steer clear of criticism for his spending plans. As the Citizens Budget Commission points out, Cuomo continues to have billions of dollars to spend from bank settlements with the state. In outlining 12 things to watch for in Cuomo's budget, CBC asks, "How much will the Governor propose to spend for transportation infrastructure? How much will be borrowing versus pay-as-you-go capital, and will a new revenue source be proposed?"

Throughout his time as governor, Cuomo has prided himself on reigning in state operational spending, and even while outlining his new plans so far this month, Cuomo has touted his brand of fiscal responsibility. It is unlikely Cuomo will outline an increase in state spending above the two percent cap he has followed.

Meanwhile, many, especially from New York City, are watching closely to see what the governor outlines around homelessness, the latest issue on which Cuomo has decided to undermine and supercede de Blasio. Cuomo issued an executive order just after the new year and has promised a robust policy plan in his State of the State.

The plan is likely to include more oversight of homeless shelters, which the state is already responsible for, and of operations aimed at reducing homelessness. How much money Cuomo will dedicate to supportive housing, rental subsidies, and other relevant measures is to-be-seen. De Blasio recently announced a major supportive housing plan and, along with advocates and legislators, called on Cuomo to match it (and create a fourth New York/New York supportive housing deal).

The governor has not yet made clear his education platform for this year, though he has indicated he will follow recommendations made by the common core task force that he empaneled in September and received a report from in December.

Becoming "The Education Governor" has been full of fits and starts for Cuomo. While he has protected and promoted the growth of charter schools, other aspects of his education policy have not gone as planned - these include the rollout of the common core learning standards and tougher teacher evaluations by tying them more closely to the results of student standardized test scores.

The task force recommended a revamp of the common core system, more stakeholder input, a reduction in standardized testing, and increased local control over standards and curriculum. The governor's office said that "no new legislation is required to implement the recommendations of the report," so there could be few specific proposals in Cuomo's State of the State.

The governor did recently announce he will be investing in the community school model, something de Blasio has expanded vastly in New York City, especially with regard to so-called "failing schools" as he tries to turn them around under the threat of state takeover. Cuomo may take aim at hastening school improvement.

On NY1, Cuomo said "many of these failing schools have been failing for over 10 years, believe it or not. And the system, the bureaucracy, has been too tolerant, in my opinion. And we are – we're going to be focusing on the closing schools, we're going to be investing in the school system to make sure we're doing everything we can on the state side."

As he has done before, Cuomo also distanced himself from education-related problems: "Education in this state is run by a department called the state education department," Cuomo said. "It is not under the governor. I wish it were, many governors in the past wished it was...It's run by the Board of Regents, which is selected by the legislature, primarily the Assembly."

Discussing the common core he said, "We started a new curriculum as part of a national movement called the common core curriculum. And that was rolled out over the past few years; that brought with it a testing regimen on the new curriculum. It was not implemented well. It was rushed. It was confused."

Adding that "It created a backlash among parents that frankly shocked everyone," Cuomo mentioned "the opt-out movement, where the parents didn't have the kids take the tests because they didn't like the way it was addressed, they didn't like that the kids were getting lower grades, whatever region."

Cuomo said the state education department has to make significant changes "and bring the parents along. Because if the parents don't have trust in the education system, then you have nothing and that's where we are now," Cuomo concluded, setting the stage for next steps by his administration and the state education department, which is doing its own common core review (new SED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia was named to Cuomo's task force, so there appears to be some, if not significant, overlap).

While there will almost certainly be sections of Cuomo's speech on education, homelessness, and ethics, the bulk will likely be on infrastructure, economic development and opportunity. He'll showcase these efforts through his push for an eventual $15 per hour minimum wage, a downtown revitalization initiative, tax breaks for small businesses, and the major projects he's outlined.

On NY1, Cuomo explained how he sees economic development, saying that "in Upstate New York [it] means basically restoring the economy, and in downstate New York it means growing the future economy – the high tech economy, having the transportation infrastructure to do that – and making sure the economy is working for everyone."

He promised to address "very high unemployment among young minority males, black and brown," which he called "just unacceptable," adding, "We have to make special economic initiatives there."

To follow that up, Cuomo announced new regulations related to spending on minority- and women-owned businesses. Prior to that, Cuomo also announced "the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative," a $25 million program to "bring together state and local government, non-profit and business groups to design and implement coordinated solutions to increase social mobility in ten cities with the highest poverty rates in the state."

The governor has promised to continue to fight to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York from 16 to 18 - New York is one of just two states that automatically treat 16-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system. Like on several other issues, Cuomo has taken executive action on the issue in the absence of legislation, with a plan to move 16- and 17-year-olds into a separate prison facility from older inmates.

Where other social justice issues that, similarly, the governor has backed before but not been able to pass, like the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and the DREAM Act, are featured in Cuomo's remarks is also being watched closely by supporters of those policies.

The governor published an op-ed this week detailing the measures he's taken to protect transgender New Yorkers in the absence of GENDA passing the legislature, where it has been blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate. Cuomo did not indicate that he would be pushing GENDA forward in his State of the State.

There are also questions around whether Cuomo will include a proposal and dedicated funding for paid family leave, something that de Blasio recently moved on for some city employees and called on the state to pass for all workers.

One other policy area the governor has been quiet on leading up to his address, but he could make waves with an announcement on is app-based car services. When de Blasio was battling with Uber last year, Cuomo jumped into the fray to defend the company, where one of his former top aides now works, and say that a statewide policy is needed. Since then, Uber has waged a campaign across the state, getting many public officials on board. Cuomo may surprise people by outlining state policy around Uber and other e-hailing services like Lyft.

Tune in at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday for Cuomo's speech - stream online at the governor's website - and see below for the full outline of proposals Cuomo has outlined thus far in 2016.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

For an outline of all 14 proposals Cuomo has announced thus far, the following was released by Cuomo's office on Tuesday:

The signature proposals announced so far include:

PROPOSAL 1: Restore economic justice by making New York the first state in the nation to enact a $15 minimum wage for all workers. While highlighting this proposal, the Governor announced that the State University of New York will raise the minimum wage for more than 28,000 employees.

More information available here; video and other media available here.

PROPOSAL 2: Launch a comprehensive plan to transform and expand vital infrastructure downstate and make critical investments in the region. Most notably, the proposal includes a major expansion and improvement project for the Long Island Rail Road between Floral Park and Hicksville.

The project will allow the LIRR to increase service, reduce congestion and train delays caused whenever there is an incident along this busy stretch of tracks and will enable the LIRR to run "reverse-peak" trains to allow people to take the LIRR to jobs on Long Island during traditional business hours. By allowing the LIRR to increase service between Floral Park and Hicksville, it will provide a more attractive alternative to driving and thereby reduce traffic on Long Island's major east-west highways, like the L.I.E., Northern State and Southern State, and more trains will make it easier for Long Islanders to reach LaGuardia and Kennedy airports by train.

More information available here; video and other media available here.

PROPOSAL 3: Bolster New York's legacy of environmental protection. The Governor has proposed allocating $300 million for the State’s Environmental Protection Fund – the highest amount ever for the fund and more than double the fund’s level when the Governor first took office. The Governor also announced two major investments in water infrastructure in Suffolk and Nassau Counties.

More information available here.

PROPOSAL 4: Make a series of investments and new initiatives to continue growing the economy and building stronger, more vibrant communities across New York State. These proposals include significant tax relief for small businesses, increased funding to support municipal water infrastructure improvement projects, a new effort to revitalize and transform downtown areas in each region of the state, and a sixth round of the successful Regional Economic Development Council initiative.

More information available here; video and other media available here.

PROPOSAL 5: Invest in Upstate transportation infrastructure. This includes a plan to offer a tax credit that cuts tolls in half for the New York residents and businesses who utilize the Thruway most often – benefitting nearly one million passenger, business and farm vehicles using E-Z Passes; eliminating tolls for agricultural vehicles; and keeping tolls flat until at least 2020 for all other drivers.

More information available here; video available here.

PROPOSAL 6: Transform Penn Station and the historic James A. Farley Post Office into a world-class transportation hub. The project, known as the Empire Station Complex, will feature significant passenger improvements, including first-class amenities, natural light, increased train capacity and decreased congestion, and improved signage to dramatically enhance the travel experience. The project – which is anticipated to cost $3 billion – will be expedited by a public-private partnership in order to break ground this year and complete substantial construction within the next three years.

More information available here; video and other media available here; conceptual renderings are available here.

PROPOSAL 7: Dramatically expand and improve the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center to stimulate the regional economy. The proposal will expand the Javits Center by 1.2 million square feet, resulting in a fivefold increase in meeting and ballroom space, including the largest ballroom in the Northeast. A four-level, 480,000 square foot truck garage capable of housing hundreds of tractor-trailers at one time will also be constructed to improve pedestrian safety and local traffic flow.

More information available here; video and other media available here.

PROPOSAL 8: Modernize and fundamentally transform the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, dramatically improving the travel experience for millions of New Yorkers and visitors to the metropolitan region. This proposal includes a new approach to rapidly redesign and renew 30 existing subway stations across the system. It also includes a number of technology initiatives to bring the system into the 21st century, including expanding Wi-Fi hotspots, accelerating mobile payments and ticketing to replace the MetroCard, and providing USB ports on subway trains, buses and in stations to allow customers to charge their mobile devices.

More information available here; video and other media available here.

PROPOSAL 9: Launch a Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition designed to reward local governments that take real steps to make living and working in New York State more affordable. The competition will challenge counties, cities, towns and villages to develop innovative consolidation action plans yielding significant and permanent property tax reductions. The consolidation partnership that proposes and can implement the greatest permanent reduction in property taxes will receive a $20 million award.

More information available here.

PROPOSAL 10: Dramatically expand and improve access to high-speed Internet in communities statewide. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul detailed this proposal shortly after the New York State Public Service Commission voted to approve the merger of Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications, which will dramatically improve broadband availability for millions of New Yorkers and lead to more than $1 billion in direct investments and consumer benefits.

Additionally, the state issued a $500 million solicitation for private sector partners to join the New NY Broadband Program, which will greatly expand Internet access in all regions of the state, with a focus on unserved and underserved areas.

More information available here; video available here.

PROPOSAL 11: Launch a $200 million competition to revitalize Upstate airports. The proposal is designed to enhance airports throughout Upstate New York, and promote new opportunities for regional economic development and partnership between the public and private sectors.

The Governor made this announcement as he also kicked off the start of renovations that will transform the New York State Fairgrounds site into a premier, multi-use facility. The Governor marked the official start of the historic renovation project with the implosion of the grandstand today.

More information available here.

PROPOSAL 12: Combat poverty and reduce rampant inequality through the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative. The $25 million program will bring together state and local government, non-profit and business groups to design and implement coordinated solutions to increase social mobility in ten cities with the highest poverty rates in the state.

More information available here.

PROPOSAL 13: Launch a "Right Priorities" initiative to further New York’s status as a national leader in criminal justice and re-entry reforms. The Governor's proposal will help at-risk youth find positive opportunities in their communities, while also providing citizens who enter the criminal justice system the opportunity to rehabilitate, return home, and contribute to their communities.

More information available here; video and other media available here.

PROPOSAL 14: Increase opportunity for minority- and women-owned business enterprises across New York State.

In 2014, Governor Cuomo established a goal of 30 percent for New York’s MWBE state contract utilization – the highest goal of any state in the nation. However, under state law, that goal only applies to contracts issued by state agencies and authorities; it does not apply to state funding given to localities such as cities, counties, towns, villages and school districts, which amounts to approximately $65 billion annually. This year, the Governor will advance legislation addressing this disconnect by expanding the MWBE goal setting to localities and entities that subcontract with those localities. Doing so will leverage the largest pool of state funding in history to combat systemic discrimination and create new opportunities for MWBE participation.

More information available here.

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Cuomo Heads Into State of the State After Big Announcements, With More to Say Wed, 13 Jan 2016 02:08:46 +0000