Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/512 Fri, 26 Apr 2019 10:28:37 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) 2010 Change to How New York Prisoners are Counted is Part of Upcoming Census and Redistricting Puzzle http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8451-how-new-york-prisoners-are-counted-in-the-census-changed-in-2010 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8451-how-new-york-prisoners-are-counted-in-the-census-changed-in-2010 govcuomo meadow

(photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


As focus on the 2020 Census intensifies, one key aspect of the discussion is how the population count will impact legislative representation and redistricting. Along with new congressional districts -- New York stands to lose at least one if not two seats in the House of Representatives -- the state will also redraw its legislative districts for the State Senate and State Assembly, along with local legislative bodies.

One important and controversial element in both the population count and the subsequent redistricting in the 2010-2012 cycle was the location of state prisons and how prisoners were counted in the Census; specifically, whether prisoners are counted as residents of the location of the prison they are held in or of their prior home address.

Prison populations had significant impact on local counts and therefore district lines, particularly in some of the more rural areas where most state prisons are located. At the same time, state prison population in New York has been on the decline since 1999, when it was at a peak of 71,649 prisoners. Now, that number has fallen to 46,973 prisoners, according to a press release from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Up until 2010, the Census counted prisoners in the districts they were incarcerated in, despite most of them coming from New York City and Long Island, according to data from the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research on Reapportionment (LATFOR), which has oversight of the redistricting process.

The prison count has had a significant impact on redistricting within New York, adding to the population of certain regions of particular importance for State Senate seats. While the Assembly has been dominated by Democrats for decades now, the Senate has largely seen a very close split between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans controlled the Senate for most of the past decade, including during the 2012 redistricting, until this year -- Democrats won a fairly large majority in last year’s elections.

When Democrats last had control of the Senate, briefly in 2009-2010, a controversial bill was passed amid the 2010 Census mandating that prisoners are counted based on their last known home addresses.

While counting prisoners at their prior addresses is likely to remain the case going forward, some redistricting experts are concerned that this method of counting prisoners may not be deployed because newer legislation does not address it. In 2014 and after much criticism of the 2012 redistricting process as overly political, New York voters approved a ballot measure creating a new, more independent redistricting process for 2022 and beyond.

The 2020 Census count will begin in April of next year, without full clarity on the prison count question. Prison populations can have significant impacts on how district lines are drawn, and those lines can greatly influence legislative balances of power.

How did prisons impact redistricting?
For State Senate and Assembly redistricting, the Census is taken, then the total number of people in the state is divided by the total number of districts -- 150 Assembly districts and 63 Senate districts. District lines are then drawn necessitating that a similar number of people are counted within each district.

In 2010, many State Senate districts in upstate New York were underpopulated relative to other districts, giving upstate voters more influence over their representatives than voters in overpopulated districts downstate, including in New York City, where voter power was deflated. When taking away the prison population of seven of those upstate districts, they became severely underpopulated, further inflating upstate voters’ power, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

Senate District 45, which includes Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Warren and Washington Counties, had one of the highest prison populations, 14,161, as of 2007, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. Taking away that prison population, the district had almost 30,000 fewer residents than the 2010 average population per district of 312,550, according to the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Prison population counting also affected redistricting on a local level in places like Rome, New York. According to information from the Prison Policy Initiative, in Rome’s second ward, half the population counted in the census was incarcerated, inflating the local non-incarcerated population to double its actual size. Thus voters in Rome’s second ward had roughly twice the influence they would otherwise demand; prisoners are not allowed to vote in New York.

Some upstate populations inflated by prisoners meant that more funding and political attention was allocated to predominantly Republican communities, in part through districting, helping the party hold a firmer grasp over the State Senate.

New York changes how the census counts prisoners
In 2010, several non-profit groups including The Brennan Center, The Prison Policy Initiative, and Demos rallied against the way prisoners were being counted, calling it “prison-based gerrymandering.”

They strongly advocated for a bill (S6725A) sponsored by then-State Senator Eric Schneiderman, a Manhattan Democrat (who went on to become New York Attorney General, a position he resigned from in 2018 amid a domestic abuse scandal). The bill required incarcerated people to be counted based on their home residence and not based on the address of the prison where they are incarcerated.

This legislation was passed, along with a provision postponing the deadline for prisons to report inmates’ home addresses from July 1 to September 1. It was introduced as an amendment to the New York State revenue budget bill in August 2010 -- four months after the 2010 Census count had begun in April.

Almost 80 percent of the state’s prison population was then successfully recounted based on inmates’ last known addresses. The state prisoners whose addresses were not identifiable, as well as all federal prisoners, were not taken into account when determining legislative districts.

The legislation mostly stopped upstate communities from gaining additional political influence and resources based on housing prisons. At the time, the move was hotly contested, but it has not been discussed much since.

Justin Levitt, currently a law professor at Loyola Law School, who then served as counsel at The Brennan Center for Justice, believes redistricting was made fairer as a result of the legislation. “In the districts where there are prisons, the surrounding communities are represented by their representatives, but the people who are artificially stuck in that neighborhood are represented by legislators in the areas where they are from,” he said in a phone interview.  

Opponents of the change
The legislation faced fierce opponents, many of whom were legislators in districts home to prisons. Senator Betty Little, a Republican representing counties including as Clinton, Franklin, Essex and Washington Counties in Northern New York, was one of the senators most strongly against the legislation.

Senator Little’s district housed 13 state and federal prisons in 2009, although three of those have now been shut down based on New York Department of Corrections’ prison maps. The new method of counting prisoners meant that her district would have to be redrawn to accommodate more people so that it was not severely underpopulated.

Little filed a lawsuit in April 2011 against the Legislative Task Force for Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), a task force set up by minority and majority leaders of the Senate and Assembly to determine district lines. The lawsuit aimed to strike down the prisoner counting legislation. She lost in Little vs LATFOR.

The plaintiffs argued that the legislation was unconstitutional, did not correctly count inhabitants, and that the method of counting inmates did not line up with what was recommended by the U.S. Census Bureau. The New York Supreme Court ruled that the legislation did not obstruct the constitution beyond a reasonable doubt. It also determined that prisoners’ addresses at the prisons should not be viewed as permanent. The ruling also quoted Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves, who said that states may count prisoners however they please.

Today, Senator Little still argues her case. “My contention has been that incarcerated individuals should be counted where they are serving their sentence, their 'usual residence,' not where they are from and may or may never return," Little told Gotham Gazette via email. "Where they utilize services is where they should be counted because the allocation of resources for these services is often apportioned based on representation and population."

Efforts Since 2012 Redistricting
Jeffrey Wice, who has served as counsel to Democrats during state legislative redistricting, and is currently a fellow at SUNY Rockefeller School of Government, is concerned that New York may go back to counting prisoners in the districts where they are incarcerated as 2022’s redistricting process approaches.

Wice points to the redistricting amendment made to the New York State constitution in 2014, based on popular vote after passage by the Legislature. It stated that a ten-person redistricting commission would be appointed to determine district lines in the redistricting cycle of 2020-2022, and refined the criteria for commissioners and that the commission would take into account when determining district lines.

“The constitutional amendment is silent on that,” Wice said of how prisoners are counted. “And several of the commissioners could question whether the state is still required to reallocate prisoners because the constitutional amendment is silent.”

However, a spokesperson from Governor Andrew Cuomo's office sounded definitive, saying of prisoners: “They will be counted as part of their home districts.”

What next?
The impact of counting prisoners in the census, wherever they are located or tallied, is decreasing as the prison population is decreasing.  In the new state budget, the Legislature agreed to allow Cuomo to shutter up to three more prisons, the number will depend on which prison beds are identified for elimination given the declining inmate populations. It’s unclear how the closure of two or three prisons may impact the populations in other prisons, where some inmates may be transferred.

Meanwhile, the budget also included new criminal justice reforms that promise to significantly reduce jail and prison populations, including bail, speedy trial, and discovery reforms.

The likely continuing reduction in prison population across the state, plus the prison population-counting legislation passed to apply to the 2010 Census and beyond, and the new redistricting process set to take hold based on the constitutional amendment that was passed in 2014, may ultimately ensure counting of prison populations will play less of a role in determining legislative district lines in the 2020-2022 redistricting cycle.

[READ: New York's New, Untested Redistricting Process Set to Unfold After 2020 Census]

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by Ashad Hajela, Gotham Gazette

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2010 Change to How New York Prisoners are Counted is Part of Upcoming Census and Redistricting Puzzle Mon, 15 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Creating a Single-Payer Health Care System That Works for All New Yorkers http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8273-creating-a-single-payer-health-care-system-that-works-for-all-new-yorkers http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8273-creating-a-single-payer-health-care-system-that-works-for-all-new-yorkers health care is a right

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


In November, New Yorkers voted for a united government in Albany with a resounding directive: fix our broken healthcare system. Those election results are directly linked to the financial strain New Yorkers are facing as they struggle to choose between paying for their medication, premiums, long-term care, and basic needs, such as food or housing.

The high costs of healthcare in our state have devastated hundreds of thousands of New York families by bankrupting those who are underinsured or forcing them to forgo treatment due to the financial burden it usually causes. According to the Campaign for New York Health, approximately 1 million New Yorkers still do not have health insurance; 20,000 New Yorkers have died due to their lack of coverage in the last ten years; and millions more would be bankrupt if faced with a medical emergency under their current health care plan.

The New York Health Act (NYHA) is the only option on the table that would provide comprehensive healthcare coverage to all New Yorkers. It would extend coverage to those that currently have no access while providing quality and comprehensive care to New Yorkers who have been traditionally underinsured.

This year, we are going one step further. We are introducing a version of the NYHA that aims to close an additional gap in our healthcare system by integrating long-term care coverage into the legislation. This shift in policy will address our state’s long-term care crisis and meet the healthcare needs of seniors, people with disabilities, as well as countless family caregivers, who are primarily women, for generations to come.

The benefits of including long-term care in the NYHA will not only be felt by those who will now be able to afford assisted living, nursing home care, or home health care, but it will also have a rippling effect on our economy. In the Northwest Bronx, where we both live and work, thousands of home health aides, care workers, and unpaid caregivers have to withstand low wages, few benefits, and not enough investment in training and retention services. The current system is financially debilitating to families, those who require care, and the workforce that is tasked with administering care, all of whom are predominantly women struggling to provide for their loved ones. For instance, nationally, Latinx family caregivers spend 44% of their annual income providing caregiving services, while African-American family caregivers spend 34% of their income.

A healthcare system that guarantees long-term care coverage would help ease the financial burden of thousands of families across our state while dramatically improving the system for those who receive and provide care. According to a study recently released by the RAND Corporation, even with the addition of long-term care, the NYHA would cost less than what is being spent under the current healthcare system. It is simply the most fiscally responsible step to take.

The majority of New Yorkers have spoken loud and clear. They are demanding a healthcare system that works for them and not for the most powerful corporations. This new version of the NYHA and our new leadership in Albany bring us one-step closer to making healthcare a right and not a privilege for all New Yorkers.

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State Senator Gustavo Rivera is the Senate sponsor of the New York Health Act. Karla Lawrence is a direct care worker specializing in gerontology and long-term care; she is a member of 1199 SEIU and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and a leader in the New York Caring Majority.

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

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Creating a Single-Payer Health Care System That Works for All New Yorkers Mon, 11 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senator Alessandra Biaggi http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8261-max-murphy-podcast-state-senator-alessandra-biaggi http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8261-max-murphy-podcast-state-senator-alessandra-biaggi mxm logo

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


February 7, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senator Alessandra Biaggi

alessandra biaggi 150Alessandra Biaggi shocked the New York political world when she defeated then-State Senator Jeff Klein in last September's primary. After hitting the ground running upon taking office in January, State Senator Biaggi joined the show to discuss the work that has been done so far under unified Democratic governance at the state level and what's coming up next, including her work as the new chair of the Senate's ethics committee and where things may get choppy with regard to negotiations with Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senator Alessandra Biaggi Wed, 06 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Senate Democrats Pursue No Formal Consequences for Parker After 'Kill yourself!' Tweet http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8232-senate-democrats-pursue-no-formal-consequences-for-parker-after-kill-yourself-tweet http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8232-senate-democrats-pursue-no-formal-consequences-for-parker-after-kill-yourself-tweet parker aoc cm

Senator Parker, left, with Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins (photo: @SenatorParker)


The newly-seated Democratic majority in the state Senate does not seem inclined to take any formal action against one of its members, Senator Kevin Parker of Brooklyn, for an inappropriate Twitter outburst last month, directed at a Republican Senate staffer, or his apparent misuse of his official parking placard.

In tweets on December 18, GOP spokesperson Candice Giove had highlighted what seemed to be Parker’s inappropriate use of his parking placard. Parker responded with a shocking tweet, writing “Kill yourself!” to Giove. He later deleted the tweet but not before it was widely shared and memorialized, becoming the subject of a good deal of attention both on social media and in news reports.

The incident sparked a quick backlash against Parker, who has a history of losing his temper and getting in trouble for it. Elected officials, including those within his party, were quick to condemn his flippant remark about suicide. And many also raised the underlying question of whether he was among the public officials, elected and not, that have been abusing the parking privileges they receive as a perk of the job, which has become a broader issue in New York City in recent years.

Parker later expressed some contrition. "I sincerely apologize," he tweeted. "I used a poor choice of words. Suicide is a serious thing and and (sic) should not be made light of." But he continued to criticize Giove on Twitter and elsewhere, calling her “an internet troll” in an interview with the New York Daily News. In a statement at the time, which was between the elections where Democrats flipped the Senate and their official ascent to control of the upper chamber, now-Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “I was disappointed in Senator Parker’s tweet. Suicide is a serious issue and should not be joked about in this manner. I am glad that he has apologized.”

But that may be the end of it. Stewart-Cousins’ office did not respond to repeated requests for comment on whether Parker would face any formal action for his behavior. The incident is not being probed by the Senate’s Committee on Ethics and Internal Governance, chaired by Senator Alessandra Biaggi, who has promised to reinvigorate what has been a dormant committee despite constant ethical lapses among state officials. And Parker himself told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview that the matter was “handled internally.”

In response, Senate GOP spokesperson Scott Reif had harsh words for the Senate majority. “Senator Parker tells a young female staffer to go kill herself and the Democrats don’t give him so much as a slap on the wrist?,” Reif said in an email to Gotham Gazette. “Punish him for his inappropriate rhetoric. Punish him for violating the parking placard rules. But don’t just bury your head in the sand. Despite their talk, it looks like the new Democratic Majority doesn’t really care about ethics after all.”

Parker, in the phone interview, said he’d learned his lesson. “The rules have been reinforced to me and I will continue to abide by the rules,” he said. “We’ve moved on. We’re passing legislation.”

But he refused to address whether he had improperly used his parking placard. “It’s a tempest in a teacup, I’m not going down that road,” he said. And he would not reveal details of how the matter was resolved. “That’s a private conversation between me and the majority leader,” he said.

There are several avenues for holding state legislators to account for their conduct in office. Besides the ethics committee, there are the oversight and enforcement bodies -- the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Legislative Ethics Commission -- charged with investigating and penalizing violations of Public Officers Law (though the law is written vaguely and may be hard to apply to Parker’s situation).

Biaggi’s committee is not taking up the issue. “The first priority for the ethics committee is to ensure there are clear standards of behavior and a clear means for dealing with alleged violations in a timely manner,” said David Neustadt, a spokesperson for Biaggi. “The first focus of the ethics committee is dealing with the issue of sexual harassment and ensuring that New York State is a leader in making sure everyone is safe at work.”

On the potential parking placard violation, Neustadt said, "It's up to the issuing authority to make sure that parking placard holders know and follow the rules. It's up to the police to issue parking tickets when placards are used inappropriately.”

It’s unclear if there have been any complaints filed with either JCOPE or the LEC, or if either body is looking into the incident. Such investigations are usually kept confidential under state law. “We can’t comment on anything that is or might be an investigative matter,” said Walter McClure, a JCOPE spokesperson.

Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a group that advocates for government reform, transparency, and accountability, said Parker’s inappropriate comments and alleged placard misuse “ought to be looked at” by both the Senate and JCOPE.

“They should err on the side of acting formally, even for low-level infractions, because it sets a serious tone,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Senate Democrats Pursue No Formal Consequences for Parker After 'Kill yourself!' Tweet Sun, 27 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
WATCH: State Senator-Elect Jessica Ramos on Heading to Albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8155-watch-state-senator-elect-jessica-ramos-on-heading-to-albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8155-watch-state-senator-elect-jessica-ramos-on-heading-to-albany jessica ramos mnn

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


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

mnn jessica ramos

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

 Gotham Gazette:

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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

(photo: @MNN59)


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

mnn js mg

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

 Gotham Gazette:

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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WATCH: A Veteran & A Rookie Discuss 2019 Plans for New State Senate Majority Thu, 20 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Commission Recommends Pay Increases and Ethics Reforms for State Legislators http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8125-commission-recommends-pay-increases-and-ethics-reforms-for-state-legislators http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8125-commission-recommends-pay-increases-and-ethics-reforms-for-state-legislators senatechamberalbany2

(Photo via Wiki Commons)


Statewide elected officials, legislators and agency heads are slated to get pay raises next year following recommendations issued Thursday by a four-member panel that was created in this year’s state budget.

The New York State Compensation Committee voted on Thursday to raise the salaries of legislators for the first time in nearly twenty years, as well as for the four statewide offices and for executive agency commissioners. The committee will publicly release a report and deliver it to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature on Monday outlining their binding recommendations on phasing in the salary increases over three years, accompanied by certain ethics reform measures. The raises will go into effect by January 1 unless the state legislature meets and rejects them.

The committee -- which included State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former State Comptroller and SUNY Board Chair Carl McCall, and former New York City Comptroller and CUNY Board Chair Bill Thompson -- was created in the state budget to determine an appropriate raise for legislators, based on cost of living and on salaries for legislators in other states. The current base pay for state legislators stands at $79,500 and has remained unchanged since 1999.

Per the panel’s unanimous recommendations, salaries for legislators will be raised to $130,000 by 2021, with lawmakers set to receive $110,000 in 2019 and $120,000 in 2020. The commission also recommended limiting outside income for legislators to 15 percent of their salary, in line with the rules for members of Congress, and the elimination of committee stipends -- commonly referred to as lulus -- for all but the top leadership in both legislative chambers.

“I think in looking at the fact that they haven’t had a raise in twenty years...when you talk about the issues of fairness, it is not the right thing,” Thompson said, arguing that the idea that legislators only work part-time is a mischaracterization due to their in-district work. The limits on outside income will take effect in 2020, because, according to McCall, legislators would need time to disengage from their outside income-generating activities and could not do so right away.

The panel also endorsed raising the governor’s salary to $250,000 by 2021, up from the current $179,000. The lieutenant governor, attorney general, and state comptroller, each of whom currently make $151,000, will see their pay rise to $210,000 salary by 2021. DiNapoli recused himself from that vote.

The pay raise committee was originally meant to be chaired by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, but DiFiore announced in May that she would not serve because she believed a judge determining legislative pay was unconstitutional. The broader constitutionality of the committee has also been challenged, as it is still unclear whether a pay raise can be authorized by outside officials or if it must be approved by the legislature. The panel members, however, insisted that their recommendations are enforceable for all their proposals except the raises for the governor and lieutenant governor, which must be approved by a joint resolution of the legislature. They also maintained that tying the raises to an outside income limitation and curbing committee stipends was within their authority, which could potentially invite legal challenges going forward.

When the salary raises are fully implemented by 2021, New York will surpass California and have the highest-paid governor and legislature in the nation. McCall noted that coupling the pay increase with outside income limitations would also quell the discontent New Yorkers feel about giving raises to a legislature that has long been marred by scandal and corruption. “We really have to make sure that we send the signals to the public about how serious they are about doing their job and doing it well,” McCall said.

For executive agency heads, the panel proposed four classes of salary, a decrease from the current six, which will be assigned depending on the agency. By 2021, commissioners in the top class will make $220,000 and commissioners in the bottom class will make $170,000.

Legislative leaders have expressed support for the panel’s recommendations. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced her support for the measure on Thursday, hours before the meeting, while also concurrently declaring support for ethics reform. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie testified to the Commission last week in favor of the raise, noting that legislators have financial strains similar to their constituents. “They too must finance college loans, meet the cost of child care, and provide for the wellbeing of elderly parents and loved ones at home,” Heastie said. He further argued that, because so many legislators live in the expensive New York City metro area, a pay raise was warranted to more adequately reflect the high cost of living here.

The New York Public Interest Research Group, which advocates for government reform, was skeptical of the panel’s recommendations, pushing for a more comprehensive set of “corruption-busting” reforms. “While we agree that the Congressional model is appropriate to regulate legislators’ outside income, advancing a reform in this area alone is inadequate,” said NYPIRG’s Blair Horner, in a statement. “We note that the ethical problems that have plagued the state have not been limited to the legislative branch. Given the stunning pay-to-play scandals that have rocked government, reforms in that area must be addressed. Failure to do so highlights the inadequacy of the reform package.”

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Commission Recommends Pay Increases and Ethics Reforms for State Legislators Thu, 06 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Taking the Senate Reins, the Democratic Agenda & Getting Inside 'The Room' http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8085-andrea-stewart-cousins-on-taking-the-senate-reins-the-democratic-agenda-getting-inside-the-room http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8085-andrea-stewart-cousins-on-taking-the-senate-reins-the-democratic-agenda-getting-inside-the-room stewart cousins senate

Andrea Stewart-Cousins (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


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

After the election results from earlier this month, Andrea Stewart-Cousins is set to become majority leader of the state Senate and, beginning in January, to preside over the chamber as it works with Democrats in charge of the Assembly and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat headed into his third term, to address a long-delayed liberal agenda. Stewart-Cousins, who represents parts of Westchester, will become the first woman and first woman of color to lead a legislative chamber in New York.

Appearing on the Max & Murphy program on WBAI radio, Stewart-Cousins discussed her approach to leading the Senate, outlined a few priorities for the upcoming session, explained some ways in which Democrats will differ from Republican who have led the upper chamber, and commented on becoming one of three people who will be in “the room,” ultimately making major decisions about the state budget and legislation along with Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

When asked, Stewart-Cousins mostly demurred about what issues would be at the top of the Senate agenda, saying that, especially with 15 new members in her roughly 40-member majority conference, senators would first need to meet and discuss how they will approach the upcoming legislative session.

“I have avoided that ‘my first hundred days will look like this’ and ‘this is the batting order,’” Stewart-Cousins said, repeating the terms of the question from one of the hosts. “Because I think the first and foremost thing we’re going to do is [create] the type of conference and senators that people have frankly been voting for again and again and not been getting.”

However, some policies she did mention were those that had already been set as first-order-of-business and seemingly non-controversial among virtually all Democrats: early voting, the Child Victims Act, and the Reproductive Health Act. These are among many policies Stewart-Cousins said “have not been able to move under Republican leadership for so many years” that Democrats plan to get to.

Stewart-Cousins noted that she has faith in the new members of the Senate, some of whom are part of a younger and more progressive movement that successfully claimed many of the seats formerly held by members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group that had formed a coalition with the Republicans, at times giving them the seats for a majority. While these new members certainly won’t cut deals with Republicans, they still may not be on the same page with more senior members of the body, perhaps pushing for different, more progressive priorities like single-payer health care.

“We have 15 brand new members and we have to make sure everyone is up to speed,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I am so impressed with every single one of them that I have no doubt that the leadership they will provide, along with my current members, will be absolutely outstanding.”

Stewart-Cousins was also hesitant to name specifics when asked what legislation she sees as being tougher to pass, suggesting with a laugh that there could be conflict about anything and everything.

“I almost want to say all of the above because, you know, we’re Democrats,” she said with a chuckle. “I think everyone agrees on the outcomes we want, it’s just how to get there.”

Stewart-Cousins stressed her belief that Democratic takeover of the Senate is a major step forward for the state, as rather than having to debate over why policies that, for example, raise the minimum wage or ensure access to quality affordable healthcare, are necessary, the new Democrat supermajority will only have to decide on how to best design said policies.

“We’re not starting at convincing people that these things are important,” she said. “Now we’re starting a conversation where we understand [what] the objectives are.”

“Guess what, we’ll have a conference that is willing to acknowledge climate change and therefore, work towards ensuring our planet’s future,” she continued.

agenda19v2 aWhile expectations are high about addressing climate change, criminal justice reform, gun control, voting and campaign finance reform, tightening rent regulations, and more, there have been concerns that if Democrats were to flip the Senate and full control of state government that taxes would go up in order for the new regime to pay for all its new programs. But, during the campaign and since, Stewart-Cousins and others in her incoming majority have said they have no plans to raise taxes, an approach in line with Cuomo’s, but not necessarily Assembly Democrats.

Asked on Max & Murphy if she is indeed committed to not raising taxes, Stewart-Cousins reiterated her stance, and pointed to the federal tax reforms passed in late 2017 that are likely to negatively affect many New Yorkers due to the new cap and local and state deductions from federal tax obligations.

“We are not coming in there to raise people’s taxes,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We understand that New York is a big state and we understand that we need to make sure that it is affordable. I’m personally concerned about the impact of this federal tax bill on the New York taxpayers, and I think most people in our position are.”

Taxpayers will find out if Democrats stay true to their promise in their first big test: the next state budget, which Stewart-Cousins and her conference will have significant influence on, as the new Senate majority leader negotiates with Cuomo and Heastie. As the first woman to lead a legislative majority, she will be entering that negotiating room that has been male-dominated. When asked what that may mean, Stewart-Cousins said it shows progress made and more to do.

“I think it means that people see that once again another glass ceiling, marble ceiling, whatever you want to call it, has been broken,” she said. “We make certain assumptions about how far we’ve come, and we have in many ways, but I think everyday we’re also being reminded that there is more ground that has to be covered more ceilings to break.”

When asked if she has any plans on how to change the backroom process that often leads to major budget and legislative agreements that are voted on with virtually no public review, Stewart-Cousins said she couldn’t yet say.

“It’d be impossible to say, because I’ve never been in it,” she said, pausing to laugh. “I’m interested to see how this thing really works as well. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of opinions once I’ve actually been part of it.”

When it comes to those outside the Democratic conference, Stewart-Cousins said that she has not spoken to any Republicans who want to switch conferences, but would be happy to meet with Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who previously gave Republicans a one-seat majority in the Senate, about his role in the upcoming session. She said Felder had reached out and they would set something up, though he is not expected to command any special perks as he had from Republicans for helping give them the majority.

Of the former IDC members who kept their seats, Senators Diane Savino and David Carlucci, Stewart-Cousins said they have been and continue to be part of the Democratic conference, which they returned to in an April deal reached by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

[Listen to the full conversation: Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Max & Murphy Nov. 14, 2018]

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

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

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Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Taking the Senate Reins, the Democratic Agenda & Getting Inside 'The Room' Sun, 18 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath mxm logo

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


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

November 14, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins

asc andreastewartcousinswbai crpDemocrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins is on the verge of becoming the majority leader of the New York State Senate -- and she'll be the first woman and first woman of color to lead a legisative chamber in New York. Just more than a week after Democrats dominated Election Day in New York to flip the upper chamber of the state Legislature and ensure full Democratic control of state government, Stewart-Cousins joined the show to discuss her vision for the path ahead.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins Wed, 14 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Tax Issues at Center of State Elections, Albany Year to Come http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8047-tax-issues-at-center-of-new-york-elections-albany-year-to-come http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8047-tax-issues-at-center-of-new-york-elections-albany-year-to-come Cuomo taxes

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)


When the dust settles on the 2018 elections, whoever is governing the state will be faced with problems like what to do about NYCHA and the MTA, and how New York should respond to climate change, among many others. Another pressing issue that has been an area of focus in many campaigns around the state, from the governor’s race through those for the state Senate, is taxes, and what the next governor and Legislature will or won’t do about them in a number of ways, including the ongoing question of how New York must adjust to the new federal tax code.

Though proposals and arguments have often been hazy, the issue of taxes has been among the most discussed this election season and will be a topic of significant debate when the new state government starts doing business in January. The contours of those discussions and the actual proposals put forward will vary greatly depending on the outcomes of the governor’s race and which party controls the state Senate (the Assembly is home to an overwhelming Democratic majority).

Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor, has pitched his candidacy largely based on a plan that he says will lead to a 30 percent reduction in property taxes for New Yorkers over five years, but the party’s state Senate conference, hoping to cling to a one-seat majority during a promising year for the opposition, has mostly stuck to arguing that Democrats will increase taxes to previously unseen levels if given full control of state government.

For their part, Democrats have been quieter on taxes, with Governor Andrew Cuomo promising to extend the state’s property tax cap and keep state spending to two percent annual increases, even as some members of his party’s Senate slate push for things like state-run single-payer healthcare and a polluter’s tax -- neither of which Cuomo supports. Running for a third term, Cuomo has said little else about taxes, despite the fact that his attempts to thwart the impact of the federal tax reform have thus far not panned out, the state’s current millionaires tax is set to expire next year, the state is facing upcoming budget gaps, and the state-run MTA is in need of tens of billions of dollars to get the New York City subway system functioning properly.

Molinaro has made broad tax reform one of the centerpieces of his campaign, along with restoring trust in government and generally being a governor who isn’t followed by corruption investigations. His tax plan proposes reductions across the board, from the end of the millionaires tax to an expansion of the earned income tax credit to childless workers and noncustodial parents and the indexing the state’s income tax brackets, standard deduction and dependent exemptions to inflation (a move that Molinaro says prevents a filer’s tax bracket increasing due to inflation without any real change in their earning power).

Molinaro wants to limit annual state spending increases to three percent, but wants that cap codified into state law, unlike Cuomo’s two percent cap, which is self-imposed and the governor, despite his claims to the contrary, has not completely kept to.

The Dutchess county executive’s plan has “a lot of good elements in it and establishes some very worthy and desirable goals,” according to E.J. McMahon, the founder and research director of the conservative Empire Center of New York, although McMahon said he didn’t think the math behind the plan added up to the promised 30 percent reduction in property taxes. Asked repeatedly throughout the campaign, Molinaro has not laid out exactly how he would get there, only promising in broad terms to modernize state government, find efficiencies, and more effectively deliver services.

On the Democratic side, clarity also doesn’t come easy. Cuomo’s priorities on socially liberal but fiscally moderate governance can be seen most clearly in something like his Long Island Senate Democratic Agenda, but even that plan lacks specifics and has seemingly competing priorities. On the one hand, the agenda lays out a promise to keep the two percent property tax cap and the two percent spending cap going, while also promising “historic tax cuts.” On the other hand, there are promises to include Long Island in increased infrastructure, education, and economic development funding.

Cuomo has resisted calls for a New York City-based addition to the millionaires tax, recently pitting his philosophy against Mayor Bill de Blasio in sarcastic terms, saying, “'[W]ell, ideally we would like to have a millionaires tax.' Yes, I wish I could be an elected official who lived in the ideal,” at a gathering of the Association for A Better New York, a business group. He also explicitly cast himself as a different kind of politician than legislators and local politicians “who like to spend” at a speech in front of the Business Council of New York, boasting that he has overseen lower year-over-year state spending increases than previous governors including Republicans and his father.

Part of the lack of clarity on the Democratic side has to do with the uncertainty of where the party will be after the general election. A newly won Senate majority may rely on seats outside New York City, which would require a collaboration of city, suburban, and upstate interests that don’t always align perfectly. And even as Democrats in swing districts run on platforms that include single-payer healthcare in New York, they are pledging not to increase the taxes that would fund it, and many are seeking to represent high-tax Long Island and north-of-the-city areas very sensitive to any additional tax increases and another election right around the corner in 2020, when all the seats in the Legislature will again be on the ballot.

“I think out of the gate you're gonna see a Senate Democratic Conference that's gonna correct some of the wrongs, the missed opportunities by the Senate Republicans like voting reform and gun control, women's health,” Democratic state Senate spokesperson Mike Murphy told Gotham Gazette, suggesting the party would focus on progressive social issues at the beginning of the 2019 session if in the majority. And even as the New York Health Act that would establish state single-payer health care emerged as a hot issue for New York City progressives, among other Democrats, they will have the state’s expiring laws around rent control to deal with next year, and candidates outside of the city, like the Hudson Valley’s Pete Harckham, want much of a full two-year term to work out how a single-payer program would look, or to craft a universal health insurance program compromise with Cuomo.

On the issues of the new federal limitations on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, which dramatically affects high-tax states like New York, the state has joined with other Democratic states to sue the federal government over the $10,000 cap that was included in federal tax reform efforts, in part on the grounds that they were targeted after not voting for Donald Trump for president. At the same time, the IRS has blocked efforts by New York and other states to get around the deduction cap by limiting the federal tax credit taxpayers would get by “donating” their property tax payments to charitable organizations designed to accept the taxes.

Cuomo has been otherwise quiet about how he would solve the issue of the SALT deduction problem, which is likely to most acutely hurt high earners as well as suburban middle and upper middle class property owners, though he has said one goal is for Democrats to recapture control of the federal government and repeal the deduction cap.

The governor has been silent on the question of whether the millionaires tax will be allowed to sunset next year as it's currently designed to -- it has been extended multiple times under Cuomo, in partnership with a split Legislature, and there is a significant question around how the state would make up for the revenue if it is not extended. On the other hand, it affects many individuals and families that will be paying higher taxes given the new SALT cap, and Cuomo and others have expressed concern about high-income individuals leaving the state. Cuomo’s campaign did not provide an answer to multiple Gotham Gazette inquiries about the governor’s stance on the millionaires tax.

Molinaro has said he would let the millionaires tax expire.

His plan on the SALT deduction cap is to get rid of New York’s “tax benefit recapture” policy, a practice that charges the highest marginal tax rate for taxpayers above a certain income band, for New Yorkers making between $107,650 and $323,200, thus addressing some of the lost deductions for those earners.

Tax shifts rather than cuts or increases are the most common kinds of plans on the table from both parties. On the Democratic side, Long Island’s John Brooks, running for reelection in a swing district, has offered up a plan that he says would allow areas like Long Island to get out from under high property tax bills related to education spending by capping the amount of school funding coming from property taxes at 50 percent, with any budget needs above 50 percent picked up by the state.

“What Brooks is saying is we need to lower your taxes by finding someone else to pay them. But if you're in Long Island, there is no ‘someone else,’ it's you, you have the higher average incomes,” McMahon said in reaction to the proposal.

For Republicans, requiring the state government to pick up Medicaid costs from local governments is something that Molinaro and state Senate Republicans are running on (to the delight of local editorial boards). It would cost $7 to $8 billion, and require either new or higher taxes or a reduction in the actual delivered services according to a Citizens Budget Commission study on the shift (Cuomo has mocked it as an unserious proposal). But the state Senate conference has also endorsed the idea of exempting seniors from paying property taxes, arguing that since they don’t make use of the schools, they shouldn’t pay to keep them running. It’s a proposition McMahon has panned before and he compared it unfavorably to Brooks’ plan as irresponsible and unfeasible. “How is that fair to a working couple with three or four kids living paycheck to paycheck, and the retired couple next door get to pay no property tax? Are you kidding?”

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

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Tax Issues at Center of State Elections, Albany Year to Come Sun, 04 Nov 2018 04:00:00 +0000