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What’s The [Data] Point? $14.3 Billion, with Robert Mujica and Dean Fuleihan


whats the data point


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

robert mujica cbc panel jan23

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

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Flanagan Provides Few Answers to Big Questions


John Flanagan State Senate

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Running Without Establishment Support, IDC Challengers Show Initial Fundraising Strides


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Zellnor Myrie at a campaign event (photo: @zellnor4ny)


Despite a tentative unity deal between the Senate Democratic conference and the breakaway Democrats in the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a number of progressives are pushing forward in their bids to unseat the so-called “turncoat Democrats.”

Challengers of the eight-member IDC, which forms a ruling coalition government with Senate Republicans, say they have drummed up broad grassroots support, as evidenced by pulling impressive fundraising numbers over a short period of time, with the bulk of the campaign funds raised from small donations.

They argue that Democrats are energized to unseat defectors who are empowering Republicans and blocking essential progressive legislation from moving through the Legislature; the Assembly is overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats, who often pass bills that die in the upper house.

Elections for every seat in the state Legislature are on the ballot this fall. While IDC challengers may have some solid initial money in the bank, without the support of the Democratic Party establishment -- members of which are behind the precarious Senate Democratic unity deal -- the candidates are looking at an uphill battle.

Two candidates have emerged to take on IDC Leader Jeff Klein, a Bronx senator. Lewis Kaminski, a Bronx attorney, has raised $11,075, while Alessandra Biaggi, a former aide in the Cuomo administration, has raised $8,042 and spent around $2,000 in the early going. Klein, who has well over $2 million in his campaign account and access to a great deal more money in broader IDC campaign accounts, will be an especially difficult figure to unseat. He easily survived a primary challenge in 2014 from former City Council Member Oliver Koppel, though some activists and candidates argue that circumstances in 2018 are far different, in part shifted by both awareness of the IDC and the election of Donald Trump as president.

Other members of the IDC may have a harder time beating back primary challenges.

Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn native and community activist who is challenging Brooklyn IDC Senator Jesse Hamilton, for example, began fundraising in late October and has since secured over 650 donations totaling $93,577, according to his January filings with the state Board of Elections (BOE). Seventy-five percent of the campaign’s contributions were $100 or less and 100 percent of contributions came from individuals, Myrie said.

“This is a people driven campaign,” said Myrie in a statement. “This early success shows that this community is ready for a real Democrat to bring real change. I am the only real Democrat in this race who can say they will fight back against the Trump-Democrats in Albany and truly represent working families and the middle class residents of central Brooklyn when elected.”

Hamilton has pulled $99,525 in receipts since July, $20,000 of which is a transfer from the Senate Independent Campaign Committee, a fundraising arm of the IDC, and has about $119,600 in the bank, according to his January filings. In a statement, Myrie noted that “an alarming sixty-six percent of my opponent’s contributions come from Corporations and GOP friendly donors, and he only received 36 individual contributions.”

IDC Senator Jose Peralta, of Queens’ 13th Senate District, also holds a small but comfortable initial fundraising lead over his two challengers, raising $79,460 and holding $157,006 in the bank. LGBTQ activist Andrea Marra has pulled in $47,630 in contributions and has $46,043 in the bank, while Jessica Ramos, a former aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio, received $30,997 and has $29,687 in the bank after a short early fundraising period since she left City Hall and declared her intention to unseat Peralta.

“More than half of those contributions came from residents of Senate District 13. 94% of donations were $100 or less,” Ramos said by email. “This filing shows a groundswell of support to elect a real Democrat who represents the progressive values of our communities.”

A third Peralta challenger, Tahseen Chowdhury, a 17-year-old high school student, had $895 in July 2017, but has not completed a January filing.

Senator Marisol Alcantara, of the 31st district in Manhattan, is facing a challenge from former City Council Member Robert Jackson, who lost to the incumbent in 2016, coming in third. This time, Jackson has the support of the second place finisher in that race, Micah Lasher, former chief of staff to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The 2016 Democratic primary to replace senator-turned-congressman Adriano Espaillat was close; Alcantara pulled in 32.43 percent of the vote, compared to Lasher's 30.19 percent and Jackson's 29.72 percent.

Per his January filing with the state BOE, Jackson has raised $81,971 since July from thousands of individual donors and has a little over $105,000 in the bank. A source from the IDC noted that Jackson has spent funds from an old 2016 campaign account. Jackson's 2016 account reports $268.88 spent, apparently due to automatic cellphone app payments linked to a campaign credit card, a problem that has since been rectified, according to Jackson's spokesperson. Alcantara has raised $106,323, including a $10,000 transfer from the IDC, and has a little over $120,000 in the bank, according to her BOE filings.

Syracuse University administrator Rachel May, who recently announced a challenge against IDC Senator David Valesky, has netted $34,799 in donations since she opened her campaign committee in late November. In an apparent attempt to undercut the initial haul, an IDC source noted that a large chunk of May’s money has come from family and friends outside the district.

Valesky, of Oneida County, has raised $66,309 and has $612,761 in the bank. He told the Syracuse Post Standard he is unfazed by the competition.

Currently, no challenger has declared candidacy for the seats of IDC Senators Tony Avella of Queens, Diane Savino of Staten Island, or David Carlucci of Rockland and Westchester Counties.

A number of high profile New York Democrats, from Governor Andrew Cuomo to U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, have thrown their support behind the potential unity deal, which would preclude IDC challengers from receiving the potentially critical backing of the Senate Democrats’ fundraising apparatus, the state Democratic Party controlled by Cuomo, or Democratic Party leadership.  

“There is a deal in place with the Independent Democratic Conference. Therefore, we will not support any primaries,” said Mike Murphy, spokesperson for the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has said that the deal will only be on the table if the Democrats regain 32 seats in the 63-seat chamber, which would have to happen through a special election to fill currently vacant Senate seats. Mainline Democrats led by Stewart-Cousins would have to follow through on the deal with Klein and the IDC, while also convincing rogue Democrat Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who conferences with the Senate Republicans, to join them as well.

Cuomo has not yet indicated whether he will call the special election to fill two Senate and nine Assembly vacancies before the session ends in June. A source from the mainline Democratic conference said that if the unity deal falls through, IDC challengers will be backed by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC), which is sitting on more than $1 million and raising more as the election year heats up.

For Queens Democratic Party boss and Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley, the deadline for reunification is even sooner. In recent comments to the Queens Chronicle, he warned wayward Democrats to return to the fold by April -- when the budget process is complete -- or see a “head-on primary by everyone.”

Peralta and Avella are the two Queens IDC members, though Crowley’s reach extends beyond the borough. Crowley had a stern warning for Peralta in particular.

“If [Peralta] comes back then, we’ve agreed that he would have the support of the apparatus,” he said. “If he comes back earlier, that I think is better for him...if he doesn’t, he will have a primary sanctioned by me and the state apparatus, as well as working with our friends in labor.”

Currently, IDC challengers are supported by a number of grassroots progressive groups, including NO IDC NY, which since opening a multi-candidate campaign committee in August, has raised more than $20,000, mostly from small donations of $5 or $10. Since the summer, NO IDC has spent more than $8,500 in support for May, Biaggi, Zellnor, and Ramos, according to Board of Elections records.

While a number of progressive groups oppose the IDC, those organizations tend to support a host of progressive issues, but NO IDC is focused exclusively on unseating the breakaway Democrats, according to the group’s treasurer, Jim Casteleiro.

“We make the commitment of saying this is a very important issue and regardless of what happens, we cannot take our eye off the ball,” said Casteleiro. “We exist because there is no institutional body that has stood up to say, unconditionally, ‘We are going to get rid of these people who are blocking us from having a majority.’”

Meanwhile, IDC members have additional support from the Senate Independence Campaign Committee (SICC), which has $1.2 million in the bank. In addition to transferring money to Alcantara and Hamilton, records show the SICC has sent $25,000 to Avella, who may face another challenge from former City Council Member, Comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu.

An IDC spokesperson dismissed the notion that any of the anti-IDC candidates pose a serious threat. "The Independent Democratic Conference and all eight members demonstrated they have the resources necessary to communicate with voters and are all well positioned to win reelection," said conference spokesperson Candice Giove.

Clarification: The article has been updated with an explanation from Robert Jackson's campaign for payments made from a 2016 campaign account.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Leading Congestion Pricing Advocate Explains Path to Passage


subway station MTA

(photo: The Governor's Office)


Alex Matthiessen, the founder and director of Move New York, joined the Max & Murphy Podcast Tuesday to discuss the path ahead for congestion pricing now that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel has releases its recommendations and the governor is vowing to negotiation with the Legislature to pass measures that will reduce congestion in Manhattan and create dedicated funds for the MTA.

Matthiessen explained the recent history of congestion pricing in New York and how his group came together in the wake of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ill-fated attempt at a version of congestion pricing and took a multi-year approach to crafting and promoting a new, more inclusive plan.

Matthiessen said that while there are some differences, including positive ones, Move New York is strongly behind the plan put forth by Fix NYC and vowing to lead a campaign to see it passed.

“I thought that we had created the gold standard of congestion pricing plans, especially for the City of New York, tailored for the City of New York, and these guys actually improved upon our plan in a number of ways,” Matthiessen said of Move New York and the new recommendations, citing the panel’s notion of tolling a congestion zone, but not the East River bridges. The plan includes new transit investments, a dedicated Manhattan zone that would require an additional fee to enter, added surcharges on for-hire vehicles and trucks in the zone, and other measures to fight congestion and improve the public transit system. It is outlined for a three-step and three-year phase in, eventually estimated to raise about $1.5 billion annually for mass transit.

Matthiessen pointed to the subway crisis that developed this past summer and tens of billions of dollars in estimated lost productivity because of Manhattan congestion as key drivers of the urgency now behind congestion pricing, starting with new support from Cuomo, who he indicated will be the key actor in determining whether a deal can be reached with legislators.

“There is a lot of pressure on the governor and on the Legislature to deliver something, and I don’t think that we can afford to wait,” he said, pointing to the April 1 deadline for a new state budget. “This is the most viable plan out there at the moment, I don’t expect that to change. There is a lot of momentum behind this.”

“I think there is a lot of expectations by the public that Albany has to deal with this issue this year,” Matthiessen said. “They’ve got elections coming up. No one likes to get behind a plan that’s going to cost people more than it cost them before, in terms of their daily commutes, but I don’t think they want to go into a 2018 election, either, having basically abandoned the 9 million people that use the region’s transit system.”

While Cuomo has referenced items that his Fix NYC panel did not put forward that he may pursue as he negotiates with the Legislature, such as reducing the tolls on existing bridges with them, like the Verrazzano and Whitestone, many including Matthiessen want to see funding for reduced-price MetroCards as part of the final deal. There will be no shortage of moving pieces and points of negotiation, but Matthiessen is confident that the timing is right and the political stars aligned, despite the fact that there has been cold water thrown at congestion pricing from the Democrat-led Assembly, the Republican-led Senate, and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“You just can’t continue to underinvest in a trillion dollar transit system like ours and not pay the price for it. We’ve already paid the price for it,” Matthiessen said on the podcast.

There’s a lot more to the conversation -- listen to the full discussion on the Max & Murphy podcast here, or find it wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes.

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by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

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Requested by Vance Amid Controversy, Report Suggests Campaign Finance Reforms for District Attorneys


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Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance (photo: Manhattan DA facebook)


District attorneys should separate themselves from fundraising efforts and implement tighter vetting procedures for donors to reduce the appearance of bias, says a new report by the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI) at Columbia Law School.

The recommendations were requested by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance in October, following public outcry over Vance’s handling of two investigations of wealthy, politically-connected individuals. In both cases -- a 2015 forcible touching charge involving movie producer Harvey Weinstein and a 2012 investigation into business practices of members of the Trump family -- Vance’s office declined to prosecute the cases, and it was later revealed that the potential defendents' lawyers involved in the cases were generous contributors to the Manhattan DA’s re-election campaign. The larger episode spotlighted lax rules around fundraising for New York district attorneys and raised questions about reforms, including whether DAs should accept campaign contributions from defense lawyers at all.

Following the revelations, Vance insisted that in his seven years in office, he had never allowed someone’s “wealth, power, race, or campaign contribution” to influence his decision-making as a prosecutor. But he conceded in an October op-ed in The Daily News that “Over the past few days, I’ve learned that it's not enough for me to have confidence in my independence from donors. The people of New York deserve to be confident about it as well.”

As reported by Gotham Gazette, New York’s top prosecutors rely heavily on campaign contributions from criminal defense lawyers who may have cases before their office, but, as county officials, district attorneys are not subject to New York City’s stringent campaign finance rules. 

CAPI executive director Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor, briefed Gotham Gazette on the report, entitled "Raising the Bar: Reducing Conflicts of Interest and Increasing Transparency in District Attorney Campaign Fundraising," before its Monday release. Rodgers said the objective was to minimize the potential for real, perceived, or unconscious bias for district attorneys.

“[Currently] there’s no legal restrictions, or even guidance, on having a procedure in place to vet contributions to make sure you are not taking money from people who have an interest in your decision as district attorney,” said Rodgers, in a phone interview.

Following a 90-day inquiry initiated by Vance's request, CAPI is offering seven recommendations primarily related to the implementation of a blinding process, and limiting contributions from people who have a personal or professional interest in the decisions of the district attorney. The blinding process outlined in the report is similar to that required by judges in New York State; Rodgers said prosecutors should refrain from personally soliciting money and stay ignorant of who the donors are and how much they have donated.

“It’s a pretty clean rule, its not 100 percent airtight…but if in good faith you try not to have access to that information and put controls in place between you and your campaign, that’s one big thing that DAs can do,” she said.

The report recommends district attorney campaigns refuse contributions from a party to a matter before the DA’s office -- something many prosecutors already do, according to Rodgers -- as well as targets of investigation. Since refusal of a donation could tip off the person that they are under investigation, CAPI suggests cashing the check and putting it into a second, separate account until the matter becomes public and the campaign can return the money. If the matter never becomes public, CAPI recommends prosecutors donate the money to New York’s IOLA fund, a trust fund for lawyers that uses accumulated interest to provide legal aid for the poor.

Addressing the specific criticisms of Vance, and fundraising practices of all district attorneys, CAPI recommends capping contributions at $320 from lawyers with a pending matter before the district attorney’s office, and at $3,850 for partners of lawyers with matters before the district attorney. The figures comes from the city’s “doing business” fundraising restrictions for borough presidents, which, as a countywide office, is most analogous to that of district attorneys. There are five counties and therefore five districit attorneys in New York City; Vance represents New York County, otherwise known as Manhattan.

“We thought those were good limits. Those are amounts small enough that it shouldn’t impact anyone’s decision making, and if he is participating in the blinding procedure he wouldn’t know about it anyway,” said Rodgers.

Other recommendations relate to setting up a vetting process for contributions, creating additional measures to separate the government office from the campaign, refusing campaign contributions from DA staff and their spouses, requiring donors to certify their eligibility to give funds, and publishing campaign policies.

The report is broad enough to apply to all 62 top prosecutors, but whether these recommendations will be adopted by district attorneys across the city and state remains to be seen. In a statement Monday morning, Vance said he will voluntarily adopt the CAPI recommendations.

"In its independent report published today, CAPI principally recommends that district attorney candidates (1) apply ‘blind’ fundraising standards, and (2) in the case of incumbent prosecutors, limit contributions from lawyers who represent clients in matters before the office to $320," reads the statement, released by Vance's campaign. "My campaign will meet and exceed these recommendations. Effective today, we have implemented the ‘blinding’ procedure recommended in CAPI's report, which is the same procedure followed by candidates for judicial office in New York State. Also effective today, we will no longer accept contributions – in any amount – from lawyers appearing before our office and will cap contributions from their law partners, consistent with CAPI's recommendation."

Vance thanked CAPI for its review and concluded, "As its report notes, legislative action is the surest way to achieve lasting, mandatory campaign finance reform. I look forward to working with lawmakers and reform advocates to advance such legislation, which should include a full public matching funds program for District Attorney races.”

District Attorneys Association of New York (DAASNY) President Scott McNamara has invited Rodgers to present her findings at the association’s next board of directors meeting, this Thursday, and said he and his colleagues are looking forward to hearing her thoughts.

“We would like to do whatever we can to be transparent to the public in raising money, but at the same time raise money so that we can campaign for re-election,” said McNamara, who serves as district attorney of Oneida County, in an interview. “It’s a difficult situation but I am looking forward to her insight. Hopefully she has some good recommendations for us.”

McNamara noted that fundraising poses less of a conflict for many Upstate district attorneys, who rarely see challengers, and when they do, run their campaigns on small donations, primarily from family and friends. “Most of my contributions are $100 or less,” he said. “When you get into very small communities, everyone knows each other and it’s not uncommon for attorneys to be related to each other, so it gets more complicated.”

One measure proposed by CAPI that could be relevant to district attorneys statewide is blind fundraising, according to McNamara.“I think that is a terrific idea and it’s something I already do,” he said, noting that he has recently stopped sending thank you notes to contributors.

While he had not yet seen the report when he spoke to Gotham Gazette on Friday, McNamara said DAASNY welcomes the recommendations from the experts at CAPI, which could potentially translate into more permanent legislation.

Government and legal reform groups who were consulted among others during the review process approved the reforms proposed by CAPI in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

"CAPI has provided worthwhile reforms for DA Vance to consider, and we believe the limitations on contributions by lawyers, and the partners of their firms, doing business with the DA are particularly important,” said Alex Camarda, of Reinvent Albany. “We look forward to engaging the DA's Office to determine if these voluntary reforms can serve as a model for permanent change for all District Attorneys."

[Related: Vance Fallout Echoes Other Controversies that Led to Reforms]

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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2018 Will Be a Busy, Contentious Election Year in New York


election polling place Brooklyn

a polling place (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


This year will be another busy, contentious election year for New Yorkers. While 2017 saw the majority of elections confined to local government, 2018 will see three election days and races for state-level offices, including five of six statewide positions and all of the state Legislature, as well as all of the state’s delegation to the House of Representatives.

A fourth election day will occur in some districts after Governor Andrew Cuomo called special elections to fill 11 vacant state Senate and Assembly seats. That election day is Tuesday April 24. Cuomo could have called the special election weeks earlier, but waited to do so, leaving those 11 districts with less than full representation throughout budget negotiations in Albany.

Aside from those special elections and depending on political party affiliation, New Yorkers will be able to vote in the federal primaries on Tuesday June 26; the state primaries in September (the date is likely being moved from Tuesday September 11 to Thursday September 13 because of Rosh Hashanah); and Election Day, Tuesday November 6. Only those registered with a party can vote in party primaries in New York, but the November general elections are open to all registered voters. So-called “independent” voters -- those registered to vote but not with a party -- cannot participate in party primaries, nor can those registered with parties wherein primaries are not being decided.

In 2016 there was an unsuccessful push to combine the congressional and state primaries to a single date, which ensured four election days given it was a presidential year and that primary was in April. There is a good chance there will be a similar push this year to combine primary dates, but while Democrats have sought to move the state primaries to June, Republicans have suggested an August date, leaving the sides at an impasse.

Along with all the 27 New York House seats, which are elected every two years, one of New York’s two United State Senate seats, elected every six years, is on the ballot this year -- the one currently held by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. At the state government level, the four statewide posts of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and Comptroller are all on the ballot in their four-year cycle, as well as the every-two-year elections of all 150 seats in the state Assembly and all 63 seats in the state Senate.

In New York, this year’s deadlines for candidates to file for federal office is April 12 and for state offices, July 12.

Another macro issue to watch ahead of this year’s elections is voting reform in New York. There is an ongoing push to see early voting passed, among other reforms like same-day registration and no-excuse absentee voting. While Cuomo, a Democrat, and the Democrat-controlled Assembly support such reforms, Republicans who control the state Senate do not.

[Read: 11 Special Elections Set for April 24]

2018 Federal Elections in New York
While Gillibrand is up for reelection this year, New York’s other U.S. Senator, Charles Schumer, won reelection in 2016 and won’t be on the ballot again until 2022. Gillibrand served in the House of Representatives from 2007 to 2009 before being appointed to the Senate in 2009, and winning a special election in 2010, to fill Hillary Clinton’s vacant seat when she was appointed Secretary of State. Gillibrand went on to win the regularly-scheduled 2012 election for the seat as well and is now running for her second full term as a senator. She is rumored as a possible 2020 presidential candidate. It is unclear who Republicans will run against her this year in New York.

In the House, New York and national Democrats are eyeing several seats to help flip control of the chamber through the 2018 elections. As of January 2018, the House is composed of 238 Republicans and 193 Democrats, with 4 vacancies.

Given Republican President Donald Trump’s record unpopularity, which is especially acute in his home state of New York; recent Democratic electoral wins in New York and elsewhere; and historical trends whereby a new president’s party loses congressional seats in the midterm elections, many are expecting a Democratic wave in 2018, with the potential for flipping the House and possibly the Senate.

Democrats’ “red to blue” campaign across the country will include multiple New York districts while local party activists may target others. Governor Cuomo, himself seeking a third term this year, has promised a campaign to flip six New York House seats after their officeholders have supported legislation Cuomo deems detrimental to New York. Cuomo joined House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats at a June 2017 rally in Manhattan to kick off a campaign to unseat Reps. Lee Zeldin (CD1), Chris Collins (CD27), John Faso (CD19), Elise Stefanik (CD21), Claudia Tenney (CD22), and Tom Reed (CD23).

The national Democratic Party is currently prioritizing two of those New York Congressional Districts, the 11th and the 22nd. Rep. Donovan currently represents the 11th, which includes all of Staten Island and some of Brooklyn. Max Rose is seen as the Democrats’ best chance to unseat Donovan in November, though Donovan also must first survivie a primary challenge by former Rep. Michael Grimm, who resigned from Congress after pleading guilty to tax evasion charges. Rep. Tenney represents the 22nd, sitting just east of Syracuse and including Binghamton, Cortland, and Utica, and the Democratic Party is apparently behind Anthony Brindisi, a state Assembly member.

New York’s 19th Congressional District, currently represented by Faso, is expected to be a toss up. Faso won a hotly contested 2016 race against Democrat Zephyr Teachout. The Hudson Valley seat is likely to again be home to a great deal of political spending.

The 24th Congressional District may also be home to a strong challenge to a sitting Republican. Syracuse’s recently-former mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat, has hinted at potentially challenging current Rep. Katko. The Democratic Party’s “red to blue” campaign lists the district in its efforts as well but has not found a candidate to support yet.

In the other direction, in early February 2017 the National Republican Congressional Committee released it’s Democratic targets for the 2018 elections. The list contained references to two New York Democrats: Tom Suozzi, who represents Congressional District 3 in the north and western portion of Nassau County, Long Island and Sean Patrick Maloney, who represents the 18th Congressional District containing Poughkeepsie, Woodbury, and Newburgh.

Aside from the Grimm-Donovan primary, there may be a handful of other intraparty challenges to sitting representatives worth watching. Rep. Joe Crowley of Queens, for example, is being challenged from the left by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While Ocasio-Cortez faces very long odds, she may be able to at least make Crowley pay more attention to his home district than his larger ambitions and agenda.

State-Level Special Elections
11 Special Elections Set for April 24

2018 State-Level Elections in New York
As mentioned, 2018 is an election year for the four state-level statewide positions of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and Comptroller. All four posts are held by Democrats expected to seek another term.

Governor Cuomo was first elected to the position in 2010 and won reelection in 2014. While Bob Duffy was Cuomo’s first-term Lieutenant Governor, he declined to run for reelection in 2014 and Cuomo chose Kathy Hochul as his running mate. She has said she is running again. Candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor can run as a slate, but they are elected separately in party primaries, then together in the general election. Cuomo and Hochul may have to each survive Democratic primary challengers before they can rejoin as a ticket for the general election.

The Lieutenant Governor’s role is similar to the Vice President of the United States. The LG is President of the State Senate and acts as Governor in the Governor’s absence from the state, in the case of severe disability, death, impeachment, or resignation from office. Otherwise it is a largely ceremonial position often seen as a cheerleader for the governor and the administration’s policies. Hochul often represents the Cuomo administration at events across the state, and has taken the lead on certain issues, such as co-chairing a recent task force put together by Cuomo on women’s opportunity.

It is unclear who Republicans will nominate for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, but GOP leadership has indicated it wants to avoid a primary. Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb has launched a gubernatorial campaign on the Republican side. Meanwhile, several minor parties will also put forward candidates. Democratic challengers to Cuomo and Hochul have begun to emerge, with former State Senator Terry Gibson aggressively testing the gubernatorial waters and New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams opening an exploratory committee to run for LG.

New York State’s Attorney General is also up for election in 2018. Eric Schneiderman first won election to the office of Attorney General in 2010. He would go on to win reelection in 2014. The Attorney General will be running for his third term in 2018 should he seek reelection. Schneiderman has been in the news a lot lately for his frequent lawsuits on behalf of New York against the Trump Administration and its policies.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is also expected to run for reelection this year. Dinapoli was first appointed to the position in 2007 after the resignation of Alan Hevesi. He would go on to win election to the Comptroller’s Office in 2010 and 2014. The Comptroller is tasked with managing the state’s enormous pension fund, auditing state agencies and local governments, and reviewing state and local budgets.

All 63 seats in the state Senate will be on the ballot this fall. Unlike the Assembly, control of the Senate will be at stake, with several swing districts at play. There is currently a complicated and contentious breakdown of power in the Senate, where Republicans hold 31 seats, but have a majority because of nine Democrats -- Brooklyn Senator Simcha Felder conferences with the GOP while the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference forms a ruling coalition with that Republican conference.

Mainline and Independent Democrats reached a tentative deal in late 2017 to begin to work together in the State Senate, but only on a number of conditions, including winning the two special elections for currently vacant seats. The empty seat in the Bronx is all but a lock, while the empty Westchester seat will be closer to a toss-up. Felder’s status is not completely clear in terms of what he will do -- he has always maintained he’ll take the best deal for him and his constituents.

Complicating things is grassroots anger at members of the IDC, whereby several if not all IDC members will be facing primary challenges. IDC Leader Jeff Klein of the Bronx (SD34), Jesse Hamilton of Brooklyn (SD20), Jose Peralta of Queens (SD13), and Marisol Alcantara of Manhattan (SD31) are among those members already facing primary challenges.

Meanwhile, there are somewhere around a half-dozen swing districts to watch outside New York City, and one potential swing district within the five boroughs -- the Brooklyn seat currently held by Senator Martin Golden. The expected Democratic wave could lead to several seats switching hands, though local races can turn on different issues and long-time incumbents like Golden can be very difficult to beat. Districts on Long Island and in the suburbs just north of New York City are often more likely to change hands, while New York City and other large cities around the state are overwhelmingly represented by Democrats and upstate areas outside of other major cities are heavily Republican.

All 150 state Assembly seats are up for election in 2018. The chamber is heavily Democratic, with a current partisan split of 103 Democrats, 37 Republicans, one Independence Party member, and the nine vacancies.

With all that is happening in other races, especially those for Governor and in key House and state Senate swing districts, there will likely be little attention paid to most Assembly races this year.

There will be other local elections in 2018, including local school board and trial court judicial elections, among others.

***
by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, January 22


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week, all eyes are on Washington D.C. as the federal government shut down Saturday after Democrats and Republicans failed to come to an agreement over government spending. The key issue in the shutdown fight is immigration reform and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that allows undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to avoid deportation and to receive work permits. Democrats are advocating for an extension of the program, which was abruptly ended by President Donald Trump, while Republicans have sought more funding for border security and refuse to discuss DACA until the government reopens. No deal was reached between the two sides as of Sunday evening.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo reached a deal with federal authorities to reopen the Statue of Liberty which had closed down on Saturday amid the shutdown. Many other sites that fall under the jurisdiction of the National Parks Service remained closed, however. 

In Albany this week, the New York state legislature will continue to deal with the governor's 2018 agenda as they pick apart the $168.2 billion executive budget proposal that he released last week. Prominent items on the agenda include a congestion pricing proposal, details of which were put forward on Friday by a state task force convened by Cuomo, and proposed changes to the state taxation system to deal with the federal tax overhaul passed in December. There's likely to be heavy scrutiny of the governor's proposals to close a $4.4 billion budget gap faced by the state.  

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will likely be watching the state budget closely as he readies to release his own preliminary budget proposal for the 2019 fiscal year, which is due by February 1. The mayor is scheduled to testify at a budget hearing of the state Legislature on February 5. On Monday, de Blasio will attend a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Recording Academy's New York office and will appear on NY1's Inside City Hall in the evening. 

Also on Monday, the corruption trial of Joseph Percoco, a top Cuomo aide, along with three others is set to begin in federal court in Manhattan. Percoco and his co-defendants face charges of bribery and bid-rigging in relation to upstate economic development contracts awarded by the state. Their trial is expected to last between four and six weeks. Although Cuomo himself has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the case, the trial will put the spotlight on his administration at a time when he is headed into a reelection this year and is seen as positioning himself for a potential presidential run in 2020.   

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Mayor de Blasio will attend and deliver remarks at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Recording Academy’s New York office at 10 a.m. Monday in Manhattan. In the 7 and 10 p.m. hours, de Blasio will appear on NY1’s Inside City Hall.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

The New York State Board of Regents will meet on Monday and Tuesday.

At noon Monday, the New York State Board of Elections will hold a commissioners’ meeting in Albany.

At 12:30 p.m. Monday, Civic Hall and Streetlives will welcome RDJ Refugee Shelter and immigrant community partners for “a discussion on homelessness and housing from the perspective of refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers.”

On Monday afternoon, Governor Cuomo "will travel to Park City, Utah to attend a screening of RX Early Breast Cancer Detection. He will leave to return to the New York City area in the evening."

At 2 p.m. Monday, the New York City Tax Commission, Center for New York City Law, and Center for Real Estate Studies will host a workshop on 2018 property taxes in New York at New York Law School. Tax Commission President Ellen Hoffmann will deliver remarks.

At 6 p.m. Monday, U.S. Rep Jerrold Nadler will hold a congressional town hall meeting at NYU’s Vanderbilt Hall in Greenwich Village.

At 6 p.m. Monday, U.S. Rep Tom Reed will hold a congressional town hall meeting at the Middlesex Fire House in Middlesex, Yates County.

At 6 p.m. Monday, the Business Council of New York State will host its 2018 “Legislators’ Reception” at the Albany Capital Center, allowing Business Council members a chance to “mingle with members of the New York State Legislature and top New York State government officials.”

At 6 p.m. Monday, the New York City Bar Association will host “Rebuilding Puerto Rico: Strategies, Partners, and the Role of the Oversight Board,” discussing how Puerto Rico can rebuild after the devastating hurricane and protracted fiscal crisis that have affected the island.

Monday night is the annual "HOPE" count of homeless people on New York City streets.

Tuesday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At the State Legislature on Tuesday: There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal as it relates to higher education at 9:30 a.m.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
- The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
- The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 11 a.m.
- The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

Tuesday is Let NY Vote’s “Albany Action Day.” Proponents of election reform will gather at the State Capitol at noon for a rally demanding reforms such as early voting, followed by “lobby visits.”

On Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., Comptroller Scott Stringer will host a "Manhattan Workforce Forum" at Strive International, on East 122nd Street. At 6:30 p.m., Stringer will receive "“Honorary Haitian Award” at Hatian Roundtable 2018 Haitian Independence Reception and Special Recognition Awards."

At 10 a.m. Tuesday in Albany, state Senate Democrats will "announce legislation to protect and expand New Yorkers’ voting rights." The press conference will be led by Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator Brian Kavanagh, ranking member on the Senate Elections Committee, and members of the New York State Senate Democratic Conference.

On Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. outside of Tweed Courthouse, "leaders of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council (CPAC), representing all the PTAs and Parent Associations at NYC public schools, along with the leaders of the Education Council Consortium, representing the elected and appointed members of the Community and Citywide Education Councils, will speak and release letters to Mayor de Blasio, demanding that he give parents a voice in the selection of a new Chancellor, as he promised to do when he first ran for Mayor."

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals will hold a public hearing at Spector Hall.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, "Mayor de Blasio and First Lady McCray will make an announcement about the opioid epidemic" at the Latino Pastoral Action Center on 170th Street in the Bronx. The mayor will take press questions.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Elections will hold a commissioners’ meeting.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, U.S. Rep Hakeem Jeffries will deliver his 2018 State of the District speech for the New York’s 8th Congressional District at Brooklyn Technical High School. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is among those who will attend.

Wednesday
At 8 a.m. Wednesday, the Citizens Budget Commission and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism will host “How Bad Is It? Implications of the Federal Tax Bill for New York” at the CUNY J-School in Midtown. Robert Mujica, Director of the New York State Division of the Budget, and Dean Fuleihan, First Deputy Mayor of New York, will deliver opening remarks. Following these remarks, two panels consisting of government officials, advocates, and business leaders will convene to discuss the fiscal impacts on the state and the best responses at the state and local level.

At the State Legislature on Wednesday:
- There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal as it relates to housing at 9:30 a.m.
- The Senate Standing Committee on Racing, Gaming, and Wagering will meet at 11 a.m. in Albany to “discuss the potential of sports betting in New York State.”
- There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal as it relates to workforce development at 2:30 p.m.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the MTA will hold its monthly board meeting. Committees will meet on Monday.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Panel for Educational Policy will hold a public meeting at P.S. 20 in Manhattan.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Museum of the City of New York will host a screening of Chisholm ‘72: Unbought & Unbossed, detailing the presidential campaign of the first black woman to run, Shirley Chisholm. Afterwards, the film’s director, Shola Lynch, will discuss “Chisholm’s lasting legacy” with former DNC Chair Donna Brazile and U.S. Rep Yvette Clarke, who currently holds the seat Chisholm once held.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, U.S. Rep Tom Suozzi will host a town hall meeting for the third congressional district at the Dix Hills Jewish Center in Dix Hills, Suffolk County.

At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, NYCLU will host “Flights and Rights -- Voting Rights” at the Flatiron Lounge in Manhattan, discussing the 2018 elections from a framing of civil and voting rights. The discussion will be led by NYCLU’s Erika Lorshbough.

Thursday
At the State Legislature on Thursday: There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal as it relates to transportation at 9:30 a.m.

At the City Council on Thursday: The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Crain’s New York Business will host State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan at its first 2018 “Business Breakfast Forum,” at the New York Athletic Club. Flanagan “will discuss senate politics, fixing the transit system, and his priorities for the legislative session” with moderators Erik Engquist of Crain’s and Ken Lovett of the New York Daily News.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the New York City Bar Association will host “Wiping the Slate Clean: New York’s New Law on Sealing Criminal Records,” discussing the effects of the new state law allowing people to have state conviction records sealed in certain circumstances. Panelists will include Marta Nelson, Executive Director of the New York State Council on Community Reentry and Reintregration; Emma Goodman, of the Legal Aid Society; and Wesley Caines, of the Bronx Defenders. The panel will be moderated by Judith Whiting of the Community Service Society.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Civic Hall, NYC Open Data Team, HPD, and the Department of Buildings will host a workshop on city buildings.

On Thursday evening, City Council Member Debi Rose will deliver a state of the district address on Staten Island.

Friday and the weekend
At 10 a.m. Friday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will deliver her 2018 State of the Borough address at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts High School in Astoria.

At noon Sunday, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou will hold a town hall meeting at the Manny Cantor Center on the Lower East Side.

At noon Sunday, Staten Island Borough President Jimmy Oddo will host “Direct Connect Sunday” at the Petrides School in Todt Hill, Staten Island.

At 1 p.m. Sunday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will be inaugurated in a ceremony at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Chelsea.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Samar Khurshid
@GothamGazette

10 Burning Questions After Cuomo’s State of the State and Budget


Cuomo budget presentation 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

Four Years Later, 2014 State Campaign Finance Pilot All But Forgotten


Cuomo ethics agenda

Gov. Cuomo unveils an ethics agenda (photo: The Governor's Office)


With the four statewide positions up for election again this year, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s ill-fated 2014 public campaign financing experiment, in which candidates for state comptroller were eligible to test-run a pilot program, appears all but forgotten.

New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, like Cuomo a Democrat running for another four-year term, has long been a proponent of a comprehensive program to match certain private campaign donations with public dollars, as a way to curb real or perceived influence of money in government and the possibility of pay-to-play politics. DiNapoli would support a program that only targeted his office, he said, restating his views during a question-and-answer session last week at the Albany Times Union’s Hearst Media Center.

In 2014, DiNapoli briefly saw a version come to fruition, when a last-minute budget deal between Cuomo and the leaders of the Senate and Assembly instructed the State Board of Elections to quickly create a public funding program for the comptroller race in the middle of the election cycle, just eight months before Election Day -- a proposal many immediately saw as cynical and doomed to fail.

Recalling that pilot program nearly four years later, DiNapoli told the Times Union’s Casey Seiler he believes the state is long overdue for publicly financed elections for all state-level offices -- including candidates for the state Legislature -- given the numerous corruption trials involving former lawmakers, former state officials, and others that are looming over this legislative session. DiNapoli marveled at the state’s immensely lax campaign finance laws, including the infamous loophole that allows limited liability corporations (LLCs) to pour virtually unlimited funds into candidate campaign accounts.

"I don’t say it’s a panacea, but I do think public financing of elections will create more access for people to run for office,” said DiNapoli, adding, “Democracy works when there is a competition of ideas.”

In 2013 and 2014, there was a lot of momentum in New York and nationally around campaign finance reform, including a significant push for Cuomo to take the issue up the way he did other progressive initiatives in prior budget negotiations, where Cuomo is known for getting his top priorities passed. Newspaper editorial boards, government reform groups, and others continued to call on Cuomo to usher through a new campaign finance system, something he had repeatedly called a priority. And, it was a gubernatorial election year, and leaders of the left-wing Working Families Party indicated that they would withhold their endorsement of the Democratic governor, then seeking a second term, unless he pushed for comprehensive campaign finance reform.

Notably, the governor’s own Moreland Commission on Public Corruption -- a bipartisan panel primarily made up of district attorneys rather than politicians -- recommended public funding of all elections as the key component in reforming the state’s porous campaign finance system to prevent the type of scandals that had rocked state government in recent years. In addition, the panel recommended lower contribution limits and closure of loopholes, tighter guideline for how campaign account monies can be spent, and increased disclosure on outside spending, such as spending on ads that could be “reasonably considered’ campaign ads.

When at the end of March 2014 a budget deal came together between the governor and legislative leaders, Cuomo squeezed through the pilot program, passed as part of the last-minute horse trades that occur annually during the final hours of budget negotiations.

At the time, Republicans controlled the Senate -- as they do now -- and the compromise was notable given the Republican leadership’s vehement opposition to spending any state funds on public campaign financing, which they typically see as likely to bolster Democrats and a questionable use of state funds for campaign purposes. But then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos agreed to include in the final budget bill the pilot, limited only to the comptroller’s office. While it could open the door to larger campaign finance reforms, the pilot would benefit DiNapoli’s Republican challenger more than the incumbent, who had already raised significant funds. Some saw Cuomo’s use of the comptroller’s race as a way to frustrate DiNapoli, who Cuomo has at times sought to undermine. 

“The pilot program for public financing of the comptroller’s election is a poor excuse to avoid real reforms New Yorkers deserve. At this point, I cannot participate in this pilot,” DiNapoli said in a statement at the time.

As surprising as it was to some that Senate Republicans had agreed to even the pilot, Cuomo had the leverage of the Moreland Commission, which had begun to irk the Legislature (and the governor himself), according to those familiar with budget negotiations. On March 31, 2014 -- about two days after the proposed pilot program had been announced -- Cuomo abruptly shut down the commission, just halfway through its planned 18-month duration, citing inclusion in the new budget of reforms aimed at addressing bribery and corruption and enforcement of election law, which he said would eliminate the need for the panel.

DiNapoli had been surprised to learn of the pilot, having not been informed “even by his friends in Legislature,” the former assemblymember said last week. According to the pilot, statewide candidates would need to raise $200,000 in donations above $5 from at least 2,000 New York State residents. For each eligible donor, every dollar donated up to $175 would be matched with $6 of public money.

"The process was flawed,” DiNapoli said at the time, just after the pilot proposal was announced and before it was voted through as part of the 2014-2015 state budget. “I was excluded from the negotiations, and it appears a historic opportunity was missed for comprehensive campaign finance reform and public financing for all statewide and legislative offices.”

Unlike DiNapoli’s own proposal -- which would create a seven-member board, appointed by a variety of offices, to create guidelines and procedures to ensure that the public funds are appropriately spent -- Cuomo's proposal entrusted the state Board of Elections to administer the program. The Board was instructed to issue payments "as soon as it is practicable," write advisory opinions, and create new regulations as needed. Civic groups opposed the program, writing in a letter to the Cuomo administration that, “the Board is ill-suited to take on such as task, much less set up an entirely new administrative system for an election cycle which has already begun.” They noted that Cuomo’s Moreland Commission had investigated the Board and found a great deal of dysfunction at the agency in its preliminary findings.

Good government groups also raised concerns about the timing of the pilot -- which would launch just months from Election Day and not easily provide candidates with adequate time to organize their campaigns in a way that would allow them to opt in. They noted that the program did not need to be piloted; New York City already has a successful public matching system.

Indeed, DiNapoli, who had already done significant fundraising, chose not to opt in to the pilot, and his severely disadvantaged Republican opponent, Robert Antonacci, the Onondaga County comptroller, did not meet the $200,000 threshold to qualify for public matching funds. DiNapoli wound up winning the election, 60 percent to Antonacci’s 36.6 percent.

Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Group, recalled the 2014 push and the budget compromise, and called the program a “kamikaze pilot” that was designed to fail.

“Despite the fact that the governor said it was a pilot project, we never heard about it again,” said Horner. “If it was a serious proposal, [a comprehensive public campaign finance system] would have gone into effect within months.”

Cuomo, in a May 2014 op-ed in the Huffington Post, “Finishing the Job Teddy Roosevelt Started: Public Financing of Elections,” acknowledged that the deal was not sufficient, but said critics should recognize the significance of Republicans conceding “the crucial ideological point they had resisted for decades.”

“We crossed the ideological Rubicon and the world did not stop spinning — now it’s time to finish what we started and pass a full-fledged program of public financing for state campaigns,” Cuomo wrote. “If you can use public funds for a demonstration program then you can use public funds for a full program.”

The Board of Elections did briefly review the failed pilot, recommending that a future version of the program allow two years for implementation and coordinate better with other agencies. “It is important to note that the 2014 program was to be implemented nearly 3 ½ years into the election cycle for this office,” the report’s authors wrote.

Now, four years later, the four statewide offices -- governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and comptroller -- are again up for election, with Democratic incumbents in each position likely to seek another term. As they are every two years, all the seats in the state Legislature will also be on the ballot this year. While Cuomo, who is sitting on a $30 million warchest, including millions in dollars from LLCs, put provisions for a small-donor public matching program and closure of the LLC loophole in his State of the State policy book again this year, the proposals were only briefly mentioned in his 92-minute address on January 3.

"We should increase trust by closing the LLC loophole and open up the electoral process with public financing, but not our current public financing system that has public financing but private loopholes,” Cuomo said. “I mean a true public financing system in which the exception does not swallow the rule. That's what we need to do to regain the trust of the citizens in this state and across this nation."

There’s no indication that Cuomo will prioritize campaign finance reform this year, especially given the difficult budget situation the state is in, with a $4.4 billion deficit to close and a new federal tax code to react to. While the Democratically-led Assembly appears to continue to support campaign finance reform, it is not evident as a top priority in the lower house. Senate Republicans regularly dismiss the idea of campaign finance reform, and when discussing the LLC loophole typically point to the influence of labor unions in donating to Democratic candidates.

The state’s broken campaign finance system will likely be on display during the upcoming corruption trials of eight men, including Cuomo’s former top aide Joe Percoco and former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President and CEO Alain Kaloyeros, whom Cuomo regularly praised and empowered. The massive bid-rigging scheme associated with the governor’s signature Buffalo Billion program benefited developers who contributed generously to Cuomo’s re-election campaign. After the scheme came to light, Cuomo vowed to instruct his campaign to turn away donations from those bidding for state projects, but ultimately did not follow through on that promise.

Karen Scharff, executive director of left-leaning advocacy group Citizen Action of New York, who was involved in the negotiations of 2014, said advocates sensed they had hit a wall with the Republican-controlled Senate after their major push to pass comprehensive public financing system failed. Despite this, she said, nothing has changed in Albany and these reforms are needed more than ever.

“We continue to see a donor-driven culture where critical policy is determined based on who the biggest donors are. And who can run for election and who can win is also heavily based on who can raise money from real estate and hedge funds,” she said. “We’re not going to have a real democracy in New York State until we have publicly funded elections.”

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Cuomo Omits Design-Build for New York City from Budget Plan


Cuomo construction

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

db graph

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

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

Read more by this writer.

Graph provided by the de Blasio administration.



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