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Cuomo Announces $153 Billion State Budget Deal


Cuomo budget press conference

Cuomo and top aides (photo: Philip Kamrass/Governor's Office)


At just before 9 p.m. Friday night, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he had reached a deal with state legislative leaders on a $153 billion budget for the new fiscal year, which began one week ago.

Cuomo and the Legislature had passed a budget “extender” on Monday to keep state operations running, but continued to negotiate throughout the week in order to put a full fiscal year budget together. After several fits and starts, many rumors, and several late nights, a deal was reached Friday on the most contentious issues. The two legislative houses are expected to vote the final budget bills through over the next several days.

Speaking from the Capitol’s Red Room on Friday evening, Cuomo said that the deal included a great deal to boast about, and that state leaders had met “all challenges” facing them. He took the most time on four items.

First, calling it a “legacy accomplishment,” Cuomo highlighted a deal on raising the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years old for most crimes, an issue that had been a major sticking point in negotiations. According to the presentation Cuomo gave, it appears the policy will be implemented as of October 1, 2018.

Cuomo also spoke highly of an agreement on a “first-ever federal funding response plan,” which gives his budget office the opportunity to make mid-year budget adjustments based on cuts from Washington, D.C. The policy allows the Legislature to pass its own response plan within 90 days, or the executive branch proposal would go into effect.

Third, the governor highlighted an agreed upon plan to find county-level efficiencies. And fourth, Cuomo touted a college affordability plan that will, when phased in over three years, make public colleges and universities tuition-free for students from families making $125,000 per year or less. Cuomo had launched his 2017 agenda with this proposal, alongside Senator Bernie Sanders, known as the Excelsior Scholarship.

The governor also announced agreements on almost all other measures that had been causing a budget hold-up or that were on the table generally, including but not limited to a new 421-a property tax abatement program meant to spur affordable housing in New York City; education aid to municipalities; a measured increase in aid to charter schools; release of $2 billion in affordable and supportive housing funds; extension of the millionaires’ tax for two years; legalizing ride-hailing apps outside New York City, where they are already legal; indigent legal defense funding; a major clean water infrastructure plan; union dues tax deductions; and more.

Notably, there is no extension of mayoral control of New York City schools in the budget, meaning Mayor Bill de Blasio will have to seek an extension in the legislative session to come between now and mid-June.

And, there was no movement on government ethics, campaign finance, or voting reforms. At the Friday press conference, Cuomo told Gotham Gazette that he was not able to get the Legislature to agree on reforms. “By the way,” Cuomo added, “if you think Raise the Age was hard, you have to see ethics." Cuomo, who had outlined an ambitious reform agenda in January, did little to push it thereafter and even appeared to forget its existence on Wednesday night at his prior Red Room press conference.

Despite their recalcitrance on ethics, Cuomo was still full of praise for legislative leaders, however. "It's easy to be political. It's not always easy to be a responsible government leader,” Cuomo said in praising Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, the men who were Cuomo’s top negotiating counterparts. None were in attendance as Cuomo briefed reporters Friday night. The governor was instead flanked by his budget director, Robert Mujica, and his counsel, Alphonso David.

The budget, Cuomo said in a statement, “advances the core progressive principles that built New York: investing in the middle class, strengthening the economy and creating opportunity for all.”

The agreement keeps spending growth to 2 percent, Cuomo also made sure to note, which continues his self-imposed cap. The governor was able to do this by freezing the budgets of most state agencies, as he has done in the past. The budget includes state operating funds spending of $98.1 billion -- this excludes federal funds and capital spending. With federal funds included, the plan reaches $153.1 billion. It includes an increase in overall education aid of $1.1 billion, bringing the total to $25.8 billion, or an increase of 4.4 percent, according to Cuomo’s office. Another area of growth in spending is Medicaid, on which the state will spend $23.5 billion.

In the budget extender, Cuomo had already pushed through billions in funding to continue his economic development and infrastructure programs across the state -- these funds remain, the governor said, and he highlighted the fact that there is funding in the budget to build the Empire State Trail, his proposal to connect a biking, walking, and hiking trail from New York City to Albany, and Albany north to Canada and west to Buffalo.

The millionaires’ tax extension will affect 45,000 taxpayers, Cuomo’s office says, 50 percent of whom are non-residents, and will preserve $3.4 billion in revenue for the year. This helps offset a middle class tax cut that is being phased in.

For his part, Senate Majority Leader Flanagan highlighted, in a statement, that “our state spending plan meets the needs of middle-class taxpayers and their families and advances key initiatives to make our state more affordable.” Flanagan touted that the budget “rejects new fees and protects one of the biggest and boldest tax cuts in state history, makes the largest ever investment in clean water, helps families better afford the high costs of college and ensures all of our schools have the resources they need to give students a high-quality education.”

He also highlighted “workers’ compensation reforms to cut costs and help businesses create jobs,” full funding for “direct care professionals who treat our most vulnerable citizens” and “more than $200 million available to fight and win the battle against heroin and opioid addiction.”

Assembly Speaker Heastie highlighted raising the age of adult criminal responsibility, increased education funding, and affordable housing funds.

It will require more complete review of budget bills to know if a variety of funding cuts and cost shifts from the state to New York City are included. As is typical in Albany, the budget will be passed with little review of the details by legislators or the public, helped along by "messages of necessity" from the governor, which waive the otherwise-required three-day aging period for bills.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

With reporting from Albany by Rachel Silberstein.

Deal or No Deal? State Budget Negotiations Drag & New York City Waits


Cuomo desk

Cuomo (photo: The Governor's Office)


Though Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders indicated for more than a week they were "very close" to a budget deal, negotiations appeared to collapse on Wednesday, and senators were sent back to their districts for their regularly scheduled Passover and Easter break. Cuomo held a press conference at the state Capitol outlining areas of agreement and major sticking points, but he indicated negotiations would continue - at some point.

Now, seven days into the new fiscal year, it appears that a new compromise on a full year’s budget is close. Final details have yet to emerge, but word began to circulate Thursday that the governor and legislative leaders had ironed out the remaining points of contention, or were on the verge of doing so. Nothing had been announced as of noon Friday.

Having missed the April 1 budget deadline, lawmakers passed Cuomo's budget "extender" on Monday, then kept negotiating to lock down a final spending plan for the full fiscal year before they planned to depart Albany for the two-week hiatus.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed six of 10 necessary budget bills, and the Assembly passed four of them Wednesday afternoon and two more on Thursday. A non-controversial debt service bill had been passed last week. Friday could see the final budget bills printed, debated, and voted on, but the situation remained fluid mid-day Friday. The broad contours of a “framework” deal among Cuomo, Heastie, and Flanagan could come at any moment. Or, negotiations could go on for weeks.

Bleary-eyed legislators from both houses expressed optimism that they would be voting through the final bills Wednesday afternoon, but Cuomo emerged at 6 p.m. -- without Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie or Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan -- to inform the public that there was no deal.

Speaking to reporters in the Capitol's Red Room, Cuomo added that he would prefer holding off on finalizing the document due to the threat of budget cuts from the federal government, which itself operates under a continuing resolution, offering greater flexibility.

"Picking a number now, and saying this is going to be the number, and not knowing what’s going to happen next week and next month and when the federal government passes the budget or when they don’t pass the budget, or when they do the next continuing resolution, is very hard," said Cuomo, who again mentioned that everyone will know a lot more from Washington by the end of May, which is when the state "extender" runs through.

Lawmakers from both houses were quick to lash out at Cuomo over the breakdown, including Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “What is happening right now is ridiculous. Dysfunction and chaos has descended on Albany. This situation has spiraled out of control and New Yorkers deserve better,” she said in a statement.

Senator Rich Funke, a Republican from the Rochester area, said in a statement, “There is only one reason we don’t have a final state budget right now and his name is Andrew Cuomo...The Senate has been working in good faith to deliver a budget that invests in our communities while protecting our taxpayers, but the Governor has been playing political games.”

Tensions between Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Heastie of the Bronx, who represents New York City’s interests in state budget negotiations, appear to be at least partially behind the blow-up.

During his press conference, Cuomo outlined several areas where agreements had been reached, giving a fuller view of what the $162 billion budget would look like when passed, and explained the major hold-ups in reaching a final deal. The governor indicated agreement on tax policy, ride-hailing for upstate and Long Island, workers’ compensation reform, and more.

Cuomo highlighted three major sticking points: raising the age of adult criminal responsibility, the 421-a property tax abatement program, and education funding, especially around charter schools.

While Cuomo insisted that legislators were headed to break and they’d look to pass the full budget later this month or next, Assembly members said they were staying in town and ready to work.

On Thursday it had become clear that Heastie and Flanagan had returned to the negotiating table with Cuomo, and the three were close to finalizing the loose ends.

As of Thursday night, the final three budget bills -- operations, capital, and revenue -- had yet to be printed and sent to the Legislature by Cuomo's office. The most loaded of the bunch will be the revenue bill, known as the “big ugly,” which is expected to contain the more controversial items in the budget, such as upstate ride-hailing, the millionaires’ tax extension, 421-a, and Raise the Age, as it is known.

Assembly Speaker Heastie told reporters at about 4 p.m. Thursday that they were “headed towards a full budget deal -- today or tomorrow.”

A spokesperson for the Senate majority leader said Flanagan needed to discuss the proposed changes with his conference members, who would presumably be called back to Albany if an agreement was reached. "While we have had these discussions, there is no final deal," said Flanagan spokesperson Scott Reif in an emailed statement at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

As New Yorkers all over the state and Mayor Bill de Blasio and others in New York City await the details of a new state budget, as of Thursday evening a partially clear picture has emerged of what’s in store for the big apple for the coming fiscal year.

Taxes
De Blasio put a good deal of energy into pushing a “mansion tax” he wants the state to allow the city to levy. It would charge the buyers of residential property over $2 million extra in order to pay for senior affordable housing subsidies. The mayor also supports the extension of the millionaires’ tax. Cuomo said Wednesday there is an agreement on extending the expiring millionaires’ tax, which is not expected to include the Assembly’s proposed expansion, but did not indicate for how many years. The governor has argued that the state cannot go without the revenue from the extension of the tax. Earlier this week, Cuomo dismissed the mansion tax de Blasio wants, and there has been no indication it has any life in negotiations.

Infrastructure
Notably slipped into the extender budget is an allowance for billions of dollars a year in spending for all of Cuomo’s signature economic development and infrastructure projects, include major New York City projects -- including an MTA subway expansion and transformations of Penn Station and Laguardia Airport -- and the next phase of the Buffalo Billion. When a full fiscal year budget it passed, it is likely that these funds remain intact in full. On Wednesday evening Cuomo touted the fact that even in the extender he had ensured his signature efforts were fully funded.

Before talks collapsed, there was also a tentative agreement for Cuomo’s $200 million Empire State Trail, which would connect New York City with Quebec, Albany, and Buffalo, reported The Buffalo News.

Charter Schools
A charter school tuition freeze, first implemented after the recession in 2009, is set to expire in June. When the law expires, charter schools would automatically receive a $1,500 increase per student, paid for by the local government.

Charter school advocates and their allies among the Senate Republicans are, naturally, pushing for the Legislature to let the freeze expire. This would mean a $2 million burden for New York City, according to Cuomo, who said he is urging leaders of both houses to move to prevent this increase by finding middle ground.

“The Assembly must act or they are giving charter schools a $1,500 increase. The Senate must agree to act because if the Senate doesn’t agree, the increase automatically goes through in June. So that has taken the normal education discussion of “fair” in upstate and downstate and added a significant wrinkle,” Cuomo said on Wednesday evening.

Politico NY reports that there may be a compromise in the works, in which the freeze would continue, but charter schools would still see a boost in per-pupil tuition reimbursements.

The cap on charter school expansion across the state, particularly in New York City, is also an issue to watch. Cuomo and Senate Republicans want the cap lifted, but it is not clear if there has been any movement on this with the Assembly, which is staunchly anti-charter. Charter school provisions are often traded for things like mayoral control of city schools or additional education aid to the broader public school system.

421-a & Affordable Housing Money
Heastie said Tuesday that there was significant agreement on the new 421-a property tax abatement program that is meant to spur affordable housing development in the most expensive New York City neighborhoods, and that while there were still concerns, the Assembly would pass Cuomo’s version, known as Affordable New York.

Cuomo said Wednesday that the agreement hit a snag, because previously 421-a renewal was linked to rent regulations, meaning both programs would expire at the same time. “They are now separated, because of the delay in passing the new Affordable New York program. So that is an issue of concern more in the Assembly,” said Cuomo. Two years ago, when 421-a expired, the state extended the laws governing rent regulated apartments.

A consensus on 421-a could move along the release of $2 billion in affordable housing and anti-homelessness funds. The funds, allocated last year, will only be released once Cuomo, Flanagan and Heastie a memorandum of understanding (MOU), detailing how the money will be spent.

Mayor de Blasio, who has repeatedly called on the state to release the affordable and supportive housing funding, as well as money earmarked for NYCHA repairs but not spent by the state, has been skeptical about a new 421-a deal.

“421-a in the past was a giveaway to developers and it often funded luxury housing,” de Blasio said on Friday morning’s The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. “We have to be a lot better in terms of what the taxpayer gets for this subsidy....I would say it’s not by any means 421-a at all costs, it’s if there is a fair 421-a – a bill, then the good part is it does help foster the creation of affordable housing we need. But if it’s too burdensome to New York City, you know, it’s a different matter. So, it’s literally being – last report I hear just minutes before the show – things are still being hashed out.”

Raise the Age
A priority for the Assembly, raising the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years old, has repeatedly been cited as a sticking point during the last weeks of budget discussions.

While New York is among just two states in the U.S. to charge 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, previous efforts to end the practice were blocked by Senate Republicans. As New York City eyes a plan to continue reducing its jail population and close down the Rikers Island jail complex, raise the age is seen as one key component. Harrowing stories, like that of Kalief Browder, who was held for three years at Rikers without a trial, following his arrest for allegedly stealing a backpack at age 16 and not being able to post bail, helped push the issue into the limelight.

On Tuesday, Heastie had indicated that his conference was willing to accept a compromise, but by Wednesday the issue was reopened over which agency, corrections or the Office of Children and Family Services, should supervise discharged teens, according to lawmakers.

“Raise the Age, remember, we’ve talked about for many, many years, and it hasn’t passed for many, many years, because it really is the most political, polarizing issue,” Cuomo said Wednesday evening. “Criminal justice laws are usually lightning rods for ideological differences. And raise the age poses a very important, but controversial hearing.”

Asked about Raise the Age and the final negotiations in Albany, de Blasio said Friday morning on WNYC, “I care that whatever we do is going to focus on rehabilitating these young people although, obviously, some young people commit very serious crimes. I don’t take that lightly. But the goal here of course underneath the whole concept of Raise the Age is trying to recognize that a lot of our young people who go astray are particularly redeemable because it’s still early in their development.”

School Aid
Of the $961 million statewide aid increase Cuomo outlined in his executive budget for the 2017-2018 school year, New York City schools would receive an increase of $294.9 million. Both Legislative houses, in their one-house budgets, called for education aid to be increased.

In the absence of a full, permanent budget, Cuomo said schools to plan for the 3.9 percent funding increase outlined in his budget proposal. “If the actual budget winds up being a little higher, then so be it. But the 3.9 percent I think is a safe planning number,” Cuomo said on Wednesday evening.

College Affordability
There also appears to be consensus on college affordability, which is likely to include some form of Tuition Assistance Program expansion, but does not include the Dream Act, which would grant tuition aid for undocumented immigrants. Cuomo had made free tuition at CUNY and SUNY schools for students from families making $125,000 or less annually his top agenda item at the start of the year. It is not clear yet to what extent Cuomo will get what he had outlined.

Mayoral Control of City Schools
Before talks collapsed Wednesday, the Daily News had reported that the parties agreed to include in the budget a one-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools. It would be the third straight one-year extension for Mayor de Blasio, an ongoing insult to the mayor, but having it done in the budget as opposed to the legislative session to follow would be something of a win for the mayor.

Ethics & Voting Reform
There has been no movement from the governor and legislative leaders on government ethics, campaign finance, or voting reform. On the Senate floor Tuesday, Democratic senators tried to propose hostile amendments to the budget bill that pertains to public protection and general government (PPGG). The amendments related to Planned Parenthood funding, limits on outside income for lawmakers, LLC loophole closure, and no-fault absentee ballots for early voting. The amendments were ruled as non-germane by Acting Senate Chair Joseph Griffo, an upstate Republican. Mainline Democrats moved to appeal the ruling -- which would force a debate and vote on the issues -- but members failed to garner a majority show of hands to support their appeal.

Cost Shifts & Cuts
During his budget testimony, de Blasio pushed back on the more than $100 million in cuts and cost shifts to New York City proposed in Cuomo’s executive budget, primarily related to placement of foster children and special education services. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said it is still too early to tell if those cuts would make it into the final document.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

For Cuomo, Ethics Reform Forgotten as Budget Lurches


Cuomo Mujica David budget

Gov. Cuomo, middle, with two top aides (photo: Philip Kamrass/Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo forgot about government ethics reform. At a press conference Wednesday, the governor explained to reporters that state budget talks had fallen apart over a few core issues. He pointed out with pride, though, that virtually everything he had proposed earlier this year he had gotten the Legislature to agree on, other than two major sticking points related to criminal justice and affordable housing. Cuomo had to be reminded by his budget director, sitting to the governor’s right, that Cuomo’s ethics reform agenda was another item without agreement.

In fact, it appears that Cuomo’s government ethics, campaign finance, and voting reform platform, which he unveiled in January along with the rest of his 2017 policy agenda and budget outline, is the only entire category of proposals completely off the table as budget negotiations continue.

It is not surprising that government ethics was not top of mind for Cuomo, who is trying to negotiate a $160 billion state budget under challenging conditions. The state is already a week into its new fiscal year, operating under a budget “extender” in order to keep state government functioning. That extender was passed Monday and is good through May 31, but Cuomo and legislative leaders had continued to negotiate in hopes of passing a full fiscal year budget before legislators left the capital for their customary two-week April break. Cuomo announced Wednesday evening that there was no deal, speaking to reporters during a press conference in the Capitol’s Red Room and flanked by his budget director and lead counsel.

The governor gave a nearly 20-minute explanation of budget negotiations and his take on where things should head, then took questions from reporters, repeatedly stressing all that he had gotten legislators to come to terms on. Virtually all of his proposals, the governor said, had been accepted in some form, other than raising the age of adult criminal responsibility and a new property tax abatement program meant to spur affordable housing development in New York City. Cuomo then asked his budget director for confirmation. “Ethics reform,” Robert Mujica reminded him; “and ethics reform,” Cuomo repeated, adding it as a footnote to the conversation.

Through his omission and then recognition that ethics reform was nowhere to be found, Cuomo acknowledged that even with negotiations set to continue, his lengthy set of “good government and ethics reform” proposals would not pass the Legislature any time soon. The agenda includes closing the infamous LLC loophole, creating a public campaign financing system, instituting early voting, and more.

The lack of movement on these reform measures comes despite the fact that a recent public opinion poll by Quinnipiac showed that 80 percent of New York voters said state government corruption is a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem. And, after major corruption scandals brought down both recent leaders of the two houses of the state Legislature and several close associates of and donors to Governor Andrew Cuomo were indicted on corruption charges. On Thursday, a federal court judge set a trial date of October 30 in the case against former Cuomo aides and donors for bid-rigging, bribes, and kickbacks related to the governor’s signature economic development programs.

The lack of movement also comes after New York ranked 41st in voter turnout among states in the 2016 presidential election.

As Cuomo highlighted Wednesday night, many compromises have been reached through negotiation, including billions more funding for the governor’s economic development programs. “We have an agreement on many items,” Cuomo said. “We have agreement on the Millionaire’s Tax, on the middle-class tax cut, on the water program that’s actually passed, on ride sharing, on college affordability, on workers’ comp, on property tax reform and citizen empowerment to get people involved in their state and local taxes...we have agreed on a prescription drug program, which is the first-in-the-nation, on a opioid program, which is a very aggressive program – so, we’ve done a lot of good work.”

But, there has been no movement on the 14-plank reform agenda that Cuomo included in his executive budget, which was released in January just after he concluded his six-stop State of the State speaking tour in Albany with reform measures as a key piece of his final speech.

“State government must do more to restore the public trust because as public servants we earn the trust of the people we serve. Unfortunately, in Albany there have been a series of breaches of that trust,” Cuomo said in January. “We must take action to show the people of this state that we get it, and that when someone does something wrong, they are punished to the full extent of the law and we have a system that is going to catch them.”

Nor has there been any movement on adding new oversight measures to Cuomo’s economic development spending, such as renewed contract vetting powers for the state Comptroller.

“[I]t doesn't look like the issue of procurement reform or much of the other reforms that people have been pushing for seem to be included [in the budget],” Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli told Capitol Pressroom host Susan Arbetter on her show Wednesday morning, “so let's hope that that means that those issues will be dealt with post-budget. They're very important issues.”

“We need to tighten up our procurement procedures,” DiNapoli continued, adding that while economic development is important, “more checks and balance, more oversight, is appropriate.”

Those who watch state government closely see that in many cases, Senate Republicans, who control that chamber, form the blockade to proposed reforms. But, it is also evident that Cuomo appears to put little priority in seeing major reforms through. Known for his ability to get passed what he prioritizes, including controversial measures like same-sex marriage to gun control to minimum wage hikes, Cuomo has been notably silent on ethics and voting reform since his January State of the State.

One exception being when Cuomo was asked by a WNYC radio reporter about moving voting reforms through the budget and he replied that he was going to try, but they weren’t really budget matters and could be taken up in the legislative session to follow a budget agreement.

On Tuesday, Cuomo told reporters that raising the age of adult criminal responsibility should be done in the budget because it has financial aspects to it. The same could be said for early voting, which would require polling places to be open leading up to Election Day.

In the Quinnipiac poll from late March, voters were split on whether the governor and Legislature would address government corruption: 44 percent said they would, 43 said they won’t. Meanwhile, 43 percent of those polled said Cuomo is "part of the problem of ethics in government" and 44 percent said he's "part of the solution."

Cuomo’s office did not respond to two requests for comment about the governor’s “good government and ethics reform” agenda being fully absent from the budget.

It is important to note that some of that agenda called for more power for Cuomo, including governor-appointed inspectors general for the Port Authority and the State Education Department, as well as expanded power for already existing, governor-appointed inspectors general of the CUNY and SUNY systems.

While the Legislature did not go along with these proposals, it also failed to adopt measures Cuomo included that would apply more broadly, like closing the LLC loophole -- which the governor has benefited the most from -- and instituting public campaign financing, and a measure that would expand the state’s freedom of information law to include the Legislature.

On the other hand, the Legislature was seeking more transparency from the members of Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils through financial disclosures, in part to examine if REDC members had any business stakes in projects related to their volunteer work on the councils, which help dole out millions of state grants. Cuomo strongly objected to this proposal and it also appears to be out of the budget.

New Yorkers won’t know final details until a full 2017-2018 fiscal year state budget deal is reached.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

After Negotiation Impasse, State Passes ‘Extender’ Budget


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Cuomo and Flanagan (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


After the official deadline was missed and budget talks reached a weekend impasse, both houses of the New York State Legislature passed a set of bills Monday to extend the current budget, with tweaks, until May 31 in order to avoid a government shutdown.

When it became apparent that they would not have a deal in place by the April 1 deadline, Governor Andrew Cuomo, who prides himself on on-time budgets, said he was allowing a weekend "grace period" to negotiate a consensus and pass a $150 billion spending plan. But several contentious issues led to a stalemate and a crisis point. Lawmakers could not agree to the contours of criminal justice reform, K-12 education funding, and affordable housing policy, leaving the rest of the budget on hold.

Late Sunday night, the governor announced his intention to send the Legislature a budget "extender" and said in a statement that the majority leaders in the Senate and Assembly would pass it, which is what happened Monday at the Capitol.

With an interruption in state operations or payroll at risk, lawmakers decided to pass what Cuomo outlined, though many held their noses while doing so, and some voted against the temporary spending plan. Legislative leaders, meanwhile, indicated they were continuing to negotiate the larger budget plan for the new fiscal year. The Legislature is in session this week in Albany before a two-week break.

Even with the temporary extender, there will be consequences for legislators, according to a spokesperson for Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. For lawmakers to get paid, the law requires that they take all actions necessary for the ongoing operations of state government and local assistance for the entire 2017-18 fiscal year. In other words, state law prevents legislators from being paid without a full spending plan in place.

Though members of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference -- an eight member breakaway group of Democrats that forms a ruling coalition with majority Republicans -- and mainline Democrats had vowed not to pass a budget without raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years old, the extender bills passed the chamber by a 46-15 vote.

“I’m not shutting the government down,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said from the Senate floor during debate ahead of the vote. Senators indicated it was essential to keep the government running and to ensure that state employees would be paid on schedule.

Senators who voted against the extender noted that it failed to address affordable housing programs, including a new 421-a program, critical education and health funding, and criminal justice reforms, particularly “raise the age.”

“Children do not belong in prison; children should be treated like children. Thus, I cannot vote for this budget extender,” said Senator Jesse Hamilton, an IDC member from Brooklyn, in a statement.

On the Senate floor, Flanagan pushed back on the suggestion that the minority conferences were not represented in the extender budget.

“I don’t subscribe to the notion that minority members have been left out, because I read the tweets, I read the blogs, I read the media accounts, I see what people say. I know where people’s priorities are,” said Flanagan.

The measure did not pass as smoothly on the Assembly floor.

Exhausted Assembly members on both sides of the aisle lashed out at the governor for his lack of communication with rank-and-file lawmakers, especially those in the minority Republican conference, the absence of criminal justice reform or a satisfactory 421-a plan, and for citing federal uncertainty as one of the reasons for the gridlock.

Assemblymember Diane Richardson, a Brooklyn Democrat, said “we will not be duped” by the governor’s tricks, while Assemblymember Steven McLaughlin, a Republican representing the Capital Region, accused Cuomo of “hiding like a coward” and encouraged his peers to push back on the “thug nonsense.”

While the governor has described the budget bills as a bare bones extender that would just continue last year’s financial plan so that the government could continue to function, controversial details were worked into the more than 1,700 pages.

The temporary budget includes billions of dollars in funds for the governor’s regional economic development programs, New York City infrastructure projects, and next phase of the Buffalo Billion. It also includes elements of the Assembly and Senate one-house budget resolutions, like the addition of bottled human breast milk as covered by Medicaid, which Assembly Democrats proposed, and $2.5 billion for upstate drinking water infrastructure, something Senate Republicans have wanted, notes Empire Center, a fiscally conservative think tank.

Two months is too long a period to keep New York residents in the dark about what policies and economic measures will make it into the budget, good government advocates said.

"New Yorkers deserve to know why their elected representatives have given themselves an extension on their homework. We need open leaders meetings where people can understand the negotiation process that's holding up their $150 billion budget,” said Common Cause NY executive director Susan Lerner, in a statement. “We need a public process."

The budget extenders, like full budgets before them, were passed with “messages of necessity” from the governor, which waive the otherwise-required three-day aging period for bills before they can be voted on.

Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan budget watchdog, said in a statement that “this emergency legislation is preferable to a government shutdown, but creates uncertainties for school districts and local governments. Achieving a fiscally sound budget is more important than an "on time" budget, but the pressing outstanding issues could and should have been resolved as part of a more effective and accountable budget process.” CBC also called for a sound, full budget plan to be agreed on “promptly.”

In an evening statement, Gov. Cuomo's office hailed the passage of the budget extender, "which funds all government operations through May 31 and advances key priority infrastructure, economic development, and environmental projects across New York." Cuomo's office highlighted the investment in clean water, cost controls on prescription drugs, and that the budget "increases direct care professional salaries 6.5 percent over the next two years."

"Over the next two months, the state expects to spend $24.6 billion, which includes the general fund, aid to localities and school districts, special revenue, capital projects, and debts service," the statement from Cuomo's office says. "The Extender also authorizes $16.4 billion in new capital appropriations to advance critical economic development and infrastructure projects."

Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio indicated Monday that he’s frustrated with how things played out in Albany. “The impact on the city of not having a state budget is more uncertainty,” de Blasio said on NY1’s Road to City Hall Monday evening. De Blasio also pledged on two different occasions Monday to continue to push for his “mansion tax,” which would provide the city with additional revenue to fund affordable housing for seniors but has been called a non-starter by both Senate Republicans and Gov. Cuomo.

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by Ben Max and Rachel Silberstein

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 3


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

All eyes are on Albany, where a new state budget is late and negotiations continue. The state’s new fiscal year began Saturday, April 1, but there is still no spending plan from the Governor and Legislature. At about midnight Sunday night, with negotiations at an impasse, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he would move an "extender" budget on Monday and that legislative leaders had said they would pass it. The extender will largely continue state spending as it was for the most recent fiscal year, with a few adjustments, which are not clear as of Monday morning. It will also extend through the third week in May, when there will be more clarity on the federal budget and its effects on New York. However, a new state budget deal could come together before then and be passed to supercede the extender.

Issues that appear to have held up a larger deal on a new state budget include details of overall education aid to municipalities, funding for charter schools, raising the age of adult criminal responsibility, and detailing the allocation of about $2 billion affordable housing funds that were set aside in last year’s budget but never released by Cuomo and legislative leaders. There is also federal funding uncertainty hanging over everything.

Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio and 8.5 million other New York City residents await budget news from Albany.

De Blasio had a busy weekend, fresh off his Friday announcement that the city would begin formulating a plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex over ten years: on Saturday, he eulogized Timothy Caughman and participated in The Inner Circle Show. On Sunday, de Blasio will delivered remarks at the Christian Cultural Center and the New Life Tabernacle in Brooklyn. He voted in City Council Member Brad Lander’s participatory budgeting for Council District 39 and he and First Lady Chirlane McCray made remarks at the 25th Anniversary of the Progressive Democrats Political Association of Central Brooklyn.

De Blasio has several public events scheduled Monday, including his weekly appearance on NY1’s Road to City Hall in the 7 and 10 p.m. hours -- see details of his schedule below.

Also this week, city budget season moves from City Council preliminary budget hearings to behind-closed-doors discussions leading to the Council’s formal preliminary budget response. That will then inform de Blasio’s executive budget, which will lead to another round of Council hearings and more negotiation. The Council continues with non-budget committee hearings this week.

Those and a whole lot more this week -- 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?
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The run of the week in detail:

Monday
The New York State Legislature is scheduled to be in session on Monday in Albany. 

At 9 a.m. Monday, the New York State Board of Regents will be in session. The board will also be in session at 5 p.m. Monday and at 11:10 a.m. Tuesday.

US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor will headline Albany Law School’s speaker series, speaking on Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday, Mayor de Blasio has several public events: at 11:15 a.m. he will visit and provide brief remarks to high school juniors preparing for the first-ever citywide SAT School Day on Wednesday, at Queens Vocational. At 12:40 p.m. de Blasio "will attend opening ceremonies for the New York Mets home opener at Citi Field. The Mayor will join members of the NYPD and FDNY for the ceremonial first pitch." At 2:30 p.m., "the Mayor and the Police Commissioner will host a press conference to discuss crime statistics." And in the evening, de Blasio will appear on NY1’s Road to City Hall.

At the City Council on Monday:
---The Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law “in relation to the posting of information online regarding tree maintenance work.”
---The Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a resolution “calling upon President Donald Trump to fully fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and not to eliminate or diminish any of these agencies in any form.”

Just before that 1 p.m. hearing, at noon at City Hall, Cultural Affairs committee chair City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito “will hold a Rally to Save the Arts to protest the Trump Administration’s proposed elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.” They’ll be joined by other City Council members; Tom Finkelpearl, Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner; Comptroller Scott Stringer; leaders of the city’s three library systems; leaders and members of “50+ cultural organizations” as well as “Broadway performers, dancers, several hundred artists and cultural workers.” 

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez "will hold a press availability following a planning meeting with over 60 organizations gearing up to take part in the 2nd annual #CarFreeNYC, taking place on April 22nd," at Borough of Manhattan Community College.

At 6 p.m. Monday, the Fordham Center for Nonprofit Leaders will host Valerie Barton-Richardson of CAMBA and a representative from the city Department of Homeless Services for a policy discussion on issues surrounding homelessness in the city.

At 6 p.m. Monday, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito will attend Passover food distribution at Young Israel of Staten Island.

At 9 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will appear on BronxTalk with Gary Axelbank, BronxNet TV channel 67 and Fios 33, online at bronxnet.org.

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

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon and Senator Martin Golden will host the second annual NY Dyslexia Awareness Day at the State Capitol. Amy Margolis, of Columbia and the Brooklyn Learning Center, and Carolyn Strom of NYU will give “expert presentations,” and Senator David Carlucci will join a panel of students with dyslexia to talk about their experiences.

On Tuesday Mayor de Blasio will make several media appearances -- on PIX11 and NY1 TV and Hot 97 and WABC-AM radio -- and then he'll fly west. He'll be in Washington and California for several fundraisers and government meetings over the next few days, according to Politico New York.

Public Advocate Letitia James will co-host and speak at "the 11th Annual NYC Equal Pay Day Rally," at City Hall at noon. James will appears on NY1's Road to City Hall in the 7 and 10 p.m. hours Tuesday evening. At 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, James will deliver remarks at the "Loaded Guns in Public Places? How Concealed Carry Reciprocity May Impact Us" forum. And, at 8:30 p.m., James will deliver remarks at A Taste of Fifth in Brooklyn.

Comptroller Scott Stringer will also speak at the Equal Pay rally at City Hall Tuesday.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
---The Committee on Civil Rights will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law “in relation to prohibiting employers from inquiring about or relying on a prospective employee’s salary history.”
---The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law “in relation to preventing the unauthorized practice of immigration law.”

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Association for a Better New York will host two talks. The first, “The City Budget & How it Works,” will feature Deputy Comptroller of the Budget Preston Niblack, who will “present the fundamentals behind New York City’s budget.” The second, “The Water & Sewer Network,” will feature Cas Holloway of Bloomberg LP, “who will discuss the scope of the city’s water and sewer network.” 

Wednesday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Wednesday in Albany -- the last day of session for two weeks. 

At the City Council on Wednesday:
---The Finance Committee will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss several proposed laws and resolutions.
---The full City Council is scheduled to meet at 1:30 p.m. As usual, this will be prefaced by a press conference led by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

The City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting on Wednesday.

At 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Bob Gangi will announce his mayoral run in the Democratic primary with a press conference at 1 Police Plaza.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, City Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., Commissioner Jacques Jiha, Sheriff Joseph Fucito, CB3 and the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation will host a town hall, "Addressing Deed Fraud and Abuse" in Brooklyn.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Gotham Center at CUNY Graduate Center will host “Fixing Elections: The Politics of Electoral Reform in NYC, Then and Now,” discussing the causes of low turnout in City elections and how electoral reform can increase turnout. Brigid Bergin of WNYC will moderate a panel featuring Gerald Benjamin, formerly of the Center for New York State and Local Government Studies; Daniel O. Prosterman, author of Defining Democracy; Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York; and Rob Richie of Fairvote. The forum is co-sponsored by The Brennan Center for Justice (NYU)​, The Center for Urban Research (The Graduate Center, CUNY), The League of Women Voters of the City of New York, The New York Public Interest Research Group, New Yorkers for a Human-Scale City, The Green Party of New York, and the New Kings Democrats. 

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Riders’ Alliance will host its second L Train Shutdown Solutions Meeting for those in Brooklyn affected by the L train’s shutdown, at the Brooklyn Public Library Stone Avenue Branch in Brownsville.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday:
---The Committee on Public Safety will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “enforcement issues with revenge porn,” as well as to discuss two proposed laws: one criminalizing revenge porn, and the other “requiring the maintenance of an information sharing system regarding civil actions, claims, complaints, and investigations alleging improper police conduct.”
---The Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a resolution calling for a Hudson River Greenway between Spuyten Duyvil, Bronx and Yonkers, as well as a proposed law regarding the renaming of two thoroughfares and public places in the Bronx.
---The Committees on Mental Health and Youth Services will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding youth suicide.

At 8:15 a.m. Thursday, the Center for New York City Law will host “Building Mega-Projects: Lessons from the Second Avenue Subway,” with Michael Horodniceanu, President of MTA Capital Construction Company.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, JustLeadershipUSA will hold “Leading with Conviction in the Era of Trump.” This event “will bring together policy makers, ​journalists, ​formerly incarcerated leaders, and other supporters and allies to explore the crucial role of “leaders with conviction” in driving efforts to reduce mass incarceration and revitalize affected communities.”

At 9 a.m. Thursday, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will host a workshop with several leaders from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, “who will share important lessons on how to reduce risks from employee fraud, unauthorized diversion of funds, and cyber breaches.”

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, former US Attorney Preet Bharara will deliver the John Jay Iselin Memorial Lecture at the Cooper Union.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, City Comptroller Scott Stringer will hold a town hall meeting at Goddard Riverside Community Center on the Upper West Side.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will keynote City & State’s “Borough Series: Manhattan,” honoring 25 prominent Manhattan individuals.

Friday and the weekend
On Friday, Mayor de Blasio will likely make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.

At noon Friday, the Manhattan Institute will host “Inside Job: How Government Insiders Subvert The Public Interest,” featuring Mark Zupan, author of a book bearing the same title. Discussion will center around “the tremendous damage that government insiders -- elected officials, bureaucrats, and other public employees -- inflict when they enrich themselves at taxpayers’ expense.”

At 9 a.m. Saturday, Urban Democracy Lab will host “Humanizing Data: Data, Humanities, and the City.” The event will feature panels and workshops relating to how data can be used to “enhance and disrupt the kinds of research questions, methods, and narratives that define the humanities.”

At noon Saturday, Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer will host the eighth annual Spring Open House, honoring female community leaders in his Queens district.

At noon Sunday, the Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club will hold its annual Spring Brunch. City Comptroller Scott Stringer will present outgoing City Council Members Dan Garodnick and Rosie Mendez with awards “for their service to New Yorkers.” Further, the Charles Buchwald Memorial Award for Community Service will be presented to Planned Parenthood Votes NYC.

***
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).

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by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

The 'Three Men in a Room' and Millions Outside


Cuomo Heastie Flanagan 2015

Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan in 2015 (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


It’s the last week of March, which means the final stretch of New York State budget negotiations, and all are watching the “three men in a room,” an adage that has come to symbolize Albany’s opaque government processes and concentration of power.

Each March, for as long as anyone can remember, the governor, the speaker of the Assembly and the majority leader of the Senate hold frequent, clandestine meetings to hammer out important policy decisions and decide the fate of billions of dollars in state funding. A state budget is due by the April 1 start of the new state fiscal year. For many years, the Assembly has been controlled by Democrats, largely from New York City, while the Senate has been dominated by Republicans, mostly from upstate and Long Island, though the margin in the Senate has been quite slim for several years and Democrats held control briefly.

In 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, changed the paradigm slightly to allow a fourth man in the room: Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the eight-member breakaway group known as the Independent Democratic Conference, which has a ruling coalition with the Senate GOP. The move was decried as unfair by both minority leaders, those of the Senate’s mainline Democrats and the Assembly Republicans.

Whether three or four, the depiction of an exclusive club of legislative leaders and the governor alone in “the room,” mapping out the state’s interests behind closed doors, is not entirely accurate. Often in the room are senior staffers -- including budget directors and chiefs of staff -- who are intensely involved in negotiation and planning, while outside voices -- interest groups, lobbyists, rank-and-file legislators, think tanks, and others -- also wield some, usually small degree of influence over the participants and their decisions. It is typically true that the legislative leaders in “the room” are there with some instruction from their conferences about top priorities, items they are willing to trade for others, non-starters, and degrees to which they are will to accept partial victories.

Legislative leaders will often run from the negotiating room back to their conferences to discuss some details and get a sense of whether their minions are willing to go along with the latest deals on the table.

But for the vast majority of the 150 members of the Assembly and 63 members of the Senate, who serve on largely powerless committees, subcommittees, legislative commissions, and task forces, the doors to the room are closed, and the opportunity to influence final details of what is in and what is out of the state’s most important annual document is minimal.

Also out of the loop is the public. During the final week of budget negotiations at the Capitol, the statehouse press corps can be spotted diligently waiting outside of closed-door meetings, hoping to garner nuggets of information about the status of major issues like “Raise the Age,” an upstate expansion of ride-hailing apps, water infrastructure funding, education aid, and other contours of the $150 billion spending plan. When legislative leaders -- Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, IDC Leader Klein -- do emerge from the governor’s office or various conference rooms, their comments are usually sparse and cryptic.

“I would say progress has been made on a lot of these issues,” Heastie told reporters on Tuesday. “But when all these things are interconnected for an issue that’s largely important to either us, the Senate, or the governor, that’s not been dealt with, there’s no deal.”

Following the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in 2015, Cuomo and the new legislative leaders have even become more evasive of the press, holding negotiation sessions and leadership meetings at the Governor's Mansion.

On Monday, Cuomo noted that, unlike his predecessors, he has made point to involve Senate and Assembly committee members on high stakes policy issues like “Raise the Age,” which would increase the age that a person may be charged like an adult in criminal court, and has emerged as a major sticking point in this year’s negotiations.

"What I do -- which is a little different than past governors -- is on a truly complex issue like Raise the Age, like marriage equality, like gun safety, I actually bring in the senators and assemblymen who are the heads of those committees and work through the language myself,” Cuomo said Monday during an interview on NY1.

While this may be true for some high-profile issues, negotiations are almost exclusively among Cuomo and the legislative leaders when it comes to the rest of the policy and funding that is decided.

The system has shifted in other ways under Cuomo, who came to office in 2011 promising to restore function to state government and has delivered six consecutive on-time budgets, a point of pride for the governor that he regularly boasts about and has been given credit for. However, this usually means that the budget is passed late on March 31, sometimes spilling into April 1, with deals coming together in the final hours and almost no time for public review. Rank-and-file lawmakers usually only have a few hours to review complex budget documents before voting them through.

The deadline and Cuomo’s fixation on meeting it, along with the nature of negotiations among governing factions, have led the governor to issue a “message of necessity,” a motion to waive the aging period for bills required by the state constitution.

While the law calls for a three-day waiting period between printing of a bill and the day it is voted on, so that the public may review it, Cuomo, like previous governors, typically issues a "message of necessity" to bypass the requirement and speed the process along. It is a practice that has been criticized by good government groups and some legislators, who say timeliness should not be prioritized over transparency. Rather, these exceptions should be used sparingly, and for real emergencies like natural disasters.

“The ‘message of necessity’ in the passing of the state budget has become as predictable as snow is in January,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of government reform organization Citizens Union. “And it’s unfortunate, because that power should only be used in extreme circumstances. It has deprived the public the time to review and scrutinize the state budget before it has passed.”

Heastie and Flanagan, both relatively new to their leadership positions, appear more willing to involve rank-and-file lawmakers in budget talks than their predecessors. For example, Heastie sends frequent updates to his conference members on his interactions with Cuomo and Flanagan, sometimes hourly, according to Assemblymember Nily Rozic of Queens.

Calling the situation a “vast improvement” from the way the budget worked when she was first elected to the seat in 2012 and Silver was speaker, Rozic said that as a rank-and-file member of the Assembly now, “You certainly have opportunities to make your opinion known and to pick a few issues that you care about and to advocate for them in the budget process.”

On the Senate side, a spokesperson for Flanagan said the majority leader frequently seeks the input of his conference and brings issues back to its members for debate. "We are a member driven conference," said Scott Reif, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "The legislative leaders and the Governor don't decide a budget on their own. Our entire Senate Republican Conference is working together every minute of every day to put together the best possible budget we can for hardworking. middle-class taxpayers and their families."

While legislators may feel more involved in final negotiations than in the past, messages to the public as the state budget deadline nears are often inconsistent or muddled by contradictory reports. On Monday, Flanagan, Heastie, and Klein expressed confidence that the budget would be delivered on-time, while Cuomo floated the idea of an “extender budget,” which would temporarily continue last year’s budget in order to account for uncertainties on the federal level.

On Tuesday afternoon, Assembly Democrats were told in a closed-door meeting that there would be no temporary budget extender, though Heastie, in an earlier interview said he was open to the budget being adopted in phases, The Buffalo News reported.

Members of the minority conferences, for their part, say they are privy to fewer details of budget talks and that they often learn the details of the budget bills when it is time to vote on them. According to Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, an upstate Republican, letters addressed to Cuomo and Heastie go unanswered so he must “get creative” in order to represent the interests of his conference on the budget.

“The avenues we employ is social media, interviews like I’m doing with you, certainly we put out any number of press statements and policy statements,” said Kolb, whose conference is about half the size of the majority. “I think it should be that way, but we are dealing with facts and reality, so we have to be creative at figuring out ways to articulate our views.”

For Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrat whose chamber is controlled by Republicans by a razor thin margin and whose conference has long championed issues like Raise the Age, the stakes are higher. Stewart-Cousins has raised concerns that education aid and Raise The Age are being "watered-down," while ethics reforms and the DREAM Act are “being forgotten.”

“We obviously send written communication to our colleagues, I am in constant contact with Speak Heastie, I talk with the governor. People understand that we are invested in making sure that the right policy is in the budget,” said Stewart-Cousins in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

The leaders of both minority conferences say they believe they should be in the negotiating room, helping to formulate the budget and major policy deals. Spokespeople for Heastie and Cuomo did not return requests for comment on the transparency of the budget negotiation process.

"We should be in the room and it's because of the public, not because of Brian Kolb,” said the Assembly minority leader. “It's because of the millions of people that our conference represents and the millions of people that Andrea Stewart-Cousins represents," Kolb said, adding that none of the leaders in the room are from Upstate.

Last year, a campaign to let Stewart-Cousins participate in budget negotiations -- which would earn her the distinction of being the first woman “in the room” -- went nowhere. “Changing these types of institutions is very, very difficult,” she said Tuesday, about three-and-a-half days before the budget was due.

Note: The article has been updated to include comment from a Senate GOP spokesperson.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

15 Questions for the Final Week of State Budget Negotiations


Cuomo de Blasio press conference 2014

De Blasio & Cuomo in 2014 (photo: The Governor's Office)


The New York State budget, which is expected to be delivered on time, is due April 1, but as state government leaders enter the final week of negotiations there are many questions left open for New York City.

These include the fate of more than $100 millions in state-to-city funding cuts proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo; whether more than $1 billion in affordable housing funding will be released; final budgetary allocations toward city schools and NYCHA; whether mayoral control of schools will be extended; and where the stand lands on multiple tax policies, including Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed “mansion tax.” An added transactional surcharge on buyers of New York City property at more than $2 million, de Blasio would use the revenue to subsidize affordable housing for seniors. Cuomo said Monday during a NY1 appearance that the mansion tax has gone nowhere since the mayor proposed it in January.

There are also statewide proposals that are of interest to the city, such as voting reform and Cuomo’s Empire State Trail, among others, that are being debated.

The “three men in a room,” which this year is actually four -- Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Senate Independent Conference Leader Jeff Klein -- will meet frequently this week behind closed doors to negotiate the final spending and policy details of the $150-plus billion budget.

Klein, of the Bronx, leads the eight-member breakaway group of Democrats who form a ruling coalition with the Senate GOP, led by Flanagan. Heastie, also of the Bronx, leads the Assembly Democratic majority and is the only ally of Mayor Bill de Blasio of the four men in the negotiating room, though there are issues on which Klein or Cuomo and de Blasio agree.

Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, unveiled his $152 billion executive budget plan in January following a six-stop State of the State tour, during which he promoted his big ticket infrastructure projects, budget items, and policy agenda.

De Blasio, testifying before a joint legislative budget committee in late January, laid out his concerns with certain cost shifts to the city in Cuomo’s budget plan and outlined New York City’s needs from the state in terms of education, healthcare, affordable housing, and more. Heastie, whose majority conference is dominated by New York City-based legislators, is seen as something of a surrogate for de Blasio and the city’s interests during budget negotiations.

Heastie and his conference back passage of the “mansion tax,” though it is seen as a long shot. It has been de Blasio’s main focal point of public advocacy related to the state budget, including his participation in an Albany rally this past week. In conversations with reporters, de Blasio has also referenced several areas of state funding to the city that are priorities as well as policy goals like permission to install more speed cameras and to use design-build contracting.

As the Senate and Assembly presented their one-house budget resolutions earlier this month -- their formal responses to Cuomo’s budget proposal and their declarations of priorities heading into final negotiations -- several sticking points emerged.

For residents of New York City, there is much at stake.

1. Will the final budget include more than $100 million in cuts and cost shifts to New York City, primarily related to placement of foster children and special education services?
Gov. Cuomo has proposed more than $100 million in cuts and cost shifts to New York City, primarily related to placement of foster children and special education services, according to Cuomo’s 2017-2018 financial plan.

"There are several cuts in the State Executive Budget that are going to have an effect on thousands and thousands of New Yorkers,” de Blasio said during his budget testimony in February.

According to the de Blasio administration, funds earmarked for New York City programs that hang in the balance based on Cuomo’s proposed budget include $32.5 million for public health programs; $66 million for the education and care of 8,900 foster care youth; $25.5 million for senior centers; and $30 million “for more than 800 special education students who have highly specialized needs.”

The mayor and the Assembly are also calling for the restoration of $65 million in MTA funding that was slashed in Cuomo's budget proposal.

2. What will the final education aid number for New York City be?
The governor is proposing a statewide school aid increase of nearly $1 billion for the 2017-18 school year. Of the $961 million aid increase Cuomo has outlined, New York City schools would receive an aid increase of $294.9 million, a percentage of new funding that is in line with the city’s proportion of students.

Both legislative houses and the mayor, who has highlighted $1.6 billion still owed to New York City schools as part of the 2006 Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision, are calling for increased education aid in the final budget.

“We want to keep pushing for greater education aid. This is a fight that’s been going on for ten years, as you know, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision by our highest court in the state. We’re still not getting our fair share, nor are a lot of upstate cities and rural areas,” said de Blasio on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday.

The Senate’s one-house calls for Cuomo’s proposed education Foundation Aid to be doubled, while the Assembly is calling for a $1.4 billion increase, or $1.03 billion more than the increase proposed by the executive budget.

Cuomo says school funding is dependent on revenue from the extension of the “millionaires’ tax” -- set to expire this year -- a budget measure Senate Republicans oppose and Assembly Democrats want to increase.

3. Will the “millionaires' tax” be extended?
Cuomo strongly supports extending the millionaires' tax, a Governor David Patterson policy that was implemented in 2008 in response to the economic collapse. Mayor de Blasio and Assembly Democrats have proposed expanding the tax to include new brackets for New Yorkers earning $5 million, $10 million and $100 million a year.

Early projections are that the millionaires’ tax will be extended -- Republicans have, after all, approved it before. However, chances of the additional tax brackets being added to the tax seem slim, as that expansion is opposed by both Cuomo and Senate Republicans.

4. Will de Blasio’s ”mansion tax” pass?
De Blasio has made the mansion tax the main focus of his public advocacy related to the state budget, holding about a half-dozen related events in the past two weeks. De Blasio and Assembly Democrats want the state to allow the city to add a dedicated surcharge to home purchases over $2 million to create hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue per year to use directly for subsidies to tens of thousands of low-income senior citizens.

The mansion tax faces some opposition from within New York City, as well as questions from budget watchdogs. Senate Republicans are opposed to it, and Gov. Cuomo said Monday on NY1 that the mayor proposed it in January and "It never went anywhere in January and it hasn't gone anywhere since."

5. Will the affordable housing MOU be settled? Will there be more state aid for NYCHA? What about 421-a?
The state is still sitting on about $2 billion in affordable housing and anti-homelessness funds that were allocated last year but can only be released by a memo of understanding among Cuomo, Heastie, and Flanagan that details how the money will be spent.

The cob-webbed funds have become the ire of de Blasio, Assembly Democrats, and affordable and supportive housing providers, anti-homelessness advocates, and others.

Among the sticking points related to the aforementioned funds as well as other past and future money for housing are funding levels for NYCHA and the tax abatement program known as 421-a. Cuomo’s new 421-a proposal does not have the support of de Blasio or Assembly Democrats, and Senate Republicans are unlikely to release the housing money until a new 421-a program is in place.

Meanwhile, de Blasio and others are calling for more state investment in NYCHA as well as the utilization of $100 million set aside in the past that Cuomo had earmarked for NYCHA repairs but has not spent.

6. There are now three alternatives to Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship, which aims to extend tuition-free CUNY and SUNY. What version will wind up in the budget? Will whatever version of the college tuition plan that passes include The Dream Act?
Many questions were raised during budget hearings and public discussion about how the scholarship program will be paid for, but also about the program’s rigid course-load requirements and limits on how other financial aid sources, like the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and Pell grants, could be spent.

The Assembly Majority has accepted the Excelsior Scholarship, with modifications, including an expansion of TAP benefits that loosened requirements on how aid can be spent. The Senate Majority, IDC and Assembly Minority have indicated they prefer some form of TAP expansion, which would be inclusive to students at the state’s private colleges, who they say are penalized for their schools' tuition increases under Cuomo’s plan.

7. Will the the budget extend mayoral control of city schools?
It is the third straight year that de Blasio is seeking an extension of mayoral control of city schools from the state -- he’s received two straight one-year approvals, in large part due to his icy relationships with Cuomo and Senate Republicans. De Blasio wants mayoral control to be made permanent, but he would gladly settle for the three-year extension Cuomo has included in his budget yet again or, preferably for the mayor, the seven-year extension the Assembly has called for.

Mayoral control is not in essence a budget matter and it has been kicked from budget negotiations each of the past two years, left for the legislative session to follow.

As with other de Blasio priorities, the fate of mayoral control could come down to how much the Assembly prioritizes it in negotiations. It is at least somewhat valuable to Senate Republicans as a bargaining chip.

8. Will the state extend Design-Build authority to New York City?
Design-build is a procurement and contracting strategy that streamlines the process for capital projects, avoiding multiple bidding processes and simply hiring once for the design and the building of a project, like a bridge reconstruction. The state has used design build on several projects to great success in terms of time and money savings. In another example of the home rule dynamics that frustrate city leaders, New York City is seeking needed permission to use design-build.

"If the City also had access to [design-build], similar benefits would be realized. Our capital agencies have identified $7.3 billion in projects, with around $450 million in immediate savings. If the rest of New York State has access to design-build, New York City certainly should as well as a matter of common sense," de Blasio said during his Albany budget testimony in late January.

At a recent press conference focused on their Vision Zero street safety program, de Blasio's transportation commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, said she was on the verge of travelling to Albany to advocate for more speed cameras for the city and for design-build permission. Trottenberg said she wasn't quite sure what was standing in the way of design-build passage given the virtual unanimity behind it, including from labor unions, which can be skeptical.

De Blasio added, "for everyone who wants to see us rightfully achieve more of these good capital projects more quickly that will make people safe, we need your help getting design build done. It’s going to literally free up a lot of money because things will be done a lot more efficiently. It will free up a lot of money. We’ll be able to cover a lot more ground. It just makes sense for everyone."

9. Will the budget account for funding cuts proposed by the Trump administration?
It is unlikely that there will be significant adjustments to the state budget based on funding cuts that could come from Washington, D.C., despite the fact that President Trump has indicated he is seeking major reductions in domestic spending that include key areas of funding that go to New York. Cuomo and legislative leaders have both acknowledged the uncertainty and possibility that a special session may be needed once the federal budget is more clear.

Short of that, Cuomo had inserted language in his budget proposal that would have allowed his administration to make mid-year budget adjustments based on federal dynamics without approval from the Legislature.

Criticized from inside and outside government as a dangerous power-grab, Cuomo’s proposal was denied in both the Senate and Assembly one-house budget resolutions.

“There are lump sums that are at the complete discretion of the governor,” Flanagan said at a press conference. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate way to do things,” he added of the mid-year executive-only adjustments.

Heastie has said that if federal cuts blow a hole in the state government, Cuomo will have to revisit the budget with the Legislature: “the Legislature is an equal branch of government and should be respected,” he said.

10. It appears likely some version of Raise the Age will pass the Legislature this year, but what version will wind up in the budget?
With North Carolina, New York is one of just two states that tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system. Cuomo and Assembly Democrats have for years sought to “raise the age,” but Senate Republicans have opposed the measure. Now, at the behest of the IDC, the Senate GOP appears open to some version of raising the age of criminal responsibility, and negotiations of the details are happening.

The only thing that may hold up a raise the age deal would be if the Assembly and Cuomo are not willing to go along with what the Senate is willing to do. In other words, the devil is in the details, and we will soon see if the sides can come to a compromise. Senate and Assembly Democrats have warned that they are skeptical of a watered-down deal that keeps too many offenses in criminal court as opposed to family court, or that has a too-long timeline for implementation.

11. Governor Cuomo proposed allocating $200 million in this budget for the multi-year construction of the Empire State Trail, but has been met with limited enthusiasm -- can he salvage the project?
The Empire State Trail is to some one of Cuomo’s most exciting 2017 proposals; proponents of the project say it will put New York on the national biking and hiking map and give a boost to state tourism and coffers. The Senate has rejected the Empire State Trail plan to make room for “other funding priorities," and the Assembly allocated only $20 million for the project.

If Cuomo makes the funding enough of a priority in negotiations, his desired allocation is likely to be there when the votes are cast at the end of the week.

12. Will ride-hailing apps be legalized for areas outside New York City?
The push to expand ride-hailing -- apps like Uber and Lyft -- has the support of the governor, Republicans and Democrats in both houses who argue the expansion would be good for local economies while reducing drunken driving and expanding transportation options.

The Senate has approved a bill to expand ride-hailing apps outside New York City, where they are currently legal. The major sticking point in negotiations is the same as last year, when a deal was elusive: the insurance requirements that companies will be forced to meet.

13. Will government ethics, campaign finance and/or voting reforms be included in the budget?
Though Cuomo’s executive budget includes an ambitious ethics and electoral reform agenda, much of which has the support of the Assembly majority, Senate Republicans have indicated that they will block the measures. The governor, who has not publicly pushed for reform in these areas since his State of the State, has indicated that he will negotiate them after the budget is passed.

“We are going to try like heck. It’s not necessarily a budget discussion. The budget is primarily finances. If there’s a policy matter that  related to the finances then I try to include it because it’s good to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about we are going to take up after the budget,” Cuomo said during a press conference last week.

One thing both houses reject is the establishment of new inspectors general, which are appointed by the executive branch, at the state education department and Port Authority. Both houses also are pushing for increased disclosure and transparency measures for Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs), but it is unlikely Cuomo will agree.

14. Senate Republicans seem intent on reforming workers’ compensation, will they get anywhere?
The governor included mention of workers’ compensation reform in his budget proposal, and Senate Republicans, who last year compromised with their Democratic colleagues on minimum wage increases and paid family leave, are emphasizing sweeping changes to workers’ compensation as a top priority this year. The Senate’s one-house budget included a number of workers’ compensation reforms, like updates to duration caps, streamlining measures, and independent medical examinations.

“High workers' compensation costs threaten New York’s future. These high costs are already holding down wages across the state, but further increases in premiums will negatively impact job growth and could ultimately result in hardworking men and women losing their jobs,” said Flanagan at a March 15 general budget conference committee.

The business community says the rising cost of workers’ compensation has become unsustainable, while labor groups argue that arbitrary caps on how long recipients may receive payments put at risk those who are permanently injured on the job.

15. Will the budget include provisions to protect New York’s immigrant and LGBTQ communities in the face of threats from the Trump administration?
With a new federal administration that has wasted no time implementing a crackdown on immigrants and a calling for the removal protections for LGBTQ Americans and women, among other groups, the Assembly passed a series of measures to foster state-level safeguards. The Liberty Act prohibits city and state officials, including law enforcement, from needlessly inquiring about someone’s immigration status and GENDA (the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act) -- which has the support of the IDC -- bars discrimination based on gender identity.

There are also questions around funding for immigrant legal services, but most items in these categories are not priorities for Senate Republicans, who almost exclusively hail from outside New York City.

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by Ben Max and Rachel Silberstein

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note: this story has been updated to reflect Cuomo's Monday comments on the mansion tax.

Will Latest Indictment Give New Life to Ethics Reform in Albany? Don’t Bet On It


rob ortt

State Sen. Rob Ortt (photo: @SenatorOrtt)


Corruption charges brought against a member of the state Senate Republican majority Wednesday have provided an opportunity for Democrats to jumpstart the seemingly dormant conversation on government ethics as state budget negotiations enter their final week.

Senator Rob Ortt, of Niagara County, pleaded not guilty in Albany County Court Thursday morning, following his indictment on three felony counts of filing a false instrument, according to reports. For state government, this is just the latest scandal in an unrelenting stream of misconduct cases brought against members of both legislative houses on both sides of the political aisle, as well as individuals from and associated with the executive branch.

More than 30 current or former New York state lawmakers have been convicted of crimes or accused of wrongdoing over the last decade, according to a New York Times tally.

The charges against Ortt, who maintains his innocence, come as legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo face an April 1 deadline for a new budget. They also add a new dynamic to the miniscule difference that accounts for party control in the state Senate, where Republicans hold a bare majority and Democrats are divided among themselves.

The Senate’s mainline Democrats, eager to regain control of the house, quickly jumped on this latest scandal as an opportunity to once again push for ethics reform, something that leaders of the majority conferences and the governor have shown reluctance in addressing this year. Cuomo laid out an ambitious reform agenda in January, but has done nothing to promote it publicly since.

“Once again this highlights the need for real ethics reforms, something the Senate Democrats have been calling on for years, and really shows the absurdity that there has been no talk in this budget process of cleaning up Albany and passing the strong ethics reforms,” said Senate Democratic Conference communications director Mike Murphy in a statement.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s probe of election fraud in Niagara County found that Ortt’s wife held a no-show job, allegedly in order to offset a $5,000 salary reduction in Ortt’s previous capacity as Mayor of North Tonawanda, according to the charges.

A defiant Ortt denied the allegations to reporters after a court appearance Thursday with his lawyer Steve Coffey. “I am not guilty. I am not resigning. I believe I will be exonerated and vindicated,” said Ortt.

Ortt and his attorney both maintain that the indictment brought by the attorney general’s office is politically motivated, a charge denied by Schneiderman.

The Niagara County case was referred to Schneiderman by the state Board of Elections, a bipartisan agency. Schneiderman, a Democrat and former state senator, has prosecuted cases involving Democrats like former Senator Shirley Huntley of Queens, New York City Council Member Ruben Wills, and Democratic political operative Steve Pigeon, as well as Republicans.

Additional charges related to the probe were brought against Ortt’s predecessor, former Senator George Maziarz, also a Republican, who is alleged to have “orchestrated a multilayered pass-through scheme that enabled him to use money from his own campaign committee” as well as the from the Niagara County Republican Committee, “to funnel secret campaign payments to a former senate staffer who had left government service amid charges of sexual harassment,” according to the Attorney General’s Office.

“No-show jobs and secret payments are the lifeblood of public corruption,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve full and honest disclosures by their elected officials — not the graft and shadowy payments uncovered by our investigation. These allegations represent a shameful breach of the public trust — and we will hold those responsible to account.”

Maziarz, who also pleaded not guilty Thursday, was charged with five felony counts of offering a false instrument for filing. If convicted, both Ortt and Maziarz face maximum sentences of one and a third to four years on each count.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, in an appearance with reporters, stood behind Ortt, saying he was confident in the judicial system and that he would not expect his colleague to resign.

“I’m going to continue to work with Rob, I’m sure he’s going to be back here tomorrow. The primary thing that he’s concerned about and I am concerned with is getting the budget done in a timely fashion,” said Flanagan.

Typically, leaders of majority legislative conferences are resistant to increased oversight and transparency measures, as well as limitations on outside income or campaign contributions, while members of the minority conferences are for more reform. In the Legislature’s one-house budget resolutions, voted through last week, the Senate and Assembly presented ethics reform plans that were not particularly aligned. Notably, the Assembly’s resolution included more support for reform, including provisions for early and automatic voting, restrictions on use of campaign housekeeping accounts, and closure of the LLC loophole, which allows lawmakers to benefit from nearly unlimited and opaque campaign contributions.

The resolutions are meant to serve as guiding documents during budget negotiations, which occur among the “three men in a room” -- in this case, Governor Cuomo, Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and, this year, a fourth man, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein.

Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has been mostly silent on ethics since introducing his wide-ranging plan for reform during his State of the State, which touched on campaign finance reform, increased contract oversight, and electoral reform. At a press conference earlier this week, Cuomo, who wields significant leverage over priorities addressed in budget talks, said policy matters, such as voting and ethics reforms, would likely be tackled after the budget was delivered.

“The budget is primarily about finances,” Cuomo said in response to a question from a WNYC reporter. “If there’s a policy matter that is related to the finances then I try to include it, because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about, we are going to take up after the budget.”

"[I]t’s hard to believe that charges against one senator and one former senator will move the needle when convictions against the former leader of the Senate and the former speaker of the Assembly didn’t,” said Blair Horner of NYPIRG about the prospects of the latest indictments leading to reform. "It does remind everybody about how bad things are in Albany, that they have not really solved the problem," Horner said.

Senate Republicans have opposed closure of the LLC loophole, which good government groups argue makes lawmakers particularly susceptible to pay-to-play politics. Earlier this week, when asked about calls from good government to include significant ethics reform in the state budget, Flanagan pointed to the Legislature’s moves to increase transparency.

“I would say that the good government advocates have not been looking at what we’ve done in the past six years,” Flanagan said. “We have more transparency and more disclosure measures for elected officials than any other state in the country.”

John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said that the increased transparency measures are good, but only meaningful campaign finance reform will stem the flow of corruption in Albany.

“Transparency is the first step you take in the long road towards clean government,” said Kaehny. “The crucial steps that have to happen are restrictions on unlimited political giving, in particular, closing the LLC loophole and housekeeping accounts. Otherwise there’s just a gusher of money pouring in.”

But will the latest indictment drive the Legislature to overhaul its laws? “I think that’s pretty unlikely,” said Kaehny.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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95 Faith Leaders Join Push for Passage of State Rent Subsidy Proposal


church prayer

Prayer at Cavalry Baptist Church (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


As New York City battles a homelessness crisis, with 60,000 people in shelters, a statewide proposal to drastically reduce and prevent homelessness is gaining groundswell support. On Monday, dozens of faith leaders from across the state signed a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo, calling his attention to that plan, the Home Stability Support program.

The HSS proposal, sponsored by Democratic Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi of Queens, would replace the state’s existing patchwork system of rental subsidies with a single supplement for families and individuals who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. It would apply to those receiving public assistance and people facing evictions or homelessness because of hazardous living conditions or domestic violence.

“The problem of homelessness has reached a critical juncture,” reads the letter signed by 95 faith leaders from 15 cities across the state. “The costs to our communities are unsustainable. It is time to boldly and adequately attack the preventable causes of record homelessness.”

The HSS proposal would provide state funding to bridge the gap between state shelter allowances (rental supplements given to those on public assistance, which are between $264 and $447 a month depending on household size) and up to 85 percent of the household’s fair market rent. It would also give local jurisdictions the option to raise that supplement to 100 percent.

“This is a hard one to oppose,” said Marc Greenberg, executive director of the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing and one of the leaders on the letter to Cuomo. “It’s a choice between keeping a family in a welfare hotel for $3,500 or more a month, as opposed to paying $1,500 to $2,000 to keep them in their homes.”

A spokesperson for the governor’s office said they are reviewing the proposal, which has strong support in the Democratically-controlled Assembly, but a less than favorable outlook in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed support for the plan, which would drastically overhaul the fight against homelessness, but has said he is not counting on its passage. He has continued to call out the state for its limited help in preventing homelessness going back several years, and pushed ahead with his own multi-pronged effort that has seen limited results -- de Blasio’s combination of rental subsidies and eviction-protection efforts have helped stabilize the rise in homelessness and prevented the homeless population from hitting 70,000, which is where his office says it would be if not for its programs.

De Blasio recently outlined a new approach to sheltering homeless New Yorkers, and announced that a new, more sober goal of reducing the shelter population to about 57,500 over the next five years.

The HHS proposal, which would cost the state about $450 million a year, could be a game-changer. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has estimated that it could reduce the city’s shelter population by 80 percent in 10 years for families with children and by 60 percent for adult families. It would also save the city $316.6 million in the same time by keeping people out of shelters.

To ease concerns about the price tag, Assembly Democrats opted to phase the program in over five years, at an initial cost of $40 million in the first year, which they included in their one-house budget resolution last week. “I see it as a no-brainer,” said Assembly Member Hevesi, in a brief phone interview. “I haven’t heard any objection that we couldn’t counter. You’re helping vulnerable people get off the streets and stay off the streets.”

Hevesi said he’s had productive conversations with Republican Senators about the proposal and has met with the governor to discuss it. He’s optimistic about its prospects. “I think we’re in a good place for now,” he said.

The proposal has significant support from elected representatives and community advocates -- four of New York City’s five borough presidents also announced their support this week. But, to pass the plan must meet approval from not just the state Assembly, but also Cuomo and the Senate.

Significantly, state Senator Jeff Klein, who leads the Senate Independent Democratic Conference, has announced his support for the subsidy proposal. Klein, who also recently expressed opposition to de Blasio’s shelter siting plans, sees HHS as smart economically and for communities. The IDC mentioned the proposal in its own Senate budget resolution, but the Senate majority did not.

“We included it in our budget proposal and believe it's critically important to help citizens access adequate housing,” said Mike Whyland, spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in an email. “That is our goal as we negotiate the final budget.”

Spokespersons for the Senate majority and the IDC did not respond to requests for comment.

“The federal landscape is changing, and whatever funds we’re using could be used more effectively this way,” said Greenberg, of the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing. “The governor would be wise to support this.”

For the coalition of faith leaders, support for the program transcends politics as they fight the homelessness battle on the frontlines. “It cannot be politics as usual when it comes to people’s lives,” said Greenberg. “What the faith community is trying to do is remind lawmakers of the demands of their own faith...If you say you have faith, what does your faith challenge you to do?"

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo Punts Voting Reform to ‘After the Budget’


Cuomo press conference NYC

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


Governor Andrew Cuomo all but confirmed Tuesday that major voting reforms he’s proposed would not be part of the new state budget, which is due by April 1.

In January, Cuomo outlined the “Democracy Project” as part of his 2017 State of the State agenda, and included its widely prized measures like early voting, same-day voter registration, and an enhanced form of automatic voter registration in one of his budget bills. But, on Tuesday Cuomo indicated that the push to modernize New York’s antiquated voting laws would be left for the April through June legislative session that follows budget adoption.

Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has proposed sweeping voting reforms before, and New York has watched as they have been implemented with successful results in dozens of other states, while paltry voter turnout continues here.

On Tuesday, Cuomo appeared at a press conference in New York City, which the governor had called to criticize two Republican congressional representatives from New York for authoring amendments to the federal health plan that would shift certain Medicaid burdens in New York from the counties to the state. During the question-and-answer session, a WNYC reporter asked Cuomo how he would be able to persuade Senate Republicans to adopt his voting reform agenda during budget negotiations.

“We are going to try like heck,” he said, but added, “It’s not necessarily a budget discussion,” conceding a point Cuomo is typically hesitant to make.

“The budget is primarily about finances,” Cuomo continued. “If there’s a policy matter that is related to the finances then I try to include it, because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about we are going to take up after the budget.”

Between now and April 1, Cuomo and legislative leaders will negotiate the details of the new state budget. The Governor sets the stage for budget season with his Executive Budget in January, which is then followed by legislative hearings, one-house budget resolutions that respond to the Governor’s proposals, and closed-door negotiations. The spending and policy pieces that make it into the budget often depend upon how much priority agenda items are given by the Governor, the Senate Majority, and the Assembly Majority.

Cuomo, as the most powerful of the “three men in the room,” can often push through his top priorities, as he did last year with $15 minimum wage and paid family leave programs.

In January, Cuomo announced the Democracy Project in a press release amid his six-stop State of the State tour. The goal, Cuomo's announcement stated, was “modernizing voting in New York to increase participation in the democratic system.” The Democracy Project “will remove barriers to voter registration" and "make voting easier for New Yorkers.”

“Early voting will shorten lines at the polls,” the announcement stated, “allow New Yorkers to cast ballots up to 12 days before Election Day.” It also promised that automatic and same-day voter registration “will increase voter participation.”

While Democrats who control the Assembly appear open to the three voting reforms, among others, they do not appear to be placing it especially high on their list of priorities. Republicans who control the state Senate are opposed to voting reform, worrying that greater turnout could spell the end of their paper-thin majority margin.

Two of the three reforms, early voting and automatic registration, are widely implemented throughout the country, and would be easy to implement legislatively, but have stalled in the Senate. Along with the Assembly majority, the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Senate Democrats who have a ruling coalition with Republicans, also support the measures. However, the IDC’s power to move the GOP conference in this case may be especially limited.

Same-day voter registration, which would allow unregistered voters to register and vote on Election Day, would likely have to be implemented through a state constitutional amendment, which requires the approval of both legislative houses for two consecutive legislative cycles and then approval by the public through a ballot vote.

Last week, representatives from advocacy groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Working Families Party, and Common Cause NY joined with female state lawmakers at the state Capitol to push for early voting and automatic registration to be included in the budget. The press conference, which coincided with Women’s History Month and framed voter inclusion as a women’s issue, was followed by a rally on Sunday in New York City’s Battery Park.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, who helped organized the press conference and the rally, criticized the governor’s Tuesday revelation.

“It's not enough to ‘try like heck,’” Lerner said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve the same rights as voters in Alaska and Vermont. We need voting reform now, and that means including funding in the 2017 budget to ensure that the next election cycle is an example for the nation, not a national embarrassment."

Lerner noted that New York ranked 41st in the nation for voter turnout (based on the 2016 presidential election), with less than a third of eligible voters participating. “Far from the progressive symbol the Governor likes to tout, we are out of step with 34 other states that have some form of early voting, and nowhere near California which also has Automatic Voter Registration,” Lerner said.

On Tuesday Cuomo did not cast blame on anyone for what he was foreshadowing as a failure to move voting reform through the budget. At the press conference, however, he did tout how well he has been able to work with Republicans over the past six years. He did not indicate that he planned to try to convince Senate Republicans to back his voting reform agenda.

A few days ago, Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans, told WNYC radio, "There are many bills out there which seek to boost voter participation. We'll take a look at all of them."

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by Ben Max and Rachel Silberstein

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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