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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 13

Gotham Gazette:

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio will deliver his State of the City speech on Monday evening at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, likely touting the accomplishments of his first three years in office as he gets ready to face reelection later this year. In announcements last Friday and over the weekend, the mayor revealed a few of the major initiatives he will include in his speech -- a $1.9 billion investment to increase affordability at 10,000 units of housing for seniors, veterans and low-income New Yorkers; a new Elder Rent Assistance Program for 25,000 seniors that would be funded through the mayor's proposed Mansion Tax; and a $93 million program to provide free legal services for tenants in housing court. 

A nonpartisan City Council special election is scheduled for Tuesday in Harlem's District 9 for the seat vacated by Inez Dickens, who was elected to the state Assembly in November. Since it is a special election, no party primary was held and each candidate is running on their own party line. Special elections tend to draw few voters to the polls and the winner, out of nearly a dozen candidates, will likely be decided by a small number of votes. The new council member will serve through the remainder of Dickens' term and be up for reelection later this year. 

On Thursday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will be giving her State of the City speech in Brooklyn, her final one as speaker as she will be term limited out of the Council this year. 

Up in Albany, budget hearings continue as the Legislature examines Governor Andrew Cuomo's executive budget which was released last month.   

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

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

The run of the week in detail:

At the City Council on Monday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet to discuss several proposed laws on youth in detention facilities, a proposed law on “requiring the administration for children’s services to maintain electronic health records for youth in the juvenile justice system,” and a proposed resolution asking New York State to amend an article of the Civil Practice Law and Rules.
  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Transportation will hold an oversight hearing on one question--”How can public transportation better serve the needs of New York City residents?”
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Technology will meet to discuss a proposed law on electronic emergency notifications.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Finance will meet to discuss four proposed laws on the commercial rent tax.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Parks and Recreation will hold an oversight hearing on “an update on the status of the Parks Without Borders initiative,” and to discuss proposed laws that would deal with pedestrian access to park facilities and “the naming of 40 thoroughfares and public places.”

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

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

On Monday at 8 a.m., NYU Wagner and the Center for an Urban Future will hold a policy symposium titled “Driving Innovation: Can Cities Serve as Models for Solving Some of the Nation’s Biggest Domestic Policy Challenges?” At this symposium, the participants will grapple with the question of whether cities will be able to maintain, or even accelerate, progress under the existence of the Trump administration. The speakers include Nigel Jacob, Co-Chair of the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics in the City of Boston; Christiana McFarland, Research Director at the National League of Cities; Josh Moskowitz, Director of Global Public Affairs at Citi; Michael Nutter, Former Mayor of Philadelphia; and Mindy Tarlow, Director of the Mayor's Office of Operations in New York. This event will take place at NYU’s Puck Building (295 Lafayette Street) in the Rudin Conference Room (2nd Floor).

On Monday at 9 a.m., Riders Alliance will hold a rally on the steps of City Hall on MetroCard fares.

At 9:30 a.m. on Monday, there will be a joint legislative budget hearing on environmental conservation in Hearing Room B of the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

At 11 a.m. in Albany on Monday, Senate Democrats will hold a news conference at the Capitol calling for action on raising the age of adult criminal responsibility in New York. 

At 12 p.m. on Monday, New York City Council members and business representatives from Manhattan will host a news conference at City Hall "in support of reforming the Commercial Rent Tax -- an unfair, 1960s-era tax that only applies to businesses south of 96th Street in Manhattan." 

At 12:30 p.m., members of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference and Assembly Democrats will "join Foreclosure Prevention Network Organizations to release a whitepaper and call for $30 million over two years for foreclosure prevention legal services," according to a press release. 

At 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Open Society Foundations of New York will hold a live webcast called “Getting Respect: Responding to Stigma and Discrimination in the United States, Brazil, and Israel.” At this event, Harvard Professor Michèle Lamont will discuss her book, which “illuminates the different kinds of stigmatizing or discriminatory incidents individuals encounter in each country, how they respond to these occurrences, and what they view as the best strategy—whether individually, collectively, through confrontation, or through self-improvement—for dealing with such events.”

On Monday at 7 p.m., Mayor de Blasio will deliver his State of the City speech at the Apollo Theater.

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Governmental Operations will meet to discuss a proposed law related to “improving access to city services for limited English proficiency individuals.”
  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Public Safety will meet to discuss the proposed Nuisance Abatement Fairness Act, a legislative package of thirteen bills, as well as a proposed law prohibiting the use of all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes in the city.
  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Women’s Issues and the Committee on Higher Education will hold a joint oversight hearing on “child care centers at the City University of New York.”
  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet for an oversight hearing on the towing industry in New York City, and to discuss a proposed law that would increase the maximum charges for towing motor vehicles.
  • At 11 a.m., the Committee on Land Use will meet.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Housing and Buildings and the Committee on Economic Development will hold a joint oversight hearing on “evaluating the City’s purchase of FHA-financed underwater mortgages through the Community Restoration Program.”

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

There will be a special election in City Council District 9 in Harlem. 

At 9 a.m. on Tuesday, the New York City Industrial Development Agency will hold a Board of Directors Meeting.

At 9 a.m. on Tuesday, the NYC Board of Correction will hold a public meeting.

At 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, there will be a joint legislative budget hearing on elementary and secondary education in Hearing Room B of the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Finance will meet.
  • At 1:30 p.m., the City Council will hold a stated meeting.
  • At 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, there will be a joint legislative budget hearing on transportation in Hearing Room B of the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

At 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the Brennan Center for Justice will hold “The Future of Miranda: Police Practices and Power in the Modern Legal Landscape.” The symposium is centered on issues surrounding Miranda v. Arizona, a Supreme Court decision which had a major impact on law enforcement. The panels at this symposium “will explore the ways in which Miranda and related law-enforcement issues have evolved in the 50 years since the decision was issued.” People can RSVP through this link.

On Wednesday at 11 a.m., the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs will hold a discussion with DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas.

At 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will hold a hearing on New York City’s proposed budget.

At 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy will hold “Can we Put a Price on Student Achievement?: Financial Returns for Academic Success.” The speakers are Eric A. Hanushek, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research; and Henry Levin, the William H. Kilpatrick Professor of Economics and Education at Columbia Teachers College. These two speakers will be in conversation with David Steiner, Executive Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, and Professor of the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University.

At 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Councilman Corey Johnson will hold a Community Resource Fair. This event will talk about the various services and resources that are available to people who live in New York City.

At 6 p.m. on Wednesday, the Manhattan Institute will hold a “Young Leaders Circle Forum With Matt Oczkowski.” At this event, Oczkowski, who is the Head of Product at Cambridge Analytica, will answer questions like these: “What can big data—and organizations such as Cambridge Analytica—do to shape the future of the electoral process around the globe? And how did Cambridge, in particular, use information about consumer behavior to shape messaging and maximize campaign resources to deliver Trump's unforeseen victory?”

At 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo will continue her “Community Exchange Series.” At this event, Cumbo will talk about “Land Use, Zoning, and Knowing Your Rights as a Tenant.” This event will take place at Medgar Evers College, which is at 1638 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn.

On Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., Council Member Dan Garodnick will hold “Defending the Vulnerable: Call to Action on Immigration and Refugee Crisis.” This event “will cover a variety of timely issues -- from the Executive Orders to sanctuary cities, and much more.”


At 8 a.m. on Thursday, Crain’s New York will hold the “Crain’s 2017 Business Breakfast Forum: NYC’s Regulators.” At this event, top regulators in New York City “will discuss reforms they would like to see, how businesses can avoid trouble and their top priorities for 2017.” The regulators speaking at this event include Daniel D. Brownell, Commissioner and Chair of the New York City Business Integrity Commission; Mark Peters, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation; and Lorelei Salas, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs. The moderator will be Erik Engquist the Assistant Managing Editor at Crain's New York Business.

At 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, there will be a joint legislative budget hearing on health/Medicaid in Hearing Room B of the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

At 12 p.m. on Thursday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will deliver her State of the City Address. This will take place at Kings Theatre which is at 1027 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn.

At 12 p.m. on Thursday, the Manhattan Institute will hold “After Indian Point the Risks Of Renewables.” At this event, Robert Bryce, the Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, will discuss the issues he sees in the future once the Indian Point Energy Center closes.

Friday and the weekend:

The weekend of February 17 is Caucus Weekend in Albany. From 9 a.m. on Friday to 12 p.m. on Saturday, the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators and New York City Council will hold “Caucus Weekend.”

At 6 p.m. on Saturday, “Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and New York Urban League Honors Activist Organizations.” The three organizations which will be honored at this event are West Harlem Environmental Action, the New York Immigrant Coalition, and the NYS Nurses Association.

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

by Brendan Birth and Samar Khurshid

Attorney General Unveils Sweeping Voting Reform Package

Schneiderman releases voting reform legislation

Attorney General Schneiderman with voting reform advocates outside Federal Hall (photo: @AGSchneiderman)

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman unveiled an extensive voting reform package Wednesday that aims to streamline New York’s voter registration system, boost voter participation and increase voter turnout.

Standing with elected officials, good government groups, union members, and voting reform advocates outside Federal Hall in Manhattan, Schneiderman released the legislation, called the New York Votes Act. The bill contains provisions to update the state’s voting systems by adding early voting, automatic and same-day voter registration, consolidated primaries, shortened party registration deadlines, increased language access at the polls, online absentee ballots, and more. “Any law that makes it easier to vote is a good law; any law that makes it harder to vote is a bad law,” said Schneiderman, in a statement Wednesday. “New York has long been a bastion of democracy, but our state’s current system of registration and voting is an affront to that legacy.”

New York State has seen abysmal voter turnout for years. In 2014, the state ranked 49th of 50 in the country, with just 29 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots in the general election. While other states have tweaked their voting laws to encourage participation, voter turnout in New York has only grown worse, with just 19.7 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots in the 2016 presidential primaries.

Many of Schneiderman’s proposals grew out of the findings and recommendations from a December 2016 report produced by his office on the problems that voters faced during the presidential elections. The attorney general’s office was flooded with thousands of complaints of problems at the polls during April’s primary as well as hundreds during the November general election. These barriers, and the subsequent victory of Donald Trump, a historically unpopular president, have spurred renewed interest from New York’s top elected officials in modernizing the state’s electoral system.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a fresh push for reform in the weeks leading up to election day. On Wednesday, the mayor praised Schneiderman’s proposal, in a statement saying it would “help bring New York up to speed and ensure New Yorkers statewide aren't turned away from casting their ballots as a result of senseless roadblocks.” Governor Andrew Cuomo has also pushed strongly for voting reform, making it a key platform in his State of the State agenda this year.

Schneiderman’s bill, which encompasses both Cuomo’s and de Blasio’s voting reform proposals, will be sponsored in the state Assembly by Assemblymember Michael Cusick, a Staten Island Democrat who chairs the body’s election law committee. “This legislation, aimed to simplify the voting process and improve voter accessibility, will give citizens a better opportunity to participate in the democratic process by increasing voter participation across New York State,” said Cusick, in a statement.

In previous years, similar voting reforms were passed by the Assembly and backed by Senate Democrats, but were ultimately blocked by the GOP Senate Majority. Schneiderman’s sweeping legislation, however, appears to have gained an added push from the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) -- an eight-member body that has formed a ruling coalition with Senate Republicans. The legislation will be sponsored by IDC member Senator David Carlucci, and the body’s seven other members will co-sponsor the bill, IDC member Senator Diane Savino told the Staten Island Advance.

IDC Leader Jeff Klein commended the attorney general’s legislation in a statement, saying, “The Independent Democratic Conference has long been an advocate for making our election process simpler and more accessible for all New Yorkers."

Good government groups, many of which were represented at Wednesday’s news conference, applauded Schneiderman’s proposal to modernize the state electoral system. “New York ranks consistently as one of the nation's worst in terms of voter participation, driven by state laws that create obstacles to voting,” said Megan Ahearn, program director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, “Much of the rest of the nation has developed practices that improve voter turnout. The Attorney General's package relies on those best practices.”

Barbara Bartoletti, Legislative Director for the League of Women Voters of New York State urged the Governor and the Legislature to act on the reform as soon as possible to ensure that voters do not face barriers in future elections. “Laws that would allow for automatic voter registration, early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and consolidation of primary elections will empower voters and give greater access to the ballot,” she said.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Citing Trump Threat, Assembly Passes New Immigrant Protections Along With DREAM Act


Assembly Speaker Heastie (photo: @CarlHeastie) 

The New York State Assembly passed a slew of bills on Monday aimed at protecting immigrant New Yorkers in the wake of the federal government’s anti-immigrant crackdown which sparked protests at airports around the country last week.

The legislative package, called the New York State Liberty Act, prohibits city and state law enforcement officials from unnecessarily questioning someone’s immigration status, decreases jail time for misdemeanor offenses, and protects the privacy of data collected through New York City’s municipal identification program. The Act, which was first announced at a news conference on Monday prior to the legislative session, was passed in conjunction with the Assembly’s fifth passage of the New York DREAM Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants attending higher education institutions.

The first bill, which dictates how police and government agencies may interact with immigrant New Yorkers, was sponsored by Assemblymember Francisco Moya, a Democrat from Queens who also sponsored the DREAM Act bill. “Immigrants are a vital asset to our nation and their contributions are undeniable in New York's communities, work force, colleges and universities,” Moya said, in a statement. "Our conference has been championing the DREAM Act for years and the stakes have never been higher. We cannot stifle the potential of thousands of New York students in the name of moral high ground."

The Liberty Act would also prohibit state and local agencies from expending resources to help the federal government create or maintain a database or registry based on race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or national or ethnic origin -- a response to President Donald Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban,” an executive order barring immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country. The president’s order was suspended by a federal appeals court over the weekend.

The second half of the Assembly’s legislation wades into a political tug-of-war between Mayor Bill de Blasio and a pair of Republican state lawmakers over New York City’s policy towards undocumented immigrants and what will become of the data associated with New York City’s municipal identification program (IDNYC).

The IDNYC program, launched by de Blasio’s administration in 2015, aimed to remove barriers that some New Yorkers face in obtaining identification -- including undocumented immigrants, the homeless, transgendered individuals, and the formerly incarcerated -- granting them access to important city services. So far, the city has received more than 900,000 applications for IDNYC.

The IDNYC law included a clause allowing the city to flush certain information from the records after two years, or before December 31, 2016, a clause the city was ready to invoke in the wake of Donald Trump’s election and his vow to deport all undocumented immigrants. Assembly Members Ron Castorina and Nicole Malliotakis, Republicans from Staten Island, argued that the city would pose a risk to national security by deleting that information, and sued the administration, making the case to a Richmond County Supreme Court judge that it would violate the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), which bars the destruction of city records. The lawmakers dispute privacy violation claims noting that FOIL law allows documents to be submitted with redacted information to protect individual privacy. A judge ruled in December that the city could not purge the data until the lawsuit was resolved. 

Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, a Bronx Democrat, and chair of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, the sponsor of the new bill, noted that New York City residents signed up for municipal IDs under the impression that records would be sealed, so any inquiry into the information should be denied under FOIL exemption. A second bill sponsored by Crespo reduces the maximum sentence for misdemeanor offenses by one day from one year to 364 days, an apparent technicality that could potentially spare thousands of immigrants from deportation under federal law over certain lesser offenses. Some misdemeanor offenses can result in automatic deportation because of New York State's current sentencing standards, a harsh mandatory consequence for misdemeanor conviction. This bill would allow judges to use discretion in whether deportation is warranted for each individual case.

Citing the current anti-immigrant political climate, Crespo said, “Immigrants make substantial contributions to our communities and are being scapegoated by the White House. Now more than ever, we must take a stand against those who wish to cast millions of hardworking people to live in the shadows."

In New York City, Mayor de Blasio has vowed to protect the identities of IDNYC cardholders at all costs. "We are not going to sacrifice half a million people who live among us and are part of our community," de Blasio told reporters days after Donald Trump won the presidency.

Monday’s vote in Albany also marked the fifth time the New York DREAM Act has been passed by the state Assembly since 2010, when the federal version of the DREAM Act -- one that would put undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship -- died in the United States Senate. In 2014, a version of the New York DREAM Act was voted down in the state Senate by a tiny margin, despite having support of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) -- an increasingly powerful breakaway group of Democrats that aligns itself with Republicans. Two democratic senators, Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder, who also caucuses with Senate Republicans, and Ted O’Brien of Rochester, voted against the act. The IDC leadership has indicated that the conference will continue to push for the DREAM Act. IDC member Senator Marisol Alcantara, who was recently elected to the Senate and became the sixth Democrat to join the conference, told Politico New York that passage of the DREAM Act is on the top of her agenda for 2017.

At the Monday news conference, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, said he hoped the Senate would once again take up the bill and pass the DREAM Act. “Let’s hope that this is the last time you have to come up to ask us to get the DREAM Act done,” Heastie told the crowd of activists and Dreamers who had gathered at the Capitol.

When asked how the new legislation and the DREAM Act would interact with Cuomo’s Excelsior scholarship -- which provides tuition free college for middle class New Yorkers, and includes a provision for funding for Dreamers -- Heastie said the plan was a good one, but the Assembly would counter it with their own version of the scholarship.

“Of course we support helping our Dreamers go to college; they’re interconnected issues for us, because we have an overall feeling that we like to see as much access as possible for our young people that are here in the state of New York,” Heastie said. “The premise of the governor's proposal...we’re OK with, but we are going to come out with our own vision.”

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.


The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 6

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

One of the big stories this week is what is happening in the fight over the city’s fee on plastic and paper carryout bags that is supposed to go into effect February 15 but state lawmakers are moving to block. Both houses of the state Legislature are set to pass legislation stopping the implementation of the nickel-per-bag fee, much to the disappointment of environmentalists, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and City Council members who passed the city legislation.

On Sunday, according to the media advisory of those involved, there was a rally at City Hall during which “Environmental groups and elected officials call for Assembly, Senate and Governor to Oppose Assembly Bill No. 4883 and Senate Bill No. 4158, which would nullify NYC’s Bring Your Own Bag Law -- the City’s thoroughly-vetted, democratically-adopted, easy-to-follow, environmentally-sound, Bring Your Own Bag Law.”

It is unclear how Gov. Andrew Cuomo will act on the legislation. He has kept his thoughts close to the vest, but it will up to him whether to sign or veto the state legislation. There is a chance that if Cuomo were to use a veto, the Legislature would then override it.

Also, on Monday in Albany, “the New York State Senate is expected to take up a comprehensive bill to bring ride-sharing to Upstate communities and improve local economies. The new bill (S4159), sponsored by Senate Insurance Committee Chairman James L. Seward (R-C-I-Ref, Oneonta) provides the framework for ride-sharing companies to expand operations outside of New York City and enable new jobs to be created by offering more safe, reliable transportation options to Upstate residents and visitors.”

Generally speaking, it will be another busy week of budget and other hearings in Albany as the state Legislature evaluates elements of Cuomo’s executive budget, which he released in mid-January, and policy matters like the bag fee and ride-hailing apps like Uber, as mentioned above. There’s also a hearing Monday on raising the age of adult criminal responsibility in New York, one of several ongoing, hot-button issues at the state level.  

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

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

The run of the week in detail:


At the City Council on Monday:

  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Technology will hold an oversight hearing on the economic impact of the film and television industries in New York City.

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

At 8:30 a.m. on Monday, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce will hold a “Special Congressional Breakfast Forum.” This event will feature the Brooklyn Delegation of the United States House of Representatives. These people “will share their perspectives on the new administration and on the 2017 Congressional session.”

On Monday at 10 a.m., Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and the Queens Borough Board “will hold a public hearing on the Mayor’s Fiscal Year 2018 Preliminary Budget.” This event will take place at Queens Borough Hall, which is on 120-55 Queens Boulevard in Queens. People from the general public are encouraged to testify at this hearing.

On Monday at 1 p.m., there will be a joint legislative budget hearing on mental hygiene at Hearing Room B of the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

At 10:30 p.m. on Monday, the NYC Department of Homeless Services will begin its Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) count. This event “is an annual, HUD-mandated, point-in-time estimate to assess the number of individuals chronically living in New York City's public spaces.” This event will kick off at P.S. 116 in Manhattan, and Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks will kick off the event with a training session.

At 11 a.m. on Monday, the Senate Standing Committee on Children and Families and Senate Standing Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction will hold a joint public hearing on “The Age of Criminal Responsibility and its Impact in New York State.” This hearing will take place at Van Buren Hearing Room A which is on the 2nd Floor of the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

At 12 p.m. on Monday, the Senate Standing Committee on Judiciary will hold a hearing “To Consider the Nomination of Rowan D. Wilson for Associate Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals.” This hearing will take place in Room 124 of the New York State Capitol Building in Albany.

Also at 12 p.m. Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill will hold a press conference in the Bronx to discuss the latest crime statistics.

At 1:15 p.m. Monday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will hold a news conference on immigration and the DREAM Act at the Capitol in Albany. 

At 5 p.m. on Monday, Council Member Ben Kallos and the Department of Sanitation will hold a reusable bag giveaway at Fairway Market on East 86th Street.

At 6:30 p.m. on Monday, the CUNY Graduate Center will hold “Higher Education and Upward Mobility.” Economist Raj Chetty will take on questions such as these--”Which U.S. colleges best help children climb the income ladder? How can we increase access to such colleges for children from low-income families?” Opening remarks will be made by CUNY Chancellor James Milliken, and Professors Philip Kasinitz (Sociology) and Leslie McCall (Sociology and Political Science) will join Chetty in the panel discussion. David Leonhardt of The New York Times will lead the panel discussion.

At 7 p.m. on Monday, feminist.com, the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University, and Road to Market Limited will sponsor “Now What/What Now? The Urgency of an ‘Allies Agenda.’” This event promises to be “an important panel discussion and open conversation about constructing an ‘allies agenda.’” The speakers include human rights activist Jimmie Briggs; Joelle Gamble, the National Director of Network at Roosevelt Institute; City Council Member Dan Garodnick; political consultant and opinion writer Alexis Grenell; and CBS National News Correspondent Michelle Miller. The moderators of this panel are Michael Kimmel, a SUNY Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies, and Executive Director at the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities; and Marianne Schnall, the Author and Founder/Executive Director of feminist.com.

Also at 7 p.m. Monday, the mayor's taped appearance on NY1's Inside City Hall will air.

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 11 a.m., the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will meet.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Aging will meet for an oversight hearing on follow-up on social adult day care.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Veterans will hold an oversight hearing on an update on the Veterans Advisory Board.
  • At 1 p.m., the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet.

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

On Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., there will be a joint legislative budget hearing on taxes at Hearing Room B of the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Public Safety will hold an oversight hearing on “NYPD recruitment, diversity, and path to promotion.”

On Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., there will be a joint legislative budget hearing on human services at Hearing Room B of the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

On Wednesday at 10 a.m., the Assembly Standing Committee on Codes; the Assembly Standing Committee on Judiciary; and the Assembly Standing Committee on Oversight, Analysis and Investigation will hold a joint oversight hearing on “government oversight of forensic science laboratories.” This event will take place in the Assembly Hearing Room, which is at 250 Broadway, Room 1923, on the 19th Floor, in New York.

At 6 p.m. on Wednesday, City Council Member Jumaane Williams will hold “State of Immigration State of Emergency.” At this event, “attendees will learn about immigration policy changes under President Donald J. Trump and how to prepare.” Williams, State Senator Kevin Parker, State Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, and District Leader Josue Pierre will all be at this forum.

At 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the Museum of the City of New York will hold “Divided in a Diverse City.” At this event, “New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and NYC Council Member Brad Lander examine the value of “diversity” and the realities of racial segregation in New York City today.”

At 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a board meeting.

At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, there will be a Town Hall in Bedford Stuyvesant with Mayor de Blasio. This Town Hall will also be presented by City Councilman Robert Cornegy, Jr., Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, State Assemblywoman Velmanette Montgomery, and State Assemblyman Tremaine Wright. The event will be at P.S. 23, which is at 545 Willoughby Avenue.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Consumer Affairs will hold an oversight hearing on regulating New York’s towing industry, and discuss a proposed law on “increasing maximum charges for towing motor vehicles.”
  • At 11 a.m., the Committee on Land Use will meet.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committees on Women’s Issues and Higher Education will hold a joint oversight hearing on child care centers at CUNY.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Finance will discuss two proposed laws on the commercial rent tax.

At 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, the Queens Chamber of Commerce will have DSNY Commissioner Kathryn Garcia discuss Mayor de Blasio’s “One New York.”

On Thursday at 9:30 a.m., there will be a joint legislative budget hearing on housing at Hearing Room B of the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

At 10 a.m. on Thursday, the New York City Industrial Development Agency (NYCIDA) will hold a public hearing.

At 10 a.m. on Thursday, the NYC Campaign Finance Board will hold a public meeting. This will take place at at 100 Church Street, on the 12th Floor.

At 12 p.m. on Thursday, the New York City Bar will hold “Over the Rainbow: Ending Mass Incarceration - Fewer Inmates and Better Prisons.” David Yassky, a former member of the New York City Council and Dean at Pace University School of Law; and Michael Mushlin a professor at Pace University School of Law will speak at this event.

At 5 p.m. on Thursday, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice will hold an event with Mayors Against Illegal Guns. This event will feature a panel discussion with Q&A. The panelists include Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Sly Jones, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner. The moderator will be Bill Keller of The Marshall Project.

At 6 p.m. on Thursday, City Councilman Antonio Reynoso will hold his State of the District Address. People can RSVP through this link.

At 6 p.m. on Thursday, Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte will deliver her State of the District Address. She will deliver her address at the Brooklyn College Student Center (SUBO), which is located on Campus Road and East 27th Street, 6th Floor.

At 6 p.m. on Thursday, the Manhattan Institute will hold “Supreme Court At A Crossroads: Judicial Engagement VS. Judicial Restraint: What Should Conservatives Prefer?” This event will be a debate between “those who support a more engaged judiciary that vigorously enforces enumerated as well as unenumerated constitutional rights to overturn state and federal legislation and those who believe in a judiciary that takes a more limited view of the constitutional text.” The speakers at this event will be Clark Neily, Senior Attorney, Institute For Justice; and Mark Pulliam, Lawyer And Contributing Editor, Library Of Law And Liberty; Contributor, City Journal. These two speakers will provide differing views in what a conservative should want out of a pick for the Supreme Court.

At 6 p.m. on Thursday, the Urban Land Institute of New York will hold “YLG Signature Panel: Zoning The City.” At this event, the topics include “affordable housing, the East New York Rezoning, the Midtown East Rezoning, and how zoning might resolve some of the city’s greatest challenges.” The speakers will include Gail Benjamin; Carl Weisbrod, Chair of the New York City Planning Commission; Elise Wagner, Partner of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP; Vishaan Chakrabarti, Founder of Practice For Architecture And Urbanism (PAU); and David Brown, Director of Real Estate at the Archdiocese of New York.

At 7 p.m. on Thursday, the office of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will hold an “East Side L Train Workshop.” This workshop will brainstorm ideas of how to deal with the reality of a shutdown of the L Train on the 14th Street Corridor in 2019.

Friday and the weekend

At 8:15 a.m. on Friday, there will be a CityLaw Breakfast with Fidel Del Valle, Commissioner and Chief Judge of the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH).

On Friday at 3 p.m., the Center for Community and Ethnic Media will hold a Q&A with Small Business Services Commissioner Gregg Bishop. At this event, “Commissioner Bishop will focus on his department’s major initiatives such as outreach to M/WBEs about city contracting opportunities, services available to help small business owners launch and grow, partnerships with business improvement districts, industry partnerships to help support growth in the local economy, and recent work with small business owners impacted by enhanced security near Trump Tower.”

At 2 p.m. on Sunday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will deliver her “State of the Borough.” The theme of this event is “Get involved in the new era of activism!” This event will include remarks from Borough President Brewer, a panel discussion, and a Manhattan Activist Fair.

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

by Brendan Birth and Ben Max

8 Key Takeaways from Cuomo's Budget & De Blasio's Response

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De Blasio in Albany (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo released his $152.3 billion Executive Budget plan on January 17, with funding and policy proposals that stand to have significant impact on New York City. The governor’s budget is a starting point for legislative hearings and negotiations, with a fiscal year 2018 budget due by the April 1 start of the next state fiscal year.

After he and his team had some time to analyze the governor’s new spending plan and policy proposals, Mayor Bill de Blasio drove to Albany Monday for his annual budget testimony in front of the joint budget committee of the state Senate and Assembly. Before answering a wide variety of questions from state legislators, de Blasio gave an opening statement, in which he presented his on-the-record response to Cuomo’s executive budget plan in terms of what it means for New York City and his own agenda.

De Blasio’s appearance did not have as dramatic a prelude as last year, when Cuomo had proposed nearly $1 billion in Medicaid and CUNY cost shifts to the city that angered de Blasio and became the focus of intense, ultimately successful, efforts to reverse before a state budget was passed.

This year, the mayor offered another, albeit less pointed, mixed review of the governor’s budget. He praised components like the extension of the millionaires’ tax, promise of tuition-free city and state college for middle-class students, voting reforms, and increased state contribution for Medicaid costs. But, de Blasio raised concerns about Cuomo’s reworked 421-a proposal meant to spur affordable housing development, as well as several cost shifts totaling more than $100 million involving foster care, senior and special education services, pre-kindergarten, charter schools, and more.

“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 at Monday’s hearing. “These cuts include, first of all, $32.5 million through Fiscal ‘18 for public health programs, chipping away at the long history of State partnership in health funding in areas including disease control and emergency preparedness.”

While de Blasio’s testimony touched on a variety of budget related matters, the question-and-answer session that followed often veered into other categories, notably the coming city fee on takeout plastic and paper bags. There were several Cuomo proposals of great significance to New York City that were given minimal, if any, discussion at the hearing.

Cuomo’s budget will not be passed through the Legislature without changes, and de Blasio’s efforts to influence the adopted state budget will now largely rely on Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat who has been the mayor’s most important Albany ally over the last two years.

As outlined, Cuomo’s budget provides New York City a “net positive impact” of $279 million for the coming fiscal year, according to the governor’s financial plan. In total, an additional $400 million above the current year would be sent to New York City from Albany, thanks in large part to a $294.9 million school aid bump, the state picking up some Medicaid growth costs, and $40.6 million in revenue from a proposed sales tax on internet companies, like Amazon and Etsy. These added potential investments are offset by the $100 million-plus in proposed cuts and cost shifts to a variety of city departments and initiatives, according to the mayor’s estimates.

“The cost shifts were really the story for last year’s budget, though it didn't really come to fruition,” said David Friedfel, director of state studies at the Citizen’s Budget Commission. “In comparison, this year, the governor proposed a much more benign executive proposal.”

Rather, this year’s issues for de Blasio are the variety of smaller cuts and cost-shifts, as well as Cuomo’s 421-a proposal, another extension of mayoral control of city schools, which de Blasio hopes will be done this year through the budget, not afterward, and several other items like permission for the city to use design-build contracting.

One other key concern about Cuomo’s new plan -- raised by Comptroller Scott Stringer at Monday’s hearing in testimony following de Blasio’s -- is that it grants the state unilateral power to change the budget mid-year in the event that federal funding shifts suddenly. For example, if President Donald Trump follows through on his threat to defund so-called sanctuary states and cities like New York.

"I would urge you, the Legislature, to reject such an approach that would bypass this body, and do tremendous harm to cities and counties throughout the State,” Stringer said to legislators during his testimony. “I would also ask you to reject cost shifts for foster care, public health, and special education that single out New York City," he added.

An official from the state budget division told Gotham Gazette that such budget decision-making “flexibility” is necessary in the wake of uncertainty wrought by President Donald Trump’s administration and that the ability for the executive to manage mid-year deficits has been supported by rating agencies and good governance groups. Federal funding totalling $52 billion accounts for nearly one-third of the state’s anticipated operating budget, the official said.

The state official noted that the allocation of any reduction in federal support would be made uniformly across a broad set of appropriations so no program is specifically targeted.

Mayor de Blasio recently outlined his own $84.67 billion preliminary city budget for fiscal year 2018, which, for the city, begins July 1. It forecasts $14.5 billion in state grants and about $7 billion in federal grants. De Blasio did not account for potential federal cuts, saying it is too early to tell what the Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress will do.

While legislative leaders and Gov. Cuomo will debate the mid-year adjustment proposal and all other aspects of the budget, the governor’s spending and policy plans will, as always, heavily influence the final outcomes. There are significant implications for New York City on affordable housing, education, infrastructure, health care, transportation, and more. As budget hearings continue in Albany and negotiations among stakeholders including Mayor de Blasio heat up, there are eight major takeaways so far:

1. Tuition-free College
The crown jewel of Cuomo’s 2017 agenda is his promise of tuition-free college for middle class New Yorkers at city and state schools. The proposal, which seeks to build on the reduced tuition and financial aid available to low-income New Yorkers to attend CUNY and SUNY schools, was the topic of Cuomo’s first State of the State rollout event and of the state Legislature’s first budget hearing.

The plan, which Cuomo’s office projects to cost the state an additional $163 million in tuition coverage, includes undocumented immigrant students, or “Dreamers,” who have been the focus of intense debates in Albany for several years. Senate Republicans, who control that chamber, have not been supportive of the Dream Act, which Cuomo’s tuition proposals more-or-less incorporates into a larger plan, making undocumented students eligible for education aid.

Cuomo’s proposed “Excelsior Scholarship” would provide tuition-free city and state university for students from households earning up to $125,000 a year. The proposal could incentive and help thousands more New York City students attend CUNY or SUNY tuition-free.

The joint Senate and Assembly budget hearing on higher education, which saw testimony from the CUNY and SUNY chancellors, included concerns that a proposed requirement that students take 15 credits per semester to be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship would be too rigid.

Another critique came from CBC’s Friedfel. “Essentially, the [$163 million] cost estimate is probably too low and we’re apprehensive about whether the SUNY and CUNY system is prepared for the influx of students,” he said.

During his testimony, De Blasio praised the scholarship program and the governor’s support for the Dream Act.

“In terms of education, the City of New York certainly appreciates deeply that the new Excelsior Scholarship Program – when added to existing tuition assistance programs promises to further ease tuition costs for low-and middle-income students in our state,” said de Blasio. “We are also gratified to see continued support for the Dream Act, which is particularly important at this moment in history.”

2. Pre-K to 12 Education
In other education matters, the governor again proposed a three-year extension of mayoral control of city schools and 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 roughly in line with the city’s proportion of students.

Cuomo said the $1 billion would be paid for by extending the state’s “millionaire's tax” for another three years. The surcharge on the highest-earning New Yorkers, many of whom live in New York City, pulls in about $4 billion annually, and is due to expire December 31. “If you don’t have the millionaire's’ tax, that is a $4 billion hole,” Cuomo said during his mid-January budget briefing.

At Monday’s hearing, de Blasio told state legislators that mayoral control of schools should be given a multi-year extension. De Blasio has received consecutive one-year extensions of mayoral control, moves that are apparent insults to the mayor largely sought by state Senate Republicans.

De Blasio also called on the state to increase its education aid to the city further, and he cited the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement, the source of much debate about how much education money the state “owes” the city.

“The city is doing its part,” de Blasio said Monday. “Since 2008, the city’s share of education spending has increased from 49 percent to 57 percent, while the state share has declined from 41 percent to 37 percent. The state shortfall is currently $1.6 billion.”

Many concerns have been raised over how state education funds are distributed. The Citizens Budget Commission, for example, is calling for reforms to the Foundation Aid formula, which it says is based on outdated data and metrics, in order ensure more funding is directed to high-need districts. The governor is looking to do away with foundation aid.

De Blasio made sure on Monday to push back against Cuomo’s proposed cuts in per-child funding for the city’s universal pre-kindergarten program -- a $34 million burden, according to the mayor’s estimate, and shifted responsibility for some charter school costs.

“The State has made a giant leap forward of the last years in supporting pre-K. But this proposal and this proposed cut is a leap backwards and counter to all the progress that we’ve made with your partnership in ensuring that 70,000 four year olds had full-day high-quality pre-K program,” said de Blasio. “This rate cut should not go forward.”

Additionally, de Blasio said, “the State is proposing to increase and shift charter school costs it has been paying previously. The proposal strips State support away from charter schools and transfers the cost to school districts abruptly and to an exorbitant degree. For New York City alone this would mean $198.3 million less funding for our schools.”

3. Millionaires’ & Mansion Taxes
Gov. Cuomo says a three-year extension of the millionaire's’ tax, set to expire this year, is crucial to maintaining the state’s operating budget. Currently, anyone earning more than $2.1 million a year pays a state rate of 8.82 percent. If the tax is not renewed, that rate drops to 6.85 percent -- the same rate taxpayers making $40,000 contribute.

The extension of the millionaires’ tax has been praised by progressives, though some, including Mayor de Blasio and Assembly Democrats, say it should go further. Last week, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who says Cuomo’s budget doesn’t provide enough funds for education, proposed a more progressive version of the tax, introducing additional tax brackets for the mega wealthy who earn more than $5 million, $10 million, and $100 million a year.

Senate Republicans, who oppose the millionaires’ tax, slammed the Assembly Democrats’ proposal, arguing it will drive business owners from the state. “I want to drive people into the state,” Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan told The Daily News. “I think raising taxes is absolutely the wrong way to go. I think that is bad economic policy at this time and I think it will drive people who have affluence and who have companies right out of the State of New York."

In his testimony Monday, de Blasio said he not only wants to see the state expand the millionaires’ tax, but that he wants an additional “mansion tax” -- a surcharge on homes sold for $2 million or more -- a plan that drew immediate scoffs from Senate Republicans.

Senator Catherine Young, a Republican from Chautauqua and Allegany Counties who chairs the Senate finance committee and co-chairs legislative budget hearings, expressed her dismay with the mayor to WCNY radio’s Susan Arbetter. “It was amazing to me to hear Mayor de Blasio come in yesterday and push a new tax - a mansion tax,” Young said on The Capitol Pressroom. “This has to end somewhere,” she said, referring to New York taxes.

Flanagan, who met de Blasio on Monday after the mayor testified, told State of Politics that the mansion tax is “a non-starter” and that it did not come up in his conversation with de Blasio.

On the other hand, while Young told Arbetter that Senate Republicans would like to let the millionaire’s tax expire, she said extension will be looked at. Flanagan has said similarly.

4. Incentivizing Affordable Housing Development
Cuomo’s rebranded 421-a, called Affordable New York, is projected to spur 2,500 units per year of affordable housing in New York City. Always controversial, 421-a is a property tax exemption program that incentivizes developers to build mixed-income rental housing in some of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods (Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens.) The old 421-a program, almost universally seen as flawed, expired at the end of 2015 when an extension agreement designed by de Blasio faltered after Cuomo said it was too good for developers and not good enough for labor.

The program has been in limbo since, with fits and starts of negotiation, de Blasio moving ahead with other aspects of his affordable housing plan, and Cuomo promising to do more about affordable housing.

Cuomo’s new plan meets his requirements for labor provisions, more affordable units, and extended terms of both rent caps on the apartments created and the accompanying property tax break.

“It has been signed off by the real estate community and the labor unions. We call it ‘Affordable New York,’” Cuomo told John Catsimatidis on his Sunday morning radio show. “It is actually in my opinion a better program than the old 421-a. This has increased the length of affordability to 40 years, and it’s actually made it more affordable for people to qualify.”

Critics, including the de Blasio administration, say Cuomo’s proposal will cost taxpayers a lot more than a version proposed by the mayor last year. De Blasio’s program from 2015 had a per-unit subsidy of $421,700 and would have produced 25,500 apartments over 10 years, while for the state’s proposal, the per-unit subsidy tallies up to $544,300 and would produce 21,750 affordable apartments over 10 years, according to de Blasio administration estimates.

“In other words, more than $100,000 per-unit above the cost of our proposal with less affordable housing,” de Blasio said on Monday.

The governor’s office maintains that Cuomo’s proposal provides more affordability for tenants and fairer wages for workers, but keeps the cost of the program from the original 2015 law largely intact. Any additional expenses are “minimal, won’t occur for 26 years, and are worth it,” a state budget spokesperson said.

Negotiations over the program are likely to be among the most contentious of the next several weeks before a budget deal is reached. Over several years now, 421-a has been one of the central issues at the heart of the Cuomo-de Blasio feud.

5. Indian Point Shutdown
The nuclear power plant, situated 35 miles from Manhattan on the banks of the Hudson River, has been polluting nearby waterways and sparking fears of a potential nuclear disaster for years. One nuclear reactor will be shut down by April 2020, while the other must be closed a year later, Cuomo has announced. The governor had been working on a deal to shut the plant for years, finally announcing one earlier this year as part of his State of the State rollout.

One concern with closure is finding a clean energy source to replace Indian Point. New York City and Westchester County residents account for one quarter of Indian Point’s power consumers, reports the New York Times. The plant’s shutdown would impact electric rates in the New York City area, though state officials said the increases would be “negligible,” adding about $3 a month to bills. Westchester County official and unions expressed concern about the loss of jobs. Nearly 1,000 workers are employed full-time at the plant and about 550 are unioned. Cuomo has said all employees would be offered work elsewhere.

6. Public, Affordable & Supportive Housing

The governor’s budget plan again earmarks $20 billion to create or preserve 100,000 units of affordable housing and 6,000 units of supportive housing over the next five years, beginning in 2017.

The governor said he has directed his budget director, Robert Mujica, to execute a memorandum of understanding (MOU) will legislative leaders to release nearly $2 billion in funding to advance the creation of these units. The first $2 billion of the $20 billion plan was allocated last year, but most of it has remained unspent because an MOU is needed and hasn’t been signed. Cuomo said that Senate Republicans have been holding up the MOU until a new 421-a deal was in place, and Assembly Democrats are said to be pushing for more money to go toward NYCHA.

Funding Cuomo has outlined includes $3.5 billion in capital resources, $8.6 billion in State and Federal tax credits and other allocations, and $8 billion to support the operation of shelters and supportive housing units and to provide rental subsidies. Combined with a previously approved MOU for a small portion of the $2 billion, the budget appropriates additional capital resources for a variety of affordable and supportive housing investments.

This includes up to $1.4 billion for new units across the state; up to $100 million for state-approved NYCHA projects; up to $565 million for preserving affordable units and “creating a large-scale financing program that specifically supports assets like public housing authorities in upstate communities”; $100 million for Mitchell-Lama properties; up to $54 million toward homeownership aid and incentives; and up to $10 million toward continued neighborhood revitalization investments.

Affordable housing advocates and providers have been protesting the governor, calling on him to do more to release housing funds so that new projects can begin. Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio and city housing officials have been frustrated with the slow pace at which money allocated for NYCHA repairs has been spent.

7. Transportation Infrastructure
Having just celebrated the opening of phase one of Manhattan’s long-awaited 2nd Avenue subway, Gov. Cuomo announced several ongoing and new infrastructure investments for New York City. While these capital projects do not fall under the operating budget, many of them are designed to enhance transportation options for New York City residents, commuters, and tourists.

As Cuomo often likes to boast, more than $100 billion in ongoing infrastructure projects are underway across the state — including construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge, expected to open in 2018; a new LaGuardia Airport; a new Pennsylvania Station-Farley Complex; a 1.2 million square foot expansion of the Javits Convention Center.

In addition, the governor announced plans to move forward with the following projects in the coming year:

Kennedy Airport. For the coming fiscal year, Cuomo outlines $564 million towards $1.5 billion in spending by DOT to improve the roadway congestion leading to JFK. The MTA and Port Authority will also evaluate two proposals: expanding JFK AirTrain service and exploring the possibility of creating a “one-seat” subway ride to the airport.

Penn Station. The State is investing $700 million to leverage a total of $3 billion for the transformation of the James A. Farley Post Office building into a new train hall for the station.

Long Island Railroad. The governor also plans to invest $120 million for the LIRR—to provide state-of-the-art enhancements to 16 stations and improve system connectivity.

MTA. The 2015-2019 MTA transit capital plan includes $28 billion in investments, including city and state funds, with the state continuing to contribute a larger share than the city.

Empire State Trail. One of Gov. Cuomo’s favorite new proposals is to create one continuous trailway through the Hudson Valley and Adirondacks from New York City’s Hudson River Greenway, which runs 11 miles along the Upper West Side of Manhattan, up to the Canadian border and along the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo. It would be the largest single-state multi-use trail network in the nation, attracting new tourists to explore New York’s diverse landscapes and rich history, according to Cuomo, who included $53 million for phase one of the plan in his executive budget.

8. Cutting & Shifting Costs
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.

Mayor de Blasio emphasized the importance of suring up public health funding to the city, which accounts for 58 percent of Medicaid enrollees across the state.

According to Cuomo’s budget proposal, New York City also stands to lose $50 million in Medicaid funding unless the de Blasio administration comes up with a plan by June 30 to produce $100 million in available federal funding (or city cutbacks) for preschool and school supportive health services, reports Politico New York.

The city would have six months to coordinate with the state’s health commissioner and the Trump administration to generate the $100 million in savings, according to the executive budget. If the city does not come up with the required savings, “DOH will have the authority to reduce Medicaid Administration payments to the City,” according to the budget proposal.

While Cuomo is looking to move some costs to the city and push the city to bring in more federal Medicaid dollars, on one increasingly popular measure meant to help New York City save billions, Mayor de Blasio noted a “glaring and inexplicable omission” in Cuomo’s executive budget. The city is seeking state permission to use “design-build” contracting, which allows a more efficient process of hiring contractors for major infrastructure projects. It is something the state has been using more often that Cuomo regularly touts as a money and time saver.

“If the city also had access to this tool, similar benefits would be realized,” de Blasio said during his Albany budget testimony. “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.”

Though design-build is widely used throughout the United States, in New York there are legislative hurdles to overcome, and the program has seen opposition from labor unions. Currently, the law only allows select state agencies to use it.

Presumably because of pushback from the Assembly, which is dominated by Democrats from New York City who feel pressure from unions, Cuomo has only favored design-build for certain state agencies and counties outside of New York City.

A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office said the governor is a proponent of design-build and he is open to discussing a statewide expansion. “The governor is a strong supporter of design-build which has successfully delivered large-scale infrastructure projects, saving time on project completion and taxpayer money. In the past, there has been resistance to the expansion of design-build statewide, but we look forward to discussing it during the budget process,” said Cuomo transportation spokesperson Jon Weinstein.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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On Your November Ballot: Stripping Pensions from Corrupt Politicians

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Sheldon Silver & others in 2011 (photo: The Governor's Office)

This November, New York voters will get to decide whether state officials who are convicted of public corruption can be stripped of their pensions.

A government ethics reform bill, jointly passed by the state Legislature Monday for a second time, amends the state constitution and allows the state to reduce or revoke the pension of a public officer that has been convicted of a crime related to his or her official duties.

Under the measure, a public officer convicted of a crime would be subject to a court hearing, which would determine the fate of of the officer’s pension. Current law only allows pensions to be stripped from lawmakers convicted of a crime who joined the retirement system after August 15, 2011, but this constitutional amendment would make the forfeiture apply retroactively to all currently in government.

Because it is a constitutional change, it must pass two consecutive classes of the state Legislature, which this legislation has now done, and then be approved by the voters via ballot referendum.

A public push for the legislation came after it was revealed that disgraced ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, as well as other corrupt public officials, were granted pensions despite convictions on public corruption charges. As they face prison sentences, Skelos is to receive $95,832 annually and Silver, $79,224 a year, according to The Daily News.

While many state legislators’ initially appeared content to keep the pension (forfeiture) system as is, a public outcry following news reports on the Skelos and Silver pension packages appears to have changed their minds. A 2015 Quinnipiac University poll found that voters supported pension forfeiture for corrupt officials 76 percent to 18 percent.

The new pension forfeiture measure will appear on the ballot November 7 of this year, as voters go to the polls for the general elections in a variety of local offices. In New York City, elections will include those for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough presidents, all of the City Council, and others.

On the flip side of the ballot from candidate choices, alongside the pension forfeiture “yes” or “no” question, will be another somewhat related referendum: whether New York State should call a constitutional convention. That question is required to appear on the ballot every 20 years, but New Yorkers have not called for a Con Con, as it is often referred, in several decades.

A chance to rewrite the state constitution, a constitutional convention could result in the enactment of numerous government ethics reforms, from different pension forfeiture rules to the closure of the infamous “LLC loophole,” term limits for elected officials, and more.

The last time a constitutional convention was on the ballot, in 1997, it did not pass, in part due opposition from labor groups and other special interests, which factor into this year’s vote as well. However, not only is there currently a “take back the government” political moment occurring, but the fact that the constitutional convention question will be accompanied by the popular pension forfeiture referendum could potentially have a “coattail effect,” according to Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG).

“From an advocate’s perspective, I think this makes it easier to get it passed,” Horner said of Con Con. “Any sort of political campaign is difficult to run, when you are telling people vote “yes” on one and “no” on the other, because people forget which is which.”

According to the new measure, a court’s decision to reduce or revoke pension benefits would consider factors such as the severity of the crime and whether a reduction might be proportionate to the offense. Public officers include elected officials, direct gubernatorial appointees, municipal managers, department heads, chief fiscal officers, and policy-makers.

“There must be zero tolerance for public corruption, and these ethics reforms are crucial to holding officials accountable and making sure they don’t profit from abusing their positions,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in a statement. “Now the measure will go to the voters so that they can have the opportunity to join with us in taking a strong stand against corruption.” Flanagan, a Long Island Republican like his predecessor, replaced Skelos as majority leader when Skelos stepped down amid federal charges.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a New York City Democrat who replaced Silver when Silver stepped down from his long-time speaker post, said similarly. “The Assembly Majority believes that public officials who violate the public’s trust and engage in corruption should face the consequences of their actions including the forfeiture of taxpayer funded pensions,” said Heastie in a statement.

The proposal, sponsored by Assemblymember David Buchwald, a Westchester Democrat, and Senator Thomas Croci, a Republican from Long Island, would also allow the court to order pension benefits to be paid to an innocent spouse, minor dependents, or other dependent family members after consideration of their financial needs and resources.

Good government groups were quick to commend the Legislature’s reform efforts as a step in the right direction. Still, the potential loss or reduction of pension benefits -- a punitive measure -- is less likely to deter corruption than more preventative measures that reformers have called for, like a public campaign finance system and stricter limits on campaign donations. Jail time and other penalties faced by corrupt politicians have appeared to show little effect as state lawmaker after state lawmaker is put behind bars.

“Public officials who break the law shouldnʼt get a taxpayer pension, period. Thanks to Assemblymember Buchwaldʼs and Senator Crociʼs persistent efforts to pass this needed response to our state’s on-going ethics crisis, New York is one step closer to restoring the public’s trust in government,ˮ said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause New York, in a statement.

The Legislature also passed a joint resolution Monday that requires any member of the Legislature earning at least $5,000 in income through outside employment to get advisory permission from the Legislative Ethics Commission, to ensure the employment is consistent with the New York State Public Officers Law.

Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined a ten-point government ethics plan earlier this year as part of his State of the State tour and policy plan. Cuomo said he will be pushing reform measures, including campaign finance reform, in budget negotiations with the Legislature. The governor is supportive of the pension forfeiture amendment and has said he is supportive of a constitutional convention, but he did not include it in his 149-plank 2017 policy agenda.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, January 30

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

The week begins after many New Yorkers spent portions of the weekend protesting President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration, which seek to bar for a period of time refugees from Syria and immigrants from several Muslim-majority countries, and increase deportations of certain classifications of immigrants. After a major impromptu protest at Kennedy Airport on Saturday, there was a rally at Battery Park on Sunday, at which Mayor Bill de Blasio and several other elected officials spoke.

As things continue to play out with Trump's executive orders (and other actions), both legally and politically, many New York political eyes are on Albany Monday morning, as Mayor de Blasio travels north for his annual budget testimony in front of the state Legislature. Last year, state lawmakers -- led by Senate Republicans -- ambushed de Blasio on property taxes and the city's exemption from the state's 2 percent cap on annual property tax growth.  

There's a great deal happening this week in New York politics, with many events to be aware of - see our day-by-day rundown below.

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

The run of the week in detail:

In Albany Monday:
At 10 a.m. on Monday, there will be a joint state legislative budget hearing on Local Government Officials/General Government in the Legislative Office Building in Albany. Mayor Bill de Blasio will testify first, followed by Comptroller Scott Stringer.

At 12 p.m. on Monday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Real Property Taxation will hold a public hearing on “Real Property Tax Relief Credit Programs.”

Family planning advocates led by Planned Parenthood NYC are holding a lobby day in Albany Monday. Governor Andrew Cuomo will speak at a rally at 12:30 p.m. at Empire State Plaza Convention Center.

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

During the 7 and 10 p.m. hours on Monday, Mayor de Blasio will make his weekly appearance on NY1's Inside City Hall.

In New York City Monday:
“On Monday, January 30, at 10:30 a.m., Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Lorelei Salas, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams, Grow Brooklyn, and partners will remind the roughly 1.1 million New Yorkers who are eligible to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which adds an average of $2,400 to refunds, and file their taxes for free with NYC Free Tax Prep.”

Also Monday at 10:30 a.m., “Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) will join together with hunger advocates and others at Part of the Solution (POTS) to discuss New York State’s participation in a nationwide pilot program to allow Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants to purchase their groceries online.”

At 1 p.m. on Monday, the NYC Planning Commission will hold a review session.

At 1 p.m. Monday, "Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and City University of New York (CUNY) student leaders, including members of the University Student Senate (USS) and CUNY DREAMers, will speak out in concern for Saira Rafiee, a young woman enrolled at the CUNY Graduate Center through an F1 visa who is being denied reentry into the United States due to President Donald J. Trump's executive order banning the migration of citizens from several Muslim-majority countries...Approximately 120 students from the impacted countries are enrolled in the CUNY system...Borough President Adams will also be joined by members of the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) and Professional Staff Congress (PSC)-CUNY, as well as Rafiee's cousin Mina, who will deliver a message on behalf of her relative."

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James and City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez will hold a transportation town hall, at Fort Washington Collegiate Church.

At 6:30 p.m. on Monday, City & State will hold the “50 Over 50 Awards.” This event will be a “celebration with New York’s most prominent leaders in government, business and media over the age of fifty.”

On Tuesday at 12:30 p.m., "Mayor de Blasio will visit Rodman’s Neck Training Complex with NYPD Commissioner O’Neill to tour the facility and discuss the City’s $275 million investment to upgrade the complex." At 6:30 p.m., "the Mayor will appear live on the Dean Obeidallah Show on SiriusXM Radio channel 127."

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 9:30 a.m., the Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet to discuss numerous proposed laws, most of which deal with cranes or construction safety.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will meet for an oversight hearing on “expanding New York City’s Extended Producer Responsibility Law,” and for discussion of a proposed law that will deal with the “reuse or recycling of discarded carpeting from commercial units or buildings.”
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Consumer Affairs will discuss a proposed law on “authorizing a cure period for certain item pricing violations.”
  • At 1:30 p.m. The Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet on the naming of 41 thoroughfares and public places.
  • At 2 p.m. The Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services will meet on a bill “Requiring the fire dept to report on the use and type of smoke detectors and smoke alarms in fire-related deaths.”

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

The NYS Joint Commission on Public Ethics will meet on Tuesday in Albany.

On Tuesday morning at 9:15 a.m., "Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez will announce the kickoff of Car Free NYC 2017, with a countdown to a Car Free Day on Earth Day...at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering's Pfizer Auditorium at 5 Metrotech Center."

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, there will be a joint legislative budget hearing on Public Protection at Hearing Room B in the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Department of Small Business Services will hold a hearing on a proposed rule, which would “continue the program that provides grants to companies that provide school bus transportation.”

At 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Public Advocate Letitia James will deliver remarks "at the NYC Employment and Training Coalition's Policy Forum: Advancing Advocacy Through Partnerships in Uncertain Times," at The CUNY Graduate Center.

At 2 p.m. Tuesday in Albany, Comptroller Scott Stringer will speak at a "press conference to unveil new legislation and analyses on granting driver’s licenses to undocumented New Yorkers with the New York Immigration Coalition, Fiscal Policy Institute, elected officials and advocates," at the Empire State Plaza.

On Tuesday evening at City Hall, the City Council will host "‘Let Freedom Ring-Commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’, a celebratory event. Counciil Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and several other Council members will participate.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New Leaders Council gala will host Assemblymember Michael Blake as keynote speaker.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, City Council Member Costa Constantinides will deliver his State of the District Address, at I.S. 126 in Astoria. Public Advocate Letitia James will attend.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, City & State NY will hold “On Public Safety.” This event “will convene government officials and leaders in defense, public safety, security, intelligence, law enforcement, and emergency management at a half day forum covering New York public safety issues.” NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill will deliver the Keynote Address, and speakers on various panels will include Council Member Jumaane D. Williams; State Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol; Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy T. Howard; and Chief Joseph Pfeifer, the Chief of Counterterrorism and Emergency Preparedness at the New York City Fire Department.

At 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, there will be a joint legislative budget hearing on Economic Development at Hearing Room B in the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, “New York City Councilman Andy King and the Bronx Youth Empowerment Program kickoff of the first day of Black History Month with the annual “Celebrating Our History” event.” This event will take place at the library of Evander Childs High School in The Bronx.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Finance will meet.
  • At 1:30 p.m., the City Council will hold a stated meeting. The full-body Council meeting will be prefaced, as usual, by a press conference led by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

On Wednesday at 11 a.m. at City Hall, "Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez will join elected officials, advocates, radio DJs and the family of DJ Jinx Paul, who was killed in a hit and run crash last December, to unveil legislation to create a hit and run alert system in New York City. The legislation would create an alert system through a number of channels, to support the NYPD in capturing perpetrators of hit and runs."

At 3 p.m. Wednesday, there will be a rally on the steps of City Hall protesting Mayor de Blasio’s budget cuts to the Department of Veterans’ Services. State Senator Marty Golden, City Council Minority Leader Steven Matteo, Council Member Joe Borelli, Reverend Michel Faulkner, Anthony Testaverde, elected officials, and veterans will participate.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, New York City Council Member Helen Rosenthal will hold “Fact vs. Fiction: Understanding the News in the Age of Information Overload.” This event is a “community conversation on the current state of the news and what you can do to decipher between fact and fiction.” Rosenthal will host a panel of experts.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, there will be a public hearing on the Greater East Midtown Rezoning at NYU School of Dentistry, Nursing & Engineering.

At 8:15 a.m. Thursday, Crain’s New York will hold “Real Estate Law: The Impact of Demographics,” featuring Richard J. Mack, the CEO and Founder of Mack Real Estate Group.

On Thursday at 1 p.m., at Urban Pathways’ Ivan Shapiro House in Manhattan, "the New York City representatives of a statewide coalition of nonprofit organizations will gather to call on Governor Cuomo and the legislature to strengthen the human services sector through efficient investments and systemic change. The Executive Budget, while acknowledging the importance of human services, provided little to strengthen organizations and the sector responsible for lifting families out of poverty." Participants will include Urban Pathways, Human Services Council, FPWA, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, and others. "The Restore Opportunity Now campaign is supported by more than 340 nonprofit organizations across New York State."

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, City Council Member Laurie Cumbo continues her Community Exchange Series. At this event at Medgar Evers College, Cumbo will deliver her first of two parts on the status update of the Bedford Union Armory.

Friday and the weekend
No events on our radar for Friday or the weekend as of Sunday night -- though Mayor de Blasio is expected to make his weekly Friday appearance at 10 a.m. on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. 

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

by Brendan Birth and Ben Max

With Trump in Office, New York Democrats Show Urgency, and Infighting, on Women's Rights

cuomo women's equality act

Cuomo in 2013, via The Governor's Office on flickr

With President Donald Trump taking office and Congressional Republicans chipping away at the Affordable Care Act, including a provision that guarantees cost-free birth control, New York’s Democratic lawmakers are scrambling to fortify protections for women on the state level.

Citing the threat of Trump’s administration, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday that he has instructed the Department of Financial Services -- which regulates insurance companies -- to require commercial insurance providers to cover contraception and “medically necessary” abortions without asking for a co-pay.

The announcement was timed to coincide with women’s rights marches that took place in New York City, Washington D.C., and across the country, as well as the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which despite efforts from the Democratically-controlled New York State Assembly, is not fully codified into state law. Republicans who control the state Senate have refused to pass such a law, though many abortions would be legal in New York even if the Supreme Court, bolstered by a conservative Trump appointee, were to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling. A 1970 New York law permits abortions until 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Cuomo’s contraception and abortion coverage announcement came on the heels of legislation introduced by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and passed by the Assembly earlier this month. Called the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act, the bill, which has not yet been introduced in the state Senate, would codify the co-pay-free contraception provision in the Affordable Care Act.

Cuomo’s women’s health push has received a lot of praise, including from Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who called the DFS regulation “an important step forward toward ensuring that women have control over their reproductive lives.”

However, members of the Assembly took issue with the governor’s action, saying the regulatory change lacks the permanence of a statute. “We think a law would be the strongest solution,” said Michael Whyland, spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Assembly Member Kevin Cahill, who sponsored the Assembly version of the legislation, said the DFS regulation falls “very seriously short” of the intentions of the bill’s authors and decreases the likelihood of Schneiderman’s bill being introduced in the Senate, which remains under GOP control.

“We are talking about the contraceptive rights that are now at risk because of actions that are being taken in Washington that could have been thoroughly protected through legislation,” said Cahill, a Democrat representing Kingston. “Now the legislative path is significantly less likely because of [the governor’s] action.”

Cahill noted Cuomo’s regulation does not include coverage for male vasectomies, which can take the onus of contraception off of women, or emergency contraception, otherwise known as the “morning-after pill.” The new regulations also omit language authorizing midwives to prescribe or distribute emergency contraception and an educational component to the bill.

“He didn't consult with us at all, and to the best of my knowledge, the attorney general heard about it in a press report,” Cahill told Gotham Gazette. “While it appears on its surface to be laudable, it may have actually made the situation significantly worse."

In response to Cahill's comments, a spokesperson for the governor, Abbey Fashouer, said, “The Governor is taking immediate and decisive action to secure women’s reproductive rights, regardless of what happens at the federal level. To be clear, this doesn’t preclude legislative action, or apparently, grandstanding. This decisive action may rob some individuals of a headline later, but it does ensure that the reproductive rights of millions of New Yorkers are protected today.”

Cuomo's office also noted that vasectomies are not included in the governor's DFS regulations because they are part of the ACA, but not New York insurance law, where birth control for women is covered.

Democrats will continue to push state legislation as opposed to executive regulations since, as Trump is showing on the federal level, executive actions can be rolled back by a new executive.

While state law already mandates that contraceptives be covered without co-pays and bars insurers from denying any type of surgery -- including surgical abortions -- Cuomo’s version clarifies that the law will not change if ACA is repealed. In addition, the new DFS regulation would ban charging co-payments for abortion and requires that insurers provide coverage of birth control for up to 12 months from the initial prescription.

During his campaign, Trump vowed to “repeal and replace” the ACA, otherwise known as Obamacare, and has said he would appoint a Supreme Court justice who opposes Roe v. Wade -- though he has backtracked on both positions in media interviews.

Two of Trump’s first actions in the Oval Office were a vaguely worded executive order toward repeal of the ACA and another to reinstate a ban on spending for reproductive health services for organizations abroad, which is expected increase infant mortality and maternal death rates around the globe.

Toppling Roe v. Wade, which would require at least two new Supreme Court justices, is more complicated than the president has made it seem, but even if it happened, it is not likely to have as much of an impact in New York as it would in, say, South Carolina, according to a new report from the Center for Reproductive Rights. As Trump has pointed out in interviews when expressing somewhat conflicting support for overturning Roe v. Wade, “if it ever were overturned, it would go back to the states.” During a 60 Minutes interview he added of women seeking abortions in states where it would then be illegal, “they’ll have to go to another state.”

Early this year the state Assembly also reintroduced a second bill, the Reproductive Health Act, which updates New York’s law to align with Roe v. Wade. Abortion has been legal in New York since 1970, three years before the Supreme Court decision. Codifying Roe v. Wade on a state level would remove outdated criminal statutes that apply to abortion practitioners when a woman is more than 24 weeks pregnant, add language that prioritizes for the health of the mother over the fetus, and expand the list of medical professionals that could perform abortion to include 21st Century professions, such as physician’s assistants.

These inconsistencies, and the criminal statutes, continue to result in many women being denied care, according to the NYCLU. Last year, Attorney General Schneiderman issued an opinion, stating that abortion be allowed after 24 weeks if the fetus is not viable or the mother’s life or health is threatened, as specified by Roe v. Wade, but advocates say New York doctors are still deterred from treating women with sometimes life-threatening health conditions who are more than 24 weeks pregnant.

Though Democratic lawmakers have been pushing this bill for years, Senate Republicans have blocked the motion. In 2013, an effort by the Independent Democratic Conference -- a breakaway group of Democrats that caucuses with Republicans -- to move the bill in the Senate failed. In the 63-seat Senate, 30 Republicans and two Democrats, Ruben Diaz Sr. and Simcha Felder, voted it down. Diaz Sr. and Felder, who also caucuses with Republicans, are still in the Senate and unlikely to support the abortion protections, though Diaz Sr., a Bronx minister, may run for City Council this year and leave the Senate if victorious.

Candice Giove, the spokesperson for the IDC and its leader, Sen. Jeff Klein of the Bronx, told Gotham Gazette, "The Independent Democratic Conference is the only Senate conference whose members are 100 percent pro-choice." Giove's comment is an apparent reference to Diaz Sr. Giove did not make clear whether the IDC plans to push the Senate GOP to take up passage of stronger abortion protections into state law this year.

“We are hopeful that the IDC will support the bill and put their action behind it,” Lieberman of the NYCLU said during a press conference call on Thursday morning. “We know from polling that’s been done that New York is 70 to 80 percent pro-choice. New Yorkers overwhelmingly support the codification of Roe v. Wade and women’s’ rights.”

The codification of Roe v. Wade into New York law was the tenth of ten planks in Gov. Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Agenda, which the governor attempted to push over several years. Cuomo said the Legislature must pass all ten planks together, but as the Senate continued to balk on the abortion provision, Democrats including Cuomo and the Assembly majority opted to pass the nine other planks, which include equal pay provisions, protections for domestic violence victims, bans on pregnancy discrimination in workplaces, and more.

Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has been criticized for not doing enough to flip the Senate to Democratic control, and for creating in 2014 the Women’s Equality Party, which appears to have been mostly an election year gimmick aimed at hurting the Working Families Party.

A spokesperson for Senate Republicans did not return a request for comment about where the conference majority stands on the abortion bill.

Another criticism of the new Cuomo regulatory directives came from Bill Hammond, director of health policy at the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank. Hammond said the governor’s move undermines the legislative process and noted that without a provision to address additional expenses incurred by insurance companies, this rule could drive up healthcare premiums.

On the Empire Center’s blog, The Torch, Hammond also questioned why abortions are exempt from co-pays, but other medically necessary procedures, like childbirth, for example, are not.

“If this rule change stands, expect a parade of provider and consumer groups to seek similar consideration from DFS in the months and years ahead,” he writes.

A spokesperson from DFS noted that there will be a 45-day public comment period before the regulations are finalized. The rules will go into effect 60 days later. Trump has promised a Supreme Court nominee next week, but U.S. Senate Democrats, led by New York’s Charles Schumer, have pledged to fight any nominee who is not moderate.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Cuomo Embraces Voting Reform Agenda, But Implementation Poses Challenges

Cuomo voting 2015

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

During his State of the State tour early this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a trio of major reforms hailed as important steps toward modernizing New York’s antiquated electoral system and increasing the state’s paltry voter turnout. While they are long-called for proposals that many are pleased to see Cuomo promote, implementing these goals could be more complicated than it may seem.

Two of the three reforms, early voting and automatic voter registration, were outlined in Cuomo’s 2016 agenda, but the initiatives failed to move through the Legislature last year due to opposition from Senate Republicans, who control that chamber. It is a power structure that continues into the 2017 session, meaning the road to passage is uphill, and steeply so.

New York is one of only about a dozen states without some semblance of early voting. While the state already has a form of automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles, Cuomo’s proposal is to streamline and expand the practice. If passed, it would amount to more widespread automatic registration, but not universal.

The third electoral proposal from Cuomo, same-day registration, will likely require a constitutional amendment -- meaning approval from two consecutive classes of the state Legislature, then voters via ballot referendum -- a process that would take at least three years. There is some debate among constitutional law experts over whether such an amendment is required for any form of same-day registration, which would allow voters to show up at the polls to both register and vote on the same day.

The three reforms are almost universally seen as long overdue in New York. Voter turnout in New York is especially poor: in 2014, the state ranked 49th of the country’s 50 states. While New York has watched many other states change voting laws to increase access to the ballot, the voter turnout deficit here is growing progressively worse, with just 19.7 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots in the 2016 presidential primaries. Turnout numbers have also consistently declined during gubernatorial elections and, in New York City, during mayoral election years.

“New York is so far behind the curve on election administration that almost anything is an improvement,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of government reform group Common Cause New York. “I think the governor has picked issues that are very good places to start.”

Those with high praise for Cuomo’s 2017 electoral agenda include Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who, after monitoring the state’s four election days of 2016, issued an exhaustive report with areas for reform at the end of the year.

"I commend Governor Cuomo for proposing common sense reforms to our voting system. I look forward to working with Governor Cuomo, the legislature, and everyday New Yorkers across our state to address the systemic problems in New York's voting laws,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “New York must become a national leader in voting rights by expanding and protecting the rights of all New Yorkers to cast their vote.”

In the statement, Schneiderman also recommended consolidating New York's exhausting voting schedule into a single primary. In 2016, there were three: in April for the presidential race; in June for congressional races; and in September for state legislative races.

While it is still early to speculate exactly how the Legislature will respond to Cuomo’s electoral reform agenda, there are key early markers, process details, and implementation questions ahead of whatever policy debate may occur.

One thing is certain: Democrats in the Assembly, where they have the majority, and in the Senate, where they do not, will be behind the election and voting modernization efforts -- including and beyond Cuomo’s three main proposals. What is less clear is whether the governor will fully push for early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day registration in budget negotiations, which are just beginning; and whether there is any room for passage in the Republican-controlled Senate, perhaps with the help of the Independent Democratic Conference -- the seven-member body that has formed a ruling coalition with the Senate GOP.

Early Voting
When it comes to early voting, New York is one of just 13 states without some window wherein voters can cast ballots before Election Day.

For several years running, an early voting bill has passed the Assembly, only to be blocked in the Senate.

According to Gov. Cuomo’s 2017 proposal, every county would offer residents access to at least one early voting poll site for every 50,000 residents during the 12 days leading up to Election Day. Voters would be guaranteed eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends to cast early ballots, and bipartisan county boards of elections would determine locations of the early poll sites.

While high voter participation would ideally be a bipartisan issue, New York Republicans -- who cling to control of the state Senate by a tiny margin -- have calculated that better ballot access and more participation is likely to turn out Democratic voters, according Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens and outspoken proponent of voting reform.

“These reforms are more necessary than ever and I’m glad they were included in the governor’s presentation, but the problem is Senate Republicans seem to have a personal interest in keeping people from voting,” said Gianaris, a co-sponsor of several packages of electoral legislation. “That's been the biggest hurdle to overcome, because voter restrictions tend to benefit them.”

A spokesperson for Senate Republicans did not return multiple requests for comment.

A natural partner of early voting is absentee voting. In his State of the State policy book, Gov. Cuomo, a second term Democrat, also cited the requirement for absentee ballot voters to provide an excuse, which is written into the state constitution and its removal would require a constitutional amendment.

A bill to remove this requirement from the constitution has passed the Assembly and is, like other voting reforms, awaiting Senate approval.

Senator Joseph Addabbo, who co-sponsored the bill and served as chair of the Senate Election Committee in 2009, said his staff has not looked closely at the governor’s plan yet but expressed hopeful optimism about the governor’s electoral reform agenda.

“I’ll say I can embrace a lot of what he’s proposing and now our legal counsel might look at whether and how it can be implemented,” said Addabbo, a Democrat from Queens. “This is a lot of what we’ve worked on and proposed in 2009. We really go through painstaking measures to determine what is going to get voters to vote.”

In addition to persuading the Senate majority, Cuomo and Assembly Democrats will have to hash out the details with counties, which, while supportive of early voting, want the governor to include a provision for who would foot the bill -- approximately $3 million per year, according to one estimate -- for the additional polling options.

"Despite principled visions on the issue, on the fiscal nature of the cost shift it's unconscionable for the state to be shifting and enacting policies these days in the property-tax-cap era. It should be dead on arrival." Stephen Acquario, executive director of the state Association of Counties, told the USA Today Network.

Automatic Voter Registration
Automatically registering voters when they become eligible or when they come into contact with government agencies is a fairly new concept. Since 2015, automatic voter registration -- which can have different forms and meanings short of universal automatic registration of voters once they become eligible -- has been approved in six states with strong bipartisan support and is taking off across the country, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

The idea is to shift the onus of registering from the individual to the government. In addition to increasing voter registration in other states, automatic voter registration has been shown to have significant benefits for administrators, reduce costs, and improve the accuracy of electronic poll books.

Cuomo’s proposal, recycled from last year, would automatically register anyone who comes into contact with a state Department of Motor Vehicles, unless the person chooses to opt out. Currently, eligible voters can register through the DMV, but they must provide additional voting information as they apply for DMV services.

Cuomo’s proposed version of automatic registration is preferable to similar bills passed in Oregon and California, which only registers eligible citizens who apply for or renew a driver’s license. However, Cuomo’s plan is not as inclusive as say, that which is outlined in New York’s Voter Empowerment Act, sponsored by Senator Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, which would enable a variety government agencies to automatically register voters.

The Brennan Center outlines four ways that states can modernize their electoral systems with automatic registration. The first, of course, is by automatically registering anyone who interacts with government offices, unless the person declines registration. The second is portability, which ensures that registered voters remain on the voter rolls even after they move within the state. The third, online access, allows voters to register, check, and update their registration records through a web portal. And fourth, the state should provide a “safety net,” that allows citizens to correct errors on the voter rolls or register before and on Election Day.

Ideally, automatic registration would occur through many different state-run agencies, reaching well beyond the DMV to the the widest possible segment of eligible voters. There is a sizeable population, especially in urban centers like New York City, that does not drive or interact with the DMV. Broader automatic registration would include:

DMVs; Medicaid and public assistance offices; colleges and high schools; military recruiters and other military offices; unemployment and other public benefit offices; firearm licensing agencies; immigration offices; government-funded job-training centers; law enforcement and corrections agencies that interact with people who regain their voting rights after a criminal conviction.

Some community groups have raised concerns that tying automatic voter registration to the DMV alone may skew registration number in favor of areas with high rates of car ownership, disproportionality impacting upstate voters over New York City, for example.

Researchers at the Brennan Center are exploring whether data can shed light on the concern that automatic registration through the DMV advantages some groups over others.

“We recognize that this is a serious concern for some important groups and we want to take a close look at this question,” said Chisun Lee, senior counsel at the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “We are hopeful that the net benefits for increasing the franchise, and reaching voters who otherwise wouldn't be enrolled, will be positive for all.”

Same-Day Voter Registration
Same-day voter registration, perhaps the boldest of Cuomo’s proposals, would allow New Yorkers to register and vote on the same day.

Currently, New Yorkers must register to vote 25 days prior to an election, though the state constitution's requirement is only ten days. Depending on how it would be implemented, same-day registration may require a constitutional amendment. However, if early voting is passed, there are legal experts who argue that the constitution would allow same-day registration for those who vote prior to ten days before Election Day.

Again, a constitutional amendment is typically at minimum a three-year process which would require two “yes” votes from consecutive Legislatures and the passage of referendum on the following year’s general election ballot.

Alternately, a “yes” vote on the constitutional convention referendum, which will be on the ballot this November, could provide another avenue to remove restrictions and institute reforms like same-day registration.

At this point, 13 states and the District of Columbia have same-day voter registration, and California, Vermont, and Hawaii have approved the provision, though it has not yet been implemented, according to Cuomo’s office.

The upcoming opportunity to amend the state constitution via constitutional convention, which, for New Yorkers, appears as a ballot referendum every 20 years will be November 7, 2017. A constitutional convention is a four-year public process that could result significant changes to the entire document and laws of the state. If New Yorkers say “yes” to a convention on this year’s ballot, a year later, voters will select delegates to participate in the convention; the following year, in 2019, the convention will convene; and voters will be able to vote on any proposed changes the following Election Day.

Like with the electoral and voting reforms Gov. Cuomo has proposed, he has expressed varying degrees of support for a "yes" vote on a constitutional convention, but whether the governor takes significant action will go a long way toward determining the outcome.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Early in Albany Session, Plastic Bag Fee Sparks Home Rule Debate

felder bag fee city hall via scott reif

Senator Felder & opponents of the bag fee (photo: Scott Reif)

An attempt by lawmakers in Albany to prevent the New York City Council from imposing a fee on plastic and paper bags at retail stores has reignited a debate over home rule and the state government’s interference in the work of a democratically elected local legislative body.  

The New York State Senate passed a bill on Tuesday that prohibits “the imposition of any tax, fee or local charge on carry out merchandise bags in cities having a population of one million or more.” The bill, sponsored by Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat, directly targets a law passed by the City Council and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio last year that imposes a nickel fee on those bags and is due to go into effect February 15.

The law, which passed with a relatively slim City Council majority, is meant to reduce waste and environmental damage, as New Yorkers send billions of bags per year into the waste stream While it make exceptions for people on public assistance, its opponents argue that it would be a prohibitive burden on New Yorkers, including poor people and families more broadly.

“Many families have a hard time just getting by, paying for groceries, rent and heat, and now the Mayor wants to shake them down every time they shop just for the privilege of using a plastic bag,” Senator Felder, who represents part of Brooklyn, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Mayor de Blasio, please do not nickel-and-dime New Yorkers with another tax. This will hurt lower- and middle-income families who already struggle. I'm asking New Yorkers to stand up and tell the Mayor that this bag tax has to go.”

Although Felder is a Democrat, he caucuses with Republicans to create a Senate majority. His bill was co-sponsored by three Republicans and also two other Democrats, both members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group that shares power in the Senate with Republicans. Felder’s bill passed with 42 votes in favor and 18 against.

For the Democratic Senators who opposed Tuesday’s bill, the plastic bag fee at the heart of the issue was not the only thing under threat. They criticized Felder’s bill for violating the state constitution’s principle of home rule that gives local governments the authority over many of their own affairs, and for doing so only in the case of New York City while making no mention of smaller jurisdictions that have passed similar bag fees.

The Senate bill, Democrats insisted, was narrowly targeted and would set a dangerous precedent for the legislative body. Even the word “fee” became a point of contention. Felder, and those who supported him, call it a “tax” instead and argue that the city has no right to impose it. Under state law, only the state Legislature can approve any new taxes. It is considered a fee because the stores keep it, the money is not passed to the government.

Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan, arguing on the Senate floor against Felder’s proposal, wondered “why should we override history, precedent, perhaps the constitution...and take an action that overrides a local government’s law applying only to itself?”

Krueger expressed concern that it reflects political developments at the national level, where the incoming federal administration may seek to unduly interfere in the workings of the state. In a statement after the passage of the bill, Krueger said, “If this bill becomes law, it will set a shameful and dangerous precedent that local solutions to local environmental issues will be vetoed in Albany.”

The bill is now with the Democrat-led Assembly and if it passes there, it would be sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature. “We would like to see if we can get the city come to an agreement with how the Legislature has raised a concern,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, at a Tuesday news conference. “But again, we don’t want to minimize the environmental concern that the city has raised.”

State intervention in New York City’s affairs is not novel and has in the past been a source of tension in the city-state dynamic, at times along partisan lines. The state’s Municipal Home Rule Law provides that the state can intervene in a local jurisdiction’s affairs if the locality sends a “Home Rule message” to the state Legislature requesting that certain laws be enacted or if the state Legislature demonstrates that an issue is a “matter of state concern.” Otherwise, the state Legislature cannot pass laws that apply only to a specific locality. That the bill targets New York City is a given: there is no other municipality in the state with more than a million residents. That might give its opponents an opportunity to challenge it as a “special law” rather than a “general law” that applies statewide.

Courts have in the past cited ‘home rule’ as a basis for striking down laws passed in Albany that affect New York City alone. But the language in Felder’s bill refers to an “open class” of locality, rather than naming New York City, and that argument has been upheld by courts, said Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia Law School who specializes in state and local government law. “The state most likely has the legal authority to ban local plastic bag fees but it is completely inconsistent with the idea and purpose of local home rule,” he said.

Echoing Briffault, Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College, emphasized Albany’s “virtually absolute” power over New York City. “Under Dillon's rule, cities are creatures of the state,” Muzzio said, referring to a judgement in 1868 by Judge John Forrest Dillon, then-chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, which narrowly defined a municipality’s authority as being derived from the state government. “Their powers, their very existence is determined by the state,” Muzzio added. “Albany's power over the city has long been a source of anguish. In his 1861 address before the Common Council, Mayor Fernando Wood called Albany's power ‘odious and oppressive.’ It remains so.”

Muzzio said Senate Republicans were using the authority within their right to enforce their own goals. Complicating matters, though, is that there are more than a dozen Democrats in the New York City Council who voted against the bag fee. Still, this does not change the fact that the city passed its own law on the matter.

The overarching debate is also somewhat complicated by the fact that the plastic bag fee has pitted senators representing New York City against their colleagues from the five boroughs, making them all stakeholders in the issue serving overlapping constituents. Supporters of the bag fee insisted on Tuesday that legislators from outside the city should not interfere with local matters while opponents of the fee pleaded to those outside legislators to help them avoid imposing a new burden on their constituents.

“There are seven City Council members who represent my district,” said Senator Diane Savino, an IDC memebr and one of the state cosponsors who represents Staten Island’s northern shore and parts of South Brooklyn, during the Senate debate. “Every single one of them voted against [the bag fee bill in the City Council]…What they weren’t able to accomplish in the City Council, they want me to be able to deliver for them up here in Albany. They thought it was bad policy for the City of New York. They lost the fight there but they want us to win the fight here.”

Savino also complained that the Senate had been misled by the City Council. The bag fee would have gone into effect in October last year but the Council delayed its implementation after facing strong opposition in Albany. The Senate voted then, as it has now, to ban any taxes or fees on plastic bags. As a result, the City Council struck a deal with the State Assembly to push implementation to 2017 and to revisit the language in the bill. Those negotiations have yet to produce results, with the fee set to go into effect in less than one month. “They did not negotiate in good faith,” said Savino. “We cannot trust them.”

Senator Jesse Hamilton, another IDC member from Brooklyn, who spoke later, stood up against the Senate bill. “Every time we speak about home rule in this chamber, it never applies to New York City," he said. "For this chamber to say the City Council in New York City, they don't know what they are doing, I find that a little offensive.”

Negotiations between the Council and state lawmakers are still continuing, said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at a news conference on Wednesday, in response to Gotham Gazette’s questions. Mark-Viverito expressed her displeasure that the Senate was attempting to thwart legislation that had been extensively debated. “I think it’s unfortunate that New York City is being specifically targeted by the bill that is being presented and that is being discussed and the Senate voted on,” she said.

The day before the Senate took up the bill, Mayor de Blasio vowed to push back against its efforts. In his weekly appearance on NY1, he told host Errol Louis, “I’ll work with the City Council to push this back, because I don’t see an alternative. Do we really want to keep doing something that’s really bad for our environment and takes up lots of fossil fuels as we’re facing climate change. I think the Council was right to pass it and if some of the folks in the state Senate oppose it, what’s their alternative? The status quo is not acceptable.”

A key player in what happens next is a main de Blasio ally: Assembly Speaker Heastie, a Bronx Democrat. Then, there is Gov. Cuomo, not typically a de Blasio friend, who would be forced to decide whether to sign the state legislation if it passes both houses. Cuomo’s office did not return a request for comment about the debate over the bag fee.

City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat and one of the prime sponsors of the bag fee legislation, is hoping that either the Assembly will vote down the bill or that Governor Cuomo, known for his positive record on environmental conservation, will veto it.

Lander said it was “mystifying” that the state Legislature would attempt to roll back environmental regulation and dictate a “law of dubious legality” to the city. But he remained open to changing the language in the bill if it meant it could be improved and receive the Legislature’s support. “I’m worried that Albany is going to nullify this very sensible effective environmental policy,” he said. “I assumed that when Suffolk County, not known as a bastion of left-wingers, passed the same bill, and when the City of Long Beach in Nassau County did the same, that that would help members of the Legislature see that this is growing, that there’s support for it, that this is something we should be looking at more broadly.”

Critiquing Felder’s bill, he added, “It is an unconstitutional special law masquerading as a general law. Home rule should be required and I think everyone knows it.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Additional reporting by Rachel Silberstein

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