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New York Democrats on Eliminating Cash Bail: Not When, But How

gov cuomo provide update clinton

(photo: the governor's office)

Taking the stage at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park last September, Governor Andrew Cuomo promised to end cash bail “once and for all,” a move that would launch New York into the national spotlight with New Jersey and California. “In America you are still innocent until proven guilty,” he told the cheering crowd. “And that’s whether you’re black or white. That’s whether you’re rich or poor.”

The elimination of the cash bail system, under which poor black and Hispanic New Yorkers are disproportionately incarcerated pre-trial, does seem imminent thanks to a new Democratic majority in the state Senate. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, whose chamber last year passed legislation that only limited cash bail, assured faith leaders at Trinity Chapel in Manhattan on Thursday that, “I support a 100-percent-ending-of-cash-bail system.”

But big questions remain: who will be eligible for pretrial incarceration, what constraints will be put on judges, the reach of controversial ankle bracelets.

Cuomo’s recently-released budget proposal calls for more extensive pretrial detention and monitoring than an advocate-backed bill in the Legislature, and several Democrats told Gotham Gazette they want broad judicial discretion on domestic violence cases: a red flag for advocates who see a window for bias. As Democrats use their new power to rapidly pass progressive legislation, bail reform, in all its complexity, could prove a test of how far they’ll go.

“We have to remember there's a presumption of innocence,” warns Democratic Assemblymember Dan Quart of Manhattan. “The point of bail is not to judge or adjudicate people.”

The New York City jail population has decreased by 1,500 over the last two years, according to a December report from the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice. Still, as of September more than a third of the 8,200 people in city jails were held pre-trial on misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies. More than 90 percent of the jail population is people of color. The commission, led by former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, estimates substantial bail reform could reduce the population by 3,000 people.

Deputy Senate Leader Michael Gianaris of Queens likes to remind reporters that the FREEnewyork campaign, composed of more than 150 grassroots groups, has dubbed his bail reform bill with Manhattan Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell the “gold standard.” It eliminates cash bail and was a non-starter in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Under the Gianaris/O’Donnell bill, most defendants would be released on their own recognizance. Possible exceptions include witness intimidation cases, and felony cases where the defendant is accused of attempting to seriously injure another person.

Anyone eligible for pretrial incarceration would be entitled to a hearing where a judge evaluates evidence and considers less-restrictive alternatives, like mandatory check-ins. These hearings would mark a “huge step forward,” says JoAnne Page, president of the Fortune Society, a nonprofit that provides prison reentry services. Currently, setting bail is “a decision that happens in a heartbeat.”

Cuomo’s budget proposal also eliminates cash bail and mandates pretrial hearings. However, his net of eligibility for pretrial detention is much wider, including Class A felonies like murder, conspiracy, and controlled substance charges; most violent B and C felonies like rape, assault and weapon possession (burglary and robbery are excluded); and cases where the judge deems the defendant a threat to the physical safety of someone in their family or household, regardless of the severity of the charges.

Alphonso David, Cuomo’s counsel, told Gotham Gazette that the governor intentionally excluded controversial public safety assessment tools (which Mayor Bill de Blasio has endorsed). These tools rely on data points like a defendant’s age and criminal history, and have been met with allegations of racial bias in New Jersey and California.

But if decarceration is the goal, advocates warn, the net of eligibility for pretrial incarceration must be much smaller -- lest judges balk at losing cash bail and fall back on detention.

“Unfortunately, the same decision-makers who are deciding to set bail on our clients now are going to be the ones who decide whether or not, after an evidentiary hearing, to keep that person remanded,” says Legal Aid Society attorney Marie Ndiaye. “The only thing you can do to really, really decarcerate is just by really, really limiting the number of people who could even be eligible for that kind of treatment."

Cuomo also wants electronic monitoring as an option for people charged with felonies and domestic violence misdemeanors. “When you have something like electronic monitoring there’s a very real risk that it means the expansion of social control,” warns Page, of the Fortune Society. “The threshold you pass before you put an electronic bracelet on someone is much lower than locking them up.”

Last year, the Assembly passed a proposal that would have preserved cash bail and electronic monitoring in felony and domestic violence misdemeanor cases -- a broad category that includes verbal threats. “I'll be the first one to say the Assembly bill wasn't good enough,” Heastie told advocates Thursday.

O’Donnell also dismissed the Walker bill as a relic earlier this month. “In previous years the Assembly would come up with bills we thought might pass muster in the Republican Senate,” he explained. “Those days are over. I would hope that my colleagues would come around and take this bolder approach.”

But there is still substantial Democratic support in the Assembly for the domestic violence provisions in the Walker bill. “There are going to be enough Democrats, me among them, who will be raising the issue,” said Assemblymember Amy Paulin of Scarsdale. “If we don't protect domestic violence [victims], I won't be voting for the bill.”

“Whether it's cash bail or pretrial detention I'm not worried about that,” added Assemblymember Patricia Fahy of Albany. “My interest is the bottom line…that we are not tying any judicial hands in keeping our streets safe, or our households safe.”

This is a point of entry for the state District Attorneys Association, which opposes expansive bail reform on the grounds that it curtails prosecutorial discretion. “We have serious concerns about, with the swipe of a pen, creating a proposal that has calamitous effects on public safety,” Albany County District Attorney David Soares told Gotham Gazette.

Domestic violence advocates in the FREEnewyork campaign say this logic is at odds with the ultimate goal of significantly decreasing jail populations, and relies too heavily on the perceptions of law enforcement. “Particularly for LGBTQ people,” cautions Audacia Ray of the New York City Anti-Violence project, “the way police and prosecutors perceive what is happening is often faulty and racist.”

Senate and Assembly leaders tell Gotham Gazette that they hope to come up with a compromise before budget negotiations, which are set to begin in earnest in March. A budget deal is due April 1. “The old ways of Albany involved trading one thing against an unrelated thing,” Gianaris said. “The new New York Senate is trying hard to break that mold.”

“The tricky thing with bail,” he added, “is that if we don’t do it right, things can get worse rather than better.”

by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette

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State, City & Business Community Announce Next Steps on Census

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Assemblymember Crespo (photo: @ABetterNY)

A new poll about the 2020 Census released Thursday showed New Yorkers, particularly Democrats, agree with what elected officials and advocates have expressed fear over for months, that adding a question about citizenship status on the 2020 Census would depress responses and risk an undercount that could have far-reaching consequences for the state.

A Quinnipiac University poll found that 49 percent of New York residents think it’s a “bad idea” for the Census to question if people are citizens, while only 29 percent believe it’s a “good idea.” The poll results showed a strong split along party lines -- 61 percent of Democrats think the question is a bad idea while 66 percent of Republicans believe it’s a good idea. Overall, 89 percent thought that the citizenship question would discourage undocumented immigrants from answering the Census questionnaire; 61 percent believe it would discourage even legal immigrants from responding; and 44 percent of all respondents said they knew someone they thought would be discouraged from filling out the Census form.

“New Yorkers have a clear message for the federal government: if you want an accurate count of the population, don’t ask a citizenship question,” said Mary Snow, Quinnipiac University polling analyst, in a statement. Though the planned inclusion of the question was struck down by a federal judge, in a lawsuit led by the office of the New York Attorney General, now occupied by Letitia James, the Trump administration is appealing the judgement and the Department of Justice has sought to take it directly to the Supreme Court and bypass the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

The poll was released Thursday morning at the New York Public Library at an event hosted by the Association for a Better New York, a leading business coalition that requested that Quinnipiac conduct the poll and has been taking its own approach to the Census (ABNY did not provide any input on the poll). ABNY Census coordinator Melva Miller announced the launch of a new committee called Census 2020 for a Better New York, chaired by Ford Foundation President Darren Walker and former New York City Planning Commission head Carl Weisbrod, who is currently senior advisor at HR&A Advisors.

“This really has to be a civic effort that involves everybody, but it really does depend on government the effort and doing the job right,” Weisbrod said.

“Let’s not forget that this is also a competition,” he added, pointing out that New York is fighting for federal funds just like other states. “It’s a division of resources, not just an expansion of resources, and we’re in competition with states all across this country.”

At the event, several state and local elected officials and representatives of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration reiterated the ramifications that New York would suffer if the state’s population is not accurately tallied in 2020. The state would risk losing two seats in the House of Representatives, affecting its strength in Congress and in the electoral college, which determines presidential elections. It could cut billions in annual federal funding for the state, affecting about 300 government programs for vulnerable populations like children, seniors and the homeless.

“[O]ur most core democratic principles are at stake when you think about our representation,” said Julie Menin, the former commissioner of both the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, who de Blasio recently put in charge of the city’s Census outreach efforts. “But it really goes even farther than that. What we really believe a citizenship question really is about is an attempt to defund blue progressive cities and to increase funding to red states.”

Menin said the city is focused on distributing grants to community groups and will eventually roll out a “really extensive mass media campaign” targeted at specific communities, hinting that the city would include funding for Census outreach in the upcoming budget (the mayor’s preliminary budget plan for next fiscal year is due out in early February). Advocates from the New York Counts 2020 coalition, made up of dozens of organizations from across the state, say $40 million is needed just to conduct outreach in communities above and beyond the city’s and state’s own efforts.

Last week, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced the creation of a task force to examine census-related issues, chaired by Council Members Carlina Rivera and Carlos Menchaca, who also appeared at the ABNY event.

There has been slower movement at the state level where Governor Andrew Cuomo just announced this week the creation of the New York State Complete Count Commission after it had already missed a January 10 deadline to file a comprehensive report.

At Thursday’s event, Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, co-chair of the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, said he was “disappointed” with the state’s momentum and the lack of funding in the governor’s executive budget proposal, but was optimistic that leaders in government understand what is at stake. “I’m somewhat disappointed that the [governor’s executive budget proposal] didn’t already include this money but I’ve had conversations with the second floor,” he told reporters after the event, referring to the governor’s office in Albany’s Capitol building. “I think they understand this is something we have to address and invest in early. We can’t wait till the eleventh hour.”

Crespo wasn’t worried that the Complete Count Commission, which was created through a bill he sponsored, hadn’t issued its report yet. He said its findings would likely just reinforce the already-acknowledged need for resources. “If anything, the recommendations of the commission should be, how best to spend those resources,” he said. He doesn’t expect, however, that the report will be completed before the state budget is approved by the April 1 deadline.

“I don’t know if it’ll be able to meet and study all this in-depth before the state budget,” he admitted. “But we know enough already from other sources, we know what’s needed, we have a good sense what’s needed and I think we can make the allocation and figure out the distribution later.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note - This article has been updatd to clarify that ABNY requested the poll from Quinnipiac, they did not commission it. 

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

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Gov. Cuomo with Lt. Gov. Hochul & legislative leaders (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, delivered his State of the State speech earlier this month, laying out his proposed $175.2 billion executive budget for the 2020 state fiscal year that begins April 1. Calling it his “justice agenda,” Cuomo unveiled a long list of proposals, some new and many rehashed, expressing confidence that full Democratic control of the state Legislature would allow for a slew of sweeping policy victories that had been denied by years of Republican obstruction in the upper chamber. In the two weeks since then, the Assembly and Senate have indeed advanced several bills -- some of which the governor has quickly signed -- to reform the state’s voting laws, protections for the LGBTQ community, reproductive health rights, and criminal justice system.

The budget gap for next fiscal year, which begins April 1, is about $3.1 billion, lower than the one the state had to cover last year. Cuomo has proposed a 3.6 percent increase in spending each for healthcare and education, the two largest buckets in the budget. Under Cuomo’s plan, which will now be the subject of negotiations with the Legislature, the health care budget would increase by about $700 million, reaching $19.6 billion, and education spending would increase by $1 billion, for a total of $27.7 billion. The governor has also proposed a new education funding formula that he calls “Education Equity,” which would redistribute funds to the poorest schools in the poorest districts, he says, and will be a central element of budget discussions.

[READ: 15 Notable Cuomo Proposals Not In His State of the State Speech]

There’s a great deal to be hashed out, both in terms of policy and the state budget, in the next three months, including stakeholders beyond the governor and legislators, such as advocates, service-providers, local officials like Mayor Bill de Blasio, and others. Though the governor finds himself largely allied with the Legislature on broad progressive priorities, there are areas of disagreement, small and large, and details to be worked out on a host of complicated policies.

Now that Cuomo has framed the discussion with his policy and budget plans, the Legislature is fast at work passing bills and others around the state are pushing their agendas, here are ten of the outstanding questions for the upcoming Legislative session and budget:

1. Will the state stick to a 2% cap in spending increases?
Cuomo is fond of touting his administration’s fiscal discipline and his self-imposed 2 percent cap on increased spending each year. But it’s become a tradition for him to use maneuvers that move spending off the state budget to help mask the actual uptick in spending.

“One of the things that we noticed was that the governor again purports that this keeps state spending at 2 percent,” said Dave Friedfel, director of state studies at Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan watchdog, said of the governor’s executive budget plan, “and it looks like it’s closer to 3 percent. It’s probably a touch more, based on some quick adjustments that we could see right away where money was moved out of state operating spending in a budget year but not in the current year for the calculation.”

2. Will the state put away more money in reserves?
The state would have just $2.3 billion in rainy day funds based on Cuomo’s budget, a pittance compared to the $175 billion in planned spending and an amount that would be insufficient for the state to survive an economic downturn if one should occur without major spending cuts and/or tax increases. The state, and the country at large, is reaching the tail end of the second-longest economic expansion in history and most experts say it will not last too much longer.

“The tide will turn eventually,” Friedfel said. “It’s a matter of how severe that recession is going to be. So we were hoping to see more deposits to the state’s rainy day funds.” Friedfel praised the governor’s proposal to put $500 million more into reserves over the current and upcoming fiscal years but said it wouldn’t be strong enough. “In the absolute best case scenario, [based on] the last three recessions, you could expect to see a revenue shortfall of $20 billion over four years and right now the state’s rainy day fund, even with the governor’s deposit is gonna have $2.3 billion,” he said.

Experts like Friedfel have pointed to California, a similarly high-tax and high-spending state, as a model to follow since that state has put away nearly 10 percent of its operating budget into reserves -- the California rainy day fund is expected to reach $15.3 billion by next year.

3. What will congestion pricing look like?
Cuomo has embraced congestion pricing -- tolling traffic into the Manhattan business district south of 60th Street -- as a crucial method to fund the MTA (and help reduce traffic). At his State of the State, he said the proposal could bring in as much as $15 billion over ten years. But he gave few details of what he believes the program should look like and his budget similarly does not outline exact tolls or methodology.

For elected officials in New York City and its suburbs, congestion pricing is far from a settled idea (there is also concern upstate about transportation funding). New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly emphasized that he would prefer a millionaire’s tax to fund the MTA, and has hemmed and hawed about an ideal congestion pricing plan, while lawmakers in outer boroughs have raised concerns that the program will hurt the pockets of their constituents. However, support for congestion pricing has grown significantly over the last few years, and Cuomo appears committed to passing some version of the program.

Still, there are many questions to answer as a scheme is crafted.

“But I think the bigger question too is, the city runs the roads and bridges that will generate this revenue, so how much of the money will go back to maintaining these roads and bridges?,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank. “That’s something the city really has a stake in. You wouldn’t want to see the city having to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to rehabilitate these bridges every few decades and then they’re generating money that only goes to the MTA.”

The governor's proposal, as Gelinas pointed out in a column for the New York Post, would give the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which falls under the MTA, the ability to take over city streets, sidewalks, roads, bridges and tunnels to build the infrastructure to implement congestion pricing. In effect, it would put city infrastructure under the control of the state which could potentially, Gelinas warned, use that power to demolish bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly spaces and create more space for cars. "This would be a huge deal even if the state were offering something in return: a bigger say over how the MTA spends our money," she wrote. "Instead, Cuomo has said that he’d like more control over the MTA. More money from the city — and more dominance over its future."  

4. Will the governor and Legislature force New York City to split MTA costs with the state?
The governor has suggested that any shortfalls in capital funding for the MTA, after congestion pricing revenues are accounted for, should be split 50-50 between the city and state. He dubiously argued in his speech, as he has before, that he doesn’t control the MTA and that the city is legally responsible for funding subway and bus system capital needs. “And it is worth splitting the cost with New York City, to make the investment we should've made for decades to keep that transportation system vital,” he said, indicating that he could leave it entirely to the city.

Mayor de Blasio disagreed with the governor’s contention, and pushed back against his suggestion that the city had funded the majority of capital plans in past decades. But the mayor may have no choice in the matter if the governor and Legislature force his hand through law, as they did last year in compelling the city to fund half of the $836 million Subway Action Plan put into motion to arrest the rapid decline of subway service over the last few years.   

“On the MTA, it’s going to be very difficult negotiations to start off from here,” said Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute. “It’s hard to see the city going along with having to pay a much bigger portion of the MTA capital budget without having some kind of greater say in what happens at the MTA. The governor seems to want to go in the opposite direction with giving the state a bigger say, although it’s not really clear.”

In the weeks since the speech, Cuomo has repeatedly criticized the very management that he has appointed at the MTA while arguing that it should be restructured to give him more control, though he effectively already has near-absolute power over it.

“I think it’s a little disturbing that he would tie the rest of the existing [2015-2019] capital plan money for the MTA to all of this reform because that’s money that was already promised,” Gelinas added. “They’re already bidding out contracts based on that money. If you’re gonna say that $7.3 billion won’t be available unless we completely restructure the MTA, not only then do you have to worry about the future capital budget but now he’s sort of creating a big hole in the current MTA capital budget...It would be really hard to conceive of an MTA where the city, the suburbs, they’re still providing this money...but they don’t have say over the major capital projects that the MTA embarks on.”

5. What will Cuomo’s new education funding formula look like?
Cuomo proposed $1 billion in increased education funding overall, about $1.1 billion less than what the state Board of Regents recommended. In a series of slides during his speech, Cuomo pointed to education funding disparities across the state stemming from the current “Foundation Aid” formula, also known as Fair Student Funding, and how local districts distribute it to their schools, insisting that more money was being funnelled to richer schools in the poorest districts. His argument formed the basis for his “Education Equity” proposal, which would require school districts to dedicate a significant amount of foundation aid money to the poorest schools.

De Blasio was among those to quickly critique the governor’s proposal, insisting that in New York City at least, funding had been sent where it was needed, despite figures Cuomo had for the first time presented during his speech. The mayor, and education advocates and elected officials, have repeatedly urged Cuomo to fully fund the state Court of Appeals’ Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) decision that first led to the creation of foundation aid -- a decision Cuomo insists is no longer relevant, with a commitment he says has already been met -- which would require billions more in funding, which Cuomo has refused to provide.

Rather, the governor’s budget briefing book took pains to argue that CFE has no relation to foundation aid. But he did not outline what his new proposal would entail, instead leaving it up to the state Department of Education to hammer out a plan.

6. Will Cuomo leverage mayoral control of city schools to get concessions from de Blasio?
Cuomo’s budget book noted his support for extending mayoral control of New York CIty schools by three years, a position he has taken in the past as well. But in the past, the governor -- and Republicans who controlled the state Senate earlier -- used mayoral control as a form of leverage over de Blasio, who is more closely allied with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the teachers unions, attempting to enact concessions including an expansion of a charter school cap.

Cuomo did not mention charter schools in his speech and his budget briefing book has only a small section dedicated to them, but he has been friendly to the sector in the past, and charter school donors have been generous to his campaigns. It’s not clear yet whether Cuomo will pursue increasing the statutory cap, which is close to being reached, especially since Republicans who favor the charter sector no longer have clout in Albany. There are some Democratic legislators who are supportive of charters, but it is unclear how loud those voices will be in their conferences, and whether Cuomo will put any political capital into another expansion of charters’ ability to grow.

And if it isn’t charter schools, it’s unclear what, if anything, Cuomo may try to trade for extending mayoral control.

7. What will marijuana regulation look like?
This is one particularly burning question that has more answers than the others. Cuomo proposed a regulated program to legalize adult recreational marijuana use and raise $300 million in revenue annually, though it allows counties and municipalities to opt out. His budget puts forward the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act, which would impose three taxes on the cultivation and sale of marijuana for recreational use. He has also insisted that regulation must be accompanied by decriminalization for those already convicted on marijuana-related arrests and set a legal use age of 21.

But as legislators negotiate what Cuomo has outlined, questions remain about where the marijuana revenue will go and what the new regulation will look like in practice, particularly for businesses, among other details to be decided. The governor is a more recent convert to the cause of legalization and he has heeded the advice of advocates and other elected officials who have long supported legalization and have insisted it should come with benefits for the communities that have been most adversely impacted by marijuana enforcement.

“Now we just have to put it in place, and we have to do it in a way that creates an economic opportunity for poor communities and people who paid the price, and not for rich corporations that are going to come in to make a buck,” Cuomo said in his speech.

New York City is expected to comprise a majority of the state’s marijuana market and de Blasio, who was until recently opposed to legalization himself, also warned against the “corporate takeover of the marijuana industry.” Speaking at a news conference in Albany after the governor’s speech, he said, “[T]his should be a community-based form of business, a small business focus, and a focus on those who are economically harmed by the previous policies.”

8. Will Cuomo’s ‘Green New Deal’ have legislative backing?
Cuomo proposed a “Green New Deal” to increase New York State’s investment in renewable energy and reach 100 percent clean energy by 2040. It was a sweeping declaration from the governor, who has long faced criticism from activists that his environmental record has not been strong enough. At the same time, Cuomo failed to mention the Climate and Community Protection Act, a bill that seeks to accomplish similar goals but has not moved in the state Legislature, though it may this year.

It’s unclear what compromise might look like, or whether the Legislature will force Cuomo’s hand -- the proposals have differing timelines for achieving certain milestones, among other differences, and advocates say the governor’s ideas don’t go far enough. With legislative action, the proposed environmental regulations would also have the strength of law rather than being enacted administratively and being vulnerable to cuts in the future. Senator Todd Kaminsky has indicated that he will continue to pursue the CCPA, potentially setting up a clash between the governor and lawmakers.

9. Will the Legislature advance the New York Health Act for single-payer health care?
While running for reelection, the governor was ardent that he supports a single-payer health care program, the likes of which would be established by the proposed New York Health Act -- but he has repeatedly said it should be mandated and funded by the federal government rather than the state. New York would have to increase overall state government revenue by $139 billion by 2022 to pay for the program, according to a RAND Corporation study. It would provide health coverage to all New Yorkers -- they wouldn’t have to purchase insurance or receive it from employers -- and patients would not have to pay deductibles, co-payments or out-of-pocket costs. The study estimates that total health care spending in this case would be similar to what current levels are expected to be in 2022, and would be about 3 percent lower by 3031, “with the ten-year cumulative net savings being about $80 billion, or 2 percent.”

The bill -- which its sponsors say will be altered in a new version soon to be introduced -- has passed the Assembly but not the Senate, though both houses are now under Democratic control. Still, legislative leaders have not listed the New York Health Act as a top priority for this year. Several Democratic state lawmakers successfully flipped seats last year on platforms that included support for the New York Health Act, and some legislators, especially the lead sponsors, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and Senator Gustavo Rivera, are expected to continue pursuing it, which could create a significant fissure both within the Legislature and with the governor’s office.

“It was clear in the country and New York that healthcare was the number one issue on voters’ minds,” Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette right after the November election. “A solid majority of the new state Senate has either been a cosigner, voted for it in the Assembly, or campaigned on it. So I think we’re on track to get it passed in the Assembly and state Senate.”

10. Will the Legislature fully close the LLC loophole and pass stronger ethics reforms and a public campaign finance system?
The state Legislature passed several ethics and campaign finance reforms within the first few days of the new session, including severely limiting donations that can be made by Limited Liability Companies and requiring increased disclosure of the ownership of those firms. But that measure did not completely close the so-called ‘LLC loophole,’ which has allowed untold amounts of money to flow into state elections from moneyed interests and has drawn the ire of good government advocacy groups.

Cuomo, the biggest beneficiary of LLC donations of any elected official in the state, has said he wants to close the loophole entirely, a pledge he reiterated at his State of the State while also calling for a ban on corporate contributions to political candidate campaigns -- under the new law passed by the Legislature, LLCs, like corporations, can donate a maximum of $5,000. The Legislature is expected to take up further campaign finance reforms as well, which could mean that LLC and corporate donations may soon become a thing of the past, while a state public campaign finance system could be put into motion.

Cuomo has also proposed a broader agenda of reform that includes curtailing contribution limits across the board, a proposal that could meet with some resistance, and expanding the state’s Freedom of Information Law to cover the Legislature, to which lawmakers have been strictly opposed, among a variety of other reform measures.

[READ: Cuomo's 2019 Agenda of Election, Campaign Finance and Government Ethics Reforms]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Fast Pace Continues in Albany; City Hall in the Bronx & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, Jan. 28

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week the fast pace of action early in the new Albany legislative session will continue, as Democrats now in control of both houses and the governor's office move ahead with more of their policy agenda. This week's highlights will include the Child Victims Act and several gun control bills. See below for more.

In New York City, it's the 2019 "City Hall in Your Borough" week in the Bronx. Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration will focus on the Bronx all week, including several events and announcements. Monday night will see a citywide event, though, in the HOPE count, the annual federally-mandated count of people living on the streets. The city conducts the count utilizing a wide network of employees and volunteers.

And there may be news this final week of January (Friday is February 1) regarding the city and federal authorities coming to an agreement about next steps with relation to running NYCHA; there is a previously set deadline of Thursday for a new agreement before a federal judge who declined to accept a prior deal reached by the city and federal officials. That deadline may get pushed back due to the partial federal government shutdown that is now over, given that top officials involved were not technically working over the past several weeks.

It's another busy week at the City Council, including the second hearing on the deal to bring Amazon to Queens. See the full rundown below.

And there are many other 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:

This week, the de Blasio administration will be in the Bronx for the latest installment of “City Hall In Your Borough.” At 11 a.m. Mayor de Blasio "will make an announcement regarding New York City's lead prevention" at NYC Health + Hospitals/North Central Bronx. That is the mayor's only public event scheduled for Monday as of Sunday evening, but members and departments of his administration have a variety of other Bronx-focused events. "On Monday, First Lady Chirlane McCray will visit a Mental Health First Aid Training in the Bronx. This event is closed press. In the evening, First Lady Chirlane McCray will join author Nana-Ama Danquah for the Gracie Mansion Book Club to discuss her book “Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression” at Barnard College."

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on For-Hire Vehicles will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws to require for-hire vehicles to have panic buttons for both drivers and passengers, as well as a law to establish a minimum base rate for “trips dispatched by high-volume services in the congestion zone.”
--The Committee on Environmental Protection will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss several proposed laws related to green roofs, as well as a law to obligate the Buildings Department to include wind energy as part of its renewable strategy and authorize the installation of large wind turbines. The committee will also discuss a resolution to “increase the real property tax abatement for the installation of a green roof to $15 per square foot.”
--The Committee on Immigration will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “city services and supports for immigrants with Temporary Protected Status.”

The State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany, and both Democratically-controlled houses are expected to continue passing bills that were held up in past years by opposition from Republicans who controlled the state Senate. Monday’s slate includes the Child Victims Act.

At 10:30 a.m. in Albany, “Senator Brad Hoylman (D/WF-Manhattan), Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, survivors, and advocates will be holding a press conference to celebrate the passage of the historic Child Victims Act.”

At 11 a.m. Monday, the State Legislature will hold a joint budget hearing on higher education.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will be a guest on 'Reaching Out with Gregory Floyd' on AM 970 The Answer. At 11 a.m. Hochul will deliver remarks and make an announcement at Staten Island Borough President James Oddo's Data Strategy to Fight Opioid Epidemic. And at 7 p.m. Hochul will deliver remarks at NYSAC Taste of NY Reception in Albany.

At 1 p.m. Monday, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will speak at the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) annual legislative conference, at the Desmond Hotel in Albany.

At 4 p.m. Monday in the Bronx, Acting Public Advocate and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will launch a "Five-Borough Bus Survey" with Riders Alliance, Straphangers Campaign and Tri-State Transportation Campaign, at Fordham Road and 3rd Avenue.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host “Petty Crimes and Petty Laws: A Hard Look at the Broken Misdemeanor System.” New York Times reporter Ali Winston will moderate a panel consisting of author Alexandra Natapoff, Brooklyn Community Bail Fund executive director Peter Goldberg, and Vocal-NY community leader Darryl Herring, discussing “the predatory nature of our inflated misdemeanor and bail systems, which too often target the low-income and communities of color.”

From 10 p.m. Monday until 4 a.m. Tuesday, the Department of Homeless Services will be conducting its annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (also known as the HOPE count), estimating the number of unsheltered homeless people in the city. DHS “is asking New Yorkers to volunteer...to assist the Agency and community partners in estimating the number of unsheltered individuals on the streets, in parks, subways, and other public spaces across the city.” Elected officials around the city often participate in the HOPE count in some way, from rallying volunteers before they head out to taking part in the counting themselves. Speaker Corey Johnson is among those who will participate.

Tuesday will mark four weeks until the February 26 special election for Public Advocate. On Tuesday the Board of Elections will meet starting at 1:30 p.m. to decide on the ballot challenges that have been filed against certain candidates and to finalize who will be on the ballot.

The State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany. It will be the second and final day of legislative session this week, with both houses expected to continue to pass bills, including gun control measures like extending the background check wait period from three to ten days, a ban on bump stocks, and a "red flag" bill that would allow a judge to order guns removed from the home of individuals flagged as a risk to themselves or others.

Also in Albany Tuesday:
--At 9:30 a.m., the State Legislature will hold a joint budget hearing on public protection.
--At 10:30 a.m., the Joint Commission on Public Ethics will hold a commissioners meeting.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will host a city resource fair at the Latino Pastoral Action Center in Mount Eden, Bronx.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Criminal Justice will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the criminal grievance process, as well as to discuss proposed laws requiring a survey and report on the process, to make it more efficient, and for the city to process 311 complaints by incarcerated individuals as formal grievances in a timely manner.
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws related to a count of the city’s housing stock, as well as reporting requirements on vacant and foreclosed property.
--The Committee on State and Federal Legislation will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing on the economic impact of the federal government shutdown on the city.
--The Committee on Contracts will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “roll-out of the Procurement and Sourcing Solutions Portal (PASSPort).”
--The Committee on Sanitation will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss proposed laws related to worker protection in the private carting industry. The bills would require the Business Integrity Commission (BIC) to “establish standards” for unions in the industry to combat unauthorized unions, for the BIC to provide information on workers’ rights, and for the BIC to refer wage and labor violations in the industry to the New York Attorney General, U.S. Department of Labor, and “other relevant city, state, or federal law enforcement agencies.”

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Bar Association will host Maria Vullo, Superintendent of the State Department of Financial Services to discuss “the state of the New York insurance industry, her accomplishments in the past year and during her administration, areas of regulatory concern, and future challenges.”

At noon Tuesday, City Council Members, members of the Teamsters Local 813, private sanitation workers, and advocates will gather at the City Hall steps in support of legislation to eliminate “sham unions.” “Private sanitation workers will also be present to speak about their experiences with worker exploitation and illegitimate union representation.”

At 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, Riders Alliance will rally in Flushing to call on local elected officials to fix the subway.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the New York Housing Conference will host Joseph Salvo, Director of the Department of City Planning’s Population Division, to discuss the stakes of the 2020 Census. The event will take place at LMHQ in the Financial District.

At 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, the State Legislature will hold a joint budget hearing on transportation.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing on Amazon HQ2, the Council’s second, discussing whether the deal delivers for city residents.
--The Committee on Small Business will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the restaurant industry in the city.
--The Committee on Health will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding potentially banning flavored e-cigarettes and vapes, and to discuss proposed laws that would ban them.
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, this week’s Max & Murphy show will air on WBAI, 99.5FM and wbai.org, and will include the next set of interviews with candidates for Public Advocate. (Find past episodes here, including interviews with seven of the candidates in the special election.)

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the New York City Panel for Educational Policy will meet at Murry Bergtraum HIgh School in Chinatown.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, NYU’s Urban Democracy Lab will host “Navigating the City/State Divide: What’s Next for Progressive Elected Officials?” at NYU’s Jerry H. Labowitz Theatre for the Performing Arts. Professor and author Richard Schragger will moderate a panel of elected officials and candidates discussing how “progressive urban leaders” can pursue change in the realm of municipal politics. Panelists will consist of City Council Member and Public Advocate candidate Jumaane Williams, professor and former Attorney General candidate Zephyr Teachout, City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, and State Senator Zellnor Myrie.

At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks will meet at noon.
--The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to administrative trials for taxi drivers, as well as to fold the “Critical Driver Program” into the “Persistent Violators Program.”

At 8 a.m. Thursday, a new Quinnipiac poll on the 2020 Census will be unveiled at an Association for a Better New York event at the New York Public Library Main Branch. Officials involved in organizing the census will speak after the unveiling with reactions. Speakers include Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Census Director for New York City Julie Menin, and Chief Demographer at the Department of City Planning Joe Salvo.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson will deliver her 2019 State of the University System address at the Albany Capital Center.

At 11 a.m. Thursday, the New York City Bar Association will host a panel discussion on the New York Health Act, the proposed single-payer health care program for New York State. Panelists will include Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, SUNY Albany professor Ashley Fox, Oliver Thomas Fein of Cornell Medicine, Eric Linzer of the New York Health Plan Association, and Bill Hammond of the Empire Center.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission will meet at the Council Chambers in City Hall.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, U.S. Representative and House Democratic Caucus chair Hakeem Jeffries will deliver his State of the District address at Brooklyn Tech H.S.

At 6:45 Thursday, Community Preservation Coalition Queens will hold a town hall meeting at the Kew Gardens Community Center to hear testimony in opposition to a new jail the city plans to build in Queens.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, City Council Member Costa Constantinides will deliver his State of the District address at PS 2 in East Elmhurst.

Friday and the weekend
At 10 a.m. Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.

At 3 p.m. Saturday, State Senator James Sanders will host a debate on the the potential legalization of marijuana in the state and its impact on his district, including “possible abuse and addiction,” taxation, small business owners “having a hand in the market,” and expunging records. The event will take place at Roy Wilkins Park’s Black Spectrum Theatre in Jamaica.

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

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

Senate Democrats Pursue No Formal Consequences for Parker After 'Kill yourself!' Tweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

State Census Commission Yet to Be Named or Funded as Key Initial Deadline Passes

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(photo by Governor's Office)

A legally-mandated state commission that was meant to examine the challenges in counting New York’s population for the 2020 Census and craft recommendations to achieve an accurate count has not been named despite having already missed a January 10 deadline for issuing its initial report.

Last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature included in the state budget a measure to create the New York State 2020 Complete Count Commission, a 16-member body charged with studying the reasons for past census undercounts and plotting ways to improve performance in the high-stakes effort. By January 10 of this year, the commission was supposed to issue a report on those causes and lay out a comprehensive plan, along with budget projections, for ensuring an accurate count in 2020.

But the commission hasn’t been created, nor did the governor propose any funding for census efforts in his executive budget proposal released on January 15.

Cuomo only mentioned the census sparingly in his State of the State speech that day, celebrating the fact that a federal judge ruled in favor of the lawsuit led by the New York Attorney General’s office against the inclusion of a citizenship question on the census. “Now let's go out there and count every New Yorker so we get what we deserve in the state of New York,” Cuomo said, without outlining any other details of the state’s census efforts.

The upcoming census is expected to be a particularly challenging effort for states as the federal government is putting far fewer resources than experts say are necessary to fully count the population of the entire country as required by the constitution every ten years. New York already has its fair share of challenges.

The state is home to many “hard-to-count” communities, where at least a quarter of the population does not self-respond to the census questionnaire. This is particularly true for immigrant communities with sizeable undocumented populations, where fears of interacting with federal authorities has been heightened under the Trump administration. There have also historically been other hard-to-count communities, including low-, middle- and upper-middle income African-Americans.

The 2020 Census will also be the first to mostly employ digital technology, another obstacle, especially in rural communities with limited access to the internet and among older people. An undercount can be disastrous for New York, with consequences ranging from cuts in federal funding -- New York receives as much as $80 billion each year -- and the loss of congressional representation. Due to population loss the state is projected to lose at least one congressional seat, with possibly another on the line depending on the count. After the 2010 Census, New York lost two congressional seats.

Half of the state commission’s members were meant to be appointed by the governor; three each were meant to be appointed by the state Assembly speaker and the Senate majority leader, while the minority leaders in both houses were supposed to appoint one member each.

“We have yet to receive all recommendations from appointing bodies for the commission,” said

Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson for the governor, in an email. “We are hopeful that the new Senate Majority will be more committed to the census effort.”

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins did not respond to a request for comment. Mike Whyland, a spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, said in an email that the speaker appointed three individuals in August, though he did not name the members or provide any further details when asked. Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb’s spokesperson did not provide comment.

The governor’s office did note that the state has launched an effort to ensure the accuracy of census address data, which Gotham Gazette reported on in December. “In 2019, Governor Cuomo will launch a comprehensive campaign to protect the integrity of the 2020 Census and to ensure that every New Yorker is counted,” Crampton-Hays added.

New York City, meanwhile, is forging ahead with its own census efforts. Mayor Bill de Blasio allocated $4.3 million in funding in the current year’s budget for the census and is expected to add more in the budget for the 2020 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year. Earlier this month, de Blasio also announced that Julie Menin, the commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment, would take on a new role as Director of the Census for the city.

Community advocates are worried that the state is not taking the 2020 census seriously. The New York Counts 2020 coalition, made up of nonprofits and community-based organizations from across the state, commissioned a study by the Fiscal Policy Institute that estimates about $40 million in total funding is needed to ensure an accurate count. These organizations will be particularly crucial in order to reach immigrant communities and the most vulnerable residents of the state.

“Governor Cuomo must take crucial steps now so that every person in our state is counted in the 2020 census,” said Rachel Bloom, director of public policy & programs at Citizens Union and the co-chair of the state and local government committee of New York Counts 2020. “New York desperately needs funding in the state budget for census outreach as well as a Complete Count Commission. An accurate census count impacts not just our political representation, but New York’s federal funding. Money and resources spent now will benefit New Yorkers enormously for the decade to come.”

[READ: On Census Preparations, State Lags While City, Advocacy Organizations & Business Community Move Ahead]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

City & State Legislative Action & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, Jan. 21

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week starts with the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, which will include many commemorative events acoss the city and state.

The week will feature a lot of action at the Democratically-controlled state Legislature in Albany, on Tuesday and Wednesday, as both houses continue to pass bills that have not moved in past sessions when Republicans controlled the state Senate, and at the New York City Council, where there will be a variety of committee hearings and one full-body Stated Meeting, at which new bills are first introduced and bills that have passed committee receive a floor vote.

We're continuing to watch four other themes this week: next steps after Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State and budget presentation from last week; how the MTA Board is handling the change of L-train tunnel repair plans; what Mayor Bill de Blasio will do next in his rollout of his State of the City agenda and his pursuit of a national spotlight; and the race for New York City Public Advocate, with the Feb. 26 special election rapidly approaching.

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

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

The run of the week in detail:

Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. There will be remembrances and celebrations across the city and state, with many elected officials participating. Governor Cuomo has no public events for the day, however, while Mayor de Blasio will deliver remarks at the annual Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) tribute to Dr. King and the National Action Network celebration of King's legacy -- the latter event will be attended by many officials and candidates.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany. It is expected to be another busy day of passing bills that were passed by the Assembly in prior years but not voted on in what was the Republican-controlled Senate. "New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will hold a press conference regarding women's reproductive health on Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at 1:30 p.m. in the Assembly Parlor, Room 303 of the New York State Capitol, Albany." Both houses are expected to pass the Reproductive Health Act on Monday.

At 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in Brooklyn, Mayor de Blasio "will make an announcement about increasing access to health insurance" at NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County Hospital. "Later, the Mayor will attend the wake for Police Officer Brian Kessler."

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Public Safety will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the Civilian Complaint Review Board, as well as to discuss a proposed law requiring the CCRB to report semi-annually “the reasons that cases are closed without the benefit of a full investigation, and the efforts it made to avoid such closures.”
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 10:30 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 10:45 a.m.
--The Committee on For-Hire Vehicles will meet at 11 a.m. to discuss proposed laws prohibiting and establishing penalties for the operation of commuter vans by drivers without commuter van licenses, and to require the Taxi and Limousine Commission to set items such as disclosure requirements and consumer protection practices as preconditions for financial agreements drivers enter into.
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committees on Civil Service & Labor and Housing will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “Section 3 hiring requirements.”
--The Committee on Cultural Affairs will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “arts, culture, and Stonewall 50.”

At 7:45 a.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will appear on PIX 11 morning news.

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, "the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) will consider calendaring 4 historic districts in Sunset Park, Brooklyn: Sunset Park North, Central Sunset Park, Sunset Park 50th Street, and Sunset Park South. These areas contain the most cohesive and intact concentrations of high quality architecture in Sunset Park and together represent the neighborhood’s primary periods of historical and residential development. The Commission will also consider calendaring the First Hungarian Reformed Church of New York, one of few religious properties designed by the distinguished New York City architect Emery Roth. It is also significant for its association with the Hungarian-American community who settled in the Yorkville neighborhood. Calendaring is the first formal step in the designation process. Once calendared, LPC will hold a public hearing on the proposed designations at a future date, followed by a public meeting during which the Commission will vote on the designation."

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, "Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul is a Guest on WUTQ's 'Talk of the Town' with Jason Aiello." At 10:30 a.m., "Hochul Makes an Announcement and Delivers 2019 State of the State and Budget Presentation" in Utica. She'll then preside over the state Senate session in Albany.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform established by Mayor de Blasio and the City Council will hold its latest public meeting at 250 Broadway.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Energy will hold a budget hearing in Albany regarding NYSERDA.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will appear on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

On Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Gracie Mansion, "First Lady Chirlane McCray will hold a media availability about the ‘She Persists: A Century of Women Artists in New York 1919-2019'..."Later, the First Lady will deliver remarks at the opening reception for the ‘She Persists’ art exhibit."

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Association for a Better New York will host two talks at LMHQ: one on public-private partnerships and their impact on parks and communities, with former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, and one on mobile broadband infrastructure with former Verizon region president Chris Levendos.

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

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committees on Aging and Women will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “women aging into poverty in New York City,” as well as to discuss a resolution calling upon Congress to pass and the president to sign the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act.
--The Committee on Mental Health will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding a three-year update on ThriveNYC.
--The Committees on Environmental Protection and Parks & Recreation will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “the status of the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project.”
--The Committee on Transportation will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss several proposed laws relating to bicycling, including laws to legalize certain electric bikes and scooters, require DOT to create a program to assist low-income owners of e-bikes to convert their bikes to pedal-assist, and to create a pilot program for shared e-scooters.
--The Committee on Economic Development will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “Brooklyn Navy Yard expansion plans.”

Starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Vocal-NY will hold a lobbying day in Albany to “demand housing and services for all New Yorkers living with HIV.”

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, this week’s Max & Murphy show will air on WBAI radio (99.5FM and wbai.org). The hosts will continue to interview candidates for Public Advocate in the February 26 special election: Assemblymember Ron Kim and activist Nomiki Konst will join the show this week. (Prior weeks have featured City Council Members Rafael Espinal and Eric Ulrich, Assemblymembers Michael Blake and Danny O’Donnell, and attorney Dawn Smalls)

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the Schools of Public Engagement at the New School will host a forum for candidates for Public Advocate. Topics will include “social and public health issues affecting New Yorkers, including HIV/AIDS prevention and education, substance use, mental health, LGBT rights, and discrimination.” The forum will take place at the New School Auditorium in Greenwich Village.

On Wedensday at 6:30 p.m. in Brooklyn, Borough President Eric Adams is hosting the second in a series of public workshops on the "Brooklyn Downtown Revitalization Initiative," a project underway as a result of a $10 million state grant.

The City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. Speaker Corey Johnson will hold the usual pre-stated press conference at 12:30 p.m.

Also at the City Council on Thursday: the Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to property taxes.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, the MTA will hold a board meeting.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, City & State will host the P3 Summit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, discussing public-private partnerships. Keynote remarks will be given by Derek Utter, Chief Development Officer at the Port Authority. Other speakers will include Council Members Ben Kallos and Ydanis Rodriguez, Assemblymember Amy Paulin, Port Authority CFO Elizabeth McCarthy, and others.

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

Friday and the weekend
At 9 a.m. Friday, the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary will hold a public hearing at the offices of OATH at 100 Church Street for public comment on nine interim Civil Court judges.

At 10 a.m. Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.

At 10:30 a.m. Friday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will deliver her State of the Borough address at LaGuardia Community College.

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

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

What's The [Data] Point? $175.2 Billion, Cuomo's Executive Budget

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What's The [Data] Point? Episode 62 -- $175.2 Billion, Cuomo's Executive Budget, with Andrew Rein of CBC [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

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$175.2 billion is the size of Governor Andrew Cuomo's Executive Budget plan for Fiscal Year 2020, unveiled earlier this week and now the basis for hearings and negotiations with the Legislature.

The New York budget is one of the largest government budgets in the world, and it’s poised to grow 4 percent over this year’s budget for fiscal year 2019. The Governor has included proposals for everything from congestion pricing to recreation marijuana and sports gambling legalization. Of particular note are significant spending increases on priorities such as education that are backed by a five-year extension of the income tax surcharge on millionaires. Andrew Rein, new president of Citizens Budget Commission, joined the hosts to give an initial assessment of the Governor's budget plan.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

15 Notable Cuomo Proposals Not In His State of the State Speech

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Gov. Cuomo (photo via the Governor's office)

In his expansive State of the State speech on Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo articulated wide-ranging priorities for the legislative session and the budget for the 2020 fiscal year that is due April 1. But there was plenty left unsaid in the 80-minute speech, included instead in the detailed policy book and budget documents released along with the governor’s address. Some of those proposals could have broad social and economic consequences for the state should they come to pass, with many likely to move forward as Democrats control the entire State Legislature.

But the governor has also been known to include proposals in past policy books and budgets without putting any political capital behind them once negotiations with the Legislature are underway. Below is a list of notable Cuomo proposals that didn’t make it into the governor’s speech:

Increasing protections against harassment in the workplace
Though the governor has touted passing last year the strongest laws in the nation against sexual harassment in the workplace, he did not mention them at all during his State of the State speech. Nonetheless, his plans do include proposals to expand the protections passed last year, including by lowering what some have called onerous standards for proving harassment under the Human Rights Law, mandating that non-disclosure agreements articulate a victim’s right to file a complaint or participate in an investigation, and requiring workplaces to prominently display sexual harassment informational posters.

The governor and legislators have been under pressure from advocates and some lawmakers to hold public hearings on sexual harassment in both the public and private sector -- hearings that were not held before last year’s laws were passed -- and to strengthen the new laws. While Cuomo included enhanced laws in his proposals, legislative leaders announced a joint hearing for February 13.

Cuomo is also proposing removal of the statute of limitations for reporting rape.

Pursuing universal access to health care
The governor will establish a commission comprised of the Department of Health, Department of Financial Services, health care and insurance experts to explore how the state can provide universal access to health care in the state. The commission would have to issue a report by December 1.

Cuomo has dismissed calls from legislators and advocates to support creation of a single-payer health care system in New York, but outlined several health care proposals in his speech and included the commission in his written plans.

Criminal penalties for assaulting the press
Taking direct aim at President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the free press, including calling journalists the “enemy of the people,” and accusations of “fake news” against reporters, Cuomo, who has had his own issues with the press, is proposing legislation that would make it a felony to assault a journalist while they are doing their job. Journalists would join several other classes of worker, such as nurses, in this category.

Creating a database of economic development deals
Cuomo’s budget proposes several reforms to state contracting processes, which have been at the center of recent corruption scandals that have marred his administration. Among those reforms is an online database of economic development projects that receive state assistance. Good government advocates have repeatedly called for that “database of deals” to provide more accountability for state spending and the Legislature has in the past promised to pass such legislation even if the governor did not support it.

It’s unclear if the database the governor has in mind will meet the expectations of those who have demanded such a public accounting, which would ideally show investments and their results in granular detail.

Protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation
The governor backed the “One Day to Save New Yorkers” bill, a small but significant change to sentencing for Class A misdemeanors. The bill would reduce the maximum punishment for such offenses from 365 days -- exactly one year -- to 364, in an effort to protect undocumented immigrants who, if convicted of crimes with a sentence of one year or more, could face deportation proceedings.

A permanent watchdog over police-involved killings
Cuomo signed an executive order in 2015 giving the state Attorney General the authority of a  special prosecutor to investigate instances where unarmed civilians are killed by law enforcement officers. His budget proposal includes support for legislation to codify that order by creating a permanent special counsel to probe such incidents, something he has backed in the past.

Additionally, Cuomo’s budget would require all law enforcement agencies across the state to implement a use-of-force policy and to collect and report all data on incidents where the use of force leads to death or injury.

Tackling lead exposure among children
The governor has proposed lowering the threshold of blood lead levels in children that would trigger intervention by public health officials. The proposal could be particularly significant for New York City, where the city’s public housing authority (NYCHA) has been sued in federal court for failing to deal with lead paint in its apartments (and covering up missed inspections) while Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly downplayed the number of children exposed to lead.

Creating a new agency to help domestic violence survivors
The budget proposes creating a new state agency called the Division of Victim Prevention and Response, by consolidating the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, the Office of Victim Services, and the Office of Campus Safety.

The governor is also proposing legislation to modernize policies for providing relief to domestic violence survivors -- no longer requiring them to pay certain costs for staying in a domestic violence shelter and removing the requirement that they must apply for public assistance. He is also creating a task force to study the state’s service delivery system for survivors. Cuomo is also pushing the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which would expand certain protections for survivors caught up in the criminal justice system.

Protecting breastfeeding mothers from workplace discrimination
The governor intends to propose legislation that would clearly establish lactation as a pregnancy-related condition covered by the state’s Human Rights Law. It would ensure that employers provide reasonable accommodations for breastfeeding women (i.e. to pump) or be liable under the law.  

Expanding protections against wage theft
In his “first 100 days” agenda, Cuomo spoke about passing new protections for the freelance and gig economy but made no reference to it on Tuesday and his policy book only mentions it sparingly, in its introductory section. What the document does include is a proposal to expand criminal penalties for wage theft, a crime of which freelancers and gig workers often find themselves the victims. The budget proposes changing the state’s labor law and establishing an expanded range of violations, from misdemeanors to felonies, for wage theft. It would also give the state Department of Labor the authority to refer cases for criminal prosecution.

Protecting sex trafficking victims
The budget commits to closing loopholes in the state’s rape shield laws, which are meant to protect victims of sexual violence by limiting evidence of their sexual history from being introduced in court. Cuomo’s budget proposes expanding the law to cover sex trafficking victims and to prevent prostitution convictions from being used against victims.

Establishing compassionate release
Cuomo’s budget proposes introducing legislation to establish a compassionate release process for incarcerated individuals above the age of 55 suffering from debilitating health issues. The bill would allow these individuals to be considered for medical parole after serving half their sentence.

Promoting corporate diversity and pay equity
Cuomo’s budget creates a Task Force on Representation and Corporate Transparency, to devise ways the state can promote diversity on corporate boards and in their workforce and to ensure pay equity. Cuomo will also order a study -- by the Department of State, Department of Labor and the Division of Human Rights -- of the gender and racial composition and inequity of boards of firms that have state contracts.

Encouraging youth participation and engagement
The policy book proposes creating a Youth Council made up of 62 young people, one from each county in the state, between the ages of 13 and 21. The council is meant to operate for two years, meeting at least three times a year, to inform the state government’s policies on education, the environment, civic engagement, and juvenile justice. It would also include subcommittees dedicated to discussing sexual harassment and assault, female empowerment, and cyberbullying.

Extending the millionaire’s tax and closing the carried interest loophole
The state’s millionaire’s tax is slated to expire at the end of 2019 and so far its fate has remained somewhat uncertain, though Cuomo announced his intention to renew it during a December policy speech. The governor’s policy book proposals includes a five-year extension of the tax to retain the $4.4 billion that it is estimated to bring to the state coffers each year from roughly 60,000 taxpayers, half of whom are from out of state.

The governor is also proposing to do away with the “carried interest” loophole. Hedge fund managers, private equity investors, and venture capitalists earn a portion of their income in the form of carried interest, which is taxed at a lower rate than regular income, costing the state about $100 million, according to state estimates. Cuomo has proposed a change in how this income is treated, and would impose a 17 percent “fairness fee” to raise about $1.1 billion annually.

[Read: Cuomo's 2019 Agenda of Election, Campaign Finance and Government Ethics Reforms]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Cuomo's 2019 Agenda of Election, Campaign Finance and Government Ethics Reforms

gov cuomo albany

(Photo via the Governor's office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a broad agenda of progressive legislation in his State of the State speech on Tuesday, accompanied by more detailed policy and budget books, including several measures aimed at improving New York’s democracy and increasing public trust in state government.

Emboldened by full Democratic control of the State Senate and Assembly, after years of a split Legislature where Republicans controlled the upper chamber, Cuomo reiterated many of the proposals that he has repeatedly advanced in vain in previous years and also introduced new ideas to combat public corruption, reduce the effects of money in politics, and provide more transparency about the workings of the Legislature and Executive branches.

Cuomo took stock of the state government’s failure to police its own -- as he spoke about passing ethics reforms, the powerpoint slide behind him filled with newspaper headlines about corruption in state government, starting with his own administration. “If you read the headlines over the past few years, they have been continuous and they have been disappointing, and they have been disgraceful, and they have been widespread,” he admitted. “It looks terrible and it is terrible.”

Government reform advocates have broadly praised the governor’s platform as they continue to examine the details included in the budget. On voting reforms, there seems to be general agreement, while the campaign finance and ethics proposals may prompt further debate.   

Election Reforms
Cuomo backed several voting reforms, many of which were passed by the State Legislature on Monday and sent to the governor’s desk for his signature. They included early voting -- he has proposed 12 days of early voting while the Legislature passed a 10 day bill -- consolidation of state and federal primaries into one date in June, pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds to vote, and portability of voter registrations. There was also the campaign finance reform measure of significantly limiting contributions through the so-called LLC loophole and requiring more transparency from LLC owners.

The Legislature also began the process of amending the state constitution to establish same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee ballots by mail, both of which will have to be approved by the next Legislature seated in 2021 and then through a ballot referendum.   

Cuomo supports all of the above, and his proposals go further, some of which are matched by bills Democratic legislators have introduced. The governor wants to make Election Day a state holiday, implement automatic and online voter registration, and also expand voting hours for primary elections upstate where polling sites currently only open at noon.

Campaign Finance Reform
Cuomo is supporting a sweeping campaign finance reform agenda that includes a public matching system for the state.

The Legislature’s LLC bill brought contribution limits in line with those for corporations, at $5,000. Cuomo, on the other hand, has proposed closing that loophole entirely (something some legislators have said they want to do in a next phase) and banning all corporate contributions to candidate campaigns, while also lowering contribution limits across the board. He also proposed prohibiting any contributions from individuals or entities that have recently applied or are seeking government contracts.

Separately, the governor pushed a measure to require reporting of intermediaries or “bundlers” who collect donations from several contributors and funnel them to candidates.

He wants to establish public financing of elections, providing 6-to-1 matches for small contributions up to $175, similar to the system currently in place in New York City. The public funds limits would be $8 million for candidates for governor; $4 million for lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller candidates; $375,000 for Senate candidates; and $175,000 for Assembly candidates.

On Wednesday, the governor’s office put out details of his proposal to lower contribution limits -- statewide candidates would be able to receive a total of $25,000 ($10,000 for the primary and $15,000 for the general election) down from the current effective total limit of roughly $65,100. Limits would be lower for state legislators -- Senate candidates would be allowed to raise a total of $10,000 from individual contributors, down from $18,000; Assembly candidates would be limited to $6,000 total, down from $8,800. While significant reductions, the numbers are still quite high relative to individual donation limits to presidential candidates or candidates for mayor of New York City, for example.

Cuomo is also seeking to take on the scourge of “dark money” flowing into elections through independent expenditures by anonymous sources. His budget briefing book calls for expanded disclosure by 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups of the “extent and nature of their expenditures used to influence the debate on public issues, and the identity of large donors who facilitate that speech.”

“These loopholes make the entire campaign system fraught for a lack of integrity,” Cuomo said. “You want to talk about franchising individuals who now feel disenfranchised - a corporation, a large contributor with a $10 million check can buy an election and nobody knows who he or she is.”

Government and Lobbying Ethics
Though some of his proposals are likely to face resistance from the State Legislature, Cuomo wasn’t shy about challenging his legislative counterparts in his Tuesday speech as he railed against the recurring instances of corruption that have come to light in recent years, including from within his own administration.

“Now, we will never stop venial, greedy, ignorant, behavior by people. And we shouldn't be expected to do that,” Cuomo said, “but we should be expected to do everything we can to have a system in place that safeguards against fraud or theft, and there it is a continuing battle, but there I believe we can do more to ensure the public trust.”

He proposed requiring candidates in state elections to disclose their tax returns, a measure that is usually voluntarily taken by candidates for major offices like mayor, governor, and president. Cuomo’s budget proposal would require statewide candidates to release ten years of tax returns and five years of returns for candidates for Senate and Assembly.

He also emphasized the need to expand the state’s Freedom of Information Law to cover the state Legislature, a move that certain lawmakers have backed in the past but one that previous legislative leaders have ardently opposed.

The governor is also seeking to ban government employees from volunteering for their employer’s political campaigns, and wants to require local elected officials to annually disclose their finances to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), just as state elected officials and employees are required to do.   

Cuomo also floated a “Lobbying Code of Conduct” to severely limit real and perceived pay-to-play politics and to curb the revolving door practices that have become commonplace in Albany. He proposed greater penalties for violations of lobbying laws, lowering the threshold for disclosure of lobbying activities to $500, down from $5,000, a ban on loans from lobbyists to candidates, and preventing political consultants from lobbying the elected officials who they helped get into office. He is also advocating for expanding the blackout period in which government employees and elected officials, as well as their staff members, would be prohibited from becoming lobbyists from two years to five.

The governor promised on Tuesday that if the state Legislature did not approve the code of conduct for lobbyists, he would prohibit those lobbyists who do not voluntarily abide by it from lobbying the executive chamber. The provisions of his proposal, however, contain many gray areas as well as steep penalties -- a lobbyist who deliberately violates the rules could receive a civil fine of $25,000 or be banned from lobbying for six months to five years -- that will be part of negotiations if there is any movement on the proposals.  

In a surprising move, the governor also announced on Tuesday that he had reached an agreement with State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to implement certain reforms to the state’s contracting and procurement processes, including returning to the comptroller certain powers that had been stripped during Cuomo’s first year as governor. Cuomo said he would allow the comptroller to pre-audit any SUNY, CUNY and Office of General Services contracts worth more than $250,000, granted the audits are done within 30 days, and, in turn, the comptroller agreed to turn over contracts above that threshold to the state inspector general for audits.

“Contract procurement review must be performed and government must function on a timely basis,” Cuomo said. “I don't believe one is the enemy of the other. Yes, review contracts, but yes let's get it done quickly because government has to function and we have to get things done.” The agreement neutralized criticism that Cuomo faced for undermining the comptroller’s authority and also preempted the potential threat of the state Legislature passing these measures against the governor’s wishes.   

Cuomo also proposed strengthening the powers of the State Inspector General, giving the office the authority to oversee nonprofits affiliated with SUNY and CUNY, as well as “state-related procurement and the implementation and enforcement of financial control policies at SUNY and CUNY.”

“This proposal is a positive step forward,” said Jennifer Freeman, a DiNapoli spokesperson, in a statement. “Improvements to the procurement process will assure that independent checks and balances are in place to prevent abuse.”

Finally, the governor’s briefing book indicates that he will direct Empire State Development, a state agency responsible for economic development programs, to create a publicly accessible online database of projects getting state benefits. Good government advocates, DiNapoli, and some legislators have long been pushing for such a “database of deals” and praised its inclusion in the governor’s budget proposal.  

“We’re very pleased by the sheer scope of the many good government reform measures the governor issued and we’re carefully evaluating them,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a nonprofit advocacy group. “We’re most pleased with progress on clean contracting.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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