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

felder bag fee city hall via scott reif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Additional reporting by Rachel Silberstein

Largely Inactive Senate Ethics Committee Restructures

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Sen. Gianaris (photo: State Senate)

New York state government has had no shortage of ethics scandals, but has had a deficiency in active, effective bodies to prevent, punish, and root out bad behavior among elected and appointed officials.

When the new legislative session began in Albany earlier this month, there was an immediate shake-up of the long-dormant state Senate ethics committee, throwing the always-simmering chamber to a quick boil.

The Senate ethics committee, as well as a parallel committee in the New York State Assembly, in theory, are places where lawmakers review and make recommendations on Senate policies, including travel expenses, time and attendance, sexual harassment, and other aspects of workplace ethics. Like other issue committees, the ethics committee should consider ways within its purview to improve governance, such as limiting legislators’ outside income or requiring greater disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.

Yet, even with much to do, the committees’ actual function is unclear: despite the fact that committee chairs in both chambers earn an additional $12,500 stipend per year, legislative ethics committees have rarely met over the last two decades, allowing misdeeds to go unaddressed in-house.

As the rules were being adopted for the new Senate class that will govern for 2017 and 2018, the majority coalition of Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference -- a seven-member group of breakaway Democrats -- included changes to the ethics committee.

After a brouhaha over how the committee would be structured, how the political parties and conferences would be represented on it, and, essentially, what it means to be a Democrat in the New York State Senate, the committee’s new shape was established. It will grow by one member, to nine, and will give the IDC significant power to determine what business, if any, the committee takes up.

Initially, Senator Thomas Croci, a Long Island Republican and the previous ethics committee chair, proposed that, at eight members, the committee be split evenly by representatives of the two major political parties, rather than by majority and minority conference, as was previously the case. Ostensibly, this would have meant that the committee could feature four Republicans and four IDC members.

The motion was challenged by Democratic Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who, on the first day of the session, January 4, pushed for the body’s continued split between the two major conferences, or three ways among mainline Democrats, Republicans, and the IDC.

Croci argued that an equal split by political party would create parity with a similar body in the New York State Assembly, while Gianaris questioned how committee members would be selected and whether such a makeup would equate to a GOP/IDC power-grab.

“Ethics committees have always been treated differently, regardless of makeup of bodies, because of their very sensitive nature and the possibility of using an ethics overview committee for political reasons,” Gianaris said on the Senate floor.

Though Croci’s resolution passed at that January 4 session, last week Senate Republicans agreed to revisit the issue. They hammered out an agreement with Democrats that satisfied members of all three conferences. The new committee will include nine members — three Republicans, three mainline Democrats, and three IDC members.

Committee members are to be appointed by leaders of the three conferences. While the new structure disproportionately represents members of the Republican-IDC coalition, any investigation proposed by the body must have the approval of one member from each conference to move forward, according to the new rules. Effectively, it remains easy for a conference to kill an internal ethics investigation into one of its members.

The full list of ethics committee members were revealed during legislative session on Tuesday, with Elaine Phillips, a freshman Republican from Long Island, replacing Croci as chair, while former chairs Croci and Andrew Lanza, of Staten Island, remained on the body as Republican committee members. Senators David Valesky, Staten Island’s Diane Savino, and David Carlucci of the IDC also joined the committee, and three mainline Democratic seats will be filled by Gianaris, Brooklyn’s Roxanne Persaud, and Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx.

An aide to Croci said the senator never intended to politicize the committee’s structure, but that he believed strongly that the body should mirror the Assembly’s structure. A spokesperson for Senate Democrats said that Republicans were eager to find a solution at this Tuesday’s session that is satisfactory to all parties.

“We are pleased with the final composition of the Senate Ethics Committee and thank the Senate Republicans for working with us to achieve equal representation for all Senate Conferences,” said Mike Murphy, communications director for Senate Democrats, who are led by Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

IDC Leader Jeff Klein, who has been mostly silent on the issue so far, issued a statement through spokesperson Candice Giove: "The original intention of the Ethics Committee makeup was never to be unfair to any Senate conference, but in its new configuration I expect all appointees from each of the Senate's three conferences will carry out their work just the same -- in a fair and ethical manner."

Political affiliations aside, the ethics committees in both legislative chambers have been repeatedly criticized for failing to police their own houses or put forward any ethics reforms. Instead, critics say, they have been focused on protecting lawmakers from scrutiny, despite pervasive corruption and major ethical lapses. There has been a long parade of state legislators who have left office due to corruption scandal, including, recently, the two legislative leaders, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos.

Blair Horner, executive director at NYPIRG, a government reform group, said this move sets an unusual precedent for legislative standing committees, but said ultimately internal ethics committees are no substitute for meaningful independent oversight.

“It’s understandable where they are going, if that’s how they want to enforce their own rules, but what New York needs is independent oversight, and no one -- except [United State Attorney] Preet Bharara -- is talking about that,” he said.

The Senate ethics committee has not met since 2009, when Senator John Sampson was chair, according to the Senate website. Sampson, ironically, was convicted in 2016 on charges of obstructing justice and lying in relation to a federal investigation into whether he had embezzled state funds, and is expected to be sentenced shortly.

U. S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has overseen the convictions of more than a dozen state lawmakers, including former Senate Majority Leader Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Silver, told the New York Times that the ethics committee’s blank calendar reveals how ineffectual these bodies are.

“The idea that the chair of the ethics committee has never had the opportunity to mark up a bill, has never had the opportunity to hold a hearing tells you everything you need to know about the enabling nature of all the people in the State Legislature who may not have been convicted of crimes, but seem not to care that they’re going on,” he said.

Senator Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat and former committee chair, testified at Skelos’ 2015 corruption trial, that he was surprised to learn that Senate had never referred a bill to the committee and no bill has ever been produced by the committee for a vote.

“You’d think the standing committee would have the ability to have bills referred to it,” Avella told the Times last year. “I think it would be important, for anything that has to do with ethics reform, that it should go to the Ethics Committee.”

But when Avella tried to call a meeting to try to address some ethical issues plaguing the legislature, he told outlets the meeting was canceled over budget negotiations and was never recalled.

Whether this latest restructuring indicates a sign of life from the defunct committee, or results in yet another year of inaction -- one absent of hearings, bills, or proposed reforms  -- remains to be seen.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Constitutional Convention Absent from Cuomo’s 2017 Agenda

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Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office)

Though he has expressed support in the past for a “yes” vote for a constitutional convention on this year’s ballot, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s newly revealed 2017 agenda and 2017-2018 budget provide no indication that such support continues.

Last year, Cuomo backed a constitutional convention in his lone State of the State speech, which was combined with a budget presentation, and he included $1 million in his spending proposal for a preparatory commission. Yet, this year, the issue is notably absent from Cuomo’s $152.3 billion executive budget, unveiled Tuesday, as well as his 149-proposal, 380-page policy book, which was released last week in conjunction with an unconventional, six-speech State of the State tour.

While a spokesperson for the governor told Gotham Gazette that Cuomo still supports a constitutional convention, he made no mention of it during any of his speeches or his budget presentation. In his 2016 speech, Cuomo said, “a constitutional convention that is properly held – with independent, non-elected official delegates – could make real change and re-engage the public.”

On November 7, 2017 – Election Day – New Yorkers who go to the polls will have a ballot question of whether the state should hold a constitutional convention. A majority “yes” vote would lead to a convention that could streamline or significantly modify New York State’s outdated constitutional document and propose changes on issues like campaign finance, redistricting, voter registration, term limits, home rule, and much more. New Yorkers get to vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention once every 20 years.

In his three-day State of the State tour, Cuomo visited cities across New York, touting a populist message aimed at the middle class, delivering his policy agenda directly “to the people” rather than to the state Legislature, as is Albany tradition. At one appearance just before the State of the State tour, he was accompanied by Senator Bernie Sanders – a progressive icon whose 2016 presidential run helped fuel a populist movement – to announce a plan for making city and state colleges tuition-free for middle class New Yorkers.

Yet, Cuomo’s agenda contains nothing on the upcoming constitutional convention vote – just 10 months away – which is a rare opportunity for the public participate in a process that could potentially curb the power of big money in politics. An opportunity for the people to “take their government back” at a time when state government has been plagued by corruption scandals.

Powerful interests -- particularly environmental and labor groups who are fearful that a convention could put at risk environmental protections and public employee pensions -- are already lining up in opposition, as they did in 1997, when the Con Con question was defeated in a landslide.

Meanwhile, legislators have little motivation to implement these reforms, since it is the status quo that effectively put them in office. The $1 million Cuomo proposed last year for a preparatory commission did not make it into the adopted fiscal 2016-2017 budget, likely because of legislative opposition from Assembly Democrats. Such a commission would make process recommendations and examine key issues to be addressed in a constitutional convention, including how delegates are selected and running the convention itself.

Cuomo’s father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, was forced to use an executive order to create a Con Con commission and last year the governor’s office expressed interest in going the executive order route after the money was not included in the budget. None has been announced.

Later last year, in response to criticism that few items in his 11-part plan to clean up Albany passed through the Legislature, Cuomo made the case for a constitutional convention in a New York Times interview, saying it was the only way to close the infamous LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited campaign donations from deep-pocketed interests.

Republicans would never agree to such reform, Cuomo said, “because they believe it ends corporate money, and only union money would come into the system, which would help the Democrats.”

He added, “The people are going to have to do it.”

In this year’s State of the State and budget, the governor once again laid out an ambitious plan for government ethics reforms in areas like campaign finance, voter registration, and term limits, but his silence on Con Con may be related to his wanting to maintain the support of labor groups ahead of his 2018 reelection campaign.

A spokesperson for Cuomo did not rule out the possibility of forming a commission through means outside of the budget. “We continue to support a Constitutional Convention and are examining all options and resources available to form a commission,” said Cuomo press secretary Abbey Fashouer.

Bill Samuels, the founder of government reform organization EffectiveNY and a vocal proponent of a Con Con who supported the governor because of his stance on the issue, said he remains hopeful that the governor would identify funds to convene a commission.

“If he is serious about major constitutional change, it's only going to happen through a constitutional convention,” Samuels said. “He clearly has not made a statement ‘I've changed my mind.’ I don't think he’s changed his mind, but he may have changed how active he wants to be,” he added, with a nod toward Cuomo’s looming reelection year.

A major challenge for nonprofits and interest groups pushing for a convention is getting the word out to the public and educating New Yorkers about the issues at stake. Recent polls show that nearly two-thirds of New Yorkers have heard little or nothing about the referendum, though polls also show that the idea does resonate with people. Constitutional convention advocates beyond Samuels expressed dismay over the governor's silence, saying he missed a significant opportunity to engage and educate the public on the upcoming referendum.

“New Yorkers have three chances in a lifetime to get serious attention to the operational structure of their state government and now we have a clear crisis in confidence,” said Gerard Benjamin, political scientist, SUNY New Paltz professor, and longtime advocate for a constitutional convention. “The governor has joined the state Legislature in its efforts to deny the public the necessary info to make the choice.”

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Cuomo Unveils $152 Billion Executive Budget Plan

Cuomo budget presentation

Gov. Cuomo presents his budget (photo: Governor's Office on flickr)

Just before 8 p.m. Tuesday evening, Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented to the public his Executive Budget for fiscal year 2017-2018. Speaking from the Executive Mansion, Cuomo briefed a room full of journalists and his aides in remarks that were live-streamed on the internet and carried by NY1 on television.

As Cuomo explained, the $152.3 billion budget plan followed his State of the State tour, where the governor spent three days giving six speeches across the state. “Our prime focus this year is on addressing the problems of the middle class,” Cuomo said Tuesday evening, picking up where he left off during his State of the State tour, “and all of the problems for the middle class.”

Cuomo led with college affordability, the highlight and lead proposal of his State of the State agenda, and also discussed creating jobs and reducing prescription drug costs as key agenda items for middle class families.

The governor highlighted several other major proposals that he had discussed during his speeches of the prior week: infrastructure and tourism investments, criminal justice reform, expanding ride-hailing outside New York City, government ethics and campaign finance reform, and more.

Importantly, ride-hailing, raising the age of adult criminal responsibility, the Dream Act, ethics and campaign finance reform are all in budget bills, even though they are not all spending proposals. This gives Cuomo additional leverage in negotiating these mostly contentious proposals with the state Legislature.

“I hope for a good legislative session,” Cuomo said toward the end of his initial presentation, before taking questions from the reporters gathered. The governor has been on poor terms with state legislators of late, and his handling of his budget presentation did not appear to help matters. He briefed members of the state Senate on Tuesday afternoon and then scheduling issues created a problem with briefing Assembly members, but Cuomo’s staff briefed Assembly staff, he said.

Soon, weeks of budget hearings will begin, as well as closed door negotiations. A budget for fiscal year 2017-2018 is due by April 1.

As he is wont to do, the governor in his budget presentation extolled that he has some new national firsts in his agenda, like college tuition relief and prescription drug price controls. Cuomo is especially fond of New York being the first state (or first large state) to pass certain policies, like marriage equality or a $15 minimum wage program.

The governor spent a portion of his budget presentation discussing the mechanics of balancing his budget while staying under his self-imposed 2 percent cap on annual state operating spending increases.

“One of the main aspects of this budget is tax policy,” Cuomo said. “We do not cut taxes for millionaires, we do cut taxes for the middle class.” Cuomo is proposing a three-year extension of the state’s “millionaire’s tax,” which, he said, will account for about $4 billion from about 45,000 households. Cuomo explained he is combining that extension with a tax cut for hundreds of thousands of middle class earners that will “cost” the state about $1 billion in revenue.

The $4 billion from the millionaire’s tax -- which is expected to be fought by the Republican-controlled state Senate -- minus the $1 billion for the middle-class tax cut helps create $3 billion Cuomo said is needed to close what was a roughly $3.5 billion budget gap, which existed even with state operational spending growth at just 1.9%.

“The anger is hopelessness,” Cuomo said of middle class people who are frustrated with stagnant wages and increasing expenses, trying to raise a family. Not only is the governor proposing a middle class tax cut and additional public college tuition assistance, but also an expanded child care tax credit.

Cuomo said that his tax and spend plan allows for $1 billion in additional education spending, which is the largest chunk of the state budget. According to the governor's budget book, "Medicaid and School Aid are the State’s largest local aid programs, comprising over 45 percent of the State Operating Funds budget." Cuomo's spending plan includes $25.6 billion in school aid for school year 2018, "an increase of $961 million (3.9 percent)," and $19.5 billion for Medicaid.

The governor’s budget proposal includes $5.6 billion to be spent on debt service, up 4.8% from the current year.

As he usually does, the governor touted the many billions of dollars that are being spent on infrastructure improvements around the state, though much of that spending is not part of the operating budget Cuomo was discussing. He mentioned investment in water infrastructure, explaining that the water quality crisis in Hoosick Falls has been a learning experience for all involved. The governor also explained that the state is continuing to invest heavily in economic development, including in Buffalo, despite the fact that Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion program has seen a major corruption scandal.

Cuomo focused heavily on tourism. “When people see upstate New York, they love it and they come back,” the governor said, explaining his plan for the Empire State Trail, which will connect Buffalo, Albany, New York City, and run north from Albany to the Canadian border. “All we have to do is get them to go the first time, and that’s what ‘I Love New York’ is all about,” the governor explained of the state’s campaign, while also noting that tourism creates much-needed upstate jobs.

As for New York City, Cuomo said “no” four times and nothing else when asked if there were any proposed cost-shifts to New York City like he proposed to the tune of about $800 million last year for CUNY and Medicaid. A full review of budget documents will tell whether the governor has taken any new steps in his ongoing feud with Mayor Bill de Blasio. On Tuesday afternoon de Blasio expressed frustration with not having been briefed by Cuomo about the imminent budget proposal. Cuomo again has a three-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools in his budget. De Blasio has gotten two one-year extensions in a room.

One area of focus for Cuomo that aligns with de Blasio’s interests is affordable housing. Cuomo explained that his replacement for the expired 421-a program was included in his budget and that with the deal agree to by the building trades union and the real estate lobby, he expected the state Senate to agree to release nearly $2 billion in affordable housing funds allocated last year.

While the incoming Trump administration loomed over the state budget presentation, Cuomo did not indicate he had made any adjustments in anticipation of certain moves by the new federal regime. Cuomo and Trump are set to meet Wednesday in New York City.

[Read: A Cheat Sheet to Governor Cuomo's 2017 State of the State Proposals]

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Cuomo Proposed New Wall Street Regulation, But Left It Out of NYC Speech

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

As part of his 2017 policy agenda, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Sunday a plan to ban bad actors from the financial services industry. Cuomo’s proposal would empower a state agency, the Department of Financial Services, with the authority to mete out such punishment to those deemed to have violated the public trust.

However, when he launched his three-day, six-event State of the State tour in New York City on Monday morning, just a few blocks from Wall Street, home to the country’s financial industry giants, Cuomo made no mention of the proposal, which his Sunday press release said would ”better help prevent situations like the one seen recently at Wells Fargo.”

Cuomo’s 2017 agenda has been defined by an overarching focus on addressing “middle class anger” stemming from economic anxiety and a lack of inclusion in the state’s overall economic recovery since the Great Recession. In his New York City speech he alluded to perpetrators whose behavior led to that economic downturn, Wall Street bankers and insurance companies responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis.

“In the recession of 2007 the middle class saw their hard earned equity in their homes stolen,” Cuomo said from 1 World Trade Center. “Nearly half the homes of our middle class are not yet back to their pre-recession value. Just think of it. That home equity was their life’s work, their security blanket, the payment for their daughter’s wedding, it was their business loan, and their child’s college tuition. It was taken through no fault of their own. But they never got it back and no one even went to jail. Justice was never done. And that is not the American way.”

The sixth plank from Cuomo’s 2017 policy agenda seeks to address that broader issue by giving the state Superintendent of Financial Services the ability to ban individuals from working in the banking and insurance industries in New York if they are found guilty of egregious wrongdoing.

That the governor didn’t bring it up in his roughly 45-minute speech appears to be an odd omission, given the location of the speech and the fact that parts of it were specifically tailored to New York City. The governor’s entire 2017 agenda does contain 149 proposals, though only 19 had been made public by the end of his two speeches on Monday. Cuomo did not mention every region-specific proposal at its relevant stop on his tour. The governor’s office told Gotham Gazette there is nothing to the fact that Cuomo did not discuss the proposal during his New York City speech.

“Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York has made great strides in establishing a strong financial regulator and protecting consumers from unscrupulous practices,” said Abbey Fashouer, a spokesperson for the governor, in an email. “By banning bad actors from the financial services industry, we are taking another major step forward that will ensure that those who seek to defraud the hardworking people of New York are held accountable.”

The proposal is indeed an aggressive move to regulate the financial services industry and would give the Department of Financial Services (DFS) powers that federal regulators currently possess, a move allowed under federal law. “There is no federal preemption issue,” Department of Financial Services Superintendent Maria Vullo told Gotham Gazette. “National banks and financial institutions must comply with New York State law. The proposal is a New York State statute that would authorize the Department of Financial Services to pursue individuals who commit bad acts that impact New Yorkers.”

How the proposal will be received by state legislators and by those it seeks to regulate remains to be seen. The governor, in the announcement of the proposal, directly referred to the “excesses and systematic abuse” in the Wells Fargo case, where employees used customer information to create fake bank accounts and inflate their figures. A Wells Fargo spokesperson declined to comment on Cuomo’s proposal. Since the scandal broke in September, the bank has been attempting to make amends for its employees’ misdeeds. “We also recognize that aside from the financial impact, we’ve broken trust with some customers and...our priority is to restore trust with our customers,” Wells Fargo executive Justin Thornton told the Wall Street Journal in December.

The governor’s proposal has not been fleshed out entirely and state legislative leaders have yet to weigh in. “We will review it once we see the language,” said Mike Whyland, spokesperson for Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in an email to Gotham Gazette. Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Cuomo’s proposal indicates a plan to expand financial services law, but without further clarity or bill language, legislators, industry representatives, advocacy groups, and others have little to go on.

“The New York Insurance Association (NYIA) will be reviewing the proposal and considering whether or not the measures outlined are an appropriate approach,” said Ellen Melchionni, president of the insurance trade association, in a statement.

Cuomo created the Department of Financial Services in 2011, shortly after taking office as governor, in order to create stronger oversight of the industry, which calls New York home. Since, DFS and other state entities, like the Attorney General’s office, have reached billions of dollars in settlements with financial institutions.

Marcus Stanley, policy director for Americans for Financial Reform, a nonpartisan coalition that focuses on accountability in the industry, said the governor’s proposal was a “standard thing” for a state regulator. “I’m surprised they don’t have it already,” he said. He noted that despite numerous instances of misconduct over many years, federal regulators have tended not to use their power to ban individuals from the industry. “It’s a good thing for states to step into the gap,” he said. Although, he added, “It depends on whether they use [that power] and how they use it.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

A Cheat Sheet to Governor Cuomo's 2017 State of the State Proposals

Cuomo State of the State image presser

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

Breaking with decades of tradition, Governor Andrew Cuomo decided this year to deliver a series of State of the State addresses, making six speeches over three days to outline his 2017 agenda and tout some of his accomplishments during his first six years as governor.

Cuomo began his six-stop tour in New York City on Monday, January 9 and concluded it in Albany on Wednesday, January 11. He tailored each speech and presentation to the particular region, and, in total, his administration announced 37 often broad proposals, most with several sub-planks. For example, there are 10 points to the 35th proposal, which is restoring trust in government through sweeping ethics reform. The governor has a nearly 400-page policy book that he is delivering to the Legislature and has made public. The books contains about 150 proposals in sum.

Some of the proposals are region- or city-specific, many are for the entire state. Various elements will need approval from or compromise with the Legislature. Cuomo starts the year feuding with legislative leaders, especially Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrat.

After outlining his policy agenda for 2017, Cuomo must release his Executive Budget proposal for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, then negotiate with legislative leaders, particularly Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat. Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, of the Bronx, will also be heavily involved in negotiations -- the IDC is again forming a coalition with Senate Republicans. A new state budget is due by April 1.

A cheat-sheet to Cuomo's State of the State proposals:

1. Tuition-free public college for middle-class students:
-Ultimately tuition will be free for families/individuals earning less than $125,000 per year
-This program will be phased in over three years--it’ll be for people and families earning less than $100,000 in Fall 2017, going to $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019
-The program, the Excelsior Scholarship, was unveiled by Cuomo with Senator Bernie Sanders

2. Transforming Kennedy Airport:
-It would involve improving roadways around the Airport to reduce congestion
-He would also either, 1. Increase the capacity of the AirTrain, or 2. Have a 1-seat ride from Manhattan to JFK
-Cuomo also wants to connect all the terminals at JFK

3. Expanded Child Care Tax Creidt:
-Child care tax benefits would increase for those making at least $50,000 a year but less than $150,000 a year
-Those earning between $60,000 a year and $150,000 a year will see their benefits more than double under this plan
-Over 200,000 taxpayers affected

4. Protecting New Yorkers from Cyber Attacks:
-Cuomo proposes strengthening cybercrime and identity theft laws
-Cuomo wants to “establish a Cyber Incident Response Team within the office of Counter Terrorism.”
-This team “will serve as a go-to resource for non-Executive agencies, local governments, and public authorities in how to better protect their information technology assets, critical operating systems and data from cyber-attacks, malware and ransomware.”

5. Protecting Seniors from Financial Exploitation and Foreclosure
-Establish “an Elder Abuse Certification Program for banks located in New York State, amending the banking law to empower banks to place holds on potentially fraudulent transactions, and strengthening legislation that will protect senior homeowners with reverse mortgages.”
-Several measures to further protect seniors from financial exploitation

6. Banning Bad Actors from the Financial Services Industry for Egregious Conduct
-This proposal would “empower the state Superintendent of Financial Services to ban certain bad actors from the banking and insurance industries for misconduct like that seen in the Wells Fargo scandal.”

7. Further Strengthen New York’s Efforts to Crack Down on Wage Theft
-“[A]mend State law to hold the top 10 members of out-of-state limited liability companies personally financially liable for unsatisfied judgments for unpaid wages.”
-Such laws apply to in-state Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) but not out-of-state LLCs.
-“Further, the Governor will advance legislation to empower the Labor Commissioner to directly enforce all wage liabilities on behalf of workers with unpaid wage claims. Combined, these measures will get more money back into the hands of the hardworking New Yorkers who earned it.”

8. Install Over 500 New Charging Stations to Promote Electric Vehicle Use
-500 new workplace charging stations
-69 charging stations along the New York State Thruway
-Encourage electric motor vehicle use and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions

9. Modernizing Voting in New York to Increase Participation in the Democratic System
-“[A]llow early voting, and adopt both automatic voter registration and same day voter registration.”

10. Close Indian Point power plant by 2021
-Unit 2 Reactor to close April 2020 and Unit 3 Reactor April 2021
-End use of a plant with numerous safety violations
-“Current Indian Point Employees will be Offered relocation and opportunities with other plants and utilities within the state; training in renewable technologies"
-“Entergy will provide $15 million in funding for environmental and community benefits"
-Cuomo is working on replacement resources so that there can be no cost increases in electricity after Indian Point closes

11. Invest $650 Million to Fuel the Growth of a World-Class Life Sciences Cluster in New York
-$250 million for tax incentives for life science companies
-$200 million for “state capital grants to support investment in wet-lab and innovation space”
-$100 million for “investment capital for early stage life science initiatives”
-At least $100 million for “operating support from private sector partnerships”

12. Launch the “New York Promise” Agenda to Advance Social Justice and Affirm New York’s Progressive Values
-Reforms of the Criminal Justice System including “overhauling New York’s antiquated bail system, ensuring access to a speedy trial, raising the age of criminal responsibility, improving witness identification procedures, recording police interrogations for serious offenses, and extending the Hurrell-Harring settlement reforms statewide.”
-Signed two executive orders to make it more likely for people to get equal pay for equal work.
-Help immigrants by “implementing the Empire State Immigrant Defense Project; expanding the naturalization services offered at the state’s Office of New Americans; pressing for passage of the DREAM Act; and convening the New York State Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigrants to make recommendations that support the integration and success of immigrants and their families.”
-Establish a Statewide Hate Crimes Task Force
-Form an Interfaith Advisory Council led by Cardinal Dolan to “help achieve a greater understanding and tolerance of all religions and cultures, promote open-mindedness and inclusivity, and bolster the state’s efforts to protect all New Yorkers.”

13. Expand After-School Education to Children in High-Need Areas Across the State
-$35 million pilot program
-“[C]reate 22,000 new after-school slots in high-need areas across the state.”

14. Lower Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Cap by 30 Percent Between 2020 and 2030
-Cuomo “has called upon RGGI states to join New York in an effort to continue to lead the fight against climate change and drive the nation’s transition toward a clean energy economy.” (RGGI = Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative)
-Lowers greenhouse gas emissions in New York and other states
-“By reviewing the RGGI program and adjusting the cap to reflect the progress made in just a few short years, New York and neighboring states will continue to reduce emissions annually after 2020 and ensure that power sector emission reductions continue through 2030.”

15. Regional Investments to Move New York City Forward
-Investments in New York City’s outer boroughs
-$50 million investment in the Montefiore Health System
-Transform health and wellness in Brooklyn through measures such as affordable housing with “features such as exercise rooms, rooftop gardens, and health clinics,” the expansion of New York’s Land Bank Program, and the establishment of “Brooklyn as a primary location for the FreshConnect Mobile Markets and FreshConnect Checks program expansion to increase access to healthy foods in the area.”
-Permanent toll reductions at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge for Staten Island residents
-$10 million for upgrading the Orchard Beach Pavilion in Pelham Bay Park
-$108 million for the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx
-“[I]ncorporate the Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities into CUNY”

16. $500 Million Buffalo Billion Phase II ("Buffalo Billion squared")
-“[E]xpansion of the Buffalo Billion initiative to continue building on the renewed economic engines and reinvigorated civic spirit throughout Buffalo and the entire Western New York region.”
-“[I]mplement revitalization and smart growth efforts; improve workforce development and job training; grow advanced manufacturing, tourism and life sciences; and connect communities and economic progress through rail expansion.”
-“[D]evelop a new commuter rail and multi-modal station in downtown Buffalo and completing Buffalo’s light rail extension to University at Buffalo’s North Campus will provide 20,000+ students access to downtown Buffalo and the waterfront, as well as connect urban job seekers with suburban employment centers, helping Buffalo to deliver economic inclusion for all the region’s workers.”
-A Buffalo Blueway, which would “create a network of expanded public access points to waterways and historic, cultural and natural assets to spur revitalization and tourism in the Buffalo/Niagara Region.”
-Investment at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus
-Doubles down on program with widespread alleged corruption involving Cuomo aides, associates, and donors

17. Invest $2 Billion in Clean Water Infrastructure and Water Quality Protection
-“[I]nvestment in drinking water infrastructure, wastewater infrastructure and source water protection.”
-“Funding for projects will prioritize regional and watershed level solutions, and incentivize consolidation and sharing of water and wastewater services.”
-Drinking water and wastewater infrastructure upgraded
-Advanced treatment installed for both drinking water and wastewater, and advanced filtration systems installed for drinking water
-Green infrastructure and open spaces built for source water protection
-“[E]nsuring proper management and storage of common contaminants like manure and road salt to prevent runoff; and increasing the state Superfund to expedite the cleanup of hazardous waste that may impact sources of drinking water.”
-Follows (ongoing) water quality crisis in Hoosick Falls and questions about water quality in other places in New York

18. Enable Access to Ride-hailing Apps Throughout New York
-Ride-hailing apps are legal and regulated in New York City but not in the rest of the state
-Legalize and regulate throughout the state
-Create regulatory framework including zero-tolerance policy with drugs and alcohol, DMV licensing and regulating of ridesharing companies, consumer protections for users, and more

19. New $10 Million Photonics Venture Challenge in Rochester
-“This business competition will aim to support start-up companies that commercialize these rapidly developing technologies through a business accelerator program and a top award of $1 million to the most promising start-up company.”
-“[M]odeled after Western New York’s 43North, a $5 million start-up competition funded by Governor Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative where cash prizes are awarded to some of the best entrepreneurs and start-ups from around the world.”

20. Complete the Empire State Trail by 2020
-“The state will develop 350 miles of new trail in three phases to create a 750-mile pathway for hiking and biking along scenic vistas and through charming, historic communities.”
-“The Empire State Trail will span much of the state, from the New York Harbor up through the Adirondack Mountains to the Canadian border – and from the shores of Lake Erie along the historic Erie Canal to the heart of the Capital Region.”
-Gaps closed in the Erie Canalway and the Hudson River Valley Greenway, as well as connect the two trails
-When complete, “the largest state multi-use trail in the nation.”

21. Build the Town of Woodbury Transit and Economic Development Hub
-“[E]xpand the Route 32 corridor, replace the Route 32 bridge over Route 17, reconfigure the ramp leading to the New York State Thruway, and add a solar-powered bus station and a commuter parking lot and an interconnected traffic system to improve access and allow for increased commercial activity.” (Orange County)

22. Extend the Empire State Excellence in Teaching Awards
-Honor 60 additional teachers
-“Winners will receive an honor from the Governor, the opportunity to advise education policy makers, and a stipend of $5,000.”
-“The funds can be used for continued learning and professional endeavors.”

23. Empower Voters to Reduce Property Taxes and Costs of Local Government
-This plan “requires county officials to develop localized plans that find real, recurring property tax savings”
-Cost-saving plans would be up for voter referendum in the November 2017 elections
-“If the plan is not approved by a majority of voters, the county government must prepare a new plan for approval in November 2018.”

24. $160 Million to Transform Long Island
-$80 million for improvements at 16 LIRR Stations
-$40 million will “support economic growth, environmental sustainability and water quality in business districts in Smithtown and Kings Park.”

25. Nation's Largest Offshore Wind Energy Project Off Long Island Coast and Unprecedented Commitment to Develop up to 2.4 Gigawatts of Offshore Wind Power by 2030
-Long Island Power Authority to approve of a wind project 30 miles southeast of Montauk, for 90 megawatts of power
-“[A]n unprecedented commitment to develop up to 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, enough power generation for 1.25 million homes and the largest commitment in U.S. history.”
-“[C]alls on state agencies to ensure a 79,000 acre lease area capable of siting approximately 800 megawatts of offshore wind off of the Rockaway Peninsula is developed cost-effectively and responsibly to customers.”
-Help New York reach its goal of 50% of energy needs met by renewable sources by 2030
-“[T]he Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to undertake a comprehensive study to determine the most rapid, cost-effective, and responsible pathway to reach 100 percent renewable energy statewide.”

26. Actions to Combat the Heroin and Opioid Epidemic in New York
-"[E]liminate insurance prior authorization for inpatient treatment to include outpatient treatment.”
-“[T]en 24/7 urgent access centers with crisis intervention on-call services, one in each region of the state.”
-“[R]equire emergency department prescribers to consult the Prescription Monitoring Program Registry to combat “Doctor Shopping"
-"[L]egislation to create New York’s first recovery high schools in regions of the State hit especially by the disease of addiction.”

27. "Buy American" Plan will Implement the Nation's Strongest State Procurement Laws Mandating the Preference of American Products
-"[A]ll state entities will be required to give preference to American-made goods and products in any new procurements more than $100,000.”
-Other states have “buy American incentives” and New York is missing out on the opportunity to incentivize people to buy American
-“To qualify as “American-made” under Governor Cuomo’s proposal, end manufacturing processes should take place in the United States and more than sixty percent of the components of the manufactured good should be of domestic origin.” There are a few exceptions to this requirement, though.

28. Saab to Establish North American Headquarters for Defense and Security Division in New York State
-Saab is in military defense and civil security, and will invest $55 million to relocate to New York State.
-Saab plans “strongly align with the region’s “CNY Rising” Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI) plan.”

29. New Independent Study of All Possible Options to Replace I-81 Viaduct in Central New York
-This viaduct is in Syracuse and is in need of a replacement
-“The New York State Department of Transportation will engage an independent expert with international tunnel expertise to conduct the study.”

30. $45 Million Revitalization of Syracuse Hancock International Airport
-“[W]ide-scale redesign of the grand hall, food, beverage and retail concessions, and the exterior façade. In addition, a new Regional Aviation History Museum, glass pedestrian bridge, and eco-friendly roof will be built along with new flooring and furniture to provide a welcoming atmosphere for travelers from across the world.”
-Expected to create 850 construction jobs
-Additional funding will come from the airport, county, and federal government; with estimated completion date in 2019

31. Foster the Industrial Hemp Industry in New York State
-“[T]he Governor has proposed to amend legislation to further grow the industry and authorize farmers to work with the state to conduct hemp research as an agricultural commodity.”
-“[T]he Governor will host the first-ever Industrial Hemp Summit in the Southern Tier”

32. $38 Million Revitalization of Plattsburgh International Airport
-Modernize the airport, including “the construction of a new air cargo receiving and distribution center.” This “will allow existing manufacturers to transport their own materials, create jobs, and attract new companies to the region.”

33. Protect New Yorkers from Soaring Prescription Drug Prices
-Three-pronged plan. One, to “effectively create a price ceiling for certain high cost prescription drugs reimbursed under the Medicaid program by requiring a 100 percent supplemental rebate for any amount that exceeds a benchmark price recommended by the state's Drug Utilization Review Board.”
-Two, to have “a surcharge on any amount by which the price of these high-priced drugs exceeds the benchmark recommended by the Drug Utilization Review Board in the Medicaid context, when these drugs are sold into the state.”
-Three, to have Pharmacy Benefit Managers register with the State, “and be subject to new regulations requiring disclosure of financial incentives or benefits for promoting the use of certain drugs, as well as other financial arrangements affecting customers.”

34. Launch the Empire Star Public Service Award to Recognize the Meaningful Contributions of Public Employees
-Award will go to those who “go beyond simply what is routinely asked of them and display an admirable level of dedication and pride in their work.”
-“Individuals or teams will be nominated by their fellow state employees via the Empire Star Public Service Award website and an Awards Selection Committee will review all nominations and recommend winners to the Governor.”
-Winners get a $5,000 scholarship for professional development.

35. Restoring the Integrity and Accountability of State Government Through Comprehensive Ethics Reform
-Ten-point plan: limiting outside income and having a full-time Legislature (imposed through constitutional amendment), term limits (imposed through constitutional amendment), “requiring members of the Legislature to obtain an advisory opinion before earning outside income,” closing the so-called LLC Loophole and other campaign finance reforms including a public-financing system, “subjecting local elected officials to financial disclosure requirements,” reform to the state’s Freedom of Information Law, “expanding the State Inspector General's authority to SUNY and CUNY not-for-profits,” “new Inspectors General for the Port Authority and the State Education Department,” and “ensuring greater oversight of the state's procurement process.”
-Governor Cuomo: “State government must do more to restore the public trust because as public servants we earn the trust of the people we serve. Unfortunately, in Albany there have been a series of breaches of that trust. We must take action to show the people of this state that we get it, and that when someone does something wrong, they are punished to the full extent of the law and we have a system that is going to catch them. We have been doing historic work at the state level – the government is doing more than ever before – but imagine what we could do if we had the complete confidence of the people. If we had that confidence, there is nothing we couldn’t do – and I am not going to stop until I get there.”

36. Grow New York's 21st Century Workforce and Advance the Tech Economy
-Ideas including establishing a Tech Workforce Training Fund; starting the the New York Tech Workforce Development Task Force; starting more Early College High Schools, which would “provide high-performing, at-risk students the opportunity to receive hands-on training, a free associate’s degree and first-in-line job opportunities upon graduating; expanding the Master Teacher Program so that more teachers are trained in computer science; and establish what Cuomo calls a “tech workforce training fund.”
-Launch the New York Tech Workforce Task Force, “a body of industry experts, academic leaders, and state officials who will inform New York’s K-12, college, workforce and economic development investments and ensure their continued alignment with 21st century workforce demands.”
-A tax credit for incumbent worker training.

37. Encourage Recent College Graduates to Become First-Time Homeowners in Upstate Communities
-“Graduate to Homeownership” program would help recent college grads with homebuyer assistance to purchase homes upstate so that college grads can remain upstate.
-According to the Governor, “This $5 million pilot program will incentivize homeownership with subsidized low interest loans, down payment assistance and homebuyer education courses to encourage young people to stay and continue revitalizing Upstate New York’s downtown areas.”
-This is an initial pilot program of $5 million aimed at keeping upstate students in their home or school communities and reversing population and job losses.

Governor Cuomo's full 2017 State of the State policy book

by Brendan Birth and Ben Max

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated.

Acknowledging Pervasive Corruption, Cuomo Releases 10-Point Government Ethics Agenda

Cuomo State of the State Excelsior booklet

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)

Governor Andrew Cuomo concluded his three-day, six-stop State of the State tour in Albany Wednesday, though not at the State Capitol, where he and previous governors have typically held a single event. In contrast to previous addresses, most state legislators were not in attendance to hear the governor lay out his agenda for the year.

Throughout the week, Cuomo released 35 proposals, many of them aimed at lifting the middle class, including tuition-free city and state college for students under a $125,000 income threshold, jobs and infrastructure investment, and an expanded child care tax credit. The governor outlined voting reforms to encourage more New Yorkers to cast ballots, and, as he toured the state, made a wide variety of region and city-specific proposals.

The governor culminated his junket with the capital region speech, at SUNY Albany, during which he outlined his 2017 government ethics agenda. An ambitious ten-point plan that comes in response to “a series of breaches of the trust” in Albany, Cuomo said. “It has happened in the legislature, both houses, it’s happened in the state comptroller’s office, it’s happened in my own office,” the governor acknowledged. He said the measures, if enacted, would “restore the public trust.”

Last year saw the two former legislative majority leaders convicted on public corruption charges, followed by the arrest of eight people -- aides of and donors to Cuomo -- in an alleged corruption scheme of bribery, kickbacks, and bid-rigging.

Cuomo spent the first three-quarters of his Albany address rehashing themes from his previous speeches, such as the need to address “middle class anger” and his focus on correcting inequities between Upstate and New York City through major government investment. He also outlined capital region-related proposals like an expanded nature trail, legalizing ride-hailing apps, and water infrastructure investment.

The governor then explained the need for a more ethical and trustworthy government by saying, “We have been doing historic work at the state level – the government is doing more than ever before – but imagine what we could do if we had the complete confidence of the people. If we had that confidence, there is nothing we couldn’t do – and I am not going to stop until I get there.”

After noting that there have been ethics measures passed four years in a row and acknowledging their insufficiency, Cuomo repeated many of his proposed reforms from 2016, including closing the LLC loophole, enacting term limits, and instituting restrictions on outside income for state lawmakers -- all of which have been bucked by the Legislature, especially Senate Republicans. Cuomo proposals for term limits, outside income restrictions, and making the job of state legislator full-time would require state constitutional amendments.

The governor and state legislators start the year on bad terms after a commission to enact pay raises for legislators fell apart when the governor’s appointees refused to back raises without corresponding reforms like outside-income limits.

On Wednesday, Cuomo also proposed adding the Legislature to Freedom of Information Law transparency, increased oversight of the state's procurement process, requiring local elected officials to file financial disclosures, and expanding the State Inspector General's authority to SUNY and CUNY not-for-profits, and creating new Inspectors General for the Port Authority and the State Education Department.

“As public servants, we earn the trust of the people we serve, and we can only do as much as that trust allows us to do. Unfortunately, in Albany there has been a series of breaches in the trust,” he said. “We have to say to the people of this state, we get it, people will do bad things — that is the nature of humanity — but we are going to have as many precautions as possible.”

Government reform advocates, some legislators, and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have been focused on changes to help prevent corruption, not just punish it or add disclosure, as a number recently passed ethics reforms have done. Cuomo’s ten-point plan hits many notes that reform groups and reform-minded elected officials have been calling for. Whether there is a path to enactment is unclear.

"It's nice to see the governor articulate his continued commitment to ethics reform, but he has to change his approach if he really wants to get this done," said Dick Dadey, executive director of government reform organization Citizens Union. "We've grown weary of his words and need to see more forceful action in trying new strategies to get this done," Dadey added. "If he really wants to clean up Albany, then he needs to do something else like hold up the budget or play hardball in a way he hasn't before."

Blair Horner of NYPIRG, another reform leader, has been calling on Cuomo to take his ethics message to the people, like Cuomo did in travelling the state and holding rallies to promote a minimum wage increase that passed last year. The governor’s office did not respond when Gotham Gazette asked what Cuomo planned to do to ensure his reform proposals are passed.

"It's not hard to come up with good proposals, it's hard to come up with good laws," Horner told Gotham Gazette in response to the governor's speech and ethics agenda. "Whether or not there is a good ethics hinges almost entirely on what the governor does -- he has to engage the public. Good ethics deals are not the result of secret negotiations at the Capitol. What comes out of that are half measures with loopholes and it's not clear to me what the governor wants to do. He's never taken the fight into the public domain."

The relationship between Cuomo and state legislators frayed in recent weeks as talks over a special session and a potential pay raise for lawmakers fell through toward at the end of last year, when lawmakers balked at the governor’s attempt to trade the pay bump for his reform package. Some have of speculated that this falling out, along with Cuomo’s interest in running for president in 2020, are reasons Cuomo took his address on the road this year.

At his Albany speech, Cuomo said the tailored State of the State addresses were intended to speak directly “to the people” in every region of New York.

Last year, in the wake of the corruption scandals by which Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos were found guilty of violating federal laws, Cuomo also focused part of his State of the State address on restoring the public’s trust in government, emphasizing numerous ethics reforms he hoped to pass in the coming year. His 2016 agenda included setting limits on campaign expenditures, the closure the LLC Loophole, increased funding for a state ethics regulator, JCOPE, and term and income limits for lawmakers.

The governor also vowed to convene a commission to create a blueprint for a Constitutional Convention -- an opportunity to make significant changes to the state constitution, including enacting ethics reforms -- in the event that in November of this year, New Yorkers vote in favor of holding one. It was another plan that failed to materialize as the money Cuomo proposed to fund the commission did not make it into the budget. The governor has said the only way to close the LLC loophole, which allows for virtually unlimited corporate campaign donations, appears to be through a constitutional convention.

While most of the campaign finance reforms proposed by Cuomo last year did not pass both legislative chambers, nor did he push aggressively for them, Albany lawmakers did pass a series of disclosure requirements aimed at increasing transparency for Super PACs and nonprofits. The measures, rushed through at the end of the legislative session, were criticized for doing little to address the actual sources of corruption in state government.

This year begins with Cuomo weathering a new scandal, even closer to home, as three of his former top aides and several major donors have been indicted for alleged behavior related to the governor’s economic development programs.

What Cuomo does next, if anything, to push his ethics reform plan is anybody’s guess. The governor will soon release his Executive Budget proposal and then, as the Legislature holds a series of budget hearings, he will negotiate with legislative leaders before a budget is passed. The new state fiscal year begins April 1.

For the capital region, Cuomo proposed on Wednesday to complete the Empire State Trail, a 750-mile pathway for biking and hiking that would connect the Erie Canalway and the Hudson River Valley Greenway, by 2020; a brand new airport for Plattsburgh, New York, which he suggested would transform the city into a “transportation hub,” and vowed to address the region’s failing pipes and invest $2 billion into clean water infrastructure across the state. Finally, he pledged to protect New Yorkers from out-of-controls drug costs and repeated earlier calls to enable ride-hailing services, like Uber and Lyft, in Upstate New York.

In reaction to Cuomo’s ethics agenda, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins noted that Senate Democrats have been fruitlessly pushing for similar reforms for some time. “There have been no stauncher advocates for ethics reform than the Senate Democrats,” she said in a statement. “Clearly, ethics reforms will only take place if all Democratic Senators unite to form a functional majority. New York voters supported a Democratic Senate Majority and deserve an ethical and trustworthy state government.”

Other top Albany officials, including Attorney General Schneiderman -- who pushed last year for a wide ranging ethics reform package to address Albany corruption -- Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie withheld comment on the governor’s proposed reforms saying they are still under review. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan's office did not respond to a request for comment. As NYPIRG's Horner pointed out about Cuomo's 2017 ethics agenda, it does not include restoring audit powers previously stripped from the Comptroller or additional corruption-investigating powers for the Attorney General, two items many have been calling for, but Cuomo continues to resist.

[Read: A Cheat Sheet to Governor Cuomo's 2017 State of the State Proposals]

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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

Note: this article has been updated with comment from Blair Horner of NYPIRG.

Speaking Directly to 'Middle Class Anger,' Cuomo Offers Something for Everyone


Gov. Cuomo delivers his NYC State of the State (photo: Cuomo's office)

Invoking a populist message of economic inclusiveness and social progress that faces dire threats from a changing national reality, Governor Andrew Cuomo kicked off his 2017 State of the State tour on Monday morning in New York City.

On the 64th floor of 1 World Trade Center, at the first of six planned events around the state, the governor spoke to a seated assembly of more than 100 people, including state and local elected officials and everyday New Yorkers, relaying an overall message that kept with his recent record but was also engineered as a response to the widespread “middle class anger” evident in the 2016 presidential election.

Titled “Excelsior, Ever Upward” after New York’s state motto, the governor’s State of the State was pegged largely as a stimulus for middle class economic improvement and opportunity, but had something for nearly everyone in the Greater New York City area.

Cuomo pledged a child care tax credit, tuition-free public college for about 80 percent of New York households, more jobs through investment in the private sector and public-private partnership, support for the homeless and funding for affordable housing, all while New York will be vigilant, he said, protecting and promoting the state’s progressive social bonafides. The governor spoke of criminal justice reform and improving access to voting, expanding and improving mass transit, protecting a woman’s right to choose, and defending quality healthcare.

Cuomo likened New York to a hardy ship sailing choppy waters, where economic development has been swift but the middle class feels left behind, where social progress has been significant but people’s rights now feel under attack.

“The ship of state is doing very well and is stronger than it has been in decades,” Cuomo said. “But at the same time, the troubling reality is, the sea upon which our ship of state sails is as rough and tempest-tossed as it has been in over 50 years.”

The state’s progress on women’s rights, climate change, affordable healthcare, and public education is being threatened, the governor said, in a reference to national developments since Donald Trump won the presidential election. Without mentioning President-elect Trump by name, Cuomo emphasized throughout his speech that progressive values and equitable economic growth are not mutually exclusive and that New York would continue to promote the state’s middle class while upholding its secular progressivism.

He also indicated that there was a lot to learn from the results of the election and that New York would show the way. While Cuomo was outlining his 2017 agenda -- much of which will have to be negotiated with the state Legislature -- he also further positioned himself as a national Democratic leader, perhaps with an eye on the 2020 presidential race.

“We all heard the roar on Election Day and we must respond,” he said, insisting that the state must follow two crucial paths -- acknowledging and addressing the issues faced by the middle class and preventing “misdirected anger from doing damage to our country’s core values.” In that vein, Cuomo announced the Middle Class Economic Recovery Act -- a set of proposals aimed at creating jobs and infrastructure, improving access to education, and lowering the tax burden for the middle class.

Some of Cuomo’s proposals outlined Monday were new, some had been announced in the week leading up to his three-day, six-stop State of the State tour. The previously-proposed include a doubling of a child care tax credit that will benefit about 200,000 families and free college tuition at CUNY and SUNY for families making up to $125,000. On Monday, he announced a pilot program with 22,000 slots for afterschool mentoring and tutoring.

These ideas led Cuomo to say, with clear reference to the presidential election, "I believe these measures will help alleviate the middle class anger. Properly focused, the energy generated by that anger, in a positive way, it can become a great force for reform. But misdirected anger can be destructive. It can scapegoat and it can demonize, it can spread fear of those who are different, and it can destroy the uniquely American values and progressive principles that are the foundation of this society."

Cuomo also said the state would invest $650 million in the Life Sciences industry, partnering with industry giant Johnson & Johnson to create a hub in New York City. This investment will create about 25,000 middle class jobs and between $3 billion and $4 billion in economic output for the state, according to the Partnership for New York City.

The governor’s proposals elicited varying degrees of enthusiasm from many who applauded his ideas, some with skepticism around implementation, viability in the Legislature, or funding.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who remains on cold terms with Cuomo, said Cuomo outlined some “promising” ideas, but said he cannot give a full assessment until he sees the governor’s Executive Budget, which is due out by January 17.

At an unrelated press conference later in the day, de Blasio quickly said “No” when Gotham Gazette asked if the budget communication from Cuomo’s office has been to his liking, fitting an annual pattern. Last year, Cuomo surprised the mayor in Albany on the day of his combined State of the State and budget address with proposed cost-shifts to the city.

"Because the speech for the first time was not accompanied by the budget, we don’t know yet the ramifications of everything that was being talked about in the speech,” de Blasio told reporters on Monday, “which is why I’ll express my praise for some of the things I heard but until we see the details, and particularly the budgetary details, we can't pass a final judgement. It was different...than what we heard at the State of the State last year, but we just have to be very sober about the fact that budget documents are really where the rubber hits the road and we gotta see that.”

About Cuomo’s budget, de Blasio said, “I don’t know what it looks like because we haven’t been given anything.”

“It doesn’t shock me,” the mayor added. “You know, at the last moment we will be told what the budget looks like and then we’ll be able to analyze what it means and I’ll be very straightforward with the people of New York City about what it means for all of us. But we haven’t been given any inkling yet.”

On the other hand, Comptroller Scott Stringer, who was also in attendance for the speech, was full of praise for Cuomo. “Today [Governor Cuomo] made a very strong case for a vision for New York State and New York City,” Stringer said after the speech, “that I believe goes a long way to helping the struggling middle class, the poorest people among us.”

As is customary in State of the State speeches, Cuomo spent some of his Monday morning address looking back at accomplishments, touting the socio-economic progress under his leadership, including the passage of marriage equality, paid family leave, a $15 minimum wage program, and common-sense gun control. He also spoke of a second path forward, alongside the Middle Class Economic Recovery Act, that includes protections for the state’s most vulnerable populations.

Termed the “New York Promise Agenda,” the broad-based proposals include criminal justice reform, voting access, women’s rights protections, fighting homelessness, preventing faith-based discrimination, protecting the environment, and improving immigrants rights and access to education. Many of these proposals were obvious responses to the rhetoric of Donald Trump and the records of Trump’s proposed appointees.

Cuomo sought, in his speech, to reassure New Yorkers that the state would do everything in its power to protect against the possible negative consequences of national policies under a Trump administration. For instance, pledging to protect the 2.7 million New Yorkers currently insured under the Affordable Care Act should it be repealed; announcing a public-private partnership to provide legal counsel to immigrants and recommitting to passing the DREAM Act to ensure that immigrants, often the target of President-elect Trump’s ire, have access to education; stressing unqualified support for a woman’s right to choose, which could be threatened if a conservative-leaning Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade; and creating a dedicated hate crimes task force to combat the rise in faith-based discrimination and attacks since the presidential election.

“We will not stop working until the bright light of opportunity shines on all New Yorkers,” Cuomo said, emphasizing also the need for economic equity in the educational system, racial and economic justice in the judicial system and voter empowerment in the electoral system. Some of the items in Cuomo’s Promise Agenda are reliant on the state Legislature, where Republicans who control the Senate have been unsupportive of the Dream Act, codifying Roe v. Wade into state law, raising the age of adult criminal responsibility, and more that Cuomo has proposed.

As Cuomo spoke from New York City, he mentioned the need to restore “trust in government,” but did not address government ethics, despite the facts that his administration has seen a major corruption scandal in the past year and that the state Legislature has continued to see a parade of indictments. According to a Cuomo spokesperson, the governor will outline his ethics agenda during his last State of the State speech, on Wednesday afternoon in Albany.

While many of the governor’s proposals were known before he gave his address, unveiled over the last week in news conferences and press releases, among the new announcements were a number of New York City-specific initiatives, including several aimed at boosting each of the “outer boroughs.”

The governor announced that the city would receive an unprecedented level of funding for education. He also pledged, among other borough-centric proposals, $108 million in state funding for the stalled redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx; $50 million for the Montefiore Health System; $10 million for the redevelopment of the Orchard Beach pavilion, permanently reduced Verrazano Bridge tolls for Staten Island residents; and investments in healthcare, nutrition and healthy food programs in Brooklyn. He also reiterated plans to upgrade JFK Airport in Queens and criticized Rikers Island jail complex, though he stopped short of calling for its closure.

Crucially, the governor’s initial State of the State speech came more than a week before he is due to release his Executive Budget for the next fiscal year, which throws much uncertainty into the mix as to how he proposes to pay for his ambitious proposals and whether the budget will include any surprise announcements. The State of the State, or in this case the six State of the States, set the governor’s policy and spending priorities, and the tone for negotiations with the state Legislature. A fiscal year 2017-2018 budget is due by April 1.

Last year, Cuomo attempted to shift hundreds of millions of dollars in CUNY and Medicaid costs to New York City. The move was beat back by de Blasio and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx. The mayor has repeatedly indicated he is eagerly awaiting budget information from the Cuomo administration and is expecting surprises like last year.

The governor on Monday also called on the state legislative leaders to sign a memorandum of understanding to release more of the $2 billion the parties set aside last year to create 100,000 units of affordable and supportive housing across the state, which would significantly benefit New York City, where de Blasio has been struggling to bring a homelessness crisis under control. Only a small portion of the money was released last year and advocates and providers have been protesting the governor calling on him to come to terms with Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to release the rest so that projects can move.

The governor concluded his speech with a call for unity, recalling how New Yorkers, and Americans, came together in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks. “When we are at our best, we don’t focus on disparity, we focus on commonality,” he said. “That’s what this is all about....It’s about pulling people together.”

The governor will have to do just that if he hopes to pass those proposals which will require approval from the Legislature where he currently has no shortage of enemies. The two legislative leaders declined to attend any of the six State of the State events, expressing their displeasure at the governor for interfering in the work of an independent commission that would have given lawmakers pay raises for the first time in years and then leveraging ethics reform to consider a special legislative session in December. The Legislature was also due in session on Monday and Tuesday, making it hardly possible that any state lawmakers could attend the first four of Cuomo’s speeches.

Legislators would need to stay in Albany an extra day to attend Cuomo’s Wednesday speech in the capital area.

Cuomo’s initial speech and his state tour have gotten mixed reviews, sometimes along party lines. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a fellow Democrat and sometimes Cuomo rival who attended the New York City speech, gave initial positive feedback. “It was really more of a reaffirmation of the fundamental New York values that many people feel have been challenged by some of the statements of the president elect and the resumes of some of his nominees,” Schneiderman said. “This is a day for setting forth a vision. The battles over the specifics, the programs, whatever does come out of Washington await another day.”

Outside the World Trade Center, state Republican Party Chair Ed Cox held court with reporters, criticizing the governor as he had promised to do at each State of the State event. “He’s running from the Legislature,” Cox said of Cuomo’s decision to tour the state. “He can’t face criticism.”

Cox did have minor qualified praise for the governor’s presentation. “There’s some good things -- I think tuition relief is good,” he said. “I think the costs are going to be a lot larger than he thinks they are. I think it’s gonna end up as an extension of TAP [Tuition Assistance Program], but the real costs are not tuition...the real costs are for books, room, food. This is gonna be minimal relief, but I’m sure it’s going to be looked at favorably in the Legislature.”

But Cox criticized the governor for convening a speech attended by “groups selected by him, not groups that include the opposition. And that’s the problem.”

On Monday afternoon, Cuomo headed to Buffalo for the second event of his tour. There he announced the 16th plank in his State of the State agenda -- a $500 million expansion of the Buffalo Billion economic development program, which is at the center of the federal corruption charges against Cuomo aides and donors.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, January 9

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week in New York politics will be dominated by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is giving six regional State of the State addresses. Before we turn to New York politics, though, there's also a lot to watch for in national politics this week: President Barack Obama is giving his farewell address Tuesday night and cabinet nominations by President-elect Donald Trump face confirmation hearings throughout the week.

We're also watching for continued fallout from the Friday release of an intelligence report indicating that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian interference into the U.S. presidential election, with a preference for Trump. While the report did not delve into whether Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chair, had any direct affect on the outcome of the election, Trump has continued to insist that it did not have any affect, while also lying by saying that the intelligence community also said that. Trump is scheduled to hold his first press conference in months on Wednesday in New York City (he has announced and cancelled other press conferences so it is to be seen if he follows through on this one).

In New York, Cuomo kicks off his State of the State tour Monday morning in New York City, with Mayor Bill de Blasio among those set to attend -- see details below. Cuomo's tour is being criticized by a number of state legislators who say he should be sticking with the 90-year tradition of giving a State of the State address to the Legislature in Albany.

The two legislative majority leaders won't be attending any of Cuomo's speeches; the Legislature is in session in Albany on Monday and Tuesday, while Cuomo will give an address in Albany on Wednesday. Cuomo is also due to release his Executive Budget by January 17. It is unclear if he will give a budget presentation of any kind. Proposals made during State of the State speeches often have corresponding budgetary needs, of course, and Cuomo and legislative leaders are known for moving new policy matters through the budget procecss -- a new state budget for fiscal year 2017-2018 is due by April 1.

(Ahead of Cuomo's 11 a.m. speech, you can hear Gotham Gazette's Ben Max on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show previewing the speech -- 93.9FM or wnyc.org)

[Read: Under Clouds, Cuomo Launches State of the State Tour with New Proposals]

Other than attending Cuomo's speech, de Blasio starts his week with an afternooon press conference on FDNY statistics (see details below) and his usual Monday appearance on NY1's Inside City Hall. Comptroller Scott Stringer is also among those slated to attend Cuomo's speech in the city.

Meanwhile, there are a number of events around the city this week, including a busy week at the City Council -- 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:

Governor Cuomo starts his three-day, six-stop State of the State tour Monday with two stops:

  • At 11 a.m., Cuomo will deliver his New York City State of the State Address at the 1 World Trade Center, 64th Floor.
  • At 3 p.m., Cuomo will deliver his Western New York State of the State Address at the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts.

Ahead of Cuomo's Buffalo speech, "advocates and leaders [will] hold a news conference to discuss how local residents are getting screwed by his nuclear bailout deal. The nuclear bailout deal is estimated to cost nearly $8 billion and will force Buffalo residents to pay higher energy bills over the next several years." The press conference will be held in Buffalo at 11 a.m.

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

The New York State Board of Regents will meet on Monday and Tuesday at 89 Washington Avenue in Albany.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, "Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY13) will hold a press conference...at the intersection of Vermilyea Avenue and 204th Street following last week’s arrest of 32 individuals accused of running a drug marketplace on Vermilyea Avenue in Inwood. Rep. Espaillat will be joined by local and state officials, community leaders and officers from the New York Police Department – 34 Precinct." Espaillat will be joined by State Senator Marisol Alcantara, Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa; City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, NYPD representatives, and community activists.

At the City Council on Monday: The Committee on Small Business and the Committee on Civil Service and Labor will hold a joint meeting at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law on “the reporting of information on the workforce of contractors performing construction work for the city.”

After attending Gov. Cuomo's Monday morning speech, at 1:30 p.m., Mayor de Blasio "and Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro will host a press conference to make an announcement on 2016 FDNY statistics" at 75 Canal Street. Later, in the 7 and 10 p.m. hours, the mayor's latest Inside City Hall appearance will air on NY1.

Gov. Cuomo’s State of the State tour continues Tuesday with two stops:

  • At 10:30 a.m., Cuomo will deliver his Westchester State of the State Address at the SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center.
  • At 1 p.m., Cuomo will deliver his Long Island State of the State Address at Farmingdale State College’s Roosevelt Hall Student Union.

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

At 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Empire Center will hold “Diagnosis: Disruption - HCRA, the ACA and NY's Coming Healthcare Storm.” This event will be “a forum on the future of the state’s healthcare system examining both the pending expiration of New York’s Health Care Reform Act and the looming repeal of Obamacare.” There will be two panels at this event--one on “Putting ‘Reform’ Back in the Health Care Reform Act” (moderated by Casey Seiler, the State Editor of the Times Union) and one on “Managing New York Healthcare Under President Trump” (moderated by David Sandman, the President of the NYS Health Foundation).

"Hundreds of New Yorkers will flood the halls of the Capitol on Tuesday, kicking off this year’s legislative session with a message to our state’s leaders: working families need an agenda that protects them and boosts quality of life, not one that will simply make the rich even richer. The community leaders and activists, representing dozens of issue advocacy, community, faith, and other organizations from across New York will release a new legislative platform that will both defend against Trump’s radical agenda and make progress in creating a fair and equitable community for everyone. Throughout the day, participants will meet with legislators to discuss the struggles facing working families in New York. The day of action will culminate with a rally at the Million Dollar Staircase to release the full issue platform." Participating groups include: ALIGN, Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action of New York, Community Voices Heard, Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Make the Road NY, National Institute for Reproductive Health, New York City Coalition for Educational Justice, New York Civic Engagement Table, New York Communities for Change, NYS Labor-Religion Coalition, Strong Economy for All Coalition, VOCAL-NY.

The city Board of Correction will meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

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

“The New York City Department of Finance (DOF) will provide an update about its benefits programs during a meeting of the Queens Borough Cabinet, chaired by Borough President Katz, on Tuesday, January 10, at 9:30 am at Queens Borough Hall.”

On Tuesday at 11 a.m. in Queens, “Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer will drop off over 1,000 boxes and cans of food collected through his annual food drive to the Center of Hope International “Bread of Life” Food Pantry in Long Island City, run by Bishop Mitchell Taylor.”

At 11:15 a.m. on Tuesday, the Alliance for Quality Education will have a rally in Albany to push state government to increase funding to schools. This rally will take place at The Well, Legislative Office Building. Senate Democratic Leader Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Education Chair Catherine Nolan will be among the participants.

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
  • The Committee on Economic Development will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing on the economic impacts the increased security for President-elect Trump has on local businesses and New York as a whole. City Council Member Dan Garodnick will chair the hearing, which will also feature the city Department of Small Business Services, NYPD, Fifth Avenue BID, local business owners, 56th street property owners, and others.
  • The Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law and two proposed resolutions targeted at helping people in the LGBTQ community.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday at PS 13 in Brooklyn, “Council Member Espinal, CEC 19 & CB 5 Co-Host Public Hearing to Receive Community Input on Proposed New 1,000 Seat School; a Major Commitment of the East New York Neighborhood Plan.”

On Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will attend a town hall meeting of District 10’s Community Education Council at P.S. 86 in the Bronx.

At 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, there will be a Mental Health Advisory Committee Meeting.

At 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, City Council Member Laurie Cumbo will begin her Community Exchange Series with “a panel and expo to teach you everything you need to know about Affordable Housing and Area Median Income (AMI).” This event will take place in the EOJ Auditorium at Medgar Evers College.

"Tuesday evening, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and the Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition will host a town hall meeting and training on “construction as harassment,” disruptive construction in residential buildings with the intention or effect of harassing and displacing tenants." 6:30 p.m. at the MBP's office at 1 Centre Street.

On Tuesday evening in Albany, City & State NY is hosting its annual State of Our State reception.

Governor Cuomo will conclude his State of the State tour Wednesday with the final two stops:

  • At 11 a.m., Cuomo will deliver his Central New York State of the State Address at the John H. Mulroy Civic Center in Syracuse.
  • At 2 p.m., Cuomo will deliver his Capital State of the State Address at the University at Albany’s Performing Arts Center, Main Theatre.

At the City Council on Wednesday: The Committee on Finance will meet at 11 a.m. to discuss a proposed law on “the sale of tax liens and notice to property owners when property tax bills are available online.”

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will meet.

At 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will hold “Civic Responsibility Then and Now: A View from the Archives.” This event will look at what it means to be civically engaged in the modern age, while at the same time going into “archives to consider the varied approaches to Civil Rights tactics over the course of our nation’s history.” BHS Director of Public History Julie Golia and BHS Oral Historian Zaheer Ali will be speakers at this event.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law “requiring certain security measures at nonbank ATMs.”
  • The Committee on Higher Education will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing on “infrastructure disrepair and decay at the City University of New York.”
  • The Committee on Finance; the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services; and the Committee on Aging will hold at joint meeting at 1 p.m. to discuss the proposal to amend two local laws on exempting certain senior citizens from rent increases.

“The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be held on Thursday, January 12, at 10:00 AM.”

Friday and the weekend
At 8:30 a.m. on Friday, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will hold an “MCC Chairman's Breakfast Featuring a Conversation with Former U.S Attorney General, Eric H. Holder, Jr.” Holder and Manhattan Chamber of Commerce Chair Ken Biberaj “will be discussing the important issues facing the private sector from regulatory enforcement and criminal justice to cyber security and national security issues.”

On Friday at noon at Brooklyn Law School, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will speak at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce's annual State of the State event.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, State Senator James Sanders, Jr. will host a debate on whether the Obama Administration was fruitful or fruitless. Guest speakers will include Rev. Dr. Alfonso Wyatt and Dr. Ron Daniels. This event will take place at the Black Spectrum Theatre, which is at 177 Baisley Blvd. in Jamaica.

[Read: Under Clouds, Cuomo Launches State of the State Tour with New Proposals]

The weekend of January 13-16 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. Our next Week Ahead will published Monday evening, January 16.

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

by Brendan Birth and Ben Max

Under Clouds, Cuomo Launches State of the State Tour with New Proposals

Cuomo speech Albany

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

Heading into a three-day, six-stop tour across the state, Governor Andrew Cuomo has formally released ten planks of his 2017 State of the State agenda. Through public events and press releases, Cuomo has announced a variety of proposals under the banner “excelsior, ever upward.”

Cuomo’s State of the State junket comes as he’s feuding with state legislators and with the backdrop of a major corruption scandal in his administration, particularly his economic development programming. The second-term Democratic governor saw top aides, associates, and donors indicted last year on corruption charges including bribery and bid-rigging.

Now, in a break with decades of tradition, instead of giving one speech to the Legislature in Albany, Cuomo decided to tour New York giving his assessment of the state of the state and outline proposals that will set the stage for upcoming negotiations with the state Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, and the Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats. It is not clear how much tension between Cuomo and state lawmakers over a failed pay raise commission and special legislative session led to his decision to take the State of the State on the road this year.

"By definition, these regional addresses are designed to communicate directly with the citizens of New York, not legislators,” said Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesperson. “Our goal has always been to bring the issues to the people, to develop the public support, and then have it communicated to the elected representatives."

The governor is expected to tailor each speech to the region where he gives it, with some overarching themes and highlights that apply across the state. He’ll speak in New York City and Buffalo on Monday; Westchester and Long Island on Tuesday; and Syracuse and Albany on Wednesday. Cuomo is also due to release his Executive Budget by January 17. In past years, Cuomo has combined a State of the State address and budget outline into one speech.

Local officials may be present at the various speeches this week, but the top legislative leaders -- Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate President John Flanagan -- have said they won’t be attending. The Legislature is in session Monday and Tuesday in Albany, making it difficult for Heastie and Flanagan to appear at the Cuomo speech closest to their respective homes: New York City for Heastie and Long Island for Flanagan. (Mayor Bill de Blasio is among those who will attend Monday’s speech in New York City.)

Cuomo’s ten proposals thus far include initiatives to enhance public college tuition assistance; a revamp of John F. Kennedy Airport; a child care tax credit for parents; efforts to guard against cyber attacks; “protecting seniors from financial exploitation and foreclosure”; “banning bad actors from the financial services industry”; enhancing wage theft enforcement; encouraging electric vehicle use; modernizing voting; and closing the Indian Point power plant.

Reports started surfacing last week, first in The New York Times, that Cuomo had reached a deal to close the power plant in Westchester, which supplies a good deal of power to New York City. On Monday morning, the governor's office made it official in a press release just ahead of Cuomo's New York City speech.

An eleventh plank, a plan for legalizing and regulating app-based ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, has not been officially announced by the governor, but was reported over the weekend by The USA Today Network. Legalizing such car services outside of New York City, where they already function legally, was debated last year in Albany, but no deal was struck. The USA Today report indicates Cuomo will detail his ride-hailing proposal in Buffalo on Monday.

The governor is also expected to address several other issues, including government ethics. Cuomo attempted to convince state legislators to pass limits on their outside income and other reforms in exchange for a pay raise, but a deal fell apart last month as a special session was considered. It is not clear what Cuomo may propose on ethics, but in recent years he has expressed support for campaign finance reform, including a public-matching system and closure of the LLC loophole; term limits for legislators; and more.

As Cuomo offers government ethics reform, some legislators and watchdogs want to know what he will support in terms of reforming the types of processes that may have encouraged and/or hidden the alleged corruption exposed last year by the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. There are calls for changes to contract procurement and budgeting, including restoring oversight powers stripped from the state Comptroller.

Cuomo’s focus on economic development, especially in Buffalo, has been one of the most controversial aspects of his tenure. He has promised new economic development announcements this year, and is likely to outline regional specifics this week.

Much of Cuomo’s attention -- and a lot of state money -- has been dedicated to infrastructure projects, such as a new Tappan Zee bridge, airport renovations, a new Penn Station, Long Island Railroad expansion, and more. Cuomo’s State of the State speeches are likely to have a heavy focus on infrastructure.

As the governor continues to outline his proposals, conflict with state legislators looms large. In order to pass most of what he is proposing, Cuomo will need to compromise with legislators. The parties must agree on a fiscal year 2017-2018 budget by April 1. Budget agreements often include new policies. What does not get done through the budget often moves to negotiation during the rest of the legislative session, which runs until mid-June. Along with corruption in his orbit and problems with state lawmakers, a third cloud hanging over Cuomo's speeches and budget is the impending administration of Donald Trump, with Republican control of both houses of Congress. It is unclear how much federal policies could affect New York, but Cuomo is likely to outline ways in which his administration will protect New Yorkers from threats out of D.C.

Several issues that have been at play over the last couple of years appear on the docket again this year, including ride-hailing, ethics and campaign finance reform, but also raising the age of adult criminal responsibility -- New York is one of just two states in the country that still treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system. How lawyers for those who cannot afford them are funded will also be a focus -- Cuomo was criticized for vetoing a bill that would have had the state pick up expenses by localities for providing indigent criminal defense.

Electoral reform may be taking on new urgency this year after 2016 showed significant problems with the ways New York approaches voting, including holding three different primaries and restrictive registration and voting rules.

Over the weekend, Cuomo’s office announced several of the nine initial State of the State planks in a flurry of Sunday press releases. Cuomo’s call for voting reform, including instituting early voting and same-day voter registration, were hailed by many who have long-criticized New York for being far behind in access to the ballot, including Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Calling the set of proposals "The Democracy Project," Cuomo said in a statement, “Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. This past election shined a bright light on the deficiencies of New York's antiquated election laws and the artificial barriers they create that prevent and discourage voters from exercising this sacred right. These proposals will modernize and open up our election system, making it easier for more voters to participate in the process and helping to make a more fair, more just and more representative New York for all."

Meanwhile, as Cuomo tours the state he will be met with opposition from state Republican Chair Ed Cox, who will hold press conferences outside the governor’s speeches.

Cox, who regularly calls Cuomo a “political thug” on his Twitter account, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette that he wants to see the governor move to reform the state’s tax code to benefit the middle class and small businesses, including lowering taxes, regulatory reform, and a move away from the types of economic development contests that Cuomo has been fond of.

“Unfortunately for the taxpayers of New York, the Governor has done a much better job at giving grand political speeches than he has in delivering on what's necessary to turn this state around,” said Cox. “We continue to have the most people fleeing a state, the highest taxes and the worst business climate in the nation, and this Governor has a laundry list of busted economic development projects and a corrupt administration. He can run from the legislators at the capital, but he can't hide from his failures."

Cox’s fellow Republican, Senate Majority Leader Flanagan outlined similar priorities for the GOP in his introductory remarks this past week when the two houses of the Legislature met for the first time this year. Flanagan focused on jobs and the economic environment of the state.

“I listen carefully to my colleagues on whether it’s college affordability, or raise the age, or things like that,” Flanagan said on the Senate floor. “What people need are jobs. We need jobs more than anything else.” Saying that the state must do more on job creation and that New York tax policy is not working, Flanagan said, “I already see people talking about raising taxes this year already, coming out of the gate! We should talk about how we should come up with a better tax policy, a better regulatory environment, a better business structure...”

Flanagan was referring to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who in his opening remarks called for renewing and expanding the state’s millionaire’s tax, which is on the verge of expiration. In his opening remarks, which help establish his chamber’s priorities and the agenda for negotiations with Flanagan and Cuomo, Heastie stressed the need to protect New Yorkers’ human rights and health insurance in the face of potential threats from the incoming Trump administration. He said New York must codify Roe v. Wade into law, a proposal that has been debated in Albany for several years.

Heastie also discussed “strengthening our schools and making college more affordable and accessible.” He called for the Dream Act and praised Cuomo’s proposal to make public colleges tuition-free for lower and middle class students. Heastie also called for investments into transportation and water infrastructure, job training, affordable housing, fighting climate change, and more.

“The state has more millionaires today than ever before,” Heastie said, “and we are renewing our call for a progressive tax structure that supports funding for initiatives that are critical to our families...our plan would create new income tax rates for those earning over $1 million a year. It also would increase the Earned Income Tax Credit to give low-income families a helping hand.”

Heastie is, of course, Mayor de Blasio's chief ally in Albany. De Blasio, who will be attending Cuomo's Monday morning speech in New York City, is cautiously awaiting Cuomo's proposals and budget. The ongoing feud between Cuomo and de Blasio continues to put the city at risk. Last year, Cuomo attempted hundreds of millions of dollars in CUNY and Medicaid cost shifts to New York City that Heastie helped beat back when the state budget was finalized.

 Asked about what he was looking for this year, de Blasio said he's taking a wait-and-see approach. "I don’t want speculate," the mayor told members of the media last week. "You know, the Governor will be coming out with a budget...That’s when we’ll get a first look at the numerical reality." De Blasio has said Cuomo's proposal for more public college tuition-relief is a great one, but he wants to see how it will be paid for.

When Gotham Gazette asked the mayor if he was doing anything differently this year to avoid being surprised by Cuomo like he was last year, de Blasio smirked.

"I appreciate the courtesy of your question," the mayor said. "That was not lack of communication with him and his team, that was a conscious decision not to give us the information until the last moment. So, we are communicating all the time – the two teams. We’ll see if there’s any surprises this year."

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Note: this article has been updated with additional details and comments.

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