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Citizens Union



Two Months On, Buffalo Billion Investigator’s Contract Remains a Mystery

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

It has been two months since Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that Bartz Schwartz would conduct an “independent review” of the state’s signature Buffalo Billion economic development program and yet Schwartz’s contract with the state remains either unfinished or under wraps. On April 29, following the news that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara had subpoenaed some of Cuomo’s closest allies in conjunction with an investigation into bid-rigging and other possible improprieties, Cuomo and Schwartz released a joint statement announcing that the former U.S. attorney was being hired.

Cuomo administration officials have repeatedly failed to respond to Gotham Gazette inquiries about the status of Schwartz’s contract since he was appointed. On May 24, Cuomo told reporters that the contract had yet been finalized, but that he would make it public when it was. Without seeing Schwartz’s contract it is impossible to know exactly what he has been tasked to review; the terms of his investigation; who he reports to; and how much Schwartz’s services are costing taxpayers.

Schwartz’s contract must legally be made public if it involves the use of taxpayer money.

“The contract should be made public,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “There hasn't been any kind of information on his retention and that is disappointing and inexplicable. The longer this drags out the more we have to question the arrangement.”

Watchdog groups note that Schwartz’s role could have been filled by numerous other existing state entities that investigate corruption, including Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, whose office oversees state finances and contracting. On Tuesday evening, The Times Union reported that Cuomo has empowered Schwartz under the Moreland Act, giving him "the power to issue civil subpoenas," which the Cuomo administration confirmed, though it still declined to make any documentation public. A Cuomo spokesperson told The Times Union that Schwartz's contract was still being finalized and that when it is done, it will be submitted to DiNapoli and made public.

In a statement to The Times Union, a Cuomo spokesperson said of Schwartz's review of the state economic development programs and development of new guidelines for fund disbersement, "Both processes are ongoing and, as the guidelines are being drafted, Mr. Schwartz has closely examined and signed off on payments before they were released. This is important work and we thank him for promptly commencing his review. It is also a complex and unique assignment and we expect the contract to be finalized and sent to the (state) comptroller shortly."

Anonymous Cuomo administration officials have been referenced in various publications saying that Schwartz is reviewing and approving all contracts and cash flow related to the Buffalo Billion and other economic development projects. For the second time this year, payments to the SolarCity project were recently made late and led to talk of possible layoffs and disruption of the project. An anonymous Cuomo administration official told The Buffalo News that Schwartz approved the cash for the project and that it was delayed during a review by DiNapoli. The comptroller’s office later denied it had anything to do with the delay.

The firm handling Bart Schwartz’s public relations declined to comment on the status of his contract, but pointed to Schwartz’s statement from April. “The state has reason to believe that in certain programs and regulatory approvals they may have been defrauded by improper bidding and failures to disclose potential conflicts of interest by lobbyists and former state employees,” Schwartz wrote, in apparent reference to Cuomo associates Joseph Percoco and Todd Howe.

“As the state needs to continue operating these important programs, they have asked me to commence an immediate review of all grants and approvals – past, current and future – in certain programs and operations including the Buffalo Billion/Nano Economic Development Program,” Schwartz wrote.

When asked on May 24 if Schwartz’s findings would be made public, Cuomo said that decision would be up to Schwartz, but Cuomo’s press office later clarified the report would be made public as long as the U.S. attorney’s office approved.

“Is he working as a volunteer or getting paid without a contract? Will the public ever know?” asked John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a watchdog group that tracks the Buffalo Billion. “What exactly does [Schwartz] do for the governor?”

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

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Note: this article has been updated with new information as reported by The Times Union.

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

Advocates, Providers Keep Pressure on Cuomo Over Housing Funds

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

While the 2016 legislative session may be finished, the battle over how the state will allocate $1.9 billion in funds earmarked for supportive and affordable housing is not. Neither is the feud between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, which includes a front over the housing funds.

After the end-of-session deal-making among Cuomo and legislative leaders yielded an agreement to release only $150 million of the $1.9 billion pledged in this year’s budget, housing advocates plan to protest in front of Cuomo’s Manhattan office at 11 a.m. Tuesday. They’re calling on the governor to work with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to agree on additional funding allocations for the entire sum. Advocates say they expect the last-minute protest, which de Blasio’s office is supportive of, to draw 200 or more participants.

Developers say that without more certainty about how much state funding will be available and when, new supportive housing projects simply aren’t going to move forward and that will compound the already multi-year waits for homeless and other populations that rely on the housing, which includes social services for people with mental illness, substance abuse problems, and other impediments.

“The New York Housing Conference urges State leaders to continue negotiating the terms of a statewide 5-year housing plan to allocate the full $2 billion of enacted housing dollars for programmatic use,” reads the newsletter from The New York Housing Conference announcing the Tuesday rally. The statement goes on to detail the challenges developers face in planning housing projects if their funding is not in place. “Developing affordable housing is often a multi-year planning process and the industry depends on funding certainty and programmatic direction to shape projects that will meet community needs and policy goals of the anticipated statewide housing plan,” it says.

Advocates for affordable and supportive housing came together in the last weeks of session to demand Cuomo and the Legislature sign a required memo of understanding, or MOU, agreeing how to allocate the $1.9 billion. A coalition of groups called The Campaign 4 NY/NY housing sent out a series of scathing press releases, held rallies, and pressured lawmakers, but by the last day of session Cuomo and the Legislature settled on releasing $150 million of the $1.9 billion.

The Cuomo administration touted $570 million being made available for supportive housing in an end-of-session press release, but it appears most of that funding was already available through service funding and tax credits secured in this year’s budget. The administration points out that $600 million of the $1.9 billion is dedicated to supportive housing and that the housing plan is designed to stretch over five years, therefore making $150 million an appropriate amount to release for supportive housing during the first year of the program. Administration officials say the rest of the $570 million will go to funding the operational costs of the supportive units.

“Today’s agreement includes the execution of a memorandum of understanding to make more than $570 million in state resources available to advance capital construction and operating on the first 1,200 units of supportive housing under the Governor’s sweeping $20 billion Housing and Homelessness plan,” reads the Cuomo administration’s Friday statement. “The funding will be released to the Division of Housing and Community Renewal and is available immediately to be awarded in conjunction with other resources including state and federal tax credits to support construction costs for the new supportive housing units.”

Advocates are not completely critical of the governor, but plan to push further, especially while the end of session lingers in the news. “We are happy some of the money was made available for supportive housing,” said Rachel Fee, executive director of the New York Housing Conference. “It’s an important issue but we really need leaders to come together to sort out the entire plan. I’m really hopeful there will be a deal before next year's budget because I think there is a lot of common ground on housing between the leaders.”

Some of the most outspoken advocates from the NY/NY Campaign also use one of de Blasio’s main political consultancies, BerlinRosen. A campaign spokesperson for de Blasio also represents affordable housing groups.

Advocates say the $150 million should jump-start the stalled affordable housing pipeline but they are anxious to get a look at the MOU lining out how even that money will be allocated. “It is really important we see what it says,” said Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director for policy for The Coalition for the Homeless.

Gotham Gazette spoke to three individuals representing different firms that are involved in affordable and supportive housing development. Discussing the machinations of their industry on the condition of anonymity, they said that the $150 million in capital funding will get existing projects moving, but without future funding solidified and agreed to “there is no window into the future of what capital will be available.”

They expect most firms to wait to see what kind of agreement the often unpredictable denizens of the state Capitol come up with before moving on new projects because both capital funding and social services funding are necessary to build and run supportive housing projects. Two of the individuals noted that a NY/NY city-state agreement was easily reached under Republican Governor George Pataki, with one noting that Cuomo once led the federal housing agency, something the governor regularly cites when discussing his expertise on housing issues.

They noted that developers want a return to the NY/NY partnership between the city and state that provided a reviewable document outlining what funds for capital and support services would be available and when.

Nortz issued a series of blistering press releases questioning Cuomo’s commitment to housing and homelessness last week. “The Governor's pathetic offer to provide a tiny fraction of what he promised underscores the shallowness of his commitment to housing our homeless neighbors,” wrote Nortz.

Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s chief of staff, responded in kind, tweeting on Friday, “$570M for first year of 5 year pledge fulfilled. Learn to take yes for an answer or stop being credible.”

Cuomo told The New York Times over the weekend that the MOU represented just an installment in a five-year plan.

The private battle over the housing funds between Cuomo and legislative leaders appears to stem from Senate Republicans’ desire to renew the controversial 421-a tax credit for developers, which is supposed to yield some affordable housing. The measure lapsed at the start of this year after Cuomo put negotiations in the hands of labor and real estate, insisting certain wage requirements needed to be part of any deal. There have been stop-and-start negotiations over the renewal for many months, but they have not yielded a deal. Holding on to the housing funds could give Republicans the bargaining chip they need to get 421-a renewed next year, or even sooner.

Cuomo administration officials stress that they feel securing the $1.9 billion in the budget was the hard part and getting it out the door will be much easier.

However, the public battle over the MOU is more centered in the feud between Cuomo and de Blasio. The state and city have traditionally come together in agreement to fund supportive housing (the series of three NY/NY deals), but no deal has materialized under Cuomo and de Blasio. “In the past we had a long-term commitment to create supportive housing that gave investors the reassurance they needed,” said Kristin Miller, director of CSH, an organization that helps find financing for supportive housing projects.

Last fall, de Blasio announced he would commit $3 billion over the next 15 years to create 15,000 units of supportive housing in New York City. Advocates saw it as a way of pressuring Cuomo to deliver his own commitment. De Blasio, his top officials and allies have repeatedly called on the governor to do so, and Cuomo appeared to answer that call during his January State of the State address.

Cuomo made homelessness and supportive housing a major part of that speech and the accompanying budget and policy book. Committing $20 billion over five years to create 100,000 new units of affordable housing and 6,000 units of supportive housing across the state, Cuomo also outlined a number of programs that appeared designed to take away de Blasio’s ability to fund and control the construction of affordable housing while inserting more checks and balances over the city’s shelter system. Some of that plan wound up being jettisoned in budget negotiations.

“The Governor promised 6,000 units and anything short of that is going to be met with disappointment,” said Carla Rabinowitz of Community Access, who is organizing the Tuesday protest at Cuomo’s office. “I know people who have been waiting three to ten years to get into supportive housing and now you’re telling them they have to wait more because of politics? It isn’t acceptable.”

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

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Despite Expectations, Design-Build for New York City Not Approved in Albany

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a rendering of the New NY Bridge, via The Governor's Office

It is bipartisan legislation that steadily built momentum since its introduction a year ago, gaining support from state legislators, New York City Hall, labor unions, good government groups, and the private sector along the way. But despite proponents’ expectations, the New York City Public Works Investment Act—which would have extended the authority to use “design-build” contracts to some New York City agencies—was not passed by the end of Albany’s legislative session.

The bill, introduced last June, would have allowed five city agencies, including the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Protection, to use the project delivery method known as “design-build” in which a single contractor is responsible for both a project’s design and construction. Both DOT and DEP, as well as a Mayoral spokesperson, have said that design-build would save millions of dollars more annually over traditional “design-bid-build” methods that mandate agencies hire separate entities for design and construction, thereby almost always assuming additional costs.

Initially seen as contentious due to early objections from labor unions, the bill was tweaked to guarantee project labor agreements and was eventually backed by labor and trades groups including the New York Building Congress, Partnership for New York City, the Real Estate Board, the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, the NYC Central Labor Council, DC 37, and the General Contractors Association.

Design-build also has support from several think tanks and good government groups like Citizens Budget Commission, the Center for an Urban Future, the New York University Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, and the Bipartisan Policy Center.

State Assembly Member Michael Benedetto, a Bronx Democrat who sponsored the Assembly version of the bill, had collected memos from the above groups and delivered them to members of the Assembly Cities Committee, which Benedetto chairs. Earlier this month, with weeks remaining in the legislative session, Benedetto told Gotham Gazette that he was confident the bill would pass the committee and “hoping against hope” it would reach Cuomo’s desk. Instead, the end-of-session deadline came and went, and the bill remains in the Cities Committee and Rules Committee in the Assembly and Senate, respectively.

“It was, admittedly, a little bit depressing,” Benedetto said on Monday, the first business day after the session ended in the wee hours of Friday night into Saturday morning. “I thought everyone could have been satisfied from this and the city could have saved some money, but it wasn’t to be.”

The bill ultimately died when members of the Assembly and Senate, negotiating possible amendments to the bill, were unable to reach a consensus. The Senate Cities Committee voted unanimously to pass the bill in its current state, but according to Benedetto, some Assembly members took issue with the bill’s provisions, or lack thereof, for minority and women-owned businesses.

Under the bill’s current language, city agencies would be allowed to consider consultants’ record of compliance with laws “concerning minority and women-owned business enterprise participation” and would have to follow “objectives and goals” for hiring such businesses outlined in the city’s administrative code. But some Assembly members saw these measures as insufficient for ensuring design-build contracts would involve minority and women-owned businesses, according to Benedetto.

State Senator Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, did not respond to a request for comment.

Proponents of design-build expressed surprise and frustration that the bill was not passed. In a statement to Gotham Gazette, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio said design-build would be “the single most effective step” to update aging infrastructure and build new schools and public housing.

“The City looks forward to continuing work with the incredible coalition who supported the legislation—including industry, labor and advocates—to get it passed during the next Albany session,” the spokesperson said. Legislators will return to the capital in January after this fall’s elections for all 150 Assembly and 63 Senate seats.

Design-Build Institute of America Executive Director and CEO Lisa Washington said the institute was “incredibly disappointed” in a statement to Gotham Gazette, and pointed to a DBIA report published in April that reflects steadily increasing use of design-build by state agencies. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has regularly praised use of design-build by the state.

“We have no reason to believe the bill failed on the merits,” Washington said. “We are confident that similar bipartisan legislation can pass the New York Legislature next session, and we will be working hard to make sure that happens.”

Citizens Budget Commission Vice President Maria Doulis told Gotham Gazette she was disappointed with the outcome, and said that the state is “moving very slowly in the area of updating and modernizing its procurement.” She added that, in her opinion, a dispute over language accounting for women and minority-owned businesses could have been easily solved.

“Honoring that consideration has not impeded this from going forward in other places,” Doulis said. “You can do it by maintaining flexibility but also including some requirements for subcontractors.”

Although it will remain off-limits for city agencies for now, certain state agencies are authorized to use design-build thanks to a law that was passed in 2011 and renewed in 2015. Ironically, the latest state agency to exercise this power will do so in Manhattan—Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that the state’s billion-dollar expansion of the Jacob J Javits Center will use a design-build contract.

by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

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In Extended Session, Lawmakers Vote Through Variety of Bills with Little Public Review

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The Capitol Building (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin, Governor's Office)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders finished protracted and messy end-of-session negotiations on Friday night -- one day after the scheduled end of legislative session -- not with the traditional celebratory press conference, but with a series of press releases. Sent to reporters as bills were still being negotiated, printed, and voted upon Friday night, Cuomo’s public schedule for Saturday put him in the New York City area with no events.

A press release announcing an agreement on a five-point “ethics reform plan” was sent out at about 7 p.m., though actual bill language wasn’t available until about 1:45 a.m., with legislators expected to vote on the varied measures immediately thereafter.

At a few minutes after 8 p.m., the framework of a deal on a wider variety of issues was announced - dealing with issues like mayoral control of New York City schools; funding for housing homeless people; lead testing in schools; funding for CUNY and SUNY schools; and much more.

Legislators from both houses, many somewhat delirious after consecutive late nights of session followed by early mornings -- some of whom had even taken to sleeping at their desks -- learned of outlines of deals second- or third-hand. Negotiations were largely held by Cuomo, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Independent Democratic Conference head Jeff Klein, with the three legislative leaders reporting back to their conferences.

A long evening at the Capitol building did not end until after 3 a.m., with a strong sense of disorganization and confusion throughout. Even without knowing much about what they were voting on, state Senators voted through the ethics package 60-2 and the "big ugly" mash-up of other bills 61-1.

For the public, many legislators and watchdog groups, this year was defined by the corruption convictions of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, as well as the broad federal investigation into Cuomo’s economic development programs across the state. However, legislators resisted any major reforms that would directly address the issues involved in those cases.

Instead, the Friday deal agreed to by Cuomo and legislative leaders addressed the use of independent expenditure committees; tightened rules on what would be improper coordination between candidate campaigns and committees; did away with a rule from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics that forced lobbyists to disclose their interactions with newspaper editorial boards; and will begin the process of amending the state constitution to strip lawmakers convicted of corruption of their pensions - this measure is an amendment to the state constitution and will therefore have to be passed by a second consecutive state legislature (following this fall’s elections), placed on the ballot, and approved by voters, likely in November, 2017.

Also included is a measure to increase disclosure by 501(c)(4) organizations that take money from 501(c)(3) organizations, a move seen by many as an attack on good government groups that use the latter for funding their advocacy work. Cuomo administration officials have repeatedly referred to good government groups as “shadow lobbyists” while the governor has regularly worked with them on ethics and campaign finance reform measures.

The five-point plan falls significantly short of what Cuomo outlined in his January State of the State speech and of what good government groups and reform-minded legislators have been calling for. In a twist of irony, the ethics related bills were given almost virtually no public review before being moved through.

“For the first time, independent expenditure groups and PACs will be required to adhere to unprecedented disclosure requirements, and New York will have the nation’s strongest rules defining and governing coordination and independence,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Missing from the ethics deal are many of Cuomo’s major proposals he made in January - proposals that include limiting outside income for legislators; closing a loophole that allows corporations to subvert campaign contribution limits by creating multiple LLCs; and measures to prevent campaign accounts controlled by political parties from taking in unlimited donations.

Meanwhile, New York City issues remained major sticking points as leaders hashed out their final deal. It appeared that a breakthrough was reached after Mayor Bill de Blasio told Heastie, de Blasio’s main Albany ally, that he could live with another one-year renewal of mayoral control that mandates the city spell out exactly how much money it is spending on each school.

That renewal is a blow to de Blasio even though the administration calls it as a victory - de Blasio was looking for mayoral control to be made permanent, or at least extended for three years. “This extension is a recognition of the unprecedented progress and achievements mayoral control has delivered for our school system,” Austin Finan, a spokesperson for de Blasio, told The Wall Street Journal.

The deal clearly weakens the city’s independent control of schools and sets de Blasio up for another renewal fight next year when he will be up for reelection. It also empowers charter schools, which de Blasio has often been at odds with to the chagrin of Cuomo and Flanagan, to seek authorizations from SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which is seen as very pro-charter.

One positive for de Blasio was that the Senate approved some of his CUNY nominees and approved two of his MTA nominees, Veronica Vanterpool and David R. Jones, who had been waiting for over a year for confirmation. City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, the third of three de Blasio nominees to the MTA awaiting confirmation, had not been confirmed at the time this article was published.

Another major city issue came to something of a resolution on Friday night as Cuomo and legislative leaders announced they would make available $570 million in capital funding for supportive housing for homeless people. On Thursday a figure of $150 million was floated out of the $2 billion in funds set aside for supportive and affordable housing construction and maintenance in the budget, but not yet allocated. “The Governor's pathetic offer to provide a tiny fraction of what he promised underscores the shallowness of his commitment to housing our homeless neighbors,” said Shelly Nortz, executive director for policy at the Coalition for the Homeless, in reaction to the offer. Groups were not much happier with the $570 figure released on Friday, they want to see the full $1.9 billion allocated by Cuomo, Heastie, and Flanagan.

Deals announced leading up to and on Friday also included moves to improve safety at railroad crossings; fight heroin and opioid addiction; provide $50 million in additional capital funds to CUNY and SUNY; accelerate construction at the Javits Convention Center, and more. Legislation legalizing and regulating daily fantasy sports was passed through the Assembly Friday afternoon and made its way, somewhat surprisingly, to the Senate floor after 2 a.m., where it was passed. It will now go to the governor's desk.

This end-of-session “big ugly” package of legislation appears to have occurred in similar fashion to this year’s budget, with an agreement reached because the parties walked away from the negotiating table. In both cases, as is the tradition, bills were passed with such little review by legislators, advocates, and journalists alike that days of unpacking are ahead.

Not dealt with before the end of session was renewal of the 421-a real estate property tax break meant to spur afforable housing development in New York City and expansion of car-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft to Albany and other parts of the state.

Legislators will now return to their districts to run for reelection facing polls that show voters around the state want sweeping government ethics reform. Cuomo will likely look to bounce back from what has been an up-and-down year that saw him celebrate the political high of winning passage of a $15 minimum wage plan and paid family leave that earned him national attention and accolades from the left yet have members of his inner circle and his administration subpoenaed in a corruption probe. Much of the focus of the months ahead will be on that federal investigation and how the fall elections affect which party controls the state Senate.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

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New York Becomes 17th State to Call for Constitutional Overturn of Citizens United

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Sen. Squadron and "Demand Democracy" ralliers (photo: @DanielSquadron)

Amid increasing calls for New York to pass bold government ethics reform and minimize the role of money in elections, a bipartisan majority of state lawmakers has taken a symbolic but somewhat significant step in calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case.

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions can be considered individuals as far as their political contributions are concerned and that restricting their ability to donate to candidates amounted to a violation of their First Amendment right of free speech. That decision opened the floodgates to unlimited amounts of money in elections, including through outside groups supportive of candidates that must not coordinate with official campaigns but can raise and spend unlimited sums. Nearly 80 percent of Americans agree that the decision needs to be overturned. As of Wednesday, so do 76 New York State Assembly members (of 150 seats) and 32 State Senators (of 63 seats), a bare majority in each house.

Lawmakers and advocates announced at a news conference at the Capitol Building in Albany on Wednesday that a majority of members had signed letters to Congress calling for an amendment. The declaration came barely a week after Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed legislation to blunt the effects of Citizens United. In his announcement, the governor called the decision of the Supreme Court’s worst and said, “This decision ignited the equivalent of a campaign nuclear arms race and created a shadow industry in New York — maligning the integrity of the electoral process and drowning out the voice of the people. Citizens United must be reversed.” This week, he said one of his six priorities for the remaining legislative session is moving forward with his legislation to combat Citizens United that further restricts coordination between candidates and supportive “independent” committees, known as Super PACs.

New York is the first state with a Republican-controlled chamber to call for an amendment, though only two Republicans supported it. (The last vote that gave the Senate effort a majority came from Democratic Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who was recently elected to the chamber, replacing Republican Dean Skelos, who was removed from office upon a felony corruption conviction.) New York now joins the ranks of 16 other states which have done so through resolutions and ballot initiatives. More than 700 municipalities across the country have also passed resolutions, including 21 in New York.

On Wednesday, Assemblymember James Brennan, who led the effort in his chamber, said in a statement, “When we think about the intent behind campaign finance laws, they are supposed to protect our democracy from corruption while preserving the integrity of our elections. Citizens United has done the opposite. By allowing corporations the same rights as individuals, campaigns across the country are being fueled by obscene amounts of money. This has to stop. I call on Congress to do the right thing and pass a constitutional amendment to right this wrong.”

In the Senate, there were four letters with largely the same language. Twenty-four Democrats signed one letter. The five-member Independent Democratic Conference signed the same letter, albeit separately. Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins signed one independently. The Republicans, Sen. Phil Boyle and Sen. Kemp Hannon, signed their own version with slightly different language.

“There is motion now in Republican-controlled legislatures to support an amendment,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, co-director of the Democracy Is For People campaign at Public Citizen, a nonprofit group that led a coalition of advocates calling on state lawmakers to support an amendment. “The state legislature also needs to follow through and pass state reform,” he added.

Lawmakers more than agree. “It’s great news that a bipartisan majority of State Senators and Assemblymembers support closing the corporate contribution floodgate Citizens United opened,” said Senator Daniel Squadron, in an emailed statement. Squadron led his colleagues in the Democrats’ letter. “It's critical that legislation also move forward to show New York’s strong support for the voice of everyday Americans in the political process.”

Squadron has been one of the leading proponents for closing New York’s infamous “LLC loophole,” which ostensibly allows wealthy individuals and corporations to give unlimited funds to political candidate campaigns through a variety of limited liability companies. Cuomo, a Democrat, has called for closing the loophole and Assembly Democrats have passed such a measure - but the Republican-controlled Senate has balked, defeating the efforts of Squadron and his allies. Good government groups have been calling for closure of the LLC loophole for years, along with a slew of other government ethics and campaign finance reforms in New York, most of which have gone nowhere.

Sen. Boyle, a Long Island Republican, echoed the call for reform in the final legislative package of the year, insisting that his Republican colleagues were equally concerned about the influence of big money on elections both at the state and national level. He said it was important that the same restrictions on campaign contributions apply to corporations, unions, and individuals, hitting one of the key sticking points for Republicans: that unions are treated similarly to corporations. Boyle recognizes that signing a letter to Congress is a symbolic move, but one that can have a strong impact. “I think it’s going to energize the debate and hopefully draw the attentions of our federal legislators,” he said in a phone interview. “As much pressure on Washington D.C. as we can exert, the better.”

Sen. Stewart-Cousins was also encouraged by two Republicans signing on to the petition and called for additional action on legislative reform. “Addressing the negative impact that the Citizens United decision has had on our democracy is important,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “but also we must take action to fix our own glaring campaign finance and ethics issues in New York State such as closing the LLC Loophole which also allows special interests to contribute endless amounts of money. The people of New York deserve an electoral system and government that they can trust.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Deals Emerge as Albany Legislative Session Moves Toward Conclusion

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photo via The Governor's Office

After spending most of what was scheduled to be the last day of legislative session in stop-and-start negotiations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders appeared on Thursday to reach a framework deal on several big-ticket items, though legislators will continue to negotiate, debate, and vote on Friday.

After a few issues had been decided on Wednesday, concept agreements emerged Thursday on the process of stripping corrupt lawmakers of their pensions; extending mayoral control of New York City schools for one year; and increasing disclosure requirements for independent political committees.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie cautioned the deal was only a “framework” around 8 p.m. and cautioned he didn’t know when an official announcement would be made.

Legislators are expected to return early Friday to continue voting on a host of legislation--most of which is fated to only pass one house. As Cuomo, Heastie, and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan work through deals on a variety of issues, the two majority leaders will continue to discuss them with their conferences, but things tend to move quickly as session ends, with new legislation given little time for review.

The Thursday evening deal is likely to be touted as a significant movement toward fixing Albany’s ethics crisis, though reform groups and many legislators feel independent expenditures hardly rank as a major issue compared to other problems with Albany’s campaign finance laws and feel that pension forfeiture is a superficial response to an ethics crisis that needs systematic reforms. While it is a welcome additional punishment for unethical behavior, many say, it does not create the type of preventative measures to limit pay-to-play culture and conflicts of interest.

The Senate and Assembly reached a deal on pension forfeiture last year--the Senate passed it but the Assembly balked after facing pressure from unions that were concerned their members were subject to the change along with legislators. The current deal would see the Senate pass the Assembly version that has a narrower scope of who would be subject to forfeiture upon a corruption conviction.

Meanwhile, legislators say an extension of mayoral control will be tied to other issues that have not become completely clear. None of Thursday's deals are final as no bills have been printed.

The deal is also said to include the release of $150,000 in supportive housing funds. Cuomo included $1.9 billion in funding for supportive and affordable housing in the budget but left the details to be decided by a memo of understanding with the two legislative leaders. It appears Senate Republicans have balked at releasing all of the funds until they get a renewal of the controversial 421-a tax credit.

Advocates used the day to express exasperation with the deal-making process that routinely leaves major issues until the last minute, and beyond, with both parties taking issues hostage.

Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director of policy at The Coalition for the Homeless, lashed out at Cuomo on Thursday for not prioritizing the signing of the MOU to detail how to spend the $1.9 billion in housing funds.

“This is far more than a failure to effectively address homelessness - it betrays the hypocrisy underlying Andrew Cuomo's perennial empty promises to the homeless,” wrote Nortz. “Gov. Cuomo, whose promises to the homeless have as much credence as a degree from Trump University, needs to show that he understands that promises mean nothing if you can’t keep your word. Absent the execution of the MOU to release the funds he himself included in the budget, Gov. Cuomo no longer has any claim to be a friend to the homeless or an expert on the issue.”

Many legislators who care about the issue express a sense of resignation. Sen. Mike Gianaris, Deputy Democratic Conference Leader, said he hoped the MOU funds will still be available next year, saying that when Democrats win control of the Senate chamber they will make sure funds are allocated. In theory, the MOU could be signed any time, but virtually no one thinks it will be signed before January if it is not signed by the end of session this week.

Gotham Gazette reported earlier this week that the housing funds were being linked to the controversial 421-a tax credit by Senate Republicans. There is speculation they are holding on to the MOU to negotiate a 421-a renewal next year.

On ethics and campaign finance reform - like closing the LLC loophole, limiting legislators’ outside income, and more - good government groups are exasperated and have resorted to telling voters to simply vote out incumbents who haven’t supported reform.

Meanwhile, there has been a good deal of negotiation to try for a compromise on legalizing and regulating daily fantasy sports. Legalizing widespread car-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft appears to have hit a wall, however.

There was some progress made in both houses on other issues on Thursday. The Senate passed a package of legislation designed to fight opioid and heroin addiction, while the Assembly is set to take up the legislation before the end of session.

Senators also appear set to vote on a bill that would extend the time period residents have to sue after being exposed to contamination. Republican Sen. Kathy Marchione, who sponsors the bill in the Senate and represents Hoosick Falls, where there has been a water contamination crisis, amended her bill yesterday, decoupling it from the Assembly’s bill and thereby assuring its failure. Marchione faced intense pushback from Hoosick Falls residents and environmentalist actor Mark Ruffalo, among others. Late last night Senate Republicans restored the bill to its original form and appeared set to vote on it late Thursday evening.

The Senate also unanimously passed a bill that will require the state to pay for indigent defense services in all counties of the state. Sen. John DeFrancisco, the Republican sponsor of the bill, was lauded by a number of Democrats who he is normally at odds with. The Assembly is expected to pass the bill before the end of session--when that end will come is unclear as negotiations continue to tumble forward.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Much Undecided, Last-Minute Frenzy Starts in Albany

albany leaders cuomo heastie flanagan et al

Albany leaders (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin, Governor's Office)

The pace has picked up dramatically in Albany, where lawmakers had avoided any major legislative decisions since passing the budget in April. With three days left in session, dozens upon dozens of bills are being introduced, amended, and passed at a fever pace. And while a couple of deals among the governor and legislative leaders have been announced on somewhat high-profile matters, thornier issues still remain unsettled and many bills are likely to only pass one house before lawmakers leave the capital.

On Monday, with session scheduled to end on Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote the Legislature an open letter setting a list of his priorities - included on that list was reaching a deal on a package of legislation to combat heroin addiction; increasing breast cancer screening; passing government ethics reform; combating the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision; improving safety at rail crossings; and updating the state’s alcohol control laws.

In his letter Cuomo framed the situation in Albany as particularly tough because of the national political environment, failing to mention the federal investigation into state economic development programming that has dogged that his administration and the fallout from various legislative scandals, including the conviction on federal corruption charges of two recent legislative leaders. Cuomo praised the Legislature for the work it already did, calling this year’s “one of the best budgets in modern history”

Cuomo wrote: “But with all we have done, we have more to do. As the old skeptic’s adage goes, “That’s great, but what have you done for me lately?” We can’t rest on our laurels – we have much more to accomplish this session. Right now, we have a chance to complete an ambitious agenda that will conclude one of the most effective and successful legislative sessions to date while improving the lives of millions of New Yorkers.”

Major issues absent from Cuomo’s to-do list include renewing mayoral control of New York City schools, which is set to expire June 30; agreeing on how to spend $2 billion in state funds to create and preserve supportive and low-income housing; the push to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility; and a number of other priorities he touted in his State of the State Address in January.

By late Tuesday, Cuomo’s office had announced deals with the Legislature on three of the six items he outlined in his letter: rail safety; heroin addiction; and amending the state’s liquor laws.

The Senate showed some interest in moving on Cuomo’s push on Citizens United and independent expenditures as Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan introduced a bill on the issue.

However, good government groups that gathered in Albany on Tuesday said they didn’t have much hope there would be any major action on government ethics reform this year. They largely scoffed at Cuomo’s targeting independent expenditures, saying that more money floods into New York’s elections through things like the LLC loophole and political party committees. Cuomo has backed changes to the LLC loophole and putting limits on how much cash party committees can take in, but he has done little this session to advance bills related to the issues.

“We’ve pleaded, we’ve talked rationally, we have pleaded with legislators and the governor’s office,” Barbara Bartoletti of The League of Women Voters told reporters. She said it is time for New Yorkers to vote out incumbents who don’t support ethics reform.

Meanwhile the houses of the Legislature have tried to come to deals on a bill that would allow for-hire vehicle services like Uber and Lyft to operate in New York State; a bill legalizing and regulating daily fantasy sports gambling; and one to allow online poker. All three may be stalling, though there is still time for negotiations.

The Republican-controlled Senate saw the introduction of two bills of particular interest to residents of New York City. One bill would extend mayoral control of New York City schools by three years, but would have enacted the education tax credit opposed by many Democrats. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan had previously said he would only support a one-year extension of mayoral control while Cuomo and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have pressed for three.

Heastie rejected Flanagan’s proposal, telling reporters: “The Senate has the right to put in whatever bills they want to. I’ll be clear: Those proposals are a non-starter for us, so to me it was a waste of time to put those proposals in.”

A second straight one-year extension of mayoral control without anything else attached may be the best Mayor Bill de Blasio and his allies like Heastie can do.

The Senate also introduced a bill that would revive the controversial 421-a tax break for developers to build affordable housing, a program seen as key to the building of new affordable housing units in New York City. Heastie rejected the bill out of hand, union members have protested the bill did not have high enough wage standards. The program has been the subject of governmental and non-governmental negotiations for many months and there is no clear resolution at hand.

The fate of $2 billion set aside in the budget for supportive and affordable housing appears tied to the fate of 421-a, as Gotham Gazette reported on Monday. Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi told Susan Arbetter on The Capitol Pressroom, "The money for supportive housing has been thrown into negotiations that have little to do with it or are tangentially related.”

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 13

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

New York, the United States, and the world are focused on Orlando, Florida as the week begins after a gunman there killed at least 50 people and injured at least 53 more. In the late night hours of Saturday into Sunday, Omar Mateen opened fire at The Pulse nightclub, known to be a centerpiece of the city’s LGBT community. At this point the attack is being investigated as an act of terrorism and as motivated by hate toward the LGBT community - the shooter, who was killed by law enforcement during the attack, declared allegiance to ISIS and was said, by his father, to have held anti-gay anger. Read the latest from the New York Times here.

In New York City, elected officials, LGBT and Muslim community leaders held a Sunday evening vigil at Diversity Plaza in Queens to honor the victims of the Orlando attack. The Mayor’s Clergy Advisory Council held an interfaith vigil outside Judson Memorial Church and at sunset, the City lit City Hall in rainbow colors to represent LGBT pride.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD officials updated the media on Sunday afternoon after the mayor marched in the Puerto Rican Day parade, explaining heightened security measures at LGBT landmarks across the city. City Council Member Corey Johnson announced plans for a Monday evening vigil outside the Stonewall Inn at 6 p.m. Mayor de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, among many others, will participate at about 7:30 p.m.

In terms of the week ahead in New York politics, many eyes are on Albany, where there are just three scheduled legislative session days left, set for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this week. Mayoral control of New York City schools must be dealt with - it is due to expire at the end of June. There are a variety of other high-profile issues that may see legislation, but lawmakers might do a minimum and get out of town. All 213 seats in the Assembly (150) and Senate (63) are up for election this fall and legislators may be eager to devote their full-time attention to their home districts, campaign fund-raising, and re-election efforts.

Gov. Cuomo and the leaders of each legislative house’s majority announced a deal this weekend on expanding access to breast cancer screenings, a major priority for the governor. As the final days of session are upon us, we’re watching for possible agreement on several issues like the governor’s new campaign finance reform proposal; for-hire vehicle legislation to legalize and regulate services like Uber; and much more, including mayoral control of New York City schools.

In the city itself, the Mayor and the City Council agreed this past week on the outline of a city budget for fiscal year 2017, which begins on July 1 and the Council is expected to officially vote through the budget on Tuesday of this week.

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

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

The run of the week in detail:

At On Monday morning, Mayor de Blasio will appear live on 1010WINS at 8:15 and WCBS Newsradio 880 at 8:25 to discuss the Orlando shootings. At 4 p.m. the Mayor "will hold a public hearing for and sign the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA). CJRA is comprised of eight bills – Intro. 639-B, in relation to requiring the NYPD to submit quarterly reports relating to the issuance of summonses; Intro. 662-A, in relation to requiring the NYPD to submit quarterly reports relating to the issuance of desk appearance tickets; Intro. 1056-A, in relation to penalties for violating park rules; Intro. 1057-A, in relation to the enforcement of criminal and civil offenses; Intro. 1058-A, in relation to the penalties for excessive noise; Intro. 1059-A, in relation to OATH procedures for certain quality of life offenses; Intro. 1067-A, in relation to the penalties for possessing an open container of alcohol; and Intro. 1070-A, in relation to the penalties for littering." City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who spearheaded the Criminal Justice Reform Act, will give remarks at the bill-signing.

At 9 a.m. Monday in Queens, City Council Members Dromm, Ferreras-Copeland and Koo will host an Anti-Discrimination Clinic sponsored by Project Reach and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. The Clinic will focus on leadership training regarding race, class, and gender and address different aspects of discrimination in the community.

At 10 a.m. Monday at 250 Broadway, the state Assembly will hold a public hearing on “Devising a Smart Supportive Housing Strategy for Ex-Offenders upon Reentry. The hearing, led by Assembly Correction Committee Chair Daniel J. O’Donnell and Transitional Services Subcommittee Chair Luis Sepulveda, is “to examine solutions to overcome the barriers faced by ex-offenders in need of affordable housing, a proven cost-effective vehicle for preventing the cycle of homelessness and recidivism among individuals who were formerly incarcerated.”

On Monday starting at 11 a.m., “activists and a broad and diverse coalition of community, labor, good-government and advocacy organizations will demand statewide election reforms outside the offices of the Board of Elections, Glenwood Management and hedge-fund backed Families for Excellent Schools. The demonstrations are part of a statewide Demand Democracy Day of Action that aims to raise awareness about the corrupting influence of big money in Albany and the urgent need for voting rights, campaign finance and ethics reforms.” The series of demonstrations will be led by “Activists and representatives from: Citizen Action of New York, NY Working Families, Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, Strong Economy for All Coalition, and other organizations.”

On Monday at 12:30 p.m. schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña “will visit John Jay College of Criminal Justice with 60 middle school students to make a college access announcement.”

Also at 12:30 p.m. Monday, in Albany legislators and advocates will call for Senate passage of Hoosick Falls legislation, which would "extend statute of limitations to recover from polluters." The press conference will be led by Assemblymember John McDonald, Senator Kathy Marchione, Michele Baker, mom and Hoosick Falls resident, Environmental Advocates of New York.

At 1 p.m. Monday at City Hall, City Council Members Stephen Levin, Laurie Cumbo, and Helen Rosenthal, and advocates will hold a rally "to call on Governor Cuomo and New York State Legislature to help New Yorkers who lack stable housing by signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) this week to fully fund FEPS and pass legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi that will expand FEPS eligibility."

At 5:30 p.m. Monday, candidates in New York’s 13th Congressional District will debate at Riverside Church in a forum sponsored by AARP NY and several other organizations. Nine candidates are vying for the position, which is open for the first time since 1944. The debate will focus on issues regarding the needs and concerns of the older and diverse populations in the district, such as strengthening Social Security, supporting family caregivers, increasing pedestrian safety, ensuring retirement security, protecting against age discrimination, and increasing affordable housing.

At 6 p.m. Monday at the Stonewall Inn, there will be a vigil in honor of the victims of the Orlando shooting. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo are among those who will participate, around 7:30 p.m.

Also Monday at 6 p.m. at Pregones Theater in the Bronx, a community forum will discuss “improved relations between the NYPD and the mental health community.” Specifically, the event, being led by Community Access and focus on the NYPD having begun “training officers in a new way to approach those in mental health crisis, known as Crisis Intervention Team training (CIT)...With the help of community partners including Community Access, the NYPD launched a CIT training program in June 2015. To date, more than 2,200 officers have been trained.”

At 7 p.m. Monday, the Regional Plan Association is hosting “Reimagining 14th Street” at the TransitCenter, 1 Whitehall Street. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is among those who will speak.

Both houses of the state Legislature are in session on Tuesday afternoon in Albany.

At 12 p.m. Tuesday in Albany, The Center for an Urban Future and NYATEP will host a policy forum on “how New York can strengthen connections between its signature economic development initiative and job training programs.” Featured speakers include Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and Winston Fisher, Co-Chair of the NYC Regional Economic Development Council (REDC).

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 9:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet.
  • At 11 a.m., the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will meet concerning the designation of the East New York Savings Bank, Parkway Branch Building as an historic landmark.
  • At 11 a.m., the Committee on Finance will meet to vote through the fiscal year 2017 budget.
  • The Council will hold a full-body Stated Meeting on Tuesday to vote through the fiscal year 2017 budget.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City & State NY will recognize its 2016 Class of Albany Rising Stars. The annual award reception will honor 40 of the state’s “brightest young professionals in politics, advocacy and business”.

Both houses of the state Legislature are in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday in Long Island City, the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) and Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) will host their annual Fair Housing Symposium and Tenant Resource Fair. Co-sponsored by the CUNY School of Law, the event will feature discussions on “combatting tenant harassment and source of income discrimination.” Legal and social service providers will also be present to assist attendees with their individual housing concerns.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet.
  • At 11 a.m., the Committee on Land Use will meet to consider all items reported out of previous Subcommittee meetings.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet.

Both houses of the state Legislature are in session on Thursday in Albany.

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye will discuss NYCHA plans and challenges at a Crain’s New York Business breakfast forum. After Olatoye gives remarks, she will answer questions from moderators Erik Engquist of Crain’s and Ben Max of Gotham Gazette.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the city Department of City Planning will hold its second open house to gather input from local business owners and residents on the progress of the North Brooklyn Industry and Innovation Plan.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on General Welfare will hold a previously deferred oversight hearing on foster care and consider eight newly-introduced bills that would require the city to more closely monitor the welfare of children in foster care, among other things.
  • Also at 10 a.m., the Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet to discuss three bills that would require the Department of Consumer Affairs to provide seniors, women, and immigrants with outreach and education regarding consumer protection issues.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Higher Education will meet to review a bill that would establish a task force that would analyze ways to eliminate tuition at the City University of New York and develop proposals on the role the City can play in working toward that goal.

On Thursday at 7 p.m. the Queens County Young Democrats Celebrate Pride 2016 with special guests City Council Member Danny Dromm and Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer - Club Evolution, Jackson Heights.

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday: at 10 a.m., the Committee on Technology will hold a previously deferred hearing on two bills; one that would require all businesses to allow customers to dial 911 and another that would require the Commissioner of Information Technology to report on misrouted 911 calls near the geographic boundaries of the city.

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 Amanda Sherwin and Ben Max

Fate of $2 Billion in State Housing Funds Unclear as Session Nears End

cuomo heastie flanagan

Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (l-r) (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin, The Governor's Office)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature allocated $2 billion to spend on 100,000 units of affordable and supportive housing in this year’s budget, which was agreed to on April 1. But they failed to include specifics -- details of how that money would be spent -- kicking those decisions down the road. Now, two months later, they have yet to sort out the details and many stakeholders are worried no deal is in sight as the major negotiating parties face off over incongruous priorities.

Cuomo, a Democrat, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie must sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining how the housing money will be spent, and according to housing and homeless advocates, failure to do so by the quickly-approaching end of legislative session will mean the money remains in state coffers without benefitting homeless, low- and moderate-income New Yorkers.

“The money that is supposed to provide relief for the homeless would just sit there. It wouldn't go anywhere, it wouldn't materialize,” said Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi, a Queens Democrat who said that advocates are right to be concerned that it won’t be sorted out before the end of session. “There is a deadline for this. Make no mistake. It has to happen before June 16.”

With only three session days left - Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this coming week - and leaders insistent they will leave town Thursday, advocates fear there may not be enough motivation and time for lawmakers to deal with the MOU and all the issues they’ve attached to it.

Four legislative sources tell Gotham Gazette that each house has tied the MOU to a number of thorny issues. They say Senate Republicans have connected the allocation of housing money to the renewal of 421-a. That controversial, lapsed property tax credit meant to spur affordable housing development has been the focus of a number of failed negotiations this year, and it appears getting to a deal on the credit remains a heavy lift. A spokesperson for Senate Republicans did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Assembly Democrats insist that some of the cash go to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), something that sources say rankles Cuomo as he sees it as directly benefiting Mayor Bill de Blasio, his erstwhile feuding partner. The city’s public housing stock has $17 billion in capital needs and city officials have said the state continues to under-fund NYCHA, even failing to release some previously promised money. Neither Heastie’s nor Cuomo’s office returned requests for comment.

Assembly Housing Chair Keith Wright, a Manhattan Democrat, recently wrote in an op-ed that appeared in AM New York that he wants $100 million of housing funds to go to NYCHA for serious repairs. Rachel Fee, director of the New York Housing Conference, also called for that commitment in a NY Slant op-ed.

Sources say Cuomo has not appeared to be in a rush to hammer out the MOU. The governor made affordable housing and fighting homelessness major policy points during his January State of the State speech, around that time criticizing de Blasio’s handling of rising homelessness in the city.

“Everything in housing is tied together: 421-a, NYCHA and [the MOU],” said Shelly Nortz, executive director of policy for Coalition for the Homeless. “I know there is no hope whatsoever it will get done after June 16,” she added referring to the notion that once legislators leave Albany they are unlikely to come to any policy decisions.

A coalition called The Campaign for NY/NY Housing, which fights for supportive housing - homelessness relief with social services built in - and counts over 100 interested groups in its ranks, has recently turned up pressure on Cuomo and legislative leaders with a major lobbying campaign designed to get them to act.

“We are very concerned,” said Laura Masuch, executive director of The Supportive Housing Network of New York. “We have 80,000 homeless in the state of New York and supportive housing is critical - especially for families with special needs. It takes a lot of time to open these units, so every day we wait is a day we don’t get a family off the street.”

Fee said that she is concerned the funds may be tied up for the long term if legislators fail to act this year.

“It’s not clear why lawmakers feel no urgency to spend $2 billion in housing funds,” said Fee. "My biggest fear is it will not get done this session and will get pushed to the end of the budget year [March]. This didn’t have to happen in session at all. It could have been negotiated during any of the days that passed since the budget was enacted. We need affordable and supportive housing right now.”

There is precedent for such a holdup. Cuomo and the Legislature drafted an MOU committing to spend bank settlement funds from JP Morgan Chase on housing in 2014, but it wasn’t until the following year’s budget that they actually detailed how the money would be spent. “History doesn't bode well for post-session MOUs getting done,” said Masuch.

Budget watchdogs have long decried the use of MOUs in budgeting because they lack transparency. Good government groups have campaigned to end the process, especially after pots of unitemized allocations played roles in the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Assembly Republicans have called for a system that tracks spending of large amounts of cash created in the budget, but Cuomo and legislative leaders have scoffed at the idea. Now another drawback of failing to allocate budgeted cash appears clear: the principals may never get around to figuring out how to spend it.

Nortz, Coalition for the Homeless, said that she sees the project as belonging to Cuomo. It’s a feeling shared by many advocates who campaigned to get Cuomo to invest in supportive housing last year. Cuomo also dedicated significant time in his January State of the State address to the housing money he was proposing.

A variety of rank-and-file legislators also put the onus on Cuomo because they feel that the specifics of the $2 billion plan wasn’t given priority in budget negotiations and was left to an MOU only because budget negotiations basically collapsed.

Nortz said that if the MOU isn’t signed before the end of session it will “raise real questions” about Cuomo’s commitment to the homeless and to affordable housing. “If he wants it done it will get done. This is the governor who managed to get the Senate to pass marriage equality; this is the governor who got a $15 minimum wage when he didn’t even believe in it a year before. We know what he can do when he wants to,” said Nortz.

Masuch, of The Supportive Housing Network, said she was heartened to see Cuomo take ownership of homelessness as an issue in his State of the State address. “We were very pleased, he talked lots about homelessness and housing. That was great, and now we need him to push leadership to bring it home and make sure it is their priority.”

Hevesi declined to place blame for the stalled negotiations. But he said he is more than disappointed to see the funding caught up in Albany’s routine “Big Ugly” end-of-session negotiations, where legislators wait until the last minute to hash out a mishmash of interconnected deals.

“Every year 19,000 more people become homeless in New York than stop being homeless,” said Hevesi. “We can't sustain that level of homelessness and we shouldn’t be waiting for help while thousands of more families are being destroyed.”

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Espaillat Unveils Plan to Address Child Care Costs

Espaillat news conference

Sen. Espaillat (photo: @EspaillatNY)

To address the city’s escalating affordability crisis, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, Democratic candidate in the 13th Congressional District, is unveiling a proposal to increase the federal Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.

The announcement comes as the heated Congressional primary enters its final weeks. Espaillat’s campaign is announcing a series of policy papers in an attempt to separate itself in a race that has focused on political allegiances, polls, and fundraising. Other candidates vying to replace retiring Rep. Charles Rangel include Assemblymember Keith Wright, former Assemblymember Adam Clayton Powell, Assemblymemeber Guillermo Linares, and Clyde Williams, former political director of the Democratic National Committee. Espaillat unsuccessfully challenged Rangel in 2012 and 2014. This year’s primary is set for June 28.

“I think there is a growing affordability crisis in the city and the state that has been framed around rent and the minimum wage, but not that fine-tuned to address issues young families face as far child care,” Espaillat told Gotham Gazette. “There are big costs these families face to live in the city while trying to raise kids. Some parents won’t go to work if they aren’t sure their children are receiving proper care.”

Espaillat cites a study by Democratic New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office that shows child care costs for city residents rising $1,612 per family each year. The study further shows that the average New York City family spends up to $16,250 per year on child care for an infant, $11,648 for a toddler and $9,620 for a school-age child. Gillibrand, like Rangel, has endorsed Wright in the congressional race. Espaillat said he had not spoken to the senator about his plan.

Espaillat’s plan would increase the CDCTC for families with children under four, allow families to claim 50 percent of child care costs up to $6,000 per child, and increase the maximum credit for families receiving federal, state, and city credits by 43 percent per child, making the maximum credit $8,775 per child.

Only families making under $30,000 a year with children under four years of age are eligible for the city tax credit. Families of all income levels with children up to the age of 13 are eligible for the state and federal credits, but the credits shrink depending on income. The state and city CDCTC are calculated as a percentage of the federal credit, so an increase to the federal plan would in turn boost state and local aid.

Espaillat’s policy paper estimates that “A family receiving the maximum federal, state, and city credits would receive $6,143-just over one-third the average price of child care for an infant in New York City. But a family earning $50,000 with a three-year-old child would only receive $2,400. This is a massive burden on New York City’s working- and middle-class families.”

Espaillat said he believes his proposal is one that could attract bipartisan support and gain traction in Congress because people across the country struggle to pay for child care. “This cuts across state and party lines,” Espaillat told Gotham Gazette. “This is like student loans; it has universal appeal whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or independent.”

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

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