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New York Voting Results: Presidential Primary and Special Elections


boe vote here sign

image via the NYC BOE


With New York relevant in the presidential primaries for the first time in decades and both major political parties coming into the state's vote with competitive races, much of Tuesday was dominated by problems with the New York City Board of Elections and criticism of New York State's antiquated voting rules.

Even as New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced an audit of the city BOE and many New Yorkers complained about laws keeping them from casting their ballots, more than 2 million voters across New York State made their choices Tuesday.

Hillary Clinton won about 58% of the Democratic primary vote to Bernie Sanders' 42%. The delegate split will be closer than the popular vote margin because of how the party allocates those tallies, using the votes within each congressional district to determine much of the allotment. Clinton did extremely well in New York City, while Sanders won many districts elsewhere in the state. Clinton will add about 135 delegates; Sanders will add about 104. There were about 1.6 million votes cast in the Democratic primary.

Donald Trump won about 60% of the Republican primary vote and almost all of the delegates at play because he did so well everywhere - he'll add about 89 delegates to his total. Ted Cruz took about 15% of the vote, but no delegates, and John Kasich about 25% of the vote, with three delegates after winning the vote in Manhattan. There were about 800,000 votes cast in the Republican primary statewide.

Clinton and Trump hold commanding leads in their respective party primary races as the candidates head to the next wave of states, including Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Maryland.

Meanwhile, the many New Yorkers were also focused on special elections taking place for vacant seats in the state Legislature. All four of these elections are akin to general elections, open to all eligible registered voters. The seats will be up for election again this fall when the entire Legislature is on the ballot.

The most prominent of these is the race to replace former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican who left office after being convicted on federal corruption charges. Democrat Todd Kaminsky, a sitting Assembly member, declared victory late Tuesday night, but his Republican opponent, Chris McGrath, has not conceded. McGrath's campaign released a statement saying that the race is "too close to call" and that "all the votes will have to be counted in the coming days." With all precincts reporting, Kaminsky has an 800 vote lead as of Tuesday night, but there are a reported 2,000 absentee and affidavit votes to be counted.

The race is especially important because it could help tip the balance of power in the state Senate to the Democrats. If Kaminsky is indeed able to move the seat to Democratic hands, and he caucuses with mainline Democrats, that would give the 63-seat chamber 31 Republicans, 26 mainline Democrats, 5 Independent Democrats, and Simcha Felder, who is elected as a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans.

There were also three special elections for vacant state Assembly seats being voted on Tuesday - one each in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. The Manhattan race had the most intrigue as it was both to replace former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat who left office after being convicted on federal corruption charges, and a competitive race. (The Brooklyn and Staten Island races were foregone conclusions, with a Democrat cruising to victory in the former and a Republican running uncontested in the latter.)

To replace Silver, the Democratic candidate, Alice Cancel, a Silver loyalist selected to run by others aligned with the former speaker, was victorious with 39% of the vote in a tight contest over the Working Families Party nominee, Yuh-Line Niou, who earned 34%, and Republican Lester Chang, who received 19%. There were about 18,500 votes cast in a district with 65,766 active registered voters, according to the BOE.

Republican Ronald Castorina, Jr. will be the new Assembly member from Staten Island's 62nd district. Democrat Jaime Williams will be the new Assembly member from Brooklyn's 59th district.

The day saw quite a bit of drama in New York City as voting problems became evident, including errors at polling places and issues with voters being purged from the rolls in Brooklyn. City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced that he is launching an audit of the city Board of Elections. Tuesday was actually the first of four election days for New Yorkers this year - Congressional primaries will take place in June, state legislative primaries in September, and the general election for everything, including President, in November. There are concerns of voter fatigue and that there will be miniscule turnout in June and September.

An advisory to members of the media went out from Stringer's office on Tuesday afternoon. It read, "With the New York City Board of Elections confirming that more than 125,000 voters in Brooklyn were removed from voter rolls and widespread reports of voters having trouble accessing polling sites and other polling irregularities, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer announced today that his office would undertake an audit of the operations and management of the Board of Elections."

Stringer's statement reads, “There is nothing more sacred in our nation than the right to vote, yet election after election, reports come in of people who were inexplicably purged from the polls, told to vote at the wrong location or unable to get in to their polling site. The people of New York City have lost confidence that the Board of Elections can effectively administer elections and we intend to find out why the BOE is so consistently disorganized, chaotic and inefficient. With four elections in New York City in 2016 alone, we don’t have a moment to spare.”

Soon after, a statement from Mayor Bill de Blasio was released:

“It has been reported to us from voters and voting rights monitors that the voting lists in Brooklyn contain numerous errors, including the purging of entire buildings and blocks of voters from the voting lists. I am calling on the Board of Election to reverse that purge and update the lists again using Central, not Brooklyn borough, Board of Election staff. We support the Comptroller’s audit and urge its completion well in advance of the June elections so corrective action can be taken. These errors today indicate that additional major reforms will be needed to the Board of Election and in the state law governing it. We will hold the BOE commissioners responsible for ensuring that the Board and its borough officers properly conduct the election process to assure that voters are not disenfranchised. The perception that numerous voters may have been disenfranchised undermines the integrity of the entire electoral process and must be fixed.”

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 18


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will be a fun one as New York votes in consequential presidential primaries on Tuesday. Expect a whole lot of last-minute campaigning and getting out the vote. All five major party presidential candidates are focused on New York, with Tuesday's results sure to have a significant impact on the races thereafter. Also Tuesday, several special elections for vacant seats in the state Legislature. Most importantly, the Long Island state Senate race to replace Dean Skelos, which will significantly affect control of the chamber now held by Republicans. There are also three New York City-based vacancies in the Assembly being filled, including Sheldon Silver's old seat.

Polls are open in New York City 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday. You can look up your voter registration status and poll site here.

This week we're also watching for Mayor Bill de Blasio's first Staten Island town hall, set for Wednesday evening. And, any new information that may surface around the issues that have been dogging de Blasio and his administration of late: investigations into the handling of a deed restriction removal on a Lower East Side property; bribery of NYPD officials; and the mayor's fundraising.

And, it's Earth Week, leading up to Friday's Earth Day, watch for a variety of environment-related events and announcements.

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

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

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
On Monday, Mayor de Blasio will appear on Hot 97’s Ebro in the Morning to discuss the presidential primary at 9:30 a.m. At 1:30 p.m. "the Mayor will host a press conference related to the mosquito season and Zika preparedness...Prior to the press conference, the Mayor will tour a mosquito lab at the Public Health Lab." And at 5 p.m. the Mayor will appear on PIX 11 News to discuss the presidential primary.

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will appear at two phone-bank kick-off rallies in support of Hillary Clinton for President. At both events, one in Buffalo and one in Rochester, Cuomo will join former President Bill Clinton.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will attend an 11 a.m. Verizon workers strike march and rally, 230 West 36th Street. At noon, Mark-Viverito will present an award at a Girl Be Heard luncheon at One Time Warner Center.

At the City Council on Monday:

  • 9:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and and Franchises will meet to address two land use applications.
  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Transportation will meet to examine the City’s actions taken toward reducing vehicle emissions, to consider a bill requiring that the Department of Transportation establish a pilot program for street parking electric vehicle charging stations, and to vote on a (non-binding) resolution to make Earth Day 2016 car-free for private and all non-essential city vehicles.
  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet to consider seven bills, including a bill to alter permit filing fees for new buildings and alterations, a bill to create a real-time enforcement unit in the Department of Buildings responsible for enforcing construction codes, a bill imposing additional penalties for performing construction work without a permit, and others.
  • 11 a.m., the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections will meet to receive several communications from the Mayor regarding the appointment of individuals to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Art Commission, and the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Civil Rights will meet to vote on a resolution recognizing March 5 as the official annual “Three-Fifths Clause Awareness Day” and a resolution calling upon Congress to amend Article 1, Section two, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution of the United States, known as the “three-fifths clause.”  
  • 1 p.m., the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet to address several land use applications.

At 8 a.m. Monday, “Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will lead local leaders and dozens of Brooklynites on his second annual Bike-to-Work ride, as he kicks off Earth Week celebrations in and around the borough. The event will highlight the positive impact that New Yorkers can have on their local environment by using pedal power to get around the city.”

At noon, Borough President Adams “will cut the ribbon on a free legal services clinic operated in collaboration with the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer's Project, Brooklyn Legal Services, the Veteran Advocacy Project and the Domestic Violence Project of the Urban Justice Center, and Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT) at Brooklyn Borough Hall.”

At noon on the steps of City Hall, City Council Member Andy King will lead a rally calling on the City Council to pass the aforementioned resolution calling on the federal government to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution negating the Three-Fifths Compromise. Participating organizations will include the NAACP, the National Action Network, the Justice League, The Black Institute, and others.

On Monday at 1 p.m., schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will visit a literacy pilot program for students with print-based disabilities at PS 57 on Staten Island. At 6:15 p.m., Fariña will deliver brief remarks at AP Para Todos family event at George Washington Educational Campus in Manhattan.

Also at 1 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at Communications Workers of America Verizon strike rally and march, at Verizon Wireless, 125 West 42nd Street.

At 5:30 p.m. Monday, the Queens Borough Board, chaired by Borough President Melinda Katz, will review details and vote on whether to recommend approval of the creation of the JFK Industrial Business Improvement District, which would support the many air cargo and service-related business near John F. Kennedy International Airport. Also present at the event will be Kris Goddard, executive director of the Neighborhood Development Division at the Department of Small Business Services, Barbara Cohen, consultant to the JFK IBID, and Dennis Walcott, president and CEO of the Queens Library.

At 6:00 p.m., City & State will be recognizing 50 of New York’s most prominent leaders in government, business, and media over the age of 50 during a reception and dinner at Federal Hall. The ceremony will be moderated by Betsy Gotbaum, former Public Advocate.

At 6 p.m., Council Member Helen Rosenthal will hold her third annual Town Hall, featuring representatives from over a dozen city agencies who will be available to answer questions from the public. Council Member Rosenthal will also announce the year’s winning Participatory Budget project at this event.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, Fordham University will host “What Is Happening? Part II: A Discussion of the 2016 Primaries” with Alexis Grenell, political strategist and City and State columnist, Jessica Proud, Republican strategist and partner at the November Team, and Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham, who is organizing and moderating the discussion.

Tuesday
Tuesday is presidential primary day in New York. Registered Democratic and Republican votes, who registered by certain deadlines, are able to vote in their party primary.

Also, Tuesday will see several special elections - open general election votes for registered voters in the relevant districts - in the races to replace both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (downtown Manhattan) and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (Long Island) will take place on Tuesday. There are also two other New York City-based special elections for vacant Assembly seats.

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Health will meet on a bill requiring the City to provide defibrillators at youth-league baseball fields on City-owned land at no cost.
  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Youth Services will hold an oversight meeting for elementary and middle school summer programs.
  • 11 a.m., the Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet on a bill amending the 2002 Displaced Building Services Worker Protection Act, so that it includes a broader set of employees protected under the law. The law requires that employers evaluate and retain eligible employees of a building that has just been sold.
  • 11 a.m., the Committee on land use will meet.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet on three bills requiring that the Department of Consumer Affairs provide outreach and education on consumer protection issues for women, seniors, and immigrants.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services will meet jointly with the Committee on Education to conduct an oversight meeting addressing the needs of students with dyslexia and related learning disabilities, to vote on a resolution requiring the Department of Education to include climate change lessons in K-12 schools’ curriculum, and to vote on a resolution requiring the certification of teachers, administrators, and instructors in the area of dyslexia and related disorders.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will hold an oversight hearing addressing the reduction of food waste in New York City.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, NYC Human Resources Administration Chief of Staff Jennifer Yeaw will host a panel of community respondents to discuss HRA’s efforts to improve ease of access for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during one in a series of CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute spring 2016 forums. Speakers include Brady Koch, COO of the Food Bank for New York City, and Maureen Lane, co-director of the Welfare Rights Initiative at Hunter College; the moderator will be Jan Poppendieck, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Hunter College and Senior Faculty Fellow, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Urban Democracy Lab will host an event, “Insights into Housing New York: A Five-Borough, Ten-Year Plan” with Daniel Hernandez, Deputy Commissioner for Neighborhood Strategies at the Department of Housing, Preservation, and Development. The event will discuss Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan, and Hernandez will be joined by Michael Ralph, Director of Metropolitan Studies at NYU.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jarrett Murphy, Executive Editor of City Limits, will be moderating a Brooklyn Historical Society panel of experts on “The Changing Face of Brooklyn’s Latino Community,” featuring Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; Laird Bergad, Executive Director of CUNY’s Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies; and Javiér Valdes, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road NY.

Wednesday
At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Finance will vote on a resolution approving designation changes of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget.
  • 1:30 p.m., the City Council will meet for a full-body Stated Meeting, which, as usual, will be prefaced by Speaker Mark-Viverito’s pre-stated press conference.

Starting at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, City and State NY, Albany Law School, and Rockefeller College host a one-day government ethics conference and training seminar. The event will give executive training for professionals and government officials on the theory and practice of ethics in state government, and will feature Richard Ravitch, former Lieutenant Governor of New York; Alphonso David, counsel to the governor; Eleanor Randolph, veteran New York Times editorial writer; Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr.; Blair Horner, New York Public Interest Research Group; and others.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Department of Education will host a public meeting for the Panel for Educational Policy.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Fordham University will host a discussion, “Should there be Quotas for Female Representation,” featuring Mary Wilson, founder and president of Ms. Foundation for Women and The White House Project; Zenaida Mendez, director of the MNN El Barrio Firehouse Community Media Center; Alexis Grenell, political strategist and City and State columnist; and Dr. Christina Greer, Fordham political science professor and organizer and moderator of the event.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio will be holding a town hall on Staten Island, at PS 48 in Concord. It will be a “Working for Our Neighborhoods” town hall, open to all local concerns.

Thursday
On Thursday morning, "New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia will address a breakfast meeting of Trustees of the Citizens Budget Commission" (CBC). "She will discuss her priorities for the Department of Sanitation, including improving waste management, recycling, and environmental impact."

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • 9:30 a.m., the Committee on General Welfare will hold an oversight hearing on the Department of Homeless Services’s 90-day review.
  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Higher Education, jointly with the Committee on Health, will hold an oversight hearing to review the status of nursing programs at the City University of New York (CUNY).
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Public Housing, jointly with the Committee on Environmental Protection, will hold an oversight hearing examining NYCHA’s record in removing mold from public housing, and on a bill establishing a local licensing requirement for workers who do work on mold removal.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Veterans will vote on a resolution calling on Congress to pass, and the President to sign into law, the Toxic Exposure Research Act, which would establish in the Department of Veterans Affairs a national center for research on the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions of the descendants of veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service in the Armed Forces.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Economic Development will hold an oversight hearing evaluating opportunities for women entrepreneurs in New York City.

At noon, the New York Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups will rally at City Hall in support of the Right to Know Act, which would require NYPD officers to identify themselves and would aim to protect New Yorkers against unconstitutional searches.

Friday and the weekend
Friday is Earth Day, and includes the Car Free Day initiative led by City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez.

At 8 a.m. Friday, NACOLE and John Jay College will host "Building Public Trust: Generating Evidence to Enhance Police Accountability and Legitimacy", which will feature research in the area of civilian-led law enforcement accountability, place scholars in conversation with practitioners and funders, and begin a conversation about the use of law enforcement data now becoming publicly available. NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure will be offering commentary on the civilian-led accountability field, among others speaking.

At 8 a.m. Friday, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer will be speaking at the Innovation Breakfast Series, hosted by Civic Hall and NY Tech Meetup. The series offers prominent New Yorkers working in technology, civic and social innovation an opportunity to hear from leaders in government and industry.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? Email 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 Kelly Fan and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

A Post-Budget Test of the Governor’s Commitment to a Constitutional Convention


cuomo desk legislation signing

Cuomo signs legislation (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)


In terms of the state’s nearly $150 billion budget, $1 million isn’t a lot of money. But for reform advocates the $1 million Gov. Andrew Cuomo had committed in his executive budget plan for a commission to prepare for a constitutional convention was both functionally and symbolically crucial to their belief that the governor and the Legislature would actually commit to reforming state government - or at least giving “the people” an opportunity to do so.

The funding was dedicated by the governor for supporting and reforming the process of running a constitutional convention, which voters will have the opportunity to approve on their November 2017 ballots. A convention, government reformers say, would allow voters to consider major changes to the state constitution including things like public financing of election campaigns, term limits for legislators, and redistricting of legislative domains. It was a sign to many eager to see a more ethical, democratic government that Cuomo, a Democrat who many advocates see as having abandoned a number of previous reform efforts, was on board for real change.

However, the funding was nowhere to be found when a budget deal was reached.

Advocates for both a constitutional convention and good planning for the possibility of one now say it is up to the governor to act to prepare for the convention without the help of the Legislature. As a sign of how complicated the constitutional convention politics are, two prominent convention supporters are split on who is to blame for the funds being taken from the budget.

“The fact that he can't find $1 million in a $150 billion budget is shocking,” said Bill Samuels, a con-con supporter and head of reform group Effective New York. “Here we go again where [Gov. Cuomo] says one thing and does another just as he bowed out of [the] Moreland [Commission to Fight Public Corruption] and countless other examples, like redistricting reform, where he did one thing and said another.”

Gerald Benjamin, a dean and political scientist at SUNY New Paltz who is involved in a public education campaign surrounding the 2017 constitutional convention vote, disagreed. “The Legislature isn’t off the hook,” Benjamin said in an interview. “This was a hostile act designed to thwart reform. This isn’t about pressuring anyone to act, this is about the public taking an opportunity for the public good.” State of Politics first reported that the $1 million was not included in the state budget after Benjamin notified the outlet.

The Cuomo administration says it is fully committed to supporting a constitutional convention and says the legislative leaders simply weren’t interested.

“We continue to support a constitutional convention and are examining all options and resources available to form and fund a commission,” Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi told Gotham Gazette.

Scott Reif, spokesperson for the Republican Senate Majority, said that his conference wasn’t satisfied with Cuomo’s proposal. “There were no specifics provided by the Executive about the proposed appropriation,” Reif explained.

Reif’s counterpart for the Democratic Assembly Majority said similarly. “There was no structure around the proposal as to how the money would be used, so as defined in our one-house budget and approved in the final budget we thought a better use of the funding would be for the Women's Suffrage Commemoration Commission,” said Assembly spokesperson Michael Whyland.

The Legislature is capable of calling a constitutional convention at any time, but the Constitution mandates voters get to decide whether to call one every 20 years. The next referendum is scheduled for Nov. 7, 2017. If approved by a majority of voters a convention would be held in April 2019, but first voters would have to select delegates in November 2018.

A major concern for supporters and detractors of a convention is the current selection process for convention delegates, the people who would actually negotiate constitutional changes. In the past, many delegates have been elected officials or people with close connections to them, which raises fears that the process will be stacked in the favor of the establishment instead of voters. A number of fixes to the problem have been floated inside and outside the Legislature, but so far no action has been taken.

Cuomo’s 2016 policy book that accompanied his budget provided the following explanation: “From ethics enforcement to the basic rules governing day-to-day business in Albany, the process of government in New York State is broken. Governor Cuomo believes a constitutional convention offers voters the opportunity to achieve lasting reform in Albany. The Governor will invest $1 million to create an expert, non-partisan commission to develop a blueprint for a convention. The commission will also be authorized to recommend fixes to the current convention delegate selection process, which experts agree is flawed.”

Samuels dismissed the notion that the Legislature was responsible for removing the proposal from the budget. “You can't put [Carl] Heastie and [John] Flanagan on the hook,” said Samuels of the current Assembly Speaker and Majority Leader, respectively. “They have no interest in the whole thing. They think [U.S. Attorney] Preet [Bharara] is done going after the Legislature.”

Benjamin rejected Reif’s assertion that there wasn’t enough “detail” in the governor’s proposal, noting that the state has routinely prepared for constitutional conventions over the past century. “A good reason to do this is because the Legislature is against it,” Benjamin said with a laugh.

Republican Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a longtime supporter of a constitutional convention, told Gotham Gazette that he feels the onus is on Cuomo to move the process forward. “My guess is the majorities aren’t too wild about a constitutional convention,” said Kolb. “Like a host of other things, if the governor really wants it he can obnoxious until he gets what he wants.” However, Kolb said he could understand the hesitation of the legislature to approve $1 million for a convention voters might reject.

Some groups are loathe to open up the process because they worry it is corrupted - convention delegates tend to be politically connected, including some state legislators themselves - and some groups worry the convention process could lead to a rolling back of good government reforms or environmental or labor protections.

Advocates for the process have been trying to change how delegates are selected to reduce political cronyism. They saw Cuomo’s preparatory commission as assurance that the lead up to a referendum and convention would be open and orderly.

Legislative leaders, on the other hand, have very little interest in a process that would allow the public to vote on reforms that could reduce their grasp on the majority, or otherwise weaken their power.

Samuels said securing the $1 million was on Cuomo and his failure to do so reflects his lack of commitment to truly reforming Albany. “Believe me, this is all on Cuomo,” said Samuels, “This is just another bait and switch. Andrew’s father [former Gov. Mario Cuomo] used an executive order to start a preparatory commission, and I don’t see Andrew doing that. Andrew isn’t following in his father’s footsteps.”

Cuomo administration officials said that in fact they are considering using an executive order as Mario Cuomo did in 1993. The Goldmark Commission received some funding from Rockefeller College and helped plan how a convention would be held and what issues should be put before voters.

Kolb said he supports executive action by the administration to jumpstart the convention process. “He’s formed all kind of commissions through executive order, he just formed one today, so why not for this?” Kolb said, referring to a new panel the governor announced Thursday that will study the state’s business climate. “I didn’t think he should end the Moreland Commission.”

Still, Samuels is distrustful of the administration’s intentions. He said that in 2010, Cuomo aides promised him that if elected governor he would move up a constitutional convention to 2011. “Joe Percoco gave me a memo with all the things Cuomo would do to reform Albany and at the heart of it was a constitutional convention and all sorts of reforms that would be passed,” Samuels said. “He didn’t do any of it and yet he still has the nerve to say he supports it.”

Cuomo administration officials note Cuomo’s 2010 campaign policy book contained a commitment to having a constitutional convention. The issue took up four pages of the 252-page book, which is no longer available on Cuomo’s campaign website.

“In order to achieve lasting reform in many areas, we need to amend our State’s Constitution,” it reads. “Specifically, a Cuomo Administration would work to enact into law important reforms at a constitutional convention including an overhaul of our redistricting process, ethics enforcement, and succession rules, among others.”

Benjamin says now is the time for the governor to seize the chance to advocate and prepare for a convention: “This is a an opportunity for the governor. In a time dominated by such rage at the political status quo, this is an opportunity to look at the system and give the public a chance to participate.”

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Legislative Days Quickly Dwindle, Intensifying Worry Over Ethics


albany

Rally in the capital


For the past two weeks state legislators have been preoccupied by the New York presidential primary. They’ve been charmed by candidates like Hillary Clinton and John Kasich who’ve come to the capital to pitch their campaigns and ask for support; and by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz who’ve invited them to attend large rallies.

Legislators have been so distracted that the first two weeks of post-budget session have slipped by without much real legislative action, despite the fact that there is a long list of high-profile issues unsettled in the budget. The point was driven home on Tuesday when both the Senate and Assembly agreed to cancel session scheduled for Wednesday, leaving only 21 meeting days until the session’s calendared end in June.

Not only is New York at the center of contested presidential primaries on both sides of the aisle, but there are impending special elections resulting from the convictions of two legislative leaders - and one of those races could help decide which party controls the Senate next year. Legislative staffers are expected to swarm Long Island ahead of the April 19 special election between Republican Christopher McGrath and Democrat Todd Kaminsky, a sitting Assembly member, to fill the seat vacated by former Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ conviction. That race has so far been dominated by a debate over ethics.

As session days quickly dwindle, advocates on various issues are concerned that the Legislature has no intention of taking up more controversial topics or cutting any deals, especially on ethics reforms. On Tuesday, the Senate dealt with no legislation during its session. The Assembly passed some resolutions, honored a few guests and voted on a number of bills in honor of “National Crime Victim’s Rights Week.” Several have no companion bill in the Senate, or do not enjoy any Republican backing.

Last Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters in Binghamton: “We have a relatively light agenda because we did so much work in the budget.” With major wins on the minimum wage and paid family leave, Cuomo is in a celebratory mood, it seems, and appears little concerned with getting more done at this time.

When asked for his priorities for the remainder of the session during a lunch event hosted by the Association for a Better New York on Tuesday in Manhattan, Cuomo responded jokingly, “No, I’m done...I think I’m good.” He went on to list ethics reform, heroin abuse, cancer screening, and the 421-a property tax break program meant to spur affordable housing as his major priorities.

While the magnitude of the recently passed budget and the presidential primary may seem like valid excuses for a light session, the truth is that the state Legislature has a history of taking little action in the post-budget session until the last few weeks in June. Last year the Legislature cancelled session days following the arrests of both former Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Skelos. This year the lack of session days is particularly concerning to reform advocates worried that ethics is being ignored.

"It’s disappointing. There is so much we could be doing like passing real ethics reforms. But unfortunately the Senate GOP have decided to take an extended vacation,” said Mike Murphy, spokesperson for Senate Democrats, of the decision to cancel session on Wednesday. Neither the Assembly Majority Democrats nor the Senate Majority Republicans responded when asked for a reason for the cancellation.

Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Group said he is concerned that while Gov. Cuomo continues to list “ethics” as a top priority he hears the governor speaking more about two particular ethics reforms - pension forfeiture for convicted public servants and the closure of the LLC loophole - rather than the entire legislative package contained in his executive budget proposal. “That’s moving the goal post closer to the kicker and not addressing what got Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos in trouble,” said Horner.

Cuomo’s ethics package includes limiting legislators’ outside income to 15 percent of their salary; the creation of a voluntary public campaign finance system; the closure of the LLC loophole; stricter fundraising disclosure; requiring bundlers to disclose their identities; putting a $25,000 limit on donations to party housekeeping accounts; strengthening the Joint Commission on Public Ethics; pension forfeiture; and increasing the scope of the state’s freedom of information laws.

Meanwhile, as session days slip by the convictions of Skelos and Silver drift further from public memory. Government ethics reform polls well with voters, but it isn’t clear how long that will remain true. Advocates worry that legislators are simply trying to run out the clock to make it back to their districts for reelection this fall, betting that their incumbency will protect them from public dissatisfaction. Polls do show that while about 9 in 10 New Yorkers believe state government corruption is a serious problem, many do hold favorable views of their local representatives sent to Albany.

“So they're losing April,” said Horner of lawmakers and session, “but what worries me is, what is the governor going to do with the time he has left on ethics? We know when he goes from rhetorical support to real support he can move mountains. What is he defining as success? It doesn’t sound like it is the same as what was in the budget. How does he visualize victory?”

A Cuomo administration official said the governor is interested in passing the ethics measures contained in his budget proposal. Many are waiting for Cuomo to give ethics reform a full-throttled effort, as he did with the minimum wage leading up to a budget agreement. Neither Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan nor Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie appears to have a sense of urgency around ethics reform - Flanagan has said he doesn't see the need for much, if any, such legislation.

“There’s no question we’ve made significant progress on reform over the past ten years,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “But the time has past for incremental reforms. We need a comprehensive solution to deal with legislators who enrich themselves at the cost of the public good and that solution must include [increasing] legislative compensation and [limiting] outside income.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note: Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

Cuomo’s 2016 Wins Shaped by Progressive Forces, Electoral Lessons


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Gov. Cuomo celebrates new progressie policies (photo: Don Pollard, Governor's Office)


Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched himself onto the national political stage this month by orchestrating a budget deal that made New York the first state to pass a $15 minimum wage and a paid family leave program. With Vice President Joe Biden at his side the governor pushed family leave; weeks later, Cuomo signed the package of “economic justice” legislation at a celebratory rally with Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton. He was subsequently congratulated by President Obama.

All the while, labor union members cheered the governor who had, finally, made their agenda his.

Unlike other major policy wins from earlier in his tenure that sprung the governor into the national spotlight, like marriage equality and gun control, the minimum wage and family leave bills speak directly to socioeconomic issues that some of the state’s liberal base felt Cuomo, a Democrat, had been insensitive to. Cuomo had indeed rejected as flights of fancy those very policies only months before announcing campaigns to support them, first saying that they would be non-starters with Republicans controlling one house of the Legislature, then pursuing them with the intensity Cuomo has given to his must-wins.

Cuomo’s path to his moment as progressive trailblazer on economic issues was a winding one, mystifying some, including those calling political opportunism, while others point to the influence of four powerful figures: Mayor Bill de Blasio, gubernatorial challenger Zephyr Teachout, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and Democratic voters who could deliver the governor a third term in 2018.

On the way to a second term, Cuomo found himself in positions generally foreign to him: out-leveraged and outworked. First, Cuomo was humbled by the Working Families Party as it sought a 2014 alternative to a governor many of its members felt had betrayed their union members and progressive mission. Aided by de Blasio and making promises many now feel he did not intend to keep, Cuomo convinced the WFP to call off its third party challenge from Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout.

But then, the unknown, liberal Teachout, took Cuomo on in the Democratic primary, where the incumbent governor lost 30 counties and took home only 60 percent of the vote. Cuomo entered term two significantly weakened.

For Cuomo, known for crippling his rivals and bullying major organizations into submission, these were positions he never wanted to be in again.

It's a situation that insiders, pundits, and elected officials see as having given birth to the 2016 political environment in which Cuomo would fully embrace the Fight for $15 minimum wage campaign and launch his own paid family leave push, invoking the name of his recently deceased father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, in both efforts. Cuomo traveled the state in an RV plastered with the Fight for $15 slogan, picking up the mantle of an effort led by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its labor and liberal allies that Cuomo has often distanced himself from on economic issues.

“The original policy rests with de Blasio,” said Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, of a liberal agenda. “The timing coincides with Teachout. But it leads to the governor deciding to tack left.”

Critics, even some supporters, see the governor’s leftward lurch as evidence of political opportunism.

“He doesn't give a damn about getting people out of poverty,” said Ed Cox, the chair of the New York Republican State Committee. “He cares about his own power. He had to do it to secure his political power, but in the end that kind of governing comes back to bite you.”

Cox is speaking at a time when state Senate Republicans went along with Cuomo’s minimum wage program, albeit a “calibrated” one, as Cuomo called it, where they were able to lengthen and regionalize the phase-in.

Congressional Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican who has announced an exploratory committee for a 2018 gubernatorial run, also noticed the governor’s very public change of opinion. “You would have to talk to him to understand his motivation, but arguably the most persuasive critic against a $15 minimum wage is Governor Cuomo five minutes ago,” Gibson said.

As Gibson prepares a potential bid to unseat Cuomo, the governor appears to have a clearer picture of the base he needs to withstand such a challenge.

In Spring 2014, heads of the union-backed, left-leaning Working Families Party were ready to hand the powerful incumbent governor their endorsement but they had underestimated rank-and-file party members, activists turned off by what they saw as a fiscally conservative, transactional governor who cozied up to Senate Republicans, tussled with public employees unions, and generally thumbed his nose at the Democratic base.

The governor appeared by video during the WFP convention in late May 2014, acceding to a list of party demands in an endorsement deal brokered by de Blasio. When party members weren’t satisfied Cuomo was forced to follow up with a phone call promising to back a Democratic Senate, a higher minimum wage, and a push to enact the DREAM Act.

Cuomo looked forward to an easy reelection, whether he actually planned to follow through on his pledges to the WFP or not. But Teachout and many in the WFP didn’t get the memo, and the Democratic primary that followed was bruising and embarrassing for Cuomo as his campaign took on a bunker mentality while Teachout worked the base across the state.

“If you needed any more evidence that in New York state leaders of organizations have no control over their followers you just need to look at that situation,” said Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. “The governor thought he was dealing with an interest group and he had won their support, but a lot of their members weren’t happy with the governor and in fact an awful lot of voters shared their view.”

And what was that view exactly? “People’s lives aren’t good and they want them to be better,” said Sherrill, referring to working class voters.

It was a message that Cuomo appeared slow to pick up on - he backed a variety of wage increases but balked at de Blasio’s plan to raise the minimum wage and allow the city to set its own in February of 2014, saying it would be “chaotic” to have different wages across the state. “God bless them — shoot for the stars,” Cuomo said sarcastically in March, 2015, dismissing the Assembly Democrats’ plan to raise the state minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2018. During a public cabinet meeting in February, 2015, Cuomo said the Legislature had “no appetite” for paid family leave.

Cuomo ran in 2010 as a leader who could provide competence to a capital that had seen one gubernatorial term split between Eliot Spitzer’s partisan bickering and scandal and David Paterson’s chaotic tenure characterized by a power struggle in the Senate and more scandal. The state was still reeling from the financial crisis and accustomed to late budgets and tax increases. Cuomo used his first term to prove he had a firm hand on the state’s finances and operations, negotiating tough deals with unions, delivering on-time budgets, instituting a property tax cap, and even delivering on socially liberal policy like marriage equality. But pundits say Cuomo missed a sea change in the electorate.

“There's some academic research that indicates legislators misestimate their constituents’ thinking,” said Sherrill. “They tend to believe they are more conservative than they really are. So when confronted with public opinion from their district they are shocked how further left [constituents] really are. I think that’s what happened to the governor. He had no idea public opinion had shifted the way it had - and it was not just the governor. The good politician that he is, he made a wise strategic adjustment.”

Howie Hawkins, who challenged Cuomo on the Green Party line in both 2010 and 2014, said he agrees with Sherrill. “I generally think constituents are more liberal than their representatives think, and I think the poll in this case being the votes in the primary and general elections showed [Cuomo] his mistake.”

Cuomo’s “adjustment” involved a change in agenda and messaging. Suddenly the governor who was known for dismissing the “poetry” of campaigning that his father so embraced took to the stump using lines from his father’s famous speech from the 1984 Democratic National Convention:

“But the hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city's splendor and glory. A shining city is perhaps all the President sees from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there's another city; there's another part to the shining the city; the part where some people can't pay their mortgages, and most young people can't afford one; where students can't afford the education they need, and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate.”

The younger Cuomo used the speech excerpt in a television campaign for his wage push, leading to the official Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, launched by Cuomo and labor leaders. The language and imagery mirrored the “Tale of Two Cities” motif de Blasio used for his 2013 mayoral campaign.

Hawkins, who told Gotham Gazette he is prepared to run for Governor again depending on the circumstances, said he doesn’t believe Cuomo has changed his general approach to governing. “I think he’s making gestures, but look at the budget - it is still fiscal austerity, especially cities and towns. There are unfunded mandates and lack of aid from the state, and while he has provided more money for education it is less than the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement,” Hawkins said, referring to the 2006 court decision by which New York City is still owed billions according to advocates. “When [Assembly Speaker Carl] Heastie proposed a slightly progressive income tax he just rejected it. So he is not dealing with basic fiscal structure.”

Hawkins said he believes Cuomo’s action on minimum wage and paid family leave will protect Cuomo from a challenge from inside the Democratic Party if the governor runs for a third term in 2018. Hawkins, who performed best in the Capital Region where Cuomo went to war with public worker unions early in his term, said he isn’t so sure the anger is going to be there again in 2018. “I don’t know that people are going to be that upset with him,” he said.

Cuomo’s Republican opposition sees the governor’s support of the $15 minimum wage as a political calculation designed to undercut his Democratic rival, de Blasio, while boosting his national standing. They imagine the governor has sapped de Blasio’s momentum and hopes to use it to land the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention this year, or perhaps even the Vice Presidency or a major cabinet position.

Political analysts call these scenarios unlikely. Cuomo has gone on the record saying he plans to win and serve a third term as Governor, unless, he says, he keels over from a heart attack induced by the Albany press corp. The governor’s office declined to comment for this story.

“In 2010 he understood he had to run as a fiscal conservative,” said Cox, the chair of the New York Republican State Committee. “In 2013 Bill de Blasio wins saying he is the progressive leader of the free world. In 2014 Cuomo’s running in his own primary and he has to beg to get the backing of the Working Families Party and he only gets 60 percent as a sitting Governor in his own party’s primary.”

Cox said that Cuomo slowly began taking on de Blasio’s positions, “just as Mrs. [Hillary] Clinton has done with Bernie Sanders.” And eventually “adopted the SEIU’s ‘Fight for 15’ campaign whole hock” to “avoid insulting his very important constituents in labor.”

Meanwhile, Cox points out that Cuomo made a number of his major policy announcements alongside Vice President Joe Biden, who was very much thought to be a presidential contender at the time.

Cox believes the governor’s minimum wage plan that embraces different phase-ins across the state - in direct contradiction to his previous statement calling such a system “chaotic” - will not only hurt the economy but leave the governor vulnerable to a Republican challenger.

Rep. Gibson, the most likely such challenger at this point, said he would have liked to see a less “politicized process” that tied the wage to inflation and focused on growth across the state. “When my dad was out of work it was devastating,” said Gibson. “People want to work. But I believe this wage increase will prevent people from working. It will kill jobs.”

Noting that a number of counties in his Congressional district border other states, Gibson said he believes businesses will soon flee across the border to avoid new mandates. Asked if he would look to slow the increase of the minimum wage should he be elected, Gibson said, “I need to look at any kind of action like that. I think it’s important to listen and to get the facts.”

There are still some Albany observers who believe Cuomo is looking past re-election and is ready to enter the national scene on the back of his victories on minimum wage and paid family leave. Cuomo has embraced the praise of both Hillary Clinton and President Obama, who commended the passage of paid family leave. “There’s no doubt he has national ambitions, he wants to win with big numbers and not be embarrassed in his primary,” said Sherrill. “So he is relocating himself, perhaps more to his own feelings or maybe not. It is very difficult, especially with [U.S. Attorney] Preet Bharara watching, to satisfy the Senate Republicans he helped elect and his Democratic base.”

Cuomo remains opposed to tax increases - he beat back an Assembly proposal for a new millionaire’s tax, passed a series of tax cuts this year, and is extremely sensitive to the notion that New York has some of the highest taxes in the nation. But Sherrill believes by being on the forefront of a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave the governor is part of a developing national trend that gets big business to pay without actually raising taxes. The paid family leave program also rests upon employee contributions.

“Cuomo, like his father, supported very big liberal policies that don’t cost money - marriage equality, gun control doesn't cost money,” said Sherrill. “He chalks up these kind of wins in an age where you can’t raise taxes.”

“A substantial number of voters want politicians to make their lives better, but they can't raise taxes,” Sherrill continued, explaining the broader political climate. “At some point the sheer number of voters outweighs the people with lots of money. You can't raise taxes, but you can do other things to make the wealthy pay, like raising the minimum wage. However, a lot of programs de Blasio and Cuomo are advocating are in fact ways to get money into people’s hands while raising the cost on the people who refuse to pay taxes,” said Sherrill. “At some point I think the business community just asks for its taxes to be raised because it will be better for them.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Major City Issues at Play in Politically Charged, Post-Budget Legislative Session


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Gov. Cuomo announces the budget deal (photo via The Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo dismissed the idea of extending state government's legislative session this year to tackle ethics reform during an appearance in Binghamton on Wednesday. "We have a relatively light agenda because we did so much work in the budget," the governor said. "We passed the minimum wage increase, we passed paid family leave, we passed a great package for the middle class, we passed a great package for upstate New York, more education funding than ever before."

It's a concerning statement for some advocates and elected officials who see the session full of unresolved issues - including, but beyond ethics - especially ones that impact New York City, issues that the governor himself tackled during his January State of the State speech or has since brought to the table. Some advocates take the governor's statement as an acknowledgement that he traded away issues Senate Republicans oppose to get a minimum wage increase, and not only in the budget, but for the rest of the legislative session that has just begun and is scheduled to end in June.

All-important control of the State Senate will be up for grabs again in November, but a key battle in the overall war will be decided on April 19 in the contest to fill the seat vacated by former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, recently convicted on federal corruption charges. The April special and impending November elections mean legislators are anxious to get back to their districts while avoiding political landmines.

Ethics reforms are one of the many issues jettisoned from budget talks that lawmakers say were dominated by minimum wage negotiations. Major issues of particular importance to New York City yet to be addressed this year include mayoral control of schools; a multitude of criminal justice reforms, some of which were introduced by Cuomo; housing programs, including a replacement for the 421-a property tax credit aimed at spurring affordable housing development; and two education matters that have been linked in the past: The DREAM Act and the education investment tax credit.

Mayoral Control
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and his conference have used Mayor Bill de Blasio as a progressive boogieman since the mayor tried to help Democrats win control of the chamber in 2014. Last year Flanagan successfully beat back the mayor's push for a seven-year extension of mayoral control, getting his negotiating partners to settle on one year. He again maneuvered discussion of renewal out of this year's budget discussions and before a spending deal was even announced, he scheduled hearings on mayoral control for May 4 in Albany and May 19 in New York City. Mayoral control is due to sunset on June 30.

Many Democrats expect Senate Republicans to delay actually acting on mayoral control until as late as possible in order to keep de Blasio "in check." With no other sensible alternative, de Blasio has been gracious about the situation so far, saying he plans to attend the hearings "personally" and welcomes the chance for "dialogue" on the issue.

Criminal Justice Reforms
Gov. Cuomo has supported three major criminal justice reforms over the last two years: Raise the Age, an effort to end New York's practice of treating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system; an effort to create independent review of police killings of civilians; and a program to increase data reporting of the race and ethnicity of individuals involved in police interactions. Unable to deliver on the first two last year, Cuomo took executive action. He moved 16- and 17-year-olds out of adult prisons and gave Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office the discretion to look into police killings of civilians. Advocates were pleased, but acknowledged both issues still needed to be addressed in law.

This year Cuomo has proposed a bill that would give his office the ability to convene an investigation into police killings of civilians but only if certain criteria is met. He has continued to push for Raise the Age but not with the urgency supporters would like. They point out that even being held in separate facilities from older inmates, 16- and 17-year-olds are still treated as adults when arrested and tried, which make negative outcomes and criminal records more likely.

On Tuesday, supporters of a bill that would mandate the state collect data on police interactions with the public gathered in Albany to push Senate Republicans and Cuomo to act on an issue they call "common sense."

The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Joseph Lentol and state Senator Daniel Squadron, both Brooklyn Democrats, would require the state to collect and report data on the number of tickets and misdemeanor arrests across the state; the number of civilian deaths in police custody or during an arrest; the race, ethnicity, and sex of those charged with misdemeanors and violations; and the geographic location of enforcement-related activity and arrest-related deaths. Lentol said the bill is not "anti-police" but a "transparency" and "open government" tool to improve relations between police and communities across the state. Lentol prodded Gov. Cuomo to act, noting that Cuomo has a similar bill that has failed to garner support.

"Yet again, communities of color were left behind in New York State budget negotiations, with no meaningful advancement of any criminal justice reforms," said Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY. "Passing the STAT Act this legislative session provides an opportunity for Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to show they value the safety and dignity of all New Yorkers."

Squadron told Gotham Gazette that the bill is one that Senate Republicans "put in a black box, a dark room," never to be seen again. "This isn't something we have debated. We haven't heard their argument against it, it just disappears." Lentol, however, said that he believes police unions are using their influence to block the bill.

Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry, Democrat of Queens, supports Lentol's bill and said that he feels his constituents and advocates are growing frustrated that the Senate fails to vote on criminal justice reforms year after year. "I think the governor is really going to have to move on some of these bills and not just wave his hands in the air and say 'It's the Republicans'" Aubry said. "We know he can get what he wants. He has an election coming up and he's got to deliver for these communities."

A spokesperson for the governor, Dani Lever, said in a statement that "The governor has and continues to push for comprehensive criminal justice reform to address the treatment of juveniles in the system and the prosecution of fatality cases involving law enforcement. Despite the legislature's failure to agree on these reforms, the governor has taken bold action and issued executive orders appointing a special prosecutor in police cases (the first of its kind in the country) and removing juveniles from adult state prisons. Until the legislature passes real reforms, the governor's executive orders will remain in effect."

Housing
Last year in an unprecedented move, Cuomo put the fate of the 421-a tax abatement program in the hands of the two stakeholder industries - real estate developers and construction unions. Whatever deal they reached on wages in new housing developments utilizing 421-a was to be enacted into law with other reforms to the program, but if they failed, 421-a would sunset. Negotiations floundered and 421-a is dead.

The program is thought to be essential to affordable housing production in New York City, making it profitable for developers to build new rental housing with some affordable units included. When Cuomo rejected compromise legislation crafted by de Blasio last June, it was one of the final straws to break de Blasio's back (along with the mayoral control compromise and more), leading to his now-infamous tirade against the governor on June 30. De Blasio's affordable housing goals rely on 421-a-related production.

On Monday, Cuomo told NY1's Errol Louis that he is looking for a replacement. "You can have a fair program that pays a fair rate to the unions and also a fair rate of profit to the developers," Cuomo said. "I believe there is that balance to be struck. But they have to strike that balance. We're still trying, but the Legislature is not going to approve a plan that kicks the labor unions out of the affordable housing business."

Bill Murrow, the governor's top aide, followed up those comments on Tuesday during a Crain's New York Business breakfast event, indicating that labor and real estate are indeed negotiating again. "The developers, REBNY, and the construction trades...they'll find some common ground. I am hopeful that sometime between now and June that something will actually happen," Mulrow said.

On Tuesday, tenant advocates gathered in Albany to demand that negotiations on 421-a or something like must also include strengthening rent regulations. Delsenia Glover, campaign manager for the Alliance for Tenant Power opened the press conference by condemning the deal that renewed the rent laws last year. "We pretty much got nothing," she said. "At the time Governor Cuomo said they were the 'strongest rent laws in history.' It's not true, we got nothing." Members of the crowd shouted "He lied!"

Glover said she has been disturbed to hear "lamentations" that 421-a is dead, saying she was glad a "giveaway to luxury developers" and "$1.1 billion tax suck" was dead and that assertions that developers won't be able to build affordable housing without it is patently false.

"Our demand," said Glover, "is this: If 421-a or anything that looks like 421-a is revived or created then the rent laws must be reopened, we get rid of vacancy bonus, fix preferential rents, and then maybe we can have a conversation."

A number of legislators who spoke after Glover pushed against the idea of any 421-a renewal. Assembly Member Walter Mosley of Brooklyn said he doesn't use the term '421-a' because "We don't want nothin' like 421-a to resurface, but ultimately we understand if anything like 421-a comes to the floor then we reopen the rent laws. Without that we have no discussion."

Assembly Housing Chair Keith Wright, who introduced a plan of something of a 421-a alternative earlier this year to a tepid response, brought up his proposal in front of the audience that was openly hostile to any replacement. Wright's plan would utilize the state's abandoned property fund to give a subsidy of $100,000 per affordable unit at a cost of about $200 million per year, compared to 421-a's 25-year property tax break and $1 billion annual tax revenue price tag.

"The plan was not...people were intrigued by the idea," Wright told the crowd, seeming to catch himself in an effort to promote the measure, "but listen anything in Albany takes a minute to work up to, but we are still pushing that plan, but we are still under siege."

Wright is a close ally of Cuomo and many expect that his plan was the first shot fired in an effort to restore a 421-a plan. The fact that Cuomo and Wright are openly pushing a replacement and that Senate Republicans are likely to want to deliver for real estate developers makes many advocates think it is a question of "when" not "if" a 421-a replacement comes to the floor of both houses. They hope to keep up public pressure to win some sort of concessions when it takes place.

Other Education Issues
Last year Cuomo tried to connect the DREAM Act that would allow the undocumented access to college tuition assistance and the education tax credit that would give benefits to those who donate to private schools. The DREAM Act has massive support in the Assembly, which has passed the measure repeatedly over the last few years and the education tax credit is a favorite of Senate Republicans. Cuomo's bid at linkage failed last year (he did not attempt to link them again this year, but did include both in his executive budget), but both issues remain on the table and the fact that they were left out of the budget has rankled a number of lawmakers.

Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who caucuses with Republicans, was said to be so upset that Republicans didn't demand the education tax credit be part of the budget that he didn't conference with them during budget negotiations (he was then the lone Senate "no" vote on the minimum wage and education budget bill). Meanwhile, DREAM supporters like Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, railed against its exclusion during the late-night budget debate.

For supporters of each measure the problem seems to be that opposition to the other measure has become a litmus test for some in their party's base. Senate Republicans have included language touting the disinclusion of the DREAM Act in the budget on the Senate website, listing it as an accomplishment:

"Rejecting the Use of Taxpayer Dollars to Fund College Tuition for Illegal Immigrants:

"The final budget rejects an Executive Budget proposal that would have cost state taxpayers $27 million and reward people who are here illegally by giving them free college tuition. The measure would have extended all other criteria, exemptions or opportunities found within the education law - including all scholarship and tuition assistance programs funded with state tax dollars - to illegal immigrants while hardworking middle-class families are already being forced to take out massive college loans to pay for higher education."

Meanwhile, public school advocates are entrenched against the education tax credit, saying that it is a taxpayer giveaway to millionaires who will flood their favored schools with donations using up the credit before average families can utilize it. The Alliance for Quality Education, a teachers union-aligned group, has held press conferences and briefings against the policy this year.

Albany Tradition
If the past is indeed prologue than it is a safe bet that many of these issues will not come to a vote in both houses this year. With an important special election, a presidential race, and the entire Legislature up for (re)election, leaders will likely be looking to rest on the work they did in the budget and get back to their districts. While there will be a lot of noise made by the media and good government groups around ethics reform, no one who knows Albany is holding their breath.

Mayoral control of city schools is the only key policy related to New York City facing an expiration date and all-but-sure to see action. The questions are what Senate Republicans demand in exchange for extension, how long it is extended for, and how much they make de Blasio sweat in the process.

Including Wednesday, April 6, there are currently 25 session days remaining until its scheduled end on June 16.

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Budget Leaves Cuomo's Affordable Housing Plan A Mystery


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Gov. Cuomo arrives to outline the budget agreement (photo via The Governor's Office)


Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a sweeping $20 billion plan to build and preserve affordable housing and fight homelessness during his State of the State speech earlier this year. The plan, to be implemented over five years, is expected to create 100,000 new units of affordable housing and 6,000 supportive housing beds for the homeless. The policy book accompanying Cuomo's speech and executive budget outlines several general housing categories and promised more detail "in the coming weeks."

Last week, Cuomo and legislators agreed on a new $147 billion state budget for fiscal year 2017 that includes nearly $2 billion for affordable housing, but it offers no details on where the housing will be built, who will build it, or when the state will start looking for projects to fund.

In the place of specifics is a notice that the plan is to be worked out in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Cuomo and legislative leaders. In other words, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Cuomo will be allowed to decide behind closed doors, through a negotiated legal document, how to spend the initial $2 billion intended for affordable housing projects. It is unlikely to face scrutiny from the public or rank-and-file legislators.

"The debate over supportive and affordable housing was pushed off because all the oxygen in the room was sucked up by the minimum wage debate," said Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi, a Queens Democrat who has sparred with the Cuomo administration in the past over the governor's funding of supportive housing, of budget negotiations.

Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, said she believes that Cuomo and legislative leaders will have to spell out what they plan to do with the $2 billion of budget money lined out for housing programs in a resolution later this year and put it to a vote in both houses. "I believe each house will have to vote on a resolution lining out specifically how it's going to be spent," Krueger told Gotham Gazette. "I don't know what they believe, however," she said referring to legislative leaders and the Cuomo administration. "We are a little loosey-goosey with the law around here, it's just the Capitol."

Hevesi said he believes that the same budget negotiating teams that negotiated human services and housing issues from both legislative houses and the Cuomo administration will reconvene to hash out the details later this session. He does not expect a public vote. He said he expects the Assembly, which is dominated by New York City Democrats including Heastie, to work as an advocate for the city and its specific housing needs during negotiations.

During a Tuesday press conference at the Capitol, Assembly housing committee Chair Keith Wright said that housing is still "an open question in the budget" that will be worked out by "MOU."

"This has never been done before," said Krueger. "You are not supposed to have lump sum appropriations decided without the vote of the Legislature. We are talking about a hypothetical plan to spend $20 billion on housing, there should be a robust discussion on how it's being spent, where it's being spent, and the plusses and minuses of any particular approach."

David Friedfel of the Citizens Budget Commission said that while it isn't "uncommon" for MOUs to be used in the budget, it is new to see one used in a program related to housing. "It's not uncommon but it's not something we support," Friedfel told Gotham Gazette. "We've seen these MOUs used to create the pots of money that got Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos into trouble."

In fact, MOUs are used throughout this year's budget, especially in language funding the governor's major infrastructure projects.

This year's budget also includes more of what good government groups have come to call "slush funds" created for use by the Governor and Legislature.

Cuomo administration officials did not respond to requests for comment about the housing MOU or about when to expect more details about the governor's affordable housing and homelessness plans.

In January, Cuomo outlined some overarching goals for his housing plan. His policy book released for his State of the State and budget address says the intention of his $10 billion housing plan is: "To add critical supply to the state's stock of affordable housing."

It says the plan "will create and preserve 100,000 units across the state. This historic investment offers a transformational blueprint to address the diversity of housing need across the state, strengthen protections for tenants, and create new opportunities for low-to moderate income households. The Plan —which boosts state spending on housing programs by nearly $5 billion—will build and preserve affordable units and individual homes; make homeownership affordable for first-time buyers; increase investments in the revitalization of our communities; promote housing choice opportunities for all New Yorkers; revamp services in ways that better serve clients including New Yorkers seeking affordable housing..."

The policy book is short on other specifics, but promised, "The comprehensive House NY 2020 Plan will be released in the coming weeks." Almost three months later and with the new budget passed, there still aren't many specifics.

The Capital Budget shows a $1,973,475,000 allocation for a "Housing Program" under the Division of Housing and Community Renewal. Nearly $600,000,000 of that goes to the creation of an "Infrastructure Investment Account." The language for the program states:

"In support of a comprehensive, statewide multi-year housing program in accordance with a plan approved in a memorandum of understanding executed by the director of budget, the speaker of the assembly and the temporary president of the senate."

Any of the cash appropriated to the account can be "suballocated to any state department, agency, or public authority for the purposes stated herein, only in accordance with a plan approved in a memorandum of understanding executed by the director of the budget, the speaker of the assembly, and the temporary president of the senate, who shall file such approval with the department of audit and control and copies thereof with the chair of the senate finance committee and the chair of the assembly ways and means committee."

The budget language further stipulates that the cash for the fund be doled out over a five-year period.

The budget also contains a $57.5 million line for the creation of supportive housing, which is long-term housing with social services, and $5 million for emergency and transitional housing for people with AIDS.

"It's concerning that we have a verbal commitment of $20 billion but here we have a $2 billion commitment meant to be spent over five years," said Sen. Krueger, who said it could be worrisome for those interested in building affordable housing. She noted that the nature of construction dictates that all the money wouldn't need to be spent up front, but having it lined out in budget documents would be helpful to those interested in utilizing state cash to subsidize affordable housing.

Mayor Bill de Blasio appears to be one of the many New Yorkers interested in having more details on the state's affordable housing agenda. De Blasio has an ongoing ten-year, 200,000 unit affordable housing plan, as well as several programs aimed at combatting homelessness. "We look forward to seeing further action on increased State support for homelessness and housing as the session continues, and ensuring those priorities receive the scrutiny they merit," de Blasio said in a statement reacting to the passage of the state budget.

The mayor had a similar reaction after Cuomo's State of the State address in January. "You know, it's an initial idea," de Blasio told reporters at the time of the $20 billion, five-year plan announced that day. "We have to see the specifics about timelines and how it's going to play out, but look, it can only be for the good of New York City if the state is making an additional commitment to New York City on affordable housing on top of the 200,000 units we're already committed to."

A representative of the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) had the same message this week. "We are looking forward to hearing more about the State's plans for additional resources for the construction and preservation of affordable housing in New York City," a spokesperson said in a statement emailed to Gotham Gazette.

Cuomo's plan follows de Blasio's, outlined in 2014, to create 80,000 units of affordable housing and preserve another 120,000 units (preservation of units includes extending rent regulations through benefit-agreements with landlords). De Blasio also pledged to create 15,000 supportive housing units over the next 15 years, announcing in December a new supportive plan after negotiations with the state on a new joint program did not yield results (there have been three such programs in the past, stretching back several mayors and governors). Going back to last year, the governor has been a regular critic of de Blasio's management of the city's homelessness crisis. When announcing his supportive housing plan, de Blasio challenged the state to act. It appeared Cuomo was doing so as he delivered his State of the State.

Now, advocates are concerned there may not be all that much new money in the budget. Cuomo administration sources have indicated the $20 billion figure includes "on and off budget resources" including tax credits and funding for housing-related departments such as the Department of Homes and Community Renewal.

Friedfel of CBC said that the use of MOUs makes it harder to follow how money is being spent, but that it also has advantages for those spending it. "It does make it more difficult to track than a more generic appropriation," said Friedfel. "It also gives them more freedom about how to spend it."

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

State Budget Agreement: By the Numbers


cuomo budget deal 17

Gov. Cuomo outlines the budget agreement (photo via The Governor's Office)


AGov. Andrew Cuomo welcomed reporters into the Capitol's Red Room for the first time in nearly a year to announce a budget deal at 8:30 p.m. Thursday night. The announcement came as both houses of the Legislature took a break from voting on budget bills that had already been introduced, yet neither legislative majority leader joined Cuomo for the press conference.

Legislators from the minorities of the two houses lamented having little time to review the bills and the fact that most of them were short any real policy decisions and featured sections marked "intentionally omitted."

After weeks of haggling, bursts of information, and rumors, Cuomo announced some hard numbers contained in the budget, just a few hours before the start of the new fiscal year. The governor happily announced that New York would see a phase-in of a $15 minimum wage and a paid family leave program. He appeared less thrilled when admitting his proposed Medicaid cost-shift to New York City was not part of the budget (this after his CUNY cost-shift had been taken off the table a few days ago).

"I am very excited about this budget," Cuomo said. "We call it a budget – really it is an overall operating plan for the state of New York and I believe that this is the best plan that the state has produced, if its passed, in decades, literally."

The state budget agreement by the numbers:

8:30 p.m: scheduled time of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's announcement of a budget deal; 3.5 hours before the start of the new fiscal year.

$147 billion: estimated size of the state budget.

0: legislative leaders present at Cuomo's budget announcement.

0: times Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan mentioned a minimum wage increase or paid family leave in a seven-paragraph statement put out by is office to celebrate the budget agreement.

4: men who controlled budget negotiations (Cuomo, Flanagan, Heastie, and Klein).

3: budget bills introduced to both houses to be voted on before a deal was actually announced.

3 p.m: time the Assembly started debating the first budget bill, without a deal announced.

4 p.m: time the Senate began debating its first budget bill, without a deal announced.

6: budget bills left to vote on after a budget deal was announced.

12/31/2018: date New York City will see its minimum wage hit $15 per hour for businesses with more than ten employees.

12/31/2019: date New York City will see its minimum wage hit $15 per hour for businesses with ten or fewer employees.

12/31/2021: date Long Island and Westchester County will see the minimum wage hit $15 per hour.

$12.50: hourly minimum wage localities north of Westchester will reach on 12/31/2020, at which time the state budget director and department of labor will set a path to $15 per hour.

6: years Cuomo claims to have kept budget growth under 2 percent. (Some budget watchdogs claim Cuomo uses tricks and gimmicks to appear to meet the cap.)

2: years in a row the state budget has been voted through after the March 31 midnight deadline and thus technically "late."

6.5%: increase in school aid, which totals $24.8 billion.

$240: increase in per pupil aid for charter schools.

12 weeks: length of new New York paid family leave benefit, for paid time off to care for a new child or ailing relative.

2018: year paid family leave will begin in New York

50% of an employee's average weekly wage, capped to 50 percent of the statewide average weekly wage, is where paid family leave pay will start. When fully implemented in 2021 it will be 67 percent of an employee's average weekly wage, capped to 67 percent of the statewide average weekly wage.

6: months workers will have to have worked at a job before being eligible for New York's paid family leave.

$26.6 billion: amount the budget includes for capital facilities operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

$1.5 billion: marked for phase II of the Second Avenue Subway.

63: copies of a report detailing changes made to the executive budget that Senate Republicans had to have printed off for Senators after Sen. Liz Krueger pointed out the report was required by law.

Not in the Budget
$485 million previously proposed cost shift to New York City for CUNY funding.

$250 million Medicaid cost shift to New York City.

A plan to replace the 421-a property tax credit used by New York City to entice developers to include affordable housing in their developments.

$240 million initially sought by the Cuomo administration to give CUNY staff retroactive raises.

0 criminal justice proposals from the executive budget included in the final budget.

0 ethics reforms.

[Related: Everyone Agrees Albany Needs Ethics Reform, Except the People Who Matter Most]

[Related: For State Budget, Leaders Choose 'On Time' Over Open]

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Everyone Agrees Albany Needs Ethics Reform, Except the People Who Matter Most


three men at a table

Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (l-r) (photo via The Governor's Office)


"Top of my agenda is going to be ethics reform," said Governor Andrew Cuomo, speaking on NY1 on Jan. 3. "We have done a lot in Albany, but we haven't done enough. And I'm going to push the legislature very hard to adopt more aggressive ethics legislation, more disclosure, more enforcement, etcetera."

While the governor did unveil an aggressive ethics agenda during his State of the State speech a week later, Cuomo’s words ring hollow now, as a state budget containing no government ethics reform passes and any hope for such reform happening this year is pushed to the legislative session, where it is unlikely to occur.

Cuomo has done nothing public on ethics reform despite the promises he made during his Jan. 13 State of the State address. “We have to remember the people we serve, and it’s our responsibility to give them the government that they deserve,” Cuomo said at the time. “And remember the stronger the citizen trust, the stronger the government’s ability.”

Just about a month after two of New York’s most powerful legislators were convicted of several federal corruption charges in separate trials, Cuomo laid out a plan to close the LLC loophole, which allows limited liability companies to circumvent New York’s campaign donation limits and give large sums of money to candidates through various LLCs, limit the amount of outside income legislators may earn, and adopt a publicly funded campaign finance system, among other reforms.

Yet, as negotiations for the state budget come to a close, the “three men in a room” deciding the state’s roughly $150 billion budget have not moved ethics reforms that could help give the people they serve “the government that they deserve.” In a Siena College poll released Feb. 1, 89 percent of New Yorkers said corruption in state government is a serious problem, with 60 percent calling for outside income to be banned.

Although Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat and one of the “three men in a room” along with Gov. Cuomo and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, has pledged to “increase transparency and accountability” and “restore the public’s trust in government,” the lack of any ethics reform in the state budget calls Heastie’s follow through on that commitment into question.

“The Assembly has pledged to enact comprehensive ethics reforms, and we take that commitment very seriously,” said Heastie in a press release detailing the ethics reform component of the Assembly’s budget plan, which was released Friday evening March 11. Like Cuomo, Heastie outlined an ethics reform agenda, but did little else to publicly promote it.

On that Friday morning three weeks ago, Heastie outlined the Assembly Democrats’ ethics package at an event held by Crain’s New York Business. The plan also includes a proposal to close the LLC loophole, as well as proposals to limit the amount of outside income legislators may earn (though not as strictly as Cuomo’s plan), and to make it so that legislators who also work as attorneys can only earn money for the casework they perform, rather than for simply serving as "of counsel," lending their name to a law firm - a practice at root of the scandal that brought down Heastie's predecessor, Sheldon Silver.

Both Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos were brought down last year by corruption convictions related to their use of their public offices for private gain.

The new head of the Republican-controlled Senate, meanwhile, has repeatedly questioned the need for further ethics reform, and he and many other Senate Republicans are opposed to making the Legislature full-time or placing any limits on lawmakers’ outside income.

Sen. Flanagan has previously pointed out that the Senate passed a pension forfeiture bill, aimed at ensuring that legislators convicted of public corruption cannot collect a government pension, in a deal with the Assembly, only to have the Assembly back out at the last minute. Pension forfeiture is notably absent from the Assembly's reform plan.

As the New York Times Editorial Board writes, “In Albany, this is how the stage gets set for each legislative house to praise itself and to blame the other for the failure, yet again, of meaningful reform, and for Mr. Cuomo to blame them both.

New Yorkers, legislators, and government reform groups alike say that ethics reform is essential, “especially considering the context of the past year,” as Cuomo himself said during his State of the State. Yet at a time when Cuomo has the most leverage, he has failed to achieve reform. Heastie has decided not to aggressively pursue the Assembly's plan, and Flanagan has appeared totally disinterested in the issue. The minorities in each house - one Democratic, one Republican - have actually been more vocal than the majorities.

“We are blowing our Watergate moment,” Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told the Wall Street Journal. “This year’s budget process has been nothing but a series of covert meetings and phone calls shielded from the press and public.”

Senate Republicans’ resistance to outside income limits and closing the LLC loophole have left room for Cuomo and Heastie to play a blame game. In part because neither did anything beyond one speech to promote ethics reform leading up to the budget, there is room to question their seriousness. But, Senate Republicans have, it seems, let the two Democrats and Assembly Democrats in general off the hook.

“It is incumbent upon legislators to work to significantly reduce corruption, and we can do so by passing these common sense measures,” Assemblymember David Buchwald said upon signing a pledge to fight for good government reform, including closing the LLC loophole. “I think the vast majority of New Yorkers would want to see their representatives sign this pledge.

"In recent times, the New York Legislature has been marked by regular bribery, rampant kickbacks and a rancid culture," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who prosecuted both Silver and Skelos, said during a talk in Albany in February.

A coalition of government reform groups, including Citizens Union, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the New York Public Interest Research Group, and Reinvent Albany, released a statement denouncing the governor and legislative leaders for failing to pass any ethics reform in the three-and-a-half months since former legislative leaders Skelos and Silver were convicted of corruption, despite strong public demand for action to be taken.

“With a recent poll showing that nearly 90% of New Yorkers believe that unethical behavior is a serious problem in state government a month before former legislative leaders Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos are sentenced for public corruption,” the statement reads, “the governor and legislative leaders have an obligation to New Yorkers to reach a significant agreement on ethics reform.”

“The collapse of ethics reform during the budget is failure by the governor to mobilize overwhelming public support for change," said Blair Horner, executive director of NYPIRG. “New York State’s political leaders have chosen to ‘kick the can’ instead of tackling the needed reforms to respond to Albany’s ‘Watergate moment.’”

When Cuomo was asked in February whether ethics reform were likely to remain in the budget, the governor replied, “As we get closer and actually have budget conversations, it’s going to be at the top of the list.” Not long after, Cuomo conceded that ethics reform would not be included in the budget.

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

For State Budget, Leaders Choose 'On Time' Over Open


cuomo flanagan heastie june 2015

Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (l-r), June 2015 (photo via The Governor's Office)


As negotiations over the state's $150 billion budget sputtered on Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ramped up pressure on legislators to accept a deal. Speaking with reporters, Cuomo implied legislators could jeopardize a potential pay raise if they can't deliver an on-time budget.

"So they're gonna need to be able to make that case not just to the pay commission but to the people of the State of New York in November when they go to seek re-election," Cuomo said. "So performance matters - if they don't pass a budget on time obviously that is a failure of performance."

Cuomo has made better state government function, including on-time budgets, a signature of his time as governor. Legislators and good government groups dismiss the governor's insistence that an on-time budget is paramount, especially when negotiations come so close to the April 1 start of the new fiscal year.

In Albany it has practically become tradition for rank-and-file lawmakers to be asked to vote on a budget with only a few hours time to review its contents. The state constitution requires bills to age three days before they are voted on in order to facilitate public review, but Cuomo, like many governors before him, has taken to issuing "messages of necessity" to bypass the otherwise-mandated waiting period. Final budget votes - with debate that is often only for show or to get comment on the record - have stretched late into the night with rank-and-file members discussing measures they discover in the budget almost in real time.

With no budget deal reached as of Wednesday evening, it is all but certain that this year will see the governor again issue messages of necessity and a very short window between budget bills printed and voted on.

Meanwhile, a seven-member commission has begun meeting to determine pay raises for legislators and other state officials. Three of the members of the commission were appointed by the governor, two by the chief judge of the Court of Appeals, and one each by the legislative majority leaders. Legislators haven't had a pay raise since 1999, currently earning a base salary of $79,500.

Contrary to Cuomo's statement Wednesday, the language creating the pay commission does not explicitly mention "performance" as something to be factored into deliberations. The commission is scheduled to make its recommendations in November, right around Election Day when every state Senate and Assembly seat is on the ballot. The recommendations would then automatically take effect in 2017, unless the Legislature votes to oppose them.

A number of legislators told Gotham Gazette pay raises wouldn't factor into the time it takes them to consider the budget.

"Our conference is going to go over and deliberate what's in there, we are going to know what we're voting on," said Senate Deputy Minority Leader Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens. "That review is going to be done at the pace that it takes. We are not going to go out there ignorant to what's in the budget. If those negotiating the budget wanted to ensure timeliness they should have concluded negotiations earlier."

Gianaris' sentiments were echoed by a number of Assembly Republicans and Senate Democrats. The groups represent their chamber's minority, though, and not driving negotiations, which are largely taking place among Gov. Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

"Cuomo should look in the mirror if budget is late," tweeted Republican Assembly Member Steve McLaughlin. "Absurd argument to pin it on the legislators who haven't seen it."

John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, pointed out that budgets have passed with fairly controversial measures tucked in at the last minute by lobbyists and their government allies thanks to the lack of thorough review.

"Does anyone really want their state legislator voting on a $150 billion, 10,000 page budget they haven't had time to look at?" Kaehny asked rhetorically. "Does anyone other than the governor really think it is more important to pass a budget on time and unscrutinized, than a few days late and fully examined? Do people want their state representative voting for a budget that could be stuffed full of things like tax breaks for yachts and private jets - like last year?"

Dick Dadey, executive director for Citizens Union, said that a budget that is "a few days late but ages for the requisite three days for public review is far preferable to an on-time budget when the public has no time to review the $150 billion that taxpayers are funding."

In stark contrast to his predecessors Cuomo has successfully delivered on-time budgets each year he has held office. It was typical for budgets to go weeks and even months over deadline before Cuomo became governor. Cuomo has actually used messages of necessity considerably less than his predecessors, but he has used them to pass the budget three times since taking office in 2011.

"As a practical financial matter it won't amount to much if they are a few days late," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "It will shake what little confidence the public has left in state government. The last reasonable claim the governor can make that he brought order to chaos in Albany is in on-time state budgets," said Horner.

This year's final budget negotiations appear to be difficult for both legislative majorities for different reasons. The Assembly majority is fighting a Cuomo proposal to force New York City to take on $250 million in Medicaid funding. The Senate majority is grappling with Cuomo's push to raise the minimum wage to $15 across the state. Some see the wage increase as a winner with voters and admit Cuomo was very successful in pushing the issue, but others are adamant an increase will hurt the economy and hurt them at the polls in November.

Sen. Joseph Addabbo of Queens, who is in favor of the concept of both the minimum wage increase and the paid family leave proposal that appears to be close to finalized, said it is critically important to him to see exactly how those measures are actually implemented. "It's not about beating the clock. I'm not voting on a $150 billion budget without getting every detail," Addabbo, a Democrat, told Gotham Gazette.

Many good government advocates see this year's budget negotiation as one of the least transparent in modern history. Coming on the heels of the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Cuomo and legislators have held clandestine meetings at the Governor's Mansion and routinely dodged the press. They have been more open about the process in the last few days, but after dealing with two press scrums on Thursday Flanagan dodged the press by exiting a back door of Cuomo's office.

Legislative leaders have rejected discussion of ethics reform and adding transparency to stashes of cash the governor and the Legislature insert into the budget without any particular use given.

Both Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins have decried being left out of negotiations and assailed this budget season as the least transparent in memory. Representatives for Cuomo, Heastie, and Flanagan did not return requests for comment on the use of messages of necessity and concerns over budget transparency.

Gianaris said that while he agrees that rank-and-file legislators need time to examine the budget, "The real issue is that had this process been open and transparent along the way we wouldn't be sitting here at the eleventh hour with nothing. If all conferences had been included we could have wrapped this up a long time ago." 

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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



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