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In Albany, De Blasio Budget Testimony Centers on MTA, NYCHA


de Blasio Albany budget testimony

Mayor de Blasio testifying in Albany (Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Testifying in Albany Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $168 billion executive budget and outlined the city’s funding priorities for the next fiscal year.

De Blasio was the first to testify at a joint legislative budget hearing on local governments, making his annual journey to the Capitol, where he also met privately with Cuomo for an hour, and was scheduled to meet with three of five legislative conference leaders: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

In his opening remarks, de Blasio had mixed reviews for Cuomo’s budget, praising some measures while also urging state legislators to help him beat back others as they negotiate toward a new state budget by the April 1 start of the fiscal year. The mayor outlined several of his own top priorities that require state approval, such as design-build authority, electoral reform, and renewal of the speed camera program.

The mayor’s initial testimony and subsequent back-and-forth with lawmakers included significant focus on transportation and housing issues, especially MTA funding and problems at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), though de Blasio also touched on uncertainty coming from the federal government; criminal justice reforms and their connection to the closure of Rikers Island jails; and other fiscal and policy items.

De Blasio noted the burden placed on New York City by the Trump administration’s recently implemented tax plan, and acknowledged the steep impact of the termination of Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSH) payments, which is expected to cost city hospitals $400 million annually.

“I want to commend the Governor for trying to find ways to blunt the effects of the new tax law and I look forward to working with him, and all of you, on solutions,” he said, adding that the upcoming Trump administration budget proposal is likely to pose additional fiscal challenges for New York City.

De Blasio also outlined more than $750 million in cuts and cost shifts to New York City contained in Cuomo’s executive budget proposal. These include $144 million in additional charter school costs, a $129 million cut to child welfare services, a $65 million cut to special education funding, $31 million less to juvenile justice programs, and a $9 million reduction in rental subsidies for working families leaving shelters. In addition, there is a $211 million gap between what the city was expecting in school aid and the amount designated in the executive budget, according to the mayor’s office.

The mayor criticized the implementation of “Raise the Age,” which requires that 16- and 17-year-olds be removed from adult jails, calling it an unfunded mandate that will cost the city at least $200 million per year. De Blasio noted the executive budget’s elimination of $41 million of state funding for the city’s Close to Home juvenile justice placement program, despite the fact the program’s utilization is expected to triple with the implementation of Raise the Age.

“This cut undermines the signature reform designed to keep kids closer to their families. And it will cost the City $15.3 million in Fiscal 18 and $31 million in Fiscal 19,” said de Blasio. The city’s fiscal year begins July 1, and de Blasio recently outlined his $88.7 billion preliminary budget plan.

De Blasio praised the governor’s inclusion of bail and speedy trial reforms in his executive budget. He said the passage of these measures would reduce the city’s jail population and help to accomplish one of his signature endeavors, “to close Rikers Island for good.”

When questioned about whether he could expedite the closure plan for the jail complex, which is currently seen as a ten-year project, de Blasio told Democratic State Senator Brian Benjamin, of Manhattan, that the passage of all of his policy objectives -- such as parole, speedy trial, and bail reforms, as well as design-build authority for the city -- would allow the city to shrink the timeline.

“Unquestionably, that would take years off the process,” said de Blasio, though he declined to provide an exact projected timeline.

De Blasio also emphasized comprehensive election reform and passage of the Dream Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants, citing threats to immigrants from the federal government. “Given what is happening in our country and New York State can lead by example by helping all of our students,” said de Blasio, speaking on the same day that the Assembly would pass the Dream Act for the eighth time. It continues to stall in the Senate.

On transportation, de Blasio repeatedly cited the “millionaires tax” he wants to see that would create a dedicated funding stream for the MTA and support reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. But he also acknowledged that congestion pricing could work as a revenue-generator for the ailing transportation system run by the MTA.

De Blasio said he was ready to continue conversations and negotiations about how to best support the state-controlled transportation authority, but said that proposals contained in Cuomo’s budget should be taken off the table. He did express support for the general congestion pricing principles put forth by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel, but also indicated he wants to see tweaks.

De Blasio expressed concern that the money could potentially be diverted away from the subways and buses, suggesting a legal lockbox be created to restrict how congestion pricing revenue may be used. He also called for city approval for major transportation projects in the five boroughs.

The mayor took issue with the executive budget shifting the burden of MTA capital costs to the city, and battled with Senate finance Chair Cathy Young, an upstate Republican, over the 1953 law that specifies that city is responsible for all of the subway’s capital costs. While the city technically owns the subway system, the state has controlled it for more than 65 years.

“I absolutely disagree with your legal interpretation,” de Blasio said. “My counsel has looked at it too and has come to a very different conclusion…Let’s face it, the state has been running the MTA for decades now.”

The mayor criticized Cuomo’s “value capture” proposal, “that would grant the MTA the power to raid our property taxes on properties within a one mile radius of certain projects.” He said the proposal would cost the city billions of dollars and force the city to cut back on essential services like police, sanitation, and education.

“I was encouraged by the Governor’s recent comments that portrayed this as a choice for the city, not a mandate,” de Blasio said. “I would urge you to remove this provision from the enacted budget altogether.”

De Blasio made a similar argument about city services when asked by several lawmakers, including Young and Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who lost to de Blasio in last year’s mayoral race, about capping property tax increases in the city. The city is the only area of the state not subject to a cap of 2 percent annual property tax growth. De Blasio, who again pledged that he is about to launch a property tax reform effort, has said that the city must continued to take advantage of increases in property tax values to fund city services.

De Blasio, who designated $200 million for new boilers and heating systems in public housing after thousands of residents suffered outages this winter, called for the state to commit to matching the city’s investment in NYCHA. He also complained that the state has taken months to fulfill a request from the city to allocate funds earmarked for NYCHA from two budgets ago. The city had itself delayed its ask for the funds by several months beyond when it could have filed the request.

The mayor was grilled intensely by lawmakers on his public housing record. Senator Diane Savino, of Staten Island and the Independent Democratic Conference, called the living conditions “deplorable.” In another testy exchange, Senator Young drew attention to lapses in lead inspections at NYCHA apartments, and reports that children living in these residences were found to have high levels of lead in their blood. The scandal has prompted calls for de Blasio to fire NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye, including from Young on Monday. “Why is Shola Olatoye still at NYCHA?” Young repeatedly asked the mayor.

De Blasio acknowledged the mistakes but reaffirmed his previous statements, noting that the lapses began with the previous administration and credited Olatoye for turning the near-bankrupt housing agency around.

When Young pressed the mayor on issues at NYCHA, including unsafe conditions and crime that have “stacked up over the years,” the mayor responded tersely.

“Respectfully, I think it’s very reductionist to add certain facts up and say someone needs to be dismissed, even though they are getting a lot of work done for the people they serve. When you run a facility as big as NYCHA with years of disinvestment, of course there’s problems,” he said, adding that public safety has dramatically improved at NYCHA.

[Related: What's the State Role in NYCHA Oversight?]

During more than two hours of question-and-answer de Blasio was also asked about the financially-struggling public hospital system, where a new CEO has taken over who is promising to build on reforms already underway. The mayor was also asked to support supervised injection facilities for drug addicts and said that a city report is due back soon on the topic. He said it had to be very carefully dealt with.

While the mayor faced many tough questions, especially from Young, he also received a number of kudos, especially from city-based Democratic legislators, like Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan, who said that you wouldn’t know from many of the questions that the city is actually doing quite well.

Later in the day, de Blasio met for an hour with the governor to discuss how to resolve transportation and fiscal challenges in the coming weeks and months.

“It was a productive meeting, we talked about a lot of the same issues that came up in the testimony and, you know, hopefully we can all work together,” de Blasio told reporters when he emerged from Cuomo’s office.

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 5


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will start off with a bang as Mayor Bill de Blasio makes his annual journey to Albany to testify at a legislative budget hearing. De Blasio has several issues with the executive budget proposal put forth in January by Governor Andrew Cuomo, his fellow Democrat and frequent sparring partner. De Blasio will make clear his state legislative and budget priorities for the year, and answers questions from members of the Senate and Assembly about those priorities, his record, city use of state funds, and whatever other matters they choose to raise.

De Blasio is expected to reiterate at least some of the priorities he outlined early this year, while also pushing back against Cuomo's budget proposals to cut certain funding to the city, provide less-than-expected education aid to the city, shift certain costs to the city, and require the city pay more for the MTA. The mayor discussed some of those budget issues when he released his own preliminary budget on Thursday of this past week. De Blasio is expected to either address outright or be asked about congestion pricing and where he stands on the recommendations put forth by Cuomo's "Fix NYC" panel, which the mayor has given a warmer reception than the general concept of congestion pricing in comments prior to the panel's report.

The Legislature will hold four days of budget hearings this week in Albany, while the two houses will hold legislative session on only Monday and Tuesday.

On Tuesday in the city, the newly empowered City Council Committee on Oversight and Investigation will hold its first hearing under new Speaker Corey Johnson and new committe Chair Ritchie Torres. The subject will be NYCHA, with a focus on heat for tenants. Council Member Alicka Samuel, the chair of the Council's public housing committee, which Torres chaired last term, will also lead the hearing. Johnson, Torres, Samuel, and others Council members are expected to heavily criticize NYCHA leadership and demand more answers about rcent heat outages and how NYCHA is responding to tenants' conditions. [Hear Torres talk about his new role in this recent episode of the Max & Murphy Podcast]

As always, there's a number of events to be aware of this week - see our day-by-day rundown below.

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

The run of the week in detail:

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

At the State Legislature on Monday, there will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to local governments at 10 a.m. Mayor de Blasio will be among those testifying, and he will appear first. [Read: De Blasio Lays Out Initial 2018 Albany Priorities]

Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will also testify at the state budget hearing.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Johnson will speak at the Helen Hayes Theatre ribbon cutting ceremony on West 44th Street.

On Monday, VOCAL-NY will host its 2018 “Hepatitis C Elimination Legislative Awareness Day” in Albany.

At 9 a.m. Monday, U.S. Reps. Joe Crowley, Carolyn Maloney, and Ro Khanna will deliver remarks at a tech training session hosted by Google and Goodwill at the Goodwill facility in Astoria.

On Monday "at 11:30 AM, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will join New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) tenants impacted by the citywide heating crisis that left thousands in the cold this winter, as he calls on NYCHA to take actions to address challenges facing its underfunded capital program, namely a commitment to spend its recent and future fuel cost savings on emergency boiler repairs and conversions. According to a Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) study, NYCHA utility costs fell by $48 million from 2013 to 2016, largely due to lower natural gas prices as buildings were converted from oil to natural gas heating systems. Borough President Adams will advocate for this revenue stream to go directly toward more conversions so this cost savings can increase, creating a virtuous cycle of support for NYCHA."

At 1 p.m. Monday at the State Capitol, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will hold a “press conference regarding the DREAM Act. He will be joined by members of the Assembly Majority and advocates,” in the Speaker's Conference Room.

At 1:30 p.m. Monday in the State Capitol, "advocates, community leaders, and elected officials will gather to unveil a progressive revenue package that would raise $16 billion for New York. They will call on Governor Cuomo and the state legislature to pass this revenue package, and discuss how and why it will benefit all New Yorkers. The progressive revenue package would raise enough to close the current budget deficit, offset looming federal budget cuts from Washington, and fund major new investments in jobs and infrastructure, including the MTA." Participants will include "members of labor unions, community groups, and advocacy organizations; elected officials from the state legislature, including Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry."

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host “Urban Health, Urban Parks,” discussing “the positive impact of city parks on the health of urban dwellers.” Panelists will include Prospect Park Alliance president Sue Donoghue, New York Times columnist Jane Brody, and author Florence Williams. CityLab’s Laura Bliss will moderate.

Mayor de Blasio will make his weekly appearance on NY1's Inside City Hall Monday evening in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours. He'll also appear on the upstate Capitol Tonight news progam in the 8 p.m. hour.

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

At the State Legislature on Tuesday
--There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to human services at 10 a.m.
--The Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction will meet at 5 p.m. at Binghamton University’s Innovative Technologies Complex to “examine the issues facing communities in the wake of increased heroin abuse.”

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committees on Public Housing and Oversight & Investigations will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “chronic heat and water failures in NYCHA housing.” Council Speaker Corey Johnson has pledged to participate in the entire hearing.
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at noon.
--The Committee on Economic Development will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “NYCEDC 2018 and Beyond: Borough-by-Borough in the Next Four Years.”
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 2 p.m.

On Tuesday the New York City Charter School Center and the Northeast Charter Schools Network will host a lobbying day in Albany at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center, demanding “funding equity for all public school students, and the elimination of the arbitrary cap on charter schools in New York.”

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, TransitCenter will host “Is It Rigged” at One Whitehall Street in Lower Manhattan, discussing the highly-inflated cost of transit construction in New York as compared to other cities. The panel will feature Brian Rosenthal of the New York Times, Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute, Rich Barone of the Regional Plan Association, and Chris Ward of Metro NY.

Wednesday
At the State Legislature on Wednesday, there will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to environmental conservation at 9:30 a.m.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Standards and Ethics will meet at 11 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “section 10.80 of the Council Rules.”
--The Committee on Public Safety will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing “examining NYPD crowd control and protest procedures.”

On Wednesday, WE ACT for Environmental Justice will hold a lobbying day in Albany “to demand Governor Cuomo commits to 100% renewables and a fee on corporate climate polluters.”

Thursday
At the State Legislature on Thursday, there will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to taxes at 9:30 a.m.

At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Higher Education will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “hiring a new chancellor and college president at the City University of New York.”
--The Committee on Fire and Emergency Management will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “diversity in the FDNY.”
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.

“The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) will be held on Thursday, February 8, at 10:00 AM.”

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the Association for a Better New York will host Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor, for a “What’s On Tap” talk at the Anheuser-Busch offices in Chelsea.

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio is expected to make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday morning at 10 a.m.

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

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Staten Island Activist Eyes Primary Challenge to IDC Senator Savino


jasmine robinson idc

photo: Jasmine Robinson


State Senator Diane Savino, a founding member of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), may be facing a challenge in the Democratic primary this fall.

Jasmine “Jasi” Robinson, 38, a legal secretary and community activist from Port Richmond, told Gotham Gazette she is mulling a run for the 23rd Senate District that encompasses the North Shore of Staten Island and a sliver of southern Brooklyn, citing the anti-IDC movement among progressives as her inspiration.

Robinson, who has lived in the district her entire life, learned about the ruling coalition between the breakaway Democrats and Senate Republicans during an information session organized by “No IDC NY” in Manhattan in January. She was invited to the event with Staten Island Women Who March -- a group that formed out of the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. -- and found it eye-opening, she said.

“I wanted to educate myself more about the IDC. I had heard [Savino’s] side; I wanted to hear another side,” said Robinson. “They were very fair, they showed both sides of the coin…I was informed about the different issues facing the different communities and how the progressive voice is being silenced in Albany and that can’t be.”

Robinson has not yet formed a campaign committee, saying she is considering her options and will make a decision about whether to run for office in the next few weeks.

Currently, five of the eight IDC members appear to be facing at least one challenger. IDC leader Jeff Klein, of the Bronx, has two declared opponents and three anti-IDC candidates have announced their intentions to unseat Jose Peralta, of Queens. Senator Jesse Hamilton of Brooklyn, Senator Marisol Alcantara of Manhattan, and Senator David Valesky of Oneida are each facing one challenger. Robinson’s candidacy against Savino would bring the number of IDC members facing primaries to six.

Senator David Carlucci, of Rockland and Westchester counties, and Queens Senator Tony Avella remain unchallenged.

Notably, anti-IDC candidates are forging ahead with their candidacies despite a tentative Senate Democratic reunification plan on the table and lack of support from much of the Democratic establishment. A number of these contenders have shown significant initial fundraising strides, primarily from small individual donors (as opposed to corporations, unions, or political groups), over a short period of time. The party primaries are in September.

Progressives remain skeptical of reunification deal, which has been orchestrated by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat who is also up for reelection this year. Four years ago, when there were five IDC members, several announced challengers dropped their bids, citing a potential Senate Democratic reunification deal that ultimately did not materialize, while others forged ahead without establishment support and lost. Staten Island lawyer and M.T.A. board member Allen Cappelli, who briefly sought Savino’s seat in 2014, withdrew his campaign, telling Politico, "The rationale was not there anymore.” Savino ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and the general election in 2016.

The current deal would only be implemented if Democrats hold the 32 seats necessary to retake the majority after a special election for two vacant Senate seats, which is expected to be called by the governor for April 24, and relies Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who caucuses with the GOP conference, returning to the Democratic fold.

The anti-IDC backlash appears to have been stoked in part by the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, which energized the grassroots and is putting renewed pressure on the Democratic factions to reunite. A number of progressive anti-IDC groups have formed, like No IDC NY, which aim to make IDC a household phrase and educate voters about the structures in Albany that block the passage progressive legislation.

“The difference is Trump,” said No IDC spokesperson Sean McElwee. “There’s just an incredible salience to politics right now that is going to make a difference. The grassroots resistance to Trump is also resisting the machine-style politics that has been practiced in New York City over the past few decades.”

On Staten Island’s North Shore, many were mobilized to activism following the death of North Shore resident Eric Garner at the hands of a police officer, with Garner’s final words, “I can’t breathe,” becoming a rallying cry in police accountability protests across the nation. After a grand jury decided not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who placed Garner in a deadly chokehold, there was much criticism over the lack of transparency in the grand jury proceedings. At the time, Senator Savino urged Staten Islanders to respect the judicial process, but sponsored a bill, along with Staten Island Assemblymember Matthew Titone, requiring grand jury testimony to be made public.

Robinson, who lives down the block from Eric Garner’s mother and had met him a few weeks before his death, said that Savino’s actions were not sufficient in making North Shore communities of color feel heard.

“We have not seen Diane Savino taking the lead or even lending a voice or a hand in the case of Eric Garner. There was a vigil for his daughter [Erica Garner, who passed away in late 2017] and she was not there. You can’t pick and choose what issues you are going to be involved in,” said Robinson.

A spokesperson for Savino noted that after Garner's death, Savino stood alongside Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Member Debi Rose as they commemorated his life and acknowledged the need for a change in community-police relations.

“Senator Savino is up for re-election every two years and looks forward to the opportunity for a rigorous debate on issues that are important to her District,” the campaign spokesperson, Jennifer Blatus, added.

If she becomes a candidate, Robinson says she hopes to change the public’s perception of Staten Island, which is seeing a lively and growing progressive wave.

“Staten Island is not just Trump land,” she said. “It’s a coalition of so many different people; of progressives, of immigrants, of Latinos, of blacks -- it’s just a melting pot of people who want and need change in their communities. I want to be part of that new wave of politics that is changing Staten Island.”

Robinson has been active in local politics, working as a coordinator for the local Board of Elections and canvassing for a number of political campaigns, including that of former City Council Member Vincent Gentile and Staten Island Borough President candidate Tom Shcherbenko. She was recently elected to the executive board of the Staten Island Democratic Association, which touts itself as one of Staten Island’s oldest and most progressive Democratic clubs.

Olusoji Oluwole, a longtime member of the club, said that he believes Robinson’s potential candidacy would give progressives more visibility on Staten Island.

“For too long, some members of the Democratic Party have just played it safe and didn't want to alienate some of the moderates and conservatives on the Island, so I think some of the progressives in Staten Island are taken for granted,” said Oluwole.

While she may not have the support of the Democratic establishment, Robinson would have the backing and support of No IDC NY, which runs a multi-candidate campaign committee that has raised more than $20,000, in mostly small donations, according to its most recent Board of Elections filings. The group seeks to create a Democratic majority by unseating all of the breakaway Democrats and replacing them with “real Democrats” who are committed to caucusing with the mainline conference. According to No IDC’s chief strategist, Gus Christensen, Robinson fits the bill.

"Jasmine is off to a great start in building her support among progressive activists on Staten Island, in south Brooklyn and all around New York State. She has amazing potential -- she is extremely bright and charismatic,” he said in a statement. “Even more importantly, she really knows the people, and their issues and their problems, right in her community.”

Correction: An earlier version of this piece misidentified the location of Senator David Carlucci's district.

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, January 29


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

State budget hearings continue this week in Albany, where the joint legislative hearings will focus on topics including economic development and education, discussing programs and outlays in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently-released executive budget plan. 

On Tuesday, state Senator John DeFrancisco is expected to announce whether he will seek the Republican nomination for governor.

New City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will give remarks on Tuesday morning at the Association for a Better New York, a prominent business group.

Mayor de Blasio is expected to release his preliminary budget for next fiscal year on Thursday of this week (next Monday, February 5, de Blasio is scheduled to testify in Albany at a state budget hearing).

Like last week, this week is likely to feature a good deal of discussion of how New York city and state are responding to the recently passed federal tax reforms, and larger questions round budgeting for the next fiscal year -- the state’s fiscal year begins April 1, the city’s begins July 1 -- as well as issues like congestion pricing and MTA funding, which are coming into focus as key areas of debate this budget cycle in New York.

Meanwhile, President Trump will deliver his first State of the Union address Tuesday night, which many in New York will be watching.

There's a good deal happening all over the city and state this week, with several other events to be aware of - see our day-by-day rundown below.

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

The run of the week in detail:

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

At the State Legislature on Monday, there will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to economic development at 10:30 a.m.

At 10 a.m. Monday, the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a public hearing “regarding the 2017 citywide elections.”

On Monday starting at 10 a.m., schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will be at P.S. 150 in Sunnyside where she "will visit classes using the DOE's Passport to Social Studies curriculum at PS 150 in Queens. She will visit a 5th grade "living history museum," a 3rd grade class learning about China by creating travel brochures, and a 2nd grade class learning about New York City transportation."

At 11 a.m. Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo will make an announcement at Nassau Coliseum.

At 11 a.m. Monday at City Hall, “the de Blasio Administration will join Citi Community Development and the National Disability Institute to announce the launch of a national public-private initiative that encourages municipalities to expand financial empowerment and economic inclusion to people living with disabilities and their families. The announcement includes the launch of a local initiative that seeks to improve the financial stability ofthe one million New Yorkers living with a disability.”

At 1:30 p.m. Monday in Albany, “New York State legislators will join a statewide coalition to launch an aggressive legislative campaign to create safer consumption spaces (SCSs), also known as supervised injection facilities (SIFs), in New York State. The coalition, known as “End Overdose NY,” is comprised of public health and healthcare professionals, faith leaders, family members of those struggling with opioid dependency, drug treatment providers as well as people in recovery, and those still actively using drugs...Earlier in the day, the coalition will be holding a legislative briefing on the “End Overdose New York” drug policy platform, a 3-point program for a comprehensive and compassionate response to ending overdose across the state.” Participants will include Assemblymembers  Linda Rosenthal, Richard Gottfried, Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Diana Richardson, and Luis Sepúlveda, and leaders of a variety of groups like VOCAL-NY, Drug Policy Alliance, and others.

At 6 p.m. Monday, City & State will host a ceremony honoring its “50 Over Fifty 2018” honorees at the Mezzanine NYC in the Financial District. Honorees include former Council Speaker Christine Quinn, 1199SEIU President George Gresham, Citizens Budget Commission President Carol Kellermann, and Yankees President Randy Levine. City & State will also honor individuals winning a “Lifetime Achievement” award, including former Mayor David Dinkins, the Rev. Al Sharpton, former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, outgoing Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina, CUNY Chancellor James Milliken, and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

Mayor de Blasio will make his weekly Monday evening appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours. Mayor de Blasio will also make remarks Monday evening at the People’s State of the Union at The Town Hall.

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

At the State Legislature on Tuesday, there will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to public protection at 9:30 a.m.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, the Association for a Better New York will host City Council Speaker Corey Johnson for a “Power Breakfast” at the Marriott Marquis in Manhattan, where the speaker will “discuss his priorities for the next council.” Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will be among those in attendance.

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

At 11 a.m. Public Advocate James will host a press conference "calling on the FCC to protect the Lifeline Program."

On Tuesday at 11 a.m. "at Staten Island Borough Hall, Borough President James S. Oddo, District Attorney Mike McMahon, and technology company Uber will announce a continuation of their partnership that began on Thanksgiving Eve to combat drunk driving. They will announce the availability of free Uber rides on Sunday to allow football fans to arrive safely home after the big game as well as the local sponsors of this important initiative."

At approximately 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman "will hold a media availability after a critical DACA hearing in federal court," at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, in Brooklyn. "A federal judge will hear arguments on Attorney General Schneiderman’s motion for a preliminary injunction to block President Trump’s attempt to end DACA. After the hearing, Attorney General Schneiderman, DREAMers and their legal representatives, and advocates will hold a media availability outside the courthouse. Attorney General Schneiderman leads a coalition of 17 Attorneys General that filed suit to protect DREAMers and preserve DACA."

At about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at the state Capitol in Albany, Senate Democrats will announce "campaign finance reform and good government legislation" at a press conference led by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Elections will hold a commissioners’ meeting.

On Tuesday at 3 p.m. at the 79th Precinct in Brooklyn, "Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner O’Neill will hold a media availability to make an announcement regarding body cameras. This event is open press. There will be Q-and-A." City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will participate in the press conference as well.

State Senator John DeFrancisco is expected to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Holiday Inn - Electronics Parkway Liverpool.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the New York Housing Conference will host Juliette Michaelson, Executive Vice President of the Regional Plan Association, for its “Thought Leader Speaker Series” at LMHQ in the Financial District. Michaelson will present the RPA’s Fourth Regional Plan to the NYHC.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, City Council Member Costa Constantinides will give his 2018 State of the District address for the 22nd Council District at P.S. 17 in Astoria, Queens. He will be joined by “special guest” Council Speaker Corey Johnson. Public Advocate Letitia James will also deliver remakrs.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at JustLeadershipUSA's “The State of #CLOSErikers” event, at New York Society for Ethical Culture.

President Trump will deliver his first State of the Union address Tuesday night at 9 p.m.

Wednesday
The full City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Council Speaker Johnson may hold a pre-stated press conference.

Also at the City Council on Wednesday: the Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m.

At the State Legislature on Wednesday, there will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to elementary and secondary education at 9:30 a.m.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the NYC Clergy Roundtable will host NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill at “Healing of our City: A Faith and Community Conversation with NYPD” at the New Jerusalem Worship Center in Jamaica, Queens. The commissioner will answer questions from the community on a range of topics.

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

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, City & State will host its 2018 P3 Summit at NYU’s Kimmel Center, convening “New York's transportation infrastructure leaders and P3 experts for a day-long, dynamic program of candid discussion and thought-provoking presentations on the complexities of public-private partnerships and the ways to successfully execute and manage P3s.” Several panels consisting of government officials, advocates, and business leaders will discuss these issues throughout the day.

Thursday
At 8 a.m. Thursday, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will host “The Future Series: Reforming the Property Tax in NYC” at the Rosenthal Pavilion at NYU’s Kimmel Center. Jacques Jiha, Commissioner of the City’s Department of Finance, will deliver a keynote address. A panel will also convene, consisting of REBNY President John Banks, Citizens Budget Commission President Carol Kellermann, Policy Director at Tax Equity Now NY Martha Stark, and NYU Law professor Vicki Been.

Mayor de Blasio is expected to present his preliminary budget proposal for fiscal year 2019, which begins July 1, on Thursday at City Hall.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, U.S. Rep Adriano Espaillat will host his 2018 State of the District Address for New York’s 13th Congressional District at the Vagelos Education Center in Washington Heights.

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio is expected to make his weekly Friday morning appearance on WNYC radio’s The Brian Lehrer Show.

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

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by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

MTA Funding Fight May Dominate This Year’s City-State Budget Struggle


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


Three key points of contention between the city and the state have emerged over transit funding, highlighted during Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) Chair Joe Lhota’s testimony at the joint legislative hearing on transportation Thursday in Albany.

The hearing, which included discussion of the MTA plan to restore New York City’s ailing subway system, occurred amid an ongoing feud between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo over the funding of crucial repairs for the deteriorating transit system, which is controlled by the state.

In a four-hour session that was at times good-natured and at others tense, members of the Senate and Assembly repeatedly questioned Lhota on three controversial and relevant aspects of Cuomo’s 2018 agenda: cost shifts of capital funding for the city’s subway system from the state to the city as outlined in Cuomo’s budget; a “value capture” plan to allow the state to reap property tax revenue spurred by transportation improvements in the city; and the recently unveiled congestion pricing plan outlined by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel.

These issues were addressed by de Blasio officials in a press conference call with reporters two days earlier. “We are objecting strongly to language that was inserted into the budget that would create a new, capital liability, a new capital commitment liability on the part of the city for New York City Transit, which is breaking a long-standing history of how the MTA is funded,” said First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan during the call. He and the other officials on the call also pushed back against the value capture proposal, calling it an unprecedented intrusion into the city’s tax system.

Mayor de Blasio himself also expressed his opposition during his weekly appearance on WNYC radio’s The Brian Lehrer Show, saying Friday morning.

“To take our property taxes which pay for our police, our schools, you know, our parks, our sanitation, to try and take from our property taxes for something the State wants is absolutely unacceptable…the first thing the State should do is return the $456 million diverted away from the MTA,” de Blasio said, referring to funds that were earmarked specifically for the MTA diverted by the State to other purposes over the last few years. “Put that money back and then we can discuss how to move forward.”

De Blasio will testify himself at a state legislative budget hearing in Albany on Monday, February 5. MTA funding, including the state’s insistence that the city pay about $450 million toward Lhota’s emergency subway stabilization plan, will likely be topics of discussion.

During his testimony Thursday, Lhota said the state’s $836 million Subway Action Plan launched last summer to restabilize the city's subway service is working, citing the MTA’s ability to prevent the predicted “summer of hell” in 2017, though the data does not necessarily support his claim, as explained by Nicole Gelinas of The New York Post.

“That’s not true — or only true if you compare summer and autumn to winter and spring, instead of a season to the previous year’s season. The latter is a far better measure because of similar crowding and weather,” Gelinas writes.

Despite this, Lhota said he attributes the MTA’s success at preempting a disastrous transportation summer to heightened “vigilance” on the part of the agency, something he said must continue year-round.

He also announced technological improvements coming to the MTA, such as a new signaling technology, a fleet of electric buses, and the Freedom Ticket, which allows Long Island Rail Road commuters to seamlessly transfer to the subway system. "I fully expect it to happen this year," Lhota said of the Freedom Ticket.

Cuomo's executive budget allocates $9.7 billion for the departments of transportation and motor vehicles, the Thruway Authority, and the MTA. However, the budget shifts all of the responsibility for capital costs to the City of New York, which would “require a sevenfold increase in City capital contributions,” according to Citizens Budget Commission President Carol Kellermann.

“What we are talking about here is a radical restructuring of where the [Capital] money comes from,” State Senator Gustavo Rivera, of the Bronx, said to Lhota on Thursday. “Is that correct?”

Lhota said this type of fluctuation is typical of past capital plans for transportation.

“When you look at funding over the last 20 or 30 years, sometimes the city has given more than the state, sometimes the state has given more than the city -- it goes back and forth,” said Lhota. “There was a period of time when the federal government gave more than the city and state in various different five-year capital plans.”

Mayor de Blasio is expected to continue to push back on the proposal in the coming weeks, while also relying on state legislators from the five boroughs to take up the cause in budget negotiations with the governor’s administration.

De Blasio has reluctantly agreed to consider the congestion pricing plan released by Cuomo’s advisory panel. The plan, which is similar to one previously proposed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Cuomo has indicated he will tweak as he also negotiates with the Legislature, outlines a three-year, three-phase program aimed at reducing congestion in Manhattan and raising funds for transit improvements, especially the subway system. It also includes calls for the city to increase enforcement of certain traffic measures, like double-parking and placard abuse, that currently contribute to congestion.

Fully phased in, the Fix NYC proposal would charge cars entering the most congested areas of Manhattan $11.52, while trucks would pay $25.34, and those riding in cabs or for-hire vehicles like Uber would see a $2 to $5 surcharge. The congestion fees would vary based on location and time of day, and would likely apply to non-commercial vehicles driving below 60th Street in Manhattan. The plan calls for new transit investments early on and estimates about $1.5 billion in annual revenue when fully implemented.

De Blasio has previously called general congestion pricing, with new tolls on the East River bridges, a "regressive tax" that would disproportionately impact low- and middle-income commuters from outer boroughs, though there have been holes punched in that argument given the low percentage of people who commute into Manhattan from Queens and Brooklyn that are low-income. The mayor appeared less dismissive of the Fix NYC recommendations, calling them an improvement from prior congestion pricing plans.

At Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers were divided on the congestion pricing recommendations, which will be parsed through the legislative process in the coming weeks. Senator Diane Savino, who sponsored the Move New York version of congestion pricing, approves of congestion pricing as a way to make the city’s transportation system more equitable for commuters from the outer boroughs.

However, Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference representing parts of Staten Island and bits of Brooklyn, questioned whether appointees to the Fix NYC board considered the Move New York plan as a “better proposal” to eliminate “winner and losers” while enabling the city to generate transportation revenue without going through Albany. A key element of Move New York not included in the Fix NYC recommendations is lowering tolls on the Verrazano and other currently-tolled bridges, something Cuomo indicated he wants to consider.

Lhota said that panel produced a plan that they believe is a good starting point and that such concerns have yet be addressed during the legislative process. “The basic concept is there. Now, how do we make it fair?” he said.

“Fairness is important,” agreed Savino, adding, “We need to find a more steady stream of revenue for the MTA region, not just the transit system, but the region itself.”

Alex Matthiessen, the founder and director of Move New York, a group that evolved out of former Mayor Bloomberg’s failed attempt to pass a version of congestion pricing, has also thrown his support behind the Fix NYC plan despite its differences with his group’s proposal.

“I thought that we had created the gold standard of congestion pricing plans, especially for the City of New York, tailored for the City of New York, and these guys actually improved upon our plan in a number of ways,” Matthiessen told Gotham Gazette and City Limits during a recent podcast.

Other lawmakers and transportation experts are not yet sold on congestion pricing. Senator Leroy Comrie, a Queens Democrat, expressed skepticism of the plan, saying it does not solve the problem of congestion in Manhattan nor does it generate a reliable source of revenue for the MTA.

“My concern with congestion pricing is it doesn’t relieve the congestion,” Comrie told Lhota during Thursday’s hearing. “Why are we going to do a program where we are just taking more money from people and still the essential business districts will be crowded with the elements -- it won’t fix the truck traffic in the city, it won’t fix the issue of people coming from New Jersey into the City…so there’s a lot of things wrong with the plan.”

Regarding Cuomo’s value capture plan, the mayor’s office maintains that the administration was not consulted ahead of time, and just learned of it from Cuomo’s executive budget. The budget proposal, which targets zones around transportation projects such as the makeover of Penn Station, the 125th Street Metro-North Railroad stop, and expansion of the Second Avenue Subway, would deprive the city of control over its own potential revenue, de Blasio officials say.

“This is the City’s property tax base, it’s our major source of revenue,” said Fuleihan during the January 23 phone conference. "For the MTA to arbitrarily take City tax revenues, determine what those tax revenues are, on established neighborhoods...it’s outrageous and there is no logical argument for this.”

“The City has significant obligations that we need to keep, that we need to make sure we are able to commit to—safest big city in America, universal pre-K for four-year-olds, expansion of pre-K, we can go on, addressing the opioid crisis,” said Fuleihan.

At the hearing, Lhota fended off criticisms of Cuomo’s plan from New York City lawmakers, including Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat. “I can't emphasize enough why I think that this is a terrible idea, and I was hoping you would agree with me,” Krueger said of the value capture proposal.

When asked by reporters why the city was not consulted in the drafting of the legislation, Lhota said he could not speak for the governor’s office. “You are asking me questions that should be directed at the [executive] chamber,” he said, but noted that Bloomberg used value capture to extend the 7 train to the Upper West Side of Manhattan (something de Blasio officials acknowledged but pointed out was a city decision).

A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office addressed the criticisms saying that other major cities have used this strategy and they expected all affected to be on board with the plan.

“Transit systems in cities across the world use this method, including New York City,” said Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever. “We'd think anyone who wants to improve the subways would support it, and we will work with the legislature and all our local partners throughout the budget process to pass this law.”

Lhota indicated that the value capture tax could be extended indefinitely after the investment is recouped, arguing that there was a good case for the tax to be continued to maintain the quality of the subway service. “There’s unanimity in the entire MTA board that if we are using taxpayer dollars, we should try to recoup some of that wherever we can,” he said. He also said that the state is constitutionally authorized to utilize the value capture plan in other parts of the city, as needed.

Assembly Ways and Means Chairperson Helene Weinstein, a Democrat representing Brooklyn, noted the absence of communication between Cuomo’s administration and the community representatives of affected areas, questioning why the value capture wasn’t applied to suburban areas that are benefiting from major transportation investment. Of the Hudson Yards development on Manhattan’s West Side, she said, “That was a negotiated, agreed-to proposal, that both the city and MTA board worked out, and that worked on properties that were not really developed. There was clearly much more of a nexus between the extension of the 7 line [and the linked value capture program], than this sort of open-ended situation here.”

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

What’s The [Data] Point? $14.3 Billion, with Robert Mujica and Dean Fuleihan


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What's The Data Point? Episode 28 -- $14.3 Billion, with Robert Mujica and Dean Fuleihan [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

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State Budget Director Robert Mujica and New York City First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan spoke at a CBC event on Wednesday, January 24 to discuss the implications of the recently-passed federal tax reform on the state and city. Mujica and Fuleihan discussed how the state and city are responding, with a great deal of budget fallout to come. Ben and Maria were there and provide an intro and brief discussion of the speeches, and this episode then brings you the full remarks from Mujica and Fuleihan, with enlightening audience Q&A after each. You can also catch the video of the entire event, which included two-panel discussions, at the CBC website.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Flanagan Provides Few Answers to Big Questions


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John Flanagan at Crain's breakfast (Ben Max/Gotham Gazette)


State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan spoke publicly for nearly an hour Thursday morning in Manhattan, but said little on a variety of pressing topics. The Long Island Republican and key player in negotiations of the state budget and a variety of other legislative matters of great significance to New York City provided some indication of where he stands, but repeatedly gave evasive and unclear statements on issues related to housing, construction, economic development, and congestion pricing.

Flanagan was appearing at a breakfast forum hosted by Crain’s New York Business, where he gave a brief speech that appeared improvised, then answered questions from two journalists, all in front of a crowd of about 150 at the New York Athletic Club. Flanagan rarely spoke in complete thoughts, at times providing confusing anecdotes or referencing people in the room, and at one point admitting, “I feel like my mind is racing, jumping all over the place.”

Flanagan’s appearance came just a few weeks into the 2018 legislative session in Albany, where he is one of the three most powerful individuals, along with Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. The three are also joined in top-level negotiations by Senator Jeff Klein, who leads the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference, a group of breakaway Democrats that forms a ruling coalition with Flanagan’s Republican conference. Flanagan had kind words for all three of the other men when he spoke on Thursday.

The four must negotiate a budget by the April 1 start of the new fiscal year, and discussions were jump-started by Cuomo’s presentation of his State of the State policy agenda and $168 billion Executive Budget plan. There are no shortage of key fiscal and policy matters on the table this year, headlined by the need to respond to the new federal tax code that President Donald Trump signed into law just before Christmas and the $4.4 billion budget deficit the state is facing for the coming fiscal year.

Flanagan discussed both those topics and a variety of others, both in his opening remarks and during the question-and-answer session with Crain’s’ Erik Engquist and Ken Lovett of The Daily News.

In his opening, Flanagan called New York City “the economic engine for the state” and explained that his conference is focused on “affordability, opportunity, security,” which includes trying to lower or cap taxes, create jobs, and keep people from moving out of the state. He said he continues to believe New York City should be subject to the 2 percent annual cap on property tax increases that applies to the rest of the state. “I don't think the model that’s in the City of New York right now, frankly, is sustainable,” Flanagan said of property tax increases.

As Cuomo has floated possible alterations to the state tax system in an effort to blunt the impact of federal reforms that are likely to raise taxes on many New Yorkers due to the loss of most state and local tax deductibility from federal taxes, Flanagan said he is especially leery of shifting personal income taxes to payroll taxes, as the governor has discussed as an option.

“Just the whole notion of payroll tax scares me and my colleagues,” Flanagan said. “But I want to be clear that we are ready, willing, and able to work with the governor on all types of issues. And in this instance when you talk about something like that, I will give the governor credit for raising a thorny, difficult, challenging issue. But when people talk about how you want to shift something to an employer to try to help an employee, honestly I don’t know how that works.”

Flanagan added, as he did on several issues raised throughout the morning, that he and his colleagues will “conference” the issue, meaning that the narrow Republican majority will hold closed-doors discussions to come to their collective stance.

On congestion pricing, another especially hot topic of late where Cuomo is pushing reform, Flanagan was less cogent. In his opening remarks he said that many people may not know what congestion pricing is and that it is important to consider all stakeholders. He again gave Cuomo credit for tackling a tough issue and said he’d talk it over with his conference. He acknowledged “how hard it is just to traverse the city,” saying he used to worry about traffic coming from Long Island to Manhattan, but now it’s much more difficult to just move through the borough. He said there’s no enforcement of drivers “blocking the box,” an issue raised by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel that recently released its recommendations, which will form the basis of negotiations on the topic. Mayor de Blasio, as part of a congestion-fighting plan released last year, vowed greater cracking down on blocking the box and double-parking.

Flanagan talked about his state-issued vehicle and E-ZPass, and said that many New Yorkers with the electronic toll-paying devices have become “jaded to a degree because nobody thinks about it anymore. Your account gets replenished, you don't really know unless someone tells you there's something wrong with your debit card or your credit card. And I know I've had that happen to me, but I think about working people, can they afford that?”

During the Q-and-A, Flanagan was asked again about congestion pricing. He said on New York City-related issues he often defers to the three members of his conference who represent parts of the city: Senators Andrew Lanza, Marty Golden, and Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat who caucuses with Republicans. He agreed that Lanza, of Staten Island, probably disliked the Fix NYC recommendations because they did not include lowering the toll on the Verrazano Bridge. Though he has previously expressed a good deal of concern about adding new fees for entering Manhattan, likely to cost Long Island drivers, he said Thursday, “When someone asks me about congestion pricing, I don't want to gratuitously say ‘no’ because we have not conferenced this.”

Later in the Q-and-A, Flanagan said he’s glad there is now a framework put forward by the governor’s commission, apparently unaware that there had been a comprehensive plan put forth years ago by the Move New York coalition that is similar to what Fix NYC created. “I remember a couple of months ago people saying to me, ‘What do you think about congestion pricing?’ I don't know what it is; ‘cause there was no plan. Now at least we get something to be looking at and this is why it's actually very helpful for what I do,” Flanagan said Thursday.

When asked about closing the state budget deficit, Flanagan downplayed the issue, repeatedly calling the $4.4 billion estimate “fluid.”

“I’m gonna look at this cup right here, ‘United,’” Flanagan said, referring to the cup holding his beverage on the lectern branded by one of the event sponsors. “I’m sure the people at United change their plans on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually based on a variety of things and facts, so the State of New York, when someone says there's a deficit or a structural deficit or out-year deficit, that's been going on for like 30 years. It's not a new thing. The gravity of the number or the severity of the number is different.”

He said he believes that federal tax reform will spur more revenue for New York. “I think we're gonna have more money coming in...do I think it eradicates $4.4 billion? Probably not. But I think we're gonna have more money coming in. Think about Wall Street and the stock market -- what are people gonna do there? I think we're gonna generate more revenue based on bonuses and things of that nature. That number, it’s not static. It's something that we have to adapt to all the time.”

Flanagan has not offered his plan for closing the deficit, but his conference will at some point put forward their budget vision.

On economic development, Flanagan said he is opposed to the governor’s Regional Economic Development Councils because they pit regions against each other and don’t offer everyone the same resources. He said the state has too many regulations, stifling businesses.

“I think we have to do a massive overhaul of our regulatory structure in the state of New York. I've said this time and time again, we should do a cost-benefit analysis on every existing regulation. And we have to take a harder look when things like minimum wage, paid family leave, predictable scheduling, all those types of things are being discussed, because that's real life. I have grave concerns about the continued prosperous and economic viability of the City of New York because of a lot of things that are being proposed and some that are being implemented now.” He did not elaborate on what those policies are that he fears are dooming the city.

Flanagan appeared unprepared to discuss trimming costs at the MTA, seemingly unfamiliar by issues raised by a recent New York Times series.

He reiterated positions on government ethics, saying that issues with corruption in government make him “sick,” but that “the system is actually working. There's someone gets in trouble, someone gets indicted, someone goes to trial, someone gets convicted and has to serve time or something like that. I wish there were none of this. I truly wish that there was none of this, it’s not good. I think we have in the last five to seven years, we've made very significant change.”

Flanagan indicated that he has taken steps in the Senate to enhance policies on sexual harassment and that it is a positive development that Senator Klein has sought an independent investigation into a recent allegation by a former staff aide that the IDC leader forcibly kissed her at an after-work gather in 2015.

Flanagan did not give clear answers when asked about modifying the state’s Airbnb restrictions; altering statutes of limitation around child sex abuse claims; or repealing limits on the sizes of residential buildings.

When asked why the state would not grant New York City government permission to use design-build, a process for streamlining construction project bidding and execution that has saved the state billions of dollars, Flanagan was evasive. “First of all we have helped the City of New York,” Flanagan said. “We’ve definitely helped the City of New York. Just because the city may come and ask for everything, doesn’t mean they’re gonna get it.” [Related: Cuomo Omits Design-Build for New York City from Budget Proposal]

Asked about the state blocking New York City from instituting a five-cent fee on plastic carryout bags, Flanagan became especially animated. “I think the bag fee is just idiotic,” he said. “And I care about the environment as much as anybody sitting in this room.” Flanagan said part of why he had helped kill the city’s law, passed by the City Council and signed by the mayor, was because the fee would have gone to the retailer, not to an environmental cause. He did not acknowledge that the purpose of the fee was to reduce plastic bag use or that the fee mechanism was used by the city because the state controls taxes, so the city had gotten creative in assessing a fee that had to be collected by the business.

Moving from policy to politics, Flanagan was asked about this year’s elections, wherein all the statewide positions and every seat in the Legislature will be on the ballot. Is he concerned about a “blue wave” and the possible loss of the state Senate majority, which is Republicans’ last stronghold at the state level?

“If there is a hint of arrogance that comes with this, I'll apologize for that in advance,” Flanagan said. “We’re not going to lose. We're not going to lose.”

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Running Without Establishment Support, IDC Challengers Show Initial Fundraising Strides


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Zellnor Myrie at a campaign event (photo: @zellnor4ny)


Despite a tentative unity deal between the Senate Democratic conference and the breakaway Democrats in the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a number of progressives are pushing forward in their bids to unseat the so-called “turncoat Democrats.”

Challengers of the eight-member IDC, which forms a ruling coalition government with Senate Republicans, say they have drummed up broad grassroots support, as evidenced by pulling impressive fundraising numbers over a short period of time, with the bulk of the campaign funds raised from small donations.

They argue that Democrats are energized to unseat defectors who are empowering Republicans and blocking essential progressive legislation from moving through the Legislature; the Assembly is overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats, who often pass bills that die in the upper house.

Elections for every seat in the state Legislature are on the ballot this fall. While IDC challengers may have some solid initial money in the bank, without the support of the Democratic Party establishment -- members of which are behind the precarious Senate Democratic unity deal -- the candidates are looking at an uphill battle.

Two candidates have emerged to take on IDC Leader Jeff Klein, a Bronx senator. Lewis Kaminski, a Bronx attorney, has raised $11,075, while Alessandra Biaggi, a former aide in the Cuomo administration, has raised $8,042 and spent around $2,000 in the early going. Klein, who has well over $2 million in his campaign account and access to a great deal more money in broader IDC campaign accounts, will be an especially difficult figure to unseat. He easily survived a primary challenge in 2014 from former City Council Member Oliver Koppel, though some activists and candidates argue that circumstances in 2018 are far different, in part shifted by both awareness of the IDC and the election of Donald Trump as president.

Other members of the IDC may have a harder time beating back primary challenges.

Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn native and community activist who is challenging Brooklyn IDC Senator Jesse Hamilton, for example, began fundraising in late October and has since secured over 650 donations totaling $93,577, according to his January filings with the state Board of Elections (BOE). Seventy-five percent of the campaign’s contributions were $100 or less and 100 percent of contributions came from individuals, Myrie said.

“This is a people driven campaign,” said Myrie in a statement. “This early success shows that this community is ready for a real Democrat to bring real change. I am the only real Democrat in this race who can say they will fight back against the Trump-Democrats in Albany and truly represent working families and the middle class residents of central Brooklyn when elected.”

Hamilton has pulled $99,525 in receipts since July, $20,000 of which is a transfer from the Senate Independent Campaign Committee, a fundraising arm of the IDC, and has about $119,600 in the bank, according to his January filings. In a statement, Myrie noted that “an alarming sixty-six percent of my opponent’s contributions come from Corporations and GOP friendly donors, and he only received 36 individual contributions.”

IDC Senator Jose Peralta, of Queens’ 13th Senate District, also holds a small but comfortable initial fundraising lead over his two challengers, raising $79,460 and holding $157,006 in the bank. LGBTQ activist Andrea Marra has pulled in $47,630 in contributions and has $46,043 in the bank, while Jessica Ramos, a former aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio, received $30,997 and has $29,687 in the bank after a short early fundraising period since she left City Hall and declared her intention to unseat Peralta.

“More than half of those contributions came from residents of Senate District 13. 94% of donations were $100 or less,” Ramos said by email. “This filing shows a groundswell of support to elect a real Democrat who represents the progressive values of our communities.”

A third Peralta challenger, Tahseen Chowdhury, a 17-year-old high school student, had $895 in July 2017, but has not completed a January filing.

Senator Marisol Alcantara, of the 31st district in Manhattan, is facing a challenge from former City Council Member Robert Jackson, who lost to the incumbent in 2016, coming in third. This time, Jackson has the support of the second place finisher in that race, Micah Lasher, former chief of staff to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The 2016 Democratic primary to replace senator-turned-congressman Adriano Espaillat was close; Alcantara pulled in 32.43 percent of the vote, compared to Lasher's 30.19 percent and Jackson's 29.72 percent.

Per his January filing with the state BOE, Jackson has raised $81,971 since July from thousands of individual donors and has a little over $105,000 in the bank. A source from the IDC noted that Jackson has spent funds from an old 2016 campaign account. Jackson's 2016 account reports $268.88 spent, apparently due to automatic cellphone app payments linked to a campaign credit card, a problem that has since been rectified, according to Jackson's spokesperson. Alcantara has raised $106,323, including a $10,000 transfer from the IDC, and has a little over $120,000 in the bank, according to her BOE filings.

Syracuse University administrator Rachel May, who recently announced a challenge against IDC Senator David Valesky, has netted $34,799 in donations since she opened her campaign committee in late November. In an apparent attempt to undercut the initial haul, an IDC source noted that a large chunk of May’s money has come from family and friends outside the district.

Valesky, of Oneida County, has raised $66,309 and has $612,761 in the bank. He told the Syracuse Post Standard he is unfazed by the competition.

Currently, no challenger has declared candidacy for the seats of IDC Senators Tony Avella of Queens, Diane Savino of Staten Island, or David Carlucci of Rockland and Westchester Counties.

A number of high profile New York Democrats, from Governor Andrew Cuomo to U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, have thrown their support behind the potential unity deal, which would preclude IDC challengers from receiving the potentially critical backing of the Senate Democrats’ fundraising apparatus, the state Democratic Party controlled by Cuomo, or Democratic Party leadership.  

“There is a deal in place with the Independent Democratic Conference. Therefore, we will not support any primaries,” said Mike Murphy, spokesperson for the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has said that the deal will only be on the table if the Democrats regain 32 seats in the 63-seat chamber, which would have to happen through a special election to fill currently vacant Senate seats. Mainline Democrats led by Stewart-Cousins would have to follow through on the deal with Klein and the IDC, while also convincing rogue Democrat Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who conferences with the Senate Republicans, to join them as well.

Cuomo has not yet indicated whether he will call the special election to fill two Senate and nine Assembly vacancies before the session ends in June. A source from the mainline Democratic conference said that if the unity deal falls through, IDC challengers will be backed by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC), which is sitting on more than $1 million and raising more as the election year heats up.

For Queens Democratic Party boss and Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley, the deadline for reunification is even sooner. In recent comments to the Queens Chronicle, he warned wayward Democrats to return to the fold by April -- when the budget process is complete -- or see a “head-on primary by everyone.”

Peralta and Avella are the two Queens IDC members, though Crowley’s reach extends beyond the borough. Crowley had a stern warning for Peralta in particular.

“If [Peralta] comes back then, we’ve agreed that he would have the support of the apparatus,” he said. “If he comes back earlier, that I think is better for him...if he doesn’t, he will have a primary sanctioned by me and the state apparatus, as well as working with our friends in labor.”

Currently, IDC challengers are supported by a number of grassroots progressive groups, including NO IDC NY, which since opening a multi-candidate campaign committee in August, has raised more than $20,000, mostly from small donations of $5 or $10. Since the summer, NO IDC has spent more than $8,500 in support for May, Biaggi, Zellnor, and Ramos, according to Board of Elections records.

While a number of progressive groups oppose the IDC, those organizations tend to support a host of progressive issues, but NO IDC is focused exclusively on unseating the breakaway Democrats, according to the group’s treasurer, Jim Casteleiro.

“We make the commitment of saying this is a very important issue and regardless of what happens, we cannot take our eye off the ball,” said Casteleiro. “We exist because there is no institutional body that has stood up to say, unconditionally, ‘We are going to get rid of these people who are blocking us from having a majority.’”

Meanwhile, IDC members have additional support from the Senate Independence Campaign Committee (SICC), which has $1.2 million in the bank. In addition to transferring money to Alcantara and Hamilton, records show the SICC has sent $25,000 to Avella, who may face another challenge from former City Council Member, Comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu.

An IDC spokesperson dismissed the notion that any of the anti-IDC candidates pose a serious threat. "The Independent Democratic Conference and all eight members demonstrated they have the resources necessary to communicate with voters and are all well positioned to win reelection," said conference spokesperson Candice Giove.

Clarification: The article has been updated with an explanation from Robert Jackson's campaign for payments made from a 2016 campaign account.

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Leading Congestion Pricing Advocate Explains Path to Passage


subway station MTA

(photo: The Governor's Office)


Alex Matthiessen, the founder and director of Move New York, joined the Max & Murphy Podcast Tuesday to discuss the path ahead for congestion pricing now that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel has releases its recommendations and the governor is vowing to negotiation with the Legislature to pass measures that will reduce congestion in Manhattan and create dedicated funds for the MTA.

Matthiessen explained the recent history of congestion pricing in New York and how his group came together in the wake of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ill-fated attempt at a version of congestion pricing and took a multi-year approach to crafting and promoting a new, more inclusive plan.

Matthiessen said that while there are some differences, including positive ones, Move New York is strongly behind the plan put forth by Fix NYC and vowing to lead a campaign to see it passed.

“I thought that we had created the gold standard of congestion pricing plans, especially for the City of New York, tailored for the City of New York, and these guys actually improved upon our plan in a number of ways,” Matthiessen said of Move New York and the new recommendations, citing the panel’s notion of tolling a congestion zone, but not the East River bridges. The plan includes new transit investments, a dedicated Manhattan zone that would require an additional fee to enter, added surcharges on for-hire vehicles and trucks in the zone, and other measures to fight congestion and improve the public transit system. It is outlined for a three-step and three-year phase in, eventually estimated to raise about $1.5 billion annually for mass transit.

Matthiessen pointed to the subway crisis that developed this past summer and tens of billions of dollars in estimated lost productivity because of Manhattan congestion as key drivers of the urgency now behind congestion pricing, starting with new support from Cuomo, who he indicated will be the key actor in determining whether a deal can be reached with legislators.

“There is a lot of pressure on the governor and on the Legislature to deliver something, and I don’t think that we can afford to wait,” he said, pointing to the April 1 deadline for a new state budget. “This is the most viable plan out there at the moment, I don’t expect that to change. There is a lot of momentum behind this.”

“I think there is a lot of expectations by the public that Albany has to deal with this issue this year,” Matthiessen said. “They’ve got elections coming up. No one likes to get behind a plan that’s going to cost people more than it cost them before, in terms of their daily commutes, but I don’t think they want to go into a 2018 election, either, having basically abandoned the 9 million people that use the region’s transit system.”

While Cuomo has referenced items that his Fix NYC panel did not put forward that he may pursue as he negotiates with the Legislature, such as reducing the tolls on existing bridges with them, like the Verrazzano and Whitestone, many including Matthiessen want to see funding for reduced-price MetroCards as part of the final deal. There will be no shortage of moving pieces and points of negotiation, but Matthiessen is confident that the timing is right and the political stars aligned, despite the fact that there has been cold water thrown at congestion pricing from the Democrat-led Assembly, the Republican-led Senate, and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“You just can’t continue to underinvest in a trillion dollar transit system like ours and not pay the price for it. We’ve already paid the price for it,” Matthiessen said on the podcast.

There’s a lot more to the conversation -- listen to the full discussion on the Max & Murphy podcast here, or find it wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes.

***
by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

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Requested by Vance Amid Controversy, Report Suggests Campaign Finance Reforms for District Attorneys


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Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance (photo: Manhattan DA facebook)


District attorneys should separate themselves from fundraising efforts and implement tighter vetting procedures for donors to reduce the appearance of bias, says a new report by the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI) at Columbia Law School.

The recommendations were requested by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance in October, following public outcry over Vance’s handling of two investigations of wealthy, politically-connected individuals. In both cases -- a 2015 forcible touching charge involving movie producer Harvey Weinstein and a 2012 investigation into business practices of members of the Trump family -- Vance’s office declined to prosecute the cases, and it was later revealed that the potential defendents' lawyers involved in the cases were generous contributors to the Manhattan DA’s re-election campaign. The larger episode spotlighted lax rules around fundraising for New York district attorneys and raised questions about reforms, including whether DAs should accept campaign contributions from defense lawyers at all.

Following the revelations, Vance insisted that in his seven years in office, he had never allowed someone’s “wealth, power, race, or campaign contribution” to influence his decision-making as a prosecutor. But he conceded in an October op-ed in The Daily News that “Over the past few days, I’ve learned that it's not enough for me to have confidence in my independence from donors. The people of New York deserve to be confident about it as well.”

As reported by Gotham Gazette, New York’s top prosecutors rely heavily on campaign contributions from criminal defense lawyers who may have cases before their office, but, as county officials, district attorneys are not subject to New York City’s stringent campaign finance rules. 

CAPI executive director Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor, briefed Gotham Gazette on the report, entitled "Raising the Bar: Reducing Conflicts of Interest and Increasing Transparency in District Attorney Campaign Fundraising," before its Monday release. Rodgers said the objective was to minimize the potential for real, perceived, or unconscious bias for district attorneys.

“[Currently] there’s no legal restrictions, or even guidance, on having a procedure in place to vet contributions to make sure you are not taking money from people who have an interest in your decision as district attorney,” said Rodgers, in a phone interview.

Following a 90-day inquiry initiated by Vance's request, CAPI is offering seven recommendations primarily related to the implementation of a blinding process, and limiting contributions from people who have a personal or professional interest in the decisions of the district attorney. The blinding process outlined in the report is similar to that required by judges in New York State; Rodgers said prosecutors should refrain from personally soliciting money and stay ignorant of who the donors are and how much they have donated.

“It’s a pretty clean rule, its not 100 percent airtight…but if in good faith you try not to have access to that information and put controls in place between you and your campaign, that’s one big thing that DAs can do,” she said.

The report recommends district attorney campaigns refuse contributions from a party to a matter before the DA’s office -- something many prosecutors already do, according to Rodgers -- as well as targets of investigation. Since refusal of a donation could tip off the person that they are under investigation, CAPI suggests cashing the check and putting it into a second, separate account until the matter becomes public and the campaign can return the money. If the matter never becomes public, CAPI recommends prosecutors donate the money to New York’s IOLA fund, a trust fund for lawyers that uses accumulated interest to provide legal aid for the poor.

Addressing the specific criticisms of Vance, and fundraising practices of all district attorneys, CAPI recommends capping contributions at $320 from lawyers with a pending matter before the district attorney’s office, and at $3,850 for partners of lawyers with matters before the district attorney. The figures comes from the city’s “doing business” fundraising restrictions for borough presidents, which, as a countywide office, is most analogous to that of district attorneys. There are five counties and therefore five districit attorneys in New York City; Vance represents New York County, otherwise known as Manhattan.

“We thought those were good limits. Those are amounts small enough that it shouldn’t impact anyone’s decision making, and if he is participating in the blinding procedure he wouldn’t know about it anyway,” said Rodgers.

Other recommendations relate to setting up a vetting process for contributions, creating additional measures to separate the government office from the campaign, refusing campaign contributions from DA staff and their spouses, requiring donors to certify their eligibility to give funds, and publishing campaign policies.

The report is broad enough to apply to all 62 top prosecutors, but whether these recommendations will be adopted by district attorneys across the city and state remains to be seen. In a statement Monday morning, Vance said he will voluntarily adopt the CAPI recommendations.

"In its independent report published today, CAPI principally recommends that district attorney candidates (1) apply ‘blind’ fundraising standards, and (2) in the case of incumbent prosecutors, limit contributions from lawyers who represent clients in matters before the office to $320," reads the statement, released by Vance's campaign. "My campaign will meet and exceed these recommendations. Effective today, we have implemented the ‘blinding’ procedure recommended in CAPI's report, which is the same procedure followed by candidates for judicial office in New York State. Also effective today, we will no longer accept contributions – in any amount – from lawyers appearing before our office and will cap contributions from their law partners, consistent with CAPI's recommendation."

Vance thanked CAPI for its review and concluded, "As its report notes, legislative action is the surest way to achieve lasting, mandatory campaign finance reform. I look forward to working with lawmakers and reform advocates to advance such legislation, which should include a full public matching funds program for District Attorney races.”

District Attorneys Association of New York (DAASNY) President Scott McNamara has invited Rodgers to present her findings at the association’s next board of directors meeting, this Thursday, and said he and his colleagues are looking forward to hearing her thoughts.

“We would like to do whatever we can to be transparent to the public in raising money, but at the same time raise money so that we can campaign for re-election,” said McNamara, who serves as district attorney of Oneida County, in an interview. “It’s a difficult situation but I am looking forward to her insight. Hopefully she has some good recommendations for us.”

McNamara noted that fundraising poses less of a conflict for many Upstate district attorneys, who rarely see challengers, and when they do, run their campaigns on small donations, primarily from family and friends. “Most of my contributions are $100 or less,” he said. “When you get into very small communities, everyone knows each other and it’s not uncommon for attorneys to be related to each other, so it gets more complicated.”

One measure proposed by CAPI that could be relevant to district attorneys statewide is blind fundraising, according to McNamara.“I think that is a terrific idea and it’s something I already do,” he said, noting that he has recently stopped sending thank you notes to contributors.

While he had not yet seen the report when he spoke to Gotham Gazette on Friday, McNamara said DAASNY welcomes the recommendations from the experts at CAPI, which could potentially translate into more permanent legislation.

Government and legal reform groups who were consulted among others during the review process approved the reforms proposed by CAPI in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

"CAPI has provided worthwhile reforms for DA Vance to consider, and we believe the limitations on contributions by lawyers, and the partners of their firms, doing business with the DA are particularly important,” said Alex Camarda, of Reinvent Albany. “We look forward to engaging the DA's Office to determine if these voluntary reforms can serve as a model for permanent change for all District Attorneys."

[Related: Vance Fallout Echoes Other Controversies that Led to Reforms]

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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