Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/321 Fri, 21 Feb 2020 04:03:00 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Three Democratic Leaders in Albany, Three Different Positions on Altering Bail Reforms https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9047-three-democratic-leaders-albany-cuomo-different-positions-reforming-bail-reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9047-three-democratic-leaders-albany-cuomo-different-positions-reforming-bail-reform Cuomo legislative leaders

Gov. Cuomo and other state leaders (photo: Darren McGee, Governor's Office)


In the opening days of the 2020 state legislative session, debate continues to rage over whether to revisit major changes to the bail system made last year and key Albany policy-makers have been staking out initial positions in a reignited conversation that could lead to revising the reforms.

The three top decision-makers -- Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, all Democrats -- have each taken a different position on a criminal justice response to recent anti-Semitic and other hate-motivated crimes, in the process giving a glimpse of how far they may go in attempting to alter the newly reformed bail system in the coming months.

While Heastie has said it’s too soon to judge the new system, which has only been fully in effect since January 1, Stewart-Cousins has said her conference is open to considering changes, and Cuomo has said he believes some adjustment is needed, while expressing support for adding hate crimes to the list of bailable offenses.

At question since the law was passed last year are which crimes are on that list, and whether judges are to be given the discretion to assess a suspect’s potential dangerousness to society in a new process to determine who may be ordered jailed.

Last session, state lawmakers eliminated cash bail for all but the most serious and violent crimes. The changes were intended to bring a greater degree of fairness to the criminal legal system by removing ability to pay as a reason for pretrial incarceration in most cases, correcting an imbalance that had disproportionately imprisoned black and Hispanic suspects.

Supporters of the reforms noted not only that racism and classism are endemic to the old system and the fact that suspects are, by law, innocent until proven guilty, but also that many cases of all kinds are ultimately dismissed. Less than a week after a machete attack at a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey in which multiple people were hospitalized, Assembly Member Simcha Eichentsein, a Brooklyn Democrat who represents Orthodox Jewish communities, introduced legislation that would add hate crimes to the list of bail-eligible offenses.

While New York State law authorizes bail as a method to compel accused lawbreakers to return to court, judges have used it to remand people they believe would be a threat to public safety if released. Throughout 2019, many Republican and some Democratic officials, prosecutors, and members of law enforcement statewide sounded the alarm about the dangers of limiting judges’ discretion, making it easier for people to avoid jail pre-trial, and not incentivizing court compliance via bail.

Since the law went into effect and in the wake of a spate of anti-Semitic attacks in the final weeks of last year, a number of them violent, opponents of the bail changes have renewed calls for expanding the list of bail-eligible offenses, perhaps most notably by adding hate crimes. Some have renewed calls for giving judges explicit discretion to consider public safety risks in determining whether a person can be released pre-trial.

Though he did sign off on the compromise reached with the two Democratic legislative majorities in last year’s state budget deal, Cuomo has included judicial discretion for public safety in his bail reform proposals since 2016. He is now part of a group Democratic officials that also includes Mayor Bill de Blasio and moderates throughout the state, responding to recent hate crimes and other reported incidents with calls to revisit last year’s bail changes. (De Blasio has backed bail reform including expanded judicial discretion since 2015.)

“Changing the system, as we started to do, is complicated and then has a number of ramifications,” Cuomo said at during audience question-and-answer at a breakfast hosted by the Association for a Better New York on January 6, where he gave remarks just ahead of the start of the legislative session. “There’s no doubt this is still a work in progress and there are other changes that have to be made.”

“The legislature comes back...and we’re going to work on it because there are consequences that we have to adjust for,” he added, responding to a question connecting anti-Semitic hate crimes and bail reform, without going into specifics.

On Thursday in Albany, Stewart-Cousins said her conference was open to considering changes to the reforms, but would not respond to "fear-mongering."

"We’re on day nine [of implementation]...We listen, we are interested in making the justice system just, and we are paying attention as it continues to see if there any necessary tweaks; but, again, we are not responding right now,” she told reporters.

But Stewart-Cousins said, if her conference does decide tweaks are needed, especially with regard to reclassifying hate crimes, it will make them.

“Personally, I think that hate crimes sometimes strike at the core of entire communities, and so on, so I want to look at it to see if we are appropriately classifying this,” she said.

A number of Senate Democrats from Long Island, some of whom represent districts recently held by Republicans, are carrying legislation that would expand the list of bail-eligible offenses and grant judicial discretion for public safety risks.

But for Heastie, who has made criminal justice reform a major focus in his years as Assembly speaker, conversations to revisit bail reform are a non-starter. He told reporters Thursday he did not have plans for his conference to reexamine the 2019 changes and urged letting the new system play out before discussing revamping it.

"It's day nine and I think we should let the law take effect," he said. "We want our communities to be safe but the conference believes in what we did."

Heastie staunchly defended the Legislature’s steps to remove most cash bail without substituting judicial discretion, which he said contributes to inequities in the justice system.

“I think judges have had judicial discretion...When two people who are charged with the same crime end up with different bails that gives me pause on judicial discretion,” he said. “Judicial discretion invites back in bias.”

New York is the only state in the nation that does not allow judges to consider public safety when making custody decisions before trial, according to a report by the Vera Institute of Justice.

“We have no tolerance whatsoever for hate. But hate crimes have been on the rise for the past year, way before the bail bill was implemented,” Heastie said.

Citing the likes of powerful media mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was able to post bail while awaiting trial on charges of on multiple counts of sexual assault, he added, “We have to get out of this idea that bail equates safety.”

The governor appears adamant that changes should be explored. In an interview on NY1 Wednesday following Cuomo's State of the State speech, top aide Melissa DeRosa also warned against the dangers of fear-mongering but said, "At the same time, I think it is wholly legitimate -- and the Governor has said this -- that we look at the law. We have to make sure that public safety comes first. We look at the law, we look what it is that we enacted and ask ourselves and ask our partners in the Legislature, are there ways to improve upon that?...We are going to sit with them and have these conversations."

Attorney General Letitia James has also said she believes changes to the bail law are warranted, and that her office is studying what those should look like. In the meantime, she said during a Thursday interview on the Capitol Pressroom that judges should be given more discretion in hate crimes cases, and, generally, that “it’s important we come up with an objective proposal so it does not result in racial disparities and that all individuals are treated fairly. But at the same time, at the end of the day, it’s all about public safety. That should be their priority.”

Many reformers, including elected officials like Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, public defenders, and decarceral activists have vigorously pushed back against the notion that changes are needed, holding various press conferences and rallies, and writing op-eds. A group of Jewish state legislators -- Assemblymembers Dan Quart, Harvey Epstein, and Linda Rosenthal, all Manhattan Democrats -- penned an op-ed in the Daily News Wednesday warning against using anti-Semitism as a reason for pulling back bail reform.

Republican leaders are seizing on the attacks and some reported cases of people re-offending while at-large awaiting trial to undo the changes completely.

“I can’t think of an issue that is more germaine to the first day of this legislative session than criminal justice reform -- we are advocating for repeal,” Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan of Long Island said on the Senate floor Thursday after describing the state as in “crisis.” 

“Every Democrat in this house voted for that legislation, and now a number of them are walking it back,” Flanagan noted, in reference to the bail changes that were voted through April 1 as part of the massive budget deal.

“Let me be clear, we believe there are opportunities for reform done the right way, under the right circumstances, by listening to people who are hired and elected to protect us and the public,” he said.

Newly-selected Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay, an upstate Republican, gave similar remarks in his opening floor statement of the Assembly’s session. He listed a litany of recent violent or anti-Semitic crimes where the suspect was released without bail, and said to his colleagues, “This isn’t fear-mongering, so don’t take my word for it, I’m not trying to grind the political axe...we need to listen to the people out there. The professionals, the law enforcement officials, judges, district attorneys all have sounded the alarm.”

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Three Democratic Leaders in Albany, Three Different Positions on Altering Bail Reforms Sun, 12 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Advocates Remind State Leaders of Approaching Deadline to Name Redistricting Commission https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8917-advocates-remind-state-leaders-redistricting-commission-deadline https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8917-advocates-remind-state-leaders-redistricting-commission-deadline new york start capitol

(photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)


New York State government leaders are fond of appointing commissions, but those bodies are not known for meeting their deadlines. With those facts in mind, an advocacy group released a public letter Tuesday with an important message about governmental machinations that will significantly impact the state’s future.

With the 2020 Census around the corner, the League of Women Voters of New York State is urging the state Legislature to keep its eye on a key deadline that falls ahead of the all-important population count. By February 1, the state constitution mandates that the Legislature must appoint an “independent” commission that will draw district lines for Senate, Assembly, and congressional seats based on the census results.

The next round of redistricting is meant to be carried out by a new, untested Independent redistricting commission, which was approved by voters in a 2014 ballot referendum after being passed by the Legislature. The commission is meant to be largely immune from political influence to avoid drawing partisan districts, as was the case in the previous statewide redistricting. But, to ensure the commission does its job right, it needs sufficient funding and time to complete its work, said LWVNYS President Suzanne Stassevitch, in a letter sent on Tuesday to the state Legislature.

“The League of Women Voters of New York State believes that in order for this commission to fulfill its constitutional obligations, it must receive adequate funding from the state in the 2020-2021 fiscal budget year,” she wrote. That budget is due to be decided by April 1, but is largely determined by the governor’s executive budget, which is typically released in January.

New York’s representation in Congress and the carving and apportionment of legislative districts at the state and local levels are products of the census count. In the 2010 Census, New York’s population was acutely undercounted and the state lost one seat in the House of Representatives.

The subsequent redistricting, by a state Legislative task force, was considered particularly partisan when it came to the state Senate, strengthening rural and suburban representation, which tends to favor Republicans, and weakening the power of Democrat-leaning districts in New York City. Highly-gerrymandered and -disfigured districts can be found all over the state, with Senate districts designed to benefit Republicans and Assembly districts benefiting Democrats. It was adopted by a split Legislature, where Democrats held the Assembly and Republicans controlled the Senate, and ultimately approved by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat. Congressional districts were drawn by a judge-appointed special master after the Legislature could not come to an agreement on proposed maps.

At the same time, as the process faced broad criticism for its opacity and skewed results, the Legislature moved to amend the state constitution and provide for an independent commission to oversee the next redistricting. It was later approved by voters and must be created by February 1, 2020.

However, the state government doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to meeting legally mandated deadlines. A separate commission – the New York State Complete Count Commission – that was meant to create a strategy for census outreach was only named months after its first report was due. The Legislature and governor then allocated $20 million in the April budget for that outreach, far short of what advocates and some legislators had sought. And the commission only submitted its report in early October and did not propose a plan for spending the money, which has yet to be released by Governor Cuomo’s budget office.

“Without timely appointments and adequate state funding, the Independent Redistricting Commission will experience the same dysfunction as the recent New York State Complete Count Commission,” Stassevitch wrote. 

The governor has no say in naming the ten-member redistricting commission, which has strict criteria to ensure independence and a nonpartisan composition, though its design did fall short of what some reformers had sought.

Two members each are meant to be appointed by Democrats Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Republicans Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb. Those eight appointees will then, by a majority vote, choose two members who cannot be part of either major political party. The members, who will all be paid, will choose two co-executive directors, one each to represent Democrats and Republicans. The commission is required to hold at least 12 public meetings in counties across the state.

“We will absolutely fulfil our constitutional obligation and be represented on the Independent Redistricting Commission. While concerns over timeliness are certainly valid, the effectiveness of redistricting will be determined only if the Commission achieves true independence – something Albany has been sorely lacking in these types of endeavors,” said Assembly Minority Leader Kolb, in a statement through a spokesperson.

“If they follow the requirements the commissioners have to meet in order to be appointed, that will take us some way towards a less partisan group,” Stassevitch said in a brief phone interview. “And I think the level of transparency that is required with the public meetings, and also with the choices that can be made for commissioners, I think it's going to do a lot to open up the process to public scrutiny and allow a more robust conversation where it's needed.”

One major change from last time is full Democratic control of the Legislature. In this situation, the law creating the commission protects against one party wielding undue influence over the final district lines by requiring a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber to be adopted, instead of a simple majority.

Stassevitch was optimistic that the process will yield more equitable legislative districts. “The hope is that we can get the voters and the citizens and people in all of these districts at the center of this process instead of the politicians,” she said. “It was meant to be about the people, not about the politicians, and the politicians have had us, across the country in many instances, bamboozled into thinking otherwise for a long time.”

However, even though the commission will follow a nonpartisan process, its recommendations will not be binding. The Legislature could adopt its own plans after rejecting the commission’s proposed district lines twice. This next round will also be the first redistricting to take place after the United States Supreme Court invalidated parts of the Voting Rights Act, which mandated federal approval of redrawn districts in certain counties including Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx.

A spokesperson for Flanagan acknowledged a request for comment but did not provide one. Spokespeople for Stewart-Cousins and Heastie did not respond to requests for comment.

[Read: New York’s New, Untested Redistricting Process Set to Unfold After 2020 Census]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Advocates Remind State Leaders of Approaching Deadline to Name Redistricting Commission Tue, 12 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
State Campaign Financing Commission Holds First Public Meeting https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8752-state-campaign-financing-commission-holds-first-public-hearing https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8752-state-campaign-financing-commission-holds-first-public-hearing govcuomo justice

The State Capitol (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)


The New York State Public Campaign Financing Commission, tasked with devising a voluntary system of public funding for state elections, held its first meeting Wednesday at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan. The commission has inspired a measure of optimism among government reformers that it will limit the influence of money in state elections and reduce pay-to-play politics that have long defined state government.

The commission, which was named in July, was created in this year’s state budget as a compromise between legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo when they could not come to an agreement on the specifics of a public campaign finance system for state elections. Seven of the commission’s nine members were appointed by Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, all Democrats, with each selecting two commissioners and jointly appointing another. Republican minority leaders, Senator John Flanagan and Assembly Member Brian Kolb, each had one appointment.

The goal of the commission is to reduce the sway of large-dollar political donors in elections by incentivizing candidates to seek smaller contributions that can be matched with public funds. It would be modelled after the program administered in New York City’s municipal elections by the Campaign Finance Board, which matches small dollar contributions at a 6-to-1 or 8-to-1 ratio depending on what restrictions candidates opt to operate under.

The state commission is charged with developing a plan to distribute up to $100 million in public funding annually to candidates running for legislative and statewide office. In order to participate in the program, candidates will have to adhere to spending limits, lower contribution limits, and stricter disclosure requirements.

The commission’s mandate also includes examining the state’s fusion voting system, which allows candidates to run on ballot lines for multiple parties at the same time. The system gives third parties such as the Working Families Party and Conservative Party a measure of influence in state elections as candidates seek their endorsement and ballot line. In order to maintain their place on the ballot for four years, the parties must receive at least 50,000 votes in a gubernatorial election, which would be threatened if the state commission moved to end fusion voting.

“I hope and expect...that they deal with public campaign finance where small dollars will be matched at least 6-to-1...and I’m hoping that they do not try to get rid of fusion voting,” Senator Robert Jackson, a Manhattan Democrat, told Gotham Gazette at the meeting. “The bottom line is if...smaller parties are out, then you’re dealing with two parties -- and that’s not democracy,” he added.

The purpose of Wednesday’s meeting, where many of the commissioners met for the first time, was to establish procedures for the work that lies ahead. “The first thing we have to do...is organize ourselves and lay a framework for what the commission is going to do and how it is going to do it,” said Commissioner Jay Jacobs, a Cuomo appointee and the chair of the state Democratic Party.

The commission will hold five sessions to solicit input from members of the public, with the fifth meeting reserved for testimony from invited experts. Its final report is due December 1 and will become binding if legislators do not return from break to modify it within 20 days.

At the outset of the meeting John Nonna, the Westchester County Attorney appointed to the commission by Stewart-Cousins, asked whether the commission had the authority to lower contribution limits for candidates who opt out of a public matching program, “because there’s a relationship there that needs to be taken into account.”

“That’s one of the issues that we’ll have to discuss and see where we go on that. I think that’s an issue before us,” replied Henry Berger, a well-known election lawyer appointed to the commission jointly by Cuomo, Stewart-Cousins, and Heastie.

Another issue raised by commissioners was whether the final plan had to be approved in a single vote of the commission at the end of it’s roughly three-month timeline. Jacobs, who submitted a resolution that aspects of the ultimate proposal cannot be separated into multiple votes, explained his reasoning: “The idea being that this is a package and we have to all agree on the components of the package and we can’t pick it apart à la carte.”

“We’re going to vote on it as a single piece of legislation, and that piece of legislation will probably include a severability clause, they usually do,” Berger later added.

The two commissioners appointed by Republican leaders -- David Previtte, selected by Senator Flanagan, and Kimberly Galvin, chosen by Assembly Member Kolb -- voted against the resolution, which carried.

“I voted against the resolution because I had never seen the resolution,” Galvin told Gotham Gazette after the meeting. “I think it’s unfortunate that at an organizational meeting, one of the commissioners would pull out a resolution and expect an immediate vote when we hadn’t seen it, reviewed it, discussed it or talked about it.”

With the commission also looking at the issue of fusion voting, third parties say they are being targeted by Cuomo. Both the WFP and the Conservative Party, along with a handful of state legislators, have filed lawsuits challenging the commission’s authority to change or even eliminate fusion voting, saying the appointed commission cannot change statutes that have been upheld by the courts. Advocates saw Jacobs’s resolution to package the final proposal as a way to bind the issue of fusion voting with the prospect of a public campaign finance system.

“It's a transparent effort to tie public financing and ending fusion voting together. This is Cuomo's poison pill to eliminate fusion voting,” said WFP executive director Bill Lipton, in a statement addressing the resolution.

The WFP has a sour history with Cuomo. The party backed actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon in her primary challenge against the governor last year and supported progressive state Senate candidates challenging members of the erstwhile Independent Democratic Conference. The now-defunct IDC was a group of eight breakaway Democratic state senators who shared power with Republicans and whose then-leader Senator Jeff Klein was a Cuomo ally, allowing the governor to hold sway in a divided Albany.

During the budget session, Cuomo, who repeatedly said he supported creating a public matching system, raised what fusion voting proponents called unfounded concerns about how a public financing system could be administered, and the effects of independent expenditures and fusion voting on the proposed system. “Cuomo has put fusion in the cross-hairs to attack us. Fortunately, the State Constitution protects this important right,” Lipton said

At the meeting, the commissioners also touched on the need to consider the administrative costs of implementing a state public matching system and methods for receiving and considering public testimony, including public hearing procedures and electronic submissions. In a closed executive session, which came at the end of the hour-long meeting, Galvin said the commission considered the issue of staffing, or a lack thereof. “[W]e just all talked about it and tried to figure out some way to [staff the commission], and I don’t think that’s been resolved yet,” Galvin told Gotham Gazette.

For years, advocates have sought a state-level public financing program. Fair Elections for New York, a coalition of labor unions, good government organizations, and community groups, which led the push for public campaign financing during the legislative session and budget negotiations, rallied outside the building prior to the meeting to push for what they hope to see the commission accomplish.

“We are...committed to expanding the democratic process in this state to make sure that big money donors, that corporate dollars, that real estate do not suffocate our democracy,” said Jawanza Williams of Vocal-NY, a multi-issue community organizing group and member of the Fair Elections coalition.

The coalition called for the commission to create a 6-to-1 matching program for both primary and general elections. The group says the high matching ratio must be accompanied by lower contribution limits for both participating and nonparticipating candidates in order to incentivize small-dollar fundraising and participation in the program. The group would also like to see the commission set up an independent enforcement unit separate from the State Board of Elections, whose commissioners are selected by party leaders and which has been criticized for lacking independence.

On Tuesday, Reinvent Albany, a good government watchdog and member of Fair Elections, issued a list of 18 recommendations for the commission, which include establishing clear and granular expenditure guidelines, and lower contribution limits for party committees and entities with business interests before the state.

The overriding goal of reformers is to limit opportunities for pay-to-play politics, which has only worsened in the decade since the Citizens United decision, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that political contributions are a form of constitutionally protected speech. New York State also had lax campaign finance laws until they were amended earlier this year, and has seen years of unending corruption scandals with lawmakers regularly going to prison.

“We’re here today to let the Commission and the leaders who appointed them know that New Yorkers are paying attention and expect them to craft a model for the nation to lessen the influence of big money and give power back to constituents,” said Laura Friedenbach, deputy campaign manager for the Fair Elections coalition, in a statement.

The Public Campaign Finance Commission will hold four public hearings throughout the state during September and October. The fifth meeting for invited experts has yet to be scheduled.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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State Campaign Financing Commission Holds First Public Meeting Wed, 21 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Two-Tiered Agenda for Democrats If They Take State Senate https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8024-two-tiered-agenda-for-democrats-if-they-take-state-senate https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8024-two-tiered-agenda-for-democrats-if-they-take-state-senate asc and senate dems

Senate Democrats (photo via @nysenatedems)


State Senate Democrats are already contemplating which policies they will pass under a one-party state government, confident they will win big in the upcoming November 6 elections, keeping control of the governor’s office and Assembly, while flipping the upper house of the Legislature. According to one leader of both the government and campaign agendas, Democrats have a general sense of a two-tiered policy agenda they plan to take up if victorious, prioritizing a long list of stalled progressive demands.

Meanwhile, Republicans hoping to cling to their lone stronghold in statewide government, where they currently hold a one-seat majority, campaign on the argument that their control of the Senate is all that is keeping taxpayers from a massive increase in costs, an even more bloated and intrusive state government, and a state virtually run by New York City interests.

State Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who chairs the party’s Senate campaign committee, outlined the preliminary agenda on the Max & Murphy program on WBAI radio, citing a series of policies where there seems to be clear consensus and Democrats could move quickly on long-sought bills, and then other, more contentious and complicated legislation that will likely need extensive consideration and negotiation.

Gianaris said a unified Democratic state government would make “quick progress” in 2019 on the Reproductive Health Act, which expands abortion rights; a “red flag” gun control bill; and voting and campaign finance reforms.

These are among the policies, Gianaris explained, that have been sidelined by the Republican control of the Senate.

“We have lost that opportunity because an artificial Republican majority in the Senate has stopped us from voting on the types of things we should be voting on,” Gianaris said, in apparent reference to the fact that Republicans only had a majority because of their coalition with the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference (which is no more) and the decision by Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn to join the Republican conference, despite the fact that he is a Democrat.

The Reproductive Health Act, which Gianaris mentioned, would essentially pass Roe v. Wade abortion rights into law, something Democrats are especially concerned about given the fear that a new Supreme Court with Justice Brett Kavanaugh will overturn the landmark 1973 abortion decision. The red flag bill would allow teachers and school administrators to petition a judge to remove guns from the homes of students seen as troubled, an additional measure to prevent gun violence in schools.

While he didn’t go into detail on consensus around campaign finance reform, Gianaris did emphasize the need for certain voting reforms.

“We want to make it easier for people to vote,” Gianaris said. “We’re one of the few states that doesn’t have early voting, or automatic registration, or same-day registration or any of the ways that we can improve our democracy.”

Generally, Democrats have been interested in closing the LLC loophole in state campaign finance, reducing individual contribution limits, and creating a system of public campaign financing, perhaps modeled in some way on New York City’s system.

These policies would form at least much of the first wave, according to Gianaris, who said they will be doable prior to or in a deal on the state budget, which generally passes at the end of March. Full Democratic control of the executive and legislative branches would test how well the party can come to agreement on the details of a variety of measures where this is broad support in general terms.

Gianaris, who may be named deputy majority leader to Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins if their campaign efforts are successful, did not indicate he was giving a comprehensive list, and there are several politices that Democrats have appeared eager to pass that he did not mention, such as the Gender Non-Descrimination Act and the Child Victims Act.

Gianaris said the more contentious policies that may require discussion among the Democratic conference and whose chances of passing could depend on how large the conference is, would likely be discussed in earnest post-budget.

Health care and rent regulations were two policy areas mentioned by Gianaris as falling under this category.

“The rent laws expire right around June, if I’m not mistaken, so certainly that is going to create pressure to make those changes before the current laws expire,” Gianaris said, previewing what is expected to be one of the most important issues to New York City residents of the 2019 state session, which will be slated to end in June. In the past, the Democratic State Assembly has passed legislation increasing regulations on landowners in the hopes of helping tenants, while the Senate has generally gone along with extensions of the current laws, with some tweaks.

Part of the MTA Sustainability Task Force, Gianaris and his colleagues are responsible for coming up with recommendations to Governor Cuomo for how to improve the MTA by the end of the year.

Gianaris said the MTA is “obviously something that has bedeviled the state for some time,” and that if Democrats were to win big, it is “hopefully one that we can make some progress on this year.”

A variety of solutions are possible when it comes to dealing with the MTA, with one that comes up in conversation often being congestion pricing, which essentially taxes traffic in hopes of reducing it.

When asked about congestion pricing, Gianaris said it may be a step forward but is not a solution to the entire problem.

“I don’t think that alone is the silver bullet that solves the MTA crisis,” Gianaris said. “So we’ll have some more work to do.” Cuomo has pledged to fight aggressively for congestion pricing to be included in the next state budget, while also saying he’s awaiting the task force’s recommendations and expects New York City to kick in more to fund the MTA’s tens of billions of dollars in needs.

However, as confident as Democrats may be -- Gianaris has said roughly ten seats in the 63-seat Senate could flip their way -- Republicans believe they can hold the chamber, and are arguing that the stakes are incredibly high. In an op-ed written for State of Politics, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan of Long Island outlined what he believes Democrats would do with complete control of the government, and how it would hurt New Yorkers.

Flanagan said Republican hold of the Senate this year would be the “most important firewall in history between every taxpayers’ wallet and government coffers.”

He labeled Democratic policy priorities as socialist, listing single-payer healthcare, and put to the fore several items that Democrats are not listing at the top of their list, such as supervised injection sites for heroin users, campaign finance reform — which he referred to as “taxpayer funded campaigns” — abolishing ICE and the potential for New York to be a “sanctuary state,” which he wrote would be deportation protections “for illegal immigrants who commit aggravated felonies.”

Flanagan also wrote that New York becoming a sanctuary state would make it difficult to fight the international gang MS-13, and that health insurance for all would “double the state’s budget while taking away Medicare from our seniors.”

“Nobody wants to pay a single cent more in taxes, and only a Republican majority will not allow it,” Flanagan wrote.

For his part, Gianaris on Max & Murphy framed Democratic progress as a necessary response to what is happening at the federal level under President Donald Trump and a Republican Congress. “We have an opportunity to lead the nation in standing up for progressive values and pushing back against what’s coming out of Washington,” Gianaris said, “and we have lost that opportunity, in the bluest of blue states,” because of the Republican majority in the state Senate.

Elections Day is November 6.

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

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Two-Tiered Agenda for Democrats If They Take State Senate Sun, 28 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Senate Republicans Leave Molinaro Out of Only Hope Messaging https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8009-senate-republicans-leave-molinaro-out-of-only-hope-messaging https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8009-senate-republicans-leave-molinaro-out-of-only-hope-messaging molinaro golden

Marc Molinaro & Senator Marty Golden campaign (photo: @marcmolinaro)


Republicans fighting to keep control of the state Senate this year have been adamant that their continued majority in the chamber is the only thing standing between New York and socialism. And with the party playing defense in a number of races, there’s a certain logic to motivating voters to come out based on the idea that their district could be the one that determines who controls the entire Senate, especially resonant given the one-seat margin the Republican conference holds.

But the rhetoric around preserving the GOP majority in its lone source of statewide power seems to leave out a major issue: the party also has a gubernatorial candidate in Marc Molinaro, whose election would guarantee a divided government in Albany thanks to the Democratic supermajority in the Assembly. Molinaro may be facing long odds, but to read much GOP messaging, one could easily think the party isn’t running a candidate against Governor Andrew Cuomo at all.

In the most glaring example of this trend, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, of Long Island, wrote an op-ed arguing for continued GOP control of the Senate, casting the majority as “the most important firewall in history between every taxpayers’ wallet and government coffers,” and hitting common themes of higher taxes and government-run health care if Democrats are victorious. While the editorial confidently predicted “when” and not “if” Republicans control the chamber again, it makes no mention of Molinaro’s campaign for governor on the same ticket.

In a pair of stories about the governor’s involvement in close state Senate races, Scott Reif, the Republican Senate conference spokesperson, kept up the messaging that the Senate GOP was the only chance to hold back Democratic ambitions, telling the Daily News that the governor was trying to “create one-man, one-party rule” and that “there will be no accountability, no checks and balances” if Cuomo successfully helps elect a Democratic Senate majority.

"What Andrew Cuomo really wants is absolute power in Albany, and we're the only ones who can stop it," Reif told the News, again leaving out any mention of Molinaro defeating the two-term incumbent. Reif did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Molinaro is of course facing an uphill battle in taking on Cuomo, especially in an environment seen as hostile to Republicans, and recent statewide polling saw him down 58-35 to Cuomo. Republican donors seem to believe his campaign is less of a wise investment than the state Senate, as Republican strategist Chapin Fay told the New York Times that “The funding class are investors, and they want to invest in something where they would see a return,” in a story about how the Senate GOP has greatly outraised Molinaro this year. The Business Council of New York’s PAC endorsed Cuomo over Molinaro at the same time as they endorsed only a single Democrat (of sorts) in Senator Simcha Felder, who has long-conferenced with Republicans, in an otherwise GOP set of state Senate endorsements.

Molinaro, for his part, said that he felt his campaign and the Senate Republicans were on the same page as far as messaging and working together. “Almost all of the members are helping to spread our message, we’re magnifying our resources, and working with Senator Flanagan,” Molinaro told Gotham Gazette following a Monday event in New York City. “The entire Republican conference has been good for us,” he said, favorably comparing the relationship his campaign has with the Senate GOP to the fraught one that the Rob Astorino campaign had in 2014. (Cuomo himself has been more actively campaigning for his party-mates to control the Senate, and Democrats are exceedingly optimistic they can flip the chamber.)

Currently the Dutchess county executive, Molinaro is a former member of the Assembly who was quickly endorsed by some of his former colleagues in the lower chamber of the state Legislature when he entered the race. Molinaro’s entrance fairly quickly led then-frontrunner Senator John DeFrancisco to drop out as Republican leaders from around the state coalesced behind Molinaro. DeFrancisco had been endorsed by Flanagan and several other senators before leaving the race, frustrated and headed toward retirement. Molinaro and Flanagan have not campaigned together.

But Molinaro, or his lieutenant gubernatorial running mate Julie Killian, have made campaign stops with a number of Republican state Senate candidates, like the Hudson Valley’s Annie Rabbitt, Long Island’s Jeff Pravato and Brooklyn’s Marty Golden, all of whom are in tight races for seats that could control the balance of the body.

Molinaro also brought his anti-corruption message to Syracuse in September for an appearance with Republican Bon Antonacci, who’s running to succeed DeFrancisco. Rabbit is a candidate who said she was “absolutely” motivated to run by the prospect of a Democratic Senate, and Antonacci has said a Democratic state Senate means tax hikes and increased state spending, a scenario that’s only possible if there’s a Democratic governor around to agree to them.

Molinaro, while admitting that “any one of us could lose,” also said he wasn’t bothered by the theoretical erasure of his candidacy by state Senate candidates, because there are other balances in the state Legislature to think about beyond the party balance. “I look forward to working with whomever, but I think the balance between the Senate and Assembly is important. The Senate Republican conference tends to focus its attention on upstate and Long Island, so this regional balance that’s created there, I think there’s an important benefit to that,” he said.

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Samar Khurshid and Ben Max contributed to this article.

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Senate Republicans Leave Molinaro Out of Only Hope Messaging Tue, 23 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Democrats in Swing Districts Run On, Not From, Single-Payer Health Care https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7995-despite-lack-of-support-from-cuomo-democrats-in-swing-districts-run-on-not-from-single-payer-health-care https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7995-despite-lack-of-support-from-cuomo-democrats-in-swing-districts-run-on-not-from-single-payer-health-care andrewcuomo affor

Gov. Cuomo & Long Island Democratic Senate candidates (photo: @andrewcuomo)


Since the Affordable Care Act has failed to tame the beast that is America’s private health insurance system, and a new presidential administration is actively hostile to even that modest attempt at near-universal coverage, activists and many Democrats in New York have recently come to embrace a way forward. Single-payer, state-government-administered health care coverage has become something of a rallying cry for progressive activists in New York even as Governor Andrew Cuomo has argued it’s a program better-suited for the federal government to tackle.

While often thought of as a politically risky issue to embrace outside of solidly progressive areas, candidates in swing districts across the state are carrying the torch for single-payer and calling it a morally correct thing to do that will also save the state money. And with criticism of the proposal from Republicans, the issue has become a flashpoint in the battle for control of the New York State Senate, the GOP’s only source of power at the state level and the key for Democrats hoping to enact a long list of progressive goals.

The New York Health Act, the proposed law that would set up single-payer health insurance in New York, has gained momentum in the state Senate after years as an Assembly-focused effort. Every Democrat in the upper chamber of the state Legislature, where the party is in the minority by one seat, signed on to the bill last session.

The push saw added attention as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon made passing the bill a centerpiece of her campaign, although unlike on other issues like legalizing marijuana, Nixon didn’t appear to push Cuomo left on healthcare. But while Nixon and New York City Democrats -- the lead sponsors of the NYHA are Manhattan Assembly Member Dick Gottfried and Bronx Senator Gustavo Rivera -- have received the most attention for their embrace of the plan, Democratic state Senate candidates in the Hudson Valley and Long Island are also running on the passage of the bill despite the risk that an embrace of big government socialism could be a liability in their swing districts.

Conventional wisdom about the relative conservatism in many areas outside of New York City, and Cuomo’s own reluctance to embrace statewide single-payer (during his debate with Nixon he said it is a good idea “in theory,” but that it would double the state’s tax burden and he supports single-payer at the federal level), would suggest that Democrats in tight races would avoid the New York Health Act. Prominent Cuomo-led events where he’s endorsed suburban Democrats haven’t included mention the bill at all, instead focusing on issues like the continuation of the two percent property tax cap, the passage of the Reproductive Health Act and a “red flag” gun control law, and funding an effort to fight the MS-13 gang.

As Cuomo avoided the issue, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan brought up the specter of socialism and high taxes in an op-ed column arguing for the GOP’s continued control of the state Senate. “The Democrat Conference vows to enact single payer health care, and so do all the candidates they are running. Medicaid for All would double the state’s budget while taking away Medicare from our seniors. You cannot support a cap on spending and a permanent cap on property taxes, while supporting budget-doubling policies like socialized medicine.”

But for some suburban Democrats, single-payer is as much of a winning issue as any other. “There's definite support [for the New York Health Act],” said candidate Pete Harckham, running to unseat Republican Terrence Murphy in the Senate’s 40th District, in the Hudson Valley. “People are tired of fighting with insurance companies, hospitals are tired of fighting with insurance companies, doctors are tired of fighting with insurance companies. So I think there's a very high appetite for the discussion and the dialogue with the New York Health Act as the starting place.”

Jen Metzger, running against Ann Rabbit in the 42nd District for the retiring Senator John Bonancic’s Hudson Valley seat, also said that she’s heard support for the bill out on the trail. “I come right out and say I'm a supporter of the New York Health Act and no one has said yet that it's a terrible idea or a scary idea,” Metzger told Gotham Gazette. “People understand that this system is not working and that major change is needed.”

“We've got to put every option on the table, because we're coming to a breaking point,” John Mannion, running against Bob Antonacci in the race to replace retiring Senator John DeFrancisco in western New York’s 50th District, told Gotham Gazette.

Both Metzger and Harckham don’t hedge their support either; each candidate told Gotham Gazette that they view healthcare as a human right and believe in a single-payer insurance system. It’s a view that’s become common enough among Democrats that Andrew Gounardes, running against state Senator Marty Golden in a relatively conservative district in southern Brooklyn, said, “frankly I don’t think it’s out of the mainstream to talk about universal health care in the year 2018,” during a previous interview with Gotham Gazette. Cuomo has also endorsed Gounardes, at a rally in Brooklyn where there was no mention of single-payer healthcare.

Support for the bill, even in districts currently held by Republicans, may not be as much of a liability in a wave year for the candidates who’ve expressed their support for it. The 40th and 50th Districts went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by more than 5 points each, though the 42nd District went for Donald Trump by 5 points.

Gounardes and his primary opponent Ross Barkan were hardly the only New York City Democrats banging the drum for the New York Health Act this primary season. It was one of a slew of issues that challengers to the former members of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) regularly used to explain how the incumbents had not represented progressive values while forming a power-sharing agreement with the Republican conference.

Jessica Ramos promoted single-payer on her website, Alessandra Biaggi explained her support for it using her own father’s Parkinson’s Disease as an example of how the current healthcare system was failing, and Zellnor Myrie promoted a recently-released RAND Corporation study that suggested the New York Health Act would save the state money over time -- all three of them defeated former IDC members in the primary.

Even John Brooks, a Long Island Democrat running a tough re-election campaign for his seat on Long Island states on his website that he supports the New York Health Act, and has called affordable health insurance “a right, not a privilege.” Harckham though, said that the bill has appeal outside of the city because “the economic and the healthcare hardship is the same in the suburbs as it is in the city.”

Just under 5 percent of New Yorkers lack health insurance, according to a recent report by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and 7 million New Yorkers are receiving Medicaid, the federal program administered by the state with localities. Beyond the rhetoric of health insurance as a right and not a privilege, these Democratic candidates are also insisting the move to a single-payer system would actually save taxpayers and businesses money in the long run. “Shifting to a single-payer system would actually reduce property taxes, because it would reduce the cost of local taxes and government costs from how they pay for their employees' health insurance,” Metzger, a member of the Rosendale Town Council, told Gotham Gazette.

This is of course disputed by state Senate Republicans, who have cast the possible change to a single-payer system as a big government takeover of the healthcare sector. “You can’t hold the line on taxes and spending when you’re calling for creation of a new government-run health care system that would double the size of the state budget and cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars more than they already pay,” Senate GOP spokesperson Scott Reif said in response to a Democratic pledge -- signed by Cuomo and Long Island Democratic Senate candidates -- that included a promise to keep property taxes low, but made no mention of single-payer health care.

The RAND Corporation study concluded the change to a single-payer system in New York could (if certain assumptions were made true) save the state money in the long run, as even the bill’s primary sponsor in the Assembly, Gottfried, has said, that payroll and other taxes would need to increase to pay for the new system. The New York Health Act legislation itself doesn’t provide an exact way to pay for the single-payer system, instead authorizing a commission to figure out how to fund the plan should the bill pass. But Mannion posited that it’s not as if health insurance costs are affordable or helpful at the moment.

“I spoke to someone, a small business owner in my district, who said the entire health insurance premium he paid was $300,000 for his employees six years ago, and this year alone it increased by $300,000,” Mannion said, in response to a question on whether he’s prepared to explain tax increases necessary for a single-payer system.

Still, some Democrats are wary to discuss their views on the issue, even if they list it as an issue they’re running on. Jim Gaughran, running against Republican Senator Carl Marcellino in Long Island’s 5th District, called healthcare a right and not a privilege on his website, but did not respond to a request for comment, even after he was reached on his cell phone and promised a return call that did not materialize. The same situation came up with candidates Karen Smythe, whose website calls for universal single-payer, and Pat Strong, who said she would pass the New York Health Act. In the case of Assembly Member James Skoufis, running to represent the 39th Senate District, he’s already voted for the bill more than once in his time in the Assembly, but doesn’t list is as one of his main issues on his campaign website. Skoufis released a campaign ad touting his a fight with insurance companies on behalf of a constituent, but his campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether or not he would support the New York Health Act in the Senate the way he did in the Assembly.

The candidates who spoke to Gotham Gazette did insist that even if they won and Democrats capture a majority in the state Senate, voters shouldn’t expect an immediate passage of the bill in the first budget session.

“During the gubernatorial primary, Cynthia Nixon said ‘Oh just pass [the bill] and pay for it,’ but that's not how you pass and craft legislation,” Harckham said, referring to when Nixon told the Daily News editorial board “Pass it and then figure out how to fund it” when its members asked her about the New York Health Act. “My starting point is New York Health, and let's sit down with the experts. The Assembly has passed this version, so it's pretty far along, but that doesn't mean the Senate can't alter it,” she continued. “Let's do our due diligence, with the goal of providing universal single-payer coverage for all New Yorkers.”

Harckham did say, though, that he felt “two years of legislative time” is long enough to debate and pass a bill, which he called a first-term priority on his website (state legislative terms are two years long).

“The Assembly bill has to be revamped, and we have get it right,” Mannion said. A spokesperson for Mannion later told Gotham Gazette that “getting it right” meant that Mannion believed “a transition from the current system to universal coverage as per the bill would likely require a transitional period in which purchasing into a Medicare-for-all like system would be a possible step, including offering that option on the NY State of Health exchange website.” That website is currently where New Yorkers can purchase health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

And even though the governor has said he prefers single-payer on a federal level, Metzger said there might be hope of convincing him to embrace the New York Health Act by playing to his love of New York being first. “I think we can show that [single-payer] can be done, I think there's a lot of value in demonstration value,” Metzger said. “It's been these academic debates in this country for a long time. If anyone can do it, I think New York can do it.”

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

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Democrats in Swing Districts Run On, Not From, Single-Payer Health Care Mon, 15 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
State Board of Elections Curtails Power of Enforcement Counsel https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7852-state-board-of-elections-curtails-power-of-enforcement-counsel https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7852-state-board-of-elections-curtails-power-of-enforcement-counsel gov and cuomo coughlin votes

(Photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)


The State Board of Elections voted on Wednesday to hobble the subpoena powers of Chief Enforcement Counsel Risa Sugarman, dealing a significant blow to one of the state’s only election law watchdogs.

The new rules, which were voted on by the board at a commissioners’ meeting in Albany, would require Sugarman to obtain permission from the board members (two Democrats, two Republicans) for each subpoena she plans to issue in a probe, and for the “circumstances of the investigation” to be divulged to the members. Previously, the board approved Sugarman’s ability to make subpoenas in probes, but she was given latitude to make individual subpoenas within a probe.

The new rule also requires that Sugarman provide regular reports to the board members detailing metrics related to her investigations, and for investigations to be limited to six-month timeframes. Sugarman is the first and only person to hold the relatively new position at the board.

She has, in the past, criticized the proposed rule changes as being designed to hobble the powers given to her in 2014, after Governor Andrew Cuomo and Legislature passed a law designed to depoliticize the BOE’s enforcement process.

"These amendments would allow the politically partisan commissioners of the SBOE to impose their own political will on the independent chief enforcement counsel's investigations," Sugarman said in a June letter to the board, obtained by the Albany Times-Union.

The final vote on the measure was 3-1 in favor, with Democratic appointee Andrew Spano dissenting. Before the vote, Sugarman provided sharply critical testimony wherein she accused the board members of attempting to hobble a crucial state watchdog.

“By your vote today, you will send a message,” she said, saying that a “yes” vote would stand for partisan intervention into independent oversight, while a “no” vote would stand for “fair and complete investigations.” Sugarman said that the rescission of unmitigated subpoena power, as well as reporting requirements and a six-month timeframe for investigations, would hobble the enforcement counsel’s ability to fairly investigate campaign finance violations.

Sugarman claimed that the regulations would slow the pace of investigations by requiring approval of subpoenas by the BOE, and would hinder the independence of the investigation by needing approval from partisan appointees. In effect, the commissioners, not the enforcement counsel, would “control the course and content of an investigation,” she said.

Sugarman brought up supporters of her fight against the new regulations: seven state residents who submitted public comment, gubernatorial candidate and former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, the Office of the New York Attorney General, good government groups Reinvent Albany and Rochester for All, five members of the former Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, three District Attorneys, and attorney Milton Williams.

“Gutting the Enforcement Counsel’s authority and independence will only serve to encourage more corruption in New York,” Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement. “Our partnership with a strong, independent Enforcement Counsel has allowed us to hold public officials to account for breaking campaign finance laws and cheating New Yorkers. With today’s vote, that work is jeopardized by potential political interference in law enforcement investigations.”

Governor Cuomo, too, opposed the new regulations, expressing his opinion just before the board meeting, though it had been sought for weeks.

“‎We reviewed these draft regulations and believe they are unnecessary and ‎could harm the operations and the independence of the enforcement counsel's office,” Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens said in a statement on Wednesday morning. “We don't support their adoption and, believe that today's vote should be delayed and members should go back to the drawing board to address these concerns. The Democratic members of the Board of Elections have been informed of our stance."

Spokespeople for Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan did not respond to requests for comment.

The enforcement counsel was created to independently deliberate election law violations, instead of leaving the job to the partisan board of elections. After Cuomo faced intense controversy for his shuttering of the Moreland Commission, interpreted by many as a reaction to investigations into his administration or people close to him, he and legislative leaders Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos (both now convicted of public corruption) fostered the creation of the enforcement counsel as a compromise.

Regardless, the members of the board criticized Sugarman, saying that her office was inadequately enforcing campaign finance law. Douglas Kellner, the Democratic co-chair of the board, said that enforcement had “effectively stopped” since 2014, the year the enforcement counsel was created, in the areas of deficiencies and non-filings of campaign finance disclosures.

Kellner and other board members said that despite thousands of referrals to Sugarman, only a few dozen hearings had been commenced.

“It’s beyond me why there has not been public outrage at the fact that this has happened,” Kellner said, singling out good government groups for a lack of criticism. Kellner said that he had spoken to good government groups who were in support of the new rule, but did not say which ones.

"I think it's pretty clear that I'm fed up with the current process of the enforcement unit,” Kellner said. “I call upon people in the good government groups...to look at the numbers. Look at the numbers of non-filers, and to how enforcement counsel has handled those non-filers."

One of those government reform groups, Reinvent Albany, issued a statement Wednesday expressing opposition to “the sections of the proposed rules which create new procedures for the chief enforcement counsel to issue subpoenas to persons and committees being investigated for violations of Election or other laws.”

“We believe these procedures will slow or terminate important investigations of alleged violations of Election Law,” the statement continues. “The Board should not seek to undercut the independence of the chief enforcement counsel, who has investigated types of cases not previously taken on by the Election Law enforcement unit of the Board.”

Reinvent Albany supports, however, “the sections related to reporting enforcement activity but believe reporting should be made public and expanded to include all aspects of compliance and

enforcement by the State and county boards of election. The Board currently does not report much, if any, compliance and enforcement activity to the general public, and it should do so as is done by other state agencies while respecting the rights of the accused.”

Republican co-chair Peter Kosinski said that the six-month timetable was necessary in order for voters to know who they were voting for, and whether they had not committed election law violations; Sugarman had earlier said that the timeframe was “arbitrary.”

However, Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, who submitted testimony against the new rule, said in an op-ed for loHud in July that board members had admitted in 2013 to only undertaking a single probe in the preceding four years. According to the 2015 Board of Elections annual report, Sugarman received board authorization to seek subpoenas in 19 probes in 2015, with nine cases being referred for possible prosecution. The 2017 report noted that Sugarman had received subpoena authorization in four cases and referred one for prosecution.

The 2013 annual report, before the enforcement counsel position was created, lists no subpoenas or prosecutions.

The board also voted on Wednesday to implement new regulations on political advertising on social media platforms, rules that follow the adoption of a new law passed in this year’s state budget. The new rules will ban foreign entities from purchasing digital ads on social media platforms, and will require ad buyers to register an independent expenditure committee; the board will require that IE’s name be displayed prominently on the ad, as having paid for it.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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State Board of Elections Curtails Power of Enforcement Counsel Wed, 08 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Democratic Campaign Chief: Even a ‘Blue Trickle’ Will Flip State Senate https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7758-democratic-campaign-chief-even-a-blue-trickle-will-flip-state-senate https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7758-democratic-campaign-chief-even-a-blue-trickle-will-flip-state-senate gianaris via facebook

Senator Gianaris and colleagues (photo via Gianaris Facebook)


Predictions of a nationwide “blue wave” of anti-Trump sentiment resulting in major Democratic gains have been tempered as the president maintains strong support among Republicans and the economy, broadly speaking, is going strong.

But even if the blue wave ends up being more like a trickle, that would be good news to state Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who chairs the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) and needs to net just one seat this fall to take control of the chamber and thus the entire Legislature.

In an interview as the end of session and official start of campaign season approached, Gianaris said Republicans have been holding on to numerous seats by slim margins.

“By virtue of the gerrymandering that’s happened here in New York in the Senate, Republican districts are stretched so thin and their margins of victory are always so narrow that a trickle is enough for us to make a difference,” he told Gotham Gazette.

“It’s just a question of degrees. Any tip in our favor will lead to more seats in our hands, and we’re one seat shy. So, we’re very optimistic,” he said, echoing a sentiment shared by Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who could become the first woman and first woman of color to lead the Senate if the Democrats take control.

Gianaris said the DSCC won’t start investing in individual Democrats’ campaigns until late summer or early fall. He mentioned numerous seats the committee might target throughout the state, though it is yet to make a decision about Senator Simcha Felder and his Brooklyn district.

Republicans are blocking Democrats from controlling the chamber thanks to Felder, who is a registered Democrat and has repeatedly run on the Democratic line, but caucuses with Republicans. Felder ran unopposed in 2016 and appeared on both major party ballot lines.

At their state nominating convention last month, Democrats passed resolutions to kick Felder out of the party and support a challenger to him. He is still running as a Democrat, though.

While Gianaris called Felder’s seat “a hostile district” -- and he faces a Democratic primary challenger, Blake Morris -- Gianaris said the DSCC was still waiting to determine if it would get involved in the race.

“What we’re evaluating is, is beating Felder in a primary more or less likely than winning some of these general election contests?” Gianaris said. “We have a lot of opportunities on our plate.”

Most of those opportunities appear to be outside the five boroughs -- there are just three members of the Senate Republican conference that represent New York City districts -- Senators Felder, Marty Golden, and Andrew Lanza.

Gianaris also shied away from committing to either of the Democrats in the other potentially intriguing New York City general election Senate race, for Golden’s Brooklyn seat (Lanza, of Staten Island, is not seen as beatable). The incumbent has provoked a streak of damaging headlines -- ranging from alleged threats against a bicyclist to parachuting while receiving disability payments -- providing Democratic challengers Ross Barkan and Andrew Gounardes plenty of fodder for attacks.

“There’s one blunder after another that will make that race even more possible than usual,” said Gianaris.

But he added, “I try to look at it coldly. As long as I pick up the seats I need, which right now is one...I’m agnostic as to where it comes from.”

Golden ran unopposed in 2016. He won easily in 2014 and 2012, when he beat Gounardes by a decisive margin.

As this year’s legislative session ended, the Senate -- Republicans’ only stronghold at the state level given Democratic control of the Assembly and all four statewide positions -- was deadlocked 31-31 between Republicans and Democrats since the GOP’s 32nd senator, Tom Croci of Long Island, was called to active duty with the Navy last month. Through the fall elections, Democrats must net just one seat to take the majority in the chamber for the first time in nearly a decade. Depending on the results of the gubernatorial race -- no Republican has been governor since 2006 -- Democratic control of the upper chamber could pave the way for passage of a slew of the party’s priorities.

Gianaris indicated Democrats are likely to focus on two Long Island seats where the incumbent won by razor-thin margins two years ago: Republican Senator Carl Marcellino, who won parts of Nassau and Suffolk Counties by less than 1 percent of the vote; and Democrat Senator John Brooks, who won by an even smaller margin.

Gianaris also pointed to the high number of Republicans who have announced they aren’t seeking reelection. In addition to Croci, they include John Bonacic of the Hudson Valley, John DeFrancisco of Syracuse, William Larkin of Orange County, and Kathy Marchione of Saratoga. Not all of the seats are in play for Democrats, but some appear to be.

Gianaris is also eyeing Republican seats that Democrats have won in the past - the 46th district outside Albany, currently held by George Amedore; and the 41st district in the Hudson Valley, where Sue Serino is the incumbent.

“Before you know it, you’re looking at 10 to 12 pockets of opportunity on offense and, effectively, the only seat we have to defend is John Brooks,’” he said.

Senate Democrats have crowed over Republicans’ resignation announcements, saying they show the GOP knows it’s doomed this year. A Senate Republican spokesperson did not answer a request for comment for this article.

Senator John Flanagan, the Senate majority leader, has tried to sound a confident note amid the flurry of resignations.

"New Yorkers know that our Majority is the only thing standing in the way of the New York City politicians implementing an agenda that will hurt our economy and make life more difficult for hardworking middle-class taxpayers," he told the New York Daily News. "We will succeed in November and maintain our majority so the true priorities of New Yorkers continue to be put first."

Senate Democrats increased their ranks in April, when the group of eight renegades known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) ended its coalition with Republicans and rejoined the mainstream Democratic fold, taking the conference from 23 to 31 members. The move came as nearly all of the IDC members faced primary challengers who decried them as “Trump Democrats” willing to empower Republicans in order to gain perks at the expense of progressive values.

Gianaris was one of the strongest critics of the IDC during its seven-year alliance with Republicans, and he was part of a long-term feud with Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the IDC. But Gianaris said the DSCC has no intention of supporting challengers like Alessandra Biaggi, who is running against Klein, of the Bronx, as long as the ex-IDC members don’t break their promises.

Gianaris noted that Senator Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic leader, is supporting all members of her conference, including former IDC members, a point she recently stressed during a Gotham Gazette/City Limits podcast appearance.

“At this point, the former IDC members are members of our conference,” Gianaris said. “We’ve committed to not opposing them.”

Asked whether he would go so far as to discourage Democrats from challenging ex-IDC members, Gianaris declined to comment.

“Everyone seems to be on their best behavior on both sides and there seems to be genuine effort to work cooperatively and get to where we’re trying to go, so hopefully that continues,” he said of the Democratic conference since ex-IDC members rejoined it.

Asked whether he actually trusts the former IDC members -- who reneged on campaign promises to quit their alliance with Republicans in 2014 -- Gianaris said with a laugh, “I’ve come to trust very few people in politics.”

“But I can say…there’s been action behind the words. Hopefully that holds,” he added.

As in previous years’ elections, the Republican campaign committee has much more cash than the Democrats do -- $1,549,017.70 compared to $691,274.46, according to the latest disclosure reports.

However, Gianaris said trends are favoring Democrats this year.

“That gap is much smaller than it would normally be,” he said. “I think we’re about a half-million ahead of pace and they’re a million below pace, if you went back to 2016.”

Around this time in the 2016 election cycle, Republicans had more than $2 million and Democrats had a little over $225,000.

True to his role as Democratic cheerleader, Gianaris said he’s confident this year will bring a “blue wave” to the state.

“All around the country, Democrats are performing at a higher clip than would normally be expected,” he said. “I think it’s a legitimate wave.”

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

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Democratic Campaign Chief: Even a ‘Blue Trickle’ Will Flip State Senate Thu, 21 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Furthering Split from Cuomo, Senate Passes Reform Bills https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7666-furthering-split-from-cuomo-senate-passes-reform-bills https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7666-furthering-split-from-cuomo-senate-passes-reform-bills flanagan via nysenate

Senate Majority Leader Flanagan and colleagues (photo: @nysenate)


The Republican-led New York State Senate, which for years had a collaborative working relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo, passed a slew of government transparency and accountability bills on Wednesday that further highlighted the GOP majority’s recent split with the governor.

The package of 11 bills, covering everything from campaign contributions to state contracting processes, made its way through the chamber and was sent for approval to the Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats under Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx. Several of the bills have companion legislation in the Assembly and some have even been approved by that chamber. But it’s unclear how the Assembly will vote on the entire package. A spokesperson for Heastie did not respond to a request for comment.

Some of the bills clearly target Cuomo, particularly one directly related to the executive chamber, who has fallen out with Republicans since he ushered the reunification of a divided Democratic conference in the chamber last month and pledged a full-throated campaign to seize control of the upper chamber through the elections this fall. Other bills are intended to end the type of pay-to-play practices laid bare in the recent corruption conviction of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Cuomo, and that will likely feature heavily in the upcoming corruption trial of Alain Kaloyeros, another former Cuomo ally.

“It is imperative that the public trusts the actions of their public officials, especially when it comes to spending the people’s money,” said Senator John Flanagan of Long Island, the Republican majority leader, in a statement after the legislative package was approved. “This extensive package would help fix many of the issues that lead to corruption and the misuse of taxpayer funds and will create a system where sound investments will be better able to grow our economy and create more opportunities for all New Yorkers.”

In an op-ed in State of Politics on Monday, Flanagan made clear his differences with Cuomo, “whose unbridled ambition for higher office leaves every New York taxpayer in danger,” he wrote. He criticized the governor for tacking hard to the left because of the primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon. “For years, the Governor worked with me in a bipartisan manner to find common ground and move our state forward. But, I no longer recognize the person who occupies this office,” Flanagan said.

Taking direct aim at the governor’s office, one of the bills passed on Wednesday would prohibit executive chamber appointees and members of their households from making campaign contributions to, or soliciting them for, the same executive who appointed them. Without naming Cuomo, the bill cites a New York Times report that highlighted the governor’s practice of accepting such contributions despite a standing executive order from years ago that prohibited them. Cuomo’s office has presented a much narrower interpretation of the order than has been indicated in the past.

Another bill would limit political donations from individuals or entities applying for state grants, licenses, and contracts to those officials and candidates who would approve them.  

Another requires appointees to Regional Economic Development Councils -- controversial entities created by Cuomo in 2011 to encourage local economic initiatives -- to file the same financial and ethics disclosures as public officers. The bill would also codify REDCs into law. “It is vitally important that we put laws in place that prevent conflicts of interest with taxpayer dollars,” said bill sponsor Senator Thomas Croci, a Republican from Long Island.

Croci also sponsored another bill in the package to create an online public database of projects that receive state subsidies and economic development benefits. Also known as the “database of deals,” the proposal was included in the Assembly’s one-house budget earlier this year but did not pass.

Most of the bills relate to transparency in government contracting and ensuring greater accountability for taxpayer dollars. One of the bills, termed the “New York State Procurement Integrity Act” -- which also has an Assembly counterpart -- reinstates the state Comptroller’s pre-clearance oversight jurisdiction of contracting by SUNY, CUNY, and the state Office of General Services, as well as expands his authority over SUNY Research Foundation contracts worth more than $1 million. It also forbids state-affiliated not-for-profits from awarding state contracts without prior authorization. These bills relate directly to issues that will be front and center in the Kaloyeros trial, which involves the governor’s signature economic development programs, namely the Buffalo Billion, and alleged bid-rigging therein.

One of the bills mandates that the Public Authorities Control Board be given more information before approving funding for any job creation projects, including any provisions that would allow the state to clawback funding if the project’s stated goals aren’t met.

The START-UP NY program, another Cuomo initiative, would have to resume reporting annually on its work under the provisions of another bill. Yet another bill creates a nonpartisan Independent Budget Office to analyze state revenue and expenditures.

Most of the bills seem intended to curtail the powers of the executive branch and of state agencies under its control. For instance, a bill sponsored by Senator Joseph Griffo would define how long, and how often, an interim appointee can serve at the head of a state agency or department. Another bill would limit the ability of state agencies to declare a public emergency unless necessary to protect the health and safety of the public.

Only one bill had a Democrat as lead sponsor -- Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan -- mandating that the state budget division prepare a Unified Economic Development Budget each year showing how much the state has invested in economic development projects and the results of those investments. It is a measure that watchdogs, especially Citizens Budget Commission, have sought in order for the public to have more information about how successful the state’s economic development initiatives are.

A group of government reform advocates and independent fiscal watchdogs including the CBC praised in particular the “database of deals” and the Public Integrity Act, calling on the state Assembly to approve them. That group also includes Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, Fiscal Policy Institute, League of Women Voters, NYPIRG, and Reinvent Albany.

“Both these bills will be effective in reducing the corruption risk of economic development projects that taxpayers spend billions of dollars on,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy adviser for Reinvent Albany. “They’re good policy. The governor should support them.”

Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the Senate package. The governor has proposed his own reform agenda in recent years that includes elements aimed at the Legislature, as well as more sweeping campaign finance reform, government ethics measure, and voting reforms. The governor has indicated a top priority for him is banning outside income for legislators. Most of those proposals have seen less support in the Senate than the Assembly.

[Read: Post-Percoco Conviction, Kaloyeros Trial Likely to Further Stain Cuomo Administration]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Furthering Split from Cuomo, Senate Passes Reform Bills Wed, 09 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Key Takeaways: How the State Budget Impacts New York City https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7587-key-takeaways-how-the-state-budget-impacts-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7587-key-takeaways-how-the-state-budget-impacts-new-york-city Cuomo

(photo: The Governor's Office)


Early Saturday morning, the New York State Legislature finalized a new $168 billion budget ahead of the April 1 start to the 2019 fiscal year. The process to agree on the budget heavily involved four men -- Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein -- in the usual largely closed-door process.

When a deal was reached, the various parties sought to claim victories, including, for the Senate GOP, about what was not in the budget. The list of stated priorities for Cuomo, Heastie, and Mayor Bill de Blasio that were not included is indeed fairly long, and includes criminal justice, election, and campaign finance reforms; additional taxes and more speed cameras around city schools; and much more. 

But, along with the basics of a spending plan that funds state government and sends aid to localities, chiefly for education and Medicaid, there was quite a bit that did make it into the budget deal.

Cuomo is touting the budget’s inclusion of added funding for New York City public housing (NYCHA), anti-sexual harassment legislation, and a new state tax code that aims to blunt the impact of the new federal tax code. The governor, who is seeking a third term this year, is also boasting about measures to remove guns from those convicted of domestic violence, what he calls a first step toward a fuller congestion pricing plan for New York City, and more.

“The budget hit the priorities that we had set out,” Cuomo said Friday night in Albany after the budget passed. “When we started we said, number one, we have to defend against that federal tax increase, number two invest in education, three fight sexual harassment, four protect our democratic process, safeguard the environment, and grow the economy.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, for his part, called the new state budget a “mixed bag” for the city. Though de Blasio was forced into sending more than $400 million to the MTA for the Subway Action Plan, he commended the governor for heeding his call to allocate more resources to the ailing subway system. 

“When it comes to the subways, Mayor de Blasio has always demanded two things: significant movement by the state toward a real plan, and a dedicated lockbox so city riders' money goes toward fixing city subways,” said de Blasio spokesperson Eric Phillips in a statement to Gotham Gazette on Monday. “This budget appears to respond to the Mayor’s demands on behalf of the city’s straphangers. There are no excuses left for the Governor to hide behind. He must do his job and fix the subways.”

It was a sentiment de Blasio presented during a NY1 appearance Monday night. There are a number of provisions in the budget that de Blasio disagrees with, including an impending independent monitor to oversee the spending of the new NYCHA funds. The mayor also said he’s disappointed about measures that did not make it into the budget, like the additional speed cameras that he says would save lives.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson were pleased that the city would pay for half of the Subway Action Plan. “For months and months since, we’ve continuously released alarming reports that have spotlighted the delays underground, the economic ramifications of slowdowns, and the crisis in our transportation systems. Each time, we’ve continued to call for the full funding of the emergency plan. It has always been the right thing to do,” Stringer said in a press release on Friday. “Today, it appears action is finally happening. We’re glad to see the City taking this step forward.”

“I applaud @NYCMayor Bill de Blasio for this decision,” Johnson tweeted on Saturday of the move to agree to pay the 418 million toward mending the subway. “As I've said for months, the subways are in crisis and we must work together towards a solution.”

The MTA Action Plan funding the city will put forth is one of a number of key takeaways from the state budget for New York City.

More Transportation
While the budget included a surcharge on for-hire vehicles, such as taxis and Ubers, traveling below 96th Street in Manhattan, there is no comprehensive congestion pricing plan. After reversing course on congestion pricing last summer, Governor Cuomo formed the Fix NYC Advisory Panel, which recommended a comprehensive congestion pricing plan with three phases over three years; Cuomo never officially endorsed the plan. 

The governor faced headwinds in both the Assembly and Senate, and the budget includes only the surcharge on for-hire vehicles, aimed at reducing traffic in Manhattan and producing an estimated $400-plus million in annual revenue for the MTA. In addition, the budget includes funding for over 50 new bus lane enforcement cameras.

NYCHA
The budget includes a new $250 million investment in the troubled New York City Housing Authority. Governor Cuomo in March vowed not to sign a budget that didn’t include additional funding for NYCHA as he assailed de Blasio and NYCHA leadership for its management and the crises at public housing, notably those related to lead paint and heat, as well as mold and general disrepair. The new money will be added to previously allocated state funding that hasn’t been spent, totaling $550 million. 

The money comes with a catch, though: spending will be overseen by an outside private contractor chosen by the mayor, the City Council, and NYCHA tenant leadership.

“In the situation of NYCHA, it’s so bad that New York State has stepped in,” Cuomo said. Cuomo declared a state of emergency for NYCHA in an executive order on Monday.

“When I go, cameras come,” he said in his state Capitol Red Room announcement of a budget deal on Friday night, around 9 p.m., “and I wanted New Yorkers to see how deplorable these conditions were.”

The new state investments and oversight come as the federal government has also added checks on NYCHA operations, with more possibly coming soon as the result of an ongoing federal investigation.

Some have connected Cuomo’s recent interest in NYCHA -- he’s made more visits in the last month than in his prior seven years as governor combined -- to both an opportunity to vilify his rival de Blasio and the primary challenge he’s now facing from Cynthia Nixon, who also recently visited NYCHA, as the guest of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Nixon said there should be a $1 billion state investment.

The Assembly’s one-house budget had included $275 million in additional funding for NYCHA, while the Senate’s had included no additional funding.

The state budget also gives NYCHA design-build authority for critical repairs, allowing for a streamlined procurement and construction process and should help speed timelines for things like boiler replacements.

Design-Build
Speaking of design-build, the budget allows the City of New York to use it in three areas: NYCHA, Rikers Island replacement jails, and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. 

Design-build allows both the design and construction of a capital project to be consolidated into one contract for one firm, shortening the project timeline, decreasing costs, and increasing efficiency. This stands in contrast to the currently allowed procurement process of design-bid-build, which requires separate bids for the design and construction aspects of a capital project.

The city has asked for design-build authority for all of its capital projects, or for a longer list than the three, but has long been met with heavy resistance from the state Legislature and a seemingly limited push by Cuomo, who had omitted design-build for the city from his January budget proposal despite continually touting its impact on state projects. The state has used design-build for several of its recent high profile capital projects, such as the Tappan Zee Bridge and the Kosciuszko Bridge.

Design-build authority should allow the city to speed its ten-year plan for closing Rikers Island jails completely, and will allow it to make long-planned, critical infrastructure repairs to the BQE. On the latter, city DOT Commissioner and MTA Board member Polly Trottenberg has estimated savings of $113 million and a construction timeline shortened by two years.

Penn Station
The governor’s transit zone value capture proposal to fund the MTA, which faced major criticism from city elected officials as a raid on city property tax revenue, did not make it into the final budget. But a somewhat related and also controversial measure did make it into the budget: the state has more authority around Penn Station, though not nearly as much as Cuomo had sought in a last-minute proposal, according to de Blasio. The mayor said Monday night on NY1 that what was passed was nothing like what Cuomo had floated that would have given the state authority over a wide swath of land -- reaction from city officials had been swift and harsh. 

In the budget announcement Friday night, Cuomo framed the issue as a matter of safety, acknowledging, though, that the final language dealt more with Penn Station itself than the surrounding area.

“This is not just a transportation issue this is a public safety issue,” Cuomo said. “Current Penn Station is dangerous especially in this age of terrorism.” The administration claimed that Penn’s poor infrastructure and layout, and heavy congestion, was an attractive target for a terrorist attack, and that the state needed to utilize eminent domain in order to reduce security threats.

Education
The state’s public schools will see an increase of $1 billion in school aid in the new budget. This is above the governor’s originally proposed $769 million increase and the Senate’s proposed $717 million increase, but below the Assembly’s proposed $1.5 billion increase. Out of the $1 billion increase, New York City will receive $334 million, bringing the state’s total funding for New York City schools to $10.54 billion, including $7.76 billion in Foundation Aid. 

Cuomo also won a significant new oversight power over the city’s schools. The budget requires certain school districts, such as New York City, to report spending of state funds on a per-school basis. Cuomo has argued that the issue with schools funding is one that can be fixed with better management, not more money.

“How much did the high performing schools in this borough get? How much does a student in the chronically failing school get? We’ve never had that conversation,” he said on The Brian Lehrer Show in late March. “And you can’t even find the information. And I said, in this budget, in January, ‘that’s the relevant conversation.’ It’s not how much money do you spend, we spend more than anybody else.”

Cuomo originally proposed a more far-reaching program that would require the state to approve budgets for large school districts.

De Blasio doesn’t buy Cuomo’s argument, and has said there is more information about school spending already available than Cuomo recognizes. In his own appearance on The Brian Lehrer Show, de Blasio criticized the governor for continuing to fail to fulfill the terms of a decade-old court ruling mandating more equitable funding for schools statewide.

“Of course it’s about the money,” de Blasio said. “The governor often likes to put out these ideas without having the facts behind them. There’s a huge amount of information that is publicly available on how much we spend on each school.”

Total education spending by the state in the enacted budget is $26.7 billion.

Beyond school aid, it also includes a $50 million increase in funding for community schools and a $15 million increase for pre-kindergarten, as well as investments in the No Student Goes Hungry program, after-school programs, and an $81 million increase in charter school funding. An expansion of the state’s school breakfast program will allow the city, which already has a “Breakfast After The Bell” program in elementary schools, to expand to middle schools and high schools, according to a statement from Hunger Free America.

Criminal Justice
Cuomo’s criminal justice reform package is entirely absent from the enacted budget, a blow to New York City leaders and advocates who have been among the loudest voices calling for things like bail reform and tying them to closing the jails on Rikers.

Cuomo had proposed a eliminating money bail for nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors, but despite support from the Assembly the Senate would not allow the measure through.

The same goes for Cuomo’s proposed reform of the state’s maligned discovery process, which would have required timely sharing of potentially exculpatory information by prosecutors with the defense but had been criticized by advocates for giving prosecutors a virtually unlimited right to redact information; the proposed speedy trial reform, which would have expedited the court process in order to avoid long pretrial detention; and the proposal to add strict limitations on asset seizure by police and new programs to support re-entry into society by ex-convicts.

The budget cuts the state’s $41 million funding of the Close to Home program, which places incarcerated juveniles in rehabilitation facilities in or close to the city in order to keep them close to their families and maintain continuity and help them advance and transition. As noted by Chronicles of Social Change, the cut comes just as New York’s juvenile detention facilities are preparing for an influx of new detainees, since the recently passed Raise the Age legislation will place 16- and 17-year-old offenders in the juvenile justice system rather than the adult criminal justice system.

Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner David Hansell referred to the cuts as “troubling,” according to New York Nonprofit Media. Other proposed cuts to child welfare services at ACS that were in Cuomo’s executive budget did not come to fruition.

The Child Victims Act, which would significantly lengthen the statute of limitations on prosecuting childhood sexual abuse and would create a year-long “lookback period” to re-open “time-barred” cases, also failed to make it into the budget. Despite the governor’s heavy support for the bill and the backing of celebrities, victims, and advocates, the CVA was once again killed by Senate Republicans, with the backing of the Catholic Church. Senate Majority Leader Flanagan said on The Capitol Pressroom radio program on Tuesday that his conference is open to continuing discussions about a change in the law.

The highest profile criminal justice item to make it into the budget is a ban on sex between police officers and individuals in police custody. This was spurred by the alleged sexual assault of Anna Chambers, who said she was raped by two NYPD officers while in their custody. The defendants, Richard Hall and Eddie Martins, who each quit the force days before a scheduled internal trial, claimed in their defense that the sex was consensual. The new state law makes it illegal regardless of any notion of consent.

Health Care
According to Cuomo, the budget includes $18.9 billion in state Medicaid spending. Much of the state’s Medicaid program is funded by the federal government; the total cost of the state’s Medicaid program is in excess of $70 billion.

The budget includes $1.1 billion in funding for Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital, a federal program that disperses funds to hospitals that serve a large number of patients who are either uninsured or on Medicaid. Last year, New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation received $360 million in DSH funds withheld by the state in the midst of proposed federal cuts to the program. The state, facing a $4 billion deficit, suggested the city tap into its own reserves to finance the ailing city hospital network.

As the budget wrapped up, the Cuomo administration and the Legislature negotiated a deal that would enable the government to capture $2 billion from the sale of health care provider Fidelis to Centene Corporation. Fidelis, which is operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, is a Medicaid provider; the government argued that, since the business was built on selling government health insurance plans, the state is entitled to a substantial portion of the sale. As such, the state will be able to capture some 53% of the $3.75 billion sale price, key to helping the state close the budget deficit it was facing.

Taxes
New York State and New York City are notoriously high-tax jurisdictions and the recently-passed federal tax bill compounds the phenomenon, city and state officials have said, especially for upper middle-class and high-income earners. Cuomo made it a top priority to ensure New Yorkers face as little addition tax burden as possible by “protecting taxpayers against federal tax changes.”

On this front, the budget includes attempted workarounds to help New Yorkers avoid bearing the burden of the reduction of SALT, or state and local tax deductions from federal taxes. The budget decouples state and local taxes from the federal code, will allow employers to pay an optional payroll tax to help employees reduce their income taxes, and creates new charitable giving entities where New Yorkers can give to offset their taxes and receive a corresponding tax credit from the state. It is unclear how well these measures will work, given that employers have to opt in on the payroll measure and the IRS will have to weigh in on the charitable deductions.

"New York will also become the first state to implement new measures to shield families from the devastating federal tax law's elimination of full state and local deductibility — an economic arrow aimed at the heart of this state's economy,” the governor said in a press release. Cuomo has said his top priority is repeal of the new federal tax code, or at least of the SALT cap, now at $10,000, which would likely require Democrats to take control of Congress and the White House.

Anti-Harassment Legislation
As the country struggles with how best to confront rampant sexual harassment in workplaces, New York state lawmakers pledged to enact legislation aimed at preventing and punishing sexual harassment in public and private work environments. “We put into place the strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation, ending once and for all the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled this unacceptable behavior for far too long,” Cuomo said in a press release.

To that end, the new legislation requires sexual harassers to repay taxpayer funds when they are found liable (not in other settlements, however, according to The New York Times). In addition, a new measure will prevent sexual harassers from sweeping allegations under the rug by ensuring that nondisclosure agreements are only reached at the victim’s request. “[N]ondisclosure agreements can only be used when the condition of confidentiality is the explicit preference of the victim,” Cuomo said of the budget’s new legislation.

Other measures on this front include mandating all state contractors “submit an affirmation” that they have sexual harassment policies in place and that their employees are made aware of them via training. The budget also mandates the Department of Labor and Division of Human Rights will form sexual harassment policies to be used by public and private employers.  

However, there has been a great deal of criticism of the process by which the new measures were reached, with the only female legislative leader -- Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins -- left out of the negotiations. The policies have also been criticized by advocates and former state government aides, some of whom experienced harassment, for not empowering victims enough, not simplifying the process to report claims, and not protecting people who face other types of workplace harassment. "These laws will not adequately protect workers, leaving them to navigate an opaque process and in danger of retaliation,” the group of former staffers stated following the budget’s passage.

The bill has also been criticized for not addressing or reforming in any way the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, tasked with investigating sexual harassment allegations. Cuomo had sought to add funding for a new JCOPE unit, but that was not part of the budget deal.

Also Missing
The DREAM Act, which would allow for state college assistance to be provided to undocumented New Yorkers, was again included in the Assembly’s and Cuomo’s budget proposals, but did not make it through the Senate. Members of the IDC attempted a maneuver to attach it to a budget bill but it was defeated.

The DREAM Act is one of several other progressive wish-list items again left out of the budget, blocked by the Senate, including measures like codifying Roe v. Wade abortion protections into state law.

Despite calls among government reformers and some reform-minded legislators, a number of government ethics, campaign finance, and election reforms were again left out of the state budget. Specifically, the budget does not institute early voting, keeping New York in the minority of states, nor does it implement same-day voter registration or several other election reform measures. There is no new ban on outside income for legislators or implementation of term limits; nor is there any change in the state’s exceptionally high individual campaign donation limits or the notorious LLC loophole, which essentially negates even those high donation thresholds. There is also no new limits on donations from those with or seeking state business.

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by Ben Brachfeld and Sam Raskin

Note: this article has been corrected to remove mention that there is language in the budget allowing the state to take money related to the city's Health + Hospitals insurance provider, Metroplus.

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Key Takeaways: How the State Budget Impacts New York City Tue, 03 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000