Gotham Gazette Sat, 24 Aug 2019 20:18:44 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Cuomo's 2019 Agenda of Election, Campaign Finance and Government Ethics Reforms gov cuomo albany

(Photo via the Governor's office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a broad agenda of progressive legislation in his State of the State speech on Tuesday, accompanied by more detailed policy and budget books, including several measures aimed at improving New York’s democracy and increasing public trust in state government.

Emboldened by full Democratic control of the State Senate and Assembly, after years of a split Legislature where Republicans controlled the upper chamber, Cuomo reiterated many of the proposals that he has repeatedly advanced in vain in previous years and also introduced new ideas to combat public corruption, reduce the effects of money in politics, and provide more transparency about the workings of the Legislature and Executive branches.

Cuomo took stock of the state government’s failure to police its own -- as he spoke about passing ethics reforms, the powerpoint slide behind him filled with newspaper headlines about corruption in state government, starting with his own administration. “If you read the headlines over the past few years, they have been continuous and they have been disappointing, and they have been disgraceful, and they have been widespread,” he admitted. “It looks terrible and it is terrible.”

Government reform advocates have broadly praised the governor’s platform as they continue to examine the details included in the budget. On voting reforms, there seems to be general agreement, while the campaign finance and ethics proposals may prompt further debate.   

Election Reforms
Cuomo backed several voting reforms, many of which were passed by the State Legislature on Monday and sent to the governor’s desk for his signature. They included early voting -- he has proposed 12 days of early voting while the Legislature passed a 10 day bill -- consolidation of state and federal primaries into one date in June, pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds to vote, and portability of voter registrations. There was also the campaign finance reform measure of significantly limiting contributions through the so-called LLC loophole and requiring more transparency from LLC owners.

The Legislature also began the process of amending the state constitution to establish same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee ballots by mail, both of which will have to be approved by the next Legislature seated in 2021 and then through a ballot referendum.   

Cuomo supports all of the above, and his proposals go further, some of which are matched by bills Democratic legislators have introduced. The governor wants to make Election Day a state holiday, implement automatic and online voter registration, and also expand voting hours for primary elections upstate where polling sites currently only open at noon.

Campaign Finance Reform
Cuomo is supporting a sweeping campaign finance reform agenda that includes a public matching system for the state.

The Legislature’s LLC bill brought contribution limits in line with those for corporations, at $5,000. Cuomo, on the other hand, has proposed closing that loophole entirely (something some legislators have said they want to do in a next phase) and banning all corporate contributions to candidate campaigns, while also lowering contribution limits across the board. He also proposed prohibiting any contributions from individuals or entities that have recently applied or are seeking government contracts.

Separately, the governor pushed a measure to require reporting of intermediaries or “bundlers” who collect donations from several contributors and funnel them to candidates.

He wants to establish public financing of elections, providing 6-to-1 matches for small contributions up to $175, similar to the system currently in place in New York City. The public funds limits would be $8 million for candidates for governor; $4 million for lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller candidates; $375,000 for Senate candidates; and $175,000 for Assembly candidates.

On Wednesday, the governor’s office put out details of his proposal to lower contribution limits -- statewide candidates would be able to receive a total of $25,000 ($10,000 for the primary and $15,000 for the general election) down from the current effective total limit of roughly $65,100. Limits would be lower for state legislators -- Senate candidates would be allowed to raise a total of $10,000 from individual contributors, down from $18,000; Assembly candidates would be limited to $6,000 total, down from $8,800. While significant reductions, the numbers are still quite high relative to individual donation limits to presidential candidates or candidates for mayor of New York City, for example.

Cuomo is also seeking to take on the scourge of “dark money” flowing into elections through independent expenditures by anonymous sources. His budget briefing book calls for expanded disclosure by 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups of the “extent and nature of their expenditures used to influence the debate on public issues, and the identity of large donors who facilitate that speech.”

“These loopholes make the entire campaign system fraught for a lack of integrity,” Cuomo said. “You want to talk about franchising individuals who now feel disenfranchised - a corporation, a large contributor with a $10 million check can buy an election and nobody knows who he or she is.”

Government and Lobbying Ethics
Though some of his proposals are likely to face resistance from the State Legislature, Cuomo wasn’t shy about challenging his legislative counterparts in his Tuesday speech as he railed against the recurring instances of corruption that have come to light in recent years, including from within his own administration.

“Now, we will never stop venial, greedy, ignorant, behavior by people. And we shouldn't be expected to do that,” Cuomo said, “but we should be expected to do everything we can to have a system in place that safeguards against fraud or theft, and there it is a continuing battle, but there I believe we can do more to ensure the public trust.”

He proposed requiring candidates in state elections to disclose their tax returns, a measure that is usually voluntarily taken by candidates for major offices like mayor, governor, and president. Cuomo’s budget proposal would require statewide candidates to release ten years of tax returns and five years of returns for candidates for Senate and Assembly.

He also emphasized the need to expand the state’s Freedom of Information Law to cover the state Legislature, a move that certain lawmakers have backed in the past but one that previous legislative leaders have ardently opposed.

The governor is also seeking to ban government employees from volunteering for their employer’s political campaigns, and wants to require local elected officials to annually disclose their finances to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), just as state elected officials and employees are required to do.   

Cuomo also floated a “Lobbying Code of Conduct” to severely limit real and perceived pay-to-play politics and to curb the revolving door practices that have become commonplace in Albany. He proposed greater penalties for violations of lobbying laws, lowering the threshold for disclosure of lobbying activities to $500, down from $5,000, a ban on loans from lobbyists to candidates, and preventing political consultants from lobbying the elected officials who they helped get into office. He is also advocating for expanding the blackout period in which government employees and elected officials, as well as their staff members, would be prohibited from becoming lobbyists from two years to five.

The governor promised on Tuesday that if the state Legislature did not approve the code of conduct for lobbyists, he would prohibit those lobbyists who do not voluntarily abide by it from lobbying the executive chamber. The provisions of his proposal, however, contain many gray areas as well as steep penalties -- a lobbyist who deliberately violates the rules could receive a civil fine of $25,000 or be banned from lobbying for six months to five years -- that will be part of negotiations if there is any movement on the proposals.  

In a surprising move, the governor also announced on Tuesday that he had reached an agreement with State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to implement certain reforms to the state’s contracting and procurement processes, including returning to the comptroller certain powers that had been stripped during Cuomo’s first year as governor. Cuomo said he would allow the comptroller to pre-audit any SUNY, CUNY and Office of General Services contracts worth more than $250,000, granted the audits are done within 30 days, and, in turn, the comptroller agreed to turn over contracts above that threshold to the state inspector general for audits.

“Contract procurement review must be performed and government must function on a timely basis,” Cuomo said. “I don't believe one is the enemy of the other. Yes, review contracts, but yes let's get it done quickly because government has to function and we have to get things done.” The agreement neutralized criticism that Cuomo faced for undermining the comptroller’s authority and also preempted the potential threat of the state Legislature passing these measures against the governor’s wishes.   

Cuomo also proposed strengthening the powers of the State Inspector General, giving the office the authority to oversee nonprofits affiliated with SUNY and CUNY, as well as “state-related procurement and the implementation and enforcement of financial control policies at SUNY and CUNY.”

“This proposal is a positive step forward,” said Jennifer Freeman, a DiNapoli spokesperson, in a statement. “Improvements to the procurement process will assure that independent checks and balances are in place to prevent abuse.”

Finally, the governor’s briefing book indicates that he will direct Empire State Development, a state agency responsible for economic development programs, to create a publicly accessible online database of projects getting state benefits. Good government advocates, DiNapoli, and some legislators have long been pushing for such a “database of deals” and praised its inclusion in the governor’s budget proposal.  

“We’re very pleased by the sheer scope of the many good government reform measures the governor issued and we’re carefully evaluating them,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a nonprofit advocacy group. “We’re most pleased with progress on clean contracting.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Cuomo's 2019 Agenda of Election, Campaign Finance and Government Ethics Reforms Wed, 16 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Comptroller vs. Governor: An Old Story in New York 6637183655 d9a3047ea6 z

Governor Cuomo (left) and Comptroller DiNapoli (center) (photo: Governor's Office/Flickr)

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Governor Andrew Cuomo have been airing public disagreement in the news media over the past several months. It is the latest chapter in a long story here in New York -- the Governor and the Comptroller sometimes agreeing but often challenging each other.

Calling out Cuomo's fiscal policies
DiNapoli's analysis of the recently-enacted State 2017-2018 budget (crafted by Cuomo and enacted through his negotiations with the Legislature) warns of fiscal risks ahead with uncertainty about the federal budget and $10.5 billion in new state bonded indebtedness. The budget, which also included a number of public policy changes, was enacted with little time for public review, DiNapoli’s report says. It also raised additional concerns about "transparency, accountability and oversight."

Early in May, the Comptroller issued an audit of the State Economic Development Corporation, the governor's economic development agency, citing it for lax reporting on key projects, particularly those that create tax-free economic development zones to encourage business development. “Too often Empire State Development Corporation is either late or not reporting on the results of economic development programs,” DiNapoli said. “We need better reporting to ensure transparency in economic development spending and to promote an informed analysis on the return of the investments state taxpayers make in these programs.” A spokesperson for the Economic Development Corporation said the Comptroller's audit "cherry-picks information" and "profoundly misrepresents our efforts."

Cuomo has called the Comptroller’s audits “opinion” and sought to undermine DiNapoli’s oversight at several turns.

DiNapoli's office signed off on the state Senate Republican majority's list of stipend payments for committee chairs, where in some cases vice chairs have received payments that typically only go to chairs. Democrats and the media have questioned some of these payments. Cuomo used the issue as an opportunity to criticize DiNapoli. "If it was not legal, the Comptroller shouldn't have done it," Cuomo said. "If it's not legal, the Comptroller should call up and say, 'Whoops, I made a mistake, I need the money back.'" A spokesperson for the Comptroller's office responded that "the comptroller's office is not a court of law" and the issue "needs to be decided by the Senate itself, or the legal system."

DiNapoli has often been critical of the Governor's spending plans. Four years ago, in 2013, he issued a report that New York's debt, counting bonds issued by public benefit corporations, amounted to $63.3 billion — about $3,253 per state resident. "We spend billions each year to repay existing debt, so fewer resources are available for more pressing needs," he said. Much of the debt has been developed by public authorities. "Taxpayers have little or no say in how much the state borrows, but they're the ones who have to foot the bill," DiNapoli continued.

The Comptroller responded to an alleged bid-rigging scandal within Cuomo’s economic development programs -- for which nine Cuomo associates and donors have been charged by federal authorities, with a trial set for October -- by proposing more oversight through his office. Cuomo has made his own proposal in response to the scandal, which does not include restoring contract approval by the Comptroller for certain types of programs.

A history of tension and balance
Established in 1797 as an appointed position, the Comptroller's position has been constitutionally based and elective since 1846. The state constitutional convention that year, recognizing the need for an independent Comptroller, made it an independent position, elected by the voters. Until the early 20th century, the position rivaled the Governor's in power, including compiling the state budget, receiving taxes, monitoring banks, and preparing financial reports. That power diminished with the reorganization and consolidation of state government, including the creation of the Division of the Budget, carried out by Governor Al Smith in the 1920s.

But the Comptroller remains the state's chief financial officer, controls payment of state funds, borrows and invests for the state, manages the state retirement fund, reports on the state's fiscal conditions, and audits both state agencies and local governments. The Comptroller's website notes that the Comptroller "is the State’s chief fiscal officer who ensures that State and local governments use taxpayer money effectively and efficiently to promote the common good."

Governors and Comptrollers usually have good working relationships. But there is a potential inherent tension in a relationship between the state's chief executive, who uses public tax dollars to initiate and administer state programs, and the state's chief fiscal watchdog, who makes sure that the state stays fiscally solvent and strong and that those tax dollars are used well.

Comptrollers have challenged Governors many times during the course of state history.

For instance, Arthur Levitt (1955-1978), the longest serving Comptroller in the state's history, criticized borrowing practices that bypassed state constitutional referendum requirements for incurring state debt. Levitt, a Democrat, was a frequent critic of Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller (1959-1973), whose administration expanded state government and constructed the Empire State Plaza governmental complex in Albany, often relying on bonds.

In a February 1964 speech, Levitt assailed Rockefeller as a "pseudo pay-as-you-go governor" who through the "subterfuge" of selling authority bonds had imposed on the people of the state "a staggering burden of debt without their consent." Rockefeller responded that Levitt "is a partisan, organization Democrat, not an independent, nonpartisan, nonpolitical watchdog of the public treasury, as he likes to be projected." Levitt's motive was "to discredit the fiscal integrity and soundly solvent fiscal policies of this administration."

Levitt had a number of run-ins with Rockefeller, including lawsuits to require more detailed budget information and to open up the books of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Summarizing his years of working with Rockefeller, Levitt concluded, "I haven't been soft on him at all."

"As the people's auditor, I have reported factually to the people in accordance with my constitutional mandate," Levitt said. He made the office a high-profile watchdog and force for fiscal restraint and probity.

Many years earlier, in the 1830s, the state was spending money lavishly on enlarging the Erie Canal, building additional canals and providing loans and other aid to railroads, mostly by issuing state bonds.

Democratic Comptroller Azariah Flagg (1833-1839 and 1842-1847) published an alarming report in 1838, warning that the state had reached "the utmost verge of prudence" and should curtail borrowing.

But Governor William Seward, a Whig (the Whig Party was then one of New York's two most important parties, along with the Democrats), told the Legislature in 1839 that "history furnishes no parallel to the financial achievements of this state." He added that "taxation for the purposes of internal improvement is happily unnecessary," since future canal user fees would provide funds to pay off the bonds.

Seward in 1840 called for spending $4 million more each year for 10 years for canals and railroads. The Whig majority in the state Legislature kept pushing up the debt.

Comptroller Flagg's warning turned out to be warranted.

The state entered a downward fiscal spiral. Recession sparked by the Panic of 1837 cut into state revenues. Canal construction costs rose. Even Seward admitted "severe shock" at learning that canal expansion would cost twice what he had estimated. The Erie Railroad fell behind on its repayment of state loans. Selling state bonds became more difficult as nervous creditors began to worry about New York's solvency. State debt rose to $27 million in 1842, a huge sum in those days.
Comptroller Flagg warned that New York was at "the very brink of dishonor and bankruptcy" and "it is a question of solvency or insolvency."

The voters heeded Flagg's warning. They gave fiscally conservative Democrats a majority in the next Legislature. They curtailed or suspended canal work and railroad aid. With Seward's reluctant concurrence, they enacted a special tax to keep the state solvent. The debt began to decline. Creditors' confidence returned, and state securities regained the status of good investments.

The lure of higher office
Some Comptrollers have had political ambitions and used the position as a stepping-stone to higher office, occasionally another source of tension with Governors.
William L. Marcy, Comptroller 1823-1829, went on to serve as Governor, 1833-1838. Silas Wright served as Comptroller from 1829 to 1833 and Governor, 1845-1856 (in those days, governors were elected every two years). Washington Hunt, Comptroller 1849-1850, went on to become governor, 1851-1852. Lucius Robinson, Comptroller 1862 to 1865, went on to become Governor, 1877-1879.

Martin Glynn, Comptroller 1907-1908, was nominated and elected Lieutenant Governor in 1910 and became Governor when William Sulzer was impeached and removed from office in 1913. But Glynn was defeated when he ran for Governor in his own right in 1914.

Nathan L. Miller, Comptroller 1901-1903, defeated Al Smith in his campaign for reelection as Governor in 1920, running on a platform of fiscal restraint and criticizing Smith's administration for overspending. But Smith returned to oust Miller in 1922.

Millard Fillmore served in the House of Representatives before being elected Comptroller in 1847 (the first person elected rather than appointed to the office). He was nominated for Vice President in 1848, elected along with presidential nominee Zachary Taylor, and became President upon Taylor's death in 1850. He ran for President in 1852 but was defeated.

Cuomo and DiNapoli both playing appropriate roles
Comptroller DiNapoli is playing an appropriate role, in line with many of his most impressive and judicious predecessors such as Arthur Levitt and Azariah Flagg. His reports are clear and readable, his warnings measured and documented, and his custody of the state retirement fund reassuring.

On the other hand, Governor Cuomo, like Nelson Rockefeller, Al Smith, William Seward and other bold, expansionist-minded Governors before him, is inclined to use public funds for innovative programs that he sees as investments in New York's future.

The conscientious Comptroller and the proactive Governor are well-suited to their respective positions. Their views, while sometimes at odds with each other, complement each other and offer the public contrasting visions for New York's future. That is useful for public debate and, hopefully, for creation of sound state fiscal policies.

Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne's latest book is The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History, published in 2015 by SUNY Press.

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Comptroller vs. Governor: An Old Story in New York Mon, 10 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Once Rife with Problems, City Budget Process Now a Model for State System in Need of Reform cuomo exec budget pres 2014

Governor Cuomo presents his 2014-2015 Executive Budget

In 1975 New York City was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, having balanced its budget for years with massive borrowing and shady accounting tricks. Banks were at the point where they would lend no more. Mayor Abe Beame had written the announcement of the city's default. City lawyers were in State Supreme Court filing a petition for bankruptcy and police were prepared to serve the banks.

At the last minute bankruptcy was averted as the federal government provided the city with loans. Those loans combined with the state-created Financial Control Board, which required the city to use generally accepted accounting practices and provide four-year financial plans, are credited with turning things around.

Gone were the days when operating expenses were reclassified as capital investments, when labor costs were paid for with new loans, when raids on existing funds were acceptable ways to pay for new expenses. The city underwent such a turnaround in the following decades that its budget process is now thought to be a shining beacon across the country. The Financial Control Board that used to strike fear into the hearts of mayors is now a sleepy, almost forgotten entity.

The state government, however, is facing a crisis of its own--not a fiscal one, but a crisis of trust, brought on by a series of convictions of sitting legislators that was capped late last year by the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. For years, the Silver and Skelos served as two of the 'three men in a room' deciding the budget with the Governor. It's a process that has been decried by good government advocates, reform-minded legislators, and the U.S Attorney, Preet Bharara, who brought Silver and Skelos to justice for abusing their positions.

"I think people should start to talk about budget transparency as a matter of ethics," said Sen. Liz Krueger, the Democrats' ranking member on the state Senate finance committee. "People really should care about the lack of transparency in the state budget process for a whole lot of reasons. One of them is that if you don't know what's going on, pay-to-play wins the day. If someone wants something in the budget they get it there with a whole lot of lobbying money that no one knows about. That's the harm, that's the danger and I'll tell you that happens constantly."

A number of major corruption cases, including Silver's, have centered on the opaqueness of the budget process that allows legislators and the governor to put aside secret slush funds. For example, Silver was able to direct discretionary funding to a cancer doctor who in turn sent Silver and his law firm lucrative clients suffering from a rare form of cancer.

Former Sen. Malcolm Smith was convicted in a scheme whereby he would provide a developer a $500,000 lump sum from the budget. A report from good government group Citizens Union found that the 2014 and 2015 fiscal year budgets had over $3 billion in lump funds, while Cuomo's proposed 2016 budget had around $2.6 billion. Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, and NYPIRG have this year called on legislators to support reforms making budget spending more transparent.

"Preet Bharara, the federal prosecutor who convicted both Silver and Skelos, basically said the strongest tool these guys had to game the system was unbridled power and an unbelievable lack of transparency in policing 'three men in a room,'" said Assemblymember Jim Tedisco, a Republican from the Capital Region who has proposed a bill that would force any pot of cash negotiated in the budget to be line-itemed and mandate that it is publicly documented how the cash is eventually spent.

"The other thing Bharara told us is 'if you see something, say something,'" Tedisco said. "I didn't know about these pots of money and I'm sure my Democratic colleagues in the chamber didn't know either. So if you don't know who got the money, you can't stop what's going on. We just don't have that transparency holistically."

Slush funds aren't the only part of the state budget that thwart transparency. Today the bad practices New York City was forced to abandon are commonplace in the state budget process. The state budgets without generally accepted accounting practices, routinely raids other programs, has lump-sum appropriations where spending is at times decided by memorandum of understanding between the governor and legislators, and routinely pushes expenses down the road.

This year Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a slew of major infrastructure projects including the revamp of Penn Station and a third track for the Long Island Rail Road, but his budget proposal does not lay out how to fund them. Meanwhile, his budget continues funneling cash to economic development projects that are managed by entities with little transparency. Cuomo's Buffalo Billion project is currently under investigation by Bharara's office.

Frank Mauro, executive director emeritus of the Fiscal Policy Institute, who also served as the director of research for the city's last major charter revision and as secretary of the Assembly's ways and means committee, said that the differences between the city and state budget processes are striking. "I don't think many people know just how different the city process is from the state's," said Mauro.

The city budget process begins when the Mayor submits his Preliminary Budget to the City Council before January 21 each year (this was just moved from Jan. 16). Then the City Council holds public hearings over a period of several weeks, bringing in agency commissioners and budget directors to examine spending, considers budget priorities from community boards and borough presidents, and takes testimony from groups and citizens.

The Council must issue its findings and recommendations by March 25. The Mayor then has until April 26 to propose an Executive Budget, with explanations of programs as well as a fiscal outlook for the city. The Council then holds another series of public hearings which are followed by negotiations between the mayor's budget office and the Council finance division. These negotiations must result in a balanced budget by the end of June, with the new fiscal year beginning July 1.

The Council is allowed to increase, decrease, add or omit any appropriation for personal services, or omit or change conditions related to any appropriation. The Council then votes on the budget. The mayor can veto any additions or increases the Council adds but may not interfere with any decreases.

The city process also includes a significant role for the Comptroller, who oversees city contracts and audits city agencies. The Comptroller is the city's chief financial watchdog and analyzes the Mayor's budget proposals, performing independent forecasting, raising red flags, and making recommendations.

"In the state budget you have to investigate where the money has gone, where certain programs are accounted for, and even then, good luck," said Sen. Krueger. "Even the [state] comptroller's office does not know until years later what was actually spent."

The state process begins when the Governor devises an Executive Budget based on the needs of agencies and any programs he or she supports and delivers the budget to the Legislature. Both houses of the the Legislature put out their own budgets, mainly to signal their major priorities for the year. The Governor delivers his executive budget along with appropriation, revenue and budget bills by February 1. The Legislature typically holds a series of budget hearings on particular topics, like transportation and local governments.

Under reform legislation passed in 2007, the Legislature is supposed to convene conference committees between both houses to reach agreements on aspects of the budget and set priorities. These committees have been ignored in the past despite the reform legislation.

The Governor and Legislature are also required agree on a revenue forecast on or before March 1. They are generally very good at doing this, failure to do so results in the state Comptroller setting the forecast. The Legislature can only reduce or entirely remove spending proposed by the Governor and it has no control over the Governor's proposals for spending. The Legislature can add spending, but the Governor has the ability to line-item veto. The Legislature must vote on a budget by April 1, which is the start of the state's fiscal year.

It isn't until the budget is voted on that a new financial plan is created showing how all the changes impact spending. So while a budget may start as balanced under the Governor's proposed plan, it rarely ends that way.

The state budget is usually full of non-budget policies because the budget process gives the Governor the upper hand - the Legislature can either negotiate the Governor's priorities, stall, or fail to vote on a budget on time, in which case the Governor can simply issue emergency extenders that put his budget into place.

Budgets are normally negotiated exclusively between the two majority leaders of the Legislature and the Governor, and time and again budget bills are not given the three-day waiting period for review mandated by law. Instead, the Governor issues messages of necessity that allow the budget bills to be voted on immediately. The result is legislators voting on voluminous budget bills late at night, having little or no time to actually read them. "To say there is any level of public review is just insulting," Krueger said.

"I think the biggest difference between the state and city budget processes is that the state budget is a political negotiation and you don't see a financial plan until a month later," said Tammy Gamerman, a senior research associate with the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC). "With the city they tell you how they are going to balance the budget."

Adding further mystery to the state budget, Governor Cuomo has taken to combining his State of the State address and Executive Budget presentation, doing so this year and last. This leads to less public explanation of the budget and more focus on big policy initiatives the governor is backing. In his speech last week, the governor laid out a number of government ethics proposals, including public financing of campaigns. He did not discuss changing the budget process.

The city budget process is not perfect, of course. The City Council continues to push the Mayor to more specifically account for agency spending, providing more units of appropriation instead of lump sums. There is also a good deal of discretionary spending available to the City Council Speaker that watchdogs want more accounting for.

Sen. Krueger, who is one of the most outspoken legislators during late night state budget votes, picking at and tracking spending threads while most legislators are waiting to simply cast a "yes" vote and get back to their districts, said that 'three men in a room' has led to an absolute lack of budget transparency and alienated the public.

Krueger says she has seen a decrease in attendance at budget hearings, even from groups that have a lot at stake in the budget. "At the end of the budget process each year, after I'm done beating my head against the wall over one thing that made it through the budget process or the other, I come to find out there are 16 other things I missed," Krueger told Gotham Gazette. "I don't catch a huge number of things and I do care about this. So imagine what it is like for someone who isn't a legislator, who doesn't have experience with this. I want people to know they should be involved in the process. They should come to hearings just to point out 'Hey, you know New York has state parks that need to be funded and that isn't in here.'"

Most rank-and-file legislators and advocates acknowledge that budget reform is not a hot topic at the moment. The last time there was major attention on the subject was in 2009 when Senate Democrats briefly controlled the chamber. They issued a report that recommended conference committees be given control over larger sums of budget funds, that the state adopt generally accepted accounting principles, a two-year budget cycle, and the creation of a legislative budget office.

Krueger has since introduced bills that would create a state agency in the model of the city's Independent Budget Office - a nonpartisan, publically funded agency that provides information to elected officials and the public about the budget, reviews budget proposals, and provides policy analysis. The bill has gone nowhere in the Senate.

Krueger and other reformers also want to see the state require bills to have truthful financial impact statements. Currently, bills introduced from rank-and-file legislators, committee chairs, legislative leaders, or the Governor are supposed to have impact statements, but some simply lack them while others are presented in a dishonest way. Rather than presenting a program's cost for a year, some bills only represent a month's cost, or less.

Gamerman said she feels that some progress has been made toward budget transparency over the last few years.

"Accountability issues born of the financial crisis of the '70s forced the city to use generally accepted accounting principles," said Gamerman. "There isn't any similar oversight of the state. The state has increased transparency through the Open Budget website. There is more info on agency spending. One of the big differences between the city and state is the city does a much better job tracking performance with the Mayor's Management Report. The state has been talking about doing something similar."

Mauro said that he finds it unlikely there will be a major push for reform unless the Legislature feels the Governor is abusing his current powers because the status quo still works for the leadership. "It's an unlikely scenario where the Governor isn't running roughshod over the Legislature with budget powers that we'll see a push for change," said Mauro.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

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

Once Rife with Problems, City Budget Process Now a Model for State System in Need of Reform Mon, 18 Jan 2016 05:28:20 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, September 8 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

From the governor's office: "Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today [Monday] departed for Puerto Rico with a New York delegation that will discuss the Puerto Rican government's ongoing healthcare crisis and economic challenges. The Governor and the delegation will be meeting with Puerto Rican officials and will also be discussing the need for Washington to take action to help Puerto Rico." The trip is a quick one-night visit and the delegation includes, in part: New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; Attorney General Eric Schneiderman; Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie; Assemblyman Marcos Crespo; Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz, Jr.; New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer; Congressman Charles Rangel; and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez.

Cuomo said on the plane to Puerto Rico that the island should be allowed to file bankruptcy and restructure its debt - the first time he has indicated a position. Cuomo has been criticized for the large campaign contributions he receives from finance industry leaders who hold Puerto Rican debt.

Noticeably absent from the trip is state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who reportedly received an invitation after the trip was announced. And, many have pointed out, of course, that Mayor Bill de Blasio is not on the trip - de Blasio's office said that he had not been invited, Cuomo said it didn't make sense to bring the mayor.

TRACKING DE BLASIO: Meanwhile, de Blasio went to Connecticut again on Friday, visiting with his son Dante, who is now a Yale freshman, for Dante's birthday. De Blasio returned to New York City, but did not have public events on Saturday or Sunday.

On Monday, de Blasio attended and gave remarks at the West Indian American Day Carnival Association Breakfast and then marched in the West Indian American Day Carnival Association Labor Day Parade. De Blasio and Cuomo did not interact at the parade, though both addressed the overnight shooting of a Cuomo administration official, Carey Gabay, who was the victim of a stray bullet in Brooklyn late Saturday night. After the parade Monday, de Blasio visited the hospital where Gabay is being treated. Cuomo also visited with Gabay's family at the hospital.

Coming up: on Tuesday morning on MSNBC: "In a rare joint interview, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray, will appear on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." The live in-studio interview is on Tuesday, September 8 during the 7 a.m. ET hour of "Morning Joe." They will discuss education, crime, homelessness, mental health and the 2016 presidential race." Also on Tuesday, in the evening, the mayor will deliver remarks at the 2015 West Indian American and Caribbean American Heritage Reception, and he will appear in a taped interview on Telemundo in which he'll discuss Pope Francis' upcoming visit to New York.

On Thursday afternoon at Pace University, de Blasio will appear at an event being hosted by his national progressive group, The Progressive Agenda: "Hedge Fund Billionaires vs. Kindergarten Teachers: Whose side are you on?"

OTHERWISE: It's back-to-school week for the large majority of New York City students, even though some at charter schools have already begun the school year. Keep an eye out for major themes of this educational year: how does year two of de Blasio's pre-K program go now that 70,000-plus children are involved? Is progress being made at the city's most struggling schools? Relatedly, how is the community schools initiative going?

The New York City Council will surely look at some of these educational issues over the course of the coming months. The Council returns to more active duty this week, beginning what promises to be a busy fall of oversight and legislative hearings.

Thursday is primary election day, with many races happening around the city, mostly for hyperlocal positions like District Leader. One key result to watch is in the crowded Democratic primary to fill a vacant Queens City Council seat (Mark Weprin resigned this spring to take a job with Governor Cuomo).

Our look at the many voting opportunities - starting Thursday - for New Yorkers over the next 14 months.

On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden is due back in New York City, this time for an event "addressing the national backlog of sexual assault kits" and an "event on the economy." It is likely that Manhattan DA Cy Vance will be a key part of the former and that Governor Cuomo will be involved with one, if not both.

Speaking of Cuomo, keep an eye out for a state Senate hearing this Thursday that will examine the process by which Cuomo's fast food wage board did its work this spring.

Friday is the 14th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that hit New York City and elsewhere. There will be commemorative events on and around the 11th.

The 7-train extension to the far West Side will open on Sunday. Former Mayor Bloomberg will not be in attendance. It is unclear at this time if Gov. Cuomo will be there, one would expect Mayor de Blasio to be, but who knows.

For more detail on the week ahead, read our day-by-day rundown below...

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday: Labor Day

De Blasio is due on MSNBC's Morning Joe Tuesday morning. "In the evening, the Mayor and First Lady will attend the 2015 West Indian American and Caribbean American Heritage Reception, where the Mayor will deliver remarks...The Mayor will also appear on Telemundo in an interview with Anchor Ricardo Villarini to discuss Pope Francis's upcoming visit. Note: This is a taped interview that will air during the 6 pm and 11 pm hours."

On WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show Tuesday morning: "Chancellor Fariña on the New School Year" at approximately 10:50 a.m. "New York City schools chancellor Carmen Fariña talks about what's changed and how best for kids, parents, teachers and administrators to approach the new beginning."

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Environmental Protection will see a bill introduced that would prohibit small stores from propping their door(s) open when the air conditioning is on.
  • 11 a.m., the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will consider several land use applications from City Council Member David Greenfield of Brooklyn.

City Council member Participatory Budgeting meetings to be held on Tuesday:

  • 10 a.m. by CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens)
  • 4 p.m. by CM Mark Levine (District 7, Manhattan)

[Read our recent report on one Council member, Brad Lander, who has launched a project tracker so that constituents can better see how money is getting spent and whether projects are progressing - and it is an interactive mapping project that Lander hopes will be a model for the city]

On Tuesday at 9 a.m. the NYC Board of Corrections will have a public board meeting. There is a 15 minute "public comment period" at the end of the session.

At 11 a.m. Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Deborah Glick, both Manhattan Democrats, join forces with women's advocacy organizations and others to hold a press conference "to announce legislation requiring state contractors to disclose data on their gender wage gaps." Public Advocate Letitia James, NOW-NYS, A Better Balance, Eleanor's Legacy, PowHer NY, the Fiscal Policy Institute, and other various elected officials and stakeholders will attend.

At 1:30 p.m. the NYC Jails Action Coalition (JAC) will hold a press conference at City Hall with City Council members, faith leaders, children and families of incarcerated individuals, and other criminal justice advocates. Speakers will include Johnny Perez of NYC Jails Action Coalition, Council Members Daniel Dromm and Ydanis Rodriguez, and Julia L. Davis of Children's Rights, among others.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday state Senator Liz Krueger teams up with GenderAvenger founder Gina Glanz to give a talk on how Glanz's organization 'helps to ensure that women are always represented in the public dialogue.'

At 6:30 p.m. City and State NY will hold a reception to celebrate the launch of the publication's special Manhattan issue. A variety of Manhattan elected officials will attend.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Youth Services will have an oversight hearing to assess the "goals of the City's youth mentoring program" and whether or not they are being met.
  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Civil Service and Labor is scheduled to meet.
  • 11 a.m., the Committee on Land Use meets to hear proposition Int 7705-2015, which would "establish a maximum period of time for the Landmarks Preservation Commission to take action on any item calendared for consideration of landmark status." [Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, penned a recent op-ed at Gotham Gazette warning against its passage.]
  • 1 p.m.. the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections meets to approve the appointment of Shampa Chanda to the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals, and to discuss the possible appointments of Helen Arteaga to the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation Board of Directors, and re-appointment of Arva R. Rice to the Council to the New York City Equal Employment Practices Commission.

"On Wednesday, September 9th, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Rafael Espinal, the Council Jewish Caucus and nearly 100 Holocaust Survivors will join community leaders to commemorate the restoration of a recently discovered Torah Scroll which was hidden for over 70 years in Poland. The event will also recognize the Council's efforts to help our city's Holocaust survivors who are living in poverty with the allocation of $1.5 million in funding though the Survivors Initiative."

In Albany on Wednesday at 1 p.m., the Senate Standing Committee on Racing, Gaming, and Wagering will hold a public hearing "to discuss the future of online poker in New York State."

City Council Participatory Budgeting meetings will be held Wednesday:

  • 6 p.m. by CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan)
  • 6:30 p.m. by CM Laurie Cumbo (District 35, Brooklyn)
  • 6:30 p.m. by CM Steve Levin (District 33, Brooklyn)

On Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., the city Department of Consumer Affairs will continue its workshop series to help "employers understand their responsibilities under the Paid Sick Leave Law."

At 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer and AARP NY are hosting a fraud protection workshop at the Swinging Sixties Senior Center.

At 6:30 p.m. the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) will hold a public board meeting to field complaints about and recommend action against abusive police tactics.

Thursday, September 10th is 2015 Primary Day in New York City. There are nominations for the following positions: Judge of the Civil Court District, Female District Leader, Male District Leader, Delegate to Judicial Convention, Alternate Delegate to the Judicial Convention, and County Committee. There's also the hotly contested Democratic Primary for City Council in Queens District 23. See a full list of candidates for all offices here. And read our look at how this is the first of many opportunities - too many? - for New Yorkers to vote over the next 14 months, culminating with the presidential election next year.

On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden is due back in New York City, this time for an event "addressing the national backlog of sexual assault kits" and an "event on the economy."

The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be held on Thursday, September 10 at 10 a.m.

In Albany on Thursday at 11 a.m., the Senate Standing Committee on Labor will hold a public hearing to "examine the overall process of the Fast Food Wage Board of 2015."

City Council Participatory Budgeting meetings will be held:

  • 6:30 p.m. by CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn)
  • 6:30 p.m. by CM Mark Levine (District 7, Manhattan)
  • 6:30 p.m. by CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens)

On Thursday at 12:00 p.m. #YesWeCode and the Office of New York State Assembly Member Michael Blake (D-Bronx) will join forces for "New Faces of Tech in the Bronx." In a one-hour special titled "Growing Hope Live from the Bronx," MSNBC will provide live coverage of the event at 2 p.m. MSNBC's program will include interviews with Blake, New York City Chief Technology Officer Minerva Tantoco and Van Jones, founder of #YesWeCode.

On Thursday at 12:30 p.m. "NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and a panel of experts and advocates will join AARP to develop strategies for closing a federal legal loophole that allows bad-acting financial advisers to promote retirement investments that net them high commissions at the expense of clients' savings." Panel members include Ali Khawar, Counselor to the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Scott Evans, New York City Deputy Comptroller for Asset Management and Chief Investment Officer and Kathleen McBride, Chair of The Committee for the Fiduciary Standard.

At 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Pace University, it is, "Hedge Fund Billionaires vs. Kindergarten Teachers: Whose side are you on?", an event featuring Mayor de Blasio. "Did you know that the top 25 hedge fund managers in the United States make more than every single kindergarten teacher in the country—combined? There are a lot of reasons that the math shakes out so unfairly, but one of them is the carried-interest loophole, a tax law that essentially gives these one-percenters a much lower tax rate than they should be paying. On Thursday, September 10 at 4:30 p.m., director Robert Greenwald will premier his new short film that examines this problem and advocates for the clear solution. The screening will include a live conversation and Q&A with Robert and with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio—and we'd like you to join us."

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday at The New School, urban policy professor Jeff Smith will read from his new book "Mr. Smith Goes to Prison: What My Year Behind Bars Taught Me About America's Prison Crisis." After Smith's presentation, Touré, author of Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?, will moderate a discussion about criminal justice reform with Professor Smith, Soffiyah Elijah (Executive Director of Correctional Association of New York), Dr. Carla Shedd (Columbia University sociologist), and Melissa Mark Viverito (New York City Council Speaker).

At 7:00 p.m. New York City is hosting a public hearing to "solicit community input" on future development projects in Lower Manhattan. The developments focus on coastal and storm protection measures and upgrades to affordable housing units.

Friday and the weekend
Friday is the 14th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and elsewhere in the United States.

On Friday at 8:15 a.m., New York Law School Dean Anthony W. Crowell will moderate a panel on New York City's lawyers response to 9/11, as part of City Law's Breakfast Series. Participants include city officials who were in office at the time of the attacks. Their names and (former) positions are as follows: Jeffrey D. Friedlander, Law Department; Steven Fishner, Criminal Justice Coordinator; Marjorie Landa, Law Department; Bryan Grimaldi, Mayor's Office; and Florence Hutner, Law Department.

On Friday at 6:30 p.m., Staten Island will host its annual Postcards Memorial Ceremony to commemorate the lost lives of Staten Islanders on September 11, 2001 and its aftermath. Borough President James Oddo, who will help lead the event, calls it "an opportunity for us to come together as one community and to show the families that even though it is 14 years later, we remain committed to honoring the memories of those who have lost."

On Saturday starting at 10 a.m., New York City will hold its annual Labor Day Parade. The procession will start at 5th Avenue and 44th Street and march up to 67th street before stoping. George Gresham, President of 1199 SEIU, will be Grand Marshal and George Miranda, President of IBT Joint Council 16, will be Parade Chair.

On Saturday, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson is holding another "Begin Again" event. New Yorkers with outstanding summonses and open arrest warrants will receive a Legal Aid attorney and a hearing in front of a judge. Read our story on Thompson's Begin Again initiative and its place in the larger justice reform conversation.

Weekend City Council Participatory Budgeting meetings:

  • Saturday at 11:30 a.m. by CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens)
  • Sunday at 11:30 a.m. by CM Ben Kallos (District 5, Manhattan)

On Sunday, after a nearly two-year delay, the new 7-train extension to the far west side of Manhattan will open. The expansion, undertaken in conjunction with the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project, extends the subway line from 42nd Street Times Square to the new 34th Street-Hudson Yards station. The first train will depart from the station at 1:07 p.m.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Colin O'Connor, Erika Wang, and Ben Max

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, September 8 Mon, 07 Sep 2015 05:00:00 +0000
Conference Keys to Restore Voter Confidence Start with Campaign Finance Reform CFB conf panelists

Ann Ravel, Jared DeMarinis & Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, from left (photo: @NYCCFB)

Ninety-six percent of Americans are concerned by the role of money in politics. Ninety-one percent think there's nothing they can do to change it.

Federal Election Commission Chair Ann Ravel presented these statistics during her keynote address at a conference - "American Elections at the Crossroads: How do we restore voters' faith in elections and get them back to the polls?" - focused on changing that cynical sentiment, held by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the Committee for Economic Development on Wednesday.

Ravel, joined by elected officials, campaign finance experts, and academics, considered the effects of money in politics - particularly the role public campaign finance programs can play in spurring voter participation and leveling the influence playing field.

In her remarks, Ravel warned that the influence of money in politics is causing people to disassociate with electoral and government processes. "The influence of money in politics is contributing to this low level of political trust," she said. But, she added that the problem is not the amount of money, "the issue is where the money comes from."

John Mollenkopf, a distinguished professor at the CUNY Graduate Center and the director of its Center for Urban Research began by noting the role of political contributions in spurring people to vote.

"The positive takeaway to begin with is people who contribute are more likely to vote. So clearly the act of contributing is an extension of political engagement, it's something people do on top of bothering to go to the polls and public match really incentivizes people to contribute," Mollenkopf said, referring to New York City's small donor matching program. The Campaign Finance Board matches contributions of up to $175 at a six-to-one ratio for candidates for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president and City Council.

Former U.S. Congressmember Tom Petri of Wisconsin agreed, describing political contributions as a way for people to feel they have a stake in elections, compelling interest particularly in local elections.

"I think sometimes we get too focused on big money in the big elections which are very important, but we should also remember the political process is a huge broad diverse one," Petri said, indicating that their are many municipal level contests that people often forget when focusing on presidential and congressional races.

For New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, campaign contributions from voters are as symbolically important as they are practically.

"When ordinary New Yorkers put their hard earned money into a campaign, they are putting faith in candidates," James said. Citing her modest personal means, the public advocate often points to the necessity of the public matching system in allowing her to compete electorally.

To combat the problem of low voter turnout in municipal and state-wide elections, Mollenkopf emphasized the role of political parties as agents of voter mobilization and suggested a solution that may be unsavory to many in City Hall.

"As strange as it may seem for a person like me who is a long-time Democrat, I think we need a stronger Republican Party in New York City," Mollenkopf said. "We need a party that will go out and contest these elections with candidates who will give the Democrat incumbents who often have no challenge, give them a run for their money, get everybody really involved."

City Council Member Eric Ulrich, a Republican from Queens, agreed with the importance of a two-party system, but "as much as I'd love to see a stronger Republican party, I'm not going to hold my breath anytime soon," he joked.

Ulrich attributed low voter turnout to a cumbersome voting and voter registration process.

"A lot of people don't vote because they're not registered and they're not registered because we don't make it easy for people to vote," Ulrich said, adding he hopes to see an app developed that could register voters. "Imagine how many 18-year-olds we could register in the classroom in seconds; teachers could encourage students to whip out their smartphones and register."

Additionally, voters should be able to vote at any poll site in New York— not just their district's designating polling site— and should be able to vote early, Ulrich argued.

"One of the reasons voting turnout is so low is that we tell people you can only vote from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on a Tuesday," Ulrich said. "And if you can't make it, you can't be a part of the process."

Panelists also discussed localities which have successfully implemented public financing laws, as well as efforts across the country to pass laws encouraging small donations to candidates. In New York, proponents of the New York City system often call for a similar state program whereby campaign donations are more tightly limited and public matching dollars are available for small contributions.

"Money will always be in politics," acknowledged Jared DeMarinis, director of Maryland's State Board of Elections. In Maryland, Montgomery County's campaign finance program, the first in the country passed after Citizens United v. FEC - the Supreme Court decision that lifted restrictions on political spending by corporations - was designed keeping in mind the altered political environment. "Let's not have the hard caps on expenditures," they decided. "Let's just cap how much public monies we'll give to candidates but allow them to keep raising beyond that but just restrict on how the money is raised." Montgomery's program was "basically modelled after the New York City idea," said DeMarinis.

Other parts of the country may be passing campaign finance laws, but not all have been as successful as New York City, according to Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute. He compared the small donor public matching programs in New York City and Los Angeles and found that "not all matching funds have the same effect." A study he conducted with Michael Parrott found the New York program to be significantly more effective than the one in Los Angeles due to differences in how they are structured, including around what percentage matching funds account for spending limits. "You need a program that will actually work, that will do its job well," he said.

One area in which he found success in both cities was that supporting small donations encouraged political participation among less wealthy and non-white racial and ethnic groups. "In both cities, small donors come from much more diverse neighborhoods than large donors," he said. His study found that New York City Council candidates raised campaign contributions from 90 percent of the city's census block groups. In Los Angeles, the percentage was lower, but still significant at 68 percent.

Currently, efforts are underway to create or strengthen campaign finance laws in several cities and states across the country, including Chicago, Santa Fe, Seattle and Maine, panelists said.

"We have seen an enormous interest in cities and states across the country. And in many places over the next two or three years, we are going to see dozens of jurisdictions looking to move small donor public financing," said Karen Hobert Flynn, senior vice president for strategy and programs at Common Cause. "It's about people wanting to reclaim their government."

"Our hope is that Chicago will mimic what's happening in New York, in Los Angeles, and other places," said Mike Petro, vice president of Committee for Economic Development. "Those are the victories that we need across the country."

by Catie Edmondson and Zehra Rehman, Gotham Gazette

Conference Keys to Restore Voter Confidence Start with Campaign Finance Reform Thu, 23 Jul 2015 20:33:02 +0000