Gotham Gazette Wed, 08 Jul 2020 11:41:48 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Cuomo's Missing Ethics Agenda Cuomo corruption ethics

Cuomo in 2013 (photo: Governor's Office)

The government ethics agenda put forth by Governor Andrew Cuomo in his 2020 State of the State is much shorter than those he’s proposed in years passed.

In fact, it contains just one proposal: legislation mandating some state officials publish their tax returns. Meanwhile, it leaves out several of Cuomo’s past proposals that have yet to be accomplished, including major campaign finance reforms supported by one of his top allies.

The heavily-truncated list comes after more than a year of controversy surrounding the state’s Campaign Finance Reform Commission, which was created by the governor and Legislature to tackle some of his oldest evergreen proposals to get money out of politics. That commission put forth binding recommendations, now law, to institute a new public matching campaign finance system, with much lower individual contribution limits and other reforms.

But following the end of the commission’s work, many observers and one of Cuomo’s own appointees to the body, have said that a number of key campaign finance reforms are yet to be resolved and should be taken up by state lawmakers.

Yet in his most recent State of the State address, and the 318-page policy book that accompanied it, Cuomo outlined just one initiative that would address potential government corruption. The sole item related to ethics or campaign finance is passing the “Nothing to Hide” Act, a bill that would require the state’s most powerful and highly-paid officials to disclose their tax returns to the public. It is a proposal that resonates with national calls for President Donald Trump to release his tax returns, but touches only one edge of the state’s most endemic corruption problems.

Left aside by the campaign finance commission, and also by Cuomo, are proposals to limit donations to party committees and from people doing business with the state, two areas of the campaign finance system that the governor has said enables dark money in the political process.

After years of Cuomo calling for reforms to address perennial corruption and the influence of big money on state government -- strengthening financial disclosure requirements for government officials, expanding state procurement oversight, limiting the income of legislators outside their government salaries, to name a few -- only some of the most highly anticipated proposals have been accomplished, with others only partially or nominally addressed, and a number completely unfulfilled.

Paring down his ethics agenda comes after repeated pledges to clean up state government since his winning 2010 campaign for governor and amid a long series of corruption scandals, including those involving members of Cuomo’s inner circle and state legislative leaders; and amid the governor’s ongoing practice of raising huge sums of money from powerful entities with state business.

“We would have liked to see the governor propose more good government legislation in his State of the State address. In years past he put forth many proposals and this year it appears there’s only one,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy analyst at the good government group Reinvent Albany.

Campaign Finance
High on the list of accomplished reforms are the recent Campaign Finance Reform Commission results, including establishing a voluntary system with lower contribution limits for individuals and public matching funds to multiply the impact of smaller donations. While the details of the new system are still being debated, litigated, and widely critiqued (though not negotiated by state lawmakers), the commissioners left untouched two long-sought changes: contribution limits on donors to political party accounts and on people doing business with the state.

Ethics watchdogs have identified both issues as avenues for circumventing the state’s existing campaign contribution limits and promoting the influence of large political donors. And Cuomo has over the years called for restrictions on both fronts, though he included neither in his 2020 agenda.

Cuomo’s chosen chair of the state Democratic Party, Jay Jacobs, was also one of the governor’s appointees to the campaign finance commission, and while the commission didn’t touch political party donation or doing-business donation limits, Jacobs said that lawmakers should tackle both.

Asked in December why the commission hadn’t, Jacobs said on the Max and Murphy podcast that the panel’s legal counsel believed them to be outside the commission’s jurisdiction. “That’s not to say that I don’t believe, and I do believe, that the legislature should take it up and address both those issues,” he said, adding there should be limits on “party accounts and certainly those doing business with the state.”

Cuomo has for almost his entire term in the executive chamber called for limits to party “housekeeping” accounts, including it in his first State of the State in 2011, and in every other policy book between 2013 and 2018. Housekeeping accounts, as opposed to party committees, are meant to support party activities outside of campaigns, but are frequently used to channel large contributions into elections operations like get out the vote efforts, which can be used to benefit preferred candidates outside of the state’s oversight apparatus.

The governor has also publicly supported campaign contribution limits on people with or seeking state contracts throughout his tenure, at least as far back as his 2012 State of the State. In his speech that year, he raised alarms about the “undue influence over elected officials” of contractors and lobbyists who have donated to the campaigns of key decision-makers and may later expect the favor to be returned. (In 2016, as the Buffalo Billion bid-rigging and bribery scandal was unfolding, Cuomo pledged to restrict contributions to his own campaign coffers from companies when the government was seeking contractors. His office later confirmed to Gotham Gazette that this promise had not been followed through on.)

Cuomo has benefited immensely from contributions from people and businesses with state contracts. The New York Times reported in July that Cuomo had raised over $3 million just from contractors with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) since he took office in 2011, according to campaign finance filings. That is more than 3 percent of his total campaign donations over the same period of time coming from contractors with just one, albeit massive, state authority.

Jacobs admitted in the interview that restricting contributions to party accounts goes against the interests of the state party he chairs, of which Cuomo is one of the biggest beneficiaries. “As state party chair I would advocate maybe something different but that’s not my role at this moment,” he said.

Party committees are able to garner a virtually unlimited amount of money and unlike housekeeping accounts can be used on electoral spending to benefit a particular candidate. Campaign finance filings for the weeks ahead of the 2018 primary, in which a number of incumbent Democratic legislators had competitive challenges from the left, show the New York State Democratic Committee received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a handful of unions and political action committees -- the largest donation that filing was $109,000 from the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Ahead of the general election in 2019, the committee received a single donation of $95,000 from an individual, Lucy R. Waletzky (a Rockefeller), of Pleasantville.

Also left on the cutting room floor was Cuomo’s 2019 proposal to ban all campaign donations from corporations, which accompanied a similar plan to ban contributions by limited liability corporations, or LLCs.

“That’s something that could be done, that could go further than what’s been proposed, but I will say that I think the other items I mentioned -- the doing business restrictions, lower contribution limits, limits on party and housekeeping accounts -- are more important,” Camarda said, noting that LLCs were partially addressed last year when the Legislature and Cuomo imposed contribution limits and new disclosure requirements on them.

Asked why Cuomo had not included some of his past ethics and campaign finance proposals in his 2020 agenda, and specifically why he did not include limits on political party and doing-business contributions, a spokesperson for Cuomo said he still supports past proposals.

"We're proud to say that closing the LLC loophole was among the first bills the governor signed last year and of course we continue to support these further reforms. I'm sure these will be among the issues we’ll be discussing with the legislature this session," wrote Caitlin Girouard, the administration spokesperson, in an email.

What remains in 2020 is the proposed tax return disclosure requirement, which would make high-earning officials, including the governor, attorney general, comptroller, state legislators, and agency commissioners, as well as any elected official earning more than $100,000 annually, to publish their tax returns. The measure is similar to a 2019 proposal in Cuomo’s State of the State that would require candidates for statewide office and the Legislature to submit tax returns to the Board of Elections.

“We think the public financing system still needs to be improved significantly by limiting party contributions, contributions from individuals doing business with the state, for example,” Camarda said.

“And we think there is a real need to reform JCOPE and ethics laws, which nobody believes are working effectively, as evidenced by all the situations that have arisen over the last year,” he added referring to the state’s maligned ethics watchdog.

More Past Cuomo Ethics Proposals
A number of other ethics proposals from previous years remain active in the minds of good government advocates, if no longer in the governor’s. Among them are requiring local elected officials and municipal employees to file financial disclosure statements with JCOPE. Another initiative would have enacted a “first-in-the-nation” code of conduct for lobbyists, as Cuomo put it last year, a measure that several good government groups opposed saying it was too nebulous.

Other past priorities of the governor were pursued in previous years but failed to achieve the full scope of what was advocated. High on that list was a limit on legislators’ income outside their government salary, which was imposed by a commission but later struck down in New York State Supreme Court. Good government groups now want to see the measure, which is intended to limit conflicts of interest and opportunities for corruption, created through statute by the Legislature and governor.

At the start of 2019, Cuomo was calling for expanded oversight powers of the state comptroller and inspector general to review certain large state contracts for SUNY, CUNY, and affiliated organizations, as well as Office of General Services centralized contracts. This was partially achieved through an agreement between Cuomo and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in August, but good government groups want to see it codified.

In his 2019 State of the State, and clarified in his executive budget proposals that year, Cuomo called for multiple changes to the state’s Freedom of Information Law, from making the state Legislature subject to open records provisions and allowing public access to union contracts before they’re approved to limiting the length of time during which trade secrets are exempt from FOIL. None of his five proposals passed, but three other legislative amendments were made: exempting mugshots from FOIL, requiring Industrial Development Agencies to livestream and record public meetings, and requiring state agencies with websites to create a webpage for requesting records. In December, Cuomo signed a FOIL bill and vetoed another, both relating to access to court records (the vetoed measure would have limited certain law enforcement-related exemptions to FOIL).

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note: this story has been updated to reflect that Comptroller DiNapoli's office said the aforementioned agreement with Gov. Cuomo has been finalized, so mention of it not being so has been removed.

Cuomo's Missing Ethics Agenda Tue, 14 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Reactions Roundup: Elected Officials, Advocates & Others on Cuomo's 2020 State of the State Speech sos address

(photo: Darren McGee/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo presented his annual State of the State address from Albany. He opened by highlighting the challenges faced by Americans, and New Yorkers, over recent weeks and years, including earthquakes in Puerto Rico, escalating tensions with Iran, and the surge in hate crimes against Jewish New Yorkers.

Cuomo gave highlights of New York successes over the course of his now nine-plus years as governor, then launched into his policy priorities for 2020, positioning New York State as the “progressive capital of the nation.”

Cuomo hit on a myriad of policy proposals during his speech, from the importance of combating climate change through a new $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act and banning styrofoam to continued tax cuts for the middle class and a new tax cut for small businesses.

Among many other proposals, Cuomo called for legalizing adult use of marijuana, ensuring a fair trial for rape victims, banning sex offenders from the MTA, and funding more affordable housing units to reduce homelessness. He took early but vague positions on altering how the state provides local education funding, how Medicaid is paid for, and regulating the gig economy. 

After the address, responses came flooding in from stakeholders across the state. The New York Republican Party released a statement from Chair Nick Langworthy condemning Cuomo’s remarks and stressing the state’s ongoing population loss, blaming it on high taxes and too much business regulation, among other things.

“As our residents and jobs leave, so does our tax revenue. So does our talent. We are yet again facing the loss of one or two congressional seats after the next census, giving us less representation in our federal government,” Langworthy says in the video response to Cuomo’s speech.

Whereas Republicans tweak Cuomo from the right, the Working Families Party typically critiques him from the left. In response to Cuomo’s agenda, the WFP criticized him for putting the interest of wealthy New Yorkers first at the expense of others. WFP State Director Sophie Nnaemeka said in a statement, “it is shameful that Governor Cuomo thinks the best way to fix the deficit is to cut state funding for Medicaid — a move that will cost lives.”

It likely won’t be clear until Cuomo releases his executive budget for the next fiscal year, a plan due out by January 21, how the third term Democratic governor plans to close the looming $6.1 billion budget gap that Nnaemeka and other critics referenced in their State of the State responses. Cuomo briefly mentioned the budget gap during his State of the State when talking about the need for reforms to Medicaid, which is the leading driver of the deficit.

In a statement released by the The Conservative Party of New York State, Chair Gerard Kassar also emphasized the exodus of people to other states, and disconnect between having a $6 billion deficit and “proposed billions in new spending.”

When his remarks turned to forward-looking proposals, Cuomo first talked about combatting climate change, urging his audience to “think globally, act locally.” He focused on restoring the state’s natural environment through the bond act he said he would seek to put on the ballot this November, investing in renewables by connecting the offshore wind program to upstate, investing in electric vehicles, and banning styrofoam statewide. His proposals for the environment drew a variety of responses.

NY Renews said the funding towards renewables was not clear or specific enough, and expressed frustration that Cuomo didn’t outline plans to fund ambitious climate legislation passed last year, though those intended allocations are more likely to be found during the governor’s budget presentation.

In its State of the State statement, NY Renews urged the governor to “put money directly into New York State communities, laser-focused on the interrelated goals of a just society and a renewable economy. NY Renews is demanding this funding in the 2020 budget.” The statement went on to read: “we have the resources to build a just transition to a renewable economy; what we lack is the political will.”

Melissa Iachan, Senior Staff Attorney in the environmental justice program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said in a statement that NYLPI is encouraged by the governor’s styrofoam ban proposal and that it will help to protect wildlife and reduce pollution, especially in low-income neighborhoods where significant waste infrastructure is located.

On the other side of that issue, Mike Durant, President & CEO of the Food Industry Alliance of NYS, Inc., emphasized that the styrofoam ban could “prove costly to an industry that is currently reeling from the lack of finality to the single-use plastic bag ban.”

During his address, Cuomo touched on the state’s homelessness crisis, proposing the “largest amount of funding in the history of the State of New York to help the homeless and build affordable housing,” and “demand a higher level of competence and skill and professionalism” form local elected officials across the state to address homelessness.

In response to the governor’s comments, The Family Homelessness Coalition released a statement urging further action, specifically asking for the state to “expand rental assistance and transitional housing supports for families experiencing homelessness, and ensure that survivors of domestic violence, the leading cause of family homelessness, have access to critical preventive and permanent housing services.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio attended Cuomo’s speech and held a media availability afterward. Asked about Cuomo’s homelessness comments, de Blasio said that he is glad the governor raised the topic, but would like more information, which he hopes becomes clearer when the executive budget is released. De Blasio said it would be “tremendous” to have more state support and is going to work with the Legislature to pass the Home Stability Support Act (HSS), a housing subsidy program that Cuomo has opposed in recent years.

In her reaction to Cuomo’s speech and outline of her priorities for 2020, Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs the Senate finance committee, also cited HSS, which she sponsors in her chamber, as a top priority.

Cuomo brought back up an issue he had said he would work on in 2019 but did not, and proposed protections for gig economy workers, saying that “corporations are increasing their profits at the expense of the employee and the taxpayer” and that it must stop. He said workers for many businesses are in fact employees and not contractors as the corporations like to say.

In a written response, the New York State AFL-CIO applauded the governor’s comments and said its members “look forward to working with the governor and legislature to pass legislation that guarantees these workers will no longer be denied the rights and protections all other working men and women enjoy."

The Food Industry Alliance also highlighted in its statement that the food industry is evolving and a part of the gig economy and that it is a “complicated issue.” The statement suggested that any legislation pushed through too quickly and without thorough consultation with stakeholders could be detrimental.

Amid ongoing debate over bail reforms passed last year that went into effect on January 1, the audience may have been expecting more attention paid to criminal justice during Cuomo’s speech, including, perhaps, the governor’s preferred changes to the law. But while he has said he thinks changes are warranted, Cuomo has not outlined specifics and did not do so during his State of the State. Rather, he mentioned last year’s effort to decriminalize marijuana possession, and proposed “creating the first of its kind global cannabis and hemp research center for science and education” while legalizing adult use.

In response, the Drug Policy Alliance released a statement praising the governor’s “renewed ambition to get legalization done this year” and urging him to make New York a leader in social justice by “ensur[ing] any bill legalizing and regulating marijuana includes opportunities for New Yorkers who have been directly impacted by decades of prohibition to excel in the new market and must also dedicate significant funds to those communities most impacted by the war on drugs.”

The coalition NYC Defenders of the city’s public defender organizations put out a statement praising bail reform and emphasizing the need for the state to “progress and prioritize and pass urgent reforms to other aspects of the system, including marijuana legalization, policing, due process, prison and jail conditions, and parole.”

The defenders went on to highlight New York Senate and Assembly measures that they support, such as ending the lifetime felony ban on jury duty service, which “prevents people from serving their communities as full-fledged and equal citizens.”

One of the more staggering numbers presented during the address is the disparity in funding among New York schools. Cuomo said it is “shameful that we do not distribute funding in the most progressive way.” Adding that wealthier schools spend as much as $36,000 per student while poorer schools spend as little as $13,000 per student, he urged legislators to use state funds to reduce the funding disparities.

In response to Cuomo’s remarks, the Alliance for Quality Education said that while he rightly pointed out the lack of equity, the governor should “join his colleagues in the Assembly and Senate to support a multi-year commitment to phase-in the $3.8 billion in Foundation Aid owed to public schools.” The statement highlighted that in 2019 while the Assembly and Senate committed to the funding, the governor, who has disputed that characterization of “owed” funds, did not.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who challenged Cuomo’ lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, in the 2018 Democratic primary, was also in attendance on Wednesday. In a statement released after Cuomo’s speech, Williams said he is taking a wait-and-see approach, especially as the governor prepares his executive budget.

“Advocates from across the state, and the Public Advocate's office itself, will be watching and working to ensure that Governor Cuomo does not attempt a retreat from the progress we have already fought for and won,” Williams said in the statement. “This is even more critical as budgetary constraints loom - it's easy to be progressive when there's an abundance of funding, but essential to define and champion progressive priorities in any environment. Fiscal responsibility is very important, and so too is human responsibility”

by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

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Reactions Roundup: Elected Officials, Advocates & Others on Cuomo's 2020 State of the State Speech Thu, 09 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
16 Notable Cuomo Proposals Not in His State of the State Speech sos creating 21

(photo: Governor's office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo detailed much of his legislative agenda for the year at his State of the State speech on Wednesday in Albany, outlining various measures that, if enacted, could have wide-ranging impacts on New Yorkers. He gave only a nod, however, to the state’s fiscal picture, including an expected $6.1 billion budget gap for next fiscal year, which he’ll have to address in more detail when he presents his budget plan later this month.

The governor spoke of his top-line priorities – gun control, health care, workers protections, tax cuts and credits, and more – some of which he had already publicly released in the lead-up to the speech. But also notable are various proposals that he did not mention but are included in the 320-page policy book that accompanied his speech.

Below are 15 topics with proposals from the governor that he did not mention in his remarks:

Tax Relief Benefits
The state Earned Income Tax Credit can be worth as much as $8,682 for a family of two with three or more children and a combined annual income of $54,884. But filers often do not claim the benefit, which provides more than $1 billion each year to low-income taxpayers. Cuomo has proposed legislation to allow the state Department of Taxation and Finance to issue EITC checks to taxpayers even if they do not claim it. It would also not require them to amend their tax returns.

Assisting Minority- and Women-Owned Businesses
In the 2018-19 fiscal year, 29.13% of state contracts went to minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs), falling just short of a 30% goal set by the governor in 2014.

MWBEs often face administrative hurdles in obtaining business from the state and, as the policy book notes, there are several state entities with MWBE program and each has its own application and certification requirements. According to the policy book, the governor will direct Empire State Development’s Division of Minority and Women’s Business Development to create a centralized application portal as well as undertake other measures to ease the burden on MWBEs.

Targeting Robocalls
Robocalls can be a nuisance and also a tool for fraud and scams with elderly New Yorkers often falling prey to them. In response, the governor has proposed a three-part plan to end the menace by requiring telecom companies to block them, mandating that the companies implement additional call authentication mechanisms and imposing steep fines on companies that do not comply, as much as $100,000 a day.

Net Neutrality Protections
Under the Trump administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rolled back net neutrality policies that had been in place since 2015. Those policies had prevented internet service providers (ISPs) from throttling access or charging additional rates for online content.

In 2018, Cuomo signed an executive order to mandate that state agencies only contract with ISPs that follow net neutrality principles. In his policy book, he proposed codifying that executive order as well as legislation to “prevent the blocking, throttling and paid prioritization of online content — practices that undermine a free and open internet.”

The legislation would allow the Department of Public Service to investigate and fine ISPs that do not follow net neutrality rules. It would also allow consumers to pursue legal action against a company on those grounds.

Targeting Predatory Debt Collectors
Taking aim at deceptive actions, harassment, and wrongdoing in the debt collection industry, Cuomo proposed a license requirement for debt collectors, implemented and overseen by the Department of Financial Services.

Consumer Protections
Cuomo proposed a multi-pronged consumer protection agenda though he did not reference it in his speech. The proposals include giving state authorities additional enforcement powers in line with federal law; eliminating oversight exemptions for consumer financial products and services; changing the Financial Services Law to place oversight mandates on entities (such as virtual currency issuers) licensed under the law, similar to mandates on banks and insurance companies; and increasing fines under the state Insurance Law and Financial Services Law.

Women’s Equity
In his speech, Cuomo spoke of ending the so-called “pink tax,” a form of gender-based pricing discrimination that hurts women, and also pushed for ending the rape intoxication loophole. The policy book, however, contains a raft of other proposals aimed at promoting women’s equity.

-To address the abysmally low rate of women in corporate governance positions, Cuomo will instruct SUNY Empire State College to create a Women’s Corporate Leadership Academy, to both prepare women for executive and board positions as well as work with organizations to improve their gender representation.

-This year, according to the policy book, the governor’s Council on Women and Girls, Department of Financial Service, and Essence Communications Inc. will together organize a statewide program to examine how the student debt crisis particularly impacts women of color.

-In order to ensure that state and local authorities are complying with the state’s recently passed pay equity law, the state Authorities Budget Office will conduct a survey of all authorities to collect information on pay scales broken down by gender. Authorities where pay gaps exist will have six months to produce a plan to fix them.

-Cuomo also proposed requiring companies that are seeking state contracts to report on settlements, court judgements, and administrative rulings related to sexual harassment within the previous year.

Women’s Health
The policy book contains several announcements and proposals aimed at improving women’s reproductive health and choice:

-New York will launch a family planning program funded only by the state owing to changes to federal rules by the Trump administration that prevent federal funds from being used to aid organizations that provide abortions and other services.

-The governor proposed creating a Women’s Health Research Consortium to study conditions that disproportionately affect women, health care issues specific to women and to prioritize research into maternal mortality and infertility.

-The state will invest $8 million over two years to continue combating maternal mortality and implement the recommendations of the Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Disparate Racial Outcomes.

Tackling Gender-Based Violence
The governor put forward a host of measures to reduce gender-based violence and provide services to survivors:

-Cuomo proposed a uniform standard of care for all hospitals when treating sexual assault survivors.

-The “Enough is Enough” law was passed in 2015 to prevent sexual violence on college campuses. Cuomo has proposed amending it to institute trainings “on healthy nightlife in college communities.” He will also direct the State Liquor Authority to include sexual violence prevention in its Alcohol Awareness Training Program curriculum.

-The governor proposed a pilot program to provide flexible funding that would allow non-profit organizations to provide a continuum of services to domestic violence survivors. He also proposed instituting Domestic Violence Regional Councils to work with the state Domestic Violence Advisory Council on the needs of survivors.

-Cuomo also intends to put forward a bill that would require courts to take into consideration the effect of domestic violence when deciding on the distribution of assets in a divorce.
-Cuomo proposed allowing family courts to issue restraining orders without the petitioner having to prove that a family offense was committed.

-The governor made several proposals that specifically deal with gun violence, including allowing law enforcement to confiscate firearms from alleged abusers while they await prosecution and from the subject of a restraining order based on a domestic dispute. He also proposed creating a new category of domestic violence misdemeanor.

Immigrant Protections and Rights
The policy book notes that many New York statutes require individuals applying for occupational licenses to be citizens or green card holders, which excludes several categories of immigrants that are legally allowed to live and work in the country. Cuomo proposed removing that requirement by amending the Executive Law, General Business Law, and Real Property Law.

Cuomo also intends to move a bill that would codify an executive order he signed in 2011 that requires state agencies that interact with the public to provide interpretation and translation services to those with limited English proficiency.

Preventing Exploitation by Sexual Predators
Cuomo will introduce legislation that would update current law to require sex offenders to disclose all their social media accounts to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. The amendment is aimed at closing a loophole and preventing predators from targeting people through dating apps, video game chats, and social media.

Police Surveillance
Touting License Plate Readers as an “invaluable tool” for the state police, Cuomo’s policy book said he will expand the current program and update it with the latest technology. It particularly cites the success of LPRs in catching the alleged suspect in the stabbing attack at a Hanukkah gathering in Monsey last month.

Students and Education
Cuomo proposed a new program that would allow school districts to apply for grants to provide mental health services to students and for schools with programs already operational to expand them.

The governor also proposed new legislation to make for-profit colleges more transparent in how they spend public funds. It would mandate them to report on, among other things, the salaries and bonuses paid to owners and executives.

The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance will also expand eligibility criteria for community college students to obtain Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

The governor also proposed legislation to set standards for the student loan debt relief industry.

Health Care Protections
A number of proposals in the policy book would reform access to health care and how the industry operates.

-Cuomo will order the Department of Health, the Department of Financial Services, and the state Digital and Media Services Center to build an online portal that allows individuals to access information on the cost of health care services and to educate them on their rights as a patient.

-The governor included several measures to curb the practice of surprise billing including expanding the current out of network billing law to prevent hospitals from directly charging patients for emergency services; requiring medical facilities to disclose their fees that are not covered by insurance; and shortening the statute of limitations for collecting unpaid medical debt from six years to three years.

-Cuomo also aims to reform physician accountability, introducing bills to establish periodic renewal requirements for licensed physicians and increase oversight under the DOH Office of Professional Medical Conduct.

Veterans Benefits
The governor made several commitments to veteran benefits in his policy book, including a $5 million investment in permanent supportive housing for homeless veterans; $1 million for veteran suicide prevention; a partnership between SUNY and, a philanthropic organization, to pay the costs of exams for veterans and members of active-duty military families.

Cuomo also intends to propose legislation that would make it easier for New York State to build a State Veterans Cemetery.

Election Security
Cuomo proposed several election security measures recommended by the Cyber Security Advisory Board, which he convened in November. Among the measures he intends to advance is the creation of a Cyber Swat Team to work with local boards of elections. He will also direct the state and local BOEs to work with state agencies to prepare an emergency response plan for potential cyber attacks that may affect the 2020 elections.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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16 Notable Cuomo Proposals Not in His State of the State Speech Thu, 09 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Cuomo's State of the State & What's Next, with Senator Liz Krueger jan wbai krueger600

Seantor Liz Krueger, center (photo: New York State Senate)

January 8, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Cuomo's State of the State & What's Next, with Senator Liz Krueger

jan wbai krueger250State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat and chair of the Senate finance committee, joined the show to give her reactions to Governor Cuomo's State of the State speech, discuss Senate Democrats' priorities for 2020, and more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Cuomo's State of the State & What's Next, with Senator Liz Krueger Wed, 08 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
5 Things to Watch in Cuomo's State of the State Speech Cuomo State of the State

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)

Having already released more than 30 proposals, Governor Andrew Cuomo will unveil his full 2020 agenda for this year’s legislative session on Wednesday as he delivers his annual State of the State address in Albany. Unlike last year and several others during his prior nine years as governor, Cuomo’s speech won’t be accompanied with the release of his executive budget proposal, which is expected soon and must address a $6.1 billion projected deficit for the next fiscal year.

Cuomo’s 2020 agenda will include several elements of unfinished business from last year that he’s likely to revive with tweaks and modifications, including elements he was not able to get to the finish line with the Legislature, such as legalization of adult-use marijuana, or related to pieces of legislation he has vetoed in recent weeks but wants to find agreement on, such as legalization of e-bikes and e-scooters.

After what was a highly prolific and historic 2019, the first of Cuomo’s tenure with both legislative houses controlled by fellow Democrats, the governor has made “making progress happen” his theme for this year. Last year, when he called it his “justice agenda,” included a few scrapes between the governor and a Legislature, emboldened by new progressive members, that at times proceeded without Cuomo’s full approval.

"Last year we laid out the most aggressive agenda in modern political history and we got it done," Cuomo said in a December 13 announcement of his annual State of the State. “This year we'll build on that record of accomplishment and continue restoring confidence in government as a force for good. We're going to set the bar even higher, making progress happen for the people of this great state and sending a signal to a weary country to follow New York as we lead the way upwards.”

The proposals he has unveiled thus far include new gun control measures, bills to combat the opioid epidemic, modified election regulations, environmental protection bills, prescription drug price reductions, net neutrality protections, new rules for the debt collection industry, penalties for illegal cigarette sales, a ban on gender pricing differences called the “pink tax,” transparency in health care costs, restrictions on vaping products and related advertisements, legalizing gestational surrogacy, studying high speed rail, regulating robo calls, passing the Equal Rights Amendment, and major infrastructure investments.

If Cuomo’s agenda from prior years is any indication, his State of the State policy book will contain hundreds more proposals, only some of which make it into the governor’s speech. It remains to be seen how ambitious Cuomo will be this year considering how much was done last year, the state budget gap, and that it’s an election year with every state legislator on the ballot (the new June primary elections for state legislative seats, moved to match congressional primaries, will slightly truncate the post-budget session).

Several questions await answers during Cuomo’s speech and release of his full policy book.

How does the state budget hole impact Cuomo’s policy agenda, and vice versa?
Before he puts forth any big ideas, the governor must of course figure out if he can pay for them. Cuomo will soon have to explain how he plans to fill the worrying $6.1 billion budget gap the state faces for the next fiscal year, which begins April 1, that has gotten larger than previously projected because of an increase in Medicaid spending.

Many of the proposals Cuomo has already put forth will require no new spending, and Cuomo has indicated that he will not advance or support new and increased taxes, though Albany lawmakers have often found new fees and other revenue-raisers that are not income taxes.

Cuomo prides himself on passing on-time budgets and keeping state spending growth under 2% annual increases – though he has only accomplished this some years, while claiming it in others by using tricks and gimmicks, such as moving spending off the state budget to authorities or delaying it to the next fiscal year, practices that fiscal watchdogs have criticized.

Though he won’t release detailed budget plans on Wednesday, the governor may give some indication of how the state will rein in spending or raise new funds. Following a speech before the Association for a Better New York on Monday, Cuomo said outright that he will not raise taxes and instead will look to control Medicaid costs. “The health costs have to be addressed structurally and a one-shot dose to the system of sugar to give us a short high with revenue is not the answer,” he said in response to an audience question.

His budget director, Robert Mujica, has also tried to make assurances that the budget gap is not a cause for worry. “There is no doubt it will be a challenge, but it is a challenge that is manageable. The Governor has closed gaps much larger than this,” Mujica wrote in a Medium post last month.

While the state faces a crunch, New York City on the other hand is expecting a surplus by the end of its own fiscal year in June, which might prompt Cuomo to propose cuts and cost shifts away from the state budget to the city as he has done several times in recent years. Mayor Bill de Blasio and his allies in the Legislature have been mostly successful in beating these efforts back but the city has nonetheless had to swallow several reductions in funding, unfunded mandates, and new costs imposed by the state. The mayor also said Monday during a press conference that he expects to see a similar attempt this year. 

The New York Daily News reported Monday that several Democratic legislators are planning to introduce new tax measures and propose eliminating certain exemptions for the wealthy that could raise as much as $30 billion each year, which the governor is all but assured to declare dead on arrival.

How much of Cuomo’s State of the State speech dwells on fiscal matters is an open question heading into Wednesday.

Will Cuomo outline his preferred changes to controversial new bail reforms? What will his larger criminal justice agenda be?
A transformative bail reform measure passed last year that eliminates cash bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies has just taken effect across the state. But the reform has been met by widespread criticism and some fearmongering about public safety from prosecutors and other law enforcement leaders, Republican officials, and some Democrats.

Cuomo has not said exactly how he believes bail reform should be changed but has stated that it requires some modification. “[C]hanging the system, which we started to do, is complicated and then has a number of ramifications,” he said on Monday, again when answering an audience question after his ABNY speech in Manhattan. “There's no doubt this is still a work in progress and there are other changes that have to be made.”

Amid a rash of hate crimes, especially anti-Semitic ones, Cuomo’s office has said the govenror supports adding hate crimes to the list of offenses subject to bail being set by judges, which has in the past functioned as a way to lock defendents up pre-trial, in lieu of the “dangerousness” assessments that many states allow but New York has not for decades. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others, have favored allowing judges to use their discretion in pre-trial remand, but many Democratic legislators and advocates have opposed the change, arguing that it leads to bias against poor people and people of color, while feeding mass incarceration and the ill-effects of criminal legal system involvement.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has also indicated an openness to revisiting the bail laws, also citing concerns about the recent spike in hate crimes.

Cuomo hasn’t signalled whether he will propose any further criminal justice reforms or if he supports several proposals being championed by advocates to reform solitary confinement procedures in prisons, to loosen rules for paroling elderly inmates or change what constitutes jailable parole violations, and to decriminalize sex work, to name a few.

Will he advance legislation for regulating the gig economy?
In his “first 100 days agenda” for 2019, the governor said he would pursue protections for workers in the on-demand or so-called gig economy, a fast growing sector in New York. According to Census data analyzed by freelance online platform Fiverr and Rockbridge Associates, New York City alone had more than 519,000 freelance workers in 2016 generating $23 billion in economic activity (projected to have grown to more than 559,000 by 2018), the most of any city across the country.

But Cuomo did not introduce any real legislation last year to back up his words, seemingly the only policy issue from his 100 days speech to receive that treatment. Since then, several state legislators have begun to raise the issue and introduce bills to regulate the gig economy, including protections for freelancers, particularly taking note of California’s recent groundbreaking legislation to reclassify workers in the on-demand economy. Cuomo himself expressed similar sentiments, which could mean he may follow suit with new proposals of his own. New York City presented something of an initial possible model for the state a few years ago, with protections for some freelance workers, and has since added laws related to for-hire vehicle drivers in the five boroughs, including a minimum wage.

Will Cuomo revive vetoed bills?
Cuomo has signed 751 bills and vetoed 169 bills from the 2019 legislative session, while another 11 await his signature or rejection, as of Monday. Of the measures he struck down, many in recent weeks, were several that advocates and elected officials have continued to push and even included bills that the governor himself has said he supports but with modifications.

His speech on Wednesday provides him the opportunity to publicly present his revised versions of what many saw as progressive, common-sense measures approved by both Democratic legislative majorities.

Among those bills was the legalization of e-bikes and e-scooters, which the governor said he favored but refused to allow without additional safety rules, including a helmet requirement that transit advocates have opposed. He’s pledged his own proposal again this year, though the details remain to be seen and it is unknown whether compromise with legislators can be found.

Cuomo has also promised to introduce a new version of the Securing Wages Earned Against Theft (SWEAT) Act, which he vetoed. The bill would have given workers the ability to place a lien on an employer’s assets to ensure they are paid for their work. The governor raised technical concerns that would likely be addressed in the modified version.

While he has supported some new measures to reduce opioid addiction and overdose deaths, the governor also vetoed a bill that would have eased access to medication-assisted addiction treatment for Medicaid recipients. On the other hand, he signed a bill that did the same for those enrolled in private insurance plans, raising the ire of advocates. He also vetoed a bill that would have required insurance companies to provide expanded coverage for eating disorders.

Cuomo also vetoed legislation to impose new rules on Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs), which was expected to reduce prescription drug prices, despite having called for such regulation in the past.

Citing the recent bail reform measure, Cuomo also nixed a bill that would have expanded charitable bail funds in the state, arguing that the move was redundant without first assessing the new system. “Any amendments involving charitable bail organizations that might be needed should be considered after this year’s bail reforms have had an opportunity to be fully implemented and the specific needs are identified,” he wrote in his veto message, according to New York Law Journal. The Journal noted that the veto was accompanied by another which struck down a bill to give public defenders easier access to their clients’ criminal histories.

Through another veto, Cuomo halted plans for the redevelopment of Hudson River Park’s Pier 40 into commercial office space and has instead said it should be preserved for community use. He may propose a project as a replacement; on Monday in Manhattan he said he would be introducing related legislation that would give the NYPD, which currently operates a tow pound on the pier, until the end of the year to vacate.

The governor also rejected a bill that would have mandated that state agencies, boards, and commissions gather certain demographic information on Asian-Americans, separating the data rather than lumping together communities from different countries of origin. Cuomo cited the costs the bill would impose on state agencies when he vetoed it, according to NBC News.

Will he address ethics and campaign finance reforms?
The state’s campaign finance system is set to undergo an overhaul following a slate of new regulations made by a state-created commission that became law in December. The central reform the commission made is creating a public campaign finance matching program for statewide and state legislative election campaigns, a system that won’t go into effect till after the next gubernatorial election in November 2022.

But other changes the commission made to party ballot qualification thresholds and petition signature requirements will be enforced this year beginning with the presidential election. To receive an automatic spot on the ballot, parties will have to obtain 2% or 130,000 votes (up from 50,000 votes), whichever is more, for their candidate in the presidential election. They will also need 45,000 ballot petition signatures for their candidate, up from 15,000.

Those new thresholds risk the status of minor parties in the state, including the Working Families, Conservative, Libertarian, Independence, and Green Parties. The WFP and Conservative Party have both filed lawsuits that could potentially see those regulations undone. Failing that, the Legislature does not seem likely to reexamine the regulations and the governor has expressed satisfaction with the final product.

What remains to be seen is if the governor will propose any other bills regarding the state’s campaign finance system. Though in past rhetoric he has railed against the scourge of big money and wealthy donors in state elections, he has also largely benefited from them and has been less than strident in action about reforming the system. The campaign finance commission significantly lowered individual campaign contribution limits but they remain quite high; and it did not touch limits on donations to political party accounts, though its members have said those should be pursued by lawmakers this year, as well as limits on donations from those doing business with the state (commission counsel said the two issues were not part of its legal purview).

While the campaign finance system is changing amid some criticism of the commission’s final product, the state’s government ethics enforcement has also been the source of ongoing frustration for many.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) is less than a decade old and has largely failed to carry out its mandate of scrutinizing the behavior of elected officials and state employees. Its work is mired in secrecy and, to its critics, ineptitude. It has failed to catch repeated ethical and criminal violations by legislators, which are often revealed by the press or other law enforcement agencies. Some legislators, like State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, have suggested dissolving the agency and replacing it with a new, more independent ethics body.

It’s unclear whether the governor will support any effort to revamp ethics enforcement in the state. Cuomo has repeatedly made a show of supporting ethics reforms but has often taken a step back when it comes time to push them across the finish line, or he has moved watered down reforms and ensured his office has a significant degree of control.

JCOPE’s commissioners are appointed by the legislature and the governor, who also nominates the chair. To critics, that structure is fundamentally flawed and creates an obvious conflict for the agency’s duties. This issue was particularly highlighted in recent months after reports from the Times Union on an alleged leak about a confidential vote by JCOPE to the governor and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

5 Things to Watch in Cuomo's State of the State Speech Tue, 07 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
In State of the State, Cuomo Plots Changes on Education Aid, Medicaid, Marijuana and More gov state state address january

(photo: Darren McGee/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

In his annual State of the State speech on Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo was at times somber and sobering and, at others, impassioned and defiant as he laid out his legislative agenda for the 2020 session in Albany.

Speaking before elected and appointed officials, labor leaders, and others who gathered from across the state at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, Cuomo admitted, “It is going to be a challenging year.” He took stock of the “frightening times” for the country and the world, pointing to the recent earthquakes in Puerto Rico, the devastation of wildfires in Australia, and the United States’ tense standoff with Iran.

But it was the situation at home in New York State that most troubled him, he said, as he bluntly addressed the increased divisiveness and hatred infecting politics, marked by a spate of anti-Semitic hate crimes that have gripped the state in recent months. He paid special tribute to the victims of an incident in Rockland County in December, where five Jewish people were attacked by a man with a machete at a Hanukkah gathering.

Prompted by the troubling trend, Cuomo reiterated his proposal for a new domestic terrorism law that would cover hate-motivated violence, while outlining additional measures of a multi-pronged response.

“Our ship of state is stronger than it has been in decades, but the ocean we navigate is as tempest tossed as we have seen,” Cuomo said. “Waves of anxiety, injustice and frustration are being fanned by winds of anger and division, creating a political and social superstorm, but these are the times when New York is called upon to show leadership and set a course for a troubled nation.”

Cuomo repeated some of the same beats from previous State of the State speeches as he took a victory lap over the sweeping progressive legislation passed last year under a Democrat-led Legislature for the first time during his now nine-plus years as governor. As he’s done before, he embraced the label of “pragmatic progressive” as he critiqued those who he said cannot back rhetoric with action, continuing his attempt to set himself apart from his ardent critics on the left.

“Progressive government by definition must be functional...Progressive government does not make promises it cannot fulfil,” he said, as he went on to detail broad progressive proposals of economic, racial, and social justice, along with his trademark commitments to fiscal moderation and his signature economic development programs, which have been the source of criticism from the left and the right.

Early in his speech, he said the state would launch a “nation-leading response to the transcendent threat” of climate change, as he proposed that New York would make major new commitments to improve the environment and bolster emergency response capacity. He announced the proposal of a $3 billion Restore Mother Nature bond act to fund preservation and resiliency efforts across the state, and made additional commitments to promote green energy infrastructure and the electric vehicle industry, as well as a proposed ban on single-use styrofoam products. The bond plan must be approved by voters this November in order to move ahead.

Along with new plans to tackle climate change, the governor went through a wide variety of proposals, some returning from last year, like the legalization of adult-use marijuana. He also made provocative comments about the two largest areas of state spending -- education aid and Medicaid -- that appear to set the table for intense negotiations as the governor prepares his executive budget, due by January 21.

It wasn’t until nearly an hour into his speech that Cuomo spoke of the especially pressing challenge facing the state budget: a $6.1 billion projected budget gap, largely stemming from an increase in Medicaid costs. But he said little about how he would tackle it other than providing a few initial breadcrumbs.

Cuomo said he would reconvene the Medicaid Redesign Team, which he first created in 2011 to control costs and restructure the state’s Medicaid program. But, as expected, he did not announce plans for new taxes or other measures to raise revenue. His executive budget will tell much more of the story about how the governor plans to close the gap. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking to reporters after the speech, expressed some concern about how those health care savings would be achieved but said he would reserve final judgement until the governor releases a detailed proposal. "I am certain the state has some fiscal challenges. I respect that, but my first response is,  okay let’s all sit at the table and figure out how we can save money together and make sure that the common goal is to not take health services away from New Yorkers who need them," he said.  

Cuomo did, on the other hand, propose cutting the corporate tax rate for small businesses from 6.5% to 4% and also touted the lowering of tax cuts for middle class families that had been enacted in 2016 and are continuing to go into effect this year. “Our middle class is our backbone. We have to keep working with them to keep them strong and this tax cut will do just that,” he said, seemingly promoting the cut as a new initiative as he has done each year.

In recent weeks, Cuomo had already unveiled more than 30 proposals, many of which he reiterated in his speech including new gun control bills, ending gender-based pricing discrimination, and closing the rape intoxication loophole, to name a few. He also revived unfinished business from last year’s session including legalizing recreational marijuana and ending the ban on gestational surrogacy.

The speech included several proposals geared towards improving the lives of working and low-income New Yorkers. He pledged to pursue new protections for workers in the gig economy, an issue he ignored last year after promising action in late 2018, but has become far more pertinent with about 40% of the state’s workforce employed in various relevant fields. “Too many corporations are increasing their profits at the expense of the employee and the taxpayer. That must end,” he said.

He also proposed expanding the state’s child tax credit, which he said would provide a $400 annual credit to about 400,000 families with children under the age of four. Additionally, he pushed an expansion of the Excelsior Scholarship that would provide free college tuition to families earning up to $150,000, from the current threshold of $125,000.

On K-12 local education funding, the governor seemed to suggest sweeping changes in how the state distributes aid to school districts, insisting that the current formula is severely flawed and not truly progressive in its approach to funding schools in lower-income communities. Pointing to a massive funding gap – on average, the richest district spend about $36,588 per student while the poorest district spend as little as $13,033, he said – he indicated pending action.

“The progressive path is clear: our state funds should be used to reduce funding disparities,” he said, potentially starting to set up a major debate in the coming months.

Cuomo made no mention of the bail reform debate that has been raging in recent months, with critics arguing the state must toughen sweeping changes made last year and Cuomo himself indicating earlier this week that changes need to be made.

Taking stock of the homelessness crisis across the state, Cuomo vowed to “take a giant step this year” to tackle the problem and build large swathes of affordable housing. “There is no policy or political debate to be had...We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We just have to turn it. We know what works and we know what doesn’t work from experience,” he said, during his tenth State of the State speech and with reference to his decades working on the issue, from the nonprofit sector to his time as the federal housing secretary under President Bill Clinton.

In promising a massive infusion of funds to address the crisis he seemed to take a dig at New York City and Mayor de Blasio, as he insisted that investment must come with competent management by localities that receive it. The city accounts for nearly half the state’s population and has long been unable to significantly reduce homelessness despite varying attempts, though help from the state has been extremely limited, with Cuomo himself ending a state rental subsidy program early in his tenure and, more recently, opposing a bill, popular in both houses of the Legislature, called the Home Stability Support Act that would create a new state housing subsidy program to prevent homelessness or quickly end it for those receiving the benefit. 

Responding to the governor's speech, de Blasio touted his administration's efforts and again noted that the governor offered no details. "I honestly want to understand the vision because I am glad he raised it but I didn’t hear a specific plan," the mayor told reporters. Instead, he said he was focused on advocating for the passage of the HSS Act, which "would have an immediate positive impact" on homelessness.

Building on the state’s heralded Paid Family Leave law, the governor advanced a paid sick leave proposal that would provide five days of paid leave for employees of small businesses and seven days for large businesses. New York City already has its own paid sick leave law, but Cuomo’s proposal would bring the benefit across the state.

He proposed several public health-related measures as well, including a crackdown on the sale of illegal cigarettes, new restrictions on vaping products and related advertisements, a ban on analogs of fentanyl, expanded access to Medication Assisted Treatment for those suffering from addiction, and drastically lowering prescription drug prices.

The governor also announced continuing economic development investments, a practice that he said have been successful, especially in saving the upstate economy, but fiscal watchdogs have criticized in the past for showing little return on investment. And he touted major infrastructure project proposals including the expansion of Penn Station in New York City and hundreds of millions for the redevelopment of the Erie Canal alongside the many ongoing projects that he has made a signature focus. He also touted the recently-passed $51 billion MTA capital plan.

Noting that New York passed a law to obtain President Donald Trump’s state tax returns, Cuomo also proposed the “Nothing to Hide” law, lest New York legislators be accused of being hypocrites. The bill would mandate that every elected official and state commissioner earning more than $100,000 a year would have to make their tax returns public. “Let New Yorkers know who is paying their officials, and who their representatives actually work for, because you can't serve two masters,” he said in the lone government ethics proposal of his remarks.

Cuomo ended his speech as he began it, with a passionate call to end the scourge of racism and tackle hate. He pledged increased resources to the state’s Hate Crimes Task Force, additional grants for security at schools and places of worship, and announced a plan to expand New York City’s Museum of Jewish Heritage on the Holocaust. He also called for the state schools curriculum to include lessons on civic values and religious diversity.

“New York can stem this ugly tide and calm the sea of division,” he said, unveiling a new state seal that would add the words, “E pluribus Unum,” out of many one.

“The ugly violence did not start in New York, but it must end in New York,” he said. “We know that unity is the only path forward.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Note - this article has been updated with comments from Mayor Bill de Blasio. 


In State of the State, Cuomo Plots Changes on Education Aid, Medicaid, Marijuana and More Wed, 08 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Even Amid Impeachment Chaos, New Yorkers Must Keep Their Eyes on Albany Cuomo Albany

(photo: the Governor's Office)

With the eyes of the world focused on the impeachment frenzy currently consuming Washington, D.C., New Yorkers would do well to remember the maxim made famous by the late, great House Speaker Tip O’Neill: “All politics is local.”

On Wednesday, just one week into the new year and the new decade, Governor Andrew Cuomo will deliver his annual State of the State address – which kicks off the legislative session and unveils his yearly legislative and budgetary priorities. While most New Yorkers may not watch the midday event filled with pomp, circumstance, and two hours of a powerpoint presentation wrapped in Albany-speak, they should – however – pay great attention to the general themes of what the governor will lay out.

This speech will most likely set the tone for the following five-plus months of legislative activity in our state capital and may have repercussions down the road in Washington and around the country. New York State, after all, has a long and storied history of serving as a laboratory for legislative successes, going back to former New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, some of which was borrowed from programs and laws already in place here.

Among the items Cuomo may touch upon in his State of the State are such issues as the looming budget deficit, digital data privacy, cannabis legalization, economic development, education, and healthcare. These are all topics that either Cuomo himself or state legislators have referenced as priorities for the coming session. Any one of these issues is certain to be contentious, divisive, and result in heated arguments among the powers that be and – more importantly – at kitchen tables around the state.

Some of these items, especially many of the bigger ones, may be incorporated into the final budget agreement to be reached between Cuomo and legislative leaders, usually by the first week in April (this governor, after all, prides himself on his administration’s near-perfect record when it comes to on-time budgets). However, there may still be a few items that will not make it into the budget and will need to be debated in public as well as in private and could ultimately be worked out on the floor of the New York State Assembly and Senate for all to see.

While legislators typically have until the end of June to work out any pending compromises, this year the last date of the legislative session in Albany is currently scheduled for June 2.

With a truncated session in Albany, there may be a rush to move items through the process faster than usual, so that incumbent members facing primary challenges can get home to campaign for reelection. In light of the 2018 elections, where more than a handful of Assemblymembers, State Senators and – of course – one prominent member of Congress lost their bids for their party’s nomination, the 2020 primaries will be something to see.

The speed of the legislative process in mind, New Yorkers need to remain vigilant. If there is legislation residents support or oppose, they should take the time to call their elected representatives and tell them so. Believe it or not, these members and their staffs like to hear this information and these calls help them to make an informed, rational decision.

While all 19 million New Yorkers may not be in the room where it happens (to reference another famous state resident), we need to all remember that we are the ones affected by decision made by our elected officials and that all the members of our state legislature work for the people. There are ways to get involved, stay involved, influence policy and effect change for ourselves, our families, and our neighbors for the better and for future generations.

That begins with paying close attention to Albany. So let that be our collective New Year’s resolution.

Julie Miner is the CEO of J Strategies, Inc., a communications and government relations firm based in New York City and Albany. On Twitter @JulieKMiner.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Even Amid Impeachment Chaos, New Yorkers Must Keep Their Eyes on Albany Wed, 01 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
10 Burning Questions After Cuomo’s State of the State and Budget cuomo legistlation pro

Gov. Cuomo with Lt. Gov. Hochul & legislative leaders (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, delivered his State of the State speech earlier this month, laying out his proposed $175.2 billion executive budget for the 2020 state fiscal year that begins April 1. Calling it his “justice agenda,” Cuomo unveiled a long list of proposals, some new and many rehashed, expressing confidence that full Democratic control of the state Legislature would allow for a slew of sweeping policy victories that had been denied by years of Republican obstruction in the upper chamber. In the two weeks since then, the Assembly and Senate have indeed advanced several bills -- some of which the governor has quickly signed -- to reform the state’s voting laws, protections for the LGBTQ community, reproductive health rights, and criminal justice system.

The budget gap for next fiscal year, which begins April 1, is about $3.1 billion, lower than the one the state had to cover last year. Cuomo has proposed a 3.6 percent increase in spending each for healthcare and education, the two largest buckets in the budget. Under Cuomo’s plan, which will now be the subject of negotiations with the Legislature, the health care budget would increase by about $700 million, reaching $19.6 billion, and education spending would increase by $1 billion, for a total of $27.7 billion. The governor has also proposed a new education funding formula that he calls “Education Equity,” which would redistribute funds to the poorest schools in the poorest districts, he says, and will be a central element of budget discussions.

[READ: 15 Notable Cuomo Proposals Not In His State of the State Speech]

There’s a great deal to be hashed out, both in terms of policy and the state budget, in the next three months, including stakeholders beyond the governor and legislators, such as advocates, service-providers, local officials like Mayor Bill de Blasio, and others. Though the governor finds himself largely allied with the Legislature on broad progressive priorities, there are areas of disagreement, small and large, and details to be worked out on a host of complicated policies.

Now that Cuomo has framed the discussion with his policy and budget plans, the Legislature is fast at work passing bills and others around the state are pushing their agendas, here are ten of the outstanding questions for the upcoming Legislative session and budget:

1. Will the state stick to a 2% cap in spending increases?
Cuomo is fond of touting his administration’s fiscal discipline and his self-imposed 2 percent cap on increased spending each year. But it’s become a tradition for him to use maneuvers that move spending off the state budget to help mask the actual uptick in spending.

“One of the things that we noticed was that the governor again purports that this keeps state spending at 2 percent,” said Dave Friedfel, director of state studies at Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan watchdog, said of the governor’s executive budget plan, “and it looks like it’s closer to 3 percent. It’s probably a touch more, based on some quick adjustments that we could see right away where money was moved out of state operating spending in a budget year but not in the current year for the calculation.”

2. Will the state put away more money in reserves?
The state would have just $2.3 billion in rainy day funds based on Cuomo’s budget, a pittance compared to the $175 billion in planned spending and an amount that would be insufficient for the state to survive an economic downturn if one should occur without major spending cuts and/or tax increases. The state, and the country at large, is reaching the tail end of the second-longest economic expansion in history and most experts say it will not last too much longer.

“The tide will turn eventually,” Friedfel said. “It’s a matter of how severe that recession is going to be. So we were hoping to see more deposits to the state’s rainy day funds.” Friedfel praised the governor’s proposal to put $500 million more into reserves over the current and upcoming fiscal years but said it wouldn’t be strong enough. “In the absolute best case scenario, [based on] the last three recessions, you could expect to see a revenue shortfall of $20 billion over four years and right now the state’s rainy day fund, even with the governor’s deposit is gonna have $2.3 billion,” he said.

Experts like Friedfel have pointed to California, a similarly high-tax and high-spending state, as a model to follow since that state has put away nearly 10 percent of its operating budget into reserves -- the California rainy day fund is expected to reach $15.3 billion by next year.

3. What will congestion pricing look like?
Cuomo has embraced congestion pricing -- tolling traffic into the Manhattan business district south of 60th Street -- as a crucial method to fund the MTA (and help reduce traffic). At his State of the State, he said the proposal could bring in as much as $15 billion over ten years. But he gave few details of what he believes the program should look like and his budget similarly does not outline exact tolls or methodology.

For elected officials in New York City and its suburbs, congestion pricing is far from a settled idea (there is also concern upstate about transportation funding). New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly emphasized that he would prefer a millionaire’s tax to fund the MTA, and has hemmed and hawed about an ideal congestion pricing plan, while lawmakers in outer boroughs have raised concerns that the program will hurt the pockets of their constituents. However, support for congestion pricing has grown significantly over the last few years, and Cuomo appears committed to passing some version of the program.

Still, there are many questions to answer as a scheme is crafted.

“But I think the bigger question too is, the city runs the roads and bridges that will generate this revenue, so how much of the money will go back to maintaining these roads and bridges?,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank. “That’s something the city really has a stake in. You wouldn’t want to see the city having to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to rehabilitate these bridges every few decades and then they’re generating money that only goes to the MTA.”

The governor's proposal, as Gelinas pointed out in a column for the New York Post, would give the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which falls under the MTA, the ability to take over city streets, sidewalks, roads, bridges and tunnels to build the infrastructure to implement congestion pricing. In effect, it would put city infrastructure under the control of the state which could potentially, Gelinas warned, use that power to demolish bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly spaces and create more space for cars. "This would be a huge deal even if the state were offering something in return: a bigger say over how the MTA spends our money," she wrote. "Instead, Cuomo has said that he’d like more control over the MTA. More money from the city — and more dominance over its future."  

4. Will the governor and Legislature force New York City to split MTA costs with the state?
The governor has suggested that any shortfalls in capital funding for the MTA, after congestion pricing revenues are accounted for, should be split 50-50 between the city and state. He dubiously argued in his speech, as he has before, that he doesn’t control the MTA and that the city is legally responsible for funding subway and bus system capital needs. “And it is worth splitting the cost with New York City, to make the investment we should've made for decades to keep that transportation system vital,” he said, indicating that he could leave it entirely to the city.

Mayor de Blasio disagreed with the governor’s contention, and pushed back against his suggestion that the city had funded the majority of capital plans in past decades. But the mayor may have no choice in the matter if the governor and Legislature force his hand through law, as they did last year in compelling the city to fund half of the $836 million Subway Action Plan put into motion to arrest the rapid decline of subway service over the last few years.   

“On the MTA, it’s going to be very difficult negotiations to start off from here,” said Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute. “It’s hard to see the city going along with having to pay a much bigger portion of the MTA capital budget without having some kind of greater say in what happens at the MTA. The governor seems to want to go in the opposite direction with giving the state a bigger say, although it’s not really clear.”

In the weeks since the speech, Cuomo has repeatedly criticized the very management that he has appointed at the MTA while arguing that it should be restructured to give him more control, though he effectively already has near-absolute power over it.

“I think it’s a little disturbing that he would tie the rest of the existing [2015-2019] capital plan money for the MTA to all of this reform because that’s money that was already promised,” Gelinas added. “They’re already bidding out contracts based on that money. If you’re gonna say that $7.3 billion won’t be available unless we completely restructure the MTA, not only then do you have to worry about the future capital budget but now he’s sort of creating a big hole in the current MTA capital budget...It would be really hard to conceive of an MTA where the city, the suburbs, they’re still providing this money...but they don’t have say over the major capital projects that the MTA embarks on.”

5. What will Cuomo’s new education funding formula look like?
Cuomo proposed $1 billion in increased education funding overall, about $1.1 billion less than what the state Board of Regents recommended. In a series of slides during his speech, Cuomo pointed to education funding disparities across the state stemming from the current “Foundation Aid” formula, also known as Fair Student Funding, and how local districts distribute it to their schools, insisting that more money was being funnelled to richer schools in the poorest districts. His argument formed the basis for his “Education Equity” proposal, which would require school districts to dedicate a significant amount of foundation aid money to the poorest schools.

De Blasio was among those to quickly critique the governor’s proposal, insisting that in New York City at least, funding had been sent where it was needed, despite figures Cuomo had for the first time presented during his speech. The mayor, and education advocates and elected officials, have repeatedly urged Cuomo to fully fund the state Court of Appeals’ Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) decision that first led to the creation of foundation aid -- a decision Cuomo insists is no longer relevant, with a commitment he says has already been met -- which would require billions more in funding, which Cuomo has refused to provide.

Rather, the governor’s budget briefing book took pains to argue that CFE has no relation to foundation aid. But he did not outline what his new proposal would entail, instead leaving it up to the state Department of Education to hammer out a plan.

6. Will Cuomo leverage mayoral control of city schools to get concessions from de Blasio?
Cuomo’s budget book noted his support for extending mayoral control of New York CIty schools by three years, a position he has taken in the past as well. But in the past, the governor -- and Republicans who controlled the state Senate earlier -- used mayoral control as a form of leverage over de Blasio, who is more closely allied with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the teachers unions, attempting to enact concessions including an expansion of a charter school cap.

Cuomo did not mention charter schools in his speech and his budget briefing book has only a small section dedicated to them, but he has been friendly to the sector in the past, and charter school donors have been generous to his campaigns. It’s not clear yet whether Cuomo will pursue increasing the statutory cap, which is close to being reached, especially since Republicans who favor the charter sector no longer have clout in Albany. There are some Democratic legislators who are supportive of charters, but it is unclear how loud those voices will be in their conferences, and whether Cuomo will put any political capital into another expansion of charters’ ability to grow.

And if it isn’t charter schools, it’s unclear what, if anything, Cuomo may try to trade for extending mayoral control.

7. What will marijuana regulation look like?
This is one particularly burning question that has more answers than the others. Cuomo proposed a regulated program to legalize adult recreational marijuana use and raise $300 million in revenue annually, though it allows counties and municipalities to opt out. His budget puts forward the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act, which would impose three taxes on the cultivation and sale of marijuana for recreational use. He has also insisted that regulation must be accompanied by decriminalization for those already convicted on marijuana-related arrests and set a legal use age of 21.

But as legislators negotiate what Cuomo has outlined, questions remain about where the marijuana revenue will go and what the new regulation will look like in practice, particularly for businesses, among other details to be decided. The governor is a more recent convert to the cause of legalization and he has heeded the advice of advocates and other elected officials who have long supported legalization and have insisted it should come with benefits for the communities that have been most adversely impacted by marijuana enforcement.

“Now we just have to put it in place, and we have to do it in a way that creates an economic opportunity for poor communities and people who paid the price, and not for rich corporations that are going to come in to make a buck,” Cuomo said in his speech.

New York City is expected to comprise a majority of the state’s marijuana market and de Blasio, who was until recently opposed to legalization himself, also warned against the “corporate takeover of the marijuana industry.” Speaking at a news conference in Albany after the governor’s speech, he said, “[T]his should be a community-based form of business, a small business focus, and a focus on those who are economically harmed by the previous policies.”

8. Will Cuomo’s ‘Green New Deal’ have legislative backing?
Cuomo proposed a “Green New Deal” to increase New York State’s investment in renewable energy and reach 100 percent clean energy by 2040. It was a sweeping declaration from the governor, who has long faced criticism from activists that his environmental record has not been strong enough. At the same time, Cuomo failed to mention the Climate and Community Protection Act, a bill that seeks to accomplish similar goals but has not moved in the state Legislature, though it may this year.

It’s unclear what compromise might look like, or whether the Legislature will force Cuomo’s hand -- the proposals have differing timelines for achieving certain milestones, among other differences, and advocates say the governor’s ideas don’t go far enough. With legislative action, the proposed environmental regulations would also have the strength of law rather than being enacted administratively and being vulnerable to cuts in the future. Senator Todd Kaminsky has indicated that he will continue to pursue the CCPA, potentially setting up a clash between the governor and lawmakers.

9. Will the Legislature advance the New York Health Act for single-payer health care?
While running for reelection, the governor was ardent that he supports a single-payer health care program, the likes of which would be established by the proposed New York Health Act -- but he has repeatedly said it should be mandated and funded by the federal government rather than the state. New York would have to increase overall state government revenue by $139 billion by 2022 to pay for the program, according to a RAND Corporation study. It would provide health coverage to all New Yorkers -- they wouldn’t have to purchase insurance or receive it from employers -- and patients would not have to pay deductibles, co-payments or out-of-pocket costs. The study estimates that total health care spending in this case would be similar to what current levels are expected to be in 2022, and would be about 3 percent lower by 3031, “with the ten-year cumulative net savings being about $80 billion, or 2 percent.”

The bill -- which its sponsors say will be altered in a new version soon to be introduced -- has passed the Assembly but not the Senate, though both houses are now under Democratic control. Still, legislative leaders have not listed the New York Health Act as a top priority for this year. Several Democratic state lawmakers successfully flipped seats last year on platforms that included support for the New York Health Act, and some legislators, especially the lead sponsors, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and Senator Gustavo Rivera, are expected to continue pursuing it, which could create a significant fissure both within the Legislature and with the governor’s office.

“It was clear in the country and New York that healthcare was the number one issue on voters’ minds,” Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette right after the November election. “A solid majority of the new state Senate has either been a cosigner, voted for it in the Assembly, or campaigned on it. So I think we’re on track to get it passed in the Assembly and state Senate.”

10. Will the Legislature fully close the LLC loophole and pass stronger ethics reforms and a public campaign finance system?
The state Legislature passed several ethics and campaign finance reforms within the first few days of the new session, including severely limiting donations that can be made by Limited Liability Companies and requiring increased disclosure of the ownership of those firms. But that measure did not completely close the so-called ‘LLC loophole,’ which has allowed untold amounts of money to flow into state elections from moneyed interests and has drawn the ire of good government advocacy groups.

Cuomo, the biggest beneficiary of LLC donations of any elected official in the state, has said he wants to close the loophole entirely, a pledge he reiterated at his State of the State while also calling for a ban on corporate contributions to political candidate campaigns -- under the new law passed by the Legislature, LLCs, like corporations, can donate a maximum of $5,000. The Legislature is expected to take up further campaign finance reforms as well, which could mean that LLC and corporate donations may soon become a thing of the past, while a state public campaign finance system could be put into motion.

Cuomo has also proposed a broader agenda of reform that includes curtailing contribution limits across the board, a proposal that could meet with some resistance, and expanding the state’s Freedom of Information Law to cover the Legislature, to which lawmakers have been strictly opposed, among a variety of other reform measures.

[READ: Cuomo's 2019 Agenda of Election, Campaign Finance and Government Ethics Reforms]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

10 Burning Questions After Cuomo’s State of the State and Budget Wed, 30 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
9 Key Takeaways for New York City from Cuomo's State of the State and Budget govcuomo jus

Mayor de Blasio applauds Governor Cuomo (photo via the Governor's office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State speech and accompanying $175.2 billion state budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 had something for everything. The 354-page policy book lays out proposals, big and small, on everything from criminal justice reform, transit and infrastructure funding, workforce protections to rent regulations, voting and ethics reform, farmer benefits, legalizing marijuana, women’s rights and reproductive health, LGBTQ protections, and environmental regulation, to name just a few.

The budget proposal, with its long list of policy priorities, has several measures that will have significant consequences for New York City and its own budget, the first draft of which Mayor Bill de Blasio will soon present. The state fiscal year begins April 1, the city’s begins July 1. Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog, noted in its assessment that the governor’s budget proposal cuts nearly $100 million in reimbursements and aid to the city.

And while some of the governor’s initiatives may benefit the city or line up with de Blasio’s priorities, there are others that could end up being a burden and might prompt staunch opposition from the mayor and state legislators who represent districts in the five boroughs. De Blasio expressed concern about a few proposals in the hours after the governor’s presentation, while conceding that “there's a lot to like in the speech.” Below are eight key takeaways for the city from Cuomo’s policy and budget plans.

Cuomo wants the city to split MTA costs with the state. De Blasio disagrees.
Cuomo has embraced congestion pricing as a key proposal to garner resources for the MTA and stem the tide of years of disinvestment that have left large funding obligations and a crumbling subway system. While he has still not fully fleshed out a congestion pricing plan, Cuomo estimated such a system could bring in about $15 billion in revenue over a ten-year period, but also insisted that any shortfall to fund the subways and buses over and above that should be split 50-50 between the city and the state. He argued that over several MTA capital plans the city’s contributions to the MTA have been falling and the state’s contributions have been rising, a characterization that de Blasio later took issue with.

Cuomo, who effectively controls the MTA and appoints a plurality of its board members and its leadership, is proposing an overhaul of the agency’s management, which he has blamed for repeated failures over the years and again in his speech. “It was purposefully designed so that everyone can point fingers at everybody else, and nobody's responsible,” he said, even though he has claimed credit for its successes in the past and he has recently re-exerted control relative to the L-train shutdown.

The details of Cuomo’s MTA management reform plan are also still not fully clear.

De Blasio has repeatedly said the best solution to the MTA’s financial woes is a millionaire’s tax, an idea that is anathema to Cuomo. In his Albany news conference shortly after the governor’s speech, the mayor reiterated the proposal as he pushed back against the governor’s suggestions. “Now, there’s a lot of good ideas on the table and here's a chance to decide which combination of those ideas will actually solve the problem,” he said of funding the MTA. “But yet you can't take it out of the city budget, it’s not going to work.” Though he continues to say he prefers the millionaire’s tax, de Blasio’s rhetoric around congestion pricing has warmed considerably.

Reforms needed to close Rikers Island may soon be reality
The governor’s budget proposal includes support for several criminal justice reforms which de Blasio has said are crucial to the plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex within 10 years. Among those are ending cash bail, among other reforms to pretrial detention processes, and passing Kalief’s Law, a speedy trial reform named for Kalief Browder, the Bronx youth who spent three years on Rikers Island on charges of stealing a backpack. Never convicted, Browder was released but later died by suicide, which was attributed to his harsh treatment while in detention.

De Blasio has said that bail and speedy trial reform would work in concert with ongoing efforts to reduce the population of Rikers down below 5,000, the threshold the city estimates it would need to reach in order to house detainees in borough-based facilities that are being planned. The city jail population is now under 8,000, de Blasio announced during his State of the City address.

Rent regulations will help de Blasio’s affordable housing plan
De Blasio’s ambitious plan to create and preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026 is on track according to city estimates and broke a record in 2018 by financing 34,160 affordable units, the most in one year for any administration. That plan could benefit massively from a push by the governor and the Legislature to strengthen rent regulations, which are set to expire at the end of June.

Cuomo has expressed support for ending vacancy decontrol whereby upon certain vacancies landlords can remove units from the regulated rolls, eliminating preferential rent limits, and reforming the process by which landlords can assess tenants for improvements to buildings and apartments. All are items that de Blasio praised while noting that he would have to see more details. Such regulations would have been “inconceivable” when Republicans controlled the state Senate, he said as he anticipated seeing stronger laws in place this year. “It's going to help us preserve affordable housing in New York City,” de Blasio said. “And certainly from what the governor said in the speech, I'm encouraged.

Education and mayoral control
Cuomo proposed a 3.6 percent increase in education funding statewide -- an increase of $1 billion from the current year for a total of $27.7 billion -- and proposed a new school funding formula called “Education Equity,” emphasizing that current funding is not flowing to the poorest schools in poorer school districts.

The governor presented new data based on his administration’s analysis of numbers provided to the state by large schools districts that had been required by a law passed last year meant to assess exactly how districts are allocating education funds. Cuomo showed data that indicated all the largest school districts are funding their wealthier schools at higher rates than their poorer schools, though de Blasio questioned the presentation and said the city would have more to say soon. It’s not immediately clear how Cuomo’s administration calculated its numbers.

Cuomo’s proposal looks like it would set up a fight with the mayor, who insisted that the governor should fully fund the “Foundation Aid” formula as required by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision, which Cuomo has argued is settled and a relic of the past.

De Blasio did praise the governor for proposing a three-year extension of mayoral control of city schools, which Cuomo has done in the past though he has appeared comfortable settling on multiple one-year extensions (last time it was two years) as a means of frustrating the mayor. “[U]nder a mayoral control model that we have in New York City for the last five years, we have consistently moved resources to schools in greater need,” de Blasio said, noting that Cuomo’s presentation “did not reflect the reality we know in New York City” and promising to correct the record.

Notably, Cuomo has not initially indicated a plan to raise the cap on charter schools in New York City, a statutory limit that will soon be hit. Cuomo has been a staunch supporter of charters (and de Blasio has mostly been an opponent), but he has been relatively quiet on the issue as he has moved left over the last few years and repaired his relationship with the teachers unions. Still, Cuomo has made sure that charters have secured key protections in state agreements, though this year could hold a different approach.

Speed cameras and bus lane cameras
Last year, a limited speed camera program around schools in New York City lapsed amid legislative intransigence led by state Senate Republicans but was revived through an agreement among the governor, mayor, and New York City Council. Cuomo has proposed reinstating the program in state law through 2022, expanding the number of camera zones from 140 to 290, as well as removing a cap on bus lane cameras and allowing automated cameras to enforce “block-the-box” violations in the proposed congestion pricing zone. The bill would also create a new camera program to combat violations in Manhattan that contribute to congestion.

Infrastructure program highlights include JFK, LaGuardia Airports
Cuomo touted an additional planned $150 billion investment in infrastructure in his third term, building on projects that are already underway and several new ones that he is expected to launch. Among those are the renovations of LaGuardia Airport, the new JFK Airport, four new Metro North stations in the Bronx, an expansion of the Javits Convention Center, and the opening of the Shirley Chisholm State Park in Brooklyn.

Anti-terror initiatives
New York City continues to be one of the most prominent terror targets in the world and Cuomo offered several measures to improve security and preparedness, including legislation to ban gun bump stocks, prohibit weaponized drones, and regulations on the sale of certain explosives.

Two measures were directly impelled by incidents in New York City -- the governor proposed a bill to require two pieces of identification to rent a vehicle, citing attacks carried out across the world and particularly the 2017 Halloween attack on the West Side Highway that claimed the lives of eight people. Cuomo also proposed investments in “infrastructure hardening” such as traffic bollards and crash barriers to protect civilians.

Lead exposure thresholds
Cuomo proposed lowering the threshold of blood lead levels that would lead to an immediate public health response, which could potentially become a prominent issue in New York City where residents of the New York City Housing Authority have been fighting with the administration for years over lead paint in their apartments.

Other policies apply to New York City
A variety of other policies the governor is backing would apply to New York City and have an impact in the five boroughs, including some measures that have already passed the Legislature, like voting reforms, a ban on gay conversion therapy, and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. This list also includes the planned expansion of abortion rights, more gun control, the Child Victims Act to address child sex abuse, and the Dream Act to provide state tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants and their children, among other policies. Also in this category is the expected legalization of recreational marijuana for adults 21 years of age and older.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

9 Key Takeaways for New York City from Cuomo's State of the State and Budget Mon, 21 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
15 Notable Cuomo Proposals Not In His State of the State Speech 32881220978 1373afdcc8 z

Gov. Cuomo (photo via the Governor's office)

In his expansive State of the State speech on Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo articulated wide-ranging priorities for the legislative session and the budget for the 2020 fiscal year that is due April 1. But there was plenty left unsaid in the 80-minute speech, included instead in the detailed policy book and budget documents released along with the governor’s address. Some of those proposals could have broad social and economic consequences for the state should they come to pass, with many likely to move forward as Democrats control the entire State Legislature.

But the governor has also been known to include proposals in past policy books and budgets without putting any political capital behind them once negotiations with the Legislature are underway. Below is a list of notable Cuomo proposals that didn’t make it into the governor’s speech:

Increasing protections against harassment in the workplace
Though the governor has touted passing last year the strongest laws in the nation against sexual harassment in the workplace, he did not mention them at all during his State of the State speech. Nonetheless, his plans do include proposals to expand the protections passed last year, including by lowering what some have called onerous standards for proving harassment under the Human Rights Law, mandating that non-disclosure agreements articulate a victim’s right to file a complaint or participate in an investigation, and requiring workplaces to prominently display sexual harassment informational posters.

The governor and legislators have been under pressure from advocates and some lawmakers to hold public hearings on sexual harassment in both the public and private sector -- hearings that were not held before last year’s laws were passed -- and to strengthen the new laws. While Cuomo included enhanced laws in his proposals, legislative leaders announced a joint hearing for February 13.

Cuomo is also proposing removal of the statute of limitations for reporting rape.

Pursuing universal access to health care
The governor will establish a commission comprised of the Department of Health, Department of Financial Services, health care and insurance experts to explore how the state can provide universal access to health care in the state. The commission would have to issue a report by December 1.

Cuomo has dismissed calls from legislators and advocates to support creation of a single-payer health care system in New York, but outlined several health care proposals in his speech and included the commission in his written plans.

Criminal penalties for assaulting the press
Taking direct aim at President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the free press, including calling journalists the “enemy of the people,” and accusations of “fake news” against reporters, Cuomo, who has had his own issues with the press, is proposing legislation that would make it a felony to assault a journalist while they are doing their job. Journalists would join several other classes of worker, such as nurses, in this category.

Creating a database of economic development deals
Cuomo’s budget proposes several reforms to state contracting processes, which have been at the center of recent corruption scandals that have marred his administration. Among those reforms is an online database of economic development projects that receive state assistance. Good government advocates have repeatedly called for that “database of deals” to provide more accountability for state spending and the Legislature has in the past promised to pass such legislation even if the governor did not support it.

It’s unclear if the database the governor has in mind will meet the expectations of those who have demanded such a public accounting, which would ideally show investments and their results in granular detail.

Protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation
The governor backed the “One Day to Save New Yorkers” bill, a small but significant change to sentencing for Class A misdemeanors. The bill would reduce the maximum punishment for such offenses from 365 days -- exactly one year -- to 364, in an effort to protect undocumented immigrants who, if convicted of crimes with a sentence of one year or more, could face deportation proceedings.

A permanent watchdog over police-involved killings
Cuomo signed an executive order in 2015 giving the state Attorney General the authority of a  special prosecutor to investigate instances where unarmed civilians are killed by law enforcement officers. His budget proposal includes support for legislation to codify that order by creating a permanent special counsel to probe such incidents, something he has backed in the past.

Additionally, Cuomo’s budget would require all law enforcement agencies across the state to implement a use-of-force policy and to collect and report all data on incidents where the use of force leads to death or injury.

Tackling lead exposure among children
The governor has proposed lowering the threshold of blood lead levels in children that would trigger intervention by public health officials. The proposal could be particularly significant for New York City, where the city’s public housing authority (NYCHA) has been sued in federal court for failing to deal with lead paint in its apartments (and covering up missed inspections) while Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly downplayed the number of children exposed to lead.

Creating a new agency to help domestic violence survivors
The budget proposes creating a new state agency called the Division of Victim Prevention and Response, by consolidating the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, the Office of Victim Services, and the Office of Campus Safety.

The governor is also proposing legislation to modernize policies for providing relief to domestic violence survivors -- no longer requiring them to pay certain costs for staying in a domestic violence shelter and removing the requirement that they must apply for public assistance. He is also creating a task force to study the state’s service delivery system for survivors. Cuomo is also pushing the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which would expand certain protections for survivors caught up in the criminal justice system.

Protecting breastfeeding mothers from workplace discrimination
The governor intends to propose legislation that would clearly establish lactation as a pregnancy-related condition covered by the state’s Human Rights Law. It would ensure that employers provide reasonable accommodations for breastfeeding women (i.e. to pump) or be liable under the law.  

Expanding protections against wage theft
In his “first 100 days” agenda, Cuomo spoke about passing new protections for the freelance and gig economy but made no reference to it on Tuesday and his policy book only mentions it sparingly, in its introductory section. What the document does include is a proposal to expand criminal penalties for wage theft, a crime of which freelancers and gig workers often find themselves the victims. The budget proposes changing the state’s labor law and establishing an expanded range of violations, from misdemeanors to felonies, for wage theft. It would also give the state Department of Labor the authority to refer cases for criminal prosecution.

Protecting sex trafficking victims
The budget commits to closing loopholes in the state’s rape shield laws, which are meant to protect victims of sexual violence by limiting evidence of their sexual history from being introduced in court. Cuomo’s budget proposes expanding the law to cover sex trafficking victims and to prevent prostitution convictions from being used against victims.

Establishing compassionate release
Cuomo’s budget proposes introducing legislation to establish a compassionate release process for incarcerated individuals above the age of 55 suffering from debilitating health issues. The bill would allow these individuals to be considered for medical parole after serving half their sentence.

Promoting corporate diversity and pay equity
Cuomo’s budget creates a Task Force on Representation and Corporate Transparency, to devise ways the state can promote diversity on corporate boards and in their workforce and to ensure pay equity. Cuomo will also order a study -- by the Department of State, Department of Labor and the Division of Human Rights -- of the gender and racial composition and inequity of boards of firms that have state contracts.

Encouraging youth participation and engagement
The policy book proposes creating a Youth Council made up of 62 young people, one from each county in the state, between the ages of 13 and 21. The council is meant to operate for two years, meeting at least three times a year, to inform the state government’s policies on education, the environment, civic engagement, and juvenile justice. It would also include subcommittees dedicated to discussing sexual harassment and assault, female empowerment, and cyberbullying.

Extending the millionaire’s tax and closing the carried interest loophole
The state’s millionaire’s tax is slated to expire at the end of 2019 and so far its fate has remained somewhat uncertain, though Cuomo announced his intention to renew it during a December policy speech. The governor’s policy book proposals includes a five-year extension of the tax to retain the $4.4 billion that it is estimated to bring to the state coffers each year from roughly 60,000 taxpayers, half of whom are from out of state.

The governor is also proposing to do away with the “carried interest” loophole. Hedge fund managers, private equity investors, and venture capitalists earn a portion of their income in the form of carried interest, which is taxed at a lower rate than regular income, costing the state about $100 million, according to state estimates. Cuomo has proposed a change in how this income is treated, and would impose a 17 percent “fairness fee” to raise about $1.1 billion annually.

[Read: Cuomo's 2019 Agenda of Election, Campaign Finance and Government Ethics Reforms]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

15 Notable Cuomo Proposals Not In His State of the State Speech Thu, 17 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000