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State Legislature Begins Post-Budget Session, Specialized High Schools Hearing, & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 8

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio is back from Nevada and the state Legislature is back in session post-budget. Melissa DeRosa, secretary to Governor Andrew Cuomo, will speak about the administration's accomplishments and priorities and the City Council will pass bills. The first state Senate hearing on the city's specialized high schools and the MTA's last public hearing on the new L-train plans are both scheduled.

There's a lot to watch for this week -- see our day-by-day rundown below.

[READ: 10 Issues to Watch in Albany's Post-Budget Legislative Session]

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

The run of the week in detail:

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

The New York State Board of Regents will meet on Monday and Tuesday in Albany.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committees on Mental Health and Aging will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “qualifications, training, and protocol” for home health care aides.
--The Committee on Youth Services will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding Neighborhood Advisory Boards.
--The Committee on Public Safety will meet at 11 a.m. to discuss a proposed law that would ban the Department of Probation from conducting drug tests in search of marijuana for prospective employees.
--The Committee on Health will meet at 11:30 a.m. to discuss several proposed laws related to water tanks, including several new regulations and reporting requirements regarding inspections and imposing civil penalties for building owners who fail to repair water tanks.
--The Committee on Civil and Human Rights will meet at 2 p.m. to discuss a proposed law which would ban employers from drug testing prospective hires for THC, with the exception of “safety and security sensitive jobs” or jobs tied to federal or state contracts.

On Mondayschools "Chancellor Carranza will kick off Civics for All Week with Chief Democracy Officer Ayirini Fonesca-Sabune. They will participate in student voter registration and a government class at High School for Environmental Studies. Later, he will participate in a panel discussion on the Wallace Foundation Principal Pipeline Initiative. In the afternoon, he will attend the School Diversity Advisory Group youth symposium and deliver brief remarks."

At 1 p.m. Monday, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will deliver remarks at a Women's Agenda event at Hamilton College.

At 6 p.m. Monday, the MTA will host the fourth and final open house for community members regarding the “revised” L-train project. This hearing will take place at the 14th Street YMCA in the East Village.

Mayor Bill de Blasio will appear on NY1’s Inside City Hall on Monday evening in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

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

The City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. It will be preceded by the typical pre-stated press conference led by Speaker Corey Johnson.

Just before the state meeting, there will be a noon rally at City Hall where “elected officials, activists and organizational leaders, including members of the Climate Works for All coalition, will call for the  passing of Intro 1253, the most comprehensive climate legislation that slashes climate and air pollution from the city’s top source of pollution: large, dirty buildings, before Earth Day...Intro 1253, prime sponsored by Councilmember Constantinides and Speaker Johnson, is a world-first law to set specific, comprehensive standards on buildings to cut pollution by 40% by 2030 and over 80% by 2050. It would be the single largest cut to climate pollution by any city ever. The rally will push for passage of this legislation, which is opposed by the deep-pocketed real estate industry, before Earth Day.” Participants: “Councilmember Costa Constantinides and other elected leaders and activists plus leaders from, AFSCME DC37, ALIGN-NY, American Institute of Architects - NY, DSA-NYC, People’s Climate Mobilization - NY, NYC-EJA, New York Communities for Change, Sunrise Movement - NYC, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and Working Families.”

Also at the City Council on Tuesday: The Committee on Criminal Justice will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws requiring the Department of Correction to notify defendants when bail is set below $10, and to remove added fees associated with making bail payments via credit card.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Staten Island Borough President Jimmy Oddo will join the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center for a discussion on food policy in the city.

At 11:15 a.m. Tuesday in Albany, "three hundred activists from across New York State will rally and lobby for the passage of the Climate & Community Protection Act (CCPA) in 2019. Now that the state budget has passed, both the Assembly and Senate are poised to vote on the CCPA, which would set an enforceable mandate to ensure New York achieves a 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, while investing funds in low-income communities and communities of color and creating good, green jobs."

At noon Tuesday, the Brennan Center will host “Prosecution in the 21st Century: Transforming the Criminal Justice System” at the NYU Law School, discussing the power wielded by prosecutors and how the job is changing in the 21st century. Panelists will include Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Cook County, IL State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, author and journalist Emily Bazelon, and Fair and Just Prosecution Executive Director Miriam Krinsky.

On Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. in Albany, Senator Brad Hoylman, legislative colleagues, and coalition members of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group will host a press conference "to urge action on critical LGBTQ-specific issues this legislative session."

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Attorney General Tish James will be honored with a “Public Service Award” by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York at their annual gala at the Pierre Hotel.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Health will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “the state’s medical marijuana program and its intersection with a recreational marijuana program,” as well as to discuss resolutions calling on the state to expand its medical marijuana laws and to patch any conflicts between medical and potential recreational marijuana regulations.
--The Committees on Justice System and Immigration will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding ICE in New York City courts, as well as to discuss a resolution calling on the state to pass the Protect Our Courts Act, which would prohibit ICE raids at courthouses.
--The Committees on Hospitals and General Welfare will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “impact of marijuana policies on child welfare,” as well as to discuss proposed laws requiring ACS to report on the allegations leading to investigations of child abuse and on the number of patients referred as a result of a positive drug test performed in a public hospital. The committees will also discuss resolutions calling on ACS to recognize that marijuana use alone doesn’t constitute child abuse, and for the state health department to create “clear and fair regulations” for hospitals drug testing pregnant women.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Senate Standing Committee on Higher Education will meet in Albany for a public oversight hearing regarding for-profit schools.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at 120 Broadway.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a board meeting at 100 Church Street.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, this week’s Max & Murphy program will air on WBAI radio, 99.5FM and, and feature an in-depth interview with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, Crain’s will host Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to Governor Cuomo, for a “Business Breakfast” at the New York Athletic Club, discussing “the Cuomo administration’s agenda, the new political dynamic in Albany and her experience as the governor’s top aide.”

At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws related to elevator safety. These include requiring landlords to post signs in elevators on safety protocol in the event of stoppages and requiring residential landlords to provide “reasonable accommodations” to any resident with disabilities in the event of a stoppage lasting longer than a day.
--The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss several proposed laws related to food vending, including laws increasing the number of street food vending permits, creating a dedicated law enforcement unit for enforcing vending laws, and creating a “street vendor advisory board” to examine existing statutes and regulations for “duplicative, unclear, or unnecessary provisions.”

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, the Housing Justice for All coalition will lead a “Moral March for Housing”: “Join community, faith, & labor leaders to fight evictions. We'll have a rally at Abyssinian Baptist Church, followed by a march to the State Office Building to hold a vigil for those who have been evicted thanks to weak tenants' rights and unaffordable rent. 100 New Yorkers are evicted every day. It's now or never for housing justice— We need Universal Rent Control!” Participating groups include New York Communities for Change, Met Council on Housing, VOCAL-NY, and others.

At 10:45 a.m. Thursday in Manhattan, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will join “Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan and RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum at a media availability to discuss a mission trip they are taking to the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, Catholic Charities Immigration Services, 80 Maiden Lane, New York, N.Y.”

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, State Senator John Liu and colleagues will hold a “community forum” on school diversity and specialized high school admissions at Queens Borough Hall.

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

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

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

What Cuomo Did and Did Not Get Done in His 'First 100 Days' Agenda

Cuomo 2019 agenda

Gov. Cuomo outlines his agenda (photo: governor's office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo made a triumphant appearance at a Manhattan luncheon hosted by the Association for a Better New York on Thursday, celebrating a raft of accomplishments achieved in partnership with the Democrat-controlled state Legislature over the last three months and in the recently approved state budget.

“Understanding the forces that we were dealing with, we laid out a very robust agenda last December,” he said, referring to a large budget gap that he blamed on federal policies hostile to New York, “a 100-day agenda that took the bull by the horns and addressed the issues and we said we would get it done in 100 days. We got it done and I again want to applaud the Legislature for making some of the toughest, most meaningful reforms that this state has ever made.”

But did they ‘get it done’? Was Cuomo’s entire “first 100 days” agenda for the first year of his third term -- and the first legislative session of his gubernatorial tenure with Democrats in control of both houses of the Legislature -- accomplished? Not quite. Just a few days earlier, with a budget deal reached and bills being voted through by the Assembly and Senate, Cuomo held a press conference in Albany and used slightly more nuanced language about the degree to which he had moved that ambitious agenda, though even then he exaggerated.

In December, five weeks after Cuomo was comfortably reelected for a third term, he released a list of priorities that he said that he would focus on in the first 100 days of 2019. It was an agenda dealing with taxes, affordability, reproductive rights, gender equality, gun control, immigrant rights, environmental protections, good government policies, criminal justice reform, and more. Many aspects were long-held progressive priorities blocked by Republicans who had controlled the state Senate for Cuomo’s first two terms. Some items mentioned specific legislation while others included only broader goals.

The new Democratic dominance in Albany appeared to make virtually any progressive goal possible, depending in large part on the governor’s willingness to continue his move leftward, but also how much agreement on the particulars was achievable among a wide array of legislators from throughout the state, even if they espoused similar values.

Though there has been infighting and hand-wringing, and perhaps more moderate compromise than some Democratic activists and officials expected, it has been a successful and uncharacteristically productive legislative session, both before and during the budget, for Democrats so far this year in Albany, and as Cuomo’s 100th day hits on Wednesday, he’ll have checked most of the boxes in his 20-point agenda, though he is mischaracterizing the extent to which they’ve been successful given several bigger issues remain unresolved.

Cuomo began his victory lap on the 100 days agenda before the ink on the 2020 state budget was even dry. “[W]e we got every element accomplished, virtually,” he said at a March 31 news conference, announcing the budget agreement reached with the state Legislature, members of which were debating and voting through budget bills all the way through the morning of April 1.

“We have not legalized cannabis, adult use cannabis. The political desire is there, I believe we will get it done,” he said, acknowledging perhaps the biggest policy goal he had set that was not achieved in the first 100 days of his term -- though there are several others.

It was undoubtedly a productive three months. Several major voting and campaign finance reforms were approved early on, followed by protections for the LGBTQ community, women’s reproductive rights legislation, new gun control laws, and broad criminal justice reforms.

A closer look at what parts of his agenda Cuomo did and did not get done in his first 100 days of term three, including through the budget:

“Ensure a Progressive Tax System”
Cuomo pledged to protect New Yorkers from the effects of the recent federal tax code overhaul, which gave large tax cuts to the wealthy and to corporations but spelled serious complications for New York and other high-tax states (and is the subject of litigation brought by New York and others).

Following through on the promise of a “progressive tax system,” the state budget agreement included a five-year extension of the state’s millionaire’s tax though not an expansion of it as the state Assembly majority had sought. Cuomo was also successful in making the state’s 2% cap on annual property tax increases (outside New York City) permanent even though it was not due to expire until next year.

Though it wasn’t part of Cuomo’s agenda, the governor and the Legislature also wound up passing a “mansion tax” that adds a surcharge on sales of homes valued over $2 million in New York City, the revenue for which will go toward the MTA.

“Cut Middle Class Taxes while Fighting to repeal SALT”
The governor has been particularly critical of the Trump tax cuts for reducing the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction to $10,000, which disproportionately hurt high-tax, Democrat-heavy states like New York, Connecticut, and California. He’s promised to tour the country to rally against the policy and has attempted to create workarounds in state law to help New Yorkers reduce their tax burden, though those have failed. Litigation is ongoing, however.

After the new state budget was approved, Cuomo took credit for not only pushing the property tax cap but also for continuing the phase-in of a middle-class tax cut that was previously approved (though Cuomo has presented it as a new cut).

“We lowered the middle-class tax rates again up to $300,000 which is an expansive view of the middle class,” he said. “We said that we had to combat SALT. I am doing everything I can to combat SALT. I've met with the President, I'm working on organizing governors across the country. We came up with a number of alternatives to SALT through the tax code which the federal government rejected. I've been speaking with Speaker Pelosi and I will continue this fight, which I believe is the most important fight for the state of New York until we get it done.”

Prospects for the repeal of the SALT cap are grim, at least while Republicans control the presidency and Senate.

“Protect Quality, Affordable Health Care”
The state Legislature and governor took several actions over the last few months to, they say, strengthen the state’s health care system, as Trump and some Republicans in Congress have continued to threaten to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“New York State has significant legal power because we regulate the insurance industry. And we have codified many of the protections of Obamacare, so regardless of what President Trump does, we know that we have a healthcare program in New York that will protect New Yorkers,” Cuomo said on March 31. As he noted, the budget agreement put ACA protections, including the state insurance marketplace and coverage of pre-existing conditions, into state law.

The agreement also included $550 million in increased Medicaid funding, which Cuomo had earlier proposed cutting back as the state faced a $2.3 billion revenue shortfall.

“Codify Reproductive Rights”
Among the bills that the Democratic Legislature quickly advanced in the first month of the legislative session were protections of women’s reproductive rights, which Republicans had blocked for years. For Democrats, passing those laws was particularly pressing after the balance of the Supreme Court tilted in favor of conservatives with the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh last year.

On January 23, the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which grants the federal right to abortion, the state Legislature passed the Reproductive Health Act, which codified Roe abortion protections into state law, and the Comprehensive Contraception Care Act, which requires health care insurers to cover the cost of contraception.

The Legislature also approved the “boss bill,” which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on reproductive health decisions. Cuomo quickly signed all three into law.

“Combat Gun Violence”
Strengthening the state’s gun laws has been a signature issue for Cuomo, who worked with Democrats and Republicans to enact an assault rifle ban and other regulations shortly after the Sandy Hook mass shooting of 2012. In January, the state Legislature passed and the governor signed several more gun control measures including banning bump stocks, extending the background check waiting period for buying a gun from three days to ten days, and the Red Flag Law, which allows a judge to order the seizure of firearms from individuals (and their households) deemed a threat to public safety and prohibits those individuals from purchasing a weapon.

“Launch a $150 Billion Infrastructure Plan”
Cuomo expanded the state’s massive infrastructure program with several new investments in the 2020 fiscal year budget. The $150 billion capital investment program is expected to create 675,000 jobs over the next five years, Cuomo has said, by renovating and building new airports, bus and train stations, highways, tunnels, bridges, housing, and other facilities across the state.

At the ABNY speech, Cuomo called it the “the largest building program in the United States of America.” He showed a powerpoint slide with a long list of projects that will either be completed or started during his third term, and added, “We get this done, we will have transformed New York. Think about all those projects and think about how comprehensive they are. New airports, new rail, new bridges, new power systems. It will be a new New York.”

“Fund and Restructure the MTA While Easing Traffic in New York City's Business District”
After years of being rejected by both Democrats and Republicans, congestion pricing was embraced this year by the state Legislature and Cuomo as a way to create a sustainable revenue source for the MTA and to cut down on Manhattan gridlock. The details of the plan have yet to be worked out, however, and it will only go into effect after December 2020, but the program is expected to raise as much as a $1 billion annually, which the MTA will be able to leverage to raise another $10 billion by issuing bonds, for an expected total of $15 over five years.

Additionally, Cuomo and the Legislature decided to dedicate taxes from the new “mansion tax” as well as portions of expected proceeds to New York City and State from an expansion of the internet sales tax. There will still be some portion of the coming MTA capital plan for 2020-2024 that must be covered, and the MTA’s annual operating budget is in a tenuous position.

Although Cuomo had also promised to reform the MTA’s management structure (mostly to give him greater control even though he already effectively controls its every move) there were few immediate changes to the agency included in the budget. There are prospective ones, though: MTA has been mandated to issue a reorganization plan by June, will be required to undergo an “independent forensic audit and efficiency review,” will have to implement a 20-year capital needs assessment starting in 2023 and publicly report metrics on performance, among other reforms.

“Ensure Education Equity”
The final budget agreement included about $27.9 billion in education funding, marking a $1 billion increase in aid to school districts, far lower than what the state Board of Regents and some legislators had advocated for. It was slightly more than Cuomo had proposed himself, but given the state’s fiscal picture Cuomo appeared set against a larger increase, arguing that the state is already providing excessive education aid to localities and that the real need is more funding to the poorest schools.

Cuomo put forward a new “Education Equity” formula through which he said 70% of new aid would go to poorer schools, not just districts. “This says in the budget poor schools must be prioritized from a funding point of view by the district. And they must publish the numbers of how much they have funded the schools within their district,” Cuomo said of the deal that was reached, which fell short of what he had outlined initially but appears may help further the goals he laid out.

“Pass the Dream Act”
The DREAM Act is meant to provide tuition assistance to “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, and it was passed by the state Assembly and Senate in January. The bill has yet to be sent to the governor for his signature, even though he has said he will sign it, because of concerns about the broad language included in it, according to the Albany Times Union, but the state budget provides $27 million in funding to implement it.

“Ensure Clean, Safe Drinking Water for All”
The state budget added $500 million in additional funding for clean water infrastructure, bringing the state’s total investment to $3 billion.

“Improve Our Democracy”
The state Legislature passed several voting and elections reforms this year that are meant to improve voter turnout, including approving ten days of early voting (which was funded at $10 million in the budget), consolidating the state and federal primary elections in June, allowing pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds, universal transfer of voting registration, and beginning the process of amending the state constitution to allow no-excuse absentee ballots by mail and same day voter registration.

Cuomo had also pushed for automatic voter registration and making Election Day a state holiday but was unsuccessful. The budget agreement did however provide three hours (up from two) of paid leave on election day to allow people to vote, expanded voting hours in upstate New York, and also included $14 million in funding for electronic pollbooks, which were approved by the Legislature and are said to be essential to carrying out early voting.

“Protect Public Sector Unions”
Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. ACFME, which overruled compulsory union fees for non-union workers on First Amendment grounds, Cuomo promised to protect New York’s labor unions from its adverse effects. The state budget extended Janus protections approved by the state -- including protecting personal contact information of public employees from being disclosed -- to all local governments.

“Pass the Child Victims Act”
After more than 15 years of repeated failure, the Legislature finally passed with near unanimous support and Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act, which extends the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse and gives victims the ability to seek justice as adults, while also including a one-year “look back window” that briefly suspends the statute of limitations.

“Protect LGBTQ Rights”
The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) was another bill stonewalled by Republicans for years that Democrats approved this year. The bill prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and was a top priority for LGBTQ activists. The state Legislature also banned the controversial and discredited practice of “conversion therapy” for minors.

“Ensure Fairness in the Criminal Justice System”
In budget negotiations, Cuomo repeatedly said he would not sign a budget that did not include several key criminal justice reforms including ending cash bail, and enacting speedy trial and open discovery reform. The final agreement did not completely do away with cash bail but did significantly curtail it, while implementing the other reforms as well.

There are parts of the 100 days agenda that haven’t been accomplished yet and are expected to be on the docket over the next three months as the legislative session continues.

More on what Cuomo did not get done:

“Legalize Adult Use of Recreational Marijuana”
Cuomo’s embrace of recreational marijuana legalization, which could raise an estimated $300 million in revenue annually, was unsuccessful as the state Legislature could not come to an agreement with him over how to implement it and how much of the revenue raised should go to mass transit (as Cuomo intended) or to communities hurt by marijuana enforcement.

”It is complicated to come up with a program that does it and protects public safety, and does economic empowerment for communities that have paid the price,” Cuomo said. “And the best way to do it was not in the race of the budget. And that is nothing new, we've been talking about it for weeks. But that's the one item on the list that we did not get to yet.”

“Keep Housing Affordable for New Yorkers”
Cuomo has touted a $20 billion affordable housing plan though it’s hard to gauge its results. But the more pressing issue for Democrats this year is the effort to reform rent regulation laws that expire in July. Cuomo has supported ending vacancy decontrol, eliminating preferential rent rules, and also modifying rent increases from Major Capital Improvements (MCI). Faced with a somewhat diminished but nonetheless powerful real estate lobby, rent regulations will likely be a controversial subject for the Legislature and governor. Cuomo included reforming rent regulations in his 100 days agenda, but neither he nor the Legislature ever appeared set on dealing with them before the budget -- the regulations expire in June, and always appeared as if they would be one of, if not the most controversial issues in the post-budget session.

“Enshrine Gender Equality into Law”
Cuomo promised to push for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would prohibit discrimination based on sex. Placing it in the state constitution would require the current Legislature to pass a resolution, which would then have to be passed by the next Legislature seated in 2021 and subsequently approved by voters. Though the amendment has passed in the Assembly previously, and State Senator Julia Salazar has introduced a resolution in the Senate, it has not moved through the Legislature.

“Increase Trust in the Democratic System”
The governor pledged to end the so-called LLC loophole in state campaign finance law, which allows limited liability companies to make donations without disclosing their donors. Though the state Legislature did significantly curb LLC donations, limiting them to a maximum of $5,000, and added new disclosure requirements, the loophole remains open to an extent. Cuomo has dubiously claimed otherwise.

Cuomo also pushed to ban corporate contributions, which did not pass. He also advocated for ending outside income for lawmakers, which was not done directly by the Legislature but was effectively accomplished by a state commission that recommended pay increases for legislators while restricting outside income (those outcomes are the subject of litigation).

On creating a system of public financing of elections, the Legislature and governor passed a broad agreement to move ahead but punted, charging a commission to come up with a program by December with no specific mandates for how a public financing system would be structured. Advocates have called for a system modelled on the one currently in place in New York City.

“Launch the Green New Deal”
Cuomo has also claimed to have launched a Green New Deal for New York but even his version that was included in his executive budget proposal, which falls far short of what advocates and some state legislators have pushed for, was not accomplished in the budget.

Cuomo’s bill would have set the state’s energy sector on a path to becoming carbon neutral by 2040, while environmental activists are pursuing the Climate and Community Protection Act, which mandates that the entire state economy be carbon neutral by 2050. Cuomo did celebrate certain environmental and clean energy investments as well as a “ban” (with carve-outs) on single-use plastic bags, a major victory for supporters of the measure to help reduce New York’s plastic bag use and waste.

[READ: 10 Issues to Watch in Albany's Post-Budget Legislative Session]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to note that Cuomo's 100th day of his new term is Wednesday April 10, not Monday as originally stated.

A Closer Look at Albany Democrats’ Compromise on Bail Reform

bail sign via zellnor

(photo: @zellnor4ny)

At a Sunday press conference, following his overnight announcement of a $175.5 billion budget deal, Governor Andrew Cuomo heralded a criminal justice reform agreement with the Legislature, and thanked one member of the Assembly in particular. “I want to applaud Assemblymember Latrice Walker who really was very helpful and very constructive, and understood the tensions,” he said of the Brooklyn representative.

Cuomo was referring to the especially contentious issue of bail reform. For weeks he and legislators had debated how far to go in amending a system intended to secure defendants return to court, but which in reality has catalyzed the disproportionate pretrial incarceration of poor black and Hispanic New Yorkers.

Queens Senator and Majority Leader Michael Gianaris managed to collect 25 co-sponsors for his advocate-backed bill to eliminate cash bail entirely, with the option of pretrial detention only for certain violent felonies. Governor Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie also previously pledged to eliminate cash bail this session.

But prosecutors and a faction of Democrats insisted that judges would still need discretion to remand defendants deemed dangerous. What they viewed as crucial for public safety was, to Gianaris and his allies, tantamount to replacing cash bail with a system just as susceptible to racial bias.  

The ultimate compromise -- accompanying reforms intended to speed up trials and boost early defendant access to evidence -- resembles a Walker bill that passed the Assembly last session. It eliminates cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, ensuring pretrial freedom for what amounted to about 90 percent of 2018 arrests statewide. Conditions on that freedom could include mandatory check-ins or electronic monitoring.

“The consensus among people who care about reform,” Gianaris told Gotham Gazette, “was, let’s take a solution that covers the vast majority of people, rather than risk making it worse for the remainder.”

‘Challenging’ Process
Recent pressure from Cuomo, Long Island Senate Democrats, and the District Attorneys Association of New York (DAASNY) ultimately shifted negotiations towards the Assembly framework, according to legislators and advocates who observed these developments. All three parties -- with Democratic Senator Todd Kaminsky negotiating on behalf of the so-called “Long Island Six” -- called for some amount of judicial discretion to remand people deemed dangerous to a specific person or persons (language that appeared in Cuomo’s original budget proposal).

Fearful that this discretion would encourage more pretrial incarceration -- not less -- Gianaris says that he and Senate co-sponsors began discussing alternatives with Assembly Democrats, led by Walker. Her 2017 legislation had appeased Assembly Democrats who saw bail as an important tool to separate defendants from survivors of domestic violence. At least with bail, she’s argued, defendants still have an avenue -- if they can afford it -- to pretrial release.

“It was challenging,” Walker said in a phone interview, of the negotiations. “Because it has a wonderful ring to be able to say, ‘We eliminated cash bail in NYC.’ And that’s the ultimate goal, but at what price would we have claimed that accomplishment?”

Kaminsky’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but the senator and former federal prosecutor told the New York Law Journal in the midst of negotiations last month that he was “trying to make sure we’re reforming the system while keeping the public safe.”

Cuomo Counsel Alphonso David did not elaborate on the governor’s role in negotiations, telling Gotham Gazette that, ultimately, the dangerousness question “did not have to be addressed at this time.”

“The perfect would've been the whole elimination of bail, but I don't believe in making the perfect the enemy of the good,” Cuomo told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Monday, calling the final agreement, “the most historic criminal justice reform in modern history in the state."

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has endorsed dangerousness considerations in the past, told anchor Errol Louis on Monday’s “Inside City Hall” that he is “obviously thrilled” about the bail agreement, which he predicts will “supercharge” efforts to decrease New York City’s jail population. Numbers have been dropping precipitously for decades -- essential to a city plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex.

Advocates with the FREEnewyork campaign, a coalition of more than 150 grassroots groups that backed the Gianaris bill (carried by Danny O’Donnell in the Assembly), say they are very pleased that this compromise will greatly decrease pre-trial detention. As of September, more than a third of the 8,200 people in New York City jails were held pre-trial on misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies.

The state budget outcome “dodged a lot of bullets,” said JustLeadershipUSA organizer Katie Schaffer, because “there is not any sort of generalized consideration of dangerousness or risk to public safety that could exacerbate racial disparities.”

But there is lingering frustration. With Democratic control in both houses of the Legislature, advocates had been hopeful criminal justice reform would be handled outside of the harried budget process where horse-trading often happens. “It seems obvious that passing significant policy at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning is not good process,” said VOCAL-NY organizer Nick Encalada-Malinowski.

Lingering Concerns
For defendants charged with sexual assault misdemeanors and most violent felonies, judges will still have the option to set bail, putting poor defendants at a disadvantage. Certain felonies in this category will also be eligible for remand, including witness intimidation and terrorism-related charges.

Last year’s Walker bill would have required an evidentiary hearing for anyone eligible for pretrial detention. Judges would have had to review evidence within days of arrest and “explain themselves a bit” before sending defendants to jail pre-trial, Schaffer explained. Advocates saw this as a useful check, considering many convictions stemming from violent felony arrests -- 31% statewide in 2017 -- are misdemeanors. But these hearings were negotiated out of the budget agreement.

“Given the history of criminal justice reform, it is not a surprise that they chose this middle path that greatly benefits some and excludes others,” said Nicole Triplett, policy counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union. This split, she said, fails to “fully realize the constitutional promise that every person be treated as innocent until proven guilty.”

The budget bill also requires desk appearance tickets for most misdemeanors and Class E felonies -- including promoting gambling and criminal contempt -- a measure Gianaris says he is proud of (though advocates say they’ll be watching how police officers use their discretion to arrest in some cases).

Gianaris’ bill did not address the question of electronic monitoring, while the adopted budget states that only certain defendants are eligible -- those charged with a felony, domestic violence or sexual assault misdemeanor, or with a recent violent felony conviction. Anyone ordered to wear an ankle monitor cannot bear the cost of that device.

These guidelines, which extend to charges that are not eligible for pretrial detention, are concerning for JoAnne Page, president of the Fortune Society, a nonprofit that offers reentry services. “The fear is electronic monitoring will be utilized excessively and indiscriminately on people – mostly people of color who come from the same low-income neighborhoods in New York City that are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system – who never would have been held on bail in the first place,” she warned.

The budget reforms drew sharp criticism from DAASNY President David Soares. “The New York State Legislature, along with Governor Cuomo, has passed the most reckless bail reform statute in the country,” Soares told Gotham Gazette, arguing that prosecutors have lost a key mechanism for removing dangerous defendants from the general public. “Our greatest concern first and foremost is for victims of crime.”

Cuomo, who ultimately insisted that criminal justice reform be addressed in the budget, told reporters this weekend that he plans to return to the bail question -- and outcomes for people charged with violent felonies, specifically. “That's something we're going to continue to work on,” he said Sunday.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie also told the New York Law Journal Monday that “we are going to get to the finish line to make it a completely cashless bail system.” Gianaris says that he is still committed to this outcome, as well.

“I think advocates will have to keep these issues very present,” Schaffer predicted. “Because it is very easy for legislators to feel done with an issue, to move on to other issues.”

by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: State Budget Takeaways

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Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits

April 3, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: 10 State Budget Takeaways

38813932055 a4cf29902e zThere's a new state budget, with $175.5 billion in spending and a lot of policy included. We break down some of the key takeaways.

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: The Debate Over Rent Regulations

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(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)

April 3, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: The Debate Over Rent Regulations

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mike mckee twitter

Perhaps the most contentious post-budget issue in Albany's state legislative session that will extend from April through much of June will be rent regulations. Those regulations apply to roughly 1 million New York City apartments home to roughly 2 million people, and include things like the "vacancy bonus," vacancy decontrol, and major capital improvements. But advocates and some legislators are pushing for not just slight modifications and extension of the regulations that are set to expire this year, but sweeping tenant-friendly changes. Some are also calling for the extension of rent regulation statewide, which would apply to newly-constructed affordable housing for the future. One on side of the issue is the landlord lobby, on the other side, the tenant lobby. We were joined by a leading representative of each: first, Frank Ricci, Director of Government Affairs for the Rent Stabilization Association, then Michael McKee, treasurer of TenantsPAC.

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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What's The [Data] Point? $175.5 Billion, Breaking Down the New State Budget

whats the data point

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 70 -- $175.5 billion, Breaking Down the New State Budget, with Dave Friedfel and Patrick Orecki of CBC [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

cuomo state budgetNew York State has a brand new $175.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that began April 1. Citizens Budget Commission experts Dave Friedfel and Patrick Orecki joined the podcast to break down the new spending plan and what it means, from congestion pricing to new taxes to education aid and more.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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10 Issues to Watch in Albany’s Post-Budget Legislative Session

Cuomo legislators bills

(photo: governor's office)

Although the state budget approved earlier this week included several progressive priorities for Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature, there are still three months left in the legislative session this year and a list of remaining items on which the governor and legislators have promised action.

Taking advantage of their party’s newfound control over both houses of the Legislature, Democrats moved a long list of bills already this year, both prior to and in the budget. Though there has been a level of expected divergence on some bills within the legislative chambers, and a more unexpected degree of infighting between the legislative leaders on one hand and the governor on the other, long-sought Democratic priorities have nonetheless advanced, from voting reforms to women’s reproductive rights to gun control and much more.

In a Sunday news conference outlining the details of the budget agreement that included congestion pricing, criminal justice reform and other new policies, Cuomo also laid out some unfinished business for the days ahead including legalizing the adult use of marijuana.

“We have not legalized cannabis, adult use cannabis. The political desire is there, I believe we will get it done,” Cuomo said. The governor had intended to use much of the estimated $300 million in annual revenue that would be raised from taxing marijuana sales to fund the MTA. But the proposal was pulled in different directions and it became apparent a few weeks before the April 1 budget deadline that a deal on all the intricacies of legalization was unlikely.

On the one hand, more conservative legislators and law enforcement officials raised concerns (some unfounded) about public safety, with several county leaders indicating they planned to opt out of allowing sales, and, on the other, lawmakers of color and criminal justice reformers wanted to see both opportunity and revenue go towards communities most impacted by marijuana enforcement. “It is complicated to come up with a program that does it and protects public safety, and does economic empowerment for communities that have paid the price,” Cuomo said. “And the best way to do it was not in the race of the budget.”

He also spoke of a desire to update the so-called public works bill to ensure workers receive a prevailing wage on construction projects receiving state benefits, and reform the state’s rent regulations, which expire in July. Along with marijuana legalization, rent regulations are expected to be the most controversial issues taken up in the remaining session.

In a Tuesday interview on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, Cuomo in particular addressed reforming the Major Capital Improvements (MCI) law that allows landlords to substantially increase regulated rents after undertaking significant renovations. It is one of a small handful of rent regulations that legislators plan to strengthen -- others include preferential rents, the so-called vacancy bonus, and vacancy decontrol.

“That’s going to be I think a great reform for tenants and I believe we’ll get more than people have ever gotten before,” Cuomo said of MCI changes, “because it wasn’t just the real estate lobby, but there was a reluctance to deal with the details of how these laws actually work and we now have three months to focus just on these laws because we got so much done in the budget.”

On MCIs, Cuomo indicated what has become a popular Democratic position that even some in real estate see as potentially tenable: that landlords should be able to pass along some of the costs of improvements to tenants, but not necessarily in perpetuity. Some legislators want to abolish the MCI program altogether, though others, as well as real estate representatives, warn that could lead landlords to drastically limit investments in their buildings.

Cuomo also included several other priorities in his executive budget proposal that weren’t included in the adopted budget and could potentially be addressed in the next few months. He floated a proposal to allow municipalities to legalize the use of electronic scooters and bicycles, which criminal justice reform and immigration advocates in New York City are particularly eager to see approved. The city has been cracking down on e-bikes -- which are regularly used by restaurant delivery workers who are often immigrants -- and the City Council has been awaiting authorization from the state to legalize them.

State lawmakers and activists are also pushing a bill that would allow drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, which would affect more than 700,000 immigrants living in New York. The governor has publicly said he supports it, but Gothamist reported last month that he was working behind the scenes to prevent its passage. The bill's Assembly sponsor, Bronx Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, had urged its inclusion in the budget, tweeting on March 27, "Senate and Assembly Dems should come together and support our immigrant families in This budget cycle." Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie responded to Crespo, saying the chamber would advance the bill after the budget. 

The governor has also proposed ending the state’s ban on paid surrogacy and just last week urged lawmakers to act. “It is unconscionable that people need to leave the state to have a child due to New York State's antiquated surrogacy laws,” he said in a statement. But surrogacy was not legalized in the budget.

Though there has been little discussion of legislation favorable to charter schools -- which have stronger allies in the Republican Party but also enjoy support from Cuomo and some Democrats -- there is a possibility that the state could look at expanding the cap on the number of charters in New York City, a threshold that was met for the first time this year.

In the Assembly, Speaker Heastie said Tuesday that his chamber would be “laser focused” on rent regulation, though he did not say whether it would take priority over marijuana legalization. “I don’t wanna say what’s bigger than the other but I think there’s 20-something years worth of history with rent regulations that I think has to be spoken about, talked about and fixed,” he told reporters outside his office, according to audio provided by a spokesperson. “So I’d say it’s going to be a huge, major focus of ours.”

He also said “there’s support within the conference to do universal rent control. In the Assembly we don’t just wanna seem like we care about the tenants in New York City...We want to protect tenants all across the state.”

Two significant proposals that gained little traction, outside of advocacy circles, prior to the budget were the New York Health Act and the Climate and Community Protection Act.

The NYHA, led by Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and Senator Gustavo Rivera, would establish a single-payer health care system in the state. Cuomo has supported the principle, but insists that it should be federally funded rather than putting the state’s finances in jeopardy. It remains to be seen if the bill will gain any momentum in the three remaining months of session. Supporters rallied for it on Tuesday in Albany, trying to establish it as a key priority for the next several weeks. It’s unclear if either Democratic majority in the Legislature has the stomach for pursuing the policy and forcing a broader conversation on what would make for a major overhaul of health care and insurance in the state, as well as the state tax code.

The CCPA is a roadmap to moving the state economy towards entirely renewable energy and creating jobs in the process, akin to a version of the Green New Deal being championed by national progressive Democrats. But Cuomo proposed his own version of “New York's Green New Deal,” which was a somewhat less aggressive alternative proposal that only dealt with the energy sector. Neither moved towards passage before the budget and will likely be a matter of discussion as the post-budget session moves ahead.

One aspect of the budget agreement that left government reform advocates particularly disappointed was the omission of any new anti-corruption measures targeted specifically at the state’s scandal-ridden economic development programs. The budget included funding for a “database of deals” that will purportedly outline projects receiving state assistance, but did not include statutory language about the structure of the database, which will apparently be at the discretion of the Cuomo administration and its Empire State Development.

The governor also agreed to administratively restore the state comptroller’s authority to pre-audit contracts handed out by SUNY and CUNY affiliates, rather than give it legislative power.

Heastie said Tuesday that those two measures could end up in statute, something legislators have been threatening for years. “I think that we did agree that on ethics we wanted to engage in three-way conversation so I think those discussions will happen in the second half as well,” he said, echoing comments he’s made in the past.

[Read: In State Budget, More on Voting, Little on Ethics, and Half-Baked Campaign Finance Reform]

In February, the Assembly and Senate held the first joint hearing in decades on workplace sexual harassment, hearing from several women who had experienced harassment when employed by former state lawmakers. The women testified to the inadequate protections against harassment in state law and insisted that the Legislature must work to improve them, as well as the broader culture in Albany.

Both Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins have said they support holding additional hearings that could potentially take place in the next few months and set the stage for further legislative action. The former legislative aides, some of whom have formed the Sexual Harassment Working Group, have a set of proposals to strengthen the state’s anti-harassment laws, and there are several legislators who appear ready to work with the advocates to advance those priorities, which would apply to both the public and privates sectors, as did anti-harassment laws passed last year.

Ineffective state response to sexual harassment in part points to the oft-maligned Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which victims have said is incapable of appropriately handling sexual harassment complaints against those in government. JCOPE has also been criticized as lacking independence from the very officials it is supposed to investigate, leading to calls -- and legislation -- to replace the commission with a new body. It’s unclear if there will be any momentum in the coming months to explore that option or a host of other reform bills, some proposed by Cuomo, like extending the Freedom of Information Law to the Legislature.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note - This article has been updated.

In State Budget, More on Voting, Little on Ethics, and Half-Baked Campaign Finance Reform

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Gov. Cuomo (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/governor's office)

The 2020 state budget agreement between Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature is one of the most consequential legislative packages to have passed in several years and enacts sweeping changes to the state’s criminal justice system, mass transit in New York City, voting laws, health care, environmental protections, and more. But government reform advocates are disappointed by what they see as half-measures on campaign finance reform and the exclusion of broader improvements to state procurement processes and government ethics reforms.

Over the last three months, the state Legislature, under Democratic control for the first time in nearly a decade, quickly acted to pass several voting and campaign finance reforms that Democratic elected officials and candidates, including Cuomo, have backed and campaigned on for years.

The Legislature approved early voting, consolidated the state and federal primary into one day in June, enacted pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds, and reduced contribution limits for limited liability companies to $5,000, greatly narrowing the infamous “LLC loophole.” Cuomo signed those bills into law. The Legislature also passed resolutions to amend the state constitution to allow no-excuse absentee ballots by mail and same-day voter registration -- the resolutions will have to be passed again by the next Legislature seated in 2021 and will then have to be approved by voters in a referendum.

The budget deal passed early Monday morning included additional measures and funding for voting, election, and campaign finance reforms approved in previous months. The headline, though, was the compromise to mandate a binding commission that is meant to create a public financing program for state elections and must issue a report by December 1. The commission’s recommendations will become law unless the Legislature overrides it during a special session before the end of the year.

[Read: Cuomo, Legislators Agree to $175.5 Billion Budget with Congestion Pricing, Criminal Justice Reform and Commitment to Public Campaign Financing]

“On public integrity and anti-corruption issues, the governor and the Legislature have fallen short because they failed to put reforms in statute,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government reform group. “On voting, they’re making very good progress in modernizing the state’s voting system...the Legislature and the governor have exceeded expectations I’d say. That’s really the lone bright spot on good government in the budget.”

Campaign Finance
The governor and Legislature couldn’t come to an agreement on implementing a public financing system with lower contribution limits for candidates and a small-donation matching program, owing largely to opposition in the state Assembly where Speaker Carl Heastie publicly raised doubts about having enough votes to approve the proposal, despite prior support for such a program when Republicans controlled the Senate.

In the end, the budget agreement sets the state on the road to creating a system through a commission, which will have binding authority and $100 million in appropriations (the Legislature can still amend the commission’s recommendations within 20 days of the report being released). “It is too complicated,” Cuomo said at a news conference on Sunday of approving a public financing model. “It’s not a simple system to put in place, it’s especially not simple statewide.”

Advocates say there isn’t enough clarity in the commission’s guidelines and have vowed to hold the feet of the governor and Legislature to the fire. The Fair Elections for NY coalition called the budget a “missed opportunity” to enact reform. The coalition of advocacy, community, and labor groups organized a massive push for a public financing program modelled on the one used in New York City, calling for a 6-to-1 match in public funds for every qualifying dollar that a candidate raises through the program (the city’s program was recently expanded to an 8-to-1 match).

“The value of this commission will be determined by the quality of its appointees and the public process it offers to allow every day New Yorkers and experts to shape the outcome,” the coalition said in a statement. “We intend to hold our elected officials accountable to their promises and make sure New York actually delivers a historic victory without poison pills.”

Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, said a public financing program should have been included in the budget, considering that Democrats have been pushing it for years. “Now that the task is put to a commission, the leaders must act swiftly to appoint qualified, independent members with a track record of public service, and a commitment to creating a robust small donor public financing program,” he said in a statement. “All must ensure a participatory process that is transparent to the public. Nothing less is required to secure the public’s trust.”

Nine commission members will be appointed -- two each by the governor and majority and minority leaders of both legislative chambers. The final appointee must be chosen through consensus by all of the appointing parties and approved by the governor. Camarda from Reinvent Albany noted that the commission will have to approve a system through a majority vote, which is not guaranteed, nor is a 6-to-1 match or any independent enforcement of a new system. Camarda also pointed out that New York’s sky-high contribution limits for those who do not opt in to the program won’t be lowered, disincentivizing candidates from participating.

When laying out his 2019 agenda late last year, Cuomo had called for completely banning corporate donations to political candidates, but that measure did not make it into the budget.

Another Cuomo proposal that was not included in the budget was a complete closure of the so-called LLC loophole. LLCs allow individuals to circumvent contribution limits by shielding the identities of donors and, until recently, had the ability to donate as much as $65,000 to gubernatorial candidates. The Legislature brought those donation limits down to $5,000, in line with limits for corporations, but that does not completely preclude the loophole from being exploited.

The governor had also proposed greater donor disclosure requirements for 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations, which he said were contributing to a plague of independent expenditures in state elections, but some charged was another attempt by the governor to target groups that have been critical of him. Those proposals were left out of the final budget as well.

Voting and Elections
The final budget agreement includes $10 million in funding to localities to implement a 10-day early voting program, approves three hours (up from two) of paid time off on election day, authorizes electronic poll books with $14.7 million in funding, and expands voting hours at upstate polling sites to bring them in line with New York City and its surrounding suburbs (6 am to 9 pm).

The budget also mandates that the Board of Elections create an online voter registration system that allows voters to submit applications with electronic signatures. Advocates and elected officials had also tried to push the Legislature to approve automatic voter registration for the state, but to no avail.

Though the governor had proposed several government ethics reforms in his executive budget proposal, barely any made it into the enacted budget. The proposals included mandated disclosure of tax returns by candidates for elected office, expanding the state’s Freedom of Information Law to the state Legislature (it currently covers the executive branch), banning state employees from volunteering on their employers’ election campaigns, and a “Lobbying Code of Conduct” to penalize violations of lobbying laws among other lobbying restrictions.

But the only proposal that was approved was one that prohibits lobbyists, political action committees, labor unions, and a person registered as an independent expenditure committee from giving loans to candidates and political committees. What remains to be seen is whether the governor will follow through on a pledge to unilaterally ban those who do not voluntarily follow the code of conduct from lobbying the executive chamber.

‘Clean Contracting’ and Economic Development Accountability
The budget leaves in place weaknesses in state contracting processes that advocates say led to recent pay-to-play scandals, and corruption convictions, in Albany, particularly among officials and donors in Cuomo’s inner circle.

Though Cuomo had proposed several procurement reforms in his executive budget proposal, “Nothing got done in statute,” said Camarda. The governor reached a deal to restore the state comptroller’s pre-audit authority over certain state contracts -- powers stripped in Cuomo’s first year as governor -- but did not give it the backing of law in the budget and legislators do not appear to have fought for it to be in statute.

Cuomo had also expressed support for stronger oversight powers for the state inspector general over SUNY- and CUNY-affiliated nonprofits, which were not passed with the budget. SUNY-affiliated contracts were at the center of a major bid-rigging scandal that led to the corruption conviction last year of Alain Kaloyeros, a former top economic development aide to Cuomo, and prominent donors to Cuomo’s campaign.

The budget does appropriate $500,000 to administratively implement a “database of deals,” which is meant to outline projects receiving state economic development benefits. But the appropriation does not detail whether the database would be created in a way that would make it transparent or easily accessible. Advocates have pushed to make it downloadable and machine-readable for easy analysis. “None of the functionality that we would want to see in a database is specified,” Camarda said. “A bigger problem is there are no requirements as to what information should be included and there are no definitions.”

Cuomo did include a specific provision in the budget that expands his authority over the Public Authorities Control Board, a direct response to the undoing of the deal to bring an Amazon campus to Queens. Cuomo has repeatedly blamed the failure of the deal on the state Senate’s nomination of Amazon-opponent Senator Mike Gianaris to the PACB, which would have final approval of a portion of the subsidies offered to the tech giant. The new budget allows Cuomo to remove a member of the PACB who oversteps, or threatens to overstep their authority.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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State Budget Fallout & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 1

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will be dominated by dissection of and fallout from the new state budget, a $175.5 billion spending and policy plan agreed to by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature over the weekend. The budget, which takes effect to start the new fiscal year on Monday, April 1, makes a wide variety of spending decisions, including on the always-important topic of education aid to localities, which comprises a large portion of the budget, and a number of new policy changes, including on criminal justice. Items like a new congestion pricing plan for New York City and making permanent the 2 percent annual property tax cap for all areas outside the city span both fiscal and policy areas.

Governor Cuomo will likely speak to the new budget earlier, but on Thursday he is set to address a Manhattan audience at length. The Legislature is due to be in session three days this week, but it’s not clear the two houses will have much of an agenda.

The City Council has a quieter week after just having wrapped up an intense month of hearings on Mayor de Blasio’s $92 billion preliminary budget. The Council will soon issue its formal preliminary budget response. The mayor’s executive budget, which will take into account the Council hearings and response, as well as the new state budget, and more, is due toward the end of this month.

There are some City Council hearings this week, plus other events around the city -- see our day-by-day rundown below.

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

The run of the week in detail:

At 8:15 a.m. Monday, NYC Health + Hospitals President Mitchell Katz will speak to the Citizens Budget Commission at the Yale Club. Katz will discuss the “transformation of H+H, the largest municipal health system in the United States, and give an update on progress on its long-term plan to reinvent itself.”

At 9:45 a.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will deliver remarks at the "dedication of The Shed" at the The Bloomberg Building.

The State Legislature is scheduled to be in session Monday in Albany.

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

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committees on Transportation and Civil Service & Labor will meet jointly at 1 p.m. to discuss proposed laws banning on-call scheduling for utility workers working on underground infrastructure and requiring all workers working on a project to open a street to be in compliance with safety training.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl will address the “Crain’s Arts and Culture Breakfast” to discuss the “successes and challenges to continue to increase museum traffic and drive tourism numbers for New York City.” Afterwards, there will be a panel discussing similar issues, consisting of Concetta Anne Bencivenga of the New York Transit Museum, Deborah Cullen of the Bronx Museum of Arts, Brett Littman of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, and Daniel Weiss of the Met. The event will take place at the Con Ed Building in Union Square.

At 11 a.m. Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio will speak to the Atlantic’s “Renewal Summit” at CNVS in Midtown, discussing “how cities like New York can keep growing, while staying true to those who have long called it home.”

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 10:45 a.m.
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 1 p.m.

At the City Council on Thursday: The Committee on Technology will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “automated decision systems used by agencies.”

At 9:30 a.m. Thursday, the Rent Guidelines Board will meet at the Landmarks Preservation Commission Conference Room in the Manhattan Municipal Building. This will be the board’s first meeting of 2019.

At 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Governor Cuomo will speak to the Association for a Better New York at Cipriani Wall Street.

Friday and the weekend
At 8:30 a.m. Friday, the Regional Plan Association, the Center for New York City Affairs, and the Independent Commission on Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform will host “The Future of Rikers and the Inner Sound” at the New School, discussing how Rikers Island can be repurposed after its prison facilities are closed. Speakers will include former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, Queens Council Member Costa Constantinides, Ben “Cincere” Wilson of the New School, Moses Gates of the RPA, Melissa Iachan of NYPIRG, and Claire Weisz of WXY Studio.

Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday at 10 a.m.

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

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

Cuomo, Legislators Agree to $175.5 Billion Budget with Congestion Pricing, Criminal Justice Reform and Commitment to Public Campaign Financing

Cuomo top aides new budget deal 2019 2020

Cuomo and top aides announce budget deal (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed on a $175.5 billion state budget for fiscal year 2020, which begins Monday, that includes several significant policy changes for New York, including a congestion pricing program for New York City, a plastic bag ban of sorts, major criminal justice reforms, and a commitment to enact through a new commission a campaign finance program that includes public matching funds.

The deal, first announced by press release from the governor’s office just after midnight Saturday and discussed in some detail by Cuomo at a Sunday press conference, also includes an agreement to make permanent the governor’s signature 2% cap on annual property tax increases that applies everywhere outside New York City, as well as an MTA management reform plan tied to congestion pricing, and a $1 billion increase in overall education aid to localities, bringing the total up to $27.9 billion, with a new “education equity formula to ensure funding for poorer schools” that Cuomo had pushed for, though it does not appear to make significant immediate changes to how education aid is distributed.

The announcement also indicated that the parties -- Cuomo and the two legislative majorities, controlled by Democrats for the first time in the governor’s more than eight years in office -- had kept in place planned middle class tax cuts.

“This is probably the broadest, most sweeping plan that we’ve done,” Cuomo said during the Sunday press conference where he was flanked by his three top aides, held as the legislative houses debated and voted on the actual bills involved (the final bills were voted through in the early hours of Monday morning). Cuomo called it a strong progressive statement that includes several nation-leading initiatives, such as first-in-the-country congestion pricing.

While there is a great deal of detail still to discover in the budget language and both funding and policy decisions to dissect, the broad strokes of the overall agreement do point to a successful budget for Cuomo, who largely got what he wanted. As the governor noted Sunday, he has accomplished, at least in some form, most of the “first 100 days” agenda he set forth for the start of his third term during a December speech.

On several policy issues, advocates see too much compromise, and debate will surely play out over the coming days and beyond over the details of the deals reached. Republicans are also attacking Cuomo and his fellow Democrats for instituting several new taxes and fees.

Cuomo called for “perspective,” saying it is “a difficult time for government, a difficult time for New York State” given federal actions, especially tax reform, the loss of the Amazon deal, climate change, and long-standing struggles like congestion in New York City, a flawed MTA management system, and a calcified, discriminatory criminal justice system in need of change.

The Democratic governor on Sunday gave a powerpoint presentation going through his “first 100 days” agenda and said he had accomplished “virtually” everything he set out to do, either prior to or in the budget deal, with marijuana legalization the biggest omission, though there are others. And some accomplishments are a matter of degree that will need to be assessed in the coming days and weeks.

Cuomo highlighted several from earlier in the year when the new all-Democratic Legislature quickly passed a series of bills, some of which Cuomo has signed, and discussed those at the top of the budget announcement sent out the night before, as well as other areas where he believes the state is making progress, such as environmental and health care policies.

"I thank Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie for their partnership, and look forward to achieving the most productive legislative session in history,” Cuomo said in a statement on the budget deal.

The governor, who effectively controls the MTA, said his 12 principles for MTA reform had been approved and would overhaul the inefficient state authority, leading to better performance and return-on-investment for taxpayers, including those who will be paying more given the new congestion pricing plan and other new taxes and fees in the budget, including a so-called mansion tax on home sales in New York City and an internet sales tax across the state.

The details of the congestion pricing scheme will be fully fleshed out by a committee and set to take effect in 2021 -- after the next state legislative elections.

Mayoral control of New York City schools is set to be extended for three more years, through the end of Mayor Bill de Blasio's second term, though the extension has some limited strings attached, with greater parental voice involved in the city's Panel for Educational Policy (PEP).

“[W]e funded school districts, not schools” Cuomo said when discussing education aid, but by mandating transparency in where the money was going, something approved last year, the state found that districts were not funding their poorer schools as much as they should have been, he said. This year’s budget deal, with an increase in overall education aid, includes a mandate that districts prioritize funding to poorer schools and show they’re doing so. The governor appeared especially happy with the outcome on this issue, among a handful of others where he said he had ushered through major progress.

One other area of particular importance to the governor is criminal justice reform. The budget eliminates cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, creating a more just justice system, the governor said, allowing roughly 90% of defendants charged to avoid jail as their legal process unfolds. Cuomo indicated he still wants to address in some way bail for those charged with violent felonies, but the parties were able to get to agreement on all other charges and went ahead with that. He also noted speedy trial and discovery reforms have been approved.

The governor said he is “very excited about” what is being called a plastic bag “ban” though there are a number of carve-outs for single-use plastic bags. They will be banned from use by grocery and other retail stores, though they will be allowed for food delivery. The plastic bag limitations are accompanied by a five cent fee on paper bags, part of the push to encourage New Yorkers to carry reusable bags with them. 

"This year’s State budget represents very real progress in addressing some of the most pressing needs of New Yorkers," said Mayor de Blasio in a statement, broadly praising extension of mayoral control of city schools, the passage of congestion pricing, criminal justice reforms and the plastic bag ban. But, “The news from Albany wasn’t all good," he added, noting that the budget includes several funding cuts to New York City, including $125 million in cuts to funding for assistance to low-income families and $59 million cut from public health services. 

Along with bail reform and congestion pricing, the other apparently most difficult issue to find compromise on was campaign finance reform, with a public matching system. The agreement reached shows agreement on some principles but punts the actual decision-making to a new commission, which will soon be established and have until December 1 to produce results. Those results will then be binding unless the Legislature convenes to overturn them before the end of the year.

Asked during his Sunday press conference why the parties created a commission to get the details of campaign finance reform done, Cuomo said “it’s too complicated” and ran through a series of challenging questions involved, including whether candidates for state offices running in different localities would receive the same matching funds considering that there are different media markets.

“What we’re hearing is that the deal lacks a number of key elements we said would be critical if we went with what was already a compromise to have a commission handle legislative details: there seems to be no solid guarantee that we’ll have a public financing of elections system on the books with lower contribution limits, independent enforcement or a 6-to-1 match,” said Dave Palmer, Campaign Manager for the Fair Elections campaign, in a Sunday statement. The Fair Elections campaign is a broad coalition of groups that have been pushing for voting and campaign finance reforms.

In the wake of the agreement being finalized, the campaign issued a statement blaming Assembly Democrats for the half-a-loaf, and calling for “timely,” “expert,” and “independent” appointees to the commission.

“A massive grassroots effort came together this year to demand a new day in Albany, with a small-donor matching system that would give everyday New Yorkers a real voice in our political system. Despite the inclusion of public financing in the Governor’s Executive Budget and the efforts by the Senate Democrats and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to get it done, the Assembly’s unwillingness to come through on its decades-long promise has left us with a Commission that will offer a way to yet again pledge reform with no guarantee of delivering. In addition, the Governor is using a public financing commission as a way to attack fusion voting, something that has nothing to do with a public campaign financing system.”

The new commission will also look at New York’s fusion voting system, whereby political parties can nominate the same candidate for the same office. Cuomo, who appears to support an end to fusion voting in part because of his long-running feud with the Working Families Party, said that fusion voting and public campaign financing may not be compatible, though there has been no problem for both in New York City, where it is candidates who receive matching funds no matter how many ballot lines they appear on.

A variety of other decisions were made in the budget, some more quickly discovered or publicized than others. The budget appears to include funding for the Dream Act and for localities to implement early voting, both of which were passed into law earlier this year, legalization of electronic poll books, and the state codification of elements fo the federal Affordable Care Act and health exchange.

Budget language will be pored over for days and weeks to come -- as is annual tradition in Albany, lawmakers were voting through dense budget bills without having had the time to fully review them.

Also on Sunday Cuomo talked about three issues he plans to work with the Legislature on over the next two-plus months until the end of the legislative session: marijuana legalization, rent regulations, and expansion of the prevailing wage on construction projects that receive public benefits.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated with comment from Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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