Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Chance of Marriage? Proposal in Assembly

The prospects of same-sex marriage in New York just got real this week, as Democratic Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell introduced Assembly bill 7600, which "relates to individuals ability to marry."
This is the same bill that he introduced last session and passed his chamber with 89 votes, before failing in the Senate by a vote of 38 to 24.
If adopted into law the proposal would amend the domestic relations law to allow same-sex couples the same opportunity to enter into civil marriages as opposite-sex couples. Additionally, it ensures that no member of the clergy can be compelled to perform any marriage ceremonies.
This measure comes on the heels of a report from the IDC, which laid out the economic case for same-sex marriage. Their summary was:
Recognizing marriage between same sex partners in New York State would create $310,567,652 in increased revenue and economic activity during the next three years, with potential savings of $80,848,457.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Cuomo 2014

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's reelection campaign for 2014 was formally announced via mousepad, pen and notepad (courtesy of Capital Tonight) on Friday night at Proctors Theater in Schenectady. Cuomo was in town for the Democratic Rural Conference's two-day Convention.
Guests of the Convention were given these parting gifts, which were imprinted with the words "Cuomo 2014." The governor did not address this fact during his opening remarks at the Convention. In fact, DRC members had national aspirations for him after he spoke.
The immediate reaction from one DRC member to the speech was, "Thank you President Cuomo," as a more subdued member suggested the governor would win that title in 2016.
Cuomo was championed as the "son" of the DRC, which endorsed him in 2002 when he tried to secure the Democratic nomination for governor. The governor embraced their strong past and said, "You can call me a son of the DRC anytime... I was born from the DRC. The DRC was very good to me early on ... and more importantly they were with me in bad days."
After briefly doing a victory lap on the passage of an on-time budget, Cuomo turned to the economic revitalization of upstate New York. He talked about economic development for this troubled region, but opted not to talk about the heretofore secret Regional Economic Development Councils that are supposed to be a part of upstate's recovery.
Instead, Cuomo seemed to focus more on protecting his flank, as he laid out his vision for New York to become a leading progressive state. This message felt like a response to critics who alleged that his budget was too fiscally conservative. Refuting that belief, the governor stressed the government's role in helping people and waxed on about the state's potential to be a leader on civil rights.
"We led the way and we're going to do it again," Cuomo said, as he promised the state would be the progressive capital for women's rights, reproductive rights, environmental rights and marriage equality.

"I'm talking about a glass of beer."

It will be easier to watch a movie and drink a beer if Republican Senator Carl Marcellino gets his way.
Marcellino has a proposal (SB 4722) that makes it easier for restaurants that show movies to sell beer. Unfortunately these theaters need an entire menu, so the Nachos and candy at Regal Cinemas wouldn't count.
Sure it's not ideal, but incremental change is sometimes the way to go when your dream is watch the third batman movie in 2012 with blue moon.
At the 48 second mark, John Travolta describes the wonder of ordering a glass of beer at the movie theater in Europe.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Senate Pushes on the Gas

A proposed Gas Tax Holiday will be considered by the Senate Investigations & Government Operations Committee on Tuesday.
The legislation comes at a time as regular gas exceeds $4 per gallon in the capital region and suggests 33 cents of state taxes per gallon during the busy four-day Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day holiday weekends.
The senate proposal (SB 4800) was introduced by Senator Greg Ball on Thursday and almost immediately received a committee assignment, which indicates that it will likely be fast tracked through the chamber. This is likely to be contrasted by the soon-to-be introduced version from Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, whose bill will probably never even come up for a committee vote.
The bill's memorandum makes a strangely emotional plea for its enactment:
New York prides itself on the colorful diversity of vacation spots throughout the state. Whether it's camping in the Adirondacks, going to the Saratoga Race Track, hitting the beaches in Coney Island, seeing a show on Broadway or touring the grape growing regions of central and western New York, as a state we have so much to offer.

It will be interesting to see if the practice of "speculation" is ever addressed in this debate in the New York State Legislature, since that is the real culprit for our artificially high gas prices. The practice of speculation receives a passing reference in the bill memo, but it is immediately disregarded as immaterial.

Constitutionally OK!

A paperless proposal from Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, has gotten the big thumbs up from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Schneiderman said the amendment from Tedisco would not impact any other parts of the constitution, which means it is acceptable.
His official opinion has been sent to the Assembly Judiciary committee, in addition to an opinion on a similar bill from Democratic Assemblywoman Sandy Galef.
Not clear whether this means Tedisco's proposal will fly through the Assembly, but it can't hurt.

Here is the opinion:
AG Opinion

Monday, April 25, 2011

No NYC OTB? No Problem

No private employee gets a do-over on history if their company fails and their retirement plans disappear, but that is what the NYS Legislature is considering for employees of the defunct NYC OTB.
Introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Peter Abbate and the Rules Committee, which means the Republicans, in the Senate, this proposal would require the state to maintain the health insurance and supplemental benefits promised by retirees of the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation.
The memorandum for this proposal argues that the state made certain promises to employees of the NYC OTB, which the state is now obligated to ensure.
It was indeed part of the quid pro quo for their employment. Upon closure, the promise was broken, resulting in severe financial hardship and even more, important, danger to the health and lives of NYCOTB retirees and their dependants.

The state of New York should honor its commitment to protect the welfare of these former public employees and restore the health insurance and supplemental benefits of current and future NYCOTB retirees. Any annual cost associated with the bill will diminish with the passage of time and must be balanced against additional cost the state would occur should these individuals need to secure other public benefits.

Interestingly, while the memo recognizes there will be costs, it concludes that the fiscal implications are not available.
This bill seems natural for the Assembly, where it has sat for a month, but its introduction three weeks ago in the Senate is a bit of surprise. Maybe it is remorse or guilt on the part of Senate Republicans who wouldn't keep the NYC OTB?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Line-Item Vetoes to Aid to Localities Budget

Ignoring the fact that this is happening almost two weeks after the budget was due, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced 22 line item vetoes to the Aid to Localities portion of the budget (SB 2803), with cuts coming to seniors, education, health and housing.
The first 14 impact the Office of Aging, with a couple cuts to transportation programs and the elimination of a $1 million pilot program for geriatric in-home
medical care initiatives that included in-home visits and consultation by physicians.
The cuts to education are more substantial, with $24 million to higher education opportunity program funds removed and $19 million struck out that was designated for the Science and Technology Entry Program and the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program.
Cuomo's veto message argues that these two allotments of money represent unconstitutional changes to his original budget. He cites the now infamous Silver v. Pataki case for the limitation on the legislature. Regardless, the governor notes that he doesn't even like the funding of these areas.
Additionally, this constitutional argument was applied to his veto of $500,000 to fund a national board for professional teaching standards certification grant program.
As for the Department of Health portions, which had two line-item vetoes, they deal with the health care reform act program, but that's all I know. These two vetoes are based on the unconstitutionality of their inclusion.
Then there are some housing cuts that go way over my head and probably only impact New York City. Luckily, you don't have to rely on my non-explanation, as we've included all 22 line-item vetoes. The only thing is that you either need to tilt your head or your computer screen to read them...

aid to localities line veto

Handicap Spots Snow Free

Senator Jack Martins, R-Mineola, has introduced a bill (SB 4516) that would increase the penalty for dumping snow onto a handicapped parking spot.
His memorandum on this issue notes that during the 2010-2011 winter, many handicapped parking spaces became unavailable as the result of accumulating snow. He notes that local agencies issued numerous tickets to offenders that put snow onto these restricted areas, but suggests that the maximum fine of $50 for a first time offense is not a deterrent.
Under Martins law, if you "knowingly" put snow into a handicapped spot you will be subject to a $150 fine for a first offense and a fine no greater than $300 for a second offense. He does allow for for local or municipal governments to establish higher fines, but they can't exceed $250 for the first offense and $500 for the second offense.
As of Friday, there was not a companion to this proposal.

Senate Proposes to Spread Service Fee

The New York Senate is poised to address a proposal on Monday that would ease the burden of custodial parents by spreading the burden of service fees between custodial and nocustodial parents.
The bill (SB 816) from Republican Senator Ken LaValle argues that the $25 fee imposed on child support payments represents a significant burden in these economic times, so it is only fair to share the cost. His memorandum suggests that this change would be especially meaningful for single parents across the state that rely on child support payments to live.
One concern raised by Democratic Senator Liz Krueger during the committee process was that this proposal represents an unfunded mandate on local municipalities, who would now have to secure fees from two people instead of one. Counsel for the majority said that this change would actually make the collection process easier, because fees are already collected from both parents.
This bill has an Assembly companion and has been proposed in both chambers in the past, but to no avail. After being unanimously passed in committee, LaValle's bill will likely fly through the Senate, especially since Republicans are unlikely to schedule a vote they could lose.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Low-Sulfur Oil Under Attack by Senate GOP

The implementation of low-sulfur oil for home heating in New York could be delayed and weakened, as the Republican Majority in the Senate is again trying to push back the July 2012 schedule to 2014.
While in the minority, Senate Republicans voted against this initial proposal in 2010, but lost out. A month ago, as the majority, they added this proposal to their version of the budget. But after three-way negotiations and some outcry from environmental and health groups, it was not included in the final package.
Now, being sponsored by the party's #2 guy, Tom Libous, the Senate Republicans are again pushing for a delay until the summer of 2014. Not only would it delay the stricter sulfur standards, it would also relax them by over thirty times, as the maximum allowable sulfur content would go from 15 parts per million to 500 parts per million.
The memo from Libous argues that the current deadline would lead to higher prices, which has been routinely refuted by proponents of the deadline, which includes oil suppliers, like Oil Heat Manufacturers of Central & Eastern NY and the New York Oil Heating Association. “Savings would quickly outweigh the short term jump in price,” said Michael Seilback, the vice president of public policy for the American Lung Association in New York (in March), “and that’s exclusive of the health care savings.”
Additionally, the memo contends that implementation would be costly and not time sensitive, which was flatly rejected by the bill memo that created the low-sulfur guidelines.


Following the passage of a $132.5 billion budget for the current fiscal year, the Empire Center has begun documenting the rate of spending with its spend-O-meter.
Based on the budget, according to the Empire Center, the state spends $4,201 a second, $363,013,699 per day and $11,041,666,666 in a month.
E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center said, "Under this year's budget, our state government will spend more every hour than 200 typical New York families earn in a year."
Check out the Spend-O-Meter.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

NY Continues if Fed Gov't Stops

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has released a report on the ramifications to New York if the federal government fails to implement a continuing resolution by Friday at midnight. "A federal shutdown would be disruptive in the short term and damaging in the long term," he concludes.
His report notes that 126,500 full and part-time employees of the federal government who work in New York could be subject to furloughs, although a small percentage of that number are likely to remain on the job because they hold "essential" positions.
On the state level, though, New York relies on $687 million in federal funds to pay its employees.
Definitely impacted will be the state's 22 national parks, which would close on Saturday if there isn't a compromise. At the Saratoga Battlefield this will mean about 20 employees are put on leave. Regarding these 22 parks, the comptroller highlighted the fact that they generated $340 million in economic activity from non-local visitors in 2009.
Dinapoli warns that cash flow challenges in the state as the result of delayed or non-existent federal funds could result in delayed payments to contractors, municipalities and tax refunds for individuals. Regarding local municipalities and public authorities, which rely on funding for day-to-day operations, they may have to resort to temporary financing to make ends meet.
The potential of a long shutdown could be damaging for the economy of the state and local governments he concluded. "An extended shutdown could have negative economic implications for the state and its local government due to the loss of infrastructure and capital projects activities, the loss of income and sales tax revenue from furloughed workers and affected contractors, as well as the loss of tourism dollars from shuttered national parks and historic sites," Dinapoli said.

Accountable Economic Development

A proposal in both chambers of the NYS Legislature has been introduced that aims to provide accountability for public investments aimed at sparking job growth.
The bill (SB 4428 and AB 6312) would prevent public authorities, not-for-profit corporations and (controversial) industrial development agencies from facilitating the sale of bonds or borrow funds over $50 million unless they meet a more rigorous criteria than currently imposed.
(Editor's Note: It is not clear whether the public authorities or not-for-profit corporations would refer to the state's Economic Development Corporation, which is responsible for most of the state's economic investments.)
According to the bill's memo, this proposal is based on the idea that a clear public benefit should be demonstrated before authorizing public funds. In terms of economic development, this is likely to mean that a company can demonstrate that they're going to create good paying jobs with public funds. The memo promises, "This bill will protect public funds and ensure that a true public benefit will be achieved when large economic development projects are subsidized by New Yorkers."
Republicans in the Assembly have come out against this proposal in the past, but it was able to reach the floor in that chamber. Apparently it wasn't a major priority for the Democrats, though, because it never received a floor vote. The bill is new to the Senate, but it could have a chance because it is sponsored by a Republican.

Legal Challenge to Census Law

A change to the counting of New York prisoners for the census has drew a lawsuit on Monday from Republicans who are worried about their districts losing population.
Passed as part of a budget extender last year, the change in counting would most likely grow the population in New York City, which is a Democratic stronghold and could alternate the power dynamic in the Senate. The Republican argument is based on the idea that including this provision in the budget extenders is unconstitutional, which could severely change the budget and census process.
Below is the complaint from state Republicans...


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Email Threat Provokes Legislature

In the wake of threats that were sent to local and state politicians, the Assembly has introduced legislation that is supposedly a reaction to the shooting of U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords.
The legislation, advanced by Assemblymen Jim Tedisco, Steve McLaughlin and Andrew Raia, known as the "Bystander Protection Act" would increase the penalties for anyone who harms members of the public while trying to injure a public. The decision to implement this law was sparked by the threats on Friday, which mentioned "Gabby Giffords."
Tedisco said in a press release that violence against elected officials will never be tolerated, especially since it can lead to the injuries or death of innocent bystanders, like in the case of Giffords. He then waxed poetically about the duty of serving and stressed that the really important people are in fact "the people."
While an admirable goal, it is unclear why this proposed legislation would deter people more than existing penalties, as Republicans love to argue that people who want to commit a crime will do it (but apparently only when it comes to gun control legislation). Seems like this would just give assassins extra incentive to aim carefully.

Anti-Napster Law in NYS Legislature

The New York State Legislature has introduced a proposal that would strengthen laws against file sharing. I'm not 100 percent sure what the actual measure targets, but it seems to be aimed people who use computers for file sharing that aren't theirs.
For a more detailed explanation, here is a summary of the bill (SB 4435 and AB 2916):
Under these new regulations, a person or entity that is not an owner or authorized user of a computer is prohibited from installing or causing a covered file-sharing program to be installed onto the computer without first providing clear notice to the owner or authorized user of the computer that their files may be made available to the public. Such non-owners/nonauthorized users much also obtain consent from the owner or authorized user to install the program. Further, this bill requires affirmative steps to be taken by the owner/authorized user to activate any feature on the program that will make files on that computer avail- able to the public.

Also, under the provisions of this legislation, non-owners and non-authorized users of a computer may also not directly or indirectly cause files to be stored on that computer, which, in turn, could be searched and copied by third parties unknown to the owner. In instances where the owner does authorize their files to be shared, the consumer must still be given the chance to affirmatively select which particular files would be made available.

Furthermore, this bill prohibits a person or entity that is not an owner or authorized user of a computer from preventing reasonable efforts to disable or remove, or to block the installation of execution of, a covered file-sharing program on the computer.

Basically it sounds like Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich has infiltrated the NYS Legislature.

NY's Chief Judge Responds to Budget

Labor Leader on Future Contracts

There won't be a new tier and unions are unlikely to make $450 million in concessions during ongoing labor negotiations, according to CSEA President Danny Donohue.
A sixth tier was the central piece of the Mandate Relief Team's recommendations, but Donohue characterized it as a non-starter, which wouldn't address real problems in the state. A spokesman for CSEA added that it's not a matter of negotiation for them and Donohue concluded that new tiers are a waste of time. He said, "At this rate we'll ahve Tier 39 and we're not going to get anywhere."
Regarding contract negotiations for stateworkers whose contracts expired on April 1st, Donohue said they're willing to work with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but said they might not be able to realize the savings he wanted. "We're trying to make the governor aware that we're willing to work with him. We have to give on this, but we also recognize we may not be able to give $450 million," Doonhue said. "If you're looking to get $450 million from CSEA that might not happen."
The governor has said that if he can't get the savings he wants, then up to 9,800 workers might get laid off. Donohue suggested that the governor's proposed threat is terrifying, but could just be a negotiating ploy. He concluded, "We'll come to the table and we'll do what we have to.... but we may not be able to get to the governor's number."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Push for Anti-"Citizens United" Bill

A proposal (SB 101) from Democratic Senator Dan Squadron that would weaken the broad authority of the Citizen United Supreme Court case is being pushed for committee consideration.
Squadron's bill would require that a company's shareholders be involved in any decision's about political activity, which theoretically would make it harder for a company to become politically active.
The senator has previously brought this bill forth, and argued that it would provide greater transparency in the political process. In that incarnation the bill died in the Senate Finance Committee. Now, with a Republican controlled chamber, the proposal has even less of a chance, which explains why he had to formally request committee consideration.
Here is the Main Language from the bill's memo:
sections 2 through 11 requires that corporations formed under the business corporation law, the cooperative corporation law, the not-for-profit law, the railroad law, the transportation corporations law, the banking law, and the limited liability company law, professional service corporations as well as foreign corporations, and foreign professional service corporations authorized to do business in New York, (1) at least annually obtain prior authorization of a majority of shares voting before making any corporate political donations in New York, up to a total annual aggregate amount approved by the shareholders, and (2) disclose to its shareholders and file with the secretary of state an accounting of all such corporate donations, including the identity of the candidates, committees and initiatives funded and the business rational for such contributions. Sections 2 through 11 also provide the attorney general with the authority to enforce the provisions of each section.

Guaranteeing Retirement Benefits

Amidst a large outcry against pensions and benefits for public sector workers, the Assembly Committee on Governmental Employees is considering a bill (AB 6536) that would guarantee public employees have a say in any changes to their benefits.
The bill prohibits a public employer from diminishing the health insurance benefits provided to retirees and their dependents or reducing the contributions which the public employer makes toward these benefits, unless also making an equivalent change for active employees.

This guarantee comes at a time when state governments are looking for ways to retroactively renegotiate contracts that were bargained in the past for now retired employees and were based on trust. His bill memo argues that reductions in benefit can occur through public negotiations, to save money in tough economic times, but the Taylor Law prohibits current employees from negotiating on behalf of retirees.
There is no Senate sponsor for this bill.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Next for the Legislature

Like the day god rested after creating man, the New York State Legislature took Friday off after passing the budget, but legislative leaders claim they have a lot left to accomplish.
One of those things is the millionaire's tax, which was left out of the budget and is likely to become an issue for Speaker Sheldon Sillver, D-Manhattan. Shortly after the budget was completed he announced, "Although “the millionaire’s tax” was not included in the final budget agreement, we will continue our efforts to convince our partners that it was and is the right thing to do at this time."
In a video statement, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, promised that from the momentum of the budget passing the government would deliver on a property tax cap and mandate relief.
Notable proposals that are currently scheduled to be addressed in the committee process on the following week include...
- SB 2212, from Republican Senator Marty Golden, which would increase the maximum income eligibility levels for real property tax exemptions for seniors.
- Ken Adams may finally move through the committee process in his quest to become head of the Empire State Development Corporation. He starts at 9 a.m. in Senate Corporations, Authorities and Commissions before ultimately ending up in Senate Finance, with the nomination of former Senator Darrel Aubertine (as head of farming?).
- The Assembly Higher Ed Committee will consider a AB 6801 from chairwoman Deb Glick, which deals with purchasing of goods for SUNY (and that's all I know because there was no bill memo on Thursday night).
- SB 6536, from Democratic Assemblyman Pete Abbate, will be addressed in Government Employees Committee. His proposal prohibits public employers from diminishing the health insurance benefits and contributions of retired public employees.
- IDC leader Jeff Klein will have SB 3838, which provides for free or reduced price passes to horse racing in an attempt to increase attendance. This proposal will be heard in Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering.

Senate Bill would "Chill" Freedom Of Information

On Monday the Senate is scheduled to address a proposal (SB 2168) from Republican Sen. Martin Golden that some critics in the chamber believe will have negatively impact the freedom of information in New YOrk.
The bill would make the use of public records, secured through FOIL requests, for committing a crime a Class E felony.
Without citing any specific incidents or evidence, the bill's memo argues that FOIL requests are being abused "by convicts and others with questionable and/or harmful motives," who are using the data they obtain to commit crimes like identity theft.
The Republicans in the Senate are hoping to deter this law will have a damper on these crimes, but Democratic Sen. Dan Squadron suggested it could just scare away legitimate FOIL requests.
In March 8 Senate Codes Committee meeting, Squadron argued that ambiguities in the bill would deter people from putting in FOIL requests on the basis that their information might be used illegally by someone else. He laid out a scenario where an overzealous prosecutor might use this law to go after a media outlet with coverage he didn't like.
Shortly after Squadron described his problems with the ambiguity of the bill, he turned his focus on the intent portion of the bill, which he said would be too specific for prosecutors to get a conviction. Both arguments were rejected by Committee staff, who contended that his scenarios weren't credible.
Squadron and Sen. Bill Perkins voted without recommendation. Senators Parker and Duane voted in the negative. This bill regularly passes the Senate, but hasn't been introduced in the Assembly this session.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Reform if Cuomo Wants It

Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, said that the next priorities for the state need to be mandate relief and a property tax cap, but he said the Legislature could adopt ethics reform and non-partisan redistricting if Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushes for them.
Tedisco questioned whether the Assembly and Senate would make a "sincere" attempt to address these sincere issues without the prodding of the governor. He suggested that if Cuomo takes the lead on ethics and redistricting, he could be the adult in the room that would bring about change. "[Cuomo has] tremendous support on the bully pulpit," contended Tedisco.
He added that the threat of a veto on the redistricting plan was also a very powerful weapon in the governor's arsenal.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Group of NY Docs like Budget Prescription

A coalition of primary care doctors in New York hails the recent budget as a success, for offering changes to the state's health care system and for implementing new primary care initiatives.
The group, Primary Care Coalition, acknowledged that some of the changes adopted will be difficult, but said great strides have been reached in focusing on primary care, applauded bringing health care decisions to the people and lauded the creation of incentives for doctors to provide the "right care."
Initiatives they were particularly fond of included:
• Expansion of Patient-Centered Medical Homes, so one million New Yorkers, including 600,000 of the highest-need patients, will have access to better coordinated care;
• Accountable Care Organizations that will align financial incentives with quality care and allow providers to come together and share responsibility for their patients' health;
• Incentives for telemedicine to expand access to vital health services for patients in remote areas;
• Resources for merging and restructuring safety net facilities to ensure low-income patients get the right care in the right settings; and
• An Office of Patient-Centered Primary Care Initiatives, with the mission to significantly expand quality primary care throughout New York.

The Primary Care Coalition is comprised of the Community Health Care Association of New York State; the Primary Care Development Corporation; the New York State Area Health Education Center System; the American College of Physicians, New York Chapter; and the New York State Academy of Family Physicians

GooGoo Opposes New Senate Rules (UPDATED)

The new Senate Rules passed on Monday have drawn the ire of the Brennan Center for Justice, which published a blog post lambasting the Senate Majority's actions.
They note that the rules were passed "without notice, discussion, or explanation," in what was likely an effort to ensure greater control of the chamber as they prepare to pass their budget.
According to the Brennan Center, the resolution will do three thing:

1) Increase the membership of the Finance Committee and the Rules Committee with members from the majority party;

2) In the event of an excused absence from a meeting, allow for a member to fill in for a Senator on the Finance Committee and Rules Committee; and

3) Allow budget bills from the Finance Committee to bypass the Rules Committee and go straight to the third calendar reading.

Barbara Bartoletti has voiced serious concerns about the rules adopted by the Senate and the manner in which they were passed.
She said it was "very troubling" that they were passed without 48 hours notices. The changes, she argues, are not reflective of the slim majority the Republicans have and contended that it gives them too much control of the chamber. "Proportionality is not in effect," Bartoletti said.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Assembly Passed Budget on Wednesday?

Even though the New York State Assembly finished passing its budget bills on Thursday morning, which means they passed an on-time budget, Speaker Sheldon Silver is acting like they passed an early budget on Wednesday.
In a press release he congratulated "Governor Cuomo on the completion of the Administration’s first budget, the result of which is the enactment of the first "early" state budget since 1983."
According to the state's public information website, Silver's version of events is actually correct. The site (incorrectly) declares that budget bills (SB 2801 and AB 4008) were passed and delivered to the governor on Wednesday.
Apparently the Assembly Majority isn't completely on the same page though, with spokesman Michael Whyland, contending that the change in date was simply a routine computer glitch. He added emphatically that it was not done so that the Assembly could claim they passed an on-time budget. He made this statement about 13 hours after he sent out the press release declaring an "early" budget.

Closed Legislature 2

On Wednesday we reported on the shenanigans of the state legislature, and we're sad to report that those transgressions continued late into the evening.
While the Assembly did eventually allow a limited number of public citizens into the upstairs chamber galley, it did not occur until late in the evening.
More egregious, though, were the continued actions of the Senate to clamp down its proceedings so that it could move the budget process along unabated. This included refusing to let people attend the Senate Finance meetings, which are supposedly open to the public.
I was stopped at one of the guarded glass doors when I tried to get to the meeting. When I suggested that it was an open meeting and I should be allowed to attend, a Senate Chamber official alerted me that, "We make the rules, not you." I would like to add that most other chamber officials are very courteous and helpful, but were placed in a tough position because of protesters last night, which was made worse by having to enforce unclear rules.
Additionally, in that Senate Finance meeting, the members of the committee were forced to vote on a "C" version of a bill, even though they would be taking up the "D" version on the floor. In response to concerns expressed by Democrats and Republicans in the committee about this issue, counsel for the committee and Chair John DeFrancisco urged members to just write the correct letter on their paperwork.
All of this did lead to an on-time budget.
(Editor's note: We are not alleging that the issue with the different versions of the budget bills is illegal, just stating what was done for the sake of expediency.)

Krueger to explain her vote

Democratic Senator Liz Krueger was one of 10 Democrats (I think that number is right) to vote against the budget bill that determined aid to local municipalities. Here she explains her vote.

(Editor's Note: Lombardo likes using free video he gets off the Senate's youtube feed. Kudos to you Senate for being so modern!)

Budget Good. What's Next?

Business groups are happy with the budget passed late last night in the Senate and very early this morning in the Assembly, but now they're calling for action on a property tax cap and mandate relief.
Speaking on behalf of the upstate business community, as it represents more than 70,000 employers, Unshackle Upstate touted the very recent achievement of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature.
"Finally, we have a governor who is willing to lead by example and legislative leadership who share and support his vision for a stronger New York,” said Brian Sampson, executive director of Unshackle Upstate. “By capping education and Medicaid spending and establishing Regional Economic Development Councils, this budget sends a powerful message that New York is on the road to recovery.”
Sandy Parker, a co-founder of Unshackle Upstate and leader of the Rochester Business Alliance, characterized the budget as a solid first step toward getting the state's spending under control. She added, "Now with the budget behind us, we look forward to moving on to equally important issues, such as implementing a property tax cap.”
These sentiments were echoed by the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the North Country Chamber of Commerce and MACNY.
Sampson argued that it is important to build on the momentum of the budget's passage with a couple key proposals, mainly the passage in the Assembly of the property tax cap and serious mandate relief to accompany it. "It’s imperative that they take immediate action to enact a 2-percent property tax cap; provide real mandate relief for our local schools and governments; and reform the public-sector pension system," said Sampson.
The following are portions of the budget that Unshackle Upstate and its allies were particularly happy with:
No new taxes;
Reduction in overall state spending by 2 percent;
Education and Medicaid spending caps;
Creation of Regional Economic Development Councils;
Merger of state agencies;
Repeal of the industrial development authorities tax;
Two-year suspension of diesel retrofit requirement; and
Creation of the Recharge NY Power Program
Key business leaders from Rochester, Binghamton and Syracuse signaled their support the 2011-12 budget.

No Allies in Their Fight

Protesters at the capitol on Wednesday night had two specific enemies in their sights, the Republicans and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both of which they believed had teamed up to pass a budget that unfairly distributed pain throughout the state. Lost in this tidal wave of anger and emotion were the Democrats in the Legislature, who were essentially going along with the proposed cuts that were voted on last night.
Colin Donnaruma, a 30-year-old graduate student at UAlbany, acknowledged the failures of the Democrats, specifically the ones in the state senate. He said they viewed the governor “as unstoppable” and they were “prepared to roll over to his every whim.”
When it was all said and done late Wednesday, only 13 voices in the Senate rose up in opposition to the most controversial part of the budget, which laid out language for eduucation, labor and family assistance. Senate Democrats put up a stink on the floor, but their protests were more about procedural manners, with Minority Leader John Sampson lauding the on-time budget after it was passed.
For the most part, though, people didn't feel betrayed by the Senate Democrats (and maybe it was because Senators Kevin Parker and Bill Perkins helped them get pizza into the capitol). Instead, their ire turned to Cuomo, with a 51-year-old first time voter articulating his disappointment before a large crowd on the second floor of the capitol. He said that he had made a mistake with his vote.
Donnaruma argued that Cuomo had run as a progressive, but had adopted the budget of a fiscal conservative. “A lot of Democrats are wondering, ‘Why did we vote for him?’ ” he said. “We thought he was a progressive Democrat, but he is aligning himself with Republicans to pass tax cuts for millionaires.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Onion for State Vegetable

The onion is poised to become the official state vegetable if a proposal (SB 4295) from Independent Democratic Senator David Carlucci becomes law.
His bill argues that onions are "one of the most important vegetable crops in New York." It goes on to elaborate about the principle type of onion, notes the preferred soil and mentions the high costs of producing onions compared to other vegetables.
This bill currently doesn't have a companion in the Assembly, but if it does, hopefully its bill memo won't be littered with as many spelling mistakes (keeps spelling "aye" instead of "are" and writes "muck" instead of "much"). It is enough to make a person cry, or maybe that's the state's new vegetable...
(Editor's Note: All spelling mistakes were noticed on Monday and hopefully have been fixed)

Closed Legislature

There are currently firsthand accounts that the Assembly has locked its chamber doors because of protests in the Capitol. Additionally, the Senate Committee on Banks held an unannounced meeting this morning.
Looking into the legality and reality of both accounts...

(UPDATE)Press person for Senator Joe Griffo, Chair of Banks, confirmed that the meeting was moved up to 9:30 a.m. to accommodate the 10 a.m. session. Said he would look into when it was announced.
On the Assembly side, they have locked the doors and said they're setting up television(s) on the third floor for people to watch the session on.

(UPDATE 2) Below is a screen shot that shows that the Senate Banking change was never announced. Additionally, the press person for Griffo said that staff was alerted about the change last night and did not make any mention of telling the public.

Recharge State Biz

The inclusion of a long-term power for jobs program, known as Recharge New York, has been included in the budget, and western Republican Senator George Maziarz believes it will be great for economic development.
As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy, Maziarz said the plan may not be the silver bullet to the state's economic woes, but it will help improve the business climate.
“After years of hard work, we have a plan to help save Upstate New York’s economy,” said Maziarz. "The current program supports several hundred businesses and a quarter million jobs—and we’re doubling its impact. This program will be demonstrate how effective a tool low-cost hydropower can be for economic development.”
The Recharge program will extend Power for Jobs until 2012, with the new plan following that. It will make 910 megawatts of cheap energy available to companies that will create and keep jobs in New York. The longer tenure of this program will allow companies to enter into seven year contracts with the state, which will provide security that has been missing in New York in the past.
Additionally, the program will reserve 100 MW for not-for-profits, such as hospitals.
“The Recharge New York program will give businesses in New York the certainty they need to make investments and create jobs," concluded Maziarz. “The year-to-year Power For Jobs extensions are over. This is a true reform, and it will also greatly augment our capability to help businesses grow.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Breathing Group in a Huff Over Tobacco Money

A proposed $17 million cut in the state's tobacco control program was decried on Tuesday by the American Lung Association in New York, which says the reduction will impair the program's ability to protect kids and help people quit smoking.
This cut represents reduced pain compared to the $52 million slashing proposed by the Assembly. This would have brought the total funding for tobacco control from $58 million to $6 million, which environmental and health advocates said wouldn't be enough to run any programs.
"This action is ultimately going to hurt people who want to quit smoking, the people who love them, and the state of New York," said Irwin Berlin, MD, board chair of the American Lung Association in New York. "More than 25,000 New Yorkers die from smoking each year and yet they are cutting a program that works to reduce that number while improving overall public health and reducing health care costs? This is penny-wise and pound-foolish. It's a destructive move that, in the long run, does nothing to improve the state's fiscal condition."
The Lung Association estimated that the economic costs of smoking is more than $14 billion a year, with the potential to increase in the future as 24,000 New York kids under age 18 become regular daily smokers.
Berlin added, "Just a few months ago, the Lung Association released its State of Tobacco Control Report which gave New York an "F" for the level of funding it commits to tobacco prevention and control."
The $17 million represents about a 29 percent reduction since last year, with the newest cut leading to an almost 50 percent reduction in funding since funding peaked at around $80 million in 2007.
(Editor's Note: There has not been a formal announcement about the tobacco control funding, as the subcommittee report on Health has not been announced and the budget bill dealing with health hasn't been printed.)
(Editor's Note Update: According to the American Lung Association of New York: Lung Association: NY FightForAirNY "FYI: Division of budget spokesman Morris Peters stated the $17m # on-the-record")

Learn from Smart Spending

The Joint Budget Conference Subcommittee on Higher Education closed on Monday after discussing the future of SUNY and CUNY and a sole no vote from Republican Assemblyman William Barclay.
One of the key issues avoided by the committee was the potential sweeping of SUNY tuition money, which Republican Chair Ken LaValle said would be addressed after the budget. This wait-and-see approach has also been seized by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who recently refused to commit to a "lock box" for SUNY tuition.
Upon questioning from Democratic Sen. Toby Stavisky, Democratic Chair Deb Glick said that the governor could still sweep funds as part of a mid-year budget reduction effort, but argued that the budget was crafted to avoid this possibility.
Highlights from the final report:
- $100 million reduction to SUNY system
- Restores $13 million in community college base aid
- Accepted the governor's proposal for capital appropriations
- Accepted $70 million in reductions to CUNY senior college
- Elimintated TAP for grad students
- Cut $6 million from the NY Higher Education Loan Program
- Authorizes SUNY and CUNY to purchase goods and execute certain contracts without prior approval of the comptroller and attorney general

Link to the full report.

The next big fight for the SUNY will be the implementation of its five-year-tuition plan, which hasn't been crafted, but will presumably include increases and some sort of provision against sweeping away their funds.

(Reporting by the StateWatch up-and-comer Corina Simonelli)

Budget Protest Sleepover

Sure it's a school night, but that's not stopping plans by a variety of interest group to execute a sleep over at the Capitol on Wednesday in protest of the three-way budget agreement. The event promises hundreds of New Yorkers, signs. chanting. folk songs and marshmallows.
The groups include the Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action of New York, New York City Coalition for Educational Justice, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, VOCAL, PUSH-Buffalo, Right to the City New York, Real Rent Reform New York, Community Voices Heard, New Deal for New York, The Save Our SUNY Coalition, Strong Economy for All, Growing Together New York Coalition and VOICE Buffalo.
Their release says that they want to "bear witness to the votes on this painful budget." They allege it will deliver painful cuts to children, families, seniors and schools, while providing a $4.6 billion tax cut for three percent of New Yorkers ( by allowing the millionaire's tax to lapse). They add that, "The budget also fails to proactively renew and strengthen the rent laws, a sign that the State Legislature is more concerned with pandering to real estate interests than protecting the millions of New Yorkers who depend on these laws to stay in their homes."
The event is scheduled to culminate at 10 a.m. on Thursday at the "Million Dollar Staircase" on the third floor of the capitol.

New Yorkers on the Issues

The millionaire's tax might not have made it into the budget, but 71 percent of New Yorkers polled by the Siena Research Institute want it to be adopted in the future.
“Now that the proposal to continue the personal income tax surcharge on the wealthiest New Yorkers is a true millionaire’s tax, support has continued to grow, with 71 percent agreeing with Assembly Democrats that the surcharge on millionaires should be continued,” said Siena Pollster Steve Greenberg. “A majority of every demographic group – including Republicans,conservatives and those earning more than $100,000 a year – supports a higher tax for millionaires.”
This should create an interesting battle going forward, as the Senate may be forced to deal with this issue because it was introduced by Republican Maverick John Bonacic. It is not clear what sort of support he has from his own caucus, with Senators George Maziarz and Roy McDonald possibly on his side, but he would most likely have the 26 Democrats and maybe even the 4 Independent Senate Democrats on his side.
Going hand in hand with this proposal is a strong opposition to cuts in education that have been advanced by the governor, with only 21 percent endorsing his plan. These cuts have since been softened, with over $200 million restored in education aid and New Yorkers seem to like this.
Voters Want the Legislature to Restore Even More Money to Education than They Have Proposed "One-quarter of voters want to see the Legislature add back a few hundred million dollars, as each house did in its one-house budget resolutions," said Greenberg. "And 50 percent of voters want to see the Legislature restore even more money for education.”
If there are cuts, though, there are likely to be layoffs, and 78 percent of New Yorkers polled want them to be based on performance and not seniority.Greenberg said, “Voters are clear and strong in their belief that LIFO must go despite teachers’ union support and any concern over arbitrary firings.
The next big fight, having been left out of the budget, will be on the property tax cap and rent regulation, which have each passed one house. These two issues are both very important to very specific constituents, with upstate wanting a property tax cap and constituents in the city demanding rent regulation.
Support for the property tax cap is at 73 percent and rent regulation is supported by 63 percent of those polled.
Much less important is the call for ethics reform from New York voters, who believe their legislators are basically corrupt, but want them to work on passing a budget first and foremost.
“Only 34 percent of voters think that a new ethics reform law is such a priority that it needs to be enacted as quickly as possible. The majority, 61 percent, says that while it’s important it can wait until after the budget. At least 57 percent of voters from every region, party and ideology agree that it can wait,” Greenberg said.
“At the same time, only a small majority of voters, 55 percent, believe that ‘most state legislators are honest, working hard for their constituents.’ But more than two in five voters, 42 percent, believe that ‘most legislators are corrupt, it’s surprising more haven’t been caught.’"

Prison Closings a Concern for Aubry

During Monday's final meeting of the Conference Subcommittee on Public Protection, Democratic Assemblyman Jeff Aubry expressed concerns about plans for prison closings in the state.
Aubry, who voted in favor of their final report, voiced concerns about the the future plans for prison closings in the state. As originally proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, prison closings would be decided by his own task-force, but this suggestion was dropped as part of a three-way agreement announced on Sunday. Now the prisons will be closed at the whim of the administration with "consultation" from the legislature.
This change was better in the opinion of Aubry, yet he noted that it didn't guarantee participation from the legislature.
Additionally, he questioned the number of prison beds that would be eliminated, as the number had risen from 3,500 to 3,700. Aubry wondered out loud how that increase had happened and what savings would be realized.

Here are some of the highlights from the Committee's final report:

-Partial restorations of various General Fund aid to localities' criminal justice programs.
- Office for Prevention of Domestic Violence, Office of Victim Services and the State Commission of Correction 10% reduction restoration - Reject merger with Division of Criminal Justice Services.
- Technical changes and residency requirements for the District Attorney and the Indigent Legal Service Attoreny Loan Forgiveness.
- Deny transfer (for two years) of $1.5 million from Public Safety Communications Account to the Emergency Services Revolving Loan Fund.
- Modify money available for County Public Safety Answering Points from $9.3 million to $18 million - Additional $9 million to be used for operations and consolidations in fiscal year 2012-13.
- Reject $1.5 million increase in operating funds for the Office of Indigent Legal Defense Services.

Monday, March 28, 2011

New Yorkers on an On-Time Budget and the Players

With the budget deadline looming two-thirds of voters polled by the Siena Research Institute say they would prefer an on-time budget or budget extenders than a budget shutdown.
“Voters think an on-time budget is important by a nine-to-one margin," added Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg. “If the budget deadline passes and the Governor sends the Legislature an emergency appropriation bill that not only keeps government running but also includes his entire proposed budget, voters strongly urge the Legislature to pass that budget and not let state government shut down."
This sign of strong support for the governor's agenda comes at a time while he is still extremely popular, even though his favorable ratings have dropped since the last Siena poll in February. Cuomo has a postive rating from 69 percent of voters polled and has negative rating of only 20 percent. These numbers represent a 8 percentage point drop in favortability and a three percentage point increase in his negative perception. At the same time his job performance review has dropped six points to 51 percent of New Yorkers feeling he is doing an excellent or good job.“While Cuomo has fallen below 70 percent, more than two-thirds of voters still view him favorably, including two-thirds of Republicans and more than half of conservatives,” said Greenberg.
The view of the governor is in sharp contrast to the Senate's negative rating, which is at 60 percent, and the Assembly's negative rating, which is at 56 percent. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, recently addressed the unfavorable perception of the legislature by nothing that each member is popular in their district. These ratings most likely have to do with the budget process, as a majority of voters view the legislature's performance as fair or poor.
“Who do voters most trust to do the right thing for New York in crafting a responsible state budget? It’s not even close, with 72 percent saying they trust Cuomo, and Skelos and Silver both getting single digits,” Greenberg said. “In fact both legislative leaders have less support than ‘none of the above.’
One possible explanation for Cuomo's popularity could be due to the fact that he is viewed as a moderate by 60 percent of voters. It's because of this perception that the governor is in the middle of the road New Yorkers are twice as likely to blame the Senate or the Assembly for a late budget compared to Cuomo.

Cuomo Questioned on Budget

After the great fanfare surrounding the unveiling of the budget on Sunday passed, Gov. Andrew Cuomo took some questions about the budget and elaborated on its specifics, which are being announced on Monday.
The governor announced that the living wage for homecare workers is in the budget, and said that a medical malpractice cap had been left out because of a disagreement about its net effect.
Following an inquiry about the role of the Legislature in the governor's Regional Economic Development Councils, which had had been a major point of contention, Cuomo revealed that there will be no formal role for the Legislature. He did suggest that legislators will be used for their regional expertise on the implementation of certain projects. Of important note, though, Cuomo said the $130 million funding the councils would not be moved from Legislature, but would be found in other parts of the budget. At a previous press conference, the governor had said that taking the funding from the Legislature had been a major hold up.
On the related issue of money for areas impacted for prison closures, Cuomo said it was included in the budget.
In response to a question about timetable for his prison closing plan, Cuomo said it would take about 60 days, with the one-year notice requirement eliminated. He added the same schedule would be in place for the Juvenile Justice Facilities.
Cuomo noted that there will still be details for the Conference COmmittees to handle on Monday when they meet, which turned out to be true throughout Monday, as subcommittees left certain details for the larger body. He did contend that there are no areas of contention left to “blow up” the deal and argued that “this is an actual agreement”.
Cuomo said he expects bills to be sent up on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Tim Atkins of StateWatch)

Flavored Malt Beverages Under Attack

The attack on alcoholic drinks young people like continues in the New York Senate, as a proposal (SB 4221) from Sen. Jeff Klein to limit the sale of flavored malt beverages to liquor stores was introduced on Wednesday. This change in venue is allegedly predicated on the fact that flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are “marketed” to and primarily used by people between the ages of 14 to 25.
The bill’s memo suggests that shifting FMBs out of grocery and convenience stores will limit the underage people that purchase them, on the basis that you can only enter a liquor store if you’re 21.
Klein also argues that this proposal could be a revenue raiser for the state, as FMBs currently qualify as beer and thus have a lower excise tax rate than the higher rate for liquor.
The bill would apply to any beverages with a combination of 6 percent alcohol by volume and one percent sugar that also include fruit flavor additives. It would be implemented 180 days after it shall become law so that convenience and grocery stores can liquidate their supplies.

New Count for NYC Please

The release of last week's census data for New York City has some officials from the area calling foul about what they consider under reporting of growth from 2000 to 2010. State Senator Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, joined that chorus on Sunday with a statement in favor of a new count.
"I support Senator Schumer's request for an investigation into the U.S. Census count and I will support Mayor Bloomberg's lawsuit against the U.S. Census if he chooses to file one," said Smith.
"For the U.S. Census numbers to suggest that the Borough has only seen a .1 percent population increase over the last decade is nothing short of ridiculous, and an insult to the thousands of people who have relocated to Queens and made it their home."
He noted that Queens is the 10th most populated county in the entire nation and characterized it as an area of growth over the last ten years.
Below is a video of State Senator Mike Gianaris, D-Queens, calling for a recount with other legislative leaders from the city.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Skelos on the Budget

Senator Dean Skelos had this to statement about the state's three-way budget agreement:

"This budget agreement keeps our Senate Republican commitment to reduce spending, cut taxes and empower the private sector to create jobs, and will begin to put New York on the path to fiscal recovery. By working together to reach consensus on a responsible spending plan that eliminates a $10 billion deficit without raising taxes, we have tightened our belt and protected middle-class families in every region of this State. I am particularly pleased with Governor Cuomo's commitment to making UB2020 a reality, which will bring jobs and hope to Western New York, as well as improvements to the other university centers, which are important priorities of our Senate Republican conference. Today's developments ensure we are moving full speed ahead to an on-time budget."

Nothing in here about the governor's win on the regional economic development councils or the prison closures.

Reforms in NY Budget

The three-way budget agreement was announced on Sunday afternoon. Below are a series of policy reforms included in the proposal that were touted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office.

Policy reforms in the 2011-2012 budget include:
• •Changing Permanent Law and Provides 2-Year Appropriations and Caps for Education and Medicaid: Education will be increased at a rate of personal income growth next year – roughly 4 percent. Medicaid will be increased at a rate tied to healthcare CPI which is roughly 4 percent. Together, these actions reduce next year's deficit from about $15 billion to about $2 billion and change decades-old practice of overspending.

• •Redesigning the Medicaid System: The budget includes a global cap on State Medicaid expenditures of approximately $15 billion and implementation of the majority of recommendations by the Medicaid Redesign Team (MRT) to redesign and restructure the Medicaid program to be more efficient and get better results for patients. There are reallocations within the MRT cap that reduce some areas while targeting increases to others. Among the notable changes: the cap on medical malpractice is not included and EPIC is increased by $22 million. The MRT reduction of $2.8 billion and the overall spending cap to the state will be enforced by the Department of Health's "superpower" provision, whereby the commissioner has authority to make reductions during the year to enforce the cap.
• •Creating Regional Economic Development Councils: The budget establishes 10 Regional Economic Development Councils, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy. These councils will create a region-based approach to allocate economic development funds to speed up the creation of jobs. They will act as one-stop shop for all State-supported economic development and business assistance programs in each region, and will be supported with $130 million in capital that is reprogrammed from existing resources.
• •Creating the Recharge NY Power Program: Recharge New York will enhance and make permanent the current Power for Jobs Program that will significantly boost the state's economy by creating and maintaining hundreds of thousands of jobs. Recharge New York will improve upon the existing program by opening it to new participants and allocating a blend of stable, low-cost hydropower and market power for use by businesses that seek to grow and create jobs in New York state.
• •Authorizing the SAGE Commission: The budget authorizes Governor Cuomo's Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission to reduce the number of agencies, authorities, and commissions by 20 percent. Currently, the consolidation of Parole and Corrections will save $16.8 million, the merging of NYSTAR into Department of Economic Development will save $1.9 million, and the merging of Consumer Protection into the Department of State will save $500,000.
• •Creating the Department of Financial Services: The budget merges the state's Banking and Insurance Departments into a new Department of Financial Services.
• •Authorizing Governor to Close Prisons: The state will eliminate 3,700 prison beds throughout New York at the sole discretion of the administration in consultation with the Legislature.
• •UB 2020: The Governor has also agreed to hold a summit with stakeholders to discuss how to make UB 2020 a reality.
• •Reforming the Juvenile Justice System: The budget includes significant reforms of the state's juvenile justice system by encouraging greater use of community-based alternatives, downsizing the state juvenile facilities system by more than 30 percent, and investing resources into enhanced services for juveniles that remain in OCFS custody.
• •Creating New Education Performance and Efficiency Grants: The budget enacts initiatives Governor Cuomo proposed to make districts more efficient and improve student performance. Funds totaling $500 million will be awarded competitively to districts that demonstrate significant improvements in student performance and to districts that undertake long term structural changes to reduce costs and improve efficiency. The budget also restores $270 million in education related funding.
• •Improving the Excelsior Jobs Program: As proposed in the executive budget, the budget strengthens the Excelsior Jobs Program, which was created in 2010 to provide job creation and investment tax credit incentives to businesses in targeted industries.

Senate Finance to Consider Power Authority Nominee

The nomination of John S. Dyson, as the trustee of the Power Authority of the
State of New York will be considered by the Senate Finance Committee on Monday, after the committee previously put off addressing his nomination last week.
Currently, Dyson is Chairman of Millbrook Capital Management, Inc., which is an investment firm whose activities include managing private equity investments and a stock investment fund. Prior to that he was the chairman of New York City's Council of Economic Advisors. Dyson's experience with the power authority includes a 6 year stint as its Chairman from 1979 to 1985.
Upon announcing Dyson to the post, Cuomo contended that Dyson had deep knowledge of energy issues and understood economic development. He said, "New Yorkers can have confidence that with John on the team, energy delivery and allocation will be in good hands."
Below is a video of Dyson being questioned before the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee on Tuesday, which advanced the nomination to the Finance Committee.

Ball Blasts NY Dream Act

In response to a proposal in the state legislature that would resurrect most of the provisions of the failed federal Dream Act, Republican Senator Greg Ball has characterized it as a major victory for terrorists.
Ball, who is Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, issued a statement on Thursday where he laid out the alleged security risks of the bill (SB 4179), which he labled as “a national security nightmare that should formally be renamed the ‘Terrorist Empowerment Act’.”
He argues that some requirements placed on DMV employees as the result of this bill would make it necessary for them to become experts at verifying every national identity card or voter card in the world.
Seizing on the driver's license portion of the proposal, which was a major controversy for former Gov. Elliot Spitzer, Ball said it would provide illegal identity documents to potential terrorists. "This is not about immigration; this is about security," he said.
Ball explained how the 19 terrorists responsible for 9/11 used over 300 fake IDs that were made with driver’s licenses and other documents.
In his statement, Ball did not address issues of financial aid, employment opportunities and health insurance coverage that are offered as incentives in the bill. Additionally, on Capital Tonight, Democratic Senator Dan Squadron laughed off Ball's rhetoric about the bill. All of this is probably a moot point, though, because the Dream Act will go nowhere in the Republican controlled Senate.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pennies for Parks

The question of "paper or plastic" will be replaced by one penny or no penny if a proposal in the New York Legislature becomes law. A proposal in the senate (SB 4277) from Democrat Jose Serrano and from Democrat Steve Englebright in the Assembly (AB 6272), would impose a one penny tax on single use carryout plastic bags to help fund state parks and historic sites.
The idea behind these bills is that the under-funded state park systems would benefit from an additional source of revenue for capital expenditures, which could be realized by charging a one cent per bag tax. Their bill memo's argue that the state park system's are already in need of funds, which justifies this nominal fee.
This proposal has the strong support of the Open Space Institute, which is looking for any source of revenue in the wake of the $17 million in proposed cuts by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget. Erik Kulleseid, the director of the Alliance for New York State Parks, projected that the tax could generate $60 million a year and deter people from using plastic bags that end up littering landfills.

Friday, March 25, 2011

LaValle Wants Nuclear Disaster Plan

In the wake of recent concerns about nuclear safety, both abroad and in New York, Republican Senator Ken LaValle has introduced a bill (SB 4258) that would authorize the state Emergency Management Office to undertake a review of existing disaster plans for nuclear power plants in New York and then develop site specific disaster preparedness plans.
LaValle's bill argues that the threat to the nuclear power plants is greater than ever before, with a clear probability that nuclear power plants could be subject to a terrorist attack or damage from natural disaster. His memo alleges that existing disaster plans are not adequate, as they fail to prepare for a terrorist attack.
Strangely enough, though, this bill doesn't seem to focus on seismic risk, which was the danger that Cuomo's stressed during a recent press conference.
This proposal has been floated by LaValle in the past, but with no progress. The same is true in the Assembly, where the bill has been carried by Assembly Member Fred Thiele.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Census Data Shows Taxes Are Too High?

The coalition of businesses represented by Unshackle Upstate are treating the state's census data as proof that the state needs a tax cap and mandate relief.
"Unfortunately, the 2010 Census data published today shows what Unshackle Upstate has been talking since our creation in 2006 – that Albany's policies have made Upstate New York a less hospitable place to live, work, raise a family and create jobs. And people are voting with their feet," said Brian Sampson, executive director of Unshackle Upstate.
He suggested that the state needs to duplicate the effort in the mid-1970s that took place in New York City to save their future. Sampson said, "Now it's time for today's elected officials to do the same for Upstate New York. Our leaders in Albany must take swift action to enact a 2-percent property tax cap and provide our local governments and schools with real mandate relief."
The property tax cap has already passed the Senate at the 2 percent rate, but has not been addressed by the Assembly.
"By taking action on these critical measure, we can make Upstate New York a place where people want to raise their families and grow their businesses," concluded Sampson.

Krueger Offers Amendments to Senate's Budget Office Bill

Depending on the commotion of the budget process, the Senate is likely to address the creation of a Legislative Budget Office on Monday, which has Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger raising some serious concerns in a letter to Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
In a letter from Tuesday, Krueger expanded on some of the concerns she had espoused earlier that day during a Senate Finance Committee.
During the committee she highlighted the fact that the proposed LBO (SB 4006) was a variation of a proposal she had advanced for years. Additionally, she noted that there could be some constitutional concerns with the bill, because it provides 20 percent of its funding with money from the Division of the Budget.This constitutional concern was echoed by an internal memorandum from the governor's office and by Blair Horner of NYPIRG.
Krueger also stressed language in the bill that was missing, which would allow the Legislature to unilaterally "declare" the budget balanced, instead of relying on generally accepted accounting principles.
In her letter to Skelos, Krueger expanded on her concerns that the LBO wouldn't actually comply with GAAP at all, which is why she endorsed the idea of an independent review board model to ensure certain standards. This proposal (SB 414) was suggested earlier in the year by Krueger, in addition to a bill (SB 445) that would ensure the budget office protected the rights of the minority party.
Strangely enough, though, Krueger voted for the proposal in the Finance Committee, with only Democratic Sen. Bill Perkins not voting aye, as he chose to vote without recommendation.
(Additional reporting by StateWatch reporter Tim Atkins)

Millionaire's Tax a Possibility After the Budget

As Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver remained relatively mum on Thursday morning about the possibility of a millionaire's tax in the final budget, it appeared to be officially killed when Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, emphatically denied its future existence.
This "read my lips" approach from Skelos comes in the wake of a proposal (SB 4171) from Republican Sen. John Bonacic, which would institute a genuine millionaire's tax for the next two years and provide property tax relief, and remarks from two Republican Senators, including local Senator Roy McDonald, suggesting that they were open to the millionaire's tax.
By Thursday afternoon, Michael Veitch, McDonald's spokesman, had clarified the Senator's position. He said McDonald is not currently considering the millionaire's tax as part of the budget or considering the proposal from Sen. Bonacic. He added that this stance was not the product of any internal pressure from the conference that he was aware of and argued that McDonald's position has remained constant.
“He is an open-minded legislator, so it is something he would consider after the budget is done,” said Veitch.
This is a far cry from the rigid stance of Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, who objected to the Bonacic plan in its theoretical stages.
The proposal from Bonacic and the possibility that it might have some Republican support, has drawn the attention of the Alliance for Quality Education, which is a loud supporter of the millionaire's tax.
"Senator Bonacic stepped to the plate and did the right thing by joining the State Assembly in support of millionaires and billionaires paying they fair share to help fund schools, I believe that privately many of his Republican colleagues agree with him," said Billy Easton, the executive director of AQE.
It remains unclear how the Assembly and Senate versions of the budget will rectify their stark disagreement about how to proceed on the millionaire's tax.

Fed Govt's Nightmare is New York's Dream

A version of the federal government's controversial Dream Act was introduced (SB 4179) on Tuesday into the New York Senate by Democrat Bill Perkins.
The bill provide illegal aliens who entered the country before the age of 16, and have demonstrated a commitment to education public service and strong morals, to have access to financial aid, employment opportunities and health insurance coverage.
There are currently no co-sponsors for this bill, which was very controversial in the federal government and is unlikely to gain any traction in the Republican controlled Senate. No previous version of this proposal exists in the state legislature during the last two year. This proposal is now in the Senate Finance Committee.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Empire State Tries to Go Hollywood

A tax credit from Sen. Kemp Hannon, R-Garden City, has been proposed to help writers secure jobs on television shows and movies. On Wednesday he introduced a bill (SB 4199) that would amend the Empire State Film Production Credit to include writer salaries.
His bill's memo argues that productions are already drawn to the state, where they take advantage of a 30 percent tax credit on qualifying production costs. Unfortunately for New York writers, this credit hasn't generated many opportunities for them. This fact was demonstrated by the fact that in 2008 there were 15 major television productions in the state, which employed a total of 122 writers, but only 24 of them were from New York.
The inclusion of writers into the Empire State Film Credit would bring New York into competition with states like Connecticut and Michigan that allow writers to qualify.
The proposal from Hannon would either be capped at $50,000 per writer on the amount of the credit that may be claimed or lifted entirely by the hiring of a minority or woman writer when more than three writers are hired.

Low Probability of Low-Sulfur Delay

(The following is based on an internal memorandum secured by the New York Times)
Low sulfur-oil for heating appears likely to be implemented on time in July 2012, as the Senate may drop their support of a delay until 2014. A decision to end their opposition would most likely stem from the revelation that the switch has no fiscal impact.
Originally, the Senate’s position revolved around their argument that the transition would be costly, with Republicans opposing the initial bill when they were in the minority. Supposedly, the Republican Majority may drop their proposed delay as industry officials have indicated that they already have invested in distribution infrastructure to accommodate a smooth transition within the current deadline.
This logic seems questionable, as oil industry and environmental groups repeatedly highlighted the low costs in switching, but the argument appeared to fall on deaf ears during its inception.
The Assembly’s position has not been formally announced, but it is now clear that the Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is opposed to the delay. The delayed implementation was originally proposed by the governor’s Mandate Relief Team, although it wasn’t included in the executive budget.

NY Feeling Better with Obamacare

With the one year anniversary of the Health Reform Law on Wednesday, the White House outlined the impact of the act on the state of New York.
The Obama administration stressed the reduction in costs for seniors as the result of a strengthening of Medicare. They noted that 252,288 New York residents who were impacted by Medicare's “donut hole” for prescription drugs received $250 in tax rebates, with an eventual 50 percent discount on brand-name prescription drugs when they hit the donut hole this year.
They also highlighted the fact that 74,600 young New Yorkers under the age of 26 are allowed to stay on their parents' health insurance as the result of changes from last year's law. Additionally, about 1.1 million kids in New York with pre-existing conditions will be able to get insurance, as most insurance companies are now banned from denying coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition.
The issue of costs were also addressed, as the Obama administration touted the creation $340,358 in tax credits for small businesses in New York to help offset the costs of purchasing coverage for their employees.
Finally, they noted that New York has $156 million from the Affordable Care Act. Grants to New York include:

· $1.8 million to support a consumer assistance program
· $1 million to plan for a Health Insurance Exchange
· $27 million to develop an “Early Innovator” Exchange IT model
· $1 million to crack down on unreasonable insurance premium increases
· $30.1 million to support capital development in community health centers
· $34.6 million from the Prevention and Public Health Fund
· $48 million in Therapeutic Discovery Project Program Tax Credits and Grants
· $1.7 million for Medicare improvements for patients and providers
· $6.1 million for demonstration projects to address health professions workforce needs
· $250,000 for Nursing and Home Health Aides Training Programs
· $4.1 million for Maternal, Infant and Childhood Home Visiting

Cuomo's Budget will be "Good"

Following a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo answered questions about the ongoing budget process, concluding that he will deliver a good budget for the people of New York.
He argued that in all his campaigning to become governor, his argument was that the state needs a good budget. On Tuesday, Cuomo said the state will get a good budget, whether on-time or through budget extenders that he introduces after the April 1 deadline.
According to Cuomo, the three areas holding up the budget are prison closures, education funding and health care plans. Prison closures have become a major stumbling block for Senate Republicans, who are the majority and seem hesitant to blindly accept his prison closure task force. The governor acknowledged that he is concerned about the issue of prison closures holding up the budget process.
Cuomo went on to say that he was optimistic about passing a budget on time. “I’m optimistic because I have to be,” he said. “We’re going to do what hasn’t been done in decades.” He argued that it was policy holding up the budget this year, as there weren’t a lot of money issues to debate, considering “we don’t have any money.”
The governor also reiterated previous statement about his support for including rent control legislation and a property tax cap in the budget, but acknowledged that he was doubtful about this possibility. “I don’t think it will happen,” he concluded.
One area of contention going forward could be the SUNY five-year tuition plan, which was voted on by the SUNY honchos on Tuesday. They were adamant about retaining SUNY money in the system and not using it for other state projects, which the governor coldly suggested had "merit" and was worth further discussion. Cuomo's reluctance to commit to this sort of "lock box" most likely stems from the popularity of sweeping SUNY funds into other areas.
Cuomo als addressed the push back he was getting on his proposed regional economic development councils from the legislature and revealed that the leaders have mentioned their concerns. “We took money that was theirs,” he said about the leaders’ rationale for opposing his plan. When a reporter suggested not spending the capital investment money at all, Cuomo got very protective of his pet project and said that he needs money for economic development projects.

Bullet Control from Sen. Smith

In the vein of a joke from Chris Rock, Democratic Sen. Malcolm Smith has proposed (SB 4152) a form of bullet control, which would require customers to complete an application form.
His proposed law would require people buying bullets provide their names, date of birth and address. Additionally, they would be required to note the caliber, make, model and serial number on the gun that they are purchasing bullets for.
This bill, according to its memo, is a product of the gun violence in our society. Theoretically this bill would stop those who possess illegal, unlicensed and unregistered firearms from buying bullets.
This proposal has never been popular in the New York Legislature, having not received a vote in the last 4 years and Smith's version lacking an Assembly companion. Luckily, Chris Rock's jokes live on forever.

Mandate Relief for Libraries

With New York's public libraries facing a potential 10 percent budget cut, they're endanger of violating maintenance of effort (MOE) statutes, which could cost them federal and state aid. In response to this looming dilemma, Senator Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, has introduced a bill (SB 4102) on Friday that would allow waivers for some of these MOE statutes so libraries won't lose state aid.
He proposes letting the state Education Commissioner grant waivers so that local libraries don't jeopardize 25 percent of their state funding by failing to meet certain standards.
Farley's bill memorandum argues that this loss of funding would have a "crippling effect" and would impact persons who are disabled, speak English as a second language, are incarcerated, are institutionalized or unemployed. The memo suggests that the waiver process has a successful past.
It's not clear what standards libraries would be exempted from, but that they would be determined on a case by case basis.

Zeldin Wants the Real Deal

At 11:30 a.m. the Senate Consumer Protection Committee is set to consider a bill (SB 4074) from Republican Senator Lee Zeldin that would attempt to curtail the fake electrical products market.
His bill would ensure that merchants selling defective electrical products sold with fraudulent labeling will receive training to help them distinguish labeling, with the the treat of "stiff" fines if the mistake is repeated.
The new bill comes in the wake of fires have been attributed to extension cords that with fraudulent labels. This law would not only increase the penalties for selling those cords, and other fraudulent electronics, but it would also provide training to prevent further incidents.
This proposal has previously maneuvered through the Senate, but it has not been very popular in the Assembly, where it again exists (AB 672) and has sat for two months.

NRC Wagons Circle Indian Point

On Tuesday, the Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the Indian Point nuclear power facility will be the top priority of the federal government's Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He emphasized this point by noting that it's not "a priority," but the "top priority," as promised to Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy during a phone call.
During his press conference, Cuomo reiterated his position on the nuclear facility, which is that Indian Point is risky and should not operated.
He articulated his contention with the NRC, arguing that he believes their authorization procedures are not stringent enough, as they haven't evolved over time and do not fully reexamine the whole facility each year.
Going forward, Cuomo revealed that the big concern for Indian Point is the seismic risk, which has become a major concern in the wake of the devastating impact a earthquake had on a Japanese nuclear facility. The governor highlighted the fact that he has been focused on this threat since 2007, as evident by a letter he shared that he had written to the NRC in 2007. "This is not a new situation. It is not a new issue," concluded Cuomo.
If the governor does get his way with the Indian Point facility, this will create a major power vacuum for New York city, which he said would be replaceable. When pressed on where that power would come from, though, Cuomo said it could be found, even if there aren't any plans to find replacement power in the works.

Golden Retirement Plan

On Wednesday, the Senate Civil Service and Pensions Committee will consider a bill (SB 3402) from Sen. Marty Golden, R-NYC, increase the percentage of assets that may be invested by public employee retirement systems in real estate from five percent to ten percent.
The bill's memo argues that over the years that with aging baby boomers, the public employee retirement systems are experiencing an influx of retirees and a growth in the retirement payroll that must be funded. This need has created a demand for new investments in the types of capital assets that can provide steady income, which is where real estate investments come in.
Real estate is attractive in this area because a considerable portion of the investment return can be realized from rent.
Current law, though ,limits investments in real estate to 5 percent of a system's assets. At the behest of the Retirement Board, Golden's memo supports raising that cap to 10 percent.
This bill previously passed the Senate when it was introduced by Indy Dem Diane Savino, but has never gone anywhere in the Assembly.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Chance of Marriage? Martins Edition

In our ongoing series about the chance of same-sex marriage passing the Republican controlled Senate, we are now going to examine the potential vote of freshman Jack Martins.
Martins, a Long Island Republican, defeated Craig Johnson in the fall, which means he now occupies a seat formerly held by an ardent supporter of same-sex marriage. In fact, now, the seat is held by someone who is likely to vote no on same-sex marriage if it ever came up in the Senate.
In December edition of Capital Tonight, Martins espoused his objection to same-sex marriage and added that these types of issues should be put off until after the budget is dealt with.
He did say, though, that same-sex marriage does need to be addressed.
We have now covered all the seats in the State Senate that flipped on the issue of same-sex marriage, and the result is the status quo. There are three yes votes that were no votes and there are three no votes that were yes votes.
But fear not, because there is still more to this story. There is already some rumblings about Democrats, who had voted against same-sex marriage in 2009, possibly changing their positions. We'll be exploring this possibility and other relevant questions in the future about same-sex marriage in the Senate.

Millionaire's Tax in Senate. (Updated)

A bill (SB 4171) from Republican Senator John Bonacic has appeared that:
Relates to creating the middle class circuit breaker tax credit, and to the tax rate of certain taxpayers earning over one million dollars.

This sounds a lot like the true millionaire's tax that Bonacic had promised he would introduce. More to follow as bill language and bill memo are made public.

According to the bill's memo, the extension of the millionaire's tax will continue for actual millionaires until 2013. It says these funds will be used to serve as a "circuit breaker" for people making under $250,000 a year, who pay a disproportionate share of their income in property taxes.
The revenue would also be used to offset education cuts.

Fiscal Implications:
The fiscal implications of the circuit breaker legislation are estimated not to exceed $2.3 billion. The revenue derived by the State by maintaining the current income tax rate, on those earning more than $1million, would equal an estimated $3.362 billion.

Subcommittee's SUNY Hike

On Monday the issue of SUNY tuition increases were addressed by the budget subcommittee on higher education, which basically agreed to continue behind doors negotiations.
One positive sign for SUNY was the emergence of a consensus that the state should not continue the practice of sweeping money away from higher education into other areas, as the state has recently done to cover insufficient areas. There was a certain level of disagreement about the tuition increases, though, as Republican Chair Ken LaValle endorsed a rational progressive tuition hike, while Democratic Chair Deborah Glick was more hesitant about proceeding with increases. She said that it would be important to get an idea of what SUNY officials consider a "rational" increase.
SUNY Chair Nancy Zimpher previously addressed the need to reconsider tuition rates at a previous budget hearing, when she expressed the need for a five-year tuition plan.
Additionally, she noted that over the last 48 years SUNY has only raised its tuition 13 times, to the point where it is $4,970 now.
Zimpher has never really addressed what kind of plan she would want to see, but at Monday's meeting, Glick said she heard that SUNY officials want a 75% increase over the next five year. Glick supported increases to ensure a premier education system and though that a tuition plan needs to be addressed in the future.
(Editor's Note: Reporting by Sean Ewart of StateWatch)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lancman Tries to FOIL NY Secrecy

In the aftermath of the state Legislature applauding itself for strides in transparency during Sunshine Week, a meaningful change to the state's FOIL procedures from Democratic Assemblyman Rory Lancman languishes in the committee process.
Lancman's proposal (AB 5161) is aimed at rectifying the current appeals process for instances of denied access to public records. His bill argues that the current appeals method dissuades people from submitting legitimate claims, which is why he wants to allow the state's attorney general to review the appeals.
If enacted, citizens could appeal a denied request within 30 days to the AG's office, which would have 20 days to determine whether the appeal is worthwhile. If the appealed is deemed without merit, then the citizen can avail himself of his right to a day in court.
This proposal was previously introduced by Assemblyman Dick Brodsky, but it never advanced.