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.