Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Yesterday was the Budget Hearing on Education which always attracts a large crowd.  The interesting thing about yesterday’s hearing was how many Legislators were in attendance.  During the New York State Education Commissioner’s Testimony there was so many Legislators in the room, that most of the time was taken up by introductions.  Another interesting item about the hearing was the fact that for the first time in my memory or Denny Farrell’s 40 year history here, we saw a sitting Lieutenant Governor testify on the executive education budget.  Lieutenant Governor Duffy sited the major issues of Governor Cuomo’s proposed education budget:
1. wage freezes on supervisory personnel
2. mandate relief
3. 1.5 billion dollar education cut, which represents a cut of education aid by 7.3%

Although the League was unable to present oral testimony due to a limitation on those allowed to testify, it did submit written testimony.

The Legislature will not be in Albany next week because it is their President’s Week vacation.  So be sure to check back the week after next for more budget battle updates.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Today was an unusually busy Monday for the League.  The Mandate Relief Design Team met, we participated in a Press Conference on ethics, and also checked in on the Assembly Elections Committee while it held a spontaneous meeting to fast track an elections bill dealing with voting machines and villages.

The conversation around the table at the Design Team meeting today focused on unfunded mandates, their proliferation and their impact on local governments.  The difficulty is when mandates come down initially funded, then the money runs out and mandate never does.  We also talked about the need for fiscal notes to be attached to any legislation dealing with local governments and education.  The League has for several years, under our budget position, advocated for fiscal notes on legislation so that the public is aware of the fiscal impact of legislation.  Also discussed at this meeting was a need for standardization of procedures by local governments and educational entities. 

Meanwhile at a press conference at the capitol the good government groups called for immediate action on delayed ethics reform.  Citizens Union today released its second report in two years on turnover in the New York State Legislature, revealing an alarming trend of legislators leaving office due to ethical transgressions.  During the past six years from 2005-2010, 13 legislators left office because of criminal charges or ethical misconduct – more than triple the 4 legislators who left during the previous six-year period from 1999-2004.
On the election law front, Bill Number A.3093B, effective immediately would allow villages to use lever machines for their elections in March.  The League along with our good government colleagues opposed this legislation with a joint memo because it does not allow for disabled voters to vote independently and privately and it also flies in the face of standardization and uniformity in the use of voting technologies in all elections at all levels, one of the premises of HAVA.   The “B” version allows for a sunset of December 2012, after which time, all elections will be carried out with electronic machines.

All of this was before the session began late in the afternoon.  More to come and Happy Valentine’s Day.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Governor Andrew Cuomo gave his budget message today which outlined in broad spokes a blueprint for closing the 10 billion dollar deficit.  Education will be reduced by 7.3% or 1.5 billion dollars, Medicaid to be reduced by 1.8% or 982 million dollars and there will be a work force reduction of 6% or 9,800 layoffs.  Some speculate that his threat of laying off a total of 15,000 is being made to “soften up” the major labor unions (CSEA, PEF, and SEIU1199).  State agencies are to be cut by 10% and aid to local governments cut by 2%.  The budget also proposes to cap annual increase in the star exemption benefits to 2% per year.  There were few revenue raisers noted. 

Governor Cuomo called the standard budget process a “a special-interest protection program” due to the way it obscures the growth in spending on programs such as Medicaid and education.  Governor Cuomo called this budget a “transformational budget” dealing not only with Medicaid and education, but government consolidation and downsizing.  He noted that the state was suffering from a loss of federal stimulus fund and said we are now going to suffer through the withdrawal of that addiction.  Mr. Cuomo finished his address with a campaign style rhetoric exhorting the legislature to support the reductions laid out in his budget.  “The people get it, and the people are with you,” he said. ” … You can change the trajectory of the state this year.” 

More specifics on the budget to follow.


Following last week’s shouting match over Rules Reform, which as you may remember, is done every two years at the beginning of a new session.  These rules voted on by the members of the Senate govern how the Senate conducts itself over the next two years, including such things as voting for the Majority Leader.  The League has over many sessions joined with our good government colleagues to reform how the legislature (both houses) run their respective houses.  This includes such things as how resources allocated to every legislator and how many committees there are.   This is an integral part of the leadership driven culture in Albany. 

Republicans are in the majority in the Senate.  A week ago they put forward new Senate Rules through the Rules Committee.  A two hour screaming match ensued in the committee and because of the absence of one Republican member they were not able to pass these proposed rules out of committee.  The controversy has centered around a new rule that would prevent the Lieutenant Governor, a Democrat, from casting the tie breaking vote in the event of a vacancy in the Senate creating a 31-31 tie.   Republicans want this rule change since without the ability of the Democrat Lieutenant Governor to break a tie in the election of a Majority Leader, the Republicans would remain in control of the power of the majority and all that entails.  A special election would ultimately be held for the vacant seat, which then again might change the power paradigm. 

Fast forward to this Monday, when the Senate was again in Session.  These new rules in the form of a resolution passed the Rules Committee and went to the floor for a vote.  The debate over rules lasted four hours not ending until 8:30 p.m.  As opposed to many debates in the past two years this debate was very civil and there was almost a jovial feel on the Senate floor (clearly the Republicans are glad to be back in charge.)  This debate was more an academic, legal debate from both sides of the isle and was one of the more interesting debates I have listened to in years.  The issue comes down to Article 3, Section 9 and Article 4, Section 6 of the New York State Constitution.  Republicans made the argument that the Lieutenant Governor was not an elected member of the Senate and therefore should not have the ability to break a tie in the election of the leader of that chamber.  The Lieutenant Governor is a member of the Executive Branch and the Republicans cited a separation of powers issue.  On the Democrat side, Mr. Giannaris made the argument that if the Senate believes that the Lieutenant Governor does not have the power to break the tie, then a constitutional amendment to settle this issue should be put forward since rules changes should not be used to interpret the Constitution.  This issue should be resolved either by a constitutional amendment, ultimately approved by the people or by the Court of Appeals which is likely to be the way that this issue will be resolved. 

Following the debate, the vote on the rules resolution was 36 to 24 with all all four of the “Independent Democratic Caucus” Members (IDC) voting with the Republicans.    This new IDC, include:
· David Valesky, District 49 (Cayuga, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga)
· David Carlucci, District 38 (Orange/Rockland)
· Diane Savino, District 23 (Kings/Richmond)
· Jeff Klein, Bronx/Westchester

Preceding the lengthy rules debate a 2% property tax cap (S.2706) was passed by a vote of 45 to 17.  This was a bipartisan vote, however it mostly broke down to upstate vs. downstate.  All 17 dissenters were downstate Democrats: Joe Addabbo, Tony Avella, Ruben Diaz Sr., Martin Dilan, Tom Duane, Adriano Espaillat, Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Carl Kruger, Liz Krueger, Velmanette Montgomery, Kevin Parker, Jose Peralta, Bill Perkins, Gustavo Rivera, Jose M. Serrano, Daniel Squadron, Toby Ann Stavisky.  Also important to note that this was Governor Cuomo’s top priority signified by the fact that it was his Program Bill No. 1.  Speaker Silver has introduced a same as bill (A.3982), however no action has yet been taken.