Thursday, March 31, 2011


This was budget week in Albany and for the first time in five years the New York State budget came in right on time.  Monday the Legislature came into session and spent much of the day in their respective conferences negotiating with their own conferences the final details of the tentative handshake agreement that was reached over the weekend by the “three men in a room.”  At 4 p.m. the General Conference Committee, received the last of the sub-committee reports on Higher Education, Education, Economic Development, Human Services and Transportation.  The one committee that did not report was the Health Committee because final negotiation points had not yet been reached.  The legislative houses did go to Joint Conference Committees, but because there was so little money for the sub-committees to negotiate, their role was quite perfunctory.   Following the General Conference Committee meeting most lobbyist felt that was the end of the day, only to find out at 6 p.m. that the Republican majority in the state Senate was pushing through changes to the Senate Rules.  According to the Democrats in the Senate there had been no 48 hour prior notice which is required for the change of the rules in that chamber.  The rules changes went through the Rules Committee where there was a spirited debate (loud vocal complaints) by the Democrats to no avail.  By the time, I arrived back at the Capitol to watch the debate; I discovered at 8 p.m. that night that the Capitol was locked!  The Senate however, was in full debate in Session.  Under current law, one entrance to the Capitol must be open when the Legislature is in session.  Following a call to the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, I was allowed into the building and then into the Gallery.  As you can imagine, since no one could get in the building, I was the only person in the two galleries.  Acrimonious debate was going on the floor of the Senate.  The debate lasted until about 9 p.m. and the new rules were pushed through with three of the four independent caucus members voting with the Republicans.

Wednesday was a hectic day of protests and budget bills passing at lightning speed.  Through the decades that I have lobbied in the Legislature, this was one of the most raucous and most boisterous of protests here at the Capitol.  Approximately 2000 people occupied the interior of the Capitol, the stairwells, the million dollar staircase and the 2-4th floors.  Shortly after the buses began to arrive at 1 p.m. the Sergeant at Arms shut down the lobby outside the Senate Chamber and one of the two galleries overlooking the Senate floor.  The Assembly shut down both of their galleries and I spent the remainder of the afternoon negotiating with the Assembly to comply with the Open Meetings Law.

The budget bills were finally passed in the Senate by midnight and in the Assembly by 1 a.m.  Governor Cuomo said in his State of the State message that he wanted an on time budget and that he wanted cuts to education and health care—he got all three.  His popularity among NYS voters remains high; he was definitely the winner in this budget. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Following a General Conference Committee meeting that was held at 7:30 p.m. last evening, which of course there was no public notice of, the Joint Budget Subcommittees began in earnest today.  Today’s meetings were more of a political statement by the committee members of each house rather than substantive negotiations.  With notable exception was the Higher Education Subcommittee where actual dollar amounts were used. 

You can find a list of members appointed to the General Conference Committee and each of the Joint Budget Subcommittees for the year 2011-2012 on both the Assembly and Senate websites.

These meetings will continue through the rest of this week as the target numbers come down from the General Conference Committee.  These Joint Conference Subcommittees have not been held for the past two years and at least this gives rank and file legislators and the public a view into how the 2011-2012 budget is being negotiated.  Also today was a Leader’s meeting which was held behind closed doors apparently at the request of the Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and the Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.  Their reason for this is that open meetings are a distraction and media circus.  So much for government transparency, especially during this week, which is sunshine week. 

All leaders are still vowing to have a budget in place by April 1.  Stay tuned for more on the budget saga.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


The League along with our good government colleagues have formed a new coalition to pass independent non-partisan redistricting in the state of New York.  This coalition called ReShape NY was announced yesterday at two News Conferences held simultaneously in NYC and in Albany.   Attending at the Albany News Conference were two of the nine Co-Chairs, The Daily Beast and CNN contributor John Avlon, Associate Vice President for Regional Engagement at SUNY New Paltz Gerald Benjamin.   Also attending were many legislators from both houses and both parties.  For more information on this new coalition go visit the state League’s website.  The other notable event yesterday along with the announcement of this new coalition was the lightening speed at which the Senate Republicans introduced a constitutional amendment on redistricting.  This legislation (S.3331) went through the Senate Judiciary Committee at 1:30 in the afternoon and by 5:00 p.m. had passed through Rules and onto the floor where it was debated and passed by a vote of 35-24.  This legislation was OPPOSED by the League, Citizen Union of the City of New York, Common Cause, and NYPIRG, because it cannot address the current redistricting process and has a number of other serious flaws that are detailed in the group’s memo in opposition.

Constitutional Amendments must pass 2 consecutively elected legislatures, before it goes on the ballot for approval by the voters.  Since current redistricting must be done by May 2012, this amendment would have no effect on the current redistricting process since it will not kick into 2022.  This Constitutional Amendment ploy is being seen by the good government groups and several legislators as a dodge to keep the current status quo.  Governor Cuomo’s legislation on Redistricting currently is being sponsored by Speaker Silver in the Assembly (A.5388), where no action has been taken.  In the Senate it is sitting in the Rules Committee w/no sponsorship, meaning it is controlled by the Majority Leaders office and Mr. Skelos has said that he intends no further action in redistricting in this legislative session.  All four members of the independent democratic caucus, surprisingly, voted with the Republicans to pass this bogus Constitutional Amendment.  One of the members of this caucus is Senator David Valesky (D/I/WF-Cayuga, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga)  is the sponsor of a comprehensive and coalition supported legislation on independent non-partisan redistricting.  GO FIGURE!  Senator Diane Savino (D/I/WF-Kings, Richmond) participated in our Coalition Press Conference at 12:30 p.m., yet voted with the Majority in the Senate on this Constitutional Amendment.  AGAIN, GO FIGURE!

Today begins the budget debate in earnest.  Both the assembly and Senate are scheduled to debate their one house budget bill later this afternoon followed immediately by a general conference committee meeting early in the evening.  These joint conference committees will then do their work over the next several days with final action on the Governor’s Executive Budget and the Legislative Budgets finalizing the budget by the end of the fiscal year, March 31st.  Both legislative leaders and the Governor have said that the budget will be on time.   We will see.

As covered by every newspaper in the State, Senator Carl Kruger (D-Kings) and Assemblymember William Boyland (D/WF-Kings) were indicted on Federal Corruption charges late last week.  Immediately Senator Kruger was stripped of his ranking seat on the Senate Finance Committee and no Monday his seat in the Chamber was moved to the very last row, last seat in the Chamber—a very long way he has fallen.  This, just again, for the fifteenth time, points out the need for comprehensive ethics reform.  The charges again Senator Kruger highlight the fact that because he was a powerful Senate on the finance Committees he used his office to enrich himself personally.  This certainly points to better disclosure laws concerning elected officials and a strong independent entity to enforce new stricter standards for our elected officials.

Once the state budget is resolved, we anticipate that there will be ethics reform legislation.

Stay tuned for more.

Monday, March 7, 2011


The Governor’ office released the Preliminary Report on Mandate Relief on Tuesday.  The Roadmap to Reform included a) Stop the Proliferation of Mandates; b) Address Cost-Driver to Provide Meaningful Mandate Relief; c) Address the Current Unsustainable Burden of State Mandates.  This Redesign Team will continue to work for the next 18 months, so be prepared to hear much more about mandate relief.

Aside from budget issues most of the early week activity centered around legislation which would affect NYC only that deals with an education proposal by Mayor Bloomberg, on which the League has no position, but provided some legislative theater.   The measure, named LIFO (last in, first out), deals with teacher layoff.  The lobbying around this issue was furious and it culminated with a debate on the Senate floor that was interesting to say the least.  The measure did pass the Senate by a vote of 33-27 when two of the “IDC” voted with the Republicans to garner enough votes for passage.  This was a one house bill since the Assembly has said it doesn’t think it will take up this particular legislation.

Wednesday was a busy day with seventeen people being arrested while protesting the health and human services budget cuts.  Wednesday was also the day that the federally mandated “MOVE” bill (Military and Overseas Voting Empowerment) expeditiously passed Assembly (A.5698) and Senate (S.3500) Elections Committee’s and went immediately to the floor.  This is a bill that the Governor will sign quickly.  The MOVE legislation will ensure that military personnel serving abroad will have their vote counted in any special election.   A special election will take place seventy to eighty days from the day the Governor formally proclaims a Special Election rather than 30 to forty days which is currently New York law.  Once the Governor signs this legislation he is expected to call a Special Election in the vacant Western New York district. 

The Health Care/Medicaid Budget Hearing was held on Thursday, wrapping up the budget hearings.  Notable is that the Governor’s 30 day budget amendments were released late on Thursday, they included the Medicaid Redesign Team’s 97 recommendations which were unanimously approved, but also included a two-year Medicaid and school aid funding proposal.  This two-year proposal is being used by the Governor’s office as a planning tool to be used by the legislature in planning for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 state budget.  Mr. Cuomo’s Medicaid appropriation would go from $15.1 billion for 2011-12 to $15.7 billion in 2012-13, that includes only the state’s share of Medicaid.  Also included in this 30 day amendment is the two-year education funding plan which would go from $19.4 billion to $20.2 billion in 2012-13.   In the coming month there will likely be more protests over Mr. Cuomo’s budget, but now the focus switches to the Legislature who must develop their own budget plan and move toward joint conference committees and a hoped for on time budget. 

Another week in Albany.