Friday, March 25, 2016

The budget season is quickly coming to a close and the legislature will need to have their budget finalized by next Friday (April 1st) if they want to avoid the executive taking over the process. This week the Joint Conference Committees released their proposed table targets. Table targets are the amount of money proposed by the leadership to be allocated by the Conference Committees. We were very dismayed to hear that k through 12 Education only received a $60 million target. This $60 million is in addition to a $991 million proposal for general school aid funding, that funding will be allocated through the legislative leaders and executive.

The League has been very concerned over the lack of transparency during this budget process. Negotiations between leaders have been done behind closed doors and this week’s Mother Ship Conference with the Senate and Assembly leaders lasted a total of 4 minutes. Nearly every Conference Committee leader indicated that the members would be returning home for Easter weekend but that staff will continue to work on the budget.

On Friday the League took a break from focusing on the budget to participate in a forum on the Constitutional Convention. This event focused on the issue of ethics and what sort of changes could be made to help fix Albany’s culture of corruption. Our Legislative Director Barbara Bartoletti participated on a panel with Blair Horner, Executive Director of NYPIRG and Lawrence Norden, Deputy Director of the Brennan Center. The League has teamed up with the Rockefeller Institute and helped to create a multiyear educational campaign to promote understanding and awareness of essential issues pertaining to the NYS Constitution leading up to the 2017 NYS Constitutional Convention referendum. The Rockefeller Institute will be holding events throughout the state this summer and fall. We will be posting upcoming events on our website, twitter, and facebook so be sure to check regularly to see when they will be coming to your area.

Monday, March 21, 2016

This week was Sunshine Week and the League spent it telling lawmakers they need to do more on ethics. The week started with the League, NYPIRG, Citizen’s Union, Common Cause, and Reinvent Albany reacting to the inadequate ethics proposal put forward and passed Tuesday by the Assembly. The bill, sponsored by Speaker Heasite, limits outside income, closes the LLC Loophole, requires more disclosure for lobbying groups, and limits expenditures by “housekeeping” committees.  Although we were happy to see the Assembly at least put something forward  on ethics, this proposal is not nearly enough to curb the persistent corruption plaguing our Capital. For more on our press conference click here.

The one-house budgets were released over the weekend giving us limited time to review them before Monday. We were dismayed to see no additional funding for the State Board of Election in the one-house budgets. We were also extremely disappointed that the Senate chose only to put forward reforms on state pensions of convicted felons and term limits for legislative leaders; not nearly as comprehensive a “package” as we had hoped.  We were relieved that the Assembly stayed true to their word and excluded the Education Investment Tax Credit (EITC) in their proposal. The Senate did include it and we expect this issue will arise again in the Assembly Committee on Education at some point this session.

Monday and Tuesday the League met with several members on the EITC and voting reforms. Tuesday evening the Budget Conference Committees were announced and the League made an effort to attend as many as possible.  In total we attended 5 conferences including Local Governments, Public Protection, Workforce, Education, and the initial “Mothership” Conference where the legislative leaders patted themselves on the back for putting forward such progressive reforms. In each of the Joint Conference Committees the members of the Senate and Assembly laid out their goals and highlighted their priorities; unfortunately there was no mention of possible table targets.

We ended our week on a high note with the release of the recommendations set forth by Assembly Workforce Committee on Legislative Process. We were very pleased to see so many common sense reforms for the state legislature. The proposal includes mandatory webcasting of all Assembly Committee meetings, a new online portal for all official documents on legislation, WiFi in all state offices, and moving bill debates to the beginning of the legislative session rather than saving them for the final weeks. For the full list of recommendations and a response from the League check out this article. We are especially excited for the state to FINALLY make LRS accessible to the public. The Legislative Retrieval System (LRS) is an online program which allows fast up-to-date information on bills. Currently the system is only available to legislative staff and those who are willing to pay its hefty fee.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The halls of the Capitol were filled to maximum capacity this week.  Groups flocked to the legislature to try and lobby their members before the one house budgets are finalized. The League got in on the action and we spent the majority of our Monday trying to pull members off the floor to make one final plea against the inclusion of the Education Tax Credit in the Assembly one house budget. We were extremely relieved Wednesday when we read in Politico that Speaker Heastie will not include the tax credit in the Assembly budget proposal.

On Tuesday we held a press conference with NYPIRG and Citizen’s Union on ethics and transparency.  The League along with our good government allies have called on Governor Cuomo to do more to improve ethics. Specifically, we have asked for a series of leaders’ meetings to publicly discuss and negotiate ethics reforms. Our full joint press release can be found here . After the press conference, Governor Cuomo responded by accusing non-profit groups of being “shadow lobbyists” with hidden agendas.  We have defended our position as a non-partisan, member funded organization, and we will continue to lobby for issues that directly impact all New Yorkers. Our full statement can be read here.  

Tuesday evening the League attended an event celebrating International Women’s Day. We set up a voter registration table at Sage College’s  Opalka Gallery where we met with many interesting women from all over the world and helped some new citizens register to vote.

On Wednesday the League attended the Senate majority’s press conference on their budget priorities for 2016. We live tweeted most of the event. We were surprised over Senator Flanagan’s ambitious plan which will allegedly cut middle class taxes by 25%. There was no mention of the Education Tax Credit but the Senate did focus on the need for more tax incentives for the aging. Many New Yorkers move to other more pension friendly states after they retire, and the Senate believes that reducing the tax burden on seniors and private pensions will entice more people to stay in New York after retirement. Unfortunately, there was no proposal to make New York State’s climate more temperate.

Friday, March 4, 2016

This week started with a memorial service dedicated to the beloved Assemblywoman Barbara Clark.  Barbara had long been a friend of the League and we are deeply saddened by her passing. She leaves behind a wonderful legacy as a strong advocate for the rights of women, children, and the undeserved population of New York State.

On Tuesday we participated in a press conference with NYPIRG on the Constitutional Convention urging reforms to the delegate selection process. The full letter send to the Governor’s office on the issue can be found here.  The remainder of the day was occupied with strategy sessions on several different issues including ethics reforms and education initiatives.
Wednesday was a very full day starting with a legislative briefing for legislators on the education investment tax credit issue. It was a standing room only briefing with legislators and staff. We were joined by Fiscal Policy Institute, Citizen’s Budget Commission, Alliance for Quality Education, Reform Jewish Voice, and New York Civil Liberties Union. The briefing allowed legislators to learn more about the issue and have their concerns, both political and substantive, addressed. It was gratifying to see so many newly elected members attend the briefing. After the briefing we met with Assembly member Hyndman who had also attended the briefing and expressed her opposition to the education tax credit (ETC). We discussed the ETC budget proposal, early voting and automatic voter registration. 

At noon we participated in a press conference on the Governor’s executive proposal on the ETC. It was well attended by fiscal, faith, and school association advocacy groups. The groups all expressed their opposition to this flawed budget initiative. A press release from all the groups can be found here. Then it was off to do a news interview with channel 10 on an interesting twist to the current Presidential campaign. The League has received several inquiries about how they can change their party registration to vote either for or against certain Presidential candidates. New York State election law does not allow changes for your party affiliation after mid-October of the previous year; except in the case of new voters or if you have moved to a new county. We also noted that New York is a closed primary state and unless you are registered in a party you cannot vote in a primary election. This is the first time in my decades of experience that people have expressed an interest in jumping parties for the specific reason of voting against another party’s candidate.

As we move closer to the budget deadline the halls of the Capitol and LOB become difficult to maneuver as lobbying organizations make their final push for money in the budget. We anticipate that the assembly and senate one house budget bills will come out on March 14th. Negotiations will then begin in earnest and conference committees will commence.