Cuomo Compiles Good Record First Half Year In Office
Last week’s passage of the same-sex marriage act in Albany, a feat made possible by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s strong support and direct involvement, was the topping on the cake for the governor, who achieved more major successes in his first six months running the state than any other governor in recent history.
Cuomo won the seat in a landslide victory, and as his popularity remained high winning early battles, he used it wisely in other major confrontations as the session progressed.
Along the way, he won major and minor scraps with state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and with powerful forces in the state capital such as the teachers and other government employee unions, making headway on some issues long held as untouchable. On others, such as out of control pension costs, will be part of a long range campaign.
At this juncture, however, the governor has made substantial progress, beginning with passing an on-time budget that included major cuts in spending with no tax increases and Medicaid reform to cut the cost of one of the state’s most heavily funded programs.
After that impressive start, the governor pressed the legislature hard for ethics reform and succeeded in getting a law passed which, for the first time, will require lawmakers to disclose their outside income in greater detail.
More recently, the governor worked out a deal with the 66,000-member Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA ) which features no pay increases for three years, requires all members to take nine days off as unpaid furloughs, and increases members’ contributions for health insurance coverage.
This deal must still be ratified by the membership, but if they don’t accept it the alternative is that about 10,000 workers can be laid off under authorization contained in the budget passed earlier in the year.
Toward the close of the session last week, several of Cuomo’s program bills passed both houses. Included was the first-time-ever tax cap, a two percent property-tax cap, aimed at suburban areas where school spending controlled by teachers rises every year and along with it property taxes also go up.
Also passed was extension of rent control laws covering more than one million New York City apartments; a plan to increase tuition cost for CUNY and SUNY colleges by $300 per year for five consecutive years, and a 10 percent tuition increase for out-of-state students; and creation of a Mandate Relief Commission to hear challenges to state mandated programs whose costs fall upon local governments.
Completing Cuomo’s first half-year record was the same-sex marriage act, which made New York state the sixth state in the nation authorizing samesex unions. Cuomo had promised to pursue it in his election campaign, and last week he followed up on that and got the bill passed.
Still on the governor’s agenda at the halfway mark in his first year are redistricting of legislative districts for the 2012 elections and economic development.
Redistricting will be another major battle with the state legislature because traditionally when each house has a different party in control, which is the situation right now, each house protects its members’ districts to continue the status quo. This system is strongly opposed by every good government group, and also by Cuomo.
The governor wants to create a non-partisan and independent commission to draw the new lines, so expect another clash with the legislative leaders in the near future.
As for economic development and job creation, the best opportunity to do both at the moment is in the Adirondack
region where the natural gas industry has taken major steps to start mining the tremendous reserves of natural gas in the region.
However, because of concerns created by natural gas companies using a process called hydrofracking to access underground gas deposits, the dangers that hydrofracking pose to bodies of water in the area resulted in a moratorium on using the process until a solution can be found.
The danger from hydrofracking arises because the process calls for shooting water and chemicals into the rock reserves to access the natural gas deposits. But the runoff of the water and chemicals threatens the water sources’ purity.
The governor has promised to make a decision on the direction he may take in the future. Natural gas development would create many jobs and give the state’s economy a major boost, developers say. But environmentalists advise great caution at the prospect of mass development chewing up the environment.
CITY’S ‘GOOD NEWS’ BUDGET: Despite his insistence over the past six months that the city would have to layoff teachers if Albany didn’t come through with financial aid, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D–Manhattan) had reached agreement on a budget deal for 2011-2012 which will not require teacher layoffs nor shut down any firehouses. And it was all accomplished with no financial aid from Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The Bloomberg/Quinn deal cut teacher programs to raise the funds to avert the layoffs and firehouse closings. The money savings will come from suspending teacher sabbaticals for a year and by using teachers who don’t have full-time assignments to work as substitutes. The savings amount to $60 million The teachers union, United Federation of Teachers (UFT), agreed to these changes.
The mayor had received tough opposition to the threat to layoff 4,000-6,400 teachers and close 20 firehouses. Quinn stated, “I’m incredibly proud that the City Council, under the leadership of Finance Committee Chair and Councilmember Domenic Recchia Jr. (D–Brooklyn) was able to do this without using additional dollars from the Health Care Trust Fund.”
Quinn, who’s expected to run for mayor next year, thanked the mayor for his cooperation, and also her colleagues “for coming together to make tough decisions…”
MAYOR’S TAXI PLAN APPROVED: In what turned out to be a great week for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, besides getting his pesky budget virtually cleared for approval, he also got a great victory in Albany as the state legislature approved his plan to require metered taxi cabs pick up riders in the four boroughs outside Manhattan.
The taxi industry, which strongly opposed the plan, still has a chance to win its point because Governor Cuomo has not yet signed the bill and has not made any statement that he plans to sign it.
The far-reaching legislation “marks an historic turning point for the riding public in New York City”, the mayor said in a prepared statement.
Under the bill’s provisions, he added, riders outside Manhattan will have vastly improved transportation options. Instead of illegal and risky options, they will be served by a new class of licensed and reliable cabs, whose drivers will earn a legal living.
Ironically, Cuomo, the official Bloomberg has criticized so often by refuting its financial woes, is the man who must now sign off on the mayor’s plan to give it life.
OPPOSE LIQUOR LICENSE FOR QUEENS PLAZA STRIP CLUB: Long Island City residents, who are proud of the changes made in Queens Plaza to give it a new image, are opposing the application before the State Liquor Authority (SLA) for a license by a proposed strip club named Gypsy Rose at 42-50 21st St., at the foot of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.
Residents opposed the license at a CB 2 meeting and state Senator Michael Gianaris (D–Astoria) has reportedly asked the SLA not to issue it. In his appeal, Gianaris pointed out that city and private funds have turned Queens Plaza into a pleasant place and that’s no place for a strip club.
The attorney for the club, Terry Flynn, pointed out that the club would be located in an industrial area with no residential buildings near it.
SCHUMER ASKS FOR TRANSIT FUNDS REJECTED BY NJ: U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D–NY) has asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to redirect the $2.2 billion long-term federal loan rejected by New Jersey and give it instead to the MTA to be used for completion of the project to bring LIRR trains to a new terminal on Manhattan’s East Side.
New Jersey rejected the funds that were offered and were to have been used to build a tunnel for trains from that state to come into New York City, but the $2.2 billion is just the right amount that would pay for completion of the East Side tunnel project, now under construction, Schumer said.
“Neither the state nor the MTA is in good shape, fiscally,” Schumer reasoned. “Give the LIRR the opportunity to put more trains under the [East] River and give people access to jobs.”
The LIRR has always delivered its NYCbound commuters to Penn Station, which is on the West Side. The East Side project, with a terminal at East 42nd St., would save many commuters the trip they now make from Penn Station to their jobs or businesses on the East Side of Manhattan.
The MTA is actually seeking $3 billion, which combines $2.2 billion for the East Side project plus $800 million to refinance existing debt, Schumer said.
NY PREZ PRIMARY APR. 24: The state legislature last week passed legislation establishing next April 24 as the date for New York state’s presidential primary election.
The bill is expected to be signed into law by Governor Cuomo, whose office was consulted on the legislature’s move. Four years ago, the primary was held on February 5, which was dubbed Super Tuesday because so many other states’ primaries were held the same day.
As part of the bill, the Republican primary will be changed from a winner-take-all delegates to one in which delegates will be divided among all participating candidates. GOP State Chairman Edward F. Cox said, “We want as many candidates to come up and campaign in New York as possible, and this will attract them, because they can always get a vote.”
LAWYER/ENTREPRENEUR DECLARES FOR WEINER’S EX-SEAT: Forest Hills-born Steven Mitchell Schiffman, who describes himself as a Brooklyn-Queens resident, has announced his candidacy for the Queens/Brooklyn congressional seat formerly occupied by Anthony Weiner.
The 62-year-old lawyer/entrepreneur-turneddiplomat is a Republican who says he sees serving in Congress as “a unique opportunity to contribute to the well-being of our local community, applying my extensive practical experience in building businesses, advising and consulting with foreign leaders and governments, and the promotion of human dignity.”
Schiffman says he has spent the past two decades working with both the U.S. Agency for International Development and the United Nations Development Program in places such as Afghanistan and the former Soviet Union.
His objectives as a congressmember will be, “to advocate and legislate social and economic policies that create meaningful and sustainable, well-paying jobs while at the same time providing for appropriate tax cuts and credits to provide relief to the over-burdened middle class…”
Schiffman is the first announced candidate for the Weiner seat. Governor Cuomo has not yet set a date for the election.
MOYA’S ANTI-PROSTITUTION BILL PASSES ASSEMBLY: Concerned about the problem of “Chica, Chica” cards being passed out along Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst, Assemblymember Francisco Moya (D–Corona) introduced a bill to make the distribu- tion of prostitution promoting cards on New York streets a crime.
Announcing the bill had been approved by the Assembly, Moya said, “This bill is about the quality of life and so much more. These cards not only promote prostitution along our streets to all residents, including children, but their distribution enables the sex trade and human trafficking. We have drawn a line in the sand here for our communities and I am proud to have done my part.”
The bill, which had previously passed by the senate, now goes to Cuomo for his signature.
FINAL PASSAGE FOR BRAUNSTEIN’S ‘BATH SALTS’ BAN: A bill banning sales of bath salts containing harmful stimulants which, when ingested, give users a high that is harmful was given final passage by the Assembly last week. It was announced by Assemblymember Edward C. Braunstein (D–Bayside), who introduced the measure.
“The health problems associated with the use of bath salts as a recreational drug are very disturbing, and the state needs to pay attention to this public health issue,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver commented.
Braunstein noted that the bath salts can also “produce dangerous mental and emotional side effects”. Cases in other states show that people who “snorted or injected these bath salts have committed violent crimes, including murder”. These stimulants should be designated controlled substances by the state, regulated accordingly and banned from use in any consumer product, Braunstein said.
The bill would prohibit the sale and distribution of bath salts containing 4- Methylamethcathinone, also known as Mephedrone, and Methylenedioxypyrovalerone. Both of these stimulants would become controlled substances under Braunstein’s bill.
GIANARIS PRAISES RETENTION OF LADDER 128: Mayor Michael Bloomberg had Ladder 128 in Long Island City on the list of firehouses to be closed because of budget shortfalls, but the City Council found funds to make the closings unnecessary and all 20 firehouses will remain open.
Commenting on the good news for Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside and Greenpoint residents, state Senator Michael Gianaris (D–Astoria) praised the restoration of Ladder 128, saying:
“Ladder 128 is vital to our community and I am thankful that it will remain open to ensure our neighborhood receives the fire protection it requires. It goes to show what can be accomplished when our community comes together to fight to protect our quality of life.”
Gianaris noted also that Ladder 128 celebrated its 100th anniversary last year and was praised for its outstanding reputation and dedication to protecting the residents and businesses of the area.
BRAUNSTEIN SAYS LEGISLATIVE SESSION WAS A SUCCESS: Assemblymember Edward Braunstein (D–Bayside), who just completed his first legislative session praised Governor Andrew Cuomo’s leadership in making it a success and added, “State government showed that it can function.”
Braunstein noted, “We passed an on-time budget that significantly reduced spending to conform to our current economic reality.” He also praised the Assembly for passing ethics reform, assistance for seniors, and continuation of rent control.