Coverage of Albany and New York State government

  • Seventh Round of REDC Awards Announced
  • Governor Announces 2018 State of the State Proposals
  • Governor Signs Bill Requiring Attorney’s Fees in Successful FOIL Cases
  • Attorney General to Sue Over Repeal of Net Neutrality Rules
  • Comptroller’s Report Warns of Growing State Debt, Proposes Reforms
  • New York Power Authority Opens New Digital Command Center
  • State Board of Regents Recommends $1.6 Billion Increase in State Aid for Schools
  • Unshackle Upstate Releases 2018 Advocacy Agenda
  • Empire Center Calls for Reform of State’s Tort Laws
  • Political Update
  • Coming Up

Seventh Round of REDC Awards Announced

Last Wednesday, Gov. Cuomo announced the seventh round of funding awards through the state’s Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) competition. The program has been one of the Governor’s main economic development programs since he took office in 2011.

A total of $755 million in economic and community development funding was awarded through the program this year.  (The full list of award recipients is here.)

Gov. Cuomo said:

“Over the past seven years, the Regional Economic Development Councils have successfully brought together the most innovative minds in economic development, fostering collaboration between state and local leaders to invest in New York’s regional resources from the ground up. These awards are critical to building the foundations for New York’s future and ensuring that our economic momentum continues. I congratulate each of the Councils on their awards and look forward to continuing to partner to keep our communities vibrant and thriving for years to come.”

Governor Announces 2018 State of the State Proposals

As he has done in prior years, Gov. Cuomo began releasing some of his 2018 legislative priorities that will be highlighted in his ‘State of the State’ address on January 3rd.

Last Wednesday, Gov. Cuomo announced that he will propose legislation to require mandatory surrender of firearms after all domestic violence convictions, including misdemeanors. Current state law prohibits convicted of felony or “serious” offenses from possessing firearms. However, it does not apply to misdemeanor offenses, involving domestic violence offenses.

The Governor’s proposal would apply the state’s existing gun possession prohibitions to domestic violence misdemeanor convictions, and expand the list of weapons that can be confiscated upon an order of protection issued by a judge or domestic violence crime conviction to include to rifles and shotguns. The Assembly has already approved a similar measure.

On Thursday, Gov. Cuomo announced that New York will sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) if the EPA deems the Hudson River cleanup to be complete, as they are expected to do this month.

On Friday, Gov. Cuomo announced that he will propose a third round of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.  Up to $10 million will be awarded to one downtown area in each of the state’s 10 economic development regions. The downtown areas will be selected by the state’s Regional Economic Development Councils.

Governor Signs Bill Requiring Attorney’s Fees in Successful FOIL Cases

Last Wednesday, Gov. Cuomo signed a bill (A.2750) into law that will require judges to award attorneys’ fees to litigants who “substantially prevail” in Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) cases.  The new law directs courts to assess reasonable legal costs in FOIL cases in which a person “substantially prevailed” and the court finds there was no reasonable basis for denying access to a record.

Advocates for more transparency in government were vocal in support of this measure, arguing that supported this measure because some state and local agencies deliberately withhold public records or unnecessarily delaying responses to public record requests.

In his approval memorandum, Gov. Cuomo said that plans to again push for comprehensive FOIL reform, which will include subjecting the Legislature to FOIL in the same manner as Executive agencies. Under current law, many legislative records cannot be obtained via FOIL.

Attorney General to Sue Over Repeal of Net Neutrality Rules

On Thursday, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that he will lead a multi-state legal challenge to the Federal Communications Commission’s rollback of net neutrality regulations.

Attorney General Schneiderman said:

“Today’s rollback will give ISPs new ways to control what we see, what we do, and what we say online. That’s a threat to the free exchange of ideas that’s made the Internet a valuable asset in our democratic process.  Today’s new rule would enable ISPs to charge consumers more to access sites like Facebook and Twitter and give them the leverage to degrade high quality of video streaming until and unless somebody pays them more money. Even worse, today’s vote would enable ISPs to favor certain viewpoints over others. New Yorkers deserve the right to a free and open Internet. That’s why we will sue to stop the FCC’s illegal rollback of net neutrality.”

The FCC’s majority said that it was acting to reverse the 2015 regulations because “heavy-handed utility-style regulation of broadband Internet access service…imposed substantial costs on the entire Internet ecosystem.” The FCC restored the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to act when broadband providers engage in anti-competitive, unfair, or deceptive acts or practices.

Comptroller’s Report Warns of Growing State Debt, Proposes Reforms

On Thursday, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released a report which finds that state-funded debt is projected to reach $63.7 billion at the end of the current fiscal year, and to increase over the following four years to $71.8 billion.  It also finds that the state’s per capita debt is $3,116, and that only 4 percent of outstanding debt was directly approved by voters.

Comptroller DiNapoli said:

“New York faces tremendous infrastructure challenges and the wise use of debt can be an essential part of the financing picture.  Still, backdoor borrowing imposes significant costs on taxpayers, lacks transparency and may limit flexibility in providing important services and programs.”

The report recommends that the state better plan its infrastructure expenses, which directly affects the debt levels, and ends the practice of back-door borrowing that pushes through new debt without voter approval.

The Cuomo Administration rejected the report’s findings, saying that state debt has declined for five consecutive years for the first time in history and debt to personal income ratio is at the lowest level since the 1960s.

New York Power Authority Opens New Digital Command Center

Last week, Gov. Cuomo announced that the New York Power Authority (NYPA) has opened a new digitized power asset monitoring and diagnostic center at its headquarters in White Plains. The new Integrated Smart Operations Center (iSOC) will analyze the performance of NYPA’s power generation assets and statewide network of transmission lines to identify problems and issues before they occur in an effort to prevent potential service outages and reduce repair and replacement costs. The new facility also moves the state closer to its goal of becoming the first all-digital public power utility in the nation.

Gov. Cuomo said:

“With the opening of this state-of-the-art center, we are modernizing our state energy system and creating a more resilient, reliable and flexible power grid helping to grow our clean energy economy.  This hub keeps New York at the forefront of innovation while leading the nation in combatting climate change through bold investments in clean energy technology, helping to secure a greener future for all.”

State Board of Regents Recommends $1.6 Billion Increase in State Aid for Schools

Last Tuesday, the state Board of Regents voted to recommend a statewide increase in financial assistance for the 2018-19 school year of $1.6 billion, or about 6.3 percent.

The Regents’ annual recommendations on state school aid are only advisory; the final decision on school aid is made by the Governor and state lawmakers.  The state is a facing a budget deficit of $4 billion or more in its upcoming 2018-19 fiscal year.

The Regents’ funding proposals include a $25-million request to expand Career and Technical Education (CTE) and $20-million for expansion of Universal Pre-K.  The Board’s funding proposals would implement recommendations from the Regents Early Childhood Workgroup’s Blue Ribbon Committee.

Unshackle Upstate Releases 2018 Advocacy Agenda

On Thursday, Unshackle Upstate released its 2018 Advocacy Agenda.  The Upstate-focused business advocacy group is urging state lawmakers to hold the line on tax increases and reduce regulations in the 2018 budget and legislative session.

Greg Biryla, Unshackle Upstate’s Executive Director, said:

“The proposals contained in our 2018 agenda can help New York address its multi-billion dollar deficit without adding to taxpayers’ burden. By holding the line on spending, reforming regulations that drive up the cost of construction and development, and promoting private-sector job growth, Albany’s leaders can get the state budget back on track.”

Among the 40-plus issues addressed in the agenda, the group is urging lawmakers to reduce state spending; reform costly state mandates, including prevailing wages and the Scaffold Law; refrain from imposing new “one-size-fits-all employer mandates that drive up the cost of business”; and make the real property tax cap permanent.

Empire Center Calls for Reform of State’s Tort Laws

Last Tuesday, the Empire Center for Public Policy released a report which finds that New York State’s tort laws “encourage a proliferation of civil suits seeking damages for various kinds of alleged wrongful actions” resulting in liability costs of as much as $20 billion annually.  The group recommends that the state’s civil liability laws be “brought closer to the national mainstream,” and makes a series of recommendations for reform that “balance more fairly the rights of plaintiffs and defendants.”

The report recommends that lawmakers enact the following reforms: move to a modified comparative fault system, which would bar damages for plaintiffs found to have been primarily responsible for their own injuries; eliminate joint liability by holding defendants liable only in proportion to their actual level of responsibility for an injury; adopt reasonable constraints on product liability actions; limit subjective and unpredictable awards for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering; and reduce New York’s judgment interest to a level tied to market interest rates.

Political Update

Assembly Minority Leader Announces Bid for Governor

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua) launched a campaign for New York governor last week.  Kolb has served as Assembly Minority Leader since 2009; he was first elected to the Legislature in 2000. Before that, he served in executive roles at a ceramics technology company and an industrial filtration company.

His platform includes promoting economic growth; reducing taxes; and ending political corruption in Albany.

He is the first Republican candidate to enter the race.  Other potential 2018 GOP candidates for governor include Harry Wilson, a corporate restructuring expert; State Senator John DeFrancisco of Syracuse; Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro; and former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra.

Winners & Losers

Each week, City & State New York publishes a list of the week’s political “winners” and “losers.”  Read last week’s list here.

Coming Up

The Governor will deliver his State of the State Address in Albany on January 3, 2018, which is also the first day of the 2018 legislative session.

The Governor’s 2018-19 Executive Budget proposal will be released by January 16.

The Board of Regents holds its next meeting on January 22 and 23.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) holds its next meeting on January 30.