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Unions start Scaffold Law protection push

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – With some business and other groups pushing for changes to a law they says drives up the cost of construction projects in New York, an organized push has begun by a group of unions and allies to keep the law intact.

At issue is the Scaffold law, which critics say makes construction companies and property owners liable for "gravity-related" injuries, such as falling off scaffolding, even if the worker is at fault. However, backers of the law, the provisions of which date back to the late 1800s, say it pushes contractors to have safer workplaces for construction industry employees.

Eliminating the law has been on the agenda for upstate business and other groups for decades. They say the statute amounts to an unfunded Albany mandate that increases insurance premiums and, therefore, the cost to build public and private buildings.

The new coalition of pro-Scaffold Law advocates say they want to not only maintain the provision but to enhance its worker protections.

The issue is expected to be among the end-of-session items on the agenda for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers for the session that is due to be over by mid-June.

Among those backing the new effort to keep the law in place are such unions and other groups including the Western New York Council on Occupational Safety and Health; the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York; the New York City Central Labor Council; Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ; and the New York Hotel Trades Council, as well as groups representing various minorities who work in the construction industry and the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The group has a website – here – promoting its cause.

Another view of today's NY beer/wine/spirits summit

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – As the beer, wine and spirits industries meet today in Albany to talk about their booming businesses in New York, an alcoholism treatment advocate said he hopes Gov. Andrew Cuomo and industry executives also address the problems of underage and problem drinking.

“There’s a correlation between increased access to alcohol and problem drinking and underage drinking. As the industry thrives or as the industry becomes stronger in new York, I would hope that the social conscience of the industry would trend in the direction of supporting underage drinking prevention, supporting access to treatment and community-based treatment and recovery programs," said John Coppola, executive director of the New York State Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers.

The alcoholic beverage industry has been booming in recent years – Cuomo today said job growth has doubled in four years – thanks, in part, to state policies that have encouraged the growth of such businesses as farm breweries and distillers.

Coppola noted that the state Gaming Commission Wednesday is holding a hearing with gambling addiction treatment experts in advance of decisions the agencies will make later this year to increase by four the number of Las Vegas-style casinos in the state. “We really haven’t seen that kind of effort from the alcoholic beverage industry,’’ Coppola said.

Coppola said he is more worried about worsening underage drinking problems as a result of large, national alcoholic beverage interests than many of the kinds of new businesses opening in New York in recent years, since many of these Empire State producers are small and make higher-end products with product price tags that are beyond the reach for many teenagers. He said dealings he has had with the smaller producers is that most are “very responsible.”

“As we call attention to how strong this industry is becoming in New York and if it’s good for the economy and people are being responsible, fantastic. On the other hand, we have massive marketing efforts in magazines, billboards and TV that are clearly marketing underage drinking … I would not lay this at the feet of smaller, niche beer and wine folks. I don’t think they’re directly marketing to kids,’’ he said. “That being said, I would hope that their voice is strong, that they set a good example and I would hope the governor and others hold the industry as a whole to some sense of responsible advertising and responsible distribution of their product."’


New union president sees a new NYSUT coming

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – The new leader of the state’s teachers union sees her labor group becoming an even more powerful voice in Albany with increased engagement of parents and other stakeholders to affect state policies.

“When we call up for a rally you will see rallies that fill up the streets in Albany,’’ said Karen Magee, a longtime public school teacher in Westchester County who, over the weekend, ousted longtime New York State United Teachers union Richard Iannuzzi as president. She is the first woman president of the 600,000-member union.

If there was any warming of relations between NYSUT and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, it was not showing on Monday. When asked, Magee said she had received no phone calls from the governor since her election by NYSUT delegates on Saturday. In the 2010 election, NYSUT sat on the sidelines in the governor’s race.

This year, she said Cuomo and the likely Republican gubernatorial candidate, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, have until NYSUT’s governing board meets in August to gain an endorsement.

Right now, after several years of battles with Cuomo over everything from teacher performance evaluations to charter schools and school funding, Magee said Cuomo faces a stiff wind with teachers across the state. “Unless there is some significant change, I can’t imagine our teachers would even consider endorsing the governor,’’ Magee said in a phone interview Monday.

Could the union back Astorino? “The field is open as to who we endorse,’’ she said, adding that she does not know enough about Astorino's education policies.

Some union leaders over the weekend said delegates were impressed by Astorino’s recent decision to keep his children in public school from taking the Common Core assessments last week.

Magee said such decisions are up to parents. “As teachers, we have to support whatever parents choose for their children,’’ she said.

Magee said NYSUT will be fighting in the last couple of months of the legislation session to get Common Core standards delayed for the sake teachers. She said teacher performance reviews should not be based on tests that do not count for students.

NYSUT, she said, lost 35,000 members in the past five years due to cuts in the growth of spending or actual reductions by the state and districts on schools. In the meantime, she said, NYSUT had become a “top down’’ organization that “lost focus of the engagement of the membership.’’

Cuomo insisted during budget talks that the teacher evaluation issue not be a part of delays made to the Common Core standards. The day the budget was passed, though, he sent signals of being open to discussing the issue with lawmakers in the next couple months; he has not been specific about what he believes should change in the way of teacher evaluations.

Magee said she believes Cuomo has realized it makes little sense to delay the impact on students from the Common Core tests but not on the performance evaluations for teachers. “I think he finally has found out how incongruous that thinking was,’’ she said.

At the minimum, NYSUT wants a moratorium on the state standardized tests being used to judge performance levels of teachers. If NYSUT had its way, she said, “I’d like to see us rethink the entire process,’’ she said, so that there is not a “one size fits all’’ approach to evaluating teachers across the state in different teaching situations and different disciplines.


DiNapoli pushes back against Cuomo administration on campaign finance

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is dismissing claims by a senior Cuomo administration official who told reporters earlier today that a pilot program for taxpayer-funded campaign that only affects the state comptroller's race was all DiNapoli's idea.

Here's the statement his office released from the comptroller this evening:

"The Governor and legislative leaders missed the chance to enact comprehensive changes in how elections are financed in New York state. Their new proposal for public financing for the State Comptroller's office was negotiated last minute behind closed doors and was never shared with my office. It is vastly different than the proposal that I have fought for the last eight years and falls short in many areas. The new proposal fails to set reasonable limitations on donations and assigns implementation to an organization that the Moreland Commission found dysfunctional. There are also questions on whether this new proposal can be fairly and reasonably implemented in such a short time frame or whether it was set up for failure. I am disappointed that in rushing to close the budget this issue was fumbled."

Casino developers to pay up to $70 million for NYS gambling license

By Tom Precious

ALBANY - The state Gaming Commission this evening issued the long-awaited Request for Application documents that sets out the terms for developers who are interested in operating the four commercial casinos the Cuomo administration is set to award later this year.
The agency said application documents will be due June 30. Besides paying a $1 million application fee, developers must, if selected, pay a minimum franchise fee to the state of between $20 million and $70 million, depending on which county is being sought for a casino license.
The 81-page Request for Application, accompanied by a separate, 52-page casino license application document, seeks an enormous amount of information from would-be developers, including kinds and numbers of gambling devices or games, individuals with direct or indirect ties to the bidder, the financial health of bidders and their partners and studies showing everything from number of potential jobs to be created to financial impact on the state's finances. Developers must also show local community support for a casino, though that provision was left somewhat vague in a state casino siting law enacted last year.
Voters in November approved seven new casinos. The first round - up to four casinos - is limited to three areas: Albany/Saratoga Springs region, Catskills/Mid-Hudson Valley and the southern tier near Binghamton running to a narrow area east of Rochester. Ares with existing Indian-owned casinos, such as Western New York, are prohibited from having any of the new commercial casinos.
More about the bidding documents and process can be found here.
UPDATE: Regarding the definition of local support, the RFA states: "As a condition of filing an Application, each Applicant must submit to the Board a resolution passed by the local legislative body of its Host Municipality supporting the Application. For purposes of this requirement, local support means a post -­‐ November 5, 2013 resolution passed by the local legislative body of the Host Municipality supporting the Application.''


The school aid run distribution route

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- The state Capitol is, by very definition, built on tradition.

In no way is that more true than the annual way in which school runs -- showing how education aid is distributed to the state's nearly 700 districts -- are distributed to lawmakers. Tonight, that happened shortly before 6 tonight when legislative staffers left the Capitol, walked across the street in a fallling mist to the state Education Department building, and returned 15 minutes later with several boxes containing the documents that soon will be given to lawmakers. The Senate and Assembly staffers go over at the same time, return together and come up the Capitol elevators at the same time.

Within an hour, lawmakers will be on the phones calling their local superintendents to tell them how much state aid they will be getting in the coming school year.

What follows is a short, edited description from an article The Buffalo News published in 2012 about Albany's inside players. This is the one about the education aid crafters:

"The work is secretive, demanding and closely scrutinized by lawmakers. For state residents, the work ... (they) ... perform helps shape the kinds of programs schools can offer, and the size of their property tax bills. The job demands attention to detail -- algebra, geography and Politics 101 are job requirements -- and an ability to turn numbers into bill copy that, while in English, few people in Albany can actually decipher.

The two (staffers) understand better than anyone the complex funding formula -- and its many variables with terms like "building aid," and "combined wealth ratio," and "tax effort aid" - - to accommodate New York's vast and varied student population.

Producing the annual school "runs" -- ending with a total state aid allotment for each district in New York -- is a high-stakes ritual. Using Excel software, (they) ... trade, in some years, more than a dozen "specs" for how the school formula should be shaped in what is the annual budget's most secretive set of negotiations. When it's over, they sign a document releasing their work from a vault in the nearby Education Department and, with hand carts, haul copies across the street -- at precisely the same time -- to anxiously awaiting lawmakers.

Silver: Messages or not, budget will be timely

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says “it doesn’t matter’’ if Gov. Andrew Cuomo provides a message of necessity to ensure that two budget bills that did not make the midnight Friday introduction deadline are passed by tomorrow.

“We’re going to have a budget on-time tomorrow night. All the appropriation bills will be done on time without messages,’’ Silver said in an interview late this afternoon as Assembly Democrats were getting ready for a closed-door party conference.

While the appropriation bills that set specific spending levels for different areas of the budget were introduced before midnight Friday – thus permitting the legal, three-day aging process before Monday’s vote – two major Article VII “language’’ bills that describe how the state money is to be spent failed to make that deadline.

By any Albany standard imposed on past governors for budget timeliness, it means the budget will be late for the first time in four years unless those two bills are provided messages by Cuomo and then get passed by both legislative houses by midnight Monday.

The bills – education and health – affect more than half the state budget’s spending.

Silver disagreed about what "on time'' means, and showed no inclination, for now, to ask Cuomo for a message, saying it’s the appropriation bills that count. “It’s a matter of convenience more than anything,’’ Silver said of a possible message request. “If there are messages it will be for convenience. We’re going to be here Tuesday regardless, so it really doesn’t matter to us,’’ Silver said.

Manufacturers poised to emerge as among big budget winners

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -– The state’s embattled manufacturing industry is about to get a major boost in the looming 2014 state budget, officials said Friday.

A plan promoted originally by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to give upstate manufacturers their own tax cuts has been expanded statewide and will cost the state an estimated $193 million. The tax break reduces to a portion of the corporate income tax rate for manufacturers down to zero, officials close to the budget talks say. It also changes the definition of qualifying manufacturers to restrict the tax break to true “nuts and bolts’’ manufacturers, as one source said.

State sources say still alive is a tax break for smaller manufacturers that pay their taxes through the personal income tax. While thought to be dead Friday morning, one official said a tentative deal has been struck to give about $100 million in state tax breaks so that eligible manufacturers could deduct up to 20 percent of their property tax bill on state taxes.

A state energy tax surcharge will be reduced on both homeowners and businesses; Cuomo had proposed the tax break just for businesses. And a proposal to create an independent consumer advocate to monitor the utility industry, a priority of AARP, has died.

Officials cautioned that numbers for some areas could still change as money for other programs – notably education – get resolved Friday night.

The usual Albany confusion spread through the Capitol Friday afternoon, helped along by legislative leaders.

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, emerged from a private session with Cuomo to say that “as far as I’m concerned’’ the sides had reached a budget deal.

Soon after, the other Senate co-leader, Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat, emerged from the same room with a different story. “I don’t think there’s a deal yet,’’ said Klein, who is still pushing for a low-income housing program. Klein appears to have abandoned his quest to increase benefits and provide up to six weeks of paid family leave for parents to take time off to care for a new child or sick family member.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, did not take part -– at least in person as far as reporters were told -– in the private meeting with Cuomo, Skelos and Klein.

At about noon Friday, the Speaker was in his full Silver-poker-face mode. “We’re at the same place we were last night,’’ Silver said of the talks. Asked if a final deal could happen Friday, he said, “I don’t know. I think so. I’m optimistic.’’


Albany transparency: LOB State Street doors to re-open

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- This fits into the good news category for lobbyists and the busloads of advocates who have dealings in the Legislative Office Building across the street from the Capitol.

Lawmakers say the budget deal will include about $300,000 to reopen the State Street main entrance to the nine-story building that houses lawmakers. The entrance closed due to budget cuts three years ago.
Sounds like a trivial line item, but it will significantly erase the long lines of people who have had to go through security checkpoints underground to make it into the LOB.

Lobbyists for years have said they'd be willing to pay an annual fee to bypass the security lines and get through the entrances that are used by state officials, lawmakers -- and reporters. That idea isn't in the budget deal.

Clock ticking, time for Albany's budget term to emerge: "framework"

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – Legislative leaders late this morning emerged from nearly two hours of closed-door talks with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to – in the 58 seconds they spent with a couple dozen reporters gathered outside the governor’s office – to declare they are closing in on a final 2014 state budget deal.

Of course, they have to be, given the time on the clock, and the thousands of pages of budget bills that have to be introduced by tomorrow night if the measures are to go through the legal, three-day "aging" process for bills to be passed on Monday before Tuesday’s fiscal year start. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, did most of the talking, saying the sides are hoping for "a concluding meeting" this afternoon with Cuomo.

"We are moving toward a framework," Silver said.

"Framework" is the Albany term used to describe the situation where governors and legislative leaders come before the press to announce a budget deal. Details provided once a framework deal is announced are, typically, selective. For instance, the public will not know how much money their individual school districts across the state will be getting in state aid – a key component of how much they will pay in property taxes – until Sunday night at the earliest.

The term "framework" has become the description of choice in more recent times in Albany to characterize an agreement on broad details of the budget while staffers spend the next 24 hours working non-stop to put the final details together. "Framework" has replaced "conceptual" as the term of choice, though one year, a legislative leader described a budget deal as a "virtual" one.

Besides Cuomo and Silver, the meetings include State Senate co-leaders Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, and Sen. Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat, who heads a small breakaway group of Democrats who jointly run the State Senate.

State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the leader of the main Senate Democratic group who has been cut out of budget talks because her conference is in the minority in the chamber, did go into a meeting in the governor's suite of offices while Cuomo and the other legislative leaders were meeting. But she was not invited in to meet with them during her visit, instead holding a session with staffers.

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri |

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski |