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State Sen. Ortt, former Sen. Maziarz face charges in Schneiderman probe

Albany Times/Union - 12 min 7 sec ago

ALBANY — One current state senator and a former senator — both Western New York Republicans — are facing charges as part of an investigation by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman into campaign finance matters.

State Sen. Rob Ortt, R-Niagara County, has been charged as part of the investigation, he confirmed in a statement Wednesday evening. A spokeswoman for Ortt said he faces a charge of offering a false instrument for filing.

Former state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Niagara County, also has been indicted as part of the probe, a source with knowledge of the investigation confirmed. On what charge Maziarz has been indicted is not clear.

An attorney for Maziarz could not immediately be reached for comment.

That news comes after the grand jury handed up a sealed indictment earlier in the day in Schneiderman's probe into campaign finance accounts maintained by Maziarz.

Ortt accused Schneiderman of concocting "baseless charges to serve his own political agenda."

"One thing is clear: the only reason I am included in this is to make their case politically appealing," Ortt said in his statement. "As multiple news organizations have documented, Eric Schneiderman has been obsessed with using his political office to persecute his political enemies and protect his political allies."

"We look forward to telling voters the truth about Eric Schneiderman and exposing him for the power hungry, political opportunist he is and I will fight this ridiculous charge," he added.

A spokesman for Schneiderman declined to comment.

The Albany County grand jury's vote came after associates of Maziarz in recent weeks were called in to testify before the panel.

At about 3 p.m. Wednesday in state Supreme Court, officials from Schneiderman's office approached Justice Kimberly O'Connor as a separate case was proceeding.

The Schneiderman officials included Dan Bajger, assistant attorney general in the office's public integrity bureau.

"We have a sealed indictment here," O'Connor said to them.

O'Connor then dismissed the public from the court room for several minutes. Bajger declined to answer questions about the indictment.

The grand jury's move happened the same day that Ortt, the Republican who succeeded Maziarz in the 62nd Senate District, testified before the grand jury.

Ortt's wife, Meghan, who used to work on Maziarz's Senate staff, had testified earlier but is not believed to be a target.

Ortt spoke voluntarily to the grand jury and waived immunity, according to an official with knowledge of the investigation.

"He felt strongly that he wanted to help the investigation in any way he could, which is why he is voluntarily speaking to the grand jury investigating George Maziarz and will answer any questions they may have," said Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for Ortt.

Agreeing to waive immunity can be a signal that a witness has been assured he or she is not a target.

Maziarz left office at the end of 2014. He was first elected in 1995. The senate district runs from the Niagara Falls area east toward Brockport.

Schneiderman's investigation has focused on the way Maziarz used his campaign warchest, which at its height had more than $1 million.

Investigators, according to several recent news reports, have been probing whether contractors for various services paid by the campaign account also hired sub-contractors that weren't reported. Failure to report payments to subcontractors could violate campaign disclosure laws.

That could, at minimum, represent a violation of disclosure laws if not reported in finance filings.

The probe dates to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Moreland Commission, an investigative body the governor disbanded in 2014.

One of the areas noted by commission members was Maziarz's extensive number of un-itemized expenditures, according to an earlier report in City & State.

His fund listed $140,000 in such expenditures between 2008 and 2013.

The Buffalo News reported that also on Wednesday former Niagara County Republican Chairman Henry Wojtaszek pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor election law violation for failing to file a reporting form during the 2012-2013 period Schneiderman has been investigating. • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Public transit operators seek state funding increase

Albany Times/Union - 12 min 7 sec ago

ALBANY — Public transit system operators statewide have watched their ridership increase in recent years.

They want their state funding to continue to increase, too.

Major upstate and Long Island transportation system heads implored state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to boost by roughly $10 million, 2 percent, their operating aid for the coming fiscal year. Cuomo currently is budgeting $502 million for non-Metropolitan Transportation Association transit needs.

That 2 percent increase would mean an additional $4 million for upstate transit systems and $6 million for downstaters.

The Assembly included a $3 million increase apiece for upstate and non-MTA downstate transit operating aid in its one-house budget, while the state Senate included the full $10 million total ask.

The Assembly and Senate also included increased capital funding for those systems, something that operators would like to see in the final budget. The Assembly included $30 million, while the Senate included $91.2 million.

The transportation operators' requests for increased funding come as some operators have seen upticks in ridership. In the Capital Region for example, the Capital District Transportation Authority has broken ridership records for three consecutive years, with ridership hitting 17.1 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

It also comes as state officials consider allowing new transportation options outside of New York City and federal officials eye cuts to transit aid that, in CDTA's case, could kill bus rapid transit, BRT, routes still in the planning stages.

On the state level, the governor, Assembly and Senate are working to hash out legislation in the budget, which is due April 1, that would allow for ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft to operate outside of New York City. New York State Public Transit Association President Bill Carpenter, CEO of the Regional Transit Service in Monroe County, said NYSPTA supports ride-hailing expansion.

He was non-committal on how much potential funding collected by the state through ride-hailing fees should go to transit. Cuomo and both houses of the Legislature have proposed creating a dedicated local transit assistance fund in their ride-hailing bills.

"We're simply saying consider us when you get down to the final bill," Carpenter said.

At the same time, President Donald Trump's proposed budget threatens various transportation funding, including money for Albany and New York City. (Tuesday's increased operating aid ask would not cover things such as Albany's BRT expansion threatened in the proposed federal budget.)

Asked if the state has an obligation to make up for any transit funding stripped away by the federal government, CDTA CEO Carm Basile said "obligation is a strong word."

"But I think in New York state we have shown a commitment to public transportation," he said. "Look at what has happened over the last three years. There has been increased investment in our communities, increased investment in public transportation. What we're saying is let's continue that trend." • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

No tolls for boats when canal system set to open in May

Albany Times/Union - 12 min 7 sec ago

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — State officials have announced the opening date for the New York State Canal System, which will be free for recreational boaters this year.

The state Canal Corp. says the Erie, Champlain, Oswego and Cayuga-Seneca canals will open at 10 a.m. May 19 for the 2017 navigation season.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the start of the construction of the Erie Canal in Rome in central New York. Work began on the 363-mile long waterway on July 4, 1817. The canal was officially opened in Buffalo on Oct. 26, 1825 by Gov. DeWitt Clinton.

State officials say to commemorate the bicentennial there will be no tolls or fees for recreational use of the canal system this year.

The canal system's navigational season typically closes in the fall.

Categories: State/Local

Faso plans to vote for AHCA; Cuomo predicts doom

Albany Times/Union - 12 min 7 sec ago


Rep. John Faso will vote for the American Health Care Act when it comes to the House floor on Thursday, he told the Times Union on Tuesday.

As the House GOP's Affordable Care Act repeal and replace bill gathers steam, Faso moved into the yes column with the addition of "manager's amendments" on Monday night. Those tweaks to the original legislation include an amendment backed by Faso, a Kinderhook Republican, and introduced by Rep. Chris Collins, R-Erie County, that would give New York state — and New York state only — an ultimatum: Absorb $2.3 billion in Medicaid costs shouldered by counties outside New York City beginning in 2020 or risk losing federal funding of the same value.

His goal is to reduce county property tax burdens by getting rid of in some cases the most expensive cost for county governments.

But that amendment has drawn a sharp rebuke from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration, with the governor himself on Tuesday angrily charging that the "rabid conservative ideology" behind the amendment, the full AHCA and President Donald Trump's budget is telling New York "to drop dead."

Faso's response: "It's always easier to spend someone else's money."

Of the AHCA writ large, Faso was nuanced.

"There are a number of provisions in the bill that I don't like," Faso said when asked specifically about one piece that would freeze funding for reproductive health services and abortions for one year. "But on balance, I think it moves the process forward to fixing what is wrong with the (Affordable Care Act)."

He said he likes amendments to enhance an advanced refundable tax credit and per capita grants for the state that would go toward the disabled and elderly in nursing homes.

Still, Faso said there are things he would like to see improved as the bill moves through the Senate — assuming of course it makes it through the House. The Kinderhook Republican also said he believes there is an opportunity for further adjustments through the federal budget process, such as re-implementing public health funding (should it be slashed) that is afforded under the current ACA.

It's the Medicaid spending amendment that is Faso's baby. He first proposed legislation shifting county costs to the state on the campaign trail last year and has been an advocate on this issue for decades as he toiled in the Assembly Republican Minority.

Now that he's in the House Republican Majority, it took him just two-and-a-half months to get ground-shaking policy for New York to the floor.

While Faso may not like provisions such as the reproductive health service spending freeze — potentially poisonous to vote in favor of for a congressman who has held that Planned Parenthood funding shouldn't be cut out of "political spite" as long as clinics provide services in a legal and licensed way — he sees huge positives for local property taxpayers. His office estimates that individual county property taxpayers would save $358.72 annually once the costs are shifted.

But one politician's positive is another's cataclysm.

Cuomo projected a doomsday scenario for the state if the amendment comes to pass. The administration says some 250,000 total residents in Collins' and Faso's districts are at risk of losing health care through Medicaid, a chunk of some 7 million people statewide. They also point to hospitals and nursing homes facing dire financial straits that could lead to closures and service reductions.

Of course, that scenario assumes that the $2.3 billion in question is never borne by the state.

"What happened to putting people before your politics?" Cuomo asked. "Rather than swearing allegiance to the (House Speaker Paul) Ryan radical right, why didn't they think about representing the people in their district? Why didn't they think about the oath that they took and put their politics aside? That's what this is about. They have declared war on New York, and this is just the beginning."

In less heated rhetoric, state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island, told reporters that he is skeptical of the Faso-Collins amendment. The crux of his argument is this: Under the current Medicaid financing structure, counties pay 13 percent of costs, the state shoulders 36 percent of costs and the federal government picks up the remaining 51 percent. So if the county costs are pushed onto the state, who foots the bill?

"It's the same taxpayer at the end of the day," he said.

"I don't want to see New York adversely affected," he added. "And I would go back to some basic questions: Does that mean that if this happens, the counties' are going to reduce their sales tax or their property tax? Or are they just going to continue to spend at different rates?"

Ultimately, Faso and House colleagues will face criticism over more than just the Medicaid cost-shifting if the House's bill glides through the Senate (early handicapping indicates that it won't without changes).

According to Cuomo's Department of Health, more than 1 million New Yorkers would face a significant loss of health coverage, and $4.5 billion in costs would be shifted to the state, counties and hospitals over four years if the AHCA is approved.

So, in 2020, overall state, county and hospital costs of the AHCA and the Faso-Collins amendment are projected at $4.7 billion ($2.4 billion in annual costs related to the original AHCA; $2.3 billion in costs to the state for shifting Medicaid).

That has made for an uncertain opening to the state budget season. Legislative leaders already have raised the specter of a special session later this year to address losses in federal aid for health care.

The budget must be approved by April 1.

Faso, a numbers wonk, is no stranger to the state budget process. When it comes to the Medicaid cost shifting amendment to the health care bill, he sees plenty of time for the state to figure out what to do next: Two-and-a-half years to be precise.

As Faso prepared to vote in favor of the AHCA, Rep. Elise Stefanik's position remained elusive. A spokesman for the Essex County Republican sent the Times Union a lengthy statement outlining Stefanik's efforts to weigh the bill and her general desire to make sure the AHCA includes reforms to lower health care costs, protect coverage for those on their parents' plan and with pre-existing conditions and protect the needs of rural communities.

Asked if that statement meant Stefanik hadn't decided yet which way she would vote, Tom Flanagin, the spokesman, repeated, "She is still reviewing the legislation with constituents and stakeholders." • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Voting reforms may lag

Albany Times/Union - 12 min 7 sec ago


In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed reforms aimed at increasing low turnout in New York elections.

On Tuesday, Cuomo said that the measures may have to wait until after this year's budget is passed, even though they were included in his proposed budget measure.

"We're going to try like heck," Cuomo told reporters. "It's not necessarily a budget discussion. The budget is primarily about finances. And if it's a policy matter that's related to finances, I try to include it because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can."

Cuomo added, "Many of the democracy issues that you talk about, we're going to take up after the budget."

Cuomo has proposed allowing early voting before Election Day and for people to be able to register to vote on Election Day and a process that would automatically register people to vote. Senate Republicans, in particular, may be a roadblock.

Cuomo has often included ethics reforms measures in the budget, with mixed success. Placing measures in the annual spending bill, which faces an April 1 deadline, puts extra pressure on lawmakers to pass measures favored by the governor.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said that Cuomo needed to push harder, noting that New York ranks 41st in the country in voter turnout.

"It's not enough to 'try like heck,'" Lerner said in a statement. "New Yorkers deserve the same rights as voters in Alaska and Vermont. We need voting reform now, and that means including funding in the 2017 budget to ensure that the next election cycle is an example for the nation, not a national embarrassment."

Categories: State/Local

Wealthy New Yorkers urge Cuomo to raise their taxes

Albany Times/Union - 12 min 7 sec ago


Expanding and extending New York's so-called "millionaires' tax" would raise nearly $6 billion in annual revenue, over $2 billion more than the current tax, which is set to expire in 2017, the Fiscal Policy Institute said.

The union-backed advocacy group contends that with cuts in federal funds coming to New York from the Trump administration and a Republican Congress, wealthy New Yorkers should pay more in state taxes.

The plan calls for expanded tax rates for the top 1 percent of New Yorkers and a continuation of the lower rates enacted last year for middle-income New Yorkers. That's similar to an Assembly-passed plan.

A group of more than 80 wealthy New Yorkers have sent an open letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature urging passage of an expanded and permanent millionaires' tax, the institute said in a news release Tuesday. The signers of the letter include Steven C. Rockefeller, George Soros, Eileen Fisher, David A. Levine, Dal LaMagna, Lewis B. Cullman, Abigail Disney, Agnes Gund and Leo Hindery Jr., all of whom have incomes of over $650,000.

As the April 1 budget deadline approaches, the fate of the tax is in flux. In their budget bill, Senate Republicans rejected an extension of the tax. Cuomo wants a three-year extension of the current tax.

Categories: State/Local

A mother and son go from homeless to college

Albany Times/Union - 12 min 7 sec ago


Moises Urena strolled through the quad at the University at Albany last July like he owned the place, sweatpants hitched up showing off his red high-top Nikes, blue backpack hanging low.

He was surrounded by fellow incoming college freshmen from the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem on this bright summer afternoon at a special orientation for low-income students. Like Moises, they had resisted being sucked into gangs, drugs and violence by imagining themselves here.

After just two weeks, it already felt like home. But he hadn't met the kids who would come later, the more affluent students who are more likely to have their own cars.

Even among this group of low-income strivers, Moises realized he was different. This campus felt like home because, for several years, he didn't have a home. Having a bed that no one resents him sleeping in is not something he takes for granted. There were a few others like him. Because they didn't know they should bring a pillow to campus and can't afford to buy one, they used a rolled-up sweatshirt. They stayed at the library working until closing time because they don't have laptops. They didn't go out on the weekend. Cab fare and dinner out isn't in their budget.

Moises had his own laptop, bought for him by the nonprofit that helped him apply to college, but he would also be at the library until they kicked him out most nights. He is determined to graduate, and he knows how hard it's going to be. He has watched his mother, Lina Beltre, fight for years to get a bachelor's degree. She's worried that he'll end up like her: in debt, fighting homelessness, and always wondering what it will take to get those last few credits that she's sure will launch her out of poverty, into a decent job and, eventually — once she pays off those student loans — into the middle class.

Moises's college loans add up to $7,000 annually. That's nearly half his mother's yearly income of less than $16,000.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed to make college tuition-free at state schools in New York for students whose families earn less than $125,000. If approved by the Legislature, his Excelsior Scholarship plan would go further than any other state initiative to make college more affordable.

But some higher education experts say Cuomo's proposal misses the point. His plan, they argue, would mostly help middle-income students who are already likely to attend and then graduate from college, not those least likely to go and most in danger of dropping out. By their reckoning, the plan won't help New York boost its 65 percent college graduation rate.

Students like Moises, for example, wouldn't benefit from Cuomo's proposal. The plan would only kick in after other grants were exhausted. Moises' tuition is already covered by federal and state aid. His loans are for room and board, which at the University at Albany are twice as much as tuition, nearly $13,000 a year.

"We can't leave behind families who need more assistance to close that financial gap," said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of Education Trust–New York, a nonprofit advocacy group that published a report about Cuomo's proposal.

Rosenblum thinks Cuomo's blueprint should include part-time students, and argues the value of the state's existing Tuition Assistance Program grants should be increased and programs for needy students should get more funding. Others have argued that the new scholarship should also cover aid for room and board.

Cuomo's plan requires students to go full time, thus making them more likely to graduate. New York's state financial aid program for low-income students is already one of the most generous in the nation, officials say.

"What we had in mind was not to leave behind all the students we're already caring for financially, but to add more," said SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher. "I look at it as expanding opportunity, not exchanging opportunity."

Cuomo spokesman Frank Sobrino said the state currently spends $1 billion on grants for low-income students. The Excelsior Scholarship program will "ensure that low-income students are maximizing every dollar available to them and bring more students into the fold," he said in a statement.

Moises, 19, is dreaming big. His first step will be to start a nonprofit in the Bronx to mentor young people. Next, he'll run for local political office, on the path to announcing a run for the White House, maybe in 2039.

But halfway into Albany's five-week summer orientation, meant to ease kids into the college experience, school was already harder than he expected. "It's a whole new world," he said. "I thought I had it, but it smacked me in the face."

Moises was in middle school when his mother became homeless. He began skipping school. When he started high school, he couldn't imagine himself going to college. A weekend trip to Amherst College in Massachusetts the summer before his senior year changed that.

College Summit, a national nonprofit, tries to harness the "power of peer pressure" for good, training influential students to essentially become guidance counselors for themselves and their friends. The Amherst weekend was the entry point for recruits: four days at a college, sleeping in dorms, learning about financial aid and application paperwork, and writing a personal essay.

Despite his academic stumbles, Moises was an ideal College Summit student. He was popular, with a big crinkly smile, an earnest personality and natural charisma that drew in both his peers and teachers. Moises had signed up for the weekend because it would be a break from family stress. He came back evangelizing for college.

"My whole life changed after that," he said.

He worked to bring up his GPA and began leaving an hour early in the morning so he could stop to pick up a friend who was always late. He became student government president and started a mentoring club, taking several underclassmen under his wing.

UAlbany, his top choice, accepted him through the Educational Opportunity Program, a 50-year-old state program for low-income students that lowers test score admission requirements and provides a host of supports, including money for textbooks and fees and an intense summer boot camp for incoming freshmen.

When he boarded a bus to Albany with a gift bag of bedding, toiletries and slippers from his high school and the laptop he won from College Summit, his teachers knew he'd do well.

"He has empathy, he has that grit. He's a survivor," said Watfa Shama, his high school principal.

But by midsummer, some of the sheen was gone. The EOP summer program enforced strict rules. Moises worried about his mother and sister, and whether he could hack it when "real" college started in the fall.

"It's amazing, and it breaks you," Moises said of the orientation. "I never thought I'd be in a library for two hours every day."

That's why it works, said Maritza Martinez, the director of UAlbany's EOP program. For the SUNY system, the six-year graduation rate for students in EOP is 67.7 percent, according to a SUNY spokesperson, compared to 65.7 percent for all students.

"We go strong on getting them ready for what awaits them," Martinez said.

Moises misses home. "Sometimes I feel selfish or bad that I could have stayed and helped my mom," he said. But now he is in a groove. The tiny cohort of EOP students has become a surrogate family. If a class becomes difficult, his training has taught him what to do: Call the professor for help, visit the tutoring center and crack the books.

A work study job tutoring high school students is perfect for him. But he often goes hungry from Friday night until his shift ends at 1 p.m. Saturday because the dining hall doesn't open until after he leaves for work on Saturday mornings. For several weeks in the fall, his bank account held 52 cents.

The homey feeling when he first arrived on campus has shifted into something more complex. "I feel like I belong here, but it also feels like I don't have who I need up here. I don't have people who struggled like me," he said.

Moises, now 19, made the Dean's List last fall. This spring, he has signed up for seven classes, including one preparing him to be a Residential Advisor next fall, a post that would cover room and board. He also works a $10.75-an-hour job at Dunkin' Donuts on the 3 to 9 a.m. shift, four days a week.

One morning two weeks ago, Moises was exhausted and fighting a cold, but optimistic. He had turned down an extra Dunkin' Donuts shift so he could present his plan to open a nonprofit mentoring group to 1 Million Cups, a group of entrepreneurs who volunteer to help startups. Then he headed to the Capitol to join classmates for a day of lobbying legislators for increased funds for the EOP.

SUNY receives 15,000 qualified applications each year for the 2,900 available slots in the program, a spokesperson said. Funding has fluctuated: Last year, the EOP program received $32 million; this year, Cuomo proposed decreasing it to $26.8 million.

State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who was an EOP counselor at Stony Brook University, proposed funding the program at $37.5 million this year. The Assembly's one-house budget resolution, which passes on Wednesday, also calls for expanding TAP and modifies the Excelsior Scholarship to allow students to apply some of their federal aid to non-tuition expenses like room and board, meaning more students would be able to take advantage of the governor's free tuition plan.

Administration officials said Cuomo's overall proposed funding for a host of programs targeting needy college students, including EOP, has increased by 31 percent since 2012, to $177.4 million in this year's executive budget plan.

Moises doesn't think college should be free for anyone — he believes students value their education more if they have skin in the game. But he supports the idea of making college more affordable for more people.

But he worries that help for the middle could come at the expense of students like him and his mom. "I get it. You're trying to help the middle class, not the lower class," Moises said of Cuomo's proposal. "But it's confusing."

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

Categories: State/Local

$4.3B in 'pork' cash projected

Albany Times/Union - 12 min 7 sec ago


Pork barrel spending in the proposed state executive budget has increased by $2 billion this year, to $4.3 billion, the good-government group Citizens Union said in a report issued Monday.

The money, in 60 different proposed spending accounts that are subject to the discretion of elected officials, is approved in the state budget and then distributed to groups afterward, often with little guidance in the original legislation as to where the money goes, the group said. According to its report, the amount of pork barrel spending in last year's enacted budget ended up being roughly the increase that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is now proposing in the executive budget.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, said at a Capitol press conference there should be a requirement that lawmakers who are allowed to steer the money disclose conflicts of interest.

"The money is spent away from any kind of public scrutiny," Dadey said.

Cuomo in this year's budget proposed new conflict of interest disclosure requirements for some pots of money administered by the state Dormitory Authority and steered by legislators. But the Cuomo administration did not include its own program through which it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars, the State and Municipal Facility Program, SAM.

"It would only apply to the Legislature, not anyone in the executive branch," Dadey said.

The Cuomo administration has said that the disclosure rules for SAM exceed those for some previously created funds distributed by Senate and Assembly members.

Citizens Union is also calling for the lump sums in the budget to be disclosed before its passage, disclosure of detailed criteria for the spending, online disclosure of all grants, requiring a three-day aging period for legislative grants and the disclosure of the identity of the sponsor in Senate and Assembly budget resolutions.

Though the governor has again proposed extensive ethics reforms in this year's budget, Dadey said that Cuomo has not sought to meet on the proposals with leaders of good-government groups, as in the past.

"We have not been called in. There has been no meeting with the governor," Dadey said.

Dadey said he did not know if that is because Citizens Union is suing the Cuomo administration over a law passed last year, which requires far more disclosure of donations by nonprofits that lobby, such as Citizens Union.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said in a statement: "Dadey and his patrons issued the same tired report last year and the only difference now is they are hypocrites for preaching transparency while suing to keep their own donors secret."

Azzopardi said that every dollar of spending must meet the statutory and program requirements established within appropriation language and be subject to a rigorous agency review process.

He also argued it was unrealistic for the Cuomo administration to know exactly what a given year will bring, and that a budget with no contingencies was unrealistic and a recipe for gridlock.

As for Cuomo's lack of meetings with the good government groups this year, Azzopardi said, "Each one of the governor's reforms has been discussed for months, if not years, with these stakeholders."

Good-government groups believe the broader disclosure law chills free speech and may be intended to stifle criticism of the government.

Dadey said the case is currently in the discovery phase, with Citizens Union trying to gather evidence about the Cuomo administration's motivations for passing the law.

Categories: State/Local

David Rockefeller, philanthropist

Albany Times/Union - 12 min 7 sec ago

New York

David Rockefeller was the last of his generation in a famous American family that taught its children that wealth brings great responsibility. Even as children, he and his siblings had to set aside portions of their allowances for charitable giving.

That lesson lasted throughout his life; to mark his 100th birthday in 2015, Rockefeller gave 1,000 acres of land next to a national park to the state of Maine.

Rockefeller died Monday in his sleep at his home in Pocantico Hills at age 101, according to his spokesman, Fraser P. Seitel.

He was the grandson of Standard Oil co-founder John D. Rockefeller and the youngest of five sons and one daughter born to John D. Rockefeller Jr. He was also the guardian of his family's fortune and head of a network of family interests, both business and philanthropic, ranging from environmental conservation to the arts.

Unlike his brothers Nelson, the governor of New York who hungered for the White House and was briefly vice president, and Winthrop, a governor of Arkansas, David Rockefeller wielded power and influence without ever seeking public office. Among his many accomplishments were spurring the project that led to the World Trade Center.

His work earned him a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 1998.

Unlike his other brothers, John D. 3rd and Laurance, who shied from the spotlight and were known for philanthropy, David Rockefeller embraced business and traveled and spoke widely as a champion of enlightened capitalism.

Rockefeller and his wife, the former Margaret McGrath, were married in 1940 and had six children — David Jr., Richard, Abby, Neva, Margaret and Eileen. His wife died in 1996.

Categories: State/Local

Trump plan cuts anti-terror funding

Albany Times/Union - 12 min 7 sec ago

NEW YORK (AP) — Sen. Charles Schumer is claiming the New York Police Department would lose nearly $200 million in anti-terror and disaster response funding under President Donald Trump's proposed budget.

The Democratic senator Sunday vowed to fight the cuts, saying the budget is like "punch in the gut" for the NYPD.

Schumer says the budget includes $700 million in cuts to programs such as the Homeland Security Grant Program and the Urban Area Security Initiative. He says New York City continues to be the number one target for terrorism in the United States and federal anti-terror funds to the city "should be increased, not decreased."

The Republican president's $1.15 trillion budget proposal slashes many domestic programs to make room for more defense spending and a down payment on a border wall.

Categories: State/Local

Around NY

Albany Times/Union - 12 min 7 sec ago

Bridge inspector guilty of false report

ALBANY — A state-hired bridge inspector accused of creating a false safety report for a county bridge has been convicted of a felony.

New York Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott announced Monday that Akram Ahmad of Bridgeport, Conn., was convicted by a Hamilton County Court jury for offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree.

The court says Ahmad fabricated a report he filed after a December 2013 inspection of a bridge over a creek in Hamilton County.

State officials say Ahmad's report used much of the same language as a 2012 report and listed deficiencies that had been repaired earlier.

Ahmad is scheduled for sentencing in June.

End of tax subsidies for nuclear sites eyed

ALBANY — Nearly 70 locally elected officials in New York are calling on Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo to halt a tax subsidy program that would allow three aging nuclear power plants to remain open upstate.

Legislators, town supervisors and council members from more than two dozen counties signed a letter Monday to Cuomo requesting the state pause the program set to begin April 1 and publicly reassess clean energy options.

— Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

Snowmobiler killed in crash on Homer trail

Albany Times/Union - 12 min 7 sec ago

HOMER (AP) — Authorities say a snowmobile crash in central New York over the weekend has claimed a life.

The Cortland County Sheriff's Office says deputies were called around 7 p.m. Saturday to the scene of a snowmobile accident on a trail in the town of Cortland, 25 miles south of Syracuse.

Deputies say the operator of the snowmobile was pronounced dead at Cortland Regional Medical Center.

The person's name and details of the crash haven't been released.

Authorities say the cause of the crash is still under investigation.

Categories: State/Local

NY warns scam targets employee tax information

Albany Times/Union - 12 min 7 sec ago

ALBANY (AP) — New York officials are warning about a tax-season scam in which email fraudsters pose as company executives to get employees' Social Security numbers.

State tax officials say at least 65 companies with New York employees have been victimized by the identity thieves, compromising 7,100 Social Security numbers.

Scammers posing as company executives send emails to payroll and human resource departments requesting lists of employees and personal information.

Officials urge people not to respond to emails demanding payroll data and Social Security numbers.

Categories: State/Local

Lobbyist in Libous case reaches $10K settlement

Albany Times/Union - 12 min 7 sec ago


Lobbyist Fred Hiffa has agreed to pay $10,000 in a settlement with the state's lobbying and ethics watchdog, in connection with his former firm's arrangement with the son of now-deceased state Sen. Tom Libous a decade ago.

According to a press release issued Friday by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, Hiffa agreed that he caused the now-defunct lobbying firm, Ostroff Hiffa, to retain and pay Matthew Libous $4,166 per month for one year at the law firm of Santangelo, Randazzo & Mangone.

While Matthew Libous was employed at the law firm, Hiffa lobbied Sen. Tom Libous, who was chair of the Transportation Committee, on behalf of his clients, according to the release.

The Times Union reported in August that JCOPE was probing potential violations relating to the state "gift ban" law by companies and people who gave jobs to the adult children of formerly powerful Senate Republicans.

That included Libous, the former deputy leader who was convicted of a single count of lying to the FBI about his son's arrangement; and ex-Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, who has been convicted on federal corruption charges relating to companies' hiring of his son, Adam Skelos, and is appealing. These companies had extensive business before the legislative leadership.

But while the JCOPE cases could arguably hold people accountable that were spared criminal prosecution — including people at firms like developer Glenwood Management that got nonprosecution agreements to testify — the JCOPE cases also raise legal questions.

The "gift ban" law at the center of JCOPE's cases does not seem to apply in the Skelos and Libous cases, some legal experts said.

According to state lobbying law, lobbyists and their clients cannot give valuable gifts to a state employee, their spouse or their "unemancipated child" if it appears intended to influence the official.

By its most liberal definition, "unemancipated child" is defined as someone younger than 21, and defined by JCOPE itself as someone younger than 18.

The law does not say anything about a ban on gifts to a lawmaker's adult child. Both Adam Skelos and Matthew Libous were well above 21 at the times of their hirings by the firms with business before the state.

The JCOPE settlement released Friday notes that Matthew Libous was "emancipated."

In addition, gift ban cases have historically focused on presents such as plane tickets from lobbyists or the clients to public officials, not on jobs given to lawmakers' adult children.

A JCOPE spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment about how the gift ban law applied in the Libous matter, and has not commented in the past when asked about the subject by the Times Union.

Hiffa now works at a different lobbying firm, Park Strategies.

In December, JCOPE settled similar cases separately with Glenwood Management and Administrators for the Professions Inc., the two companies at the heart of Skelos prosecution. Glenwood was also central to the case against ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.


Categories: State/Local

Capitol Watch: Budget, Uber and college tuition

Albany Times/Union - 12 min 7 sec ago


Talks Over The State Budget Are Heating Up, With Decisions On College Tuition Assistance And Uber's upstate expansion looming.

The Republican-led Senate and the Democrat-controlled Assembly are in broad agreement with many of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's key proposals this year. Now they're negotiating the details as they near April 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

Here's a look at what's coming up in the week ahead, and the main issues to be decided in the budget:

College tuition

Cuomo made his free college tuition plan a cornerstone of the $152 billion state budget proposal he unveiled in January. It would make state college or university tuition — but not room and board — free for students from families who make up to $125,000.

The Assembly and Senate have endorsed similar plans — though they would also extend additional assistance to students at private colleges too.

The broad consensus indicates the budget is almost certain to include more money to address the rising cost of college. Critics have said Cuomo's plan doesn't contain enough help for the poorest students or for graduates struggling with debt. Private colleges, meanwhile, oppose any plan they say could hurt their recruiting.

"This is a critical step forward in our efforts to build up our workforce, remain competitive in the global economy, support the middle class, and create a more prosperous New York for all," Cuomo said of his plan, which he predicts could prompt similar free-tuition proposals elsewhere in the nation.

Uber and Lyft

The two app-based ride-hailing services are now operating throughout the nation — except in pockets like parts of Alaska and upstate New York, leaving residents and visitors in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse punching their smartphones in dismay.

Uber and Lyft are backing expansion proposals supported by Cuomo and the state Senate but are criticizing the Assembly's version, saying it would create confusion local regulations and impose expensive insurance requirements.

"If this isn't an effort to kill ridesharing, I don't know what is," said Republican Sen. Chris Jacobs of Buffalo.

The taxi industry has successfully fought off expansion proposals in the past, but even critics of Uber say they expect the expansion to pass sooner or later.

Juvienile justice reform

Democrats want the budget to include language ending the state's practice of prosecuting and incarcerating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. New York and North Carolina are now the only two states that do so.

The Assembly and Cuomo have long supported the change, which so far has fallen flat in the Senate. Advocates are optimistic this year, however, because that chamber included language supporting the change in their budget proposal, indicating at least a willingness to include the subject in negotiations.

Three men in a room

It's one of Albany's oldest and most loathed traditions: closed-door budget negotiations between the Senate leader, Assembly speaker and governor. And it will soon be underway again as Senate Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Cuomo retreat to hammer out a deal before April 1.

"We're going to try as best we can over the next two weeks to try to get a budget done," said Heastie, a Bronx Democrat.

Categories: State/Local

Senate GOP gets key Independence Party endorsement, hires many of its officials

Albany Times/Union - 3 hours 12 min ago

In New York, state Senate Republicans have maintained a majority for all but a few of the past 50 years, despite registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans 2-1.

One advantage has been the frequent cross-endorsement of Republicans by the Independence Party — a minor political party whose ballot line is seen as more likely to make conservative-leaning Democrats comfortable voting for GOP candidates. Those votes can often tilt close state Senate races, as Republicans seek to maintain their razor-thin majority.

A review of Senate payroll records, however, shows the frequent cross-endorsement by the Independence Party of Senate Republican candidates has provided other less visible benefits. Though there are not that many active Independence Party officials across the state — only about half of the state's 62 counties have a local chair — a number of those who are working in swing Senate districts have landed state government jobs with the chamber's Republican majority.

A number of these are part-time jobs. Working as little as 17.5 hours a week, state employees can get access to government-subsidized health care while they still retain more lucrative private sector jobs.

In 2015, the Senate and Assembly's 213 elected members employed 2,865 staffers, according to a survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures. That legislative workforce is the largest in the nation — 750 more than California, which has twice the population of New York.

It not only gives incumbents an advantage, but has given the longtime majority parties in Albany — Republicans in the Senate and Democrats in the Assembly — an edge over the much more modestly staffed minority conferences. The majority parties control both their staff budgets and those of the minority parties.

And the Senate Republicans have used that hiring power to give jobs to their Independence Party allies. While Democratic senators have hired Democratic party officials, and Republicans have hired local Republican officials, the Independence Party — which touts a reform-minded agenda — is a ballot line up for grabs, though its endorsements in recent years have largely gone to Republicans in battleground districts.

"It's no secret that Senate Republicans have a very strong working relationship with the Independence Party," said Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif. "There is absolutely nothing out of the ordinary going on here other than our shared commitment to making New York a better and more prosperous state. Anyone who says anything to the contrary is looking to create a story where none exists."

Campaign finance records also show that the Independence Party's chairman, Frank MacKay, has drawn a substantial salary from his party, which in turn gets heavy funding from Senate Republicans. And a catering company where MacKay and other Independence officials work has frequently been paid by campaign funds.

These are among the Senate Republican staffers who are current or recent Independence Party officials:

Tom Connolly, the vice-chairman of the Independence Party, who has significant influence over its operations, is a full-time $83,000-a-year Albany-based "director of operations" for Long Island Republican state Sen. Phil Boyle. At the same time he was employed by the state, during the last half of 2015, Connolly received regular $5,000 payments each month from the Independence Party's housekeeping account, campaign finance records show, and the fund also paid for expenses such as pricey meals. During the first half of 2016, he regularly racked up a monthly cellphone bill of more than $600 that was paid for by the Independence Party's campaign fund. Democrats have also courted Connolly, who previously held a lucrative government job working for Democratic ex-state Sen. Carl Kruger.

Giulio "Doc" Cavallo is the powerful chairman of the Westchester Independence Party, earning $61,000 a year working for the Senate GOP. His title is "special health adviser." He has held a number of government jobs — including in recent years simultaneously holding another job where he was paid up to about $70,000 working for Nassau County. Following his 2009 election, Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino accused Cavallo of trying to get a patronage job after the Independence Party had endorsed Astorino — a charge Cavallo denied.

Dhyalma Vazquez, who has been a top Independence Party official in Westchester, is paid $53,000 a year as a "vendor responsibility examiner" for the Senate GOP.

Pasquale Lagana, who has been an Independence Party official in Westchester, is a $20,000-a-year "special assistant" for the Senate Republicans.

Ashley Sherman is the $77,000 director of administration for Republican Sen. Fred Akshar and a state committeewoman for the Independence Party in Broome County.

Kara Stimson is the $28,000 secretary for Republican Sen. Catharine Young and an Independence Party state committee member in Cattaraugus County.

Daniel Pagano was until 2013 the chairman of the Cortlandt/Peekskill Independence Party in Westchester. He is now a private attorney, the Cortlandt GOP chair, and a $15,000 a year "counsel" in the office of Republican state Sen. Terrence Murphy. He receives the state-subsidized health care package for the part-time job, according to a Murphy spokesman, who said Pagano "is a valuable member of the staff who does an excellent job representing Senator Murphy in the community."

Richard Bellando, chairman of the Nassau County Independence Party, is a $31,000 a year "legislative aide" in the Senate's majority operations office. Bellando's day job has been as the chief operating officer of Oheka Castle, an opulent hotel on the Gold Coast of Long Island in Huntington, where parts of "Citizen Kane" were shot and where Independence officials have frequently thrown lunches and parties.

MacKay, Connolly, and spokesmen for Boyle and Young did not return requests for comment.

The Independence Party campaign housekeeping account, which is meant to fund party operations, has been heavily funded by the Senate Republicans' campaign spending.

Between 2012 and 2015, according to a review of campaign finance records, $483,000 of $894,000 — or 54 percent — of the money that flowed to the Independence Party's housekeeping account has come from Senate Republicans' individual campaign committees, or the Senate Republicans' official campaign arm.

While MacKay is not on any government payroll, between 2012 and 2015, the Independence Party chairman reported making between $290,000 and $450,000 in salary from Independence Party accounts, according to his financial disclosure forms.

At the same time, a main MacKay income source has been doing "public relations" for Oheka Castle, where MacKay earned between $50,000 and $75,000 in 2015 working for its catering company, according to a financial disclosure form. MacKay — who is chairman of the Suffolk Independence Party in addition to being the statewide chair — has worked there with the Nassau chairman, Bellando.

Campaign committees have also spent $300,000 either giving to Oheka Castle, or an affiliated nonprofit. That included $8,750 in 2013 from the campaign committee of then-Senate Republican Lee Zeldin for catering. The Nassau County Independence Party — run by Bellando — has also spent tens of thousands of dollars of its own campaign funds on the catering business he has run, on top of regularly paying Bellando thousands for "consulting."

As of last year, the Independence Party has entered into a relationship with the Independent Democratic Conference, the eight-member group of breakaway Democrats that has aligned with Senate Republicans. The Independence Party is allowing the IDC to use its status as a statewide political party to give it access to a campaign account that can take six-figure donations and spend unlimited sums for its members, something the IDC could not otherwise do under election law.

IDC spokeswoman Candice Giove said no Independence Party officials were on the IDC's government payroll. Asked about the rationale for the IDC's relationship with the Independence Party, Giove said, "It's the right of the Independent Democratic Conference, like the Democratic or Republican conferences, to have a campaign committee to support and defend its members."

Jay Jacobs, chairman of the Nassau Democratic Party and a former state Democratic chairman, led a charge in 2014 for Gov. Andrew Cuomo not to take the Independence ballot line, which likely would have doomed the party because it would have led to it not getting the 50,000 votes needed to give it its statewide ballot status.

Cuomo, however, decided to take the endorsement.

Jacobs, whose local Democratic candidates often lose out on state Senate endorsements from the Independence Party, said he is prepping to again try to take down the party in 2018.

"They raise money by squeezing candidates, and then they pay themselves," Jacobs said. "I don't play that game."

Categories: State/Local

Report: New York ranks 41st in voter turnout in 2016

Albany Times/Union - 3 hours 12 min ago


New York ranked 41st in the country for voter turnout in the 2016 general election, with just more than 57 percent of the "voting-eligible population" casting ballots, according to a new report.

The report from Nonprofit VOTE, a Boston-based group that helps nonprofit organizations with voter participation, and the U.S. Elections Project shows that New York improved its turnout ranking by three spots compared to the 2012 general election.

Nationwide, Minnesota ranked highest in terms of turnout, with 74.8 percent of the voting-eligible population showing up at the polls. Hawaii was worst, with 43 percent turnout.

The U.S. Elections Project, run by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, uses voting-eligible population — determined using census numbers and other factors — as its preferred metric to determine turnout rather than the number of registered voters, which is a smaller pool.

The difference between the voting-eligible population and number of registered voters is roughly 2.1 million voters.

If New York turnout is measured by comparing the number of ballots cast against the number of registered voters as of Nov. 1 (which hit a new high heading into the November election), turnout was 67 percent (just higher than 65 percent in 2012 but lower than the 71 percent in 2008), state Board of Elections data show.

The turnout in a presidential year was remarkably better than in the 2014 midterms and gubernatorial election. Twenty-nine percent of the voting-eligible population turned out for that election, making the Empire State a basement dweller with the 49th best turnout in the nation, according to U.S. Elections Project data.

The report advocates for election reforms that include allowing same-day registration (which 14 states and the District of Columbia offer) and automatic voter registration.

Some New York lawmakers have sought changes in law to enact both reforms — in addition to others — but so far have been unsuccessful in their efforts.

"Across the country we see the disastrous impact of voter suppression laws, especially for communities of color," a group of 135 women legislators and advocates wrote to top lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week as they pushed for early voting and automatic registration. "But here in New York, we have our own kind of voter suppression laws — registration laws that are so antiquated that they are ineffective, or worse, negatively affecting New Yorkers' ability to participate in their democracy."

Cuomo has included in his state budget proposal provisions to enact early voting, automatic registration through the state Department of Motor Vehicles and same-day registration.

In its one-house budget resolution, the state Senate did not take a position on those proposals.

The Assembly proposes its own early voting and online registration/agency-assisted registration legislation. A version of early voting legislation was approved last year but has not yet been voted on in 2017. • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Read the full report below:

America Goes Polls 2016 by Matthew Hamilton on Scribd

Categories: State/Local

Sewer cooperation is underground but is important nonetheless

Albany Times/Union - 11 hours 12 min ago


Anyone who has taken a boat up the Hudson River after a heavy rainfall is aware of this dirty little secret. Actually, the secret is not so little but it is very dirty.

Thanks to the state's aging infrastructure, storm drainage and sanitary sewer systems can be overwhelmed by too much volume. The result: tons of raw sewage flow into the Hudson if it rains enough.

In the Capital Region alone, there are an estimated 100 outflows that, given the right conditions, can be dumping sewage into the Hudson.

Municipalities are slowly working to fix the problem but the costs, which run in the billions, are daunting.

The Capitol Region's so-called River Cities, however, have for a decade been working cooperatively to build joint sewage treatment and drainage control projects.

Now, a pair of Albany lawmakers, Democrats Patricia Fahy and John McDonald are pushing a measure that would reward these cooperative efforts with higher funding limits.

"Right here in this region we have the model for the state," Fahy said at a news conference to publicize the existing Albany Pool Community in which Albany, Troy, Cohoes, Rensselaer, Watervliet and Green Island have building joint effluent control projects.

The measure would raise from $5 million to $15 million the maximum state award for each project to control sewage outflows.

It comes as lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are talking about floating bonds for statewide water and sewer upgrades. Proposals range from Cuomo's call for a $2 billion investment to the GOP-controlled Senate's desire for a $5 billion bond issue. And that wouldn't solve all of the problems. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has said the state really needs $80 billion worth of water and sewer upgrades over the next 20 years.

Moreover, the cooperative sewage plan, said Fahy and McDonald, is precisely the kind of thing that Cuomo is talking about in his push for localities to share services.

Cuomo wants to make state aid to municipalities contingent on localities devising formal shared services plans which would go before local voters. There's been resistance by some local mayors, though, who say they already engage in such sharing.

Rather than being prompted by a state law, "we just did it," McDonald said of the sewer cooperation.

Sharing the planning and work means project can be done for a fraction of the cost.

Both Fahy and McDonald as well as others present at Friday's briefing, stressed that sewer projects aren't the stuff of screaming headlines or segment-leading newscasts. "This project is not sexy. It's sloppy," said McDonald.

But they are more important than people may realize. The ongoing worries about drinking water contamination in Hoosick Falls, for example, can be viewed as an infrastructure story as well as a health and environmental crisis.

The water and sewer lines in cities like Albany or Troy, where some date to the Civil War era, are a constant drain on resources and can occasionally erupt into emergencies that leave people without running water and flood streets and basements, as has happened in Troy.

And while PCB levels in the Hudson have garnered lots of news coverage for years, there's comparatively little said about the tons of raw sewage that flow from municipalities along the Hudson into the river after a heavy rain.

There are multiple ways to reduce the runoff, including the construction of catch basins to slow runoff to updating treatment plants.

The effort is a multi-year process that will require a steady flow of dollars.

"It's kind of like eating the elephant one bite at a time," said Green Island Mayor Ellen McNulty-Ryan.


Categories: State/Local

N.Y. judicial disciplinary panel wants proceedings made public

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 11:07pm


New York's courts are, for the most part, open.

But when the court is on trial, the proceedings aren't.

The state's judicial disciplinary panel is again asking lawmakers this year to open up their proceedings once formal charges have been filed against a judge. It's a change that the state Commission on Judicial Conduct has been advocating for since 1978 — when the commission was created.

Commission Administrator Robert Tembeckjian analogizes the commission's work to a criminal case: A district attorney's investigation and grand jury proceedings are confidential, as is the commission's investigation into a judge's alleged misconduct.

But that's where the procedural similarities end.

Where a formal indictment, pre-trial filings and trial would be public, the commission's formal complaint, the judge's response, legal briefs and the like all remain sealed during the duration of the commission's proceedings. Those proceedings — in which commission attorneys make prosecutorial arguments, a judge offers a defense, and an outside referee (a prominent attorney or retired judge) presides — are conducted behind closed doors.

Judges can waive their right to confidentiality, but instances of that happening are rare. Only 12 have waived confidentiality since the commission was created in 1978, according to its annual report released earlier this month. It has conducted more than 800 formal disciplinary over that time period.

The commission — which is able to recommend that a judge be publicly admonished, censured and even removed from the bench — does make its findings public when a disciplinary process ends (either 30 days after its recommendation is leveled or the state Court of Appeals rules on a judge's appeal of the final determination).

But Tembeckjian contends that though the commission's ultimate disciplinary decision in a case is fresh upon release, trial transcripts and other documents are stale.

"Whether you come to watch the hearing or not is up to you," he said in pleading his case for opening the commission's proceedings. "Whether you care to access the formal documents in evidence, the accusatory instrument, the transcripts of the proceeding, that's up to you. But it would be available to the public as they are in 35 other states."

"The philosophy of it (is) that the presumption in law is that court proceedings are public," he added. "With the commission, it's the opposite."

The reason the commission operates the way it does is because that's how the state Legislature set it up. Though the voters approved the creation of a permanent commission by voting in favor of a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 1977, lawmakers were tasked with ironing out its inner machinations.

Legislative documents contained in the State Archives provide no insight as to why lawmakers made the commission's proceedings secret at the time they occur, and there is only one mention of that provision among various memoranda in support of and opposition to the legislation (which dealt with three constitutional amendments relating to the judiciary in one bill).

"Although public hearings will be barred by the proposed measure, the public's 'need to know' will be accommodated by a provision for commission reports which is much improved over earlier drafts, although not ideal," Citizens Union's then-Executive Director Gary Sperling wrote to members of the Assembly and Senate.

Some news reports from the time detail contentious debate between Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans over the legislation, though the reports and legislative documents indicate the divide was mostly over provisions related to the Commission on Judicial Nomination, which considers candidates for the Court of Appeals and recommends them to the governor.

In modern day Albany, there seems to be little appetite for reform. Former Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson was the last to carry legislation that would have opened the hearing process, unless the person who lodged the initial complaint against a judge requested that it be closed.

That 2011 bill died without being passed through the committee process.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Bonacic, R-Orange County, said in a statement that he is "inclined to protect the reputation of a judge during a commission proceeding" and would not be supportive of the change proposed by the commission.

Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Helene Weinstein, D-Brooklyn, did not respond to a request for comment. • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

New York City awash in green for St. Patrick's Day parade

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 9:07pm

NEW YORK — New York City was awash in green and Irish pride Friday as throngs from both sides of the pond celebrated at the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

The marchers came from all walks of life — military members, teachers and students, police and firefighters, politicians, plumbers and steamfitters.

"On a cold day, it warms your heart," Richard Grogan, a marcher from Dublin and a member of Ireland's national police service, said of the cheering crowd. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity."

John Brauer, a spectator from Rye, New York, got on a 5 a.m. train — both to get a good spot and because he was excited. "I don't sleep when I know it's St. Patrick's Day," he said.

Heavily armed officers kept a no-nonsense eye on security around the parade route as a pipe band played "God Bless America."

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny marched with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He paused to greet Cardinal Timothy Dolan outside St. Patrick's Cathedral, which was adorned with the American and Irish flags; a special Mass was held there before the parade stepped off.

"Proud Irishman, proud Englishwoman," said Tracy Gilmartin of Northampton, England, who was there with her husband, Joe. "Our kids have paid for us to come here today for their dad to be able to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in New York. He's always wanted to do it."

The couple, who decorated a police barricade with an Irish banner, said their plane was full of travelers bound for the New York parade.

The parade route also passed Trump Tower, the home of President Donald Trump and his family.

The city's first St. Patrick's Day parade was on March 17, 1762. That was about 14 years before the signing of America's Declaration of Independence, organizers note, and it was comprised of "a band of homesick, Irish ex-patriots and Irish military members serving with the British Army stationed in the colonies in New York."

Categories: State/Local
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