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Assembly Democrats doubtful about special session

Albany Times/Union - 35 min 52 sec ago

ALBANY — The state Assembly's Democratic Speaker Carl Heastie said he doubted lawmakers would have to convene a special session before January’s scheduled start of the 2018 regular legislative session – unless there's an unexpected cut in federal funding.

“Some more bad news would probably have to facilitate us coming back,” the Bronx lawmaker said following a closed-door meeting of the Assembly majority on Tuesday. “If nothing else worse happens, I think we’re fine.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised the idea of a special session earlier this month, suggesting that lawmakers could be called to the Capitol to deal with the formula used to distribute Disproportionate Share Hospital payments — which funds health care for the poor — after the flow of DSH funding shut off Oct. 1. 

Additionally, Cuomo reached out to lawmakers representing districts hit by flooding along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, opening the door for a special session that could add flood relief money to an existing state program.

But the governor doesn't want to call a session that doesn't have an agreed-upon agenda.

Assembly Democrats didn’t discuss a potential session agenda on Tuesday. Instead, Heastie said, the conference addressed a “menu” of different topics.

Democratic Majority Leader Joe Morelle of Rochester — an area affected by the flooding — said the state is still sorting out applications for more assistance, so a meeting before January could be premature.

The Democrats did get a financial update from their budget experts.

They agreed with the governor’s view that the state will probably have to close a $4 billion deficit next year, due to lowered tax revenues and federal health care cuts.

“It mirrors a lot of what the governor has been saying,” said Assemblyman John McDonald of Cohoes.

“We’re likely to have a budget crisis this year,” added Colonie Assemblyman Phil Steck.

The meeting "was just getting ready for the reality of what next year’s session is going to look like,” said Saratoga-area lawmaker Carrie Woerner.

rkarlin@timesunion.com 518 454 5758 @RickKarlinTU

 

Categories: State/Local

Former TU editor Harry Rosenfeld donates papers to state library

Albany Times/Union - 35 min 52 sec ago

ALBANY — Newspaperman Harry Rosenfeld, who played a key role in the Washington Post's Watergate coverage before leading the Times Union, has donated a collection of documents spanning his career to the New York State Library.

Among the donated writings, the collection includes correspondence with celebrities and newsmakers from throughout Rosenfeld’s career. Some of the items date from his time at the New York Herald Tribune before it ceased publication in the mid-1960s, as well as documents from his work as the Post's metro editor during the Watergate scandal.

"I thought they might be of some use," Rosenfeld said of his decision to donate his papers.

State Education Department officials announced the gift Tuesday, along with a collection of 3,000 books from the library of the Holland Society of New York that expands the State Library’s large local history and genealogy resources.

So far, 16 boxes of documents from Rosenfeld's archive have been sent to the library, and more will be on the way.

Some of the documents were used during the composition of Rosenfeld’s 2013 memoir, “From Kristallnacht to Watergate: Memoirs of a Newspaperman” (SUNY Press). He is currently working on a book about the challenges facing the newspaper industry.

Rosenfeld’s files also include correspondence, desk diaries and files related to his position as editor of the Times Union and Knickerbocker News from 1978 to 1996. He currently serves as editor at large at the TU, where he remains a member of the editorial board.

The Rosenfeld collection is open for research use pending the written consent of the donor or his heirs.

The Holland Society collection will expand an already well-established series of documents and works about the region’s early Dutch settlers.

“Moving our society’s library to the (State Library's) New Netherland Research Center was the best way to further our mission of promulgating knowledge of the Dutch colonial period,” said Andrew Terhune, president of The Holland Society.

The Holland Society Library collection includes published and unpublished materials with information dating from the 17th through 20th centuries. The collection is largely genealogies and family histories, local histories, journals and church records.

"We're grateful to acquire these two collections at the New York State Library," said state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

rkarlin@timesunion.com 518 454 5758 @RickKarlinTU 

 

 

Categories: State/Local

Study finds New York is 49th for business tax climate

Albany Times/Union - 35 min 52 sec ago

ALBANY — Everyone knows New York taxes are high, but a new study maintains they're also overly complex, inefficient and bad for business.

Only New Jersey has a more business-hostile tax system, according to a study released Tuesday by the non-partisan but conservative-leaning Tax Foundation.

Foundation analysts two years ago praised New York’s Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration for starting a phase-out of a unique corporate tax based on a company’s stock value.

But they say the state remains hampered by the multiplicity of high business taxes.

“New York has decidedly improved but on most of these measures it remains uncompetitive compared to other states,” said Jared Walczak, senior policy analyst at the Tax Foundation.

State Budget Division spokesman Morris Peters argued that New York had improved its tax picture since Cuomo took office.

"The (Tax Foundation's) obvious ideology aside, the facts are that this administration has been rigorous and effective in constraining state spending growth to the lowest level in modern history – resulting in lower taxes for all New Yorkers," Peters said in an email. "We now have the lowest corporate tax rate since 1968, the lowest manufacturers tax rate since 1917 and, with the new income tax cuts phasing in this year, the lowest middle class tax rates since 1947."

State-by-state comparisons matter, according to the Tax Foundation, because competition for jobs and industry is often more fierce between states than between nations.

“State lawmakers … need to be more concerned with companies moving from Detroit, Mich., to Dayton, Ohio, than from Detroit to New Delhi,” the study notes.

Among the examples they cite is General Electric Co.’s decision in 2015 to move their headquarters from Connecticut to Massachusetts just as the Nutmeg State increased corporate tax rates.

The Tax Foundation focused on five major taxes — individual income, corporate, property and sales — as well as unemployment insurance. Analysts then plugged in more than 100 variables about those taxes, weighted them and compared states to one another.

The survey also included some interesting anecdotes: They cite a 2000 academic paper that found 19.9 million cases of beer moved from low- to high-tax states. (It doesn’t specify which states were involved.)

While New Jersey ranked 5oth in the rankings, Wyoming was in first place followed by South Dakota and Alaska.

Florida, which is far more similar to New York than the top three in terms of taxes, came in fourth.

rkarlin@timesunion.com 518-454 5758 @RickKarlinTU 

 

Categories: State/Local

State to auction BMW 650, Porsche 911 on Nov. 8

Albany Times/Union - 35 min 52 sec ago

ALBANY — The state plans to auction off two luxury cars at a Nov. 8 surplus vehicle and property auction in Albany.

The state Office of General Services announced on Tuesday that a 2012 BMW 650 convertible and a 1986 Porsche 911 Turbo Carrera have been added to the auction list. Both vehicles were stolen and were seized by the state Department of Motor Vehicles. 

According to OGS, someone tried to register the Porsche in New York in 2015 using information for a different vehicle registered to a collector in Washington state. The 1986 Porsche in question was stolen in 1989, and it's vehicle identification number was altered. Because the owner of the Porsche never was found, DMV took possession.

The BMW was left in a New York City parking garage, where it remained until the garage tried to put a lien on it and found out it was stolen, according to OGS. DMV notified the vehicle's owner, who had already collected insurance money on the vehicle, so the department took possession.

The BMW has nearly 36,000 miles on it, and the Porsche has approximately 42,010 miles on it. 

A similar 2012 BMW 650 convertible sells for about $33,215, according to Kelly Blue Book. Sale prices on Autotrader.com for 1986 Porsche 911 Turbos range from $90,000 to more than $150,000, depending on the seller.

Proceeds from the sale of the luxury cars will go to DMV.

The auction will take place at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, at the Harriman State Office Campus. Items up for sale will be available for inspection beginning at 8:30 a.m. that day.

A full list of the items for that sale has not yet been added to the OGS website. The surplus auctions often feature old state agency vehicles, heavy equipment and other heavy tools. 

Luxury items are not unique state auction items, however. A Maserati Gran Turismo and BMW X6 fetched a combined $130,500 at a 2016 auction. Those vehicles were seized by the state attorney general's office following an investigation into a Medicaid fraud case in the Bronx.

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated where proceeds of the luxury vehicle sales will go. Revenues will be given to DMV.

Categories: State/Local

Correction

Albany Times/Union - 35 min 52 sec ago

Accuracy is a fundamental of journalism, but mistakes sometimes occur. The Times Union's policy is to acknowledge errors as promptly as possible. Mistakes may be brought to the attention of the editors by calling 518-454-5420.

While Ithaca has replaced its official Columbus Day celebration with Indigenous Peoples' Day, Utica has not. The information was incorrect in an Oct. 9 article.

Categories: State/Local

State land for sale in Kinderhook

Albany Times/Union - 35 min 52 sec ago

KINDERHOOK — Looking for farmland? The state Office of General Services will next month hold an auction  to sell 50 acres along State Farm Road. Only one building can be constructed on the property, which must otherwise be used for agricultural purposes.

The auction will be held at the Kinderhook Town Clerk's Office, at 3211 Church St. in Valatie, at 10 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 9.

The acreage is on both sides of the road — approximately 30 acres of it on the west side, which is vacant cropland; the approximately 20 acres on the east side of the road is partly cleared and tillable. The Valatie Kill creek runs along the back end of the property on the east side where there is also a large pole barn, a two-bay garage, a root cellar and a mobile home. Approximately 25 percent of the entire parcel is wooded. 

The west side has approximately 1,790 feet of road frontage. The property line is directly across the road from Konkle Lane, the access road to the town's Volunteer Park. There is roughly 380 feet of frontage on the east side of the road, located midway between Dogwood Knolls and the Ichabod Crane Primary School campus.

The minimum bid is $200,000, and prospective bidders must put up a deposit of $20,000 to participate. 

The real estate broker who represents the successful bidder will receive a 5 percent broker's commission from the state at closing. Bidder and broker affidavits must be submitted to OGS Legal Services by 4 p.m.  Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Because the land is owned by the state no taxes have been levied, and a current tax bill is not available. 

Categories: State/Local

In storm's wake, Regents welcome Puerto Rican teachers

Albany Times/Union - 35 min 52 sec ago

ALBANY — As New York's schools brace for an influx of students from Puerto Rico, the state Board of Regents wants to certify teachers coming from the island to help instruct the youngest storm refugees displaced by Hurricane Maria.

After a committee vote Monday, the full board is expected to swiftly approve a temporary certification process for Puerto Rican teachers coming to New York.

Under the change, those certified could begin teaching during this school year. Teachers also could begin the process of meeting state standards for permanent certification.

Districts across New York, including Albany, are preparing for students from Puerto Rico as the island continues to struggle to rebuild basic infrastructure such as electricity, water and sewer services. Current reports say roughly 170 of the island’s 1,113 schools have reopened. Another 227 are poised to open once debris is removed.

But scores of school buildings still lack water or power, and others are still serving as makeshift shelters for those whose homes were damaged or destroyed.

There are 345,000 K-12 students on the island. With safety as well as education in mind, many families have sent their children to stay with relatives on the mainland. 

New York — especially New York City — has long been a popular destination for families coming from Puerto Rico, and there are countless families in the state with ties to the island.

Albany is in a good position to accept Puerto Rican students because of its abundant programs for newly arrived students who might not be proficient in English. The city in recent years has seen an influx of families from Myanmar, where members of the Karen ethnic group have fled persecution by the nation's military junta.

The Capital Region has also seen arrivals from the Middle East and Russia, as well as families fleeing gang violence in Central America.

Puerto Rico, however, is a commonwealth territory of the U.S. Those who are born there are American citizens, and don’t need passports or other documentation to travel to or move to the mainland.

Schools on the island offer English instruction, but Spanish is the predominant language.

So far, no students from Puerto Rico have enrolled in the Albany district after fleeing storm damage, said district spokesman Ron Lesko. Nor have they heard from any Puerto Rican teachers seeking to work in the district.

“We are always interested in diverse candidates for all of our teaching departments,” Lesko said in an email. “We welcome all candidates who meet the state's certification standards, either for regular full-time positions as those positions become available, or as substitutes.”

Federal law states that students who are in temporary housing can enroll in the school in the district where they are living short-term even if they have missed enrollment deadlines or lack the documents otherwise needed.

Those displaced children can also be eligible for free school lunches as well as services to support services for English language learners and those with disabilities.

New York may actually be behind some other states in accommodating Puerto Rican teachers. At least a half-dozen teachers from the beleaguered island have already been hired — pending background checks — in the Orange County, Fla., school system, which includes the Orlando area.

Orlando has for years been a popular destination for Puerto Ricans moving to the mainland for jobs and other opportunities lacking on the island.

Even before the hurricane, Puerto Rico had been mired in an economic depression that has lasted more than a decade and led to high unemployment. Officials from the Orange County district even met some arriving teachers at the airport.

Under the certification plan, teachers coming from Puerto Rico would have to be certified to teach there or in other U.S. territories, and must have taught within the past year. If they have lost their paperwork, they could offer a notarized attestation that they have been working.

In other business, the Regents discussed the possibility of having a student representative serve on the board. Several school boards across the state have non-voting student representatives.

Board members also plan to review the way they assess and renew the licenses for charter schools under their purview. 

The charter school issue has been contentious after the State University  of New York's charter schools committee earlier in October voted to ease the teacher certification process for high-performing charter schools.

That decision sparked a lawsuit by the New York State United Teachers union, which represents teachers at traditional public schools.

SUNY oversees 167 chartered schools statewide, while the Regents had 77 as of the last school year.

rkarlin@timesunion.com (518) 454 5758 @RickKarlinTU

 

 

Categories: State/Local

Notebook: DiNapoli weighs in on possible special session, budget deficit

Albany Times/Union - 35 min 52 sec ago

ALBANY – State comptroller Tom DiNapoli says Gov. Andrew Cuomo is right to sound the alarm about recent federal action — or, in this case, inaction – that could have dramatic impact on the state's financial standing.

But whether a special session of the Legislature is needed to address recent funding cuts is a question that will play out in the coming weeks.

At an unrelated press conference last Thursday, DiNapoli said there could be a fiscal advantage to having the Legislature return to Albany before the session begins in January. Cuomo is warning that lawmakers may need to address, among other issues, the formulas for the distribution of federal Disproportionate Share Hospital payments — money that helps fund care for the poor — and Children's Health Insurance Program dollars after the funding spigots for both programs automatically shut off Oct. 1. 

There is hope that federal lawmakers will reinstate both funding streams before money currently in the pipeline runs out, but Cuomo doesn't appear to be holding his breath.

"I would suspect the next few weeks will be very key in terms of the timing in Washington as to whether or not these issues are going to be dealt with," said DiNapoli, a Democrat. "If they're not, it might be appropriate to have a session of the Legislature.

"There's a lot for us to consider," he added. "Before you know it, we'll be dealing with the governor's executive (budget) proposal sometime in January. Add in the holidays, (and) everything's going to be happening rather rapidly over the next few months."

$4 billion budget deficit looms

Federal uncertainty aside, the Cuomo administration is estimating a $4 billion budget deficit that will have to be dealt with next year. DiNapoli said the ultimate size of that deficit will depend on two risks: the economy and Wall Street.

"Many would argue that the rally in the markets has gone on longer and stronger than was projected," he said. "Does that mean we're headed for a significant correction? I hope not, as trustee for the pension fund. But we don't know the answer to that."

As noted above, the other shark looming in the fiscal waters is the federal government.

"The greatest risk really is coming from Washington," DiNapoli said. "We see that that risk continues."

Cuomo to agencies: Keep spending flat

One thing already is for certain as attention turns to planning the 2018-19 state budget: Cuomo wants agency spending to remain flat. 

The Division of Budget put out the annual "call letter" this month, requesting that agencies help aid the goal of keeping spending growth below 2 percent. 

"The progress we've made is now being threatened by Washington," Budget Director Robert Mujica wrote to agency commissioners.

He directed agencies to submit budget requests that assume zero growth, this year and going forward. 

E-cigarette ban and 85 other bills head to Cuomo

Planning for 2018 may be ongoing, but there's still plenty of time for government action in 2017. As such, 86 bills were sent to the governor's desk last Wednesday, giving him 10 days (excluding Sundays) to either sign or veto those bills; absent his action, they automatically age into law. 

Among the notable bills on the desk:

  • A measure to add e-cigarettes to the Clean Indoor Air Act. This would mean that e-cigarettes would be banned in indoor establishments such as bars and restaurants. There are county bans in some areas, but no statewide prohibition exists. Cuomo originally proposed expanding the Clean Indoor Air Act to include e-cigarettes in his executive budget, though the Legislature didn't sign off on the idea until June.
  • A bill to decriminalize certain types of knives that often are used as work tools while keeping in place a ban on gravity knives and switchblades. Cuomo vetoed similar legislation last year. Assemblyman Dan Quart’s bill sponsor’s memo states that the newest version of the bill clarifies the Legislature’s intent is not to ban all pocket knives, only switchblades and gravity knives. 
  • A bill to amend the sparkler sales law to allow counties to opt-out of allowing sales within their borders, rather than opt-in. The idea is to cut down on confusion about where sparklers and sparkling devices are legal. Reminder: Aerial fireworks still are illegal under state law. 
  • A bill to provide for presumptive cancer coverage for volunteer firefighters. The governor said recently he is "favorably disposed" to signing this bill, which provide a lump-sum payment of $25,000 to qualified volunteer firefighters who develop certain cancers.
  • A bill prohibiting the use of elephants in circus and other entertainment acts. 

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

DiNapoli audit of Albany City IDA to include Hilton tax deal

Albany Times/Union - 35 min 52 sec ago

ALBANY — The state comptroller's office has notified the city's Industrial Development Agency of an impending audit, which is to include a review of a property tax break for the downtown Hilton Albany hotel.

While the audit represents a routine function of the comptroller, it comes as the company that owns the Hilton and the union representing hotel employees are locked in a bitter contract dispute that has led to a union picket and boycott of the facility. The most recent contract expired in April.

The audit, which is to begin some time next week, will focus on determining whether the IDA ensures job creation and retention goals are achieved by companies with project agreements with the city entity, and what actions are taken when goals are not met. The audit's mission was detailed in an Oct. 6 letter to IDA CEO Sarah Reginelli from Jeffrey Leonard, chief examiner in the comptroller's Division of Local Government and School Accountability.

In an interview Thursday, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said that while the Hilton deal is not the only part of the planned audit, "clearly there have been a lot of issues at the hotel, particularly with regard to how labor is treated there."

"I think it's fair to ask what has been the return for the benefits the project receives," he said, later adding, "I think given some of the controversy we continue to see swirling around the Albany Hilton, it's a good time to ask some questions about what's going on."

A representative from United Capital Corp., the hotel owner, did not return a message seeking comment on Friday. A spokesperson for the IDA also did not return a call.

The 30-year, $14.3 million property tax break deal was inked in 2011, when the hotel — then a Crowne Plaza property — was still owned by a Texas investment firm. The hotel was purchased by United Capital Corp. of Long Island in 2015.

The deal replaced an existing tax break agreement set to expire in 2023, which would have led to an increase in the hotel's annual tax bill. Essentially, the new deal stretched out the tax increase time, allowing the hotel to make payments in lieu of taxes that increase over the life of the deal. 

The deal called for the hotel to invest at least $10 million in renovations. It also included job retention goals of 148 full-time employees and the addition of 12 full-time employees.

The IDA's annual reports between 2011 and 2016 show varying numbers of current full-time employees, as well as varying numbers of full-time construction jobs. For instance, the full-time employee number was 148 in 2016, down from an apparent peak of 226 in 2014. Those numbers were up from 143 current full-time employees and 20 full-time construction jobs in the 2013 fiscal year.

DiNapoli's interest in the hotel — where politicians, lobbyists and others in state government's orbit are common patrons — comes as other elected officials have sided with hotel workers during the contract negotiations.

On Friday, state Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan became the latest to chime in, saying he and his GOP colleagues will not hold events at the hotel until the contract dispute is resolved in a "responsible manner."

"It is my hope that our actions can help spur a resolution that benefits everyone, especially the working men and women of this hotel who toil every day so that management can put its best foot forward and continue to serve the public while they visit our beautiful and wondrous state Capitol," he said in a statement.

The Hotel and Motel Trades Council, which represents the Hilton employees, is politically active in both the policy and campaign realms. Filings with the state Board of Elections show the union has donated abundant campaign cash in recent years, including $42,500 to DiNapoli, among numerous others, since 2010. 

The Board of Elections filings do not show any donations to Flanagan during that time period.

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Fired assistant prosecutor testifies in Abelove case

Albany Times/Union - 35 min 52 sec ago

RENSSELAER — A former Rensselaer County assistant district attorney testified Friday before a special grand jury that's investigating whether District Attorney Joel E. Abelove violated any laws in his controversial handling of an April 2016 fatal police shooting in Troy.

Vincent J. O'Neill, who had worked for the district attorney's office since February 2015, was abruptly fired by Abelove on Oct. 6, several days after O'Neill was contacted by officials with the office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The attorney general began an investigation of Abelove earlier this year, and on Sept. 20 empaneled the grand jury at Rensselaer City Hall that is continuing to review evidence and testimony.

Investigators with Schneiderman's office picked O'Neill up on Friday afternoon, drove him to Rensselaer City Hall and tried to sneak him into the courthouse through a back door. Other witnesses called before the grand jury, including Troy police officers and a civilian who witnessed the aftermath of the fatal shooting, have entered the courthouse through the front door.

 It's unclear why the investigators tried to keep O'Neill out of view.

During an interview at his residence late Friday afternoon, O'Neill declined to comment on his testimony before the grand jury. But when asked whether he his firing was connected to his cooperation with Schneiderman's office, he said he doesn't "believe in coincidences." 

"I wasn't given a choice today — I was subpoenaed," O'Neill said. "I was contacted (by the attorney general's office) through an intermediary early last week."

Asked if he witnessed anything about Abelove's handling of the fatal shooting case that troubled him, O'Neill said, "You know that I was bothered enough to have been summoned there today."

John W. Bailey, Abelove's attorney, said O'Neill's termination had nothing to do with his grand jury appearance or contact with Schneiderman's office.

"Joel Abelove had no knowledge until today that Mr O’Neill was cooperating with the attorney general," Bailey said. "We want someone to ask Mr. O’Neill why he was terminated."

O'Neill, who handled appeal cases for Abelove's office, acknowledged that he was notified in July that his work was under review. But he said that his record of winning appeals for the office was spotless, and there were no issues with his work ethic or production.

"I have a perfect appellate record," O'Neill said. "I didn't want any of this, but I don't believe in coincidences."

A person briefed on the matter said O'Neill, who also handled matters in East Greenbush Town Court for the district attorney's office, was expected to testify about a conversation that he overheard last year between Abelove and Troy police Chief John Tedesco. The person said that Abelove informed the chief that a grand jury had cleared the officer, the investigation was over, and that they would need to "get out in front" of the issue with the press.

Bailey, Abelove's attorney, said the district attorney was not prohibited from telling the police chief what happened in the grand jury.

"Once the grand jury voted, the DA was free to reveal the vote of the grand jury," Bailey said.

The attorney general's probe marks the first grand jury investigation of a sitting district attorney by Schneiderman's office since Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order in 2015 giving Schneiderman authority to intervene in cases in which unarmed civilians are killed during confrontations with police.

The Times Union reported last year that Abelove did not require Troy police Sgt. Randall French, who fatally shot 37-year-old DWI suspect Edson Thevenin, to sign an immunity-from-prosecution waiver  when he testified before the grand jury that cleared him five days after the shooting. Abelove personally handled the grand jury presentation.

In February, Cuomo issued an executive order giving Schneiderman's office explicit authority to investigate Abelove's handling of the case.

Thevenin was shot multiple times as he fled the DWI arrest in April 2016. Troy police officials said they believed that Thevenin was armed — with his vehicle — and that he drove forward and pinned French's legs against his police cruiser before the officer opened fire. Two civilian witnesses, who did not testify in the grand jury, told investigators they did not believe French was in imminent danger when he opened fire.

One of the civilian witnesses, Phillip E. Gross III, who was driving a tow truck when he came upon the shooting scene, testified before the attorney general's grand jury on Thursday and Friday.

Categories: State/Local

'New York Now' shows con-con debate heating up

Albany Times/Union - 35 min 52 sec ago

The imminent statewide vote on the question of whether or not to hold a state constitutional convention is in focus on this week's episode of "New York Now," the award-winning coproduction of WMHT and the Times Union.

WMHT's Matt Ryan surveys the week's news and presents excerpts from a recent Hearst Media Center debate on the wisdom of calling a "con-con" — an issue that has created odd political bedfellows among conservatives and progressives.

Also this week: The Reporters Roundtable has Ken Lovett of the Daily News, Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio and Casey Seiler of the TU discussing the potential for a legislative special session, and the flap over Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision to return some but not all of the campaign cash he received from disgraced media mogul Harvey Weinstein.

"New York Now" airs at 7:30 p.m. Friday and midnight Sunday on WMHT Ch. 17.

— Staff report

Categories: State/Local

Justice Center honors those who see and report problems

Albany Times/Union - 35 min 52 sec ago

Niskayuna

If you see something, say something. That sums up what the state’s Justice Center for Protection of People with Special Needs is promoting to broaden the base of those who report abuse or neglect of the disabled.

As part of the effort, the Justice Center is honoring people who see something amiss with a disabled person and report it.

On Thursday, investigators and others with the Justice Center conferred a “Champion Award”  to an area barber shop owner who saw one of her longtime customers being mistreated and reported it last November.

“I was so taken aback by it,” Theresa Hastings of the Niskayuna Barbershop said. She reported an incident when a familiar customer, an 84-year-old man who is developmentally disabled and uses a wheelchair, was slapped and left alone in a driveway where his wheelchair rolled into a parked car.

Her call to the Justice Center led to the man’s caretaker, James Tibbetts, being charged with attempted endangering the welfare of an incompetent person. Tibbetts pleaded guilty, Justice Center spokeswoman Christine Buttigieg said.

The agency where Tibbetts worked, the Center for Disabilities Services, also fired him, said Anne Schneider Costigan, the agency's spokeswoman.

Justice Center officials said thousands of disabled people are out in the community each day, including at shopping malls, amusement parks and racinos. 

There have been cases in which aides have been spotted driving dangerously or even drunk, and the Justice Center would like people to report any suspicious incidents. In one case early on, a Boston transit police officer knew to call the Justice Center when he spotted a group of youths who had run away from a school for troubled kids, which was also under the Justice Center’s purview.

Michael Carey, who advocates for safer conditions for the disabled, agreed that the public can play an oversight role.

“We’re grateful for any private citizen reporting abuse,” he said when told of the new award. But he added that he believes that police, as well as Justice Center investigators, should be called.

The Justice Center is currently entangled in a constitutional question over whether their prosecutors, who are not elected, have the authority to prosecute people suspected of abuse or neglect.

Several cases in which the Justice Center prosecuted people but had the cases dismissed for that reason are on appeal, agency officials said.

The case in Niskayuna transpired before that constitutional question arose in March.

The Justice Center hotline number is 1-855-373-2122

Rkarlin@timesunion.com 518 454 5758 @RickKarlinTU   

 

 

Categories: State/Local

SUNY Poly packaging facility ramping up in Utica

Albany Times/Union - 35 min 52 sec ago

Albany 

Danfoss Silicon Power says it plans to have its silicon carbide power module production facility at SUNY Polytechnic Institute's Utica campus ramped up to full operation by the middle of next year, the company said this week.

The state is spending $100 million to upgrade SUNY Poly's Quad-C building in Utica for Danfoss, which is expected to eventually hire 300 people. The first dozen employees started this month.

Danfoss' power modules, which regulate power supply, have been installed in 25 million cars worldwide.

Categories: State/Local

Teachers union sues over new training rules

Albany Times/Union - 35 min 52 sec ago

ALBANY — The New York State United Teachers union and its largest local affiliate, the United Federation of Teachers, on Thursday announced the filing of a lawsuit to block the SUNY Charter Schools Committee from implementing new teacher-training regulations for charter schools.

In a statement, NYSUT called the regulation changes, which were approved Wednesday by the SUNY committee, "illegal" and said they would "undermine the teaching profession by allowing unqualified teachers to work in SUNY-authorized charter schools."

The suit, filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, charges that the SUNY Charter Schools Committee exceeded its legal authority and usurped the role of the state Legislature.

READ THE COURT DOCUMENTS HERE.

"These illegal regulations tell the people that New York State cares more about nail salon customers than children in charter schools," NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said in the union's statement. "How can New York State demand that manicurists need 250 hours of instruction but allow charter school teachers to get certified with far fewer hours of training?"

Charters — publicly funded, privately run schools — say they're hurt by the state's stringent teacher certification process and supporters argue some schools should be exempt based on their proven record of student achievement.

But outside groups, including the state's own Education Department and Board of Regents, say the move will lower standards and allow "inexperienced and unqualified" people to teach children who are most in need, including students of color, and poor and disabled students.

"Lowering standards would not be acceptable for any other profession; this is an insult to the teaching profession," said state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa in a statement.

Only charter schools authorized by SUNY can gain teacher certification under the new pathway, and they have to have a proven record of student success to even apply. Interested charters can submit a proposed certification program to the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which would approve or deny the program within 120 days.

The institute oversees 167 charter schools statewide, including five in Albany and one in Troy.

Supporters of the plan say it will lead to more and better candidates to choose from, as well as more diversity in teaching ranks, which tend to be overwhelmingly white and female.

Both the United Federation of Teachers and the Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group backed by teachers' unions, previously threatened to sue over the plan, with AQE saying in a letter Tuesday that "substantial revisions" made to the original proposal required an additional public comment period under state law that was not provided.

Others, including NYSUT, contend the action violates state education law, which authorizes only the state education commissioner to establish rules around teacher certification. Elia and Rosa also warned the action would violate law in written public comment submitted to the committee this summer.

The committee first proposed the regulations in early July in a deal worked out in the final days of the 2017 legislative session, prompting worry that such a sweeping change to teacher certification in New York was motivated by politics and not the needs of students.

Blowback was immediate and intense, with critics ripping the committee's proposal that charter school teachers only be required to have 30 hours of classroom instruction in the teaching field. Elia, at an event covered by Chalkbeat New York, said of the requirement in August: "I could go into a fast food restaurant and get more training than that."

In response to the outpouring of criticism, the committee amended the original regulations to require teachers have 160 hours of classroom instruction instead of 30.

But other changes, first unveiled over the weekend, have generated nearly as much controversy as the original proposal, including the requirement that prospective teachers have 40 hours of experience in the field, instead of 100 initially proposed. Current state law requires teachers have a master's degree, or be working toward one. The committee's plan requires neither a master's nor a bachelor's degree.

 

 

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo: Returning all of Weinstein's donations 'the right symbol'

Albany Times/Union - 35 min 52 sec ago

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo's campaign will donate all contributions from Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein — totaling more than $114,000 over a decade-plus — as the movie mogul faces mounting allegations of sexual harassment and assault.
In a statement on behalf of Cuomo's campaign, state Democratic Party Executive Director Basil Smikle said Thursday evening that the governor will take "the extraordinary step ... of giving all contributions from prior campaigns whose committees have been closed for years, so that we can dispense with the Republican ploys and focus on the real issues."
"Will Republicans accept the support of a president who himself disrespected, demeaned and harassed women?" Smikle said. "Will they support pay equity? Where do they stand on Betsy DeVos rolling back Title 9 protection for sexual assault on college campuses? Do they support Roe v. Wade? These are the answers that the people of this country deserve."
Cuomo's campaign previously said it would donate $50,000 in political contributions from Weinstein to a women's rights organization. But Cuomo's total haul from Weinstein adds up to more than $114,000 in contributions since 2006, when he ran for attorney general.
Smikle's statement came hours after Cuomo defended the decision not to get rid of all contributions from Weinstein. The governor, who had nearly $25.7 million in his campaign chest as of July, said the other money already had been spent.
Smikle said that it was "shameful that some have sought to use this matter to score political points, but the real issues are far too serious to allow any distraction to overtake them."
Cuomo said earlier in the day that the real issue at hand "is the protection of women and the respect for women and taking action to stop discrimination and assault of women. That's what this is really about. It's bigger than Harvey Weinstein."
He added, "getting into tiffs about Harvey Weinstein's money sort of misses the point."
mhamilton@timesunion.com ■ 518-454-5420 ■ @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

New York implements savings account program for those with disabilities

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 5:07pm

ALBANY — The state has implemented a new savings account program to help those with disabilities build tax-free cash reserves, which their supporters say assists in those New Yorkers in maintaining independent and quality lives.

The New York Achieving a Better Life (NY ABLE) program is open to those with a disability before age 26 who are entitled to federal Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.

For those with a disability before age 26 that is severe and has been documented by a physician, who are classified as blind, or who have a disability on the Social Security Administration's list of compassionate allowances conditions also are eligible to take part in the program. 

The savings accounts, which are owned by the person with a disability, can be opened with a minimum contribution of $25. Contributions, capped annually at $14,000, can be made by anyone. Maximum account balances are capped at $100,000, and a single person can hold only one account.

Withdrawals are tax free if used for qualified expenses that include education, health care, housing, transportation and personal support services, among other uses.

New York is one of 28 states that offers this type of savings account program, according to state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's office, which is administering the program. The New York program is modeled on the state's 529 College Savings Program.

DiNapoli's office projects that about 800,000 New Yorkers are eligible to open the accounts.

"This is certainly from my point of view an instance where government truly is doing the right thing and working together," DiNapoli said Thursday.

Among the 86 New Yorkers with an account is 8-year-old Matthew Vaccaro of Long Island, who has Down Syndrome.

"When he was born (nearly) nine years ago, I worried about Matthew's future — where would he live, where would he work, would he live a productive life," Matthew's father, Jim Vaccaro, said at Thursday's press event. "At that time, the only option was to create a special needs trust, which meant I needed $10,000 to open the account, I had to file for a tax ID number and file taxes on that money. I was not in any financial position to do that."

Jim Vaccaro said that when he learned about the NY ABLE program, he thought it would be "the perfect solution."

"Just knowing he has an ABLE account gives my wife and I peace of mind," he said. "Matthew will have more independence, greater financial security and a better quality of life, something every parent wants for their child."

Those interested in setting up an account can visit www.mynyable.org or call 1-855-569-2253.

Categories: State/Local

GlobalFoundries manufacturing center seeking state funding

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 2:07pm

Malta

A new workforce training and technology testing center that GlobalFoundries wants to locate near its computer chip factory in Saratoga County is in line for state financial assistance.

GlobalFoundries wants to build what it calls the Manufacturing Technology Education Center to help train workers, educate students and allow suppliers to test new technologies.

The computer chip maker announced plans for the project last year as part of what's known as the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute, a $140 million, federally funded research program designed to use sensors to reduce energy costs and improve efficiencies in U.S. manufacturing.

There has been speculation that the center, known as the MTEC, would be located at the Luther Forest Technology Campus in Malta where GlobalFoundries has its Fab 8 chip factory, although no specific plans have been announced.

Now it appears that the public-private partnership that wants to build the MTEC is seeking a state grant to help with the construction costs through the state's annual economic development council funding competition that has $800 million up for grabs this year.

The Capital Region Economic Development Council included a request for funding for the MTEC in its latest progress report published on Wednesday, although no dollar amount of the request was included.

The MTEC funding request was over and above $21 million in assistance that the council is seeking on 18 so-called priority projects that would be funded by Empire State Development, the state's economic development agency.

A GlobalFoundries spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment on the MTEC project or the request submitted to the state. The State University of New York and Clarkson University also are involved in the project.

A spokesman for Empire State Development said the financial details of non-priority projects are typically not revealed until the economic development council awards are made public.

The actual applicant for the state funding for the MTEC is The Pike Cos., a Rochester construction company that has done work for GlobalFoundries in the past at its Fab 8 factory.

William Tehan, president of Pike, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The MTEC is a separate project from the Next Wave Center, an incubator and training center for the semiconductor industry that is being planned by the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, Saratoga County's economic development agency.

The county, which has set up an advisory council to plan the Next Wave Center, has talked to GlobalFoundries about potentially locating the MTEC at the Next Wave Center. Marty Vanags, president of the Prosperity Partnership, said Thursday that those talks are ongoing.

Categories: State/Local

State computers froze following overnight upgrade

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 11:07am

Albany

About 1,000 state agency computers were frozen for two days this week due to a glitch in a security patch that Microsoft sent on Tuesday night.

The affected machines ran on the Windows 10 operating system, said Office of Information Technology Services spokeswoman Angela Liotta.

“This was a Microsoft Security Patch that only affected PCs operating on Windows 10, approximately 1,000,” Liotta said. “Microsoft has indicated that this impacted Windows 10 users beyond NYS.”

She stressed that the stalled machines didn’t impact critical systems operated by the state.

While state officials said the machines were back on line early Thursday, at least one user said getting the devices running was a slow process, including resetting each computer to its factory settings and re-installing the Windows operating systems.

The outage has also been reported in the computer press on Thursday, noting that Microsoft often sends out security and other upgrades on “Patch Tuesday,” or the second or fourth Tuesday of the month.

When they don’t work, the computers are said to be “bricked” or rendered as useful as a brick. The phenomenon is also known as the Blue Screen of Death.

According to sources in two separate state agencies, many of the computers still use the older Windows 7 which is said to be less trouble-prone. But they, too, get regular patches and some users reported taking an unduly long time to log in Wednesday.

rkarlin@timesunion.com 518 454 5758 @RickKarlinTU

 

Categories: State/Local

Money flows in constitutional convention battle

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 10:07am

ALBANY — The campaigns for and against a constitutional convention may be only every 20 years, but spending by supporters and foes this year is on par with expenditures in a hotly contested election.

Top pro and con convention forces have spent more than $1 million combined this year, according to filings with the state Board of Elections. Additional spending is expected before voters head to the polls on Election Day to cast ballots on whether to hold a constitutional convention, which would take place in 2019.

New Yorkers Against Corruption, a wide-ranging coalition of unions and special interest groups opposing a convention, has spent $743,108.27 since July, according to its 32-day pre-general election filing. It had $616,893.69 left though more donations are expected.

Among the notable donors to that group this year are the powerful SEIU 1199 health care union ($250,000), New York State United Teachers ($100,000) and the Public Employees Federation ($100,00)

NY People's Convention, a political action committee formed by convention supporter Bill Samuels, has spent $189,697.55 since July, leaving the group with a closing balance of just $257.97. 

Samuels has been the committee's main source of funding this year, dropping $238,045 on convention efforts.

Another pro-convention group — the Committee for a Constitutional Convention, managed by former counsel to Gov. Mario Cuomo Evan Davis — has spent $42,051.76 since July, giving it a closing balance of $12,404.56.

That group's donors include former Lt. Govs. Richard Ravitch ($2,000) and Stan Lundine ($500) and former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman ($500), among others who have worked in state government or held state office. 

Spending on both sides has gone toward myriad expenses, though media buys differ by group.

New Yorkers Against Corruption has spent more than $356,000 on digital media production and ads. By contrast, New York People's Convention has spent a modest sum of nearly $46,000 on radio, digital and print advertisements. 

Politico New York reported on Thursday that campaign spending on convention efforts isn't entirely contained in Board of Elections filings. NYSUT has funded lawn signs urging a no vote and members of the Public Employees Federation, which has produced an online "Vote NO toolkit," have appeared at forums to present a negative view of a convention, according to the website. 

New Yorkers Against Corruption contends that expenditures by those groups are legal under state law.

"We are proud that our coalition partners are so invested in this campaign that they are legally using their own resources to educate their membership about all of the risks a constitutional convention raises," campaign manager Jordan Marks said in a statement.

But critics say it's "dark money."

"We can't let the special interests stop us from fixing our broken state government," said Randy Mastro, chair of Citizens Union, a good-government group supporting a convention.

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Former state official Strevell heads to prison

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 11:07pm

ALBANY — A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced Joseph Felix Strevell, a former New York deputy secretary of state previously convicted of financial crimes and lying to federal authorities, to two and a half years in prison for what U.S. District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy called Strevell's "continued disregard for the law and court orders."

Strevell's 30-month sentence was extraordinary because he received more time in prison than was called for under sentencing guidelines.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Coffman requested Strevell receive additional prison time because of what the prosecution characterized as his egregious pattern of lies, fraud and criminal activity that just last year included selling a young woman a vehicle with no brakes at a time when he had been ordered not to sell cars.

During the sale, he allegedly posed as a former FBI agent and identified himself as a helicopter pilot who responded to the 9/11 terror attacks.

Coffman acknowledged to the judge that it was extremely rare for the U.S. Attorney's office to request a sentence stiffer than what is required by the guidelines. 

"This is the rare case," Coffman told McAvoy.

Strevell apologized to the judge for his crimes and said that being in jail for the past seven months had taught him a lesson. He pleaded with the judge to free him so that he could go back to work in order to pay restitution for his earlier law-breaking.

In March, Strevell was sent to jail after a U.S. magistrate judge revoked his prior release after he was charged with driving without a license and failed to report the incident to a federal probation officer.

Strevell pleaded guilty in November 2016 to felony charges, admitting that he concealed his financial assets for years to avoid paying restitution for a 2007 conviction involving abuse of his government duties.

He was released pending his sentencing, but with orders from a judge that he stay out of trouble. In February, authorities said, Strevell was stopped on Interstate 890 in Rotterdam and ticketed by State Police for driving without a license. He did not report his contact with the police to a federal probation officer, which violated the terms of his release.

Strevell was indicted in the spring of 2016 on charges of hiding income in multiple bank accounts, including his daughter's, to avoid paying more than $111,000 he admitted stealing from the Institute for Entrepreneurship, a former state-sponsored nonprofit agency. Strevell pleaded guilty just before his trial was to begin last fall in Albany.

In a brief filed last year, prosecutors said Strevell "intentionally and repeatedly deceived U.S. Probation Officers and the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney's Office about his earnings, assets, expenditures, and sources of funds." They said Strevell also lied under oath about his assets in a deposition two years ago.

The government's brief accused Strevell of systematically concealing income that he and his brother, Chauncey, received from running a Rensselaer used-car dealership, Joe's Garage, that has since closed. The Strevell brothers and their companies were paid roughly $7.6 million from a North Carolina auto dealership that purchased more than 800 cars from the pair between July 2012 and May 2014, prosecutors said. The brothers resold cars they bought at auctions to the southern company, and the funds were wired into the bank accounts of two companies they controlled, Berkshire Properties and Burkshire Properties.

The federal investigation of Strevell's assets began three years ago after the Times Union published a story about his residency and interest in a Rensselaer County horse farm. At the time, Strevell took steps to hide his residency at the property, where he lived with his daughter. When confronted by federal authorities, Strevell allegedly lied about where he got $75,000 that he used as a down payment for the lease-purchase agreement on the $865,000 farm.

The Rensselaer County farm was donated to Cornell University in 2011 as a gift from Joseph and Jeanette Czapluk. Cornell University previously declined comment on its real estate dealings with Strevell.

Strevell had once been a politically connected barber and low-level Senate worker who rose through the ranks to be appointed deputy secretary of state for New York from 1997 to 1999. His political connections then helped him land a $263,000-a-year job as head of the Institute for Entrepreneurship, which was plagued by scandal during Strevell's tenure.

A federal criminal investigation showed Strevell fleeced the institute, which was intended to be a small-business incubator for the State University system. Federal prosecutors at the time of his conviction said the losses from Strevell's misdeeds, including questionable jobs for his friends and relatives, topped $200,000.

Strevell was charged with using the institute's money to buy items for his farm and trips for him and his family. He also arranged for the institute to buy a recreational motor home without disclosing that it was his. He also gave himself a $95,000 raise that had never been authorized.

Chauncey Strevell was paid $70,000 a year as chief operating officer of the institute his brother headed from 1998 to 2001, when both left amid multiple investigations. The organization was later shut down.

For years following his 2009 sentencing, when Strevell was sentenced to home confinement and ordered to pay restitution, he made sporadic and often minimal monthly payments for the court-ordered restitution, records show.

Categories: State/Local
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