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Another invitation for local gambling

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 53 sec ago

East Greenbush

Another Capital Region community is batting its eyelashes at the deep-pocketed casino industry.

The East Greenbush Town Board voted unanimously this week to back "any reasonable" casino development proposals within its borders — though Supervisor Keith Langley said they have no formal proposal in mind and the legislation leaves the definition of "reasonable" open to interpretation.

The resolution, a late addition to the agenda that passed with little public notice, specifically mentions the financial benefits to communities selected by the state to host the four new upstate resort casinos "especially given the fiscal conditions the town is now facing."

"I don't have any formal presentations at this point," Langley said, adding the measure was meant simply to make plain the town's willingness to listen to any would-be developers.

"All we've done, what's clearly outlined in the resolution, is made the town's position clear," Langley said.

State budget officials have projected the Capital Region casino would generate an $11.4 million host fee to be split annually between the host city or town and its county.

East Greenbush, like many upstate communities, has been buffeted by budget problems in recent years. It was deemed by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's office to be facing a level of fiscal pressure three times the average for large upstate towns.

The promise of a casino-driven cash windfall has also been a major factor in cash-strapped Albany's willingness to consider a casino proposal on the city's southern edge, just off Exit 23 of the Thruway.

All together, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration projects the eight-county Capital Region — including Albany, Fulton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie and Washington counties — would see nearly $35.5 million annually in additional aid for local governments and schools from casino development.

A potential casino site off Temple Lane in East Greenbush was floated informally amid early speculation about where a casino in the Capital Region might be sited, but the town has been virtually absent from public discussion in recent months.

Would-be casino developers have until next week to pay the $1 million application fee to the state, with complete applications due to the state Gaming Commission's siting panel by June 30. In addition to the application fee, a casino license in the Capital Region will cost the winning licensee $50 million.

In January, the Rensselaer County Legislature voted 16-2 in favor of siting a casino somewhere in the county. The vote was spurred by the city of Rensselaer, which was the first local community to officially voice support for a casino within its borders after a developer expressed interest in 24 acres along the Hudson River across from Albany.

There is no formal proposal. The former ALCO site along the Mohawk River in Schenectady has no viable plan.

A resolution of local support from the host city, town or village will be required for any casino license application to be considered by the Gaming Commission. It's a requirement that has snarled efforts to bring a full-fledged casino to the Saratoga Casino and Raceway harness track in Saratoga Springs.

Long considered a front-runner to win the region's casino license because of its location and the fact that it's already home to nearly 2,000 state-regulated video-lottery terminals, the racino's dreams have run headlong into a skeptical City Council.

The council last month passed a resolution opposing the state legislation that cleared the way for four upstate casinos — including at least one in the Capital Region — in part because of a lack of local control. Common Council members in Albany are debating a resolution to support the Exit 23 proposal.

When voters statewide approved the gambling expansion in November, East Greenbush residents supported the ballot proposal by a roughly 52-48 percent margin. But that alone, officials have said, is not enough to count as local support for the purposes of seeking a license.

The East Greenbush resolution was added to the agenda after a pre-meeting agenda session last week, something Langley said is not unusual.

"It's not uncommon to add resolutions as they come forward," he said.

jcarleo-evangelist@timesunion.com518-454-5445@JCEvangelist_TU

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo sights in on school bond plan

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 53 sec ago

Albany

New York voters last year passed a referendum to allow casinos in New York. Now, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is betting they'll say "yes" this November to his plan to issue $2 billion in bonds to upgrade the technology in the state's schools.

An expected push for Cuomo's Smart Schools bond initiative might have gotten its informal start this week when the governor appointed members to a commission that will advise the state on how to spend the money if the referendum is approved.

And as an indication of the importance the governor is placing on the referendum, the commission includes a high-profile member: Eric Schmidt, executive chairman and former CEO of Google, who said the plan to update Internet infrastructure to technologies like broadband is a "welcome first" step in modernizing the state's schools.

Schmidt's affiliation with Google brings a level of celebrity — at least in technology circles — to the effort.

Also on the commission is Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of Harlem Children's Zone, a well-known nonprofit group that provides social services and education programs including charter schools to Harlem youths.

Rounding out the commission and adding some geographic diversity is Auburn schools Superintendent Constance Evelyn.

In rolling out the plan, Cuomo said "it is not going to be about growing the bureaucracy, it's going to be about helping students. It is going to be used for equipment such as laptops, desktops, tablets, infrastructure upgrades and high-speed broadband.''

He said there will be strict criteria for using the money, and school districts will have to submit technology plans.

The road to getting a bond act in the budget wasn't free of bumps.

Environmentalists early on said the plan would replace a $5 billion bond act they had sought for water and sewer system updates as well as air quality work and open space initiatives. Only one bond act can go before statewide voters in a given year.

After Cuomo floated the Smart Schools idea in January, some legislators worried that it would threaten increases in operating aid to schools, which pays for costs like teacher salaries and the day-to-day operation of schools.

The final 2014-15 budget, however, ended up with more school aid than the governor had initially proposed.

There have been questions about whether a bond issue should be used for items such as iPads and other electronic gear.

Such equipment typically becomes obsolete in two years, said Elizabeth Lynam, deputy research director at the Citizens Budget Commission. She questioned whether it should instead be worked into the state's regular school aid formulas or a category such as textbooks.

Moreover, there are studies showing the state has vast infrastructure needs, such as improvements to roads and bridges.

A $2 billion bond issue would put the state within $100 million of its debt limit for two years.

Under the plan, money from the bonds would help schools acquire services such as high-speed broadband Internet connections as well as items like tablet computers.

The push comes as a move is afoot to consider putting more standardized tests online, such as those of the new Common Core curriculum.

Money from the bond issue would also go toward pre-kindergarten classroom space. The 2014-15 budget allocates $300 million to develop pre-K programs in New York City, with $40 million for the rest of the state.

The bond issue was mentioned during the budget process. The ''school runs,'' charts that illustrate how much money the state's approximately 700 districts will receive, also included estimates of how much they would get for technology if the bond issue passes.

rkarlin@timesunion.com • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

No more free rides for state toll dodgers

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 53 sec ago

Albany

Motorists who repeatedly speed through New York state toll booths without paying would have their vehicle registrations suspended under legislation being considered by state lawmakers.

Under current law, toll evaders are contacted by a collection agency and only face registration suspensions if they commit multiple violations within the same locality — and then only after an order from a court or tribunal.

Scofflaws run up more than $30 million in unpaid tolls and fines each year. State Sen. David Carlucci, the proposal's sponsor, said residents in his commuter-heavy district north of New York City are "extremely sensitive" when it comes to toll evaders.

"Hard-working people are paying more for the people who cheat the system," said Carlucci, a Democrat. "It's really something that gets my blood boiling."

His proposal would allow officials to suspend the registration of anyone who racks up five toll violations within 18 months. The state would also be able to refuse new registrations to chronic evaders.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the idea and had proposed it in his initial budget recommendation to lawmakers. It was left out of a nearly $140 billion budget deal worked out last month, however.

Lawmakers are set to return to the statehouse on April 28. Carlucci said he retooled his proposal to make it more agreeable and has dropped an earlier call for tougher criminal penalties.

Toll dodgers have failed to pay $150 million in tolls in the past five years in New York state, according to Deputy Transportation Secretary Karen Rae.

Two recent cases show the lengths that some drivers will go to avoid tolls. Port Authority police said Thursday that a New York truck driver mounted his license plate on a hinge and used a long string to raise it when he passed through a toll plaza.

Also Thursday, prosecutors accused a New York City taxi driver of not paying $28,000 in tolls by routinely tailgating vehicles as they went through E-Z Pass lanes at the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.

Categories: State/Local

Co-leader of state Democrats is out

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 53 sec ago

Albany

After more than a year of tension with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner has ended her two-year tenure as co-chair of the State Democratic Committee.

Miner resigned from the post in a brief letter, dated Thursday, that was addressed to the party and Cuomo. It did not provide her reasons for leaving.

"It has been an honor and a privilege to work with each of you and espouse the progressive values of our party and, of course, to help get Democrats elected to office," she wrote. "While I have enjoyed my tenure as co-chair, the time has come to allow someone else to fill the role."

Miner, who co-led the party with Assemblyman Keith Wright, has been at odds with the governor at least since February 2013, when she penned an op-ed piece for The New York Times criticizing Cuomo for a lack of engagement on the fiscal challenges facing upstate cities.

"She did a good job," said former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, adding "There are disagreements out there, but they're honorable disagreements."

Since the public breach, political observers had taken note of Cuomo's increasing reliance on Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, a Republican, as a preferred Central New York ally. Among other tasks, Mahoney served on the mothballed Moreland Commission panel on public corruption.

Miner's resignation comes a month before the state party is scheduled to convene at its convention on Long Island.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Public funds to casinos? Unlikely

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 53 sec ago

Colonie

Could two of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's marquee economic development initiatives — casino gambling and the annual sweepstakes for hundreds of millions of dollars in development cash — overlap?

Technically, it's possible. But don't bet your house on it.

The proposals for the $220 million fourth round of Cuomo's competitive Regional Economic Development Council grants are expected to be unveiled this fall, around the same time the state Gaming Commission is expected to award the first licenses for upstate resort casinos.

That confluence of timelines at least raises the question of whether would-be casino operators could approach their regional economic development councils to be considered for inclusion in the master plans each council submits to the state.

Albany Medical Center CEO James Barba, who co-chairs the Capital Region panel, said Thursday state officials have given council leadership no specific direction on how to handle an application from a gaming company.

"I think casinos belong to another group — primarily the electeds and also the people of communities that might be impacted by casinos. It is not, so far, within our charter," Barba said after the council's first public meeting of the year at Siena College.

Cuomo started the regional competition among the 10 councils in 2011 to prod neighboring municipalities and counties to coordinate their economic development plans, and as part of efforts to meet local and state goals, which this year will include an emphasis on projects that help promote career opportunities for military veterans.

The local councils submit their plans to the state, which steers the most money to plans it feels are worthy.

"I'll never say never," Barba said on the casino question. "The economic development council does not develop its own projects. We respond to applications that may be made to us ... for project funding. Should E23 or any other site for a casino file such an application, it would be our responsibility to respond."

The project's developers, however, have said that they plan to finance the $300 million to $400 million development — which includes a 275-room hotel and a water park off Exit 23 of the Thruway — with "entirely private funds."

A spokesman for the state Gaming Commission, which oversees the casino licensing process, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

A state official with knowledge of the process, however, confirmed that there is nothing within the guidelines for casino licenses that would bar applicants from receiving public subsidies from an economic development program like the REDC grants.

But that official said that any casino application that included a public subsidy would probably not be viewed favorably because for a $1 million application fee and a casino license that will cost between $35 million and $70 million, licensees will get a regional monopoly from the state.

One of the three upstate regions could receive two casinos. Several locations being scouted by casino interests have been the subject of funding requests for non-casino projects through the REDC competition.

Included in the $82.8 million won by the Capital Region in Round 3 was $5 million for the Galesi Group's proposed mixed-used redevelopment of the ALCO site along the Mohawk River in Schenectady, which being eyed by casino developers. Another Galesi request for $15 million for a proposed movie studio at the same location was not funded.

A $1 million request for a mixed-used marina development at de Laet's landing in Rensselaer, a tract that drew the interest of casino developers because it is directly across the Hudson River from Albany, was also not funded in the last round.

jcarleo-evangelist@timesunion.com518-454-5445@JCEvangelist_TU

Categories: State/Local

Oil media blitz uses poll to build local support for fracking, expansion of shale gas drilling

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 53 sec ago

Washington

The oil industry's leading trade group broadened its pitch beyond the Beltway on Thursday, rolling out new advertisements and a series of state polls highlighting widespread support for domestic energy development from New York to Nevada.

The American Petroleum Institute is taking the campaign — and its pro-drilling message — to states as local regulators and voters consider a range of policies that could affect oil and gas development.

In New York, for instance, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will decide whether to lift a ban on hydraulic fracturing — known colloquially as "fracking."

Such a decision could shift fights over drilling activity to local zoning boards. And in Colorado, voters may face a dozen or more ballot proposals to limit this kind of drilling.

"So much of politics is and always has been local," said Karen Moreau, executive director of API's New York State Petroleum Council. But "we're seeing even more activity on the local level."

A growing concern in New York and other states is the safety of using barges and trains to transport oil to refineries.

The fears collide at the Port of Albany, where railcars carrying crude from North Dakota meet a major waterway for sending oil to refineries in Canada and New Jersey.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy last month issued an order that effectively halted Global Partners' plans to expand crude oil processing at the Port of Albany until a health study is completed. Later this month, four state agencies are set to deliver a report to Cuomo on New York's preparedness to handle oil spills from trains, ships and barges.

API's survey of New York voters did not examine their views on rail and barge safety.

The new drilling ads — starting online — are designed to highlight public support for domestic oil and gas development and the infrastructure necessary to sustain it. API would not say how much it was spending on the campaign but described it as "significant."

Moreau said the campaign aims "to elevate the voices outside of the Beltway," effectively removing energy issues from the politics of Washington, D.C.

The fodder for the ads is a national telephone survey conducted by The Harris Poll for API as well as state polling conducted in New York, Illinois, Nevada, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

"Americans support accessing the country's abundant energy resources," Moreau said in a conference call with reporters. "It is clear that the American public is looking to capitalize on the opportunity we face at this moment to use our nation's energy portfolio to help consumers and create jobs."

According to the nationwide telephone poll, while just 77 percent support increased production of domestic oil and natural gas, 91 percent of those surveyed agreed with a statement that increased production of those resources could lead to more jobs in the U.S.

On question after question, respondents signaled they believe there are big economic and security benefits to building energy infrastructure and developing oil and gas inside the U.S. — even though a smaller margin supported the activity overall.

Similar — just slightly lower — results came from the API-commissioned survey of registered voters in New York, where 70 percent of respondents said they supported increased domestic oil and natural gas production. The survey also found:

89 percent agreed that development of the country's energy infrastructure would help create U.S. jobs.

87 percent agreed that increased domestic oil and gas production could lead to more U.S. jobs.

84 percent agreed that increased oil and gas production in the U.S. could help stimulate the economy.

Big political divisions have developed over hydraulic fracturing, a well completion process that involves pumping water, sand and chemicals underground to free oil and gas from dense rock formations.

Although API's survey didn't tackle the subject, Moreau said other surveys of the Empire State generally have shown New York City voters tend to oppose fracturing, while those in the suburbs support it and upstate New York is divided.

New York foes of hydraulic fracturing criticized the API's "one-sided poll" and "personal attacks."

"Grass-roots opposition to fracking grows the more New Yorkers learn about it," said John Armstrong, of Frack Action. "New Yorkers have shown time and time again that they're not buying the industry's baseless propaganda and lies. Independent analysis shows that the oil and gas industry greatly exaggerates the jobs and economic benefits of fracking, while it actually brings very significant costs for taxpayers."

Moreau said a major challenge for drilling advocates is emphasizing that hydraulic fracturing is fundamental to oil and gas production today. Many people "fail to equate that 80 percent of our oil and natural gas production is a result of hydraulic fracturing combined with precision horizontal drilling," she said.

Celebrities including Yoko Ono and Mark Ruffalo have helped stoke opposition in New York. Moreau derided "has-been celebrities" who are trying "to make New York a battleground or a poster child for their latest cause."

"We don't have celebrities on our side like Yoko Ono and others who we want to put out there representing the hardworking people of our industry who go out every single day in all kinds of weather working hard to bring energy to people," she said.

jdlouhy@hearstdc.com

Categories: State/Local

UAlbany hazing suspension upheld

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 53 sec ago

Albany

A state appellate court has upheld the 18-month suspension handed out by the state University at Albany to a student who hosted a hazing party that sent three underage partygoers to the hospital in fall 2012.

The suspension of Daniel Lampert is set to end in May, although it wasn't immediately clear if he would return to UAlbany.

While this doesn't mark the first time a student has been suspended, the resulting legal action was unusual.

The case began in October 2012 when police responded to complaints of a loud party at 275 Ontario St., located in what's known as the UAlbany "student ghetto.''

Police say they found 15 people younger than 21 who had been served alcohol. Three were so intoxicated they were taken to Albany Memorial Hospital for treatment.

Court documents painted a wild picture, noting that police found a keg of beer, multiple bottles of liquor and a "15-gallon plastic tub of vomit on the floor in the living room" as well as "dirt and vomit all over the floor.''

The incident, according to papers, led to Lampert's suspension the next month for violating the UAlbany code of conduct regarding hazing and alcohol use.

Lampert appealed the suspension by the school's judicial board; when that was denied he went to civil court. The case was moved to the appellate division for technical reasons.

The appellate decision, handed down Thursday, concluded that the university complied with procedures required to mete out a suspension. Appellate judges also disagreed with Lampert's contention that the suspension represented "disproportionate'' punishment.

Lampert's father, Darren Lampert, said he "very well might appeal" the case.

"I still feel the school was unfair," he said, noting that no one testified against his son, who is now enrolled at SUNY Purchase.

Lampert and two other students, Victor Weberman and David Medelowitz, were arrested in the incident and later pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. They agreed to perform 100 hours of community service, the district attorney's office said.

Weberman and Medelowitz were also suspended; like Lampert, they are not enrolled at UAlbany.

Police that fall arrested more than two dozen students at loud parties in residences near the university.

While it has a strong academic reputation, UAlbany over the years has also struggled with some notoriety for after-hours activities. Although it has been a decade since UAlbany was tagged as "America's No. 1 Party School" by the Princeton Review, it was in the spotlight in 2011 when a St. Patrick's Day "kegs and eggs'' celebration resulted in smashed car windows and numerous arrests. That riot broke out just steps away from the house where the hazing occurred.

Officials said the scale and intensity of the "Kegs and Eggs" mayhem was unusual. The next year, the school changed its schedule so students wouldn't be around during the St. Patrick's Day festivities.

UAlbany spokesman Karl Luntta said federal student privacy laws limited what the school could say about Lampert's lawsuit.

But he said UAlbany officials, police and residents of the neighborhoods around the school have worked together during the past few years to tamp down on the rowdiness.

"A coalition of neighborhood residents and Albany Police Department members have gone regularly to visit and talk to students about responsibility," Luntta said.

rkarlin@timesunion.com • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Political leader Basil Paterson

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 53 sec ago

New York

Basil Paterson, a longtime New York political powerhouse and the father of former Gov. David Paterson, has died, his family said Thursday. He was 87.

Paterson died at 10 p.m. Wednesday at Mount Sinai Hospital, according to a family statement that did not give the cause of death. He would have turned 88 on April 27.

The Democrat served as a state senator, deputy New York City mayor and New York's first black secretary of state. He was part of the influential "Gang of Four" that included New York City's first black mayor, David Dinkins, political powerbroker and civil rights activist Percy Sutton, and U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel. They built a power base that made Harlem a launching pad for the state's black leadership and opened doors for African-American businesses.

"I feel a tremendous personal loss," Dinkins said. "He was a dear friend for a long time."

"He did so much for so many of us ... He'll be remembered as a very, very smart guy who cared about his community," added Dinkins, who said he had visited Paterson at the hospital.

Rangel said Paterson recently had heart surgery and had suffered some health setbacks in the last few years. The congressman said he visited him at the hospital several weeks ago and that he appeared strong as the two spoke about the future of New York and the country.

"I've never heard an unkind word about Basil Paterson in the over 60 years that I've known him," Rangel said.

In the 1960s, Paterson served in the state Senate, representing the Upper West Side and Harlem. He gave up his seat in 1970 to run for lieutenant governor, a race he lost. He served briefly as deputy mayor in the Ed Koch administration before being appointed as New York's secretary of state in 1979, a post he held until 1983. From 1989 to 1995, he served as commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Despite Paterson's extensive list of accomplishments, Rangel said his friend is best known for being "a real decent fellow," adding that it's uncommon for a politician and trade union negotiator to have such a gleaming reputation.

"Basil Paterson exemplified a model of public leadership, serving the people of New York with integrity and dedication to make this state a better place," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "His legacy inspired a new generation of talented public leadership, a legacy his son Gov. David Paterson carried on as governor."

In later years, Paterson worked at the law firm of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein specializing in labor law. He also taught at the State University of New York at New Paltz, Fordham University and Hunter College.

"New York City has lost a progressive giant who committed his life to lifting up others," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement, adding that he sought Paterson's advice in the 20 years he worked with him.

"Basil was well known throughout the community as a man of action, as someone who set his mind to accomplishment and always met those goals," the family's statement said. "He was a selfless leader and he dedicated his life to making sure others' lives were better."

The family did not release funeral arrangements.

Categories: State/Local

State nears health insurance goal

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 53 sec ago

ALBANY - The state's online health insurance market, NY State of Health, came close to enrolling a million New Yorkers in its first season in operation.

The final number of enrollees as of Wednesday morning was 960,762, according to the state Health Department. More than half — 525,283 — qualified for Medicaid. The other 435,479 enrolled in private health plans offered through the online market, or health exchange.

More than 70 percent of enrollees reported being uninsured at the time they selected insurance coverage.

The state's goal is to get 1.1 million uninsured New Yorkers to select coverage by 2016.

"We are well on our way to meeting or exceeding our goal ..." Donna Frescatore, executive director of NY State of Health, said in a statement.

NY State of Health was established in October to meet the requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act, which requires most Americans to have insurance coverage or pay a penalty. New York is one of 16 states that established its own online market rather than have residents rely on the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov.

The exchange experienced a high volume of traffic in the final days of open enrollment. Since March 31, 94,000 people enrolled in health plans, the Health Department said. Those were people who had begun the application process by the March 31 deadline but were unable to complete it. All applications had to be finished by April 15.

Only individuals eligible for government programs — like Medicaid and Child Health Plus — or who undergo a big life change — such as marriage, divorce, birth of a child or loss of a job — will now be able to sign up through NY State of Health for coverage beginning before 2015. Small businesses and employees will also be allowed to continue to enroll year-round.

Categories: State/Local

County clerks: State delays handgun permit updates under NY SAFE Act

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 53 sec ago

Albany

A little-known component of the NY SAFE Act has shifted into low gear, according to county clerks who have participated in a pilot program to update handgun licenses.

Much of the controversy surrounding the 2013 gun control law has focused on its expanded assault weapons ban, and the accompanying registration requirement for previously owned rifles. (That deadline was Tuesday.)

But the NY SAFE Act also calls for handgun permit holders to be recertified every five years with their local county clerks or sheriffs. According to the law, all permit holders need to be recertified by 2018.

Last year, the state set up a pilot program with seven counties, including Albany, Schenectady and Saratoga, in which gun owners could start the process early. The intent was to avoid a last-minute rush as the 2018 deadline approached.

But work on the plan hit a detour in February, several county clerks said.

"It looks like it was put on the back burner," Saratoga County Clerk Craig Hayner said.

"There was no communication," Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola added.

"We're just on hold," agreed Cortland County Clerk Elizabeth Larkin.

At the start of the pilot plan, county clerks and state officials had meetings and biweekly phone conferences with State Police and Office of Information Technology Services officials. But the sessions became more sporadic last fall, the clerks said.

By February, as the first of 500 handgun owners were supposed to get their recertification notices, the process came to a halt, Larkin said.

"They said they would notify us when they wanted us," said Larkin, who chairs a NY SAFE Act subcommittee for the state County Clerks Association.

Genesee County Clerk Don Read said they received a series of email messages canceling the remaining conference calls.

Some of the county clerks, including Larkin and Read, subsequently pulled out of the pilot program.

"We have to have communication both ways. We were offering our offices to set up this program. It was a new program. There were bound to be issues," Larkin said.

State officials haven't told the clerks why the pilot program has slowed. But most believe it has to do with difficulties in creating a new handgun database.

"They didn't anticipate the amount of time it was going to take to establish that digital database," Larkin said.

State officials maintain there hasn't been a delay, and insist they're merely identifying ways to improve the recertification process.

Among the enhancements, said State Police spokeswoman Darcy Wells, are features that would allow large numbers of firearms to be submitted and helpful pop-ups on the website that will be used.

"There is significant development and testing to be made to the systems that are being designed before a pilot will be considered," Wells said in a statement. "The team expects to engage the initial counties that considered participating and others as we move forward."

Still, the challenges of creating vast statewide databases have become apparent with other components of the NY SAFE Act.

A system allowing background checks for all ammunition sales was originally supposed to be in place by Jan. 15, but its rollout has been indefinitely postponed amid reports the database isn't ready.

Nor has it gone unnoticed that county clerks were told the pace of work on the handgun effort would likely pick up at the end of the year — after the November elections, in which voters who are still upset about the NY SAFE Act could be a factor.

It wasn't immediately clear how many handgun permit holders the state will need to contact. The State Police have a list of permits with more than 300,000 names, but it is said to date to the 1930s.

The list created controversy in 2010 when a website called "Who's Packing NY" posted it online to howls of protest from gun rights advocates.

Prompting equally vocal protests from advocates for public transparency, the NY SAFE Act allows handgun permit holders to request that their application information be made exempt from disclosure under state Freedom of Information Law.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Ruling upholds gun law legality

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 53 sec ago

Albany

A state Supreme Court justice has rejected a lawsuit brought by activist Bob Schulz, who claimed the NY SAFE Act was passed too quickly.

Schulz contended the gun control legislation shouldn't have received a "message of necessity," a legislative maneuver in which the governor, at the request of legislative leaders, allows for a vote on a bill without the usual three-day "aging'' period.

The delay is intended to allow lawmakers to study a bill without last-minute amendments. But if there is a emergency or time constraint, that can be circumvented.

In upholding the gun law, state Supreme Court Justice Thomas McNamara ruled that Cuomo administration members at the time argued "some weapons are so dangerous and some ammunition devices so lethal that New York state must act without delay.''

The law was approved less than a month after the 2012 massacre in Newtown, Conn.

Administration officials said they wanted to move quickly to stop a run on gun stores, where patrons rushed to buy assault-style weapons that the new law banned for subsequent purchase or sale.

The decision said the legality of the message of necessity has been settled in other cases.

McNamara ruled "as long as the governor's certificate contains some factual statements, the sufficiency of the state facts to support the governor's conclusion may not be challenged.''

Schulz said he plans to appeal, adding he still believes use of the message of necessity has been abused.

NY SAFE Act supporters said they were glad the suit was shot down.

"I am pleased that the courts have once again validated our approach to arming New York with the toughest gun control laws in the country," said state Sen. Jeff Klein, who heads the Independent Democratic Conference.

Klein had become co-leader of the Senate — a post shared with Republican Dean Skelos — when the bill was approved.

rkarlin@timesunion.com • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

AG's taxes: He's paying both feds and state

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 53 sec ago

Albany

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman ended the tax year owing both the federal and state governments, according to his 2013 returns.

Schneiderman, a Manhattan Democrat, had an adjusted gross income of $297,836 — just over half of which came from his $156,881 salary as the state's top lawyer. The rest came from investment income, including $98,341 in capital gains from the sale of mutual funds. Schneiderman's staff allowed reporters to see the returns Wednesday.

The attorney general's overall adjusted gross income was up more than $55,000 from the $242,618 he reported to the IRS in 2012. Schneiderman's total federal tax liability added up to $62,534 — or $9,620 more than he paid over the course of the year. His $56,893 in deductions include $9,353 in real estate taxes paid on his Manhattan co-op and $6,693 in charitable contributions. Those contributions included $500 to Planned Parenthood, $500 to Action Against Hunger, $2,000 to the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens and $3,343 to his Upper West Side synagogue, B'nai Jeshurun, his office said.

Schneiderman's city and state tax liability amounted to $28,924, $2,585 more than he paid over the course of the year. His returns also reflected that he paid $17,205 in financial management fees and $1,404 for tax preparation.

jcarleo-evangelist@timesunion.com518-454-5445@JCEvangelist_TU

Categories: State/Local

Mr. Insider-Outsider Richard Ravitch chronicles life in government

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 53 sec ago

Albany

At age 80, Richard Ravitch holds on to what he describes as "an Emersonian faith in politics."

"It's the only way to change things," he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

How Ravitch managed to preserve that belief after decades of work on some of New York state's thorniest fiscal problems is the subject of his new memoir "So Much To Do" (PublicAffairs, $26.99), which surveys his singular career shuttling between the private and public sectors. The author is slated to visit Albany's Rockefeller Institute of Government on Wednesday, a day after the book arrives in stores.

In engaging and lucid prose — especially beneficial considering the subject at hand — Ravitch describes his work with Gov. Hugh Carey to avert the near-bankruptcy of New York City in the mid-1970s, his four years as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (exhausting but "the most exhilarating of my life"), his and the 18 tumultuous months he spent as Gov. David Paterson's appointed lieutenant governor — the state's first unelected No. 2.

Ravitch's selection for the job helped end the state Senate's five-week coup crisis, in which renegade Democrat Pedro Espada Jr. joined Republicans in an attempt to take the majority in the chamber — an action that, if successful, could have placed the ethically challenged Espada a heartbeat away from the governor's office. Paterson, whose elevation to governor after Eliot Spitzer's exit in March 2008 had left the lieutenant governor's seat vacant, rushed Ravitch into office with such speed that his oath of office was signed "amid the steak, tomatoes, and creamed spinach" during dinner at Peter Luger, the venerable Brooklyn restaurant.

Ravitch writes about the brief period in February 2010 when it appeared possible that a string of scandals might force Paterson to resign, prompting a friend to draft a transition speech that Ravitch could deliver as needed. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver suggested Ravitch have coffee with then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who was already the presumptive Democratic gubernatorial candidate after Paterson gave up his own ambitions for a second term.

At that meeting, Cuomo asked who Ravitch, were he to become governor, might select as his lieutenant. "I assured him that as he was clearly going to be the next governor, I wouldn't make any appointment without consulting him," Ravitch writes.

Elsewhere in the book, Ravitch describes himself as "the quintessential participant-observer," a fair description of an insider who has managed to hold onto an outsider's perspective.

That duality is most pronounced in Ravitch's account of the cold reception given to his March 2010 budget reform plan, which would have shifted the start of the state's fiscal year, transformed its accounting methods and created a review board to assess the long-term viability of budget agreements. Ravitch also proposed short-term borrowing — up to $6 billion over a three-year period — to help the state crawl out from the wreckage of the 2008 recession.

Despite good reviews from many editorial boards, Ravitch's blueprint went nowhere. "Without the governor's strong support, my plan never had a chance," he writes, also noting the plan was not well received by Cuomo or Paterson's Secretary Larry Schwartz, who now serves Cuomo in the same post.

Speaking from his New York City office, Ravitch summed up "the fundamental problem" in state finance: "Every incentive in the world exists to kick the can down the road."

It's not a pathology specific to New York state, as Ravitch has learned in his recent work with former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker on a task force examining the challenges facing state and municipal governments.

Ravitch offers praise for Cuomo's stands on social issues and his ability to fight New York's reputation for dysfunction, but bemoans what he sees as a continued reliance on can-kicking strategies such as the amortization of local pension contributions.

As an advocate of public financing of campaigns, he scoffs at the comptroller-only compromise that emerged from the recent budget negotiation.

"I think that's silly," said Ravitch, who applauded Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli for refusing to take part in the plan.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Book deal gives Cuomo earnings sizable boost

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 53 sec ago

Albany

Writing about being governor is apparently more lucrative than being governor.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's advance from HarperCollins for his forthcoming memoir, "All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life," is worth at least $188,333, according to the governor's 2013 tax return.

But Cuomo's office declined to say just how big the total advance from the publisher will be.

Cuomo's tax returns, shown to reporters Tuesday, reflect that $153,206 of that advance was included in the governor's $358,448 federal adjusted gross income, which was more than double his income the previous year thanks to the book deal.

The $35,127 difference between the total advance payment and what he reported to the IRS as income is what Cuomo paid for representation in the book deal, his office said.

While the governor's staff said the $188,333 is just the first installment of the advance from the publisher, Cuomo's office wouldn't say how many more payments are headed the governor's way for the book, which is slated for release Aug. 5.

A spokeswoman for HarperCollins said it was company policy not to comment on authors' advances.

Other than the advance, the bulk of Cuomo's income came from his $175,277 state salary. Cuomo paid $102,480 in federal taxes but only owed $96,302, yielding a $6,178 refund that he took by direct deposit. His effective federal tax rate was about 26.8 percent.

Cuomo made a $16,000 charitable contribution to HELP USA, a charity that works with the homeless that he founded in 1986, and paid $6,250 in tax preparation fees.

The governor's state tax payments amounted to $25,963 — an overpayment of $1,056 that he pledged toward next year's taxes owed. He claimed no credits for property taxes paid because his Westchester County home is in the name of his girlfriend, Food Network host Sandra Lee.

Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy and his wife, Barbara, reported a combined federal adjusted gross income of $262,180, up nearly $23,000 from 2012, according to their joint return. Cuomo's office said the jump is accounted for by Barbara Duffy's new job, taken midway through 2012, working in human resources for Synergy Global Solutions, a Monroe County-based technology service firm. Previously, she had worked as a human resources consultant.

The Duffys reported a combined $191,231 in salary and wages in addition to the lieutenant governor's $70,255 Rochester police pension. They owed $48,465 in federal taxes but paid just $45,067, requiring an additional federal payment of $3,398, according to their return.

The Duffys, who sold their Rochester home last year and bought one in the Finger Lakes, also paid $9,919 in property taxes and gave $5,991 in charitable gifts, including clothing and furniture donated to a thrift store and pegged at fair market value of $3,085. They overpaid their $10,815 state income tax liability, resulting in a $201 refund.

jcarleo-evangelist@timesunion.com518-454-5445@JCEvangelist_TU

Categories: State/Local

Eldridge maintains his fundraising lead

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 53 sec ago

Albany

Challenger Sean Eldridge appears to be maintaining his fundraising lead on U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson in the 19th Congressional District — despite what the Republican incumbent's campaign said was the most fruitful fundraising quarter of his congressional career.

The Ulster County Democrat's campaign said it would report raising more than $520,000 during the first quarter of this year, $250,000 of which is Eldridge's own money pledged to match other donors' contributions.

The haul leaves him with $1.58 million in cash on hand about seven months out from Election Day and brings the total of his own fortune pledged to the campaign to $965,000, his campaign said. Eldridge, the husband of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, lives in Shokan.

Gibson, a retired Army colonel and two-term incumbent who lives in Kinderhook, will report raising $459,000, leaving him with $1.23 million on hand, his campaign said.

That's roughly the same gap — around $350,000 — that existed between the two candidates in their January filings.

While Eldridge raised about $8,000 less in the first quarter this year than he did in the fourth quarter of 2013, Gibson raised substantially more than the $269,000 he reported in January. And for Gibson, the $459,000 is more than he has raised in any quarter since his 2010 election, his campaign said.

Neither candidate's actual campaign finance disclosure filing had hit the Federal Election Commission's online database by deadline Tuesday.

The closely divided district, expected to be among the most competitive in the country, stretches across 11 counties from Otsego to Dutchess. Republicans hold an enrollment advantage of nearly 3,200.

Categories: State/Local

Federal stalemate trickles down to state job loss

Albany Times/Union - 10 hours 22 min ago

Albany

The failure of Congress to extend unemployment benefits is hitting the state workforce with layoffs and cuts in hours.

The state Department of Labor has informed 67 hourly employees that they'll lose their jobs May 14. Another 215 will go from full- to part-time status, although they will be eligible for unemployment insurance. Another 24 workers will likely be laid off in the coming months.

None of the cuts will affect the permanent workforce.

"Decreased federal funding has affected numerous states, including New York," state Labor Commissioner Peter Rivera confirmed in a prepared statement Tuesday. "As a result of the federal cuts, the Department of Labor must reduce the number of work hours and eliminate the position for some non-permanent, hourly staff funded by those federal programs."

Those being laid off are the people that other layoff victims turn to for assistance: workers who staff the helplines that the unemployed or job-seekers call when they need assistance in securing unemployment checks or searching for a new job.

A handful of managers will be cut along with the unionized workers.

"They are all hourly employees who are federally funded," said Stephen Madarasz, spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, the union representing 52 workers who are being let go and 36 whose hours will be cut.

"They simply don't have the funding," Madarasz said.

He said the Labor Department has tried to minimize the fallout, but added "at the end of the day, there are some who will be terminated."

About half the cuts are in the Albany area, with the remainder in other parts of the state. Some of the managers being laid off are retirees who had been filling in on a part-time basis.

It wasn't immediately clear if members of the state's second-largest public union, the Public Employees Federation, were affected. PEF spokespeople couldn't be reached on Tuesday.

Because the agency relies heavily on federal funding, job losses at the Department of Labor haven't been unheard of over the years.

Also, the need for employment services tends to be cyclical. Typically, more people are out of work in the winter, with construction slowing and the end of the holiday retail rush.

But the specific layoffs stem from federal cutbacks and tie in with an ongoing deadlock in Washington, where Congress hasn't renewed the emergency unemployment extension which began during the 2008 recession.

Part of the federal funding came with the post-recession federal stimulus program.

The Democratic-led U.S. Senate voted for the extension earlier this month, but the Republican-controlled House hasn't moved the issue since late last year.

State Department of Labor officials say that the cuts should have a "minimal'' impact on customer service. The state's Career Centers and other call centers will remain open.

rkarlin@timesunion.com • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Onondagas file petition for help

Albany Times/Union - 10 hours 22 min ago

Washington

After repeated rebuffs by the federal courts, the Onondaga Nation on Tuesday asked an international human rights commission to help the Onondagas "work for a healing" of their polluted lands.

More than 50 members of the nation gathered in Washington for the filing of the petition with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, requesting recognition that the United States has infringed on the Onondagas' rights.

"The Nation ... is working with its non-Indian neighbors to address serious environmental damage to Onondaga Lake and Onondaga Nation territory," said Alexandra Page of Berkey Williams LLP, the Onondagas' counsel. "This petition is another step in a long, long, fight and is part of the Nation's longstanding efforts to bring about a healing with its neighbors and the natural world."

The Nation is not seeking monetary compensation or eviction of current residents from its lands — but seeks involvement and progress in the environmental cleanup and conservation of the land.

The Nation's 2005 filing sought recognition of its legal ownership of 2.5 million acres of land, which it says was illegally purchased by the state of New York between 1788 and 1822. The land includes Onondaga Lake in Syracuse, which the Onondagas consider sacred and was named an EPA Superfund site in 1994 because of chemical pollution, which the Nation said is the result of multiple toxic waste sites in and around the area.

New York filed a motion to dismiss the Land Rights Action, saying that the Onondagas waited too long to file the case. The Onondagas responded with historical documentation of their ancestors' meetings with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson from when the Nation first requested recognition of their right to the land from the state of New York.

After oral arguments heard in 2007, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York dismissed the land claim in 2010 and the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the Nation's appeal in 2012. In October 2013, the Supreme Court denied hearing the case.

The Nation's spiritual leader, Sid Hill, said the Onondagas feel they were treated unfairly when their requests for a rehearing were denied.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is an institution of the Organization of American States that seeks to protect human rights in the American hemisphere. Hill said the petition was a cry for help to the international community and was a last resort for the Nation after the Supreme Court refused to hear its case.

"It's not what we consider to be a fair thing in your justice system," Hill said. "If they don't hear the case then how do we get justice and when we have complaints? Where can we go?"

In addition to the lake bed pollution, Hill said salt and gravel mining in Tully Valley has damaged Onondaga Creek by causing mud boils and subsidence of the area's land. What was once a source of fish and fresh water for the Onondagas is now polluted, further damaging other streams and rivers that feed into Onondaga Lake.

Hill said Honeywell International Inc., the company that operates those mines, is partially responsible for the pollution, and inaccurately claims to have made large cleanup efforts when only around 10 percent of the toxic waste has been dredged.

"They dumped millions of tons of toxic waste into that Onondaga Lake and have a number of waste pits around the lake," he said. "And when they started drilling salt, mud boils were produced, and now our stream that runs through our nation is chocolate brown throughout the year with tons of salt rolling in through the lake."

Honeywell declined to comment on Tuesday, but Page said that if the Commission agrees that the Nation's rights have been violated by the federal court's refusal to hear the case, it will work with the Nation to educate the public on the environmental damage the area has endured.

The commission's claims take six months to process. If the violations are recognized, the commission will work with the United States and the Nation to find a resolution.

"Fair resolution of the Nation's claims will require participation by the United States, working on a nation-to-nation basis with the Onondaga Nation, as well as the state of New York and local governments and citizens," Page said.

As a self-governing people, Hill said, the Nation has no plans to engage politically on the issue, or to request that any residents relocate. Hill said a resolution between the U.S. and the Onondaga Nation to work together on the preservation and protection of the land is what his people want to see.

siobhan@hearstdc.com

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo accepts pro-charter role

Albany Times/Union - 10 hours 22 min ago

Albany

In another sign of his devotion to the charter school movement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will serve as "honorary chairman" at an upcoming retreat for national advocates for the publicly funded, privately operated schools.

Touted as "a philosopher's camp on education reform," Camp Philos will take place May 4 to 6 at Whiteface Lodge in Lake Placid. The event is being organized by Education Reform Now, a group that includes prominent business leaders who support charter schools, as well as other reforms.

The list of topics on the Camp Philos website includes jargon-heavy issues such as "tight-loose" options for access to education, as well as "collaborative models for changing state and local teacher policies."

Beside Cuomo, headline participants include national charter school figures like U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat who co-chairs the Senate charter school caucus, and former NBA star and Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is married to controversial former Washington, D.C., schools chief Michelle Rhee, the founder of StudentsFirst, an education reform group that has taken on teacher tenure.

Russlynn Ali, a former federal Department of Education official who heads the Emerson Collective, also is listed. The Collective, supported by Steve Jobs' widow, Laurene Jobs, supports a number of initiatives, including immigration reform, environmental protection and charter schools. Tickets for Camp Philos are $1,000 for general admission and $2,500 for VIP access, which includes a reception with featured guests.

Cuomo emerged as a strong charter school supporter in March during negotiations for the recently enacted state budget. His fierce expressions of support coincided with the governor's debate with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio over the newly elected leader's call for a city income tax surcharge to support expanded prekindergarten programs.

Charter school critics are depicting Camp Philos as an elitist event. "When hedge fund operators and billionaires gather to make education policy, parents and teachers have every reason to be concerned," said Carl Korn, spokesman for New York State United Teachers, the state's major teachers union.

Administration officials note that the governor meets with lots of groups, including leaders of teachers unions. Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said Cuomo was "pleased to welcome a major national education conference to the North Country.

Board of directors, including Sessa Capital founder John Petry, who gave Cuomo's campaign $35,000 over the past three years, and Charles Ledley, who has contributed $25,000 since 2009.

rkarlin@timesunion.com • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Today's Lead: Mayor Outlines Sandy Aid Reforms

Gotham Gazette - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 8:05am

By the end of summer, construction will begin on 500 storm-damaged homes and another 500 reimbursement checks for repairs will have been mailed, according to a plan for reforming Sandy recovery aid outlined by Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday. Over 4,000 additional residents will be eligible for compensation under the plan. To handle the workload, the mayor said he'd shift employees from the Buildings Department. He also committed to hiring local workers. It's been over 18 months since the storm hit, and construction under the Build it Back program has only begun on nine homes, though more than 14,000 people have asked for help. Officials estimate another $1 billion in federal funds will be needed, but Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm complained that the mayor never mentioned the need to him. The New York League of Conservation Voters also criticized the plan for a lack of resiliency planning for future storms.

New this morning at Gotham Gazette
Building Back, Hiring Local
Kristen Meriwether looks at Mayor de Blasio's promise that Sandy rebuilding projects will be done, in part, by workers from devastated communities.

A Post-Budget 'Big Ugly'?
David King reports on the legislation on the agenda in Albany for the post-budget section of the legislative session.

The Next 100 Days
An op-ed by StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis outlining what she would like to see from the mayor and the chancellor, especially with regard to the teachers' union contract.

Other Stories We're Following

MTA and Union Reach a Deal (NY Times)

Muslims Unite on Push to Add Holidays to School Calendar (NY Times)

City Wins Two Charter Lawsuits (Daily News)

NYPD Commissioner Rolling Back Overseas Counterterrorism Efforts (AP)

Former NYPD Commissioner Had Shrunk Demographics Unit (Daily News)

Experts to Weigh in on Port Authority Reforms (WSJ)

Co-leader of State Democrats Is Out (Times Union)

Petition Challenges Fly in Recchia-Grimm Battle (NY Observer)

Old Timey Car to Replace Horse Carriages (AP)

City Jobs Up Again - So is Unemployment (Crain's)

Categories: State/Local

Master Teachers selected

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced the selection of 215 new state Master Teachers, top-ranked educators who will receive $15,000 annual stipends for four years. Those chosen will work with students and fellow teachers on new programs designed to enhance instruction in science, technology, engineering and math — the so-called STEM fields.

Initial selections were announced last fall. The additions bring the total number of Master Teachers to 319 spread cross 10 regions.

In a statement, Cuomo said the program "creates a community of teacher experts dedicated to providing a first-rate learning experience for students."

In the Capital Region, 23 teachers were added to the ranks. The University at Albany will serve as the regional host for the program.

— Casey Seiler

Categories: State/Local
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