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Raises still on the 2014 agenda

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 9:07am

They would have less than six weeks to do so, but Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said he'd like to see lawmakers vote on a legislative pay raise before the year is over.

But he added that he's unwilling to trade a raise for any number of items that have been on the wish list of progressive lawmakers, and there haven't been serious talks with Gov. Andrew Cuomo about a pay hike.

"The pay raise was mentioned by me, not that there were any discussions going on with the executive branch," Skelos said Monday after a closed-door meeting of the Senate Republican conference.

"I said I'm in favor of the pay raise on numerous occasions. It's been 14 years," Skelos added, referring to the last raise that lawmakers received in 1999.

Legislators earn a base salary of $79,500, but many receive more for extra duties such as taking leadership roles in the various committees.

Skelos' remarks came after Senate Republicans gathered for the first time at the state Capitol since Election Day, when they gained outright control of the chamber with a 32-seat majority.

Prior to that, Skelos and Republicans had been leading the Senate in a coalition with breakaway Democrat Jeff Klein and his Independent Democratic Conference.

Despite holding a majority, Skelos on Monday said he would like to continue the coalition with Klein, although the details of how that would work haven't been settled.

Two years ago, Klein and Skelos struck a deal in which they would serve as Senate leaders in alternate times, but it wasn't clear if that precise arrangement would stay. With 32 votes, Republicans wouldn't need the coalition to pass or block controversial measures.

Along those lines, Skelos said he wouldn't pass a pay raise for items that his conference has opposed but which are sought by Democrats, including a DREAM Act that would provide taxpayer-funded college aid to undocumented aliens who are living in New York, or public campaign financing.

"We're not doing the DREAM Act. We're not doing minimum wage, we're not doing taxpayer financing (of campaign expenses. If there are other reforms we can come up with, then I'm for it.''

Among the reforms he would favor would be changes to the per-diem system in which out of town lawmakers get a daily payment of $172 for each day they are Albany. That system has occasionally been abused by lawmakers — most recently, Democratic Assemblyman William Scarborough has been charged with allegedly submitting bogus travel expenses.

Several things would have to happen for lawmakers to get a pay raise.

The Assembly would also have to come back in a special session and approve it, although Democrats who control that chamber have long been agitating for a raise.

Cuomo would also have to sign off on a raise, which has led to talk that a legislative hike would be twinned with a pay hike for agency commissioners.

The governor has complained that pay restrictions make it difficult to attract top talent to head the state bureaucracy.

All of this would have to happen by January, since a legislature can't vote itself a raise.

By coming before the end of the year, they would actually be voting for a raise for the next legislative body, whose members start their session in January.

Skelos said his conference discussed several other items on Monday, including the $4.8 billion state surplus, which is due to a series of bank settlements. Republicans would like to see that money go toward infrastructure improvements throughout the state, he said.

As for Democrats' push for a higher minimum wage, Skelos noted that it's already scheduled to go from $8 to $8.75 at the end of this year.

Skelos added that Binghamton-area Tom Libous will remain as deputy Senate majority leader.

Libous is battling cancer and has been indicted for allegedly lying to federal agents by telling them he didn't recall how his son was hired by a politically connected law firm. • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Senator packs bags for Lone Star State

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 1:07am


Greg Ball isn't just leaving the state Senate. He's leaving the state.

"I think I may be one of the first in line on Jan. 1 to get both a Texas driver's license and an AR-15," Ball said Monday in an interview on Time Warner Cable News' "Capital Tonight."

The Putnam County Republican, who did not seek re-election this year, has flirted with a move to the Lone Star State before. He will maintain close ties to New York, however, as the CEO of Black Stone Global LLC, which was announced early Monday morning as "a multifaceted technology, political consulting, marketing and investment company."

Ball, who according to the firm's news release "has established himself as a global leader," will be joined by several of his legislative staffers: Communications Director Joe Bachmeier will be Black Stone's chief marketing officer, and Director of Operations Colin J. Schmitt will be its president.

Charles V. Miles of Chicago, identified in the news release as an "international entrepreneur" who hails "from a multigenerational banking family" (and whom Ball refers to as "my upperclassman at the United States Air Force Academy") will serve as CFO.

The political consulting section of the firm's website displays the flair for colorful language that has become a Ball trademark.

Its "opposition research" page promises candidates the campaign strategy equivalent of "One shot, one kill. ... Prevent yourself from being taken out in a body bag, or ensure your opponent is."

Ball returned to Albany on Monday to take part in the Senate GOP's conference at the Capitol.


Categories: State/Local

Board of Elections vote slows enforcement

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 1:07am


In another sign of the evolving relationship between the state Board of Elections and its new independent enforcement counsel, Risa Sugarman, the board's four commissioners balked at granting "special investigator" status to her and three former law enforcement officers who have been hired to handle campaign finance probes.

Instead, Sugarman will be the only one to be designated as a special investigator, and that status will be effective only until the conclusion of the board's next regular meeting on Dec. 15.

The commissioners initially considered the required resolution at their September meeting. Republican Commissioner Greg Peterson expressed concern that the status would allow the investigators to carry guns. At Monday's meeting, Peterson said those worries had been allayed.

"We have experienced law enforcement officials ... I would have no problem with them carrying (firearms)," Peterson said. "They're not the type that they're going to whip back their coat to show that, 'I got something here — it's a Glock,' or whatever the heck they might be carrying."

Peterson said his concern was the prospect that some "Joe Bagadonuts" in the future would be designated as an investigator and allowed to carry a gun without the board's approval.

In the meeting, Sugarman emphasized that carrying a firearm was "a very small part of peace officer status," and that the designation was needed primarily to allow investigators to conduct background checks for individuals and vehicles, as well as checks of financial records.

"Without this designation, my investigations are hamstrung," she told the commissioners.

Sugarman's independent unit went into operation in September, five months after it was created by the ethics reforms included in the state budget agreement that was swapped for the demise of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Moreland Commission panel on public corruption.

After a long and sometimes testy discussion at Monday's meeting — necessitating a recess that involved a number of sidebar conversations — the resolution was revised, with the names of the three other investigators struck out.

A board spokesman declined to comment on why the commissioners chose to make Sugarman's designation temporary.

In a phone interview, Sugarman said the commissioners' decision would delay the investigators' training, required for all peace officers by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services, in firearms use, defensive tactics, penal law and criminal procedure law.

Sugarman has already received such training, and will therefore be able to conduct background checks immediately.


Categories: State/Local

Delay sought on GOP leader vote

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 1:07am


Not so fast.

That's the message four members of the Assembly's Republican minority have for their colleagues as a vote on the conference's leadership nears. Assembly members Steve McLaughlin, Claudia Tenney, Steve Katz and Kieran Lalor penned a letter to fellow Republicans Monday that expresses concern about the direction and purpose of the conference under its current leadership and calls for a delay of Thursday's leadership vote.

The legislators say the vote comes on short notice and "without adequate time to reflect on the successes and failures of the conference," which is piloted by Finger Lakes Assemblyman Brian Kolb.

In asking to delay the vote until Dec. 4, the four Republicans cite concerns about the leadership's actions on various happenings in the chamber and state government. They write that the Republican leadership was "notably silent during the most embarrassing episode in recent Assembly history when Democratic member Vito Lopez sexually harassed staff members." The legislators write that Republican Assembly leaders "stood silent" when members of the conference were subject to "unwarranted inquiries," part of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.

They also propose an "Unleash New York" agenda that includes expected items, such as repealing the SAFE Act and ending "crony capitalism" (ending START-UP NY and subsidies to "favored" businesses and industries).

Lalor said Monday afternoon that the letter isn't a signal of an attempted coup and that the four Republicans aren't promoting a particular candidate for the minority leader position. He added that he is not interested in the position.

"I'm interested in having a leadership that wants to A) grow the conference and B) get our ideas out there and C) stop the bad ideas and the bad policies of the Sheldon Silver-led Democrats," he said. "We're not promoting a particular candidate for the minority spot."

Kolb, who has been minority leader since 2009, was blindsided by the letter.

"To send this out sort of in the middle of the night and then release it to the press without even having discussed it with me is disingenuous and really a disservice to the conference because these sort of matters are generally talked about in conference," said Kolb, who added that he has an open-door policy and offers opportunities for members to reach out on any issue.

While Lalor said the letter was well-received, Kolb said he has recently spoken with all but two members of the conference (Tenney and Lalor) about the leadership vote and expects to receive 90 percent Thursday. The minority leader said the vote will take place as scheduled. The conference will need a quorum of its 40-plus members of the new Legislature to vote. Kolb said three members indicated they will send proxies to Albany for the vote. "I feel very strongly I will be overwhelmingly elected," he said. • 518-454-5449

Categories: State/Local

A fatal subway shove

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 1:07am

NEW YORK (AP) — A man standing with his wife on a Bronx subway platform was pushed onto the tracks Sunday morning by another man and was struck and killed by an oncoming train, police said. The assailant fled.

Police said an unidentified man pushed 61-year-old Wai Kuen Kwok of the Bronx off the platform at the Grand Concourse and East 167th Street station in the Highbridge neighborhood, an act that appeared to be unprovoked. Kwok was struck by a southbound D train at around 8:40 a.m. and pronounced dead at the scene; his death was classified a homicide. His wife was not injured.

There was no indication that Kwok knew the man or had had an altercation with him before he was pushed, police said. Witnesses told police they believed the man fled the subway station after shoving Kwok and jumped on a city bus.

Police later released video surveillance showing a man wearing a dark jacket getting off a city bus and walking into a store. The man emerges moments later smoking a cigarette and strolls away. Police said the man was wanted for questioning in connection with Kwok's death.

The victim's son, Gary Kwok, 29, a doctoral student at Adelphi University, told The New York Times that his father was a "fine, regular family man."

There have been three other incidents in recent years that involved a person being pushed onto the tracks.

In April 2013, a train ran over a man desperately clawing at a Manhattan subway platform after being pushed onto the tracks by a homeless suspect with whom he'd been arguing.

In December 2012, another homeless man was arrested for pushing a Queens straphanger in front of a Times Square train that fatally crushed him.

And later the same month, a mumbling woman pushed a man to his death in front of a subway train in Queens.

Categories: State/Local
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