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Albany Times/Union

Commuters return, shrug off bomb attack

16 min 8 sec ago

New York

New York subway riders shrugged off the city's latest attack Tuesday, a day after police say a would-be suicide attacker set off a pipe bomb.

The underground passageway at the Times Square station where the homemade device went off Monday was crowded with commuters a day later. The only sign of Monday's explosion was in increased police presence, including a badge-wearing German shepherd named Omar.

Riders said they had no qualms about returning to the station where authorities say Akayed Ullah set off the bomb.

"I just feel like New York City is a resilient city and you just go on with your life and do the best you can ..." said Jennifer Farinas, whose commute involves a bus from Secaucus, N.J., to the Port Authority Bus Terminal near the targeted station and then the subway to her marketing job. "You just have to be aware."

Maintenance worker Jorge Garcia said he didn't think twice about getting on the subway at the Times Square station.

"I'm used to it," Garcia said. "I already went through 9/11. I was about three blocks away when the World Trade Center came down."

Sammy Baron said that his bus from New Jersey arrived at the terminal about 20 minutes after the explosion and people were still running from the scene.

But Baron took the same bus Tuesday and transferred to the subway to his Manhattan banking job. "Life continues," he said.

Ullah, a Bangladeshi immigrant, was the only person seriously injured in the explosion in the blocklong walkway. Three other people complained of hearing loss and headaches.

Categories: State/Local

New York education leaders urge flexibility in free tuition program

16 min 8 sec ago

ALBANY — New York education leaders on Tuesday urged government officials to build more flexibility into the state's new "free tuition" program, which launched this summer and is currently serving more than 23,000 public college students statewide.

University leaders told lawmakers at a Tuesday hearing of the Assembly's Higher Education Committee that they hope the state will expand the program's application period, particularly for community college students, who historically tend to enroll in the days and weeks leading up to the first day of classes.

"A lot of community college students may have had financial circumstances change, and at the last minute decide to enroll," said Patricia Thompson, assistant vice chancellor for student financial aid services at the SUNY system. "We certainly don't want to discourage that."

It was the first major hearing on the state's free tuition program, known as the Excelsior Scholarship, since its much-heralded launch this summer. Lawmakers, led by committee chair Deborah Glick, were eager to hear how the implementation went, what mistakes were made, and what improvements could ensure a smoother rollout in the future.

Of particular concern to education leaders and advocates was the late, compressed time frame that students had to apply for the scholarship, which is available to students from households making less than $100,000 a year. The income cutoff will rise to $110,000 next year, and $125,000 in 2019.

Because it passed with the state budget in April, it wasn't until June 7 that the application window for the scholarships even opened. It closed 45 days later on Aug. 21.

As a result, some students weren't notified until mid-semester that they were eligible for an award, and many had still not seen the tuition deducted from their bills. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office on Tuesday said tuition should have been deferred for these students, with colleges receiving reimbursement at the end of each semester.

"I think the rollout of this program was done very well, given that we had an incredibly compressed time frame," said Dan Fuller, assistant secretary for education for Cuomo, who championed the program.

Moving forward, the application period for a fall semester will kick off in March, Fuller said, giving students plenty of advance time to get their applications in.

SUNY leaders stressed it would be important to open the application window "as soon as possible" and keep it open "as late as possible," so that as many students as possible have a chance to apply.

During the 45-day window this past summer, more than 94,000 students applied for a scholarship and 46,000 of them learned they would receive free tuition. But not all of those would receive the new Excelsior Scholarship.

That's because the scholarship is a "last-dollar" award, meaning it applies only after all other forms of financial aid are taken into account. For 45 years, the lowest-income students in New York have been able to receive free or discounted tuition through the state's Tuition Assistance Program, not to mention the federal Pell grant program.

All told, just 23,000 students ended up qualifying for an Excelsior Scholarship — with most of them coming from families that historically made too much to qualify for financial aid.

The low acceptance rate was proof to critics that the program was far too exclusive. To receive an award, students must attend school full-time and complete 30 credits a year — a requirement that boxes out the large number of students in New York who attend part-time because they are juggling jobs, families, or both.

While the governor's office and SUNY have said that this requirement is key to ensuring students save money and graduate on time, the Center for an Urban Future on Tuesday called it a "relic of a long-dead era" when most college students were recent high school graduates whose parents could fully support them while they studied full-time.

"Today, such so-called 'traditional students' are a minority of the student population," Thomas Hilliard, a senior researcher at the center, told lawmakers. "Six out of 10 college students nationwide work, one in four have children, and more than half are independent. Some students may change their behavior to obtain the Excelsior grant, but most will find it unrealistic or counterproductive."

The acceptance rate also prompted Glick to wonder aloud if the governor's office hadn't "oversold" the program, giving false hopes to students who may not have been aware of the program's strict requirements.

"I think to some extent when you put the words 'free' in front of things you generate a lot of interest," Fuller responded. "And free tuition, certainly at a time when student loan debt is at $1.4 trillion, generates interest. I think that we were always pretty clear about the credits and the on-time graduation ... so I don't think there was a big surprise. I think we did get a lot of interest, and I think that's a good thing."

Lawmakers also heard from the state's private colleges, who early on had voiced concerns about the free tuition program potentially siphoning off their students.

In response to concerns, state legislators established an Enhanced Tuition Award for private college students, promising to shave $6,000 off their tuition so long as their colleges put up half the money and agreed to cap tuition for the duration of the award. Only 30 of the state's 110 private colleges signed up to participate, though.

That's because the requirements — for both students and colleges — were too tough, said Mary Beth Labate, president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities. Private campuses in New York already provide $5.4 billion in grant aid to students each year, which amounts to nearly 90 percent of all grant aid students receive, she said.

"Requiring a new matching program does not account for the aid campuses already give," she said. "This is particularly harmful to institutions that operate on a low-tuition, low-aid business model that keeps costs low for students."

This fall, CICU reported that the state's private colleges that largely enroll in-state students had experienced a notable drop-off in enrollment this fall.

"I think it was a confluence of factors," Labate told lawmakers Tuesday. "I can't say it was all part of this Excelsior effect."

Categories: State/Local

Gillibrand, allies respond to Trump tweet alleging she'll 'do anything' for donations

16 min 8 sec ago

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's war of words with President Donald Trump escalated Tuesday, when he assailed her on Twitter as a ''lightweight'' who would ''do anything for'' campaign contributions.

But political observers suggest that the combat could demonstrate the extent to which Gillibrand has become a heavyweight, especially on the issue of sexual misconduct.

Trump's tweet came a day after Gillibrand and other Democratic lawmakers said the president should resign due to what she termed "credible'' and "numerous" accusations of sexual misconduct dating back to the 1970s. If he does not quit, Gillibrand said, Congress should conduct bipartisan hearings into the allegations.

As is his style, Trump responded with a blistering morning Tweet: ''Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office 'begging' for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked — USED!''

Gillibrand took to the same platform to respond to Trump: ''You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office.''

At a news conference several hours later, Gillibrand said she viewed Trump's attack as "a sexist smear. ... It's not going to silence the numbers of women out there speaking out every day since (Trump's) inauguration about things they disagree with.''

Veteran Gillibrand watchers said the Trump-Gillibrand exchange only burnishes Gillibrand's credentials among Democratic voters in New York who she'll appeal to as she seeks re-election in 2018 – and potentially elsewhere if she harbors presidential ambitions in 2020 or beyond.

''For a Democrat, to be attacked by Donald Trump is a medal of honor,'' said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. ''It is something you will wear forever in primaries and general elections, whatever you're running for. You will get you a lot of votes just because voters know Donald Trump hates you.''

Gillibrand is not expected to have serious GOP competition for her Senate seat. Roll Call, a publication focused on the intricacies of Capitol Hill, cast Tuesday's Twitter war as a "possible 2020 preview."

Gillibrand's allies quickly joined New York's junior senator on the ramparts.

Former Hillary Clinton campaign official Patti Solis Doyle quoted Trump's suggestion that Gillibrand would "do anything" for campaign donations: "What does that mean, @realDonaldTrump?! You, a man, accused by more than a dozen credible women of assault and harassment, (have) the audacity make this vile, disgusting implication. SHAME!"

''Are you really trying to bully, intimidate and slut-shame @SenGillibrand? Do you know who you're picking a fight with? Good luck with that,'' Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., tweeted at the president.

The charges of sexual assault against Trump gained prominence during the 2016 campaign when an ''Access Hollywood'' recording revealed him using vulgar language to brag about his pursuit of women, including descriptions of groping. But the recent spate of accusations that have brought down famous men like entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein have cast a new light on Trump's conduct.

White House Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied Trump's tweet was sexist.

''Only if your mind was in the gutter would you have read it that way,'' Sanders said at the regular White House briefing. ''It's obviously talking about political partisan games that people often play, and the broken system that (Trump)'s talked about repeatedly." Others noted that Trump's Twitter feed offered examples of him using similar phrasing to attack male politicians.

Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, criticized the Twitter exchange but declined to assign a greater share of blame to either participant.

''It is entirely unproductive and doesn't advance the public good on either part,'' he said. ''I think tweeting generally is not a good way to conduct public policy, on either part.''

Gillibrand, 51, has turned sexual assault in the military and on campus into signature issues. ''She has street cred" on the subject, Sabato said.

A week ago, her statement that Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken should resign amid a growing chorus of sexual-abuse allegations led to numerous other Democrats also calling on the former "Saturday Night Live" writer and player to quit.

Franken announced a day later he would vacate his Senate seat.

Categories: State/Local

Regional economic awards will be announced Wednesday

16 min 8 sec ago

ALBANY — It's as close to an awards show as the state Capitol gets: Local government and business officials from around New York will be on hand at the Albany Capital Center on Wednesday at 11 a.m. for the announcement of the annual Regional Economic Development Council competition.

Ten regions statewide compete for the money in the process, which was launched by Gov. Andrew Cuomo after he took office in 2011.

This year's $800 million race for state grants and tax credits will decide whether or not support will be allocated to dozens of projects proposed by the Capital Region's council, including redevelopment of the old Starlite Theater property in Colonie and the Palace Theatre's proposed renovation and expansion, which was on the wish list in 2016 as well.

The council — made up of local business, nonprofit, education and government leaders — submitted requests for $21 million in funding in its 2017 application, half of what was awarded through the council process last year when it was selected as one of the "top priority" regions for awards.

The biggest request locally is for $5 million to help redevelop 58 acres around the old Starlite Theater property on Route 9R in Latham. Rotterdam-based Galesi Group is proposing a two-phase development of houses, apartments, offices and retail. The developer has presented some of its initial plans to the Colonie Planning Board. The $5 million in state money would go toward a $46.5 million portion of the project. The theater, not used since the late 1990s, was torn down in 2012.

The Palace Theatre is asking for $2.5 million to assist in paying for the first phase of its $65 million project. The request is less than the $4.2 million it unsuccessfully requested through the council process last year. The state grant would go toward a $29 million first phase that would increase accessibility for disabled patrons, provide stage updates and add a loading dock.

The other large requests include $2.9 million to renovate an old downtown Schenectady Breslaw's Department Store for use by Schenectady County Community College's culinary arts program. Last year, Re4orm Architecture, the lead developer on the project, was awarded $2.3 million through the council to rehab buildings in the same area on lower State Street.

UAlbany is also requesting $2.4 million to assist in renovation of the former Albany High School building to be used as its engineering school. UAlbany said it is also seeking $9.6 million in other state funding for the project.


Categories: State/Local

Brian Kolb is first Republican to enter 2018 governor's race

16 min 8 sec ago

ALBANY — Brian Kolb won election to the Assembly by a razor-thin seven-vote margin in 2000.

In 2018, he'll need to scrape together every vote he can as he seeks to become the first Republican to win statewide office since former Gov. George Pataki won his final term in 2002.

On Tuesday, Kolb, the Assembly Republican minority leader since 2009, announced that he would run for governor, making him the first GOPer out of the gates as a handful of others mull whether to take on two-term Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo next year.

Kolb is an obscure figure statewide who will need to overcome a significant campaign financial disadvantage to Cuomo. The governor had more than $25 million in his war chest as of July. Kolb had just more than $255,000 in his Assembly campaign account.

But the Republican, like others who might challenge Cuomo, is banking on voters being hungry for a change in state leadership.

"I believe that people are looking for a new voice, someone that's really going to listen to them," he told the Times Union.

"It all usually comes down to do you get a sense that Brian Kolb really cares ... not about being elected but really cares about trying to help and make our state better," he added. "And I think I can make a way better case than Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo, who is hellbent on other political ambitions."

Kolb, a former business owner and entrepreneur from Ontario County, has been conservative when it comes to policies that the Democratic governor counts among his progressive bona fides.

He has been an ardent critic of the SAFE Act, saying at a Capitol rally in 2013 that it “is probably one of the most egregious acts by government I’ve seen defying our nation’s history.”

Kolb also has called the minimum wage increase and paid-family-leave program “two crushing mandates” for small businesses.

This year, as Cuomo pushed for a free college tuition program, Kolb backed an “affordable” college plan put forth by the Assembly GOP that would have increased eligibility for the state Tuition Assistance Program and increased the maximum TAP award.

Kolb and other candidates who emerge are likely to focus on ethics. In his campaign kickoff video, Kolb's team highlighted a case going trial next year involving a former top aide to the governor and some of Cuomo's top economic development initiatives.

But Kolb has faced scrutiny in the Legislature.

In 2004, a lawsuit centering on then-Speaker Sheldon Silver's handling of sexual harassment sought documents regarding complaints against Kolb and another member. Kolb told the Daily News Tuesday that "there's been rumors out there for years," but "I've been a strong and ethical leader."

It's unclear whether Kolb's early announcement will deter other potential GOP candidates. Businessman and former candidate for state comptroller Harry Wilson, state Senate Deputy Republican Majority Leader John DeFrancisco and Dutchess County Exeuctive Marc Molinaro all are considering their options. The party's 2014 candidate, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, decided not to run again after losing his re-election effort this year.

Kolb's hope is that the party comes out of next year's nominating convention unified. Still, he didn't dispel the idea of a potential primary.

For his part, state Republican Chairman Ed Cox said in a statement that the GOP is glad Kolb has formally announced. But he isn't lining up behind a candidate yet.

"We will be working collaboratively with our county chairs over the coming weeks and months to put together the statewide ticket that will turn our state around," he said.

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

Categories: State/Local

Subway bomb blast creates chaos, but does little harm

16 min 8 sec ago

New York

A would-be suicide bomber inspired by Islamic State extremists strapped on a crude pipe bomb, slipped unnoticed into the nation's busiest subway system and set the device off at rush hour Monday in a scenario that New York has dreaded for years, authorities said.

In the end, the only serious wounds were to the suspect identified as Akayed Ullah, a 27-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant and former cabdriver. But the attack sent terrified commuters fleeing through a smoky passageway, and three people suffered headaches and ringing ears from the first bomb blast in the subway in more than two decades.

"This was an attempted terrorist attack," Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "Thank God the perpetrator did not achieve his ultimate goals."

The suspect had looked at Islamic State propaganda online and told investigators he acted alone in retaliation for U.S. military aggression, law enforcement officials said.

In Washington, President Donald Trump said the explosion highlighted the need to change immigration policies, including the type of family-based visa Ullah obtained to come to the U.S. in 2011. Such visas are "incompatible with national security," the Republican president said in a statement. "America must fix its lax immigration system, which allows far too many dangerous, inadequately vetted people to access our country," said Trump, who campaigned on cracking down on immigration.

The attack near Times Square came less than two months after eight people died near the World Trade Center in a truck attack authorities said was carried out by an Uzbek immigrant who admired the Islamic State group.

Law enforcement officials said Ullah was inspired by IS but apparently did not have any direct contact with the group. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said there was no evidence, so far, of other bombs or a larger plot. He said officials were exploring whether Ullah had been on authorities' radar, but there was no indication yet that he was.

Cuomo said there was reason to believe the attacker looked at bomb-making instructions online.

Categories: State/Local

Activists ring alarm over for-profit colleges

16 min 8 sec ago

ALBANY — Anti-poverty activists are urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to veto a bill that would allow students at for-profit colleges to get the same kind of tuition assistance being offered to their non-profit counterparts.

They argue the bill, passed in the waning days of this year's legislative session and now on Cuomo's desk, doesn’t weed out the significant number of for-profit colleges that are on a federal watch list of institutions whose graduates are struggling to pay back their loans.

“This bill only does one thing: It helps for-profit schools,” said Yan Cao, a fellow at the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.

A federal test developed by the Department of Education under former President Barack Obama tracks students graduating from for-profit schools and tries to determine if they have a realistic chance of paying off their student debt, given their incomes and loan totals after graduating.

Many do not appear to be on track, said Johnson Tyler, a lawyer for the South Brooklyn Legal Services organization who represents graduates in financial trouble with their loans.

"There's no limitation in the bill that says (the schools) have to pass this federal test," said Kirsten Keefe, senior attorney at the Empire Justice Center.

The bill to include for-profit colleges in the tuition plan is sponsored by two Bronx lawmakers, Democratic Assemblyman Victor Pichardo and Sen. Jeffrey Klein, who leads the Independent Democratic Conference.

The measure was passed after last spring’s budget agreement in which the lawmakers and Cuomo agreed to  spend $19 million on an Enhanced Tuition Award program.

Representatives of non-profit private colleges and universities said they were being undercut by Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship program, which augmented existing state and federal programs in order to give low-income students "free tuition" at state schools.

The Enhanced Tuition Award program didn’t include the for-profit private colleges.

In the Capital Region, for-profit organizations include Bryant & Stratton College as well as Mildred Elley.

The federal watch list was developed as part of a "Gainful Employment" program that tried to match education programs and incomes. Schools that consistently perform poorly were supposed to lose federal funding.

That may change, however: Under President Donald Trump, federal education officials are looking at dropping the watch list as part of its move toward a more free-market approach to education, said Tyler.

Pichardo said he realizes that some of the for-profit schools have poor track records. “There are always some bad apples,” he said. But that shouldn’t mean the entire tuition enhancement plan should be dropped, he said.

"Undergrads who attend New York State's proprietary colleges, which are degree-granting institutions certified by the Board of Regents like CUNY, SUNY or any other non-profit institution, deserve financial aid parity," Klein's spokeswoman Candice Giove said. "The 40,000 students who attend them each year face the same struggles as any other student."

“It’s about equality,” said Donna Gurnett, president of the state Association of Proprietary Colleges.

Several Bryant & Stratton programs ended up on the federal watch list. Michael A. Gutierrez, the school's Albany market director, said it made a successful appeal of that designation. "This is not the first time data from the U.S. Department of Education was wrong, as they have a history of inaccurate data with (student loan) default rates," Gutierrez said.

And Faith Takes, chairwoman of Mildred Elley, noted that their student default rates are below the national average. Both Bryant & Stratton and Mildred Elley had some programs in the January listing.

Still, critics like Tyler say they see students who have taken costly courses offered by for-profit colleges only to learn there are few jobs open to them.

Giove noted that the bill would not aid certificate-granting schools that teach such skills, and said it was unfair to lump certified proprietary schools with less reputable operations.

The bill is likely to be discussed during a legislative hearing on higher education scheduled for Tuesday.

rkarlin@timesunion.com 518 454 5758 @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Gillibrand says Trump should resign over misconduct allegations

16 min 8 sec ago

ALBANY — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Monday that President Donald Trump should resign from office due to what she believes are credible accusations that he engaged in sexual misconduct dating back to the 1970s.

"These allegations are credible, they are numerous," Gillibrand told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "I've heard these women's testimony, and many of them are heartbreaking. ... Whether he will ever hold himself accountable is something you really can't hold your breath for."

Gillibrand said Congress should hold bipartisan hearings into the allegations, which have been leveled by more than a dozen women.

"I think he should immediately resign, and if he doesn't we should have the investigation," she said.

Gillibrand's remarks come a day after Trump's United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley said the women who have made allegations against Trump deserve to have their allegations heard and dealt with. Also Monday, several of Trump's accusers appeared on Megyn Kelly's NBC talk show and called for Congressional hearings into their charges.

Gillibrand, who has made the fight against sexual harassment and abuse one of her keynote issues, was among the first Senate Democrats to call on U.S. Sen. Al Franken to resign last week in the face of a handful of allegations of sexual misconduct. The Minnesota lawmaker announced on the Senate floor on Thursday — just a day after Gillibrand and dozens of other Senate Democrats issued statements calling for his ouster — that he would leave the chamber in the weeks ahead.

"When we heard about the eighth allegation, it was just too much," Gillibrand said of the decision to call for Franken to make his exit.

In the weeks since reports of producer Harvey Weinstein's alleged predations began a nationwide dialogue over sexual misconduct, Gillibrand has also said that former President Bill Clinton should have resigned after his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky came to light — a stance that placed considerable distance between Gillibrand and the Clintons, who supported her early political career.

Trump has repeatedly denied the allegations of all the women who have accused him of various forms of abuse, including groping and forcible kissing.

In a briefing Monday, White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders reiterated those denials, and said Trump's election demonstrated that the American public viewed them as a closed issue.

"The president has addressed these accusations directly, and denied all of these allegations, and this took place long before he was elected to be president," Sanders said.

Amanpour asked Gillibrand about the divergence between Democrats driving their colleagues out of office for alleged misdeeds while Trump and many Republicans throw their support behind GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama, who has been accused of dating teenage girls when he was in his 30s, and of committing sexual assault against a 16-year-old and molesting a 14-year-old. Moore has denied knowing any of his accusers.

Alabama voters head to the polls Tuesday.

"I don't think this should be a political matter," Gillibrand said. "It's about doing the right thing, and it's about holding Congress accountable — holding Congress to the highest standard, not the lowest standards."

Categories: State/Local

DeFrancisco, Miner talk politics, policy in Albany chat

16 min 8 sec ago

ALBANY — In a preview of a potential future gubernatorial debate, Democratic Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and state Senate Deputy Republican Majority Leader John DeFrancisco disagreed on policy during a panel discussion Monday.

But they found common ground on one issue: the need to change the current tenor of politics.

“We think that to have a vibrant, civic dialogue is important,” Miner said after the pair took questions at an event hosted by the Bull Moose Club. “The fact that it’s been missing, we’ve all suffered from that.”

“Ditto,” DeFrancisco quickly added.

Both officials are mulling bids for governor, though neither had a final a decision to announce on Monday. Miner also is reconsidering her earlier decision not to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. John Katko in next year's race for Congress.

Monday’s discussion at the University Club ranged from their views on marijuana (Miner supports legalization; DeFrancisco does not) to economic development (both criticized the state's Regional Economic Development Council process) to a decline in civic participation among the electorate.

DeFrancisco said people are tired of constant divisiveness in politics.

“And people are also of the opinion they can’t do a damn thing about it because big money controls politics and people that are going to be benefiting from the government are those who are going to be on the inside,” he said.

“The only way I think it’s going to change is there’s going to have to be some ability to make sure people believe, and the rules are such that people believe that the process is fair, Number One, and  and, Number Two, that their vote means something,” he added.

Miner pointed to a need to improve access to the ballot box and for nonpartisan redistricting. She suggested that tying someone’s ability to vote to their residence depresses turnout among transient populations like the poor and young, and that voting by mail — as is allowed in Oregon, for example — could drive up turnout.

“Imagine how different our politics would be if we had to … appeal to 80 percent of the electorate,” Miner said. “All of a sudden the ideas and the policies and how you think about it change dramatically. Instead of saying, ‘Well, geez, I’m just going to think about people who give campaign donations because that’s going to help me appeal to this very small select group of people that already vote,’ we would be widening that, in essence doing what I believe our founding fathers through this process wanted us to do.”

The amicable hour-long discussion isn’t necessarily a signal that a joint DeFrancisco-Miner ticket (or vice versa) is likely in 2018. But they agreed that next year’s gubernatorial race will be competitive for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, regardless of who runs.

Should either run and win, they’d be the first governor from upstate in years.

“The numbers are obviously against anybody from upstate winning statewide office,” DeFrancisco said. He later added that the consequence is the philosophical upstate-downstate divide.

The solution to that: “Elect an upstater next year in November as governor,” he said, joking alluding to himself.

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

Categories: State/Local

GE cleanup fight focuses on shore

16 min 8 sec ago

Schuylerville

As General Electric seeks to close the books on a $1.7 billion cleanup of the upper Hudson River, a new fight is simmering over the company's legacy of toxic pollution in the region.

This time, the focus is not on whether the fish are safe to eat, but whether children are safe playing in riverside parks and backyards that are prone to frequent flooding. Boston-based GE has agreed to spend $20 million testing soil in the river's flood plain along the 40-mile-long stretch of river where it completed dredging 2.75 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment in 2015.

But it hasn't agreed to remove soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, which are suspected of causing cancer and other health problems. That will require a legal agreement negotiated with the Environmental Protection Agency.

An actual cleanup project in flood plain areas is at least five years away, after soil testing now under way is completed, followed by a human health impact study and designing a cleanup plan.

In the waterfront village of Schuylerville, site of key events in the Revolutionary War, the protracted process of initiating a flood plain cleanup plan doesn't sit well with residents and officials who have been trying for years to get state or federal agencies to remove contaminated sediment from an old section of the Champlain Canal that connects to the river.

"In our estimation, the EPA made a huge error when it didn't include the canal in the Hudson River dredging because they said it was standing water," said Schuylerville Mayor Dan Carpenter. "It's hydrologically connected to the river and was flowing when the PCBs were released" from GE plants upstream more than 40 years ago.

Carpenter and residents want the EPA to order GE to clean up the canal now. Julie Stokes, who represents the local chamber of commerce on EPA's Community Advisory Group for the Hudson River Superfund cleanup project, said there's a window of opportunity to do that in the next few weeks.

The EPA is completing its second five-year review of the Hudson River dredging and may soon act on GE's request that the agency formally declare the project complete, which would diminish its ability to order the company to undertake additional cleanup actions. "Our position is, don't close the books on that until you fix this problem," said Dave Roberts, a retired contractor in Schuylerville who's helping create a heritage tourism center beside the canal.

The banks of the mile-long ribbon of water in the heart of the village sometimes overflow during thunderstorms and flood adjacent properties, including nearby Fort Hardy Park. Residents fear floodwaters will breach a dike and carry contaminated silt that has accumulated so deep that the canal is a cattail-filled swamp in some places.

"Should the dike fail, all that goop would flow right down into the park," Roberts said.

Fort Hardy Park is not only a popular recreation area but also a significant historic site. It's where Gen. John Burgoyne's defeated British troops laid down their arms in surrender in 1777, giving the Americans their first major victory.

GE invested $1.7 billion in the river dredging project, which the EPA has said has met its goals. The state Department of Environmental Conservation and environmental groups disagree with the EPA and say too much PCB-contaminated sediment remains in the river.

In the flood plain phase of the cleanup, GE has analyzed more than 7,000 samples from 3,000 locations so far, company spokesman Mark Behan said. About 80 percent of samples showed no PCBs or very low levels.

In areas with higher PCB levels that are used by the public, GE has done about 60 urgent projects including covering contaminated areas at a park and a kayak launch with rocks and sand.

After DEC's tests over the summer showed elevated PCB levels in the old canal, the agency requested that EPA do further sampling to determine if such an emergency action is needed to protect people who use the park.

An EPA spokeswoman said GE took samples from the old canal and areas susceptible to flooding, including the Fort Hardy Park, over the past week, but results aren't available yet.

Categories: State/Local

Notebook: Women representation grows at the county level in New York

16 min 8 sec ago

These two numbers represent the same thing: 257 and 22 percent.

In 2018, there will be 257 women serving in county-level elected positions, up from 245 in 2017, according to the state Association of Counties. But they represent just 22 percent of all county-level offices, a percentage close to that for female representation in the state Legislature (28 percent) and Congress (20 percent).

Sixty-two women were elected to county positions heading into next year, according to the Association of Counties.

"Whether it's closing the pay gap, whether it's higher education, whether it's early childhood education, whether it's maternity care, paid family leave, those sorts of issues that might not get sufficient attention or level of importance from male representatives might get more attention if we have women in office," said Victoria Plotsky, one of the 62, who was elected to the Albany County Legislature.

Data from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University show that the number of women running for higher level office has increased over time. Consider that in 1970, there were 26 total candidates for U.S. Senate and the House. In 2016, there were 183 total congressional candidates.

Looking ahead to 2018, CAWP data on potential candidates show that there are 41 for Senate seats and 369 for House seats. (Both totals include incumbents)

Has more women running translated to more women representation?

In 1971, 3 percent of congressional representatives were women, according to the Congressional Research Service. As noted, the number is now about 20 percent.

CAWP does not have national data on the number of women in county-level office. But data on the percentage of women who are mayors of cities of 30,000 or more is similar to the that for other levels of government: As of September, 21 percent of the 1,362 mayors were women.

Let's talk pay raises

Yes, again.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is dangling the pay raise carrot in front of the Legislature as they head into a tough budget year. No on-time budget, Cuomo says, no support of raising lawmakers base pay above the current $79,500.

"If you’re a car salesman and you don’t sell any cars, you don’t get a commission. You have to do your job, perform at your job, to be compensated," Cuomo said during a conference call with reporters Thursday. "You certainly have to perform at your job if you want a raise.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was asked about those comments during a radio interview Friday.

"We’d like it to be on-time, we’d like to give our school districts certainty," he said on WCNY's "The Capitol Pressroom." "But he feels that that’s a negotiating ploy for him because he wants to ensure an on-time budget.”

“I will be the first one to say, I’ve been been here for 17 years, I still believe that lawmakers deserve a pay raise,” he added when asked if lawmakers want to consider raises in an election year.

This conversation isn’t new.

In recent history, when a special commission established to consider judicial, legislative and executive pay decided against recommending raises for lawmakers in 2016, talks of a special session to reauthorize the commission and complete other tasks were sparked.

Ultimately, everything fell apart.

By law, the commission is supposed to meet to consider salaries every four years. But, like clockwork, the raise still comes up as a legislative trade proposal in the meantime.

Drug charge against Dadey dropped

A misdemeanor drug charge against the former executive director of good-government group Citizens Union has been dropped by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office.

Dick Dadey, a long-time advocate in Albany, wrote in a statement posted to Twitter that he is relieved the charge has been dismissed and grateful to the district attorney’s office for its compassion.

“I accept full responsibility for the mistake I made and apologize without condition to those who placed their trust in me and who I failed,” he wrote.

Dadey was replaced by Betsy Gotbaum as executive director of Citizens Union.

He wrote that he hopes to “at some future point return to my life’s work of creating a more equal, just, open, and fair civil society.”

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

Categories: State/Local

Analysis: Politicians, staffs, work hard to spin their coverage

16 min 8 sec ago

ALBANY - Public relations staffers for Gov. Andrew Cuomo as well as other politicians have long worked to ‘’spin’’ or promote their view on topics or stories covered by the press.

Earlier in the week, though, staffers for Cuomo tried spin a story ahead of time by suggesting that reporters ask specific questions of the governor during an afternoon conference call.  The request created a flap, but it also provided some insight into how the governor, and other politicians, try to manipulate news coverage.

The phone conference was one of several that Cuomo has held in recent weeks to criticize the Congressional tax overhaul and what he says will be its costly and negative impact on New York.

Prior to the event, a representative of the governor called several reporters suggesting questions they might want to ask.

Then during the phone conference, a reporter who wanted to ask about legislative pay raises was “chosen’’ to ask a question on the electronic phone queue. Other reporters, though, didn’t get to ask their questions because the conference call ended before the governor got to them.

That provoked an outcry on social media.

The practice of trying to get reporters to ask specific questions isn’t new.

And lot of politicians use phone conferences.

But there was a twist here – Cuomo was conducting the conference from Albany. He was in the Executive Mansion, just several blocks from the Capitol and reporters were frustrated that he hasn’t had a live press conference in Albany since June.

For most New Yorkers, the affair is far from earth-shaking news. But it is instructive and points to some ongoing truths about how politicians try to steer the news in their favor.

Here are some key points:

Lawmakers try to control who asks the questions and they can use technology to their advantage: In a phone conference reporters call in ahead of time using a pass code where they state their name and affiliation. Then they hit a button, usually Star 1 to pose their questions. But if the politicians think it will be an unfriendly question they can simply ignore the request.

The lack of having a live press conference in the Capitol since June is notable for Cuomo. With corruption trials of former Cuomo aides starting in 2018, the governor surely knows that reporters would ask questions about that during a live event.

Politicians like plausible deniability: Thursday’s question about whether lawmakers would get a pay raise appeared to come out of the blue. But Cuomo may have been wanting to send a message or respond to a request about pay raises without making it look like he was dredging up old battles. Lawmakers last year were angered at what many believe was the governor’s derailing a plan to institute raises in lawmakers’ $79,500 base salaries. With a $4 billion budget deficit looming in 2018, he may be trying to cut off such talk at the outset. Or the governor may be using the possibility of a raise to try to push lawmakers toward an on-time budget. When asked about the possible raises, Cuomo said “I will not be supportive of any pay raise if the budget isn’t done on time.”

Repetition serves a purpose: Thursday marked at least the fourth time that Cuomo has spoken out against the harmful impacts of the tax-overhaul bill. From a political standpoint, there’s little to lose in the predominantly Democratic state of New York by keeping up a drumbeat of criticism against Republicans.

Politics can indeed make strange situational bedfellows: For years, fiscal conservatives have criticized Cuomo, and the state in general, for high taxes. To buttress their point, they pointed to the exodus of New Yorkers for lower-tax states. Until recently, such stories were greeted with hostility and rebutted by the Cuomo administration.

But with the  Congressional tax plan threatening to eliminate or cap state and local tax deductions, Cuomo, along with other Democrats, is now warning that loss of deductions could drive families out of state due to taxes.

There’s always going to be a tug-o-war between the press and lawmakers.

Bob Bellafiore,who was an Associated Press reporter and spokesman for former Gov. George Pataki and now runs a public affairs firm, had a two-way view of Thursday’s efforts to plant reporters questions ahead of time.

“As a former reporter I bristled at the move. As a former press secretary, I give him credit for trying.”

rkarlin@timesunion.com 518 454 5758 @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

On 'New York Now': A bridge renaming too far?

16 min 8 sec ago

Don't miss this week's episode of "New York Now," featuring Matt Ryan's report on organized pushback to the surprise plan to name the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement after the late Gov. Mario Cuomo.

The Reporters Roundtable features discussion of the heated battle against the GOP tax plan with Michael Gormley of Newsday and Matthew Hamilton and Casey Seiler from the Times Union.

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

Categories: State/Local

Appellate court upholds Empire Fellows program

16 min 8 sec ago

ALBANY — An appellate court on Thursday upheld a high-level fellowship program started in 2014 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that drew the ire of public workers unions, whose leaders said it circumvented the system of civil service promotions.

An appellate court on Thursday unanimously agreed that a standardized civil service exam could not gauge whether an Empire Fellow, as the participants are called, possess the “intangible personal skills” as well as what judges said was the “diplomacy, sound judgment and discretion" needed to work closely with senior state officials.

Touted as a pipeline to bring talented newcomers into government service, the program taps a variety of relatively young professionals for two-year assignments working with top state agency leaders and policymakers as well as members of Cuomo’s executive staff.

The governor said it was a way to groom the next generation of government leaders.

Two unions, the Public Employees Federation and the AFL/CIO, said in a lawsuit that the program ran counter to the long-established civil service system in which promotions were largely but not totally based on exam scores. PEF represents about 53,000 white collar state employees.

The case was appealed after State Supreme Court Justice Richard J. McNally Jr. concluded in 2016 that the program did not violate civil service mechanisms.

Following Thursday’s appellate decision, PEF issued a statement saying the court's action "supports further erosion of the Civil Service system under which we are supposed to be operating.”

In the decision, the Appellate Division judges pointed to precedents limited their review over the civil service system. They can intervene if there are arbitrary or irrational actions, but can’t override the job classification system set up by the executive branch.

According to a website for the program, the next class of Empire Fellows will begin in September 2018 and work through September 2020.

rkarlin@timesunion.com 518 454 5758 @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Federal tax bill could help craft brewers

16 min 8 sec ago

Albany

 New York’s predominantly Democratic lawmakers have for weeks been decrying the federal tax overhaul that the Republican-controlled Congress is drawing up, but there is a bright side.

Part of the nearly 500-page tax reform bill includes a proposal to cut by half the federal excise tax on craft beer.

With the fourth-highest number of craft breweries nationwide, the measure could spur a growing industry that already enjoys a number of state benefits.

“As with most small independent businesses, the savings will go directly back into the task of creating high quality products and increasing the brand successes,” Jeremy Cowan, owner of Clifton Park’s Shmaltz Brewing, one of 375 such relatively small breweries in the state, said in an email.

“Brewers just pour that money back into their businesses. It would be a big win,” said Paul Leone, executive director of the state Brewers Association.

For brewers who produce up to 60,000 barrels annually, the measure would cut the per-barrel federal excise tax from $7 to $3.50 per barrel, explained Leone.

Like the rest of the massive and rapidly evolving tax bill, the details remained fluid on Thursday. As currently conceived, the cut would expire at the end of 2019 but the beer lobby is pushing to extend or make it permanent.

The national Brewers Association has been pushing for such a measure for years.

It would also apply to wineries and distilleries.

Despite that potential cut, Democratic New York lawmakers and some Republicans kept up their criticism of the overall tax bill which would sharply curtail or cut the deductibility of mortgages as well as state and local income and property taxes.

The bill in its current form could cap the deductability of mortgages at $500,000 and of property taxes at $10,000.

There are lots of homes on Long Island and other New York City suburbs with home prices and taxes above that level.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a Thursday afternoon conference call reiterated worries that those caps would drive many affluent New Yorkers out of the state.

He also took aim at western New York GOP congressmen Tom Reed and Chris Collins, who have supported the measure.

The lawmakers have argued that the limits would hurt just a few of the high earner in their districts.

But Cuomo noted that those affluent taxpayers pay a high proportion of the state’s tax bill.

“Why would a Republican congressman from one of the states that you are dismembering take part in it?” said Cuomo.

An hour earlier, members of the state Association of Counties gathered to decry the bill’s impact, especially in high cost areas such as the lower Hudson Valley and Long Island.

“It’s all bad news for New York taxpayers” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy added that he’s been hearing from real estate brokers who are telling people to consider selling their homes before the law, if it passes, goes through.

“Public policy shouldn’t punish people,” said Marc Molinaro, the Republican Dutchess County executive and former assemblyman.

Molinaro, who is viewed as a possible gubernatorial challenger to Cuomo, also criticized the governor for saying that lawmakers who support the tax plan are treasonous.

“Those comments,” he said, “are counterproductive.”

rkarlin@timesunion.com 518 454 5758 @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

FBI probing Cuomo office's hiring practices

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 10:07pm

The FBI is investigating the Cuomo administration's practice of hiring employees to work in the governor's office while actually paying them through various state agencies and public authorities, the Times Union has learned.

Hiring pricey political appointees to work for the Executive Chamber — but paying them through other entities — has allowed Cuomo and prior governors to increase the size of their staffs while escaping criticism for inflating the Executive Chamber budget.

In recent months, however, FBI agents have interviewed a number of people who work for the governor's office, but are paid by separate state agencies or authorities, about the circumstances of their hirings, according to people familiar with the matter.

One type of evidence being explored by the FBI, sources said, are the written notifications that are sent by agencies or authorities to the governor's office informing them of a new hire.

In at least some instances, those letters have stated an employee would be working for the agency or authority — when the intention was for them to work for Cuomo's office, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Another line of questioning by the FBI has been whether the Executive Chamber officials' job duties have any correlation with the agency or authority actually paying them.

An FBI spokeswoman said she could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. It's unclear what criminal law might have been violated by the hiring practice.

An analysis by the Times Union a year ago found that more than 40 percent of the Executive Chamber staff was actually on the payroll of public authorities or agencies. At the time, 89 of 209 Executive Chamber employees were on agency or authority budget lines.

That trend accelerated when Cuomo announced 27 new hires or promotions last March. All but a handful went to Executive Chamber jobs, but the Executive Chamber was actually paying just five of those people.

Many of the well-paid new political appointees announced in March were veterans of the Obama administration or Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful presidential campaign that needed new employment. The moves also sparked further speculation about Cuomo gearing up for a 2020 presidential run.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said that the administration had received a "document subpoena" months ago and that it had "cooperated, providing necessary documents and personnel files." The investigation is coming out of the Eastern District U.S. Attorney's office.

"In this environment, anyone can ask about anything, but the fact is the longstanding practice of detailing staff from Agencies to work in the Executive Chamber dates back over 50 years to at least the Rockefeller administration and extends to the White House and the federal Department of Justice," he said.

Azzopardi said the FBI's line of questioning was "absurd."

Under Cuomo, in some instances the positions held by Executive Chamber officials have had a correlation with the entity paying them. In other instances there seems have been little link between the work being done and an employee's source of income.

Take well-paid Cuomo speechwriters, Tom Topousis and Jamie Malanowski.

Although paid to pen speeches for the governor, Topousis was hired in 2015 at a $125,000 salary as a "special assistant" at the Office of Children and Family Services, a child protective services agency.

Malanowski's $120,000 salary, meanwhile, has been paid by the Affordable Housing Corp., a quasi-governmental agency that helps subsidize affordable housing projects.

One of the March hires announced by Cuomo was Joel Wertheimer, who in his prior job in the Obama White House was coordinating and reviewing briefing materials sent to the president.

In his new post as staff secretary for Cuomo, Wertheimer was hired at a $120,000 salary on the budget of the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, an agency which helps people recover from addiction. He left the Cuomo administration in September, seven months after being hired, payroll records show.

In March, Cuomo also announced the hiring of Robert Gibbon, a former state Republican Senate staffer and an attorney. He was retained as assistant counsel to the governor for transportation at a salary of $105,000.

Yet Gibbon was hired for a budget slot on the payroll of the Justice Center, an agency meant to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect at homes for the disabled. After the Times Union inquired about Gibbon's status, a Cuomo spokesman said he would be moved to the payroll of the quasi-governmental Thruway Authority.

Although this hiring practice has been especially widespread under Cuomo, it far predates his tenure. In response to the Times Union's inquiries, the Cuomo administration provided a number of examples.

The New York Times, for instance, reported in 2003 that 40 Executive Chamber officials working for Gov. George Pataki were on agency or authority budgets.

When Gov. Mario Cuomo announced in 1984 that he would slash his personal staff by 10 percent, he did not actually cut the number of employees reporting to him — instead adding dozens of workers to state agency budget lines. The Times reported that the practice dated back to Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.

"The agencies are all part of the same executive branch, and this administration follows the exact same lawful hiring process we inherited from previous administrations stretching back decades. If there are questions about it, call George Pataki," Azzopardi said.​

News reports have also raised questions about such budget sleight-of-hand in several other states, including Illinois and New Jersey, and various White House administrations. Even Department of Justice employees themselves have been detailed to the White House.

The Cuomo hiring practice is also a sidebar to the January corruption trial of former top Cuomo aide Joe Percoco and three others.

The Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office alleges Percoco accepted bribes from Syracuse developer Steven F. Aiello, a co-defendant in the upcoming trial. One government favor done in exchange for bribes, according to prosecutors, was Percoco facilitating a $5,000 raise for Aiello's son in a new job in Cuomo's office in 2015.

The son, Steven L. Aiello, was actually paid his $62,000 salary through the Division of Military and Naval Affairs, which manages New York's military forces, records show. He has since left the administration.

cbragg@timesunion.com518-454-5619

Categories: State/Local

Albany police unveil new pipeline for crime tips

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 7:07pm

Albany

It's the "see something, say something" idea for the digital age.

The Albany Police Department on Wednesday unveiled a new tool for area police departments to solve crime, thanks to a new nonprofit and a $10,000 donation from SEFCU.

The department launched a regional program called Capital Region Crime Stoppers at a news conference at SEFCU headquarters in Albany.

The program offers three ways for residents to anonymously report crime tips to their local police: over the phone at 1-833-ALB-TIPS (252-8477), online at www.capitalregioncrimestoppers.com or through the free P3 Tips app.

Tipsters will receive an identification number and police will not have any of their identifying information, Albany spokesman Steve Smith said.

"It's going to be a tremendous asset for us moving forward as we try to solve crimes in the Capital Region," said Acting Albany Police Chief Bob Sears.

Tips that result in convictions will result in cash rewards of up to $1,500. Tips for crimes committed in other jurisdictions will be shared with other agencies.

Crime Stoppers has existed since 1976 and has spread throughout the country. Since then it has resulted in more than 720,000 arrests nationwide.

Crime Stoppers board members at the news conference said if the tool had been available earlier, it might have resulted in a quicker arrest in a 2015 Colonie murder.

In August 2015 Jacquelyn Porreca was killed in her salon.

Her sister, Janeah Rosecrans, who serves as the treasurer for the nonprofit, said police might be able to get information on suspects faster in the future with a program like Crime Stoppers.

"With the right tip, those families will be able to get answers quicker," she said. "Someone always knows something."

Categories: State/Local

Lawmaker wants 'dreamers' to keep driver's licenses after program ends

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 6:07pm

ALBANY — Proposed legislation would allow undocumented immigrants protected under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to keep their driver's licenses after the program ends in March.

Democratic Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda of the Bronx also backs a bill to make DACA recipients eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship free state college tuition program.

“This is not reinventing the wheel,” Sepulveda said at a Capitol press conference Thursday morning. “(DACA) recipients already have the right to have a driver’s license here in New York State. So we’re not changing anything, we’re not augmenting anything. We’re just maintaining the status quo.”

He added that DACA recipients already have taken advantage of the K-12 education system, “and now what we’re saying is, 'We want to now throw you and kick you to the curb, and essentially maybe even throw you out of this country.'”

“That’s not what the United States stands for,” he said.

Neither bill has been printed yet. Sepulveda's office said the first measure would bar the state Department of Motor Vehicles from canceling, suspending or rescinding driver’s licenses issued to DACA recipients. The second bill would make recipients eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship program without needing to apply and qualify for the state Tuition Assistance or Education Opportunities programs.

The DACA program was created during the Obama administration and gives children brought to the country illegally protections from deportation for two years. Those immigrants must first be vetted.

Recipients have an opportunity to renew those protections. The program makes them eligible for work, driver’s licenses and college. DACA recipients are not eligible for federal college financial aid or New York State tuition aid.

President Donald Trump’s administration announced in the fall that DACA would end in March if Congress didn’t approve a replacement program. A potential fix has become a negotiating point in the current talks intended to stave off a government shutdown this month.

Even though Democrats have rushed to the aid of immigrants this year amid federal policy changes, both of Sepulveda’s ideas have proven to be controversial in New York in the past.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer in 2007 sought to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, but ultimately dropped the plan as opposition mounted.

The DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented students to obtain state financial aid for college, has repeatedly been passed by the Democratically controlled Assembly but has not gone anywhere in the Republican-led state Senate.

Asked if a state solution could conflict with federal law, Sepulveda said, "It's always a possibility."

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

Categories: State/Local

Direct support professionals rally for wage help in budget

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 5:07pm

ALBANY -- Direct support professionals and those who need their services rallied in the Capitol's War Room on Wednesday in support of funding in the upcoming state budget to help boost wages.

The rally — at which, by the way, advocates brought a cake for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 60th birthday — drew lawmakers from the Assembly and state Senate who don't appear to be backing off just because there is a tough fiscal situation coming up. The message was that budget deficit or not, direct support professionals need financial assistance.

"The top priorities of government should be making sure that our most vulnerable in our communities are taken care of," Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, said. "When there is an emergency and a crisis, government moves quickly. But when there's not, they move very slow. We're here today to declare that we are in crisis mode, and we have an emergency because our direct care providers are in desperate need of individuals who provide that care, that love and compassion, to take care of our most vulnerable in the state of New York."

Amedore said that means that funding for wages must be sped up.

Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, was blunt about the impending deficit.

"So what?" he said. "Any budget, no matter what the funding is, should start with the first penny on up until we fully fund those who are most challenged in this state. Then we can think about everybody else."

Categories: State/Local

Search for your legislator's potential financial conflicts

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 10:07pm

The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news organization, gathered financial disclosure documents from nearly 7,000 legislators nationwide, including all 213 state lawmakers from New York.

The center put the disclosure statements into a searchable web tool that allows visitors to search by legislator, employer, and keyword — a significant improvement in user interface over the way the disclosure forms are digitally warehouse by the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

The Center found that state lawmakers often blur the line between the public's business and their own.

Recent years have brought a host of scandals involving state lawmakers and their outside income, including the federal corruption cases brought in 2015 against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

Both men were convicted, although a subsequent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell resulted in the overturning of those convictions earlier this year. Both are headed for retrials next year.

If you find anything interesting about our New York legislators, drop us a line at tucitydesk@timesunion.com, or use our anonymous form to submit a tip.

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Categories: State/Local