Maloney touts gains for Hudson Valley growers in bipartisan farm bill

A little over a month after speaking in Orange County about how stalled farm-bill negotiations could hurt local growers, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney returned to the wood-paneled cider tasting room at Soons Orchard on Friday to celebrate the resounding approval this week of a five-year farm bill renewal with bipartisan support in Congress.

“This bill is better than the 2014 bill, and the 2014 bill was the best we had,” Maloney said.

The Cold Spring Democrat touted pieces of three bills he sponsored as an Agriculture Committee member that were incorporated into the final farm bill. Among them: a renewed grant program to fund training and other help for new farmers; doubling the loan limit for new farmers to buy land, to $600,000 from $300,000; and changes in federal crop insurance that he said will improve coverage for Hudson Valley farms with diverse crops.

Maloney also cheered the bill’s omission of expanded work requirements for people getting monthly grocery subsidies through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, which makes up a large part of the farm bill funding. House Republicans put those rules in their version of the farm bill but Senate Republicans rejected them, contributing to the legislative standoff that caused the previous farm bill to expire at the end of September.

Democrats in both chambers opposed the SNAP changes, and Maloney said Friday that House Democrats teamed up with Senate Republicans to purge those provisions from the final bill, which totaled $867 billion.

“We had a total victory on that,” Maloney said, adding that House Republicans “collapsed completely” on the proposed SNAP changes.

Among the speakers to join Maloney at the press conference was state senator-elect Jen Metzger, who will succeed longtime Sen. John Bonacic in the 42nd Senate District and has been appointed chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. That post makes her an important advocate for the vegetable growers, dairy farmers and operations like Soons Orchard that she soon will represent in southern Orange County.

Metzger pointed out a few additional elements of the federal farm bill she said would benefit New York, including funding for the expansion of broadband access in rural areas and the legalization of industrial hemp. She said hemp has multiple uses, demands relatively little water and pesticides, and offers New York farmers another way to diversify their crops.

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Delgado hires former Hinchey aide as district director

Antonio Delgado, the incoming congressman for New York’s 19th District, named a Greene County resident and former staffer for the late Rep. Maurice Hinchey to oversee his district offices and constituent services and represent him at local events after he takes office in January.

Amanda Boomhower of Athens will be the newly elected Democrat’s district director. “With her deep ties to upstate New York and commitment to serving the people here – at state, congressional and local levels – Amanda brings experience and dedication to the position of District Director,” Delgado said in a press release. “She knows what it takes to provide quality services and representation to our constituents and will lead a team dedicated to being accessible and transparent by serving everyone with accountability and integrity.”

Boomhower last worked as a special assistant in the state Office of General Services. Prior to that, she had worked with constituents in the congressional district offices of Hinchey, Kirsten Gillibrand and Gillibrand’s short-tenured successor, Scott Murphy.

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Loss of stipends trims pay hikes for state lawmakers

State lawmakers heading back to Albany in January to start the 2019 legislative session will be greeted with a $30,500 hike in their base salaries, the first of a three-step pay bump that will total $50,500 and raise salaries to $130,000 by 2021.

But the four-man appointed panel that approved that 64 percent raise on Dec. 6 also ordered the elimination of most of the stipends known as “lulus” that lawmakers had been collecting for various party and committee titles. And so for six senators and Assembly members representing parts of Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties, losing lulus means January’s raise actually be somewhat less than $30,500.

Sen. James Seward, a Milford Republican whose district includes part of Ulster County, had been earning a $25,000 stipend on top of his $79,500 base salary for the party title of chairman of the Majority Program Development Committee, giving him $104,500 in total pay. A new salary of $110,000 with no lulu will mean a $5,500 raise for him.

Another senator and two Assembly members representing Orange, Ulster and Sullivan were getting $12,500 stipends as committee chairmen, and are therefore looking at $18,000 net raises in January. They are Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam; Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh; and Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston.

Assemblymen Karl Brabenec (R-Deerpark) and Brian Miller (R-New Hartford) each had $9,000 stipends as ranking Republican members on a committee or task force and will see a net pay increase of $21,500 in January.

Assemblyman James Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat elected to succeed retiring Sen. Bill Larkin, was the only state legislator for the three counties who didn’t get a stipend, despite his being chairman of the Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities. His pay will rise by the full $30,500.

Three incoming legislators for Orange, Ulster and Sullivan are new to Albany, and so technically aren’t getting a raise (although they will in 2020 and again in 2021 if re-elected). They are Jen Metzger, the Rosendale Democrat who is succeeding Sen. John Bonacic; Colin Schmitt, the New Windsor Republican who won Skoufis’ Assembly seat; and Jonathan Jacobson, the Newburgh Democrat who will succeed the late Frank Skartados.

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Skoufis will lead Senate oversight committee with subpoena power

Incoming state Sen. James Skoufis was made chairman of the Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee this week, putting him at the helm of a government oversight panel with subpoena power when he takes office and Democrats assume control of the Senate in January.

Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat elected last month to succeed retiring Sen. Bill Larkin after serving six years in the Assembly, noted in a press release on Tuesday that his committee’s role includes investigating waste, fraud and abuse in state government, and that it can compel witnesses to testify. The committee also vets bills involving the operation of state and local governments.

“New Yorkers from every corner of the state are rightfully frustrated with a state government that’s non-transparent and unresponsive to the basic needs of people,” Skoufis said in a statement. “It’s about time that changed. I’m extremely grateful to incoming Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins for providing me the opportunity to hold government accountable to the people it’s supposed to serve.”

Skoufis also pointed out that the committee created an online portal last year for whistleblowers to report fraud and abuse, and he vowed to “expand the portal’s reach.”

Jen Metzger, the Rosendale Democrat elected last month to the seat retiring Sen. John Bonacic is vacating, was appointed chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Of the 39 Democrats taking office in the 63-seat Senate in January, 33 will lead committees.

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Faso touts his efforts in DC to cut costs in NY

In a farewell conference call with reporters on Thursday, departing Rep. John Faso spoke proudly about trying to combat from Washington during his two years in Congress two New York practices that he believes contributes to the state’s high costs and resulting exodus of businesses and people.

One is the state’s longstanding Scaffold Law, which critics blame for driving up construction costs in New York by making property owners and contractors fully responsible for any injuries that workers suffer in falls. The other is New York’s requirement that counties help shoulder the state’s massive Medicaid expenses, which are then borne by property-tax payers.

Faso, a Kinderhook Republican who lost New York’s 19th Congressional Distict race to Democrat Antonio Delgado last month, had sponsored a bill that would have forced New York to assume its counties’ Medicaid costs, and got it attached last year to a House bill that would have repealed and replaced the Affordable Care Act. The Republicans’ repeal effort ultimately failed, but Faso said Thursday that he was pleased he got his amendment into the bill and raised awareness of the issue.

Faso also had a bill that would have preempted the 133-year-old Scaffold Law by prohibiting federal funding for projects that use New York’s “absolute liability” standard for falls at construction sites, instead of one of the more flexible negligence standards that every other state uses. He argues the Scaffold Law inflates taxpayer costs for public projects like the new Tappan Zee Bridge by hiking the expense of liability insurance for contractors.

“I was the first member from New York to raise the issue,” Faso said during Thursday’s call, noting that that he had hoped to attach his proposal to a long-anticipated infrastructure bill that has yet to materialize.

Faso recently tried another approach by asking Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to prohibit the use of an absolute liability standard in contracts for projects receiving federal funds, such as the proposed Gateway rail tunnels under the Hudson.  “On my way out the door here, I’m trying to lay down a marker,” he told reporters.

Faso said he doesn’t know yet what he will do after leaving Congress, and he dismissed as fictitious a recent report that he may seek to replace Ed Cox as chairman of the state Republican Party.

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Senate Dems spent $0 on Metzger’s winning race

The Senate Democrats’ campaign arm spent heavily on James Skoufis and other candidates this fall in what turned out to be a hugely successful bid to boot Republicans from power in a chamber they have ruled for most of the last half-century.

But the campaign finance report filed this week by the New York State Democratic Senate Campaign Committee confirmed that the party gave no money to and bought no ads and mailers for a candidate it clearly underestimated: Jen Metzger, the Rosendale councilwoman who beat Republican Orange County Clerk Annie Rabbitt in the contest to succeed retiring Republican Sen. John Bonacic in the 42nd District.

The filing by its GOP counterpart shows the New York State Republican Campaign Committee gave her opponent financial support, although not a huge amount: it spent $124,674 on campaign materials promoting Rabbitt and gave her campaign $50,000 on Nov. 1, five days before the election. But Metzger was not among the 17 candidate on which Senate Democrats reported spending as much as $617,000.

The two parties invested a lot more in the 39th Senate District race, in which Skoufis, a three-term assemblyman from Woodbury, beat Republican Tom Basile, a Stony Point councilman. This week’s campaign filings show Democrats spent $573,470 on Skoufis and gave his campaign $230,000 on Oct. 30, and Republicans spent $378,593 on Basile and gave his campaign $118,000 on Oct. 24.

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Rabbitt congratulates Metzger after absentee count ends

In a Facebook message on Tuesday, Orange County Clerk Annie Rabbitt thanked her supporters and congratulated Jen Metzger on her victory in their 42nd Senate District race following the completion of the absentee-ballot count four weeks after the election.

“In a close election, we wanted to make sure that everyone who took the time to fill out an absentee ballot had their voice heard,” Rabbitt, a Republican from Greenwood Lake, said in the post on her Senate campaign page, her first since the day after the election. “The last of the absentees were counted and although we did not win, I am proud of the race we ran and grateful to all who helped. I would also like to extend my sincerest congratulations to Jen and wish her well.”

Metzger, a Rosendale town councilwoman whose victory helped Democrats claim a Senate majority for the first time since 2010, had led by 2,522 votes in machine votes after the Nov. 6 election, a substantial margin that made it improbable that absentee ballots would change the outcome. As it turned out, those additional votes wound up widening Metzger’s victory, putting her on top by 3,719 votes, or 3.7 percentage points.

The 42nd District, represented by retiring Republican Sen. John Bonacic for the last 20 years, takes in Sullivan County and parts of Orange, Ulster and Delaware counties. Here are the final vote counts for each of those counties:

Orange County

Metzger: 25,198

Rabbitt: 25,039

Sullivan County

Metzger: 11,754

Rabbitt: 12,794

Ulster County

Metzger: 13,274

Rabbitt: 7,447

Delaware County

Metzger: 2,063

Rabbitt: 3,290

Total

Metzger: 52,289

Rabbitt: 48,570

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Satmar rebbe villifies Skoufis as “wicked and evil”

Assemblyman and senator-elect James Skoufis was castigated as a villain of biblical proportions this week, when Satmar Grand Rebbe Aaron Teitelbaum reportedly described him as a “wicked and evil man” during a fiery speech otherwise devoted to blasting state interference in religious schools.

Teitelbaum, who leads the branch of the split Satmar movement that holds a majority in Kiryas Joel, delivered the hour-long speech in Yiddish to a huge throng of followers in Williamsburg on Wednesday night, according to the Jewish news site Vos Iz Neias. He gave a thundering denunciation of a new initiative by the state Education Department that will force Orthodox yeshivas to show they’re teaching core academic subjects as required by law – a push the Hasidic community sees as intrusive and a threat to their intensive religious study.

“The Jewish nation will not bow or give in to the wicked, not even the commissioner of education,” Teitelbaum reportedly said, according to the web site’s English translation. “We will sacrifice and stand up for our very existence so that we can educate our children and provide them with a Torah education.  We have gone through many trials and tribulations for the sake of the holy Torah and now we will go out to war against the commissioner in every way, without any compromise or agreements.”

The Vos Iz Neias account says Teitelbaum also denounced Skoufis – without naming him – as “wicked and evil,” effectively likening him to Haman by using a familiar description for the biblical villain who is rebuked on the Jewish holiday of Purim. It doesn’t provide the context for that part of the speech.

That prompted a response on Thursday from Skoufis, who surmised that that rabbi was “still rankled that my campaign was able to easily overcome his bloc vote this past election.” Kiryas Joel’s main voting bloc supported Republican Tom Basile in the 39th Senate District election, while a smaller Kiryas Joel group endorsed Skoufis, which gave Basile a net total of 4,157 votes in the village.

“Putting aside the abhorrent, disgraceful nature of his comments, these remarks are dangerous,” the Woodbury Democrat said in his statement. “Is Rebbe Teitelbaum trying to elicit violence? Here’s what I do know: I will not be intimidated or bulled as I continue to ensure every community, including Kiryas Joel, follows the law and plays by the same rules. Period.”

Skoufis was a prominent opponent of attempts to expand Kiryas Joel through annexation several years ago, and he waged a high-profile fight with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over an annexation-related bill that Cuomo vetoed twice. He also has opposed or criticized Kiryas Joel leaders on various other issues, including a major new well for  the village in Cornwall, and touted those fights in his Senate campaign as a sign that he would not pander to the Hasidic community’s voting blocs.

“James Skoufis has a real record of standing up to Kiryas Joel,” read one campaign mailer from the Senate Democrats’ campaign committee.

That theme, echoed in campaign commercials, was cited as an example of recent anti-Hasidic rhetoric in a Journal News column on Tuesday by Kiryas Joel Superintendent Joel Petlin. “Apparently, the Skoufis campaign believed, as do many other politicians, that the surest way to get elected in some parts of the region is to campaign against the Hasidic population,” Petlin wrote.

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Faso takes last whack at Scaffold Law from DC

Rep. John Faso has made a final stab at undercutting New York’s 133-year-old Scaffold Law before leaving Congress, suggesting in a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao that her department could preempt the law by requiring a “comparative negligence” standard for any construction projects getting federal grants.

Inserting that requirement in federal contracts might accomplish through administrative action what Faso, a Republican freshman who lost his re-election bid this month, had tried to do through legislation. He had introduced a bill last year that would deny federal funds to construction projects that use New York’s “absolute liability” standard, which makes contractors and property owners fully responsible in court for workplace injuries caused by falls. He and other critics of the Scaffold Law, which set that rule in 1885, argue the law is archaic and inflates public construction costs in New York.

The House Judiciary Committee narrowly approved Faso’s bill in a party-line vote in January, with Democrats defending New York’s law as an important safety protection for construction workers and Republicans decrying it for wasting taxpayer money. The bill was never brought to the House floor and had no Senate sponsor.

In a Nov. 16 letter to Chao, Faso argued the new Tappan Zee Bridge would have cost $200 milllion – or 5 percent – less if the Scaffold Law wasn’t in place to drive up contractors’ liability insurance premiums. He warned the law would have the same effect on the critically needed Gateway project, which would create new rail tunnels under the Hudson between New York City and New Jersey.

“I urge you to use your regulatory authority to preempt this burdensome state law with conditional contracts for all federally supported projects under your jurisdiction,” Faso wrote to Chao. He argued that doing so would cut construction costs and stretch funds for New York projects “further than previously realized.”

Faso has represented New York’s 19th District, which includes Ulster and Sullivan counties, since 2017. He lost on Nov. 6 to Democrat Antonio Delgado, a lawyer who lives in Rhinebeck.

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Maloney exits DCCC race after being hospitalized

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney withdrew this week from a four-way competition to lead the House Democrats’ campaign arm after announcing he had been hospitalized with a bacterial infection and would miss his caucus’ votes for leadership positions.

Democrats started those closed-door elections on Wednesday and wound up electing Cheri Bustos of Illinois over the two other remaining contenders on Thursday to be the next chairperson of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Maloney had asked the caucus to put off the vote because of his hospitalization, and said he would forego running if it was held in his absence.

Maloney’s office had announced on Tuesday that the congressman was in New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan to get intravenous antibiotics for a persistent infection that was first diagnosed in September. His spokesman announced on Friday that Maloney had returned home to Cold Spring to continue recovering and planned to return to work in Washington next week.

Maloney had made his pitch to be DCCC chairman in a letter to his colleagues shortly after winning re-election on Nov. 6, noting that he had proven his success by unseating a Republican six years earlier and holding his seat in a district that Donald Trump won in 2016. He also pointed to his fundraising prowess and the detailed analysis he was asked to do after the 2016 elections, which he said had given him deep familiarity with the Democrats’ campaign operations and reforms that needed to be made.

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    Chris McKenna

    Chris McKenna covers Orange County government and politics for the Times Herald-Record. He has been a reporter at the newspaper since 1999. Read Full
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