Senate passes bill to limit leadership terms

The state Senate passed a bill this week that would let leaders and committee chairmen in both the Senate and Assembly serve no more than eight years in those positions, the third time it has tried to codify for both chambers a limit it adopted for its own house through a rule change in 2009.

The eight-year limit in the two-line bill would apply to the temporary president of the Senate and the Assembly speaker; the majority and minority leaders in both chambers; and all committee chairmen. The bill’s sponsors include George Amedore, R-Rotterdam; John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope; and Bill Larkin, R-Cornwall-on-Hudson.

“Establishing term limits for legislative leaders and committee chairs will empower more members of the Legislature, leading to a more well-rounded, representative government that is able to better serve all New Yorkers,” Amedore said in a statement.

Amedore, whose district includes part of Ulster County, also has reintroduced a term-limit bill that would allow senators and Assembly members to serve no more than 12 years, or six two-year terms. “New voices and ideas bring about a fresh perspective and new solutions to the issues we face in our communities,” said Amedore, a housing developer who served five years in the Assembly and is in his third year as a senator.

The Senate passed the eight-year limit for leaders in a 49-9 vote on Tuesday. Bonacic, in a statement afterward, said, “The Senate has for years adopted voluntary term limits for committee chairs and legislative leaders. I encourage my colleagues in the Assembly to pass this bill as soon as possible.”

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Assembly passes environmental bills for Earth Day

The state Assembly passed several environmental-themed bills this week on their first work days after Earth Day last Saturday.

A few were non-controversial and cleared the chamber with little opposition. One, co-sponsored by James Skoufis, D-Woodbury, and Frank Skartados, D-Milton, would require the owners of ships and trains carrying crude oil through New York and the owners of crude-oil storage tanks to prove they are insured for the costs of any cleanup and decontamination if the oil spills. That bill, which also passed in the previous legislative term, is a response to the escalating volume of crude oil being transported across New York and other states.

Another bill that passed overwhelmingly, a perennial measure that dates back to 2009, would require the state Deparatment of Environmental Conservation to compile a list of communities to be deemed “high local environmental impact zones” because they face a plethora of pollution, such as toxic chemical releases and  poor air quality. The purpose is to protect residents of such areas from more polluting businesses by looking at the cumulative impact of what is already there.

“A sound natural environment is the foundation of a healthy society and a robust economy,” Skartados said in a press release about the bills the Assembly passed on Monday and Tuesday. “With our region facing so many environmental and health threats, we must take proactive action to safeguard our residents’ well-being.”

Skoufis said in his own statement about the legislation: “Our water and land are precious resources that need to be preserved and protected for future generations. We’ve unfortunately seen firsthand the damage contamination can do to our drinking water and soil, and we need to guard against any more incidents of this kind.”

Skartados was a sponsor of a more controversial bill involving wetlands that passed in a 93-50 vote, with Skoufis; Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh; and Karl Brabenec, R-Deerpark among the opponents. That proposal would give the DEC jurisdiction over any wetlands of one acre or more, a huge increase in oversight for an agency now limited to wetlands of at least 12.4 acres. It’s meant to address an oversight gap caused by a Supreme Court ruling that limited the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ wetlands jurisdiction.

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Senate passes eight bills to fight heroin/opioid crisis

The state Senate passed a raft of legislation on Monday to combat the heroin and prescription-pill epidemic by outlawing a whole new crop of drugs, including those developed in labs with slight variations from banned drugs in order to circumvent the law.

Among the drugs targeted in six separate bills were new derivatives of fentanyl, the powerful painkiller that is often mixed with heroin and was the cause of Prince’s overdose death in 2016; Xylazine, a veterinary drug that dealers also are adding to heroin; and an increasingly popular, sythetic opiate known as “Pink” and said to be eight times more powerful than heroin. The bills also would classify as controlled substances several drugs other than opioids, including Alpha-PVP – known as “Flakka” or “Gravel” and similar to methamphetamine – and synthetic  marijuana varieties such as K2, Spike 99, Spice and Yucatan Fire.

In a press release about the legislation, Senate Republicans noted that Xylazine has “emerged as a new threat in the state’s battle against the heroin epidemic because the heroin-Xylazine combination is so potent that it can take multiple doses of naloxone to revive an overdose victim, and even this regime is not guaranteed to be effective.”

In addition, the Senate passed two bills that would require hospitals to tell doctors when one of their patients has overdosed on painkillers the doctors prescribed; and that would enable medical providers to share patients’ electronic medical records.

“The Senate Republican Conference has taken important steps to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic, and this package of bills builds on that work,” Senator John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, said in a statement about the legislation. “I’m pleased to have supported these bills because I know they will have an impact in our communities.”

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Skoufis calls bid to speed STAR checks “lipstick on a pig”

Assemblyman James Skoufis this week panned the Cuomo administration’s plan for fixing its botched conversion of the STAR tax-relief program, and argued the only remedy is for the Senate to join the Assembly in voting to rescind the change – and then be ready to override the governor’s veto.

“My opinion: this is the definition of putting lipstick on a pig,” the Woodbury Democrat said by email. “The old system worked perfectly fine and never should’ve been touched.”

Skoufis was reacting to a provision in the state budget deal enacted this month that enables the state to send homeowners estimated checks for their STAR school-tax savings if it is in danger of being late in paying the precise amount. The administration is giving itself that fallback option after promising last year to mail homeowners their checks in September to help them pay their school tax bills, and then failing to send to do so. The months-long delays caused so much outrage that the Assembly voted unanimously in March to rescind the STAR change, which applied only to new homeowners and required them to apply for checks from Albany instead of getting the savings deducted from their school-tax bills.

The Senate, in its budget proposal in March, proposed rescinding the STAR change but waiting until next year to do so. The Cuomo administration beat back the repeal efforts in budget negotations, substituting the plan for estimated payments and accepting the Senate’s proposal to require the state to pay homeowners interest for late checks.

Skoufis argued the administration’s insistence on changing STAR is all about budgetary gimmicks. Converting the 20-year-old tax relief program into a tax credit instead of exemption artificially reduces the spending side of the budget, making it easier for the administration to continue its record of keeping annual spending increases under 2 percent.

“The only real solution is to repeal Governor Cuomo’s changes to the STAR program,” Skoufis said. “Anything short of that is simply papering over the cracks.”

Teri Ross, president of the state Assessors’ Association, told the Times Herald-Record this week that her members – the local officials who have always administered STAR – were disappointed the state had preserved last year’s change in the program, and that it seemed unlikely that the Senate would vote to repeal it in the eight weeks that are left in this year’s legislative session.

“It seems to be a done deal,” she said.

The repeal bill, S4733, was introduced in the Senate on Feb. 24 and has been parked in the Local Government Committee since then.

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Trump, Schumer agree: new Canada policy will hurt NY dairy farmers

Amid the acrimony in Washington, New York’s senior U.S. senator heartily agreed with President Trump on one point this week: that new trade policies soon to take effect in Canada will hurt American dairy farmers by restricting the import of their milk.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, leader of the Senate Democratic minority, praised Trump on Wednesday for vowing to “fight for our dairy farmers” and solve the looming problem. And on Friday, he followed up with another press release after speaking with the president about the issue.

“It is an unwise policy that violates our agreements and hurts our farmers, and we agreed to work together to immediately address the issue,” Schumer said. “Since Canada’s damaging policies also impact dairy farms in Wisconsin, I suggested reaching out to Speaker Ryan. The three of us, in conjunction with Senator Tammy Baldwin and other stakeholders, will develop a comprehensive plan to tackle this issue.”

The issue also provided common ground for the Republican president and New York’s Democratic governor. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a statement on Tuesday, said the equivalent of 70 New York dairy farms could lose a key market and about $50 million in sales as of May 1 as a result of Canadian policy change. Dairy is the state’s biggest farming sector, employing 20,000 people and generating $2.5 billion in sales in 2015, according to the press release.

“New York’s dairy farms are essential to the strength of our agricultural economy, and these regulations are already having a devastating effect on our dairy farmers and their families,” Cuomo said in the statement. “With our growing concern that even more of our milk producers and our processors will be affected, I urge the federal government to call on Canada to reconsider these harmful regulations and continue our courteous, mutually beneficial trade relations.”

Schumer commended Trump on a second trade issue last week, after the president demanded that the Commerce Department investigate steel imports. Subsidized steel imports – particularly those originating China – are plaguing America, and this is a good first step,” he said on Wednesday. “But it is critical that any study is followed by strong action, especially when many powerful special interests will oppose any real change. I hope the President will work with us to make real change a reality.”

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Faso raises nearly $270K in first quarter of 2017

Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, raised nearly $270,000 in campaign cash in the first quarter of 2017, according to federal election records.

Faso, who took office in New York’s 19th Congressional District in January, had $269,687.67 cash on hand by the end of March, according to U.S. Federal Election Commission records posted on Wednesday.

A little more than $109,000 came from individuals and nearly $161,000 came from entities like political action committees. The campaign spent close to $110,000.

Though we’re still a long way from the November 2018 election, Faso appears to have been outraised by a potential Democratic contender from across the river.

Rhinebeck Attorney Antonio Delgado announced last week that his campaign raised $300,000 in the first quarter of 2017 for a possible run Faso. Campaign financial statements are due April 15 and Faso is the only one to post his finances online so far.

Democrats Steven Mitchell Brisee, Brian Flynn and Delgado all have filed paperwork with the FEC to run in the 19th district.

Flynn, in an interview last week, said from March 1 to March 31 he’s raised $175,000. Brisee said last week that his team has not started fundraising yet.


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CPV opponents confront Percoco after court appeance

Pramilla Malick

Opponents of the power plant under construction in Wawayanda gave a former close aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo a perp walk he’s unlikely to forget as he left federal court in Lower Manhattan on Thursday after a brief appearance about the corruption charges he faces.

The former aide, Joe Percoco, was charged in September with soliciting bribes to help Competitive Power Ventures and pocketing $287,000 as a result, with the payments disguised mostly through a job that the company gave Percoco’s wife that paid $90,000 a year and required little work. A former CPV executive charged in the scheme, Peter Galbraith Kelly Jr., allegedly arranged the payments – referred to as “ziti” in Percoco’s emails, in homage to “The Sopranos” – after first wooing Percoco with fancy meals and a fishing trip in the Hamptons.

On Thursday, about a dozen activists from Orange County who staunchly oppose the CPV plant for environmental reasons traveled downtown to witness a court appearance by Percoco and hold a press conference. And after he left the courtroom, they let him know how they felt about his involvement in his project, berating him and chanting “Shame!” as he strode down the street with reporters and camera people mixed into the scrum.

“This is not a victimless crime, Percoco,” one CPV opponent said as the ensemble moved down the sidewalk in the rain, Percoco walking in silence under an umbrella. “You are guilty of polluting New York. You are guilty of polluting Orange County. You are guilty of polluting the world.” The confrontation continued until Percoco disappeared into a subway station.

Pramilla Malick, a Minisink resident and chairwoman of Protect Orange County, explained on Friday that the expressions of outrage – which began inside the courthouse – were purely spontaneous, not something the members of her group had planned.

“Here’s somebody who had a tremendous role in something that is impacting your life – adversely impacting your life – for so many years,” said Malick, who was a Democratic candidate last year for the state Senate seat that Republican John Bonacic holds. “To finally face that person, it was kind of an emotional thing.”

Malick said her group began speaking to Percoco inside the courthouse, “letting him know how much damage his actions have caused our community.” She said he disappeared into a bathroom for a long time. “I don’t think he was expecting us.”

Prosecutors allege that Percoco had agreed to help CPV secure an agreement with the state that would guarantee a buyer for the plant’s power and was expected to save the company about $100 million in development costs. Malick argues a wider investigation should be done to see if Percoco exerted undue influence anywhere else in the approval process.


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Faso introduces bill to end NY counties’ Medicaid costs

Rep. John Faso introduced a bill this week to stop New York State from sharing Medicaid costs with its counties, pressing forward with a proposal that was attached last month to failed legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act and that provoked a heated, week-long clash with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The bill – the “Property Tax Reducation Act of 2017″ – aims to force the state to eliminate the counties’ share of Medicaid expenses by 2020 by threatening to cut the federal government’s contribution by an equal amount. It would apply to the 57 counties outside New York City, whose combined Medicaid cost is around $2.3 billion a year. New York City is excluded, Faso said in a press release, because it uses income taxes rather than property taxes to pay its $5 billion annual cost share for Medicaid (lowering property taxes is the bill’s stated aim).

“For 51 years Albany has been unfairly mandating counties to pay for a significant share of state Medicaid costs,” Faso, a Republican freshman whose district includes Ulster and Sullivan counties, said in a press release. “This mandate has caused property taxes to skyrocket and in turn crushing homeowners, seniors, and businesses. Exorbitant property taxes and lack of jobs are the main reasons why New York State continues to lose population to other states.”

Five fellow House Republicans from New York – Chris Collins, Elise Stefanik, Tom Reed, Claudia Tenney and Lee Zeldin - co-sponsored the bill, H.R. 1871, with Faso.

Cuomo condemned the proposal when it came up last month, saying it could force the state to raise taxes or shrink Medicaid services without actually guaranteeing any reduction in county property taxes. House Democrats from New York, including Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of Cold Spring, have since countered the Republican proposal with their own idea of having the federal government reimburse New York’s counties for their Medicaid costs, invoking the longstanding complaint that New York taxpayers send more money to Washington than they get back in services.

“This measure doesn’t rob Peter to pay Paul; it provides real savings for New Yorkers,” Cuomo said then in a statement about the Democrats’ “Empire State Equity Act.”  ”This state pays much more to the federal government than it gets in return, and I urge Congress to do the right thing by passing this bill and helping to level the playing field between New York and the rest of the nation once and for all.”

New York has shared Medicaid costs with its counties since the U.S. inaugurated its health insurance program for the poor 51 years ago. Traditionally in New York, the federal government has paid 50 percent of the bills, and the state and counties each have paid 25 percent. The counties’ share has steadily dropped since the state capped their payments in 2011 and took responsibility for any expense increases. The counties now pay about 13 percent, and the state covers 36 percent.


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Updated: Faso challengers say they’ve raised $300K, $175K

Rhinebeck Attorney Antonio Delgado said Wednesday in a press release that he’s raised $300,000 in the first quarter of 2017 for a possible run against Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook.

Antonio Delgado, who's exploring a run for the 19th Congressional District

Delgado is a 40-year-old Democrat who said he’s exploring a run in the 19th Congressional District.

“As I’ve travelled the district, I have been overwhelmed by the encouragement and grassroots support,” Delgado said in a release.

You can read my blog piece on Delgado and two other Democrats who’ve lined up for possible runs here.

Campaign financial statements have not been posted online yet on the Federal Election Commission website and are due on April 15. I have some questions out to Delgado’s team about whether the funds are pledges or actual money raised and will update this post if I hear back.

In his press release Delgado, an attorney for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, emphasized his Schenectady roots, his father’s employment at General Electric and his wife’s connections in Ulster County.

Democrats Steven Mitchell Brisee, Brian Flynn and Delgado have all filed paperwork with the U.S. Federal Election Commission to run in the 19th district. The election isn’t until November 2018.

Flynn, in an interview, said that from March 1 to March 31 he’s raised $175,000. He said the current political mood of the country has made running so far out from the next election viable.

“I think two years ago it would have been very hard to start running this early,” Flynn said.

Brisee said his team has not started fundraising yet.

“As it’s still early in the race, my team and I are using this time to build our network of support and develop a solid fundraising strategy. We’ll be holding our first fundraiser at the end of the month,” Brisee said.

Faso raised $2.94 million for his own campaign in the last election and has about $103,000 cash on hand, as of his last filing. He won election to the open 19th district seat last year after defeating Zephyr Teachout, an anti-corruption activist. Former Congressman Chris Gibson decided not to run for a fourth term.

Though polls showed the race between Faso and Teachout were neck and neck leading up to the election, Faso won by nearly 25,000 votes, about nine points. The 19th district includes all of Ulster and Sullivan counties.

Update: Delgado’s press team said the contributions were raised, not pledged, in March. Though his candidacy is in the exploratory phase, Delgado will be filing a full report on his fundraising on April 15.


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Cuomo, Faso go another round over Medicaid

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a group of House Democrats rekindled last week’s fight over New York’s Medicaid cost-sharing on Thursday by announcing a forthcoming bill that would raise the state’s Medicaid funding so it could then relieve county governments of the portion they pay.

The previous week, Rep. John Faso, the Republican freshman whose district includes Sullivan and Ulster counties, had championed an amendment to the House Republicans’ doomed Obamacare replacement bill that would have forced the state to end its practice of having counties shoulder part of the Medicaid expense. That amendment – intended to secure the support of New York’s Republicans for the health care bill – had set off a fierce political battle that seemed to end with the bill’s failure on Friday.

It didn’t. Faso, who had campaigned on the Medicaid issue in 2016 and touts it as a way to curb New York’s property taxes, has indicated he plans to persist with that push. And on Thursday, Cuomo and six House Democrats – including 18th District Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of Cold Spring – countered by announcing legislation raising federal Medicaid funding to New York by $2.3 billion, the exact amount that upstate and Long Island counties would have stopped contributing under the amendment Faso supported.

The bill – yet to be released as of Friday – seemed mostly a rhetorical point about government cost shifting and New York’s status as a “donor state” that pays Washington more than it gets back, since the proposal obviously would have no chance in a Republican-controlled House. In a press release and then a conference call with reporters, Cuomo unloaded anew on Faso and Rep. Chris Collins, the Buffalo-area Republican who initially introduced what became known as the “Faso-Collins amendment.”

“Faso-Collins said in an amendment, well, they will disallow the counties Medicaid costs, so the counties will no longer have to pay for Medicaid, and the burden will shift to the state,” Cuomo said during the conference call. “Oh, well thank you very much—for absolutely nothing.”

He later summarized the point of the Democrats’ counter-proposal: “This says, let’s give New York additional Medicaid money because they are a donor state, let’s reduce the inequity and New York will then give the money to the taxpayers in property tax relief.”

Maloney, who participated in the call, said, “This Faso fraud was never going to work, and this proposal can.”

The salvo did not go unanswered. A rival chorus of five Republican House members from New York fired off their own press release criticizing New York’s high Medicaid spending and blaming the state’s ability to pass part of the cost to its counties (they currently pick up about 13 percent). They contend that New York’s counties – including New York City – pay $7.2 billion of the total $9 billion local governments contribute to Medicaid in the U.S.

“Governor Cuomo will spend billions of dollars on corporate welfare in his budget and millions more on self-serving television commercials,” Faso said in the Republicans’ joint statement. “If he cannot, by 2020, spare 1.5 percent to cover his state government’s share of Medicaid costs, it will be remembered as another broken promise to Upstate New York. New York’s Medicaid mandate is a serious problem for counties and taxpayers across my district.”

He vowed introduced a bill “to end this 51-year-old practice once and for all.”

Faso and his fellow Republicans later got air support in the skirmish from the advocacy group Reclaim New York, which issued a press released denouncing Cuomo’s “manipulative Medicaid and property tax ploy.”

“Governor Cuomo is using Washington as a political punching bag again, so Albany can dodge responsibility for New York’s bloated Medicaid program, and high property taxes,” said the group’s executive director, Brandon Muir. “It’s disgusting, and manipulative to tell struggling New Yorkers a federal bill that won’t get passed is their hope for tax relief. This is a cynical political move. It’s also an admission New York can’t manage a Medicaid program like the rest of the country, and needs special treatment.”

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