State panel to hold two hearings on lawmaker raises

The four men poised to award New York legislators their first pay raises in 20 years will hold two public hearings next week without revealing the raise amounts.

The New York State Compensation Committee will hold its first hearing at 11 a.m. on Wednesday at State University Plaza in Albany. The second hearing is at noon on Friday at the SUNY Global Center in Manhattan. Details are on the committee’s website:

The panel was created by the state budget in April, but didn’t hold its first meeting until Nov. 13 and must decide on raises by Dec. 10. In addition to state legislators, the committee also will hike salaries for three statewide officials – attorney general, comptroller and lieutenant governor – and for top administration officials. Its four appointees are state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (who says he will recuse himself from his own raise), New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, SUNY Chairman H. Carl McCall and CUNY Chairman Bill Thompson.

Since 1999, New York’s 63 senators and 150 Assembly members have been paid a base salary of $79,500, currently the third highest pay among state legislators in the U.S. Most also get stipends for party leadership titles and committee ranks that range from $9,000 to $41,500.

The committee has only six business days after the second public hearing to approve raises. It hasn’t announced yet the date on which it will do so.

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BOE accuses NYSUT of illegal $700K shift in 2016

The state Board of Elections’ chief enforcement counsel has filed a complaint alleging that one political arm of New York State United Teachers illegally moved $700,000 to another NYSUT political arm five days before the 2016 general election.

Risa Sugarman’s Oct. 15 complaint alleges the cash shift qualified as a donation that violated a state law that took effect six weeks earlier. That law prohibited a political action committee from giving money to an independent expenditure committee controlled by the same people. In this case, Sugarman contends the giver, New Yorkers for a Brighter Future, was a political action committee, and the receiver, Fund for Great Public Schools, was an independent expenditure committee, and both were overseen by Andrew Pallotta (the current NYSUT president) and Melinda Person.

Her complaint, which will be presented to a hearing officer, seeks up to $700,000 in penalties from New Yorkers for a Brighter Future, Fund for Great Public Schools, Pallotta and Person.

The complaint invokes the candidacy of Chris Eachus, a then Orange County legislator who tried unsuccessfully to unseat Republican state Sen. Bill Larkin that year. Sugarman charges that Fund for Great Public Schools spent money in support of Eachus and two other Democratic Senate candidates – incumbent George Latimer and challenger Leslie Danks Burke – after NYSUT engaged in “strategic communication” with the candidates.

The group spent about $41,000 on mailers for Eachus in September of 2016, three days after Eachus’ campaign emailed a fundraising solicitation to supporters that set a target of $50,000 and that Pallotta received, according to the complaint and one of its exhibits.

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Jacobson sworn in early as assemblyman

Jonathan Jacobson, a former longtime Orange County Democratic chairman who was elected to an open Assembly seat this month, has officially taken office before the usual January start of the legislative terms to serve the last month and a half remaining in the late Frank Skartados’ two-year term.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie swore in Jacobson in Albany on Thursday. Jacobson, who stepped down as county Democratic chairman after 22 years in 2014, and later won a seat on the Newburgh City Council, beat Republican Scott Manley on Nov. 6 in the 104th Assembly District race. Skartados, a fellow Democrat who served in the Assembly for eight years, died from pancreatic cancer in April.

The 104th District consists of the cities of Newburgh, Poughkeepsie and Beacon and towns of Newburgh, Marlborough and Lloyd

Jacobson stepped down from his council seat after winning the Assembly election. In a press release announcing his swearing-in, Jacobson said, “I am excited to get to work representing the residents of the 104th Assembly District.”

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Skoufis opposes tax abatement for New Windsor hotels

Assemblyman and state senator-elect James Skoufis shot off a letter to the Orange County Industrial Development Agency on Friday to question the need for tax breaks for two proposed hotels in New Windsor and to outright oppose granting them property-tax cuts through what are known as payments-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT agreements.

The Woodbury Democrat, who has served three terms as an assemblyman and was just elected to succeed retiring Sen. Bill Larkin, appeared to be reacting to a Times Herald-Record article reporting that the IDA board had voted on Wednesday to consider tax breaks for a four-story Holiday Inn Express that will be built on the site of the closed Steak & Stein on Union Avenue. The developer, Banta Hospitality, is seeking a 10-year PILOT, $824,000 in sales-tax exemptions on construction costs, equipment and furniture, and a $24,000 mortgage tax exemption. Construction is set to start in March.

IDA officials said at the same meeting that they expect a developer to apply soon for tax breaks for a proposed hotel at Stewart Airport in New Windsor.

Skoufis, who represents New Windsor as an assemblyman and will do so in the Senate as well, noted in his letter to the IDA board that Orange County’s hotel industry is booming, thanks to tourist sites such as Woodbury Common Premium Outlets and the future Legoland theme park, a major attraction being built in Goshen. He pointed to the five hotels proposed in Woodbury alone in the last year as a sign that building hotels in Orange is lucrative without taxpayer assistance.

He urged the IDA to reject PILOTs for the two New Windsor hotels and any others proposed in eastern or central Orange County.

“These subsidies are unnecessary, provide an unfair competitive advantage, and would only act to pad the profits of hotel owners,” Skoufis wrote. “Our local taxpayers should not be subsidizing this sort of greed-driven behavior.”

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State raise panel makes no proposals in first meeting (updated)

The four state appointees set to award New York lawmakers their first raises in 20 years finally held their first public meeting on Tuesday, less than four weeks before they must make their decision, and did little more than give perfunctory remarks about their task.

In a webcast meeting held in New York City, the chairmen of the SUNY and CUNY boards and the comptrollers for the state and city talked a little about the description of their mission in this year’s state budget, and showed some comparisons of the salaries of New York’s legislators and other elected and appointed officials with those of peers in other states and New York City. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer showed charts projecting how much the state salaries would have grown today if they had matched the inflation rate and private-sector salary growth since 1999.

But they proposed no actual raises, and it’s unclear if the panel will meet again to do so before the public will get a chance to comment at two hearings set to be held in Nov. 28 in Albany and on Nov. 30 in New York City. The panel, known as the New York State Compensation Committee, must decide on raises for legislators, the comptroller, attorney general, lieutenant general and top administration officials by Dec. 10, and may give them pay increases for the next three years.

New York’s 63 senators and 150 Assembly members currently get a $79,500 base pay, the third hightest in the U.S., plus stipends for party and committee leadership positions that range from $9,000 to $41,500.

A similar raise panel broke up two years ago without increasing pay after clashing over a proposal to give 43 percent raises.

(Update: An assistant to SUNY Chairman Carl McCall confirmed that the panel will hold no further meetings before the two hearings at the end of the month. That means the public is being invited to comment in the abstract on raises without knowing how much the panel plans to award.)

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Maloney competing to lead DCCC

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney is one of four House Democrats reportedly competing to become the next chairman of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in an election their caucus is set to hold for leadership positions on Nov. 28.

Three publications – The Hill, Roll Call and The Atlantic – all have reported since Saturday that Maloney, who won a fourth term in New York’s 18th Congressional District seat by 10 points last week, was courting support to run the House Democrats’ campaign arm. In a letter to his colleagues that was posted on Twitter, Maloney outlined his strengths, including his having unseated a Republican incumbent (Nan Hayworth, in 2012), won re-election in a district that President Trump won in 2016 and led a five-month study of DCCC operations after the 2016 election that led to “dozens of reforms.”

“No other candidate has a more extensive knowledge of the DCCC, its $250 million budget, personnel structure and national operations than I do,” Maloney wrote. “Nor would any other candidate better understand the next generation of reforms we must implement.”

Maloney also stressed his fundraising prowess. “In just the last two years, I have personally raised more than $6 million into multiple political committees,” he said, referring to his congressional campaign account and the donations he collected for his unsuccessful bid for state attorney general this year. “I will be relentless and out-raise the Republicans.”

Maloney is reportedly competing for the DCCC chairmanship with Suzan DelBene and Denny Heck of Washington; and Cheri Bustos of Illinois. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico led the DCCC for the last four years, and is said to be vying now to be the next assistant Democratic leader.

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Cuomo lost Orange and Sullivan, won Ulster

Gov. Andrew Cuomo won a resounding, 22-point re-election victory over Republican challenger Marc Molinaro on Tuesday, but he didn’t fare so well in Orange and Sullivan counties and much of the rest of upstate.

Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive, won Orange County by 3.7 percentage points and Sullivan County by 12 points, according to the state Board of Elections’ counts. The Republican won 47 of 53 counties in all in the vast expanse of New York north and west of suburban Rockland and Westchester counties. Among the exceptions was heavily Democratic Ulster County, which backed the Democratic governor by 7.5 points over his challenger.

Much of Cuomo’s crushing margin of victory came in New York City and Westchester. He also won both of Long Island’s counties, as well as Albany, Erie, Monroe, Onondaga, Rockland and Tompkins counties.

Here are the vote counts for Orange, Ulster and Sullivan:

Orange County

Cuomo: 53,646 (45 percent)

Molinaro: 58,083 (48.7 percent)

Ulster County

Cuomo: 37,042 (50.9 percent)

Molinaro: 31,541 (43.4 percent)

Sullivan County

Cuomo: 9,276 (40.5 percent)

Molinaro: 12,038 (52.5 percent)

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Main KJ bloc gave Basile 4,157 votes in Senate race (updated)

Kiryas Joel’s main voting bloc cast 4,157 votes for Republican Tom Basile on Tuesday after the community’s Anash political party endorsed him in his unsuccessful bid for the state Senate seat Bill Larkin is vacating after 28 years, according to the Orange County Board of Elections’ unofficial tallies.

The rival Kiryas Joel Alliance, which commands a much smaller voting bloc, endorsed James Skoufis, the Democrat who won the race, generating 758 votes for him. That meant a net gain of around 3,400 votes for Basile in Kiryas Joel. That could have made the difference in a close election, but Skoufis’ 6,738-vote margin of victory was too great for Kiryas Joel’s blocs to have changed the outcome. (Update: it has been correctly pointed out that Skoufis’ margin of victory outside of Kiryas Joel was 10,137, which is the appropriate number to use to judge the blocs’ potential impact on results.)

Kiryas Joel voters cast their ballots for the first time as residents of the Town of Palm Tree, a new town that will be split off from the Town of Monroe in January. Palm Tree residents elected their first Town Board members and other town officials in the same election, all of them running unopposed.

It was the first Monroe election without the Village of Kiryas Joel’s voting blocs in the mix. In the 39th Senate District race, residents of what remains of Monroe after Kiryas Joel’s secession cast 3,855 votes for Skoufis and 3,006 for Basile.

Both candidates had been accused of courting Kiryas Joel leaders for their voting blocs in us-versus-them campaign mailers from the Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats. Democrats warned Basile would be “a puppet for KJ,” and boasted that Skoufis had “a real record of standing up to Kiryas Joel.” Republicans claimed Skoufis “tells us he’s fighting KJ, but he’s really making deals for bloc votes.”

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Anagnostakis joins Amo in Independence caucus (updated)

The Independence Party caucus on the Orange County Legislature has just doubled in size without an election.

Mike Anagnostakis, a Town of Newburgh Republican who has clashed with his party at times, recently announced he’s departing the Legislature’s 15-member Republican caucus and throwing in with Michael Amo, who bolted the GOP a decade ago and has been the county’s only Independence Party lawmaker ever since. Despite being a caucus of one, Amo has gotten himself recognized as a party leader and is set to begin collecting the same stipend as the Republican and Democratic leaders in January.

Now he has someone to lead. Anagnostakis, who will remain a registered Republican, has begun meeting with Amo to talk about county business before Legislature meetings, just as Republicans and Democrats do in their separate huddles. The next caucus meetings will come before a special session on Wednesday, when all three caucuses are scheduled to meet in separate rooms at the Government Center.

Anagnostakis said his main reason for leaving the Republican caucus is that its meetings are closed to the public, unlike those that the Democrats and Amo hold.

“I’ve never fit into a process that operates behind closed doors,” he said in a press release announcing his decision. “I’ve always been an Independent Minded Republican – doing what’s best for the taxpayers and not the political insiders – and that’s what I will continue to be.”

Katie Bonelli, the Republican caucus leader, didn’t respond to requests for comment on the announcement. Her party holds a lopsided 15-5 edge over Democrats on the Legislature, so Anagnostakis’ departure is unlikely to have any impact on party-line votes – not that he was ever a reliable Republican vote. Anagnostakis helped lead opposition to past Republican attempts to privatize the county nursing home, and more recently helped quash a GOP effort to gut a campaign finance law he initiated in 2013.

Amo also didn’t return phone messages. In Anagnostakis’ press release, Amo said he welcomed Anagnostakis to the caucus and looked forward to “an open discussion of ideas.”

“The Independence caucus is open to all Legislators, regardless of what party they are registered in,” Amo said. “We have an open door policy for all meetings, and the public is even welcome to attend.”

(Update: Amo called back and said he viewed his caucus addition as a “good opportunity to get other people’s opinions” and a prospect for “tri-party communications” on the Legislature. Though he and Anagnostakis have disagreed in the past, particularly on the nursing home issue, he noted that they have since worked together on the Health and Mental Health Committee. “We’ll find out how well it goes as we move forward,” he said.)

Anagnostakis, who’s been on the Legislature for nine years, launched a campaign for state Senate earlier this year and sharply criticized the Republican leaders’ endorsed candidate for that seat, Tom Basile. But he exited the race early, before petitions were filed in July. The Democratic candidate, James Skoufis, went on to win the race this week.

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Main KJ voting bloc backs Basile in Senate race

Kiryas Joel leaders are supporting Republican state Senate candidate Tom Basile in today’s election for the 39th Senate District seat, steering several thousand votes from the Hasidic village’s main voting bloc to Basile.

The Anash political group’s endorsement of Basile and the blizzard of votes that guarantees him will be partially offset by the village’s smaller faction endorsing Assemblyman James Skoufis, the Democratic candidate for the Senate seat Bill Larkin is vacating. As an illustration of the potential impact of that split from the 2016 election, Anash endorsed Democratic Assembly candidate Aron Wieder and earned him 4,598 votes on election day, and the Kiryas Joel Alliance supported Republican Assemblyman Karl Brabenec and got him 1,491 votes – a 3,107 net gain for Wieder.

Here is a section of the sample ballot Anash distributed to voters outside Kiryas Joel’s polling stations with the endorsed candidates highlighted:
















Votes are being cast for the first time today as the Town of Palm Tree, the new town that will come into existence in January to split off Kiryas Joel from the Town of Monroe. Palm Tree has a total of 10,157 voters.

Both Anash and the KJ Alliance endorsed Brabenec today in his race against Democratic challenger Scott Martens for the 98th Assembly District seat. Both factions also supported all of the Democrats running for statewide office – Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Attorney General Letitia James and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Anash supported Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in his race against Republican challenger Jim O’Donnell; the Alliance made no endorsement in that race.

Here’s a section of the Alliance sample ballot:

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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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