Brian Lehrer and Caitlin Thompson welcome you to the podcast -- launching on January 11th.
By Karen DeWitt, New York Public Radio Capital Bureau Chief
One of the biggest and most controversial issues facing New York in the New Year is hydrofracking. Governor Cuomo’s environmental department is conducting a review process and is likely to begin issuing permits sometime in 2012.
Earlier in the year, it seemed that the Cuomo administration was on a fast track to allow hydrofracking in New York. In June, state environmental officials proposed allowing the gas drilling process on some private lands in the state. They began a review process that was to have been completed by the end of 2011. But they added four public hearings and extended the public comment period until January 11th.
Environmental Commissioner Joe Martens said that after the review process ends, he and his staff will have to sift through at least 16,000 new comments.
“It will take months to do it properly,” Martens said.
The Department of Environmental Conservation had hoped to complete a tax and fee structure for drilling in time to be included in the governor’s budget proposal in mid January.
Those decisions were to have been made by an advisory panel representing the industry, environmentalists and the legislature. But the panel failed to come up with a tax and fee plan in time, and those discussions will continue into the New Year.
Without the fee structure in place, the D.E.C won’t have the resources to hire staff to issue the permits or make sure that the gas drillers comply with all the new regulations that will eventually be in place. Currently, the department has just 16 employees who are involved in energy well drilling. Commissioner Martens said the current capacity to review any new applications for drilling is “very limited to non-existent”.
It’s estimated that 100 to 200 new regulators and permitting experts would be needed to oversee the expected new drilling activity.
Martens for the first time in late December suggested that permitting may begin very slowly and possibly be phased in over time.
“People have suggested looking at specific geographic areas, phasing in the process,” Martens said. “We’re looking at all of that.”
Governor Cuomo has not weighed in with any opinions about hydrofracking, preferring to let his environmental commissioner take the lead for now. The governor in the fall said he was still keeping an open mind.
“Let’s not respond emotionally,” Cuomo said in October. “Let’s get the facts.”
Rob Moore, with Environmental Advocates and a member of the fracking advisory panel, said he is relieved that state officials seem to be taking a more considered approach recently, and he hopes that continues.
“I think the state should be very cautious about trying to drill in 2012,” Moore said.
Moore says a number of uncertainties and questions remain, including the economic impact of the industrialization that comes with gas drilling on remote rural areas, and what Moore says is the uncertain profitability of the drilling companies, now that gas prices have plummeted. The environmental group would also like more data on potential health impacts of drilling and potential contamination of drinking water.
The lobby group for the gas companies, Independent Oil and Gas Association, has spent recent months trying to build community support, holding public forums in communities where fracking may take place. Spokeswoman Cherie Messore admitted that fracking has become a negative “buzz word”, and said the group’s goal is to lessen fears about hydrofracking and help the public be more informed.
“There is a great deal of misinformation,” Messore said.
She said fracking is safe, when all of the environmental rules are followed, and many of the companies interested in drilling already have good track records in New York.
Steve Greenberg, a political analyst with the Siena Research Institute, said fracking presents a “potential landmine” for Governor Cuomo whether the state ultimately allows or bans the gas drilling.
Greenberg said the governor risks alienating either environmental groups or the powerful gas industry and faces a “lose-lose” situation.
Polls show the public is evenly divided about whether fracking is a good idea for the state’s economic future.
By Karen Dewitt, New York Public Radio Capital Bureau Chief
The dismantling of one of the last Occupy encampments in New York ended with pepper spray and arrests on Thursday, as Albany city workers moved in and took down tents at the Occupy Albany encampment.
Occupy Albany’s camping permit expired at 7:00 a.m. Thursday, and by mid afternoon city workers moved in and began dismantling the tents. When workers tried to take down the last tent, protesters seized it and began marching up and down the city streets in the midst of the evening rush hour. They chanted “Occupy Albany all day, all week”, and “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out”.
The protest took on a carnival atmosphere, but things turned darker when the demonstrators returned to the city park. Police attempted to take the tent away, a scuffle ensued, and four were arrested. A local news cameraman was apparently assaulted in the ruckus.
“The police came, they started knocking everybody away, they were forcefully grabbing us, bringing people to the ground, ” said Shana Goldman, who was among the protesters who said they were pepper sprayed.
“Some had to be taken to the hospital,” she said.
By early evening last night, some protesters lingered, but the park was clear of any tents.
Today on "The Capitol Pressroom":
It's our "Annual Revolving-Door Reporter Year-end Assessment and Moment of Sharing!"
This year the reporters visiting the Plywood Hut include Ken Lovett of the NY Daily News! Rick Karlin of the Albany Times Union! Betty Flood of the Cuyler News Service! Yancey Roy of Newsday! And Michael Gormley of the AP! But who knows who may swing by! Perhaps some Surprise Musical Guests?
It's the ONLY non-exclusive Co-Ed Fully Clothed Political Year End Assessment to take place in the Plywood Hut on the 3rd Floor of the State Capitol in Albany on this date as far as I know!
By Yasmeen Khan
Despite pleading guilty to four federal corruption charges this week, state Senator Carl Kruger will still be entitled to his state pension. And with more than 36 years of service credit working for New York, Kruger, if he submits an application to be an official state retiree, could earn about $70,000 per year (the state comptroller's office does not have an estimate for Kruger's annual pension, but check out the calculation by Jimmy Vielkind on his Capitol Confidential blog for The Albany Times Union).
In fact, for decades, any elected state official convicted of a crime has been able to collect his or her pension. They're entitled to it under the New York State Constitution. There's a new law on the books to change that (more on that in a minute), but the law doesn't apply to state employees already working before the law was passed.
This article has been updated.
State GOP leaders have agreed to count more than 46,000 prisoners across New York state as residents in their home neighborhoods, instead of where they are incarcerated. The battle has serious implications for the state's redistricting efforts, drawing more weight to downstate areas from upstate counties where prisons are located.
By WNYC's Yasmeen Khan
After spending two months camped out in Lafayette Park, across from the State Capitol building, Occupy Albany protesters are issuing demands, and with a national focus. They're "developing a strategic road map to address, in the near term, the issues of campaign finance, lobbying influence, and the revolving door."
The movement's priorities include repealing corporate personhood (referring to the Citizens United case in which the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the same rights as individuals) and changing the incentives structure for elected officials, so that they are working solely for constituents and not for donors, Edge said.
He said the the Political Strategy Working Group is actually looking to follow the example set by Maine and its clean elections law.
"It allows for everyone running for office to essentially have the same amount of money to run. So they can win based on their ideas, and not based on just how much money they can raise. And once they're elected, since agreeing to opt into the public funding system, the clean elections system requires them to agree not to accept any private contributions. So that seems to be -- while it's not the end all, be all -- the first step."
In this exchange with Brian Lehrer, Edge explained why taking money out of politics is a "99 percent" issue, and how Occupy Albany decided to make the issue its platform.
Edge joined The Brian Lehrer Show as Occupy Albany protesters face a deadline: their permit to occupy Lafayette Park expires on Thursday. They've planned a Keep the Park rally for tomorrow evening. Edge said while the park is symbolic, "the movement will continue regardless."
If wine is not your thing at Thanksgiving, watch our video of how to make a batch of festive Cornucopia Punch from mixologist Eben Freeman.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sats down with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg to education, job creation, and the budget. Watch live here or submit a question for the governor on his Facebook page.
-Texas Gov. Rick Perry, struggling to name the three cabinets he's vowed to eliminate from the U.S. government during Wednesday night's GOP debate.
By Karen DeWitt, New York Public Radio Capital Bureau Chief
A coalition of business lobbyists, city and village mayors, and school boards are pushing hard for reduced pension and health benefits for their employees, as part of a package of mandate relief that they say is necessary to help communities around New York live within the new 2% property tax cap law.
The groups want public workers and teachers to pay a minimum amount for their health insurances, at least 15% for individuals and 25% for families. They’d also like them to accept reduced pension benefits in the form of portable 401(k)s, and require that injured workers are awarded less money in some cases if they are hurt on the job.
Brian Sampson with the pro business group Unshackle Upstate says the newly passed 2% property tax cap is not going to work, unless local governments and schools get easements from those rules in order to cut costs.
“This is what the taxpayers are asking for,” said Sampson. “They want government that’s affordable.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo has created a mandate relief task force. It issued its first report last March, but contained no major shake ups to existing mandates. Sampson says the panel just “nibbled around the edges”.
Heather Briccetti, with the New York State Business Council, agrees.
“It’s very modest recommendations,” Briccetti said. “This is broader than what that task force has offered up.”
Governor Cuomo says mandate relief is “a work in progress”, and admits more needs to be done.
“It’s a continuing process, it’s an evolving process,” said Cuomo.
Cuomo was at a bill signing ceremony to require more health insurance coverage for autistic children.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who also attended the event, says he thinks the governor and legislature took a “large step” this year toward mandate relief, and the Speaker says municipalities still want state money for the programs, they just don’t want to be told how to spend it.
“Which has its pluses and minuses,” says Silver, who cites instances of school districts receiving money for pre- Kindergarten programs, and saying they want the extra cash, but do not want to implement pre-K programs.
Unions, whose members would feel the brunt of many the mandate changes requested, were incensed. Danny Donohue, President of the state worker union CSEA, in a statement, accused the coalition of being a “front group” for Cuomo, and his “corporate allies”, who he says are using public workers as a “scapegoat”.
The coalition says they are responding to a request from the state’s Lieutenant Governor, Robert Duffy, who asked the audience at a recent Business Council meeting to provide specific examples of mandates that they find onerous.
In a letter to Mayor Bloomberg, State Speaker Shelly Silver says he and the other elected officials who represent the part of New York City where Occupy Wall Street protesters have formed an encampment at Zucotti park are supportive of the movement and asks that the "city work with residents and businesses to remove the excessive number of barricades." Read the whole letter after the jump.
by Sarah P. Reynolds
Mayor Bloomberg has shared a few of his thoughts about Occupy Wall Street and he's reacted strongly as the week comes to a close.18
“You don’t see people throwing things the way you do in other parts of the world...I do not think this will escalate, and we want to make sure people have the right to protest.”
And here's what he said on Friday:
“What they’re trying to do is take the jobs away from people working in this city…They’re trying to take away the tax base we have. None of this is good for tourism.” (Bloomberg, WOR)
"Everyone's got a thing they want to protest, some of which is not realistic, and if you focus for example on driving the banks out of New York City, you know those are our jobs ... You can't have it both ways: If you want jobs you have to assist companies and give them confidence to go and hire people." (Village Voice)
by Sarah P. Reynolds
If you’re on the fence about changing your political party, you better think fast. Are you an independent at heart but still registered in the two-party system? Are you a Republican who's feeling tired of your party's platform? Are you a Democrat watching your pals take a wrong turn? Are you marching in the Occupy Wall Street and feeling a change of heart? This deadline may be for you!
October 14th is the deadline for voters who want to change their party affiliation for next year’s primaries. If you want to change it for this year’s General Election, you’re already out of luck. According to the New York State Board of Elections, state law prohibits a voter from changing their enrollment party and then voting in that new party in the same year.
According to John Conklin, Director of Public Information for the New York State Board of Elections, the law is designed to prevent voters from switching parties between elections without a waiting period, which could potentially manipulate election results. If a voter applies for a change in party affiliation by the deadline, the new enrollment would go into effect one week after this November’s General Election.
This rule does not apply to new voters in the state who still have time to register for next year; up to 25 days before the primaries.
October 14th (the postmark date) is also the final day to register for this year’s General Election which will be held on November 8th.
For both voter registration and a change to party affiliation, registrants must fill out the same voter registration form. You can get this form at your County Board of Elections, download it from the State Board of Elections website or call 1-800-FOR-VOTE.
By Alec Hamilton
Republican State Senator Jim Alesi is being targeted by billboards commissioned by an anti-gay marriage group in revenge for his vote last June, Rochester's YNN is reporting. The group, the National Organization for Marriage, is targeting Alesi with billboards that mention his name and then warn, ominously, “you’re next.”
Alesi seems unconcerned by the campaign, saying the feedback he has received since voting in favor of same-sex marriage has been very positive. YNN quotes Alesi as saying “I'm steadfastly proud of the vote I took. And for those people who don't agree with me, that's a legitimate disagreement. But it doesn't change my views.”
The Republican Senator has called for a national debate on the right of same-sex couples to marry, telling YNN “I will predict that ten years from now, this will be the law of the land.”
by Alec Hamilton
And even more support for the Occupy Wall Street rally.
“I am showing love to #OccupyWallStreet & the thousands of #youngpeople & #labor #workers who are still arriving.”
by Alec Hamilton
The Occupy Wall Street protesters may remain in Zuccotti Park for as long as they want. Police commissioner Ray Kelly said during a City Council hearing today that as long as the demonstrators conduct themselves in a peaceful and lawful manner, the park’s owners may not require them to leave.
Part of the land-use deal of the sale of Zuccotti Park includes a provision that requires the park to be open to the public at al hours. The privately-held park is owned by Brookfield Properties, a real estate company who built the park in order to gain a zoning bonus for a neighboring skyscraper.
Commissioner Kelly said the NYPD had already spent $2 million dollars on police overtime to patrol the demonstrations since they began about three weeks ago.
By Alec Hamilton
Read the full FBI press release here.
“… beginning in 2002, Walters accepted approximately $600,000 in bribes from general contractors and real estate developers in exchange for awarding them HPD contracts. On multiple occasions, Walters allegedly summoned… John Doe #1..to various locations around the city, including a golf driving range in the Bronx, where Walters would hand John Doe #1 a slip of paper with the amount—usually “250,” signifying $250,000—that Walters was demanding.
In subsequent meetings, John Doe #1 would make cash payments, often in excess of $25,000 at a time, to Walters, hiding the money in golf ball boxes, overnight mail envelopes and coffee cups. During the same time… John Doe #1 was awarded the general contracts for the following HPD projects: theLexington Avenue, Watkins Avenue Cluster, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Cooper- Decatur Cluster projects in Brooklyn, theAlexander Avenueand Crotona Park Cluster projects in the Bronx, and the Guy Brewer North Homes inQueens. The value of these general contracts was often in excess of $10 million.
Additionally, real estate developer Dunn, a friend of Walters since high school, admitted in a consensually-recorded conversation that Walters, whom Dunn described as “greedy,” demanded $75,000 from Dunn and actually received $25,000.”
by Alec Hamilton
The Occupy Wall Street protests prepare to start their third week tomorrow with no sign of waning, and the arrests continue, but Mayor Bloomberg today said overall the protesters are well behaved.
“You don't see people throwing things the way you do in other parts of the world.” the mayor said. “I do not think this will escalate, and we want to make sure people have the right to protest.”
Twenty-three people were arrested last night on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to assaulting a police officer.
Bloomberg also said the police officers seem to have conducted themselves appropriately --though he said there might be "a piece of footage" that showed otherwise.
An NYPD spokesman did confirm that one officer used pepper spray last night on a protester.
by Alec Hamilton
New York Congressman Charlie Rangel lent his support to the Occupy Wall Street protests today, joining Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and House Democratic Caucus Chairman John B. Larson and Rangel’s colleagues in the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Rangel issued a release today that said “This new wave of support gives me renewed hope that we can bring about change inAmerica.’
“Today, the American people are angry and frustrated: In addition to the 14 million who are out of work, many people have lost their homes, health insurance, money for college and are losing hope. The wealthiest few should pay their fair share instead of enjoying the record profits on the backs of the middle class. The American people have had enough. They're mad as hell, and I agree. This is not a political issue, it's a moral issue.
I lived through the Civil Rights movement, marched fromSelmatoWashington, and have witnessed what happens when people unite. That's why I was glad to visitLibertyPlazaon Saturday to lend my support. I encourage more of my Collegues in Congress and the religious community to stand with the people on Wall Street to help occupyAmerica. Together, we can take back our country."
The protests, slated to last for two months, are now in their twentieth day.