Monday, June 25, 2012
Last week ended with a flurry of news, in part because of the conclusion of the legislative session in Albany. But before departing for the weekend, the state Education Department slipped in a decision on providing $60 million in aid to 24 "turnaround schools" in the city. And this week -- the last week of public school -- starts with news of audits of an expensive kindergarten program for special-needs children, and more on the Horace Mann School sexual misconduct allegations. Oh, yes, and there are a few graduations.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Daily News Albany Bureau Chief Ken Lovett talks about some of the deals emerging from the end of the legislative session in Albany, including Governor Cuomo's new fracking plan, negotiations over the release of teacher ratings, and why New York and New Jersey want Parks Department money for the 9/11 Memorial.
Monday, May 07, 2012
When Governor Andrew Cuomo takes the stage with President Barack Obama on Tuesday, both men will be looking for a boost, say political observers who see nothing but positives for New York's governor.
Friday, April 20, 2012
By Eddie Robinson : Weekend Edition Host, WNYC News
On Saturday night, two New York natives will fight each other in a mixed martial arts bout through the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world's largest promotion company for MMA. But the fight won’t be happening at Madison Square Garden. MMA is banned in the state.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Anna M. Phillips reports in The New York Times on Tuesday that legislators are increasingly open to the idea of allowing parents to see the evaluations of their child's teacher, but not releasing those reports generally.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
UPDATED | After an all-night negotiating session in Albany, New York State education officials and the state teachers union reached an agreement on a new teacher evaluation system on Thursday, just hours before a deadline imposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who had threatened to break the impasse by imposing his own way to judge the quality of a teacher's work.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
By Kate Hinds
After sailing through two committee hearings, Joseph Lhota was unanimously confirmed by the New York State Senate to be chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Monday.
"I'm very pleased and honored," Lhota said afterwards, speaking to reporters outside the Senate gallery. "I'm looking forward to this opportunity to make a difference."
But it was the state senators themselves who sounded humbled.
"We're honored Joe would come back to public service," said state Senator Malcolm Smith, who seemed to be speaking for most of his colleagues. Lhota was a former New York City deputy mayor in the Giuliani administration, and had been an executive vice president at Madison Square Garden when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo tapped him for the MTA to replace Jay Walder.
Many senators expressed astonishment that the new MTA chair would want the job. The MTA is largely viewed by legislators as "insular, inefficient, and — dare I say it — arrogant," state Senator Andrew Lanza said. Senator Charles Fuschillo, chairman of the senate's transportation committee, summed it up: "We’ve heard this is the most bloated bureaucracy in the country, we’ve heard about the double books, we’ve heard about every problem – we’ve even seen people on the front page of the (New York) Post the other day, playing chess when they should be working."
Lhota, for his part, was even tempered throughout, although he did use his time on the hot seat to to impart a couple of teaching moments. After hearing several legislators trot out the old trope that the agency has two sets of books -- a misperception that is almost a decade old -- he bristled. "The fact of the matter is when you go to our website and drill down, you’ll see an enormous amount of information," he said, adding that the MTA is one of the most transparent agencies in New York State. "There never was two sets of books," he said, "and there never will be two sets of books.”
But the senators knew they had a political macher, not a transportation wonk, in their court, and they seemed to be going through the motions. While Lhota fielded questions on everything from the MTA's finances, to overtime pay, to his stance on tolling the East River bridges, the only legislators who seemed able to muster genuine indignation were the perpetually offended Ruben Diaz, who was unhappy about a subway station in his district, and representatives from Dutchess and Orange Counties -- two of the four so-called "quarter pounder" counties, who share one vote on the MTA board and feel overcharged and underserved by Metro-North.
When senators opined wistfully about the possibility of cutting back on taxpayer support, Lhota sought to nip that in the bud. “I do have to bring up one thing, and I’ll be very honest and very blunt," he said. "There is no way that the MTA can operate without taxpayer money. It was never envisioned to be run nwithout taxpayer dollars. There is not a transportation or commuter rail or transit system in the country that doesn’t work without some other infusion of cash...The entire operation of the MTA cannot be paid for from the riders. It was never envisioned that way when the legislature created the MTA in 1968. I just want to be able to say that.”
During the hearings he talked about his vision for the MTA -- one in which the already pared-down agency further streamlines while improving service. Lhota said he'd be looking closely at the agency's back office operations. “Each one of the operating agencies of the MTA (has) an enormous amount of redundancies," he said. "They all have their own legal staff…. All of the administrative functions are duplicated. I think the time has come for there to be one MTA.”
And he said he was realistic about the challenge: “The bottom line is there’s no consistent standard of excellence across all the MTA. In most cases the service is reliable, stations are clean, and employees provide good customer service. But we’ve all seen dirty subways, we’ve all seen elevators and escalators out of service, buses that crawl at four miles per hour, commuter rail service crippled by bad weather, we’ve heard about projects over budget and behind schedule."
By the end of the afternoon, when the full senate convened to vote, legislators buoyed by the promise of a new era at the MTA rose to their feet to give the new chairman a standing ovation.Lhota told reporters afterwards that he's ridden the subways all his life, and he'll continue to do so. (But with a power that few straphangers can exercise.) "As a rider, I’m also going to be a critic, when I see something wrong on the subways I’m going to make sure it gets fixed," he said. "So the type of chairman I’m going to be for riders? I’m going to be a rider/chairman."
Monday, January 09, 2012
While the Board of Regents met inside the state’s Education Department headquarters on Monday, representatives from the state’s teachers’ union and several of the districts that lost their funding protested outside, decrying the decision by the commissioner, John B. King Jr., to suspend payments on what are known as school improvement grants.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo took the stage at Medgar Evars college in Brooklyn on Friday afternoon, he looked like the cat that ate the canary. The largely black student body gave him thrilled applause. One student yelled a soprano “we love you!” as he took questions from reporters. Not so-muted-references to Cuomo for President in 2016 swirled through the room.
It’s been that kind of week for the New York governor, who took several compliments for running a “functional” government – unlike --get it -- the one in Washington. He put together a tax plan that managed simultaneously to cut taxes for everyone while raising taxes for the super-rich. He set up an infrastructure bank to fund sorely-needed construction projects and create jobs. He was able to dole out hurricane relief funds to a besieged state. And – the subject of Friday’s Medgar Evers lovefest – set aside $75 million for “inner-city” job training and placement, a true passion of his.
But there’s one group that, this week, felt left out. For transit advocates under Governor Cuomo, it’s been a season of swallowing lemons.
There were the departures of MTA chief Jay Walder and Port Authority executive director Chris Ward, both seen as transit supporters – and their replacement with Cuomo loyalists Joe Lhota and Pat Foye, neither of whom has a background in public transportation.
There was the introduction of a massive plan to build a new Tappan Zee bridge, with the transit option mysteriously erased at the last minute.
And then: this week, to get his tax bill past the Republicans, the governor had to be willing to throw the MTA payroll tax under a bus, at least partially. Schools and small businesses would no longer have to pay the tax, which plays a vital role in maintaining the transit system.
Instead, there’s a vague assurance in the tax legislation passed this week that “any reductions in transit aid attributable to reductions in the metropolitan commuter transportation mobility tax authorized under article 23 of the tax law shall be offset through alternative sources that will be included in the state budget.”
Governor Cuomo reiterated that assurance Friday: “The state will pay, dollar-for-dollar, whatever amount would have been raised by that tax. So the MTA is held totally harmless -- we’re just shifting the source of those funds from the MTA payroll tax to state funds.”
And the governor said no one should conclude from this that he doesn’t care about transit as much as, say, jobs for inner-city youth. “Obviously the MTA is very important to the region's economy. I’m very excited about my appointee to the MTA, Joseph Lhota -- all reports are he’s doing a great job and this will not cost the MTA one penny.”
But the idea of a broke state government being the guarantor of transit funds has left straphangers advocates uneasy.
Mitchell Moss, the director of the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University and a member of Cuomo’s search committee that recommended Joe Lhota to head the MTA, has been willing to give Governor Cuomo the benefit of the doubt when it comes to transit. But in an online op-ed in the New York Times, Moss wrote: “Apparently forgotten [in the agreement] are the millions of low-income New Yorkers who, in addition to getting zero in tax cuts, must now rely on a Metropolitan Transit Authority that lost $250 million in tax revenue in exchange for a pledge that the funds will be made up, but for how long and in what form, no one knows.”
Moss continued: “Rather than treating the M.T.A. finances as an urgent problem, it makes them worse to gain support from Long Island and other suburban state legislators.”
At the end of the day, exactly how the funds will be spent won't be clear until there's a 2012 budget. If past is prologue, that, too, will be decided in a last-minute round the clock jumble that will have legislators, and everyone else, trying to figure out what they voted on after the fact.
There was another black-eye for transit advocates this week – the death of an obscure, but to them vitally important, bill – the “lockbox bill”-- that would have made it more difficult for the state legislature to help itself to taxes that otherwise would go to fund public transit. As recently as the year before last, the legislature did just that, contributing to the MTA’s budget woes by taking $150 million that was supposed to go to transit and using it to plug the state’s budget gap.
Both houses of the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that would have made that more difficult to do. But in the final run-up to the tax bill, most of that legislation was crossed out -- literally.
“The original legislation would have made it more difficult for the Governor to unilaterally divert MTA dedicated transit funds,” said a statement issued group of a dozen labor, transit, and good government groups. The legislation passed this week “does not constrain future raids on transit funds,” the statement continued.
There was another source of concern this week – an infrastructure fund being established under the bill would accelerate state funding of big capital projects – and leverage private funds. It’s been a dream of President Barack Obama to establish such a fund, and now Cuomo has one.
But both the press release and the legislation said it would fund roads, bridges, water tunnels, canals, dams, flood control efforts, even parks. But not transit. That left planners like Robert Yaro of the Regional Plan Association befuddled.
On Friday, Governor Cuomo said both the MTA and the Port Authority would be eligible for the funds, and that details would be revealed in his State of the State address in January.
But still, there’s a wariness that this Governor cares more about muscle cars than a muscular transit system.
Part of the unease is fueled by the rapidity with which the bill this week was presented. On Tuesday, the Governor issued a press release with the broad outlines of the agreement, but details were sketchy.
Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign says he worked all week to get details, but few were forthcoming. “The process was opaque, the 180 degree opposite of transparent," he said. "I spent the better part of the week calling the administration and I didn’t hear back.” Those details he did get were misleading, he says, though he says that could be because the agreement changed after they were relayed to him. For example, he was told the MTA provisions would sunset – that’s not the case. He was told the exemptions wouldn’t include public schools – but they do.
(The same thing happened to us – the Governor’s office initially assured us the $250 million hole to the MTA budget would be plugged by a dedicated stream from the $1.9 billion reaped by the tax on the super-rich – but when the bill was finally presented -- minutes before it was voted on -- there was no such provision.)
Russianoff also says he was asked not to issue a statement on the lock box because a compromise was being brokered -- but when the language finally emerged, he was “disappointed.”
“This is my experience in Albany,” Russianoff said, of hastily-crafted legislation. “It’s too early, and it’s too early. And then it’s too late.”
Thursday, September 22, 2011
By Richard Yeh : Producer, WNYC News
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday that he will launch an online town hall — an interactive web site aimed to spark dialogue between New Yorkers and their state government
Wednesday, July 06, 2011
—Glenn Blain, Albany bureau reporter for the New York Daily News, on The Brian Lehrer Show.
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
By Bob Hennelly
A powerful health care union spent more than $6.3 million over two months this year in a campaign to support Governor Andrew Cuomo's efforts to reduce state health care costs, according to New York state disclosure documents.
Friday, June 24, 2011
By Karen DeWitt : NYS Public Radio/WXXI
The New York Senate has sent the same-sex marriage bill to the floor for a vote after days of closed-door meetings in legislative overtime.
Friday, June 24, 2011
By Alec Hamilton : Assistant Producer, WNYC News
When the New York State legislature passed the budget by their March 31 deadline, Governor Andrew Cuomo said it was an achievement.
"Tonight the Legislature not only passed an on-time budget, but a historic and transformational budget for the people of the state of New York," Governor Cuomo said. "It was an invaluable public service for the state government to 'function' so well at this difficult time."
On Wednesday, as lawmakers blew past the scheduled day of session on June 20 with major pieces of legislation still pending, Cuomo took a different tack on Albany's speed.
"If it takes a little bit more time, it takes a little bit more time," the governor told reporters. "I would much rather get it right than rush it."
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Republican Senate majority leader Dean Skelos said a package of legislation that includes statewide property tax cap and city rent control legislation remains on track.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
It's not over with yet, it's a very fluid situation. But clearly, to effectively implement a tax cap without destroying community college participation, or long term home health care programs, nursing homes, tourism, water, sewer, economic development projects, road patrol, infrastructure—they need to get this mandate relief.
— Stephen Acquario, Executive Director of the New York State Association of Counties, on The Brian Lehrer Show.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
With the Tuesday announcement of a bipartisan compromise on property tax cap legislation, Governor Andrew Cuomo looks to be on the way to securing two out of three of his big-ticket priorities for the legislative session.
Monday, June 20, 2011
— New York State Assemblyman representing central Brooklyn Hakeem Jeffries (D-57) on The Brian Lehrer Show.
Monday, June 20, 2011
New York State Assemblyman representing central Brooklyn Hakeem Jeffries (D-57) gives an update from Albany on the official final day of the legislative session.