July 29, 2018

Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v18)

Nathaniel Brooks/NYTimes 
I thought I'd take a peek at the New York State legislative session that ended last month and see what our state representatives have been up to over in Albany.

A quick scan of headlines and it's not looking good, I can tell you that. Here's a sampling:
  • from auburnpub.com: NY State Legislature session: missed opportunities, gridlock
  • from the NY Times: Even for Albany, an Unusually Unproductive End to Session
  • from the Albany Times Union: Legislative session limps to an end
  • from syracuse.com: NYS Legislature adjourns with little to show
  • from the Buffalo News: In Albany, Legislature moving to close session, with major deals dying
Sounds like a resounding success, doesn't it? Let's take a quick look at some of the hits and misses from the session.

From the Auburn paper, we got this assessment, the first part from Senator Mike Gianaris (D-Queens), with the second part coming from Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua), the Assembly Minority Leader:
It's more a story of missed opportunities than a story about what got done.
The 2018 legislative session may be a memory, but it was anything but memorable.  
Nice to see both parties and both houses of the legislature in agreement on this. Other things of note from this article:
High profile proposals to authorize sports betting, overhaul antiquated election laws, extend the statute of limitations for child molestation and address longstanding corruption problems were introduced but never passed amid an ongoing stalemate between the Democratic-led Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate. 
The session's final days saw measures intended to improve school security fall flat. lawmakers failed to renew the state law authorizing 140 speed cameras in the NYC school zone, meaning the city will have to deactivate the devices. Negotiations to overhaul teacher evaluations also went nowhere. 
Successes called out here include legislation related to prosecuting sex offenders, new sexual harassment rules for government employees, and congestion tolls for transportation services in Manhattan, holding rape kids for 20 years, disclosures for online political ads, and a tax on opioid manufacturers.

The NY Times quoted Blair Horner of NYPIRG, who was also unimpressed with this year's session.
There are always things that don't get done. What made this session unique was the gridlock in the Senate, which made even the simplest of issues extremely difficult to resolve.
The Times also provided some detail on those issues in the Senate.
The Senate, for years led by Republicans, has these past weeks been deadlocked in a 31-31 partisan tie after one Republican senator returned to active duty in the Navy, and a group of eight renegade Democrats who had helped empower the Republicans ended their collaboration.  That thew into disarray the balance of power through which Democrats and Republicans, by virtue of their respective controls of the Assembly and Senate, had long been forced to the bargaining table. 
The Times Union shared another point of interest in the lack of accomplishment, via this comment from Patricia Fahy, an Assembly Democrat:
It's a little bit more of a lull this year. Part of it is because a lot was done in the budget, and, I think, because it's an election year, so  more issues are polarizing.
And, of course, our Sonofa Gov had to pivot quickly to fighting an activist actress, Cynthia Nixon, in order to remain in power. John Flanagan, the Senate Majority leader, was not impressed.
The governor was over here last week and certainly (we) had conversations with him but prior to that there was a very large void. So I feel he played some nominally productive role in the conversations that we had. 
Ouch. Way to drive your agenda, eh Gov?  But never fear, the pols kept pushing.
State legislators also found time to approve millions of dollars of pork barrel spending, create a state hymn, authorize new distinctive license plates and name multiple bridges. And even as time ran out on the calendar, both houses of the Legislature continued passing dozens of bills that stood little chance of success in the other chamber.
The Syracuse paper was equally unimpressed with this year's session.
The New York State Legislature's 2018 session limped to its conclusion Wednesday with precious little to show for it. In an election year, that's a funny way to persuade voters that you deserve another term.
The editorial board noted 'punts' on big issues including early voting, fixing the condo tax (more on that in an upcoming post), and efforts to clean up our economic development mess:
The bid-rigging trials involving one of Cuomo's top aides, SUNY Polytechnic, the Buffalo Billion and developers from Buffalo and Syracuse made nary a ripple in Albany. A bill to require the state to maintain a database of all the taxpayer subsidies given to corporations, the number of jobs created and the cost per job to taxpayers passed the Senate but languished in the Assembly. Such a database would bring more transparency and accountability to the $4B in annual state economic development spending. A bill giving the state Comptroller the authority to review SUNY contracts also failed to pass.
In addition to successes already noted above, the Syracuse paper noted passage of a bill allowing Syracuse and other municipalities to tack code violation fees to property tax bills and also a bill to help a local school district avoid payment of massive fines related to years-old missed paperwork deadlines. (For schools that were assessed and paid their fines in similar situations, I expect there was little joy in that one.)

One final note. The Buffalo paper also had some good analysis, but they also gave us this tidbit about how parochial the session had become at the end.
In place of the usual big-ticket items that define the end of a legislative session, lawmakers Tuesday continued pushing through dozens of locally-related and smaller items, including fixing a nearly 60-year-old typo in the name of a New York City bridge - honoring Giovanni da Verrazzano - with an extra Z to set things straight. 
No word yet on whether we'll have a special session to address any of the shortcomings; the most likely suspect is probably sports betting, but we'll have to wait and see.