Archive for the tag 'new york state senate'

Source: Thomas Good via Wikimedia Commons

State Senator Diane Savino (Source: Thomas Good via Wikimedia Commons)

A pair of New York State politicians are trying to make it easier for emergency personal to rescue disabled residents should another disaster like Superstorm Sandy strike in again the future. SI Live is reporting that State Senator Diane Savino and Assemblyman Michael Cusick are introducing legislation that would require counties to create and maintain a confidential list of disabled citizens so rescue workers could prioritize their rescue in the event of a wide scale emergency.

As we reported earlier in the month, a federal judge ruled that the city had no adequate plan for evacuating the elderly and disabled should another disaster like Sandy strike again. The legislation proposed by Savino and Cusick was in response to this ruling.

“Judge Furman’s ruling holds out what we and those in the disabled community have said, that the city and state need a registry and a plan for the evacuation, shelter and rescue of our disabled neighbors,” Savino said.

Cusick agreed with Savino in calling for action, noting the consequences of inadequate preparedness.

“Individuals with disabilities who may require evacuation assistance and shelter during a disaster will only get the assistance they require if there is some sort of registry,” Cusick said. “We saw first hand the chaos and confusion during Superstorm Sandy with regard to evacuation procedures.”

While Cusick’s bill has passed in the Assembly, it has not yet passed in the Senate. SI Live also noted that the legislation would also force operators of high-rise apartment buildings to update their own emergency plans and provide emergency escape plans for their disabled residents.

Source: Jamie Adams via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Jamie Adams via Wikimedia Commons

The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) is joining the legal battle to get the flowery pro-casino language on an upcoming November ballot changed. The New York Post is reporting that NYPIRG filed a brief arguing that the language on the ballot should be presented in a neutral light.

When we last reported on the upcoming ballot that would expand legalized gambling in the state of New York and call for the construction of seven Las Vegas-style casinos, we pointed to a study conducted by the Institute for American Values that found that legalizing gambling does more economic harm than good. This report directly contrasts the language that is slated to be presented with the ballot, which describes the casino referendum as an economic slam dunk for the state, schools and job creation. We also reported that politicians in Albany and Governor Andrew Cuomo had received hundreds of thousands of dollars from powerful gambling interests for their campaigns.

The spin-laden language was unveiled in September, asking voters if they would permit casinos for the “purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated.” No one has taken credit for crafting the language, and no one in a leadership position has attempted to change it. Early polling comparing this language to a more neutral one shows that a majority of voters support the amendment when written in this language, but not the more neutral version.

The Post described the specific nature of NYPIRG’s complaints about the casino measure:

In a brief for the court, the New York Public Interest Research Group said the final language of the Nov. 5 ballot issue to allow casinos off Indian land should be neutral so that voters can make a decision based on facts, as set out in the state constitution.

Cuomo and legislative leaders added glowing language to the referendum, promising jobs, tax breaks and more school aid, all of which are disputed by some academics and critics. NYPIRG notes in its brief that none of the potential drawbacks from casinos, like crime and gambling addiction, is mentioned.

NYPIRG’s opposition to the referendum language is joined by other groups including the Coalition Against Casino Gambling in New York. Director Stephen Shafer told the Post that benefits promised by the language in the legislation were bogus.

“The rosy language of the reworded amendment for the ballot is a brazen effort to bias the vote. This was a disgrace,” Shafer said.

Source: Rob Bourdon via Flickr

Source: Rob Bourdon via Flickr

The effort to pass a measure that would expand legalized gambling in New York State and see the construction of seven casinos is receiving a huge push from legislators and lobbyists. Despite the momentum, opponents of the measure continue to uncover new data suggesting the bill might not bring the economic boon promised and that politicians have already enriched their campaigns in fast-tracking the legislation from major gambling interests.

Earlier in the month, we reported that the casino ballot measure had majority support among voters, especially after the bill was presented to voters in glowing language that made the legislation seem like a no-brainer. The language surrounding the measure promises job growth, lower taxes and aid to schools. Times Union is reporting on a study put out by the Institute for American Values that notes that expanded access to slot machines would drastically increase gambling addiction:

Modern slot machines “engineer the psychological experience of being in the ‘zone’ — a trancelike state that numbs feeling and blots out time/space. For some heavy slot players, the goal is not winning money,” the study said.

Casinos depend on problem gamblers for their revenue base, drawing 40 to 60 percent of slot machine revenues from these people, many of whom are low rollers.

Living near a casino or working at a casino increases the chance of becoming problem gambler. Those who live within 10 miles of a casino are twice as likely to be a problem gambler than those who do not.

Problem gambling is more widespread than many casino industry leaders claim. The problem gamblers frequently go to a casino, and their lives and livelihoods may be adversely affected by their betting. They are not necessarily the heavy gamblers who are pathological and who suffer from increasing preoccupations to gamble and a loss of control.

The study also indicated the potential economic harm that increased access to legalized gambling would have on the state:

The benefits of casinos are short-term and easy to measure, but many costs pop up during the longer term that are harder to quantify. Economic stimulus fades after the casino becomes a dominant business that drives out established local businesses, such as restaurants, replacing them with pawnshops, auto title lenders and check-cashing stores. And since problem gambling develops over four to seven years, the stress on families and finances may gradually become apparent.

Geoff Freeman, the president of the American Gaming Association (AGA), a powerful gambling lobbying group, refutes the studies undertaken by the Institute for American Values:

“They believe their values are better than others. They’re trying to throw the baby out with the bath water,” Freeman told Times Union…

The American Gaming Association’s Freeman said the institute’s conclusions are based on tired arguments and inaccuracies. He said many communities benefit markedly from casinos, such as Bethlehem, Pa., Kansas City, Mo. and French Lick, Ind. He said he had not read Schull’s book on slot machine engineering, but that all technology has evolved. He said just 1 percent of the population have pathological addictions and that the other 99 percent should have the “entertainment they desire.” The AGA’s research points to 2 percent to 3 percent of the adult population having gambling problems.

Freeman was not able to estimate how much of the revenues of casinos come from problem gamblers. It would be in the billions, based on the institute’s estimates. In 2012 nationwide, tribal casinos collected $27.9 billion and commercial casinos accounted for $38.3 billion.

While it isn’t known for certain as to how much of a boon legalized gambling will be for the state, it is known how much money legislators have scored from gambling interests. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Governor Andrew Cuomo and politicians in the New York State Senate and Assembly have seen lots of cash flow into their campaign coffers from the gambling lobby. From 2011 to July of 2013, Cuomo has received $361,000 while the Legislature has taken in over $1 million in that time frame.

Common Cause, who conducted that study, noted that the law enacting the referendum had once prohibited politicians from receiving campaign contributions from the gambling lobby but that law was killed in closed-door talks.

PS 222, 3301 Quentin Road (Source: Google Maps)

PS 222, 3301 Quentin Road (Source: Google Maps)

State Senator Marty Golden honored P.S. 222 (3301 Quentin Road) for its recognition as a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School winner. Brooklyn News is reporting that the school won for “Exemplary High Performing.”

The award is presented by the US Department of Education and was given out to 236 other public schools across the country this year. Officials from P.S. 222, including Principal Theresa Oliveri and former Principal Louise Blake, will be on hand for the ceremony in Washington D.C. in November.

Golden said he was proud to honor the Marine Park school in his remarks.

“It is an honor to represent such an outstanding school and I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the entire Public School 222 community on this honor.  Together, students, parents, teachers and administrators, have made this great honor possible.  This is a great day for School District 22 and a great day for Marine Park,” Golden said.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan commented on prestigious nature of the award.

“National Blue Ribbon schools represent examples of educational excellence, and their work reflects the belief that every child in America deserves a world-class education,” Duncan said.

Congratulations to P.S. 222 on the impressive honor.

Marty Golden, Photo By Erica Sherman

Marty Golden, (Photo By Erica Sherman)

State Senator Marty Golden is hosting a town hall meeting tomorrow night for people in Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach and Gerritsen Beach who were affected by Superstorm Sandy. Brooklyn News is reporting that Golden has invited a slew of officials representing various city, state and federal agencies to interact with attendees and answer questions relating to the continuing recovery effort.

Brooklyn News listed the agencies that the officials will be culled from as well as Golden’s remarks encouraging residents affected by Sandy to make it to the meeting:

Senator Golden will welcome officials from Build It Back, National Flood Insurance Program, Small Business Administration, The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Financial Services, The Army Corps of Engineers, The New York City Department of Buildings, The Health Department, City of New York, The New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and The New York City Department of Transportation.

“Almost 11 months after Hurricane Sandy, many residents still need help with rebuilding, insurance, and getting back on their feet,” said Senator Golden (R-C-I). “I urge all residents of my district who are still facing Hurricane related issues to come to this meeting and take advantage of all the different agencies present. By working together, we can make sure that all those who were affected by Hurricane Sandy get their lives and homes back to normal.”

The meeting is schedule for tomorrow, September 25, at 7 p.m. at Public School 277 located at 2529 Gerritsen Avenue.

Source: Golden's office

Source: Golden’s office

State Senator Marty Golden wrote a letter to Joan McDonald, the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), throwing his support behind an amendment that would provide billions of dollars for Superstorm Sandy-related MTA projects.

Here are the details of the proposed amendment:

  • Adds $5.674 billion to the 2010-2014 Capital Program for mitigation projects identified in response to Superstorm Sandy;
  • Includes $1.6 billion in project-level adjustments in accordance with the full funding plan approved by the CPRB in March 2012, and
  • Rebalances the budgets of various project classifications to reflect the current priorities and allow projects to proceed, including addressing so-called 10 percent issues.

Golden explained the importance in approving the amendment and provided more specifics on what the money would cover.

“This amendment includes $5.674 billion in transit and commuter railroad mitigation projects which will prevent or reduce water intrusion in stations, tunnels, and support facilities; fortify key infrastructure and right-of-way equipment; improve operational flexibility; and improve the overall resiliency of the MTA system and its ability to recover from major weather events and other disruptions,” Golden said in the letter to the NYSDOT.

Source: Senator Golden's offices

State Senator Marty Golden (Source: Senator Golden’s offices)

Subpoenas were issued to huge real estate firms that scored a windfall in tax breaks in legislation crafted by Republican State Senator Marty Golden and signed by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Moreland Commission, a group set up by Cuomo to investigate public corruption, is looking into how developers of ultra-rich hotel-condo towers gained the valuable breaks.

Previously, we reported on the dubious legislation sponsored by Golden, which allowed huge tax breaks for five Manhattan properties. The legislation is expected to save developers like Extell Development, Silverstein Properties and Thor Equities tens of millions of dollars. The bill, which enjoyed bipartisan support and was signed into law by Cuomo, tacked on the expensive properties to the city’s 421-A program, a measure designed to spur residential building construction in less-dense areas of the city and subsidize affordable housing. Projects like One57, which is a 1,004-foot luxury tower featuring penthouses on sale for more than $90 million, were initially excluded from the program until Golden and other state politicians voted to include four developments as an exception under the umbrella of 421-A benefits.

Extell Development, which is building One57, has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign chests of both Democrats and Republicans, spurring the Moreland Commission to look into the affair. The independent Moreland Commission was set up by Cuomo after state legislators failed to pass comprehensive anti-corruption measures this year.

The Wall Street Journal described how the impending investigation might bring to light the uncomfortably close relationship between state politicians and major real estate developers:

One person who examined a subpoena from the commission, known as the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, said the information requested was extensive, seeking emails and other communications with lobbyists and elected officials over multiple years relating to the tax break.

Kathleen Rice, Nassau County District Attorney and co-chairwoman of the commission, said the commission has begun issuing subpoenas, but she declined to say who received them or the topic of the inquiries. “We have not prejudged anyone or anything—we are going to follow whatever evidence we have, wherever it goes,” she said.

A spokesman for Extell said the company “will cooperate fully with any agency trying to improve government.”

The subpoenas could eventually help shed light on advocacy and lobbying by the real-estate and development sector, long a powerful force in Albany politics. Top landlords and their advocacy groups traditionally are prolific donors, contributing millions of dollars each election cycle collectively to the campaign committees of governors and influential members of the Legislature, and the outcomes of policies like taxes and rent regulation can cost—or make—them fortunes.

Golden and Assemblyman Keith Wright, the Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Assembly, may also be questioned during the investigation. When initially questioned by the press as to why the five properties were included under the umbrella of the 421a benefits, Golden and Wright both pleaded ignorance.

“These projects were ready to go,” Golden told the Daily News. “I’m not sure where they came from,” Golden said in response to who earmarked the developments for special favor.

“These five properties — it was important that they benefit from the piece of legislation probably, and I don’t know why, because some of the folks in the Senate wanted them to be included,” Wright told the Daily News.

Source: Nydailynews.com

An angry neighbor in front of the “Homecrest Tower” (Source: Nydailynews.com)

The Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) ignored a state judge’s plea to re-examine the plans put forward by the shady developer of the so-called “Homecrest Tower” (1882 East 12th Street). Reports indicate that the BSA declared that developer Joseph Durzieh does have the right to continue building the enormous addition to his home, much to the consternation of his neighbors.

The last we reported on the building, which is a 53-foot tribute to horrendous taste, Judge Yvonne Lewis had sided with neighbors who called for a halt to the project. The judge didn’t have the authority to tear down the structure but had ordered the BSA to re-examine the case. Durzieh had argued that he had the proper permits to make the alterations, claiming that he was building a new addition for his family. Neighbors argued that this was unlikely considering that Durzieh tore down most of his house to accommodate the addition and that his plans called for the installation of an exterior staircase and an elevator. The speculation was that Durzieh was looking to build and rent out condos.

When the BSA finally ruled last week, they declared that Durzieh’s permits were indeed valid, stating that architect Shlomo Wygoda made an error by not filing for a “new building” permit. The BSA decided that this error was “administrative” in nature, effectively giving Durzieh the go ahead on his plans.

Brooklyn Daily described the angry reaction of State Senator Tony Avella:

Tony Avella, a state senator from Queens who crusades against unscrupulous developers, visited the tower on E. 12th Street earlier this year and cited the agency’s decision as further evidence of why the mayor should get rid of it.

“This is one more example of why the Board of Standards and Appeals should be abolished,” said Avella. “It’s just incomprehensible that this developer got away with this huge building. It’s a monstrosity, and not only that, but its a dangerous accident waiting to happen.”

In fact, the board appears to have performed no additional investigation or review beyond the consulting the buildings department, and based its decision largely on the testimony of the department it is supposed to police.

Attorney Stuart Klein, who represents the neighbors opposed to the structure, spoke to the unfair relationship between the Department of Buildings (DOB) and the BSA.

“This decision says that the BSA is going to rubber stamp anything the DOB does,” Klein told Brooklyn Daily.

Source: krissikes/Flickr

Lawmakers in Albany aren’t subjected to term limits and the Conservative Party wants to change that. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle is reporting that Conservative Party chairman Mike Long is pushing an effort to bring term limits to the New York State Senate, Assembly and governor posts.

The call to ask legislators to limit the amount of time they can serve in office is a tough sell. Besides the power and prestige that comes with being a New York State lawmaker, entrenched senators and assemblymembers make $79,500 a year plus a per diem ($171 per full day, $61 per half day). Governors get $170,050 plus a mansion. Combined with access to taxpayer funded healthcare benefits, that is a decent chunk of change. Oh, and did we mention, it’s the legislators who have to write their term limits into law?

Still, party leaders like Long believe it is an effective way to weed out corruption and keep politicians more focused.

“We hear a lot of talk about fixing Albany and about getting rid of the corruption. But nothing they’re doing is going to address the problem,” Long told the Daily Eagle. “If legislators knew they only had a limited time to serve, they would concentrate on getting things done for the benefit of New Yorkers, instead of putting all of their focus into getting re-elected.”

Long’s plan would call for limiting the governor to two terms (eight years) and a maximum of 12 years for Assembly and Senate members (six terms). Long acknowledged that the effort to install term limits would not be popular with the lawmakers themselves and he is considering other options, even if that means ending the careers of some of the most powerful members that his party has endorsed:

Long knows that his party is facing an uphill battle on the term limits front. “It’s pretty hard to get legislators to term limit themselves,” he said. If appealing to the lawmakers’ consciences doesn’t work, the Conservatives will consider pushing for a public referendum to be put on the ballot, similar to how the term limits law was passed in New York City.

Long said he is also aware that the entire legislator would be painted with the same broad term limits brush. If it passed, lawmakers the party has endorsed, like state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-C-Bay Ridge-Staten Island) would be term limited. “It would apply to everyone,” he said.

Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D), who has served the Bensonhurst for 26 years, came out against Long’s plan.

“The people should make the decision. Look at the mess term limits have caused in the city,” Abbate told the Daily Eagle. “You have people trying to move up to higher offices because they know they can’t run for re-election. And you have people running for office who are not ready. They’re running just because the seat is open,” he said.

Personally, I think term limits are a good idea considering the general sorry state of the country’s campaign finance laws. Politicians, desperate to to get reelected season after season, sell their judgement and their votes to keep their campaign chests filled. This never ending cycle is ultimately unethical, turning the most senior lawmakers into jaded hypocritical husks all while tainting the democratic process, opening doors to graft and corruption.

A pricey new luxury building in Manhattan is getting massive tax breaks thanks to State Senator Marty Golden, but the local pol has still not fully accounted for how the tax breaks ended up in legislation he has sponsored.

The New York Daily News is reporting that the owners of the One57 tower, Extell Development, which will benefit to the tune of $35 million, used campaign contributions to score the giveaway on the backs of taxpayers.

We first reported on the passage of the bill last month, which was sponsored by Golden. At the time, we had detailed the campaign contributions made by One57′s developer to various senate party treasuries:

The developers of four of the projects, their relatives and affiliated companies gave $1.5 million to various state campaign committees during 2008-12 — including $440,962 last year, records show.

The contributions included $53,000 to the state Senate Republican campaign treasury, $34,000 to the war chest of Assembly Democrats and $150,000 to the campaign of Gov. Cuomo, who signed the bill Jan. 30.

The Daily News is now reporting what all that cash bought Extell Development and the tenants expected to occupy the new 75-foot building:

Whoever buys the 11,000-square-foot penthouse in the tower known as One57 will save an estimated $318,000 on taxes in the first year alone. Over a decade, taxpayers will subsidize that single owner’s champagne-and-caviar lifestyle to the tune of $1.9 million…

Based on Extell’s numbers, the tax breaks will save its very well-heeled condo owners $44 million over the next 10 years. In return, Extell spent $5.9 million on affordable housing and $1.8 million on fees — for a lopsided benefit of $35 million.

Meaning the eventual buyers of apartment 32F, a three-bedroom condo that Extell hopes to sell for $7.5 million, would start out paying just $221 a month in property taxes, a mere 6% of the $3,670 they would normally owe.

Luckiest will be the owners of the $115 million two-story, six-bedroom, six-bath penthouse with 360-degree views offering “the opportunity to experience the magnitude of New York from a truly breathtaking vantage point.”

Instead of paying the $28,174 a month in property taxes that they rightfully owe, they will pay $1,694. Breathtaking, indeed.

The tax breaks came to fruition under the city’s 421a program, a measure designed to spur residential building construction and subsidize affordable housing. Projects like One57 were initially excluded from the program until Golden and other state politicians voted to include four developments as an exception under the umbrella of 421a benefits.

The issues surrounding the disclosure of the financial perks bestowed upon Extell Development might reinvigorate the debate to reform the state’s campaign finance laws. As we reported last month, the growing bevy of corruption scandals at the state and city level have led Govonor Andrew Cuomo to put forward sweeping anti-corruption measures. Cuomo’s measures would take the power away from state politicians to police themselves and instead form an independent investigative committee to look into any wrong doing suspected in Albany. So far, lawmakers have reacted to Cuomo’s efforts to clean out corruption with indifference.

Golden has yet to account for how the tax breaks made its way into the legislation. “I’m not sure where they came from,” Golden told the Daily News last month.

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