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06/06/08 Affairs and Appointments

06/06/08 Affairs and Appointments

New York City

New York State

Public Hearings


City Officials Seek to Keep Cranes Up While Governor Paterson Aims To Keep Things Low

Mayor Bloomberg and Council Introduce Construction Safety Agenda, Governor Paterson Proposes New Caps on Campaign Contributions and Property Taxes

Mayor Bloomberg Also Concedes Uncertainty about His Post-Mayoral Moves

Quotes of the Week:

I plan to, I think, stay on in public service in some ways or other — I don’t know how.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, discussing his future during a news conference at City Hall.

DOI’s investigation revealed the profoundly disturbing and sobering realization that a senior inspector responsible for ensuring that cranes operating in New York City are in proper condition and are operated by qualified individuals is charged with selling out his own integrity in a way that compromised public safety and rendered his inspectional job meaningless.

Ross Gill Hearn, Commissioner of the Department of Investigation, commenting on the arrest of James Delayo, the acting chief inspector for the Cranes and Derricks Unit at the city Department of Buildings.

Existing contribution limits in New York State are some of the highest in the nation and for certain contributors, the highest. Too often, decisions in Albany are shaped by wealthy donors and special interests. We need to change that and restore New Yorkers’ confidence in how Albany does business. This comprehensive reform package will achieve that goal, and thereby help restore the public’s faith in government.

Governor David A. Paterson, introducing his “Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2008.”

New York is the highest taxed state in the nation and we can no longer afford to ignore the reality that property taxes are driving people and businesses out of our state… This trend is disrupting our quality of life because it is straining family budgets, separating grandchildren from grandparents, and discouraging the entrepreneurship that creates innovation and jobs.

Governor David A. Paterson, discussing the findings of The New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief and his proposal for a four percent annual cap on increases in school property taxes.

Appointments and Elections

Governor Paterson has nominated Robert G. Wilmers to serve as Chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, New York State’s economic development agency. Read the nomination announcement here; read a New York Times profile of Mr. Wilmers, who currently is Chairman and Chief Executive of M&T Bank, here.

Dan Gundersen has resigned as the Commissioner of the Department of Economic Development and as the Chairman of Upstate ESDC.  Read here Governor Paterson’s announcement of Mr. Gundersen’s resignation.

Governor Paterson announced nominations and appointments for several positions, which can be read here

A special election for City Council in New York City’s 30th district remains without an official winner.  In the contest to replace departing Queens representative Dennis P. Gallagher, unofficial results put Anthony Como ahead of second-place candidate Elizabeth Crowley by 70 votes (31.7 percent of the vote to 30.7 percent of the vote).  The Board of Elections reports 196 absentee ballots that have not yet been tallied, as well as possible additional absentee ballots that will be valid if received before Tuesday, June 10.

Collapse, Reform, and now a Charge of Corruption

Arrest of Chief Crane Inspector Caps Week in Which Mayor Bloomberg Introduces Major Reforms on Construction Safety

The city’s chief crane inspector was arrested Friday and charged with taking bribes to pass cranes under his review and for taking money from crane companies who sought to ensure that their employees would pass the required licensing exam, the authorities said. The man, James Delayo, the acting chief inspector for the Cranes and Derricks Unit at the city Department of Buildings, was in charge of overseeing the issuance of city licenses for crane operators…

The Investigation Department said in that to date, no evidence had been developed to indicate that Mr. Delayo’s alleged crimes had anything to do with the crane collapses last week and in March. The accusations against Mr. Delayo focus on smaller machines, known as Class C cranes, although Mr. Delayo was also responsible for overseeing the inspection of the larger cranes, officials said.

Continue reading coverage from the New York Times’ City Room blog here.

Meanwhile, this week Mayor Bloomberg demonstrated that he is not planning to react passively to the fatal crane collapses that have left New Yorkers’ worried about the hazards of their City’s building boom. 

Flanked by Speaker Quinn and other Councilpersons, acting Buildings Commissioner Limandri, and a slew of industry and labor representatives, Mayor Bloomberg this week announced a comprehensive set of reforms designed to increase safety at construction sites.

The legislation would:

  • Make it mandatory for all general contractors and concrete and demolition subcontractors to obtain a safety control number through the Buildings Department before conducting any work that requires a permit.
  • Require that contractors with unacceptable safety records have their safety control numbers suspended or revoked.
  • Require contractors who have been warned of an “immediately hazardous violation” to report compliance within 24 hours or describe steps to correct the violation within a specific time period.
  • Give the Buildings Department new enforcement powers to assign a project safety monitor at sites with a history of particularly hazardous violations.
  • Classify poor site maintenance — loose and excess material and debris, inadequate safety netting, and tripping hazards — as “immediately hazardous,” which would improve housekeeping at construction sites.
  • Require licensed site safety managers to oversee concrete operations.
  • Increase training and other safety requirements governing crane operations in New York City.

Beyond the major changes listed above, the constructions safety legislation would also:

  • Require a safety meeting before erecting, jumping (lengthening) or dismantling of a crane.
  • Require more training for workers doing rigging operations.
  • Restrict the use of nylon slings.
  • Require owners of vacant and structurally fragile buildings to report unsafe conditions.
  • Require owners to perform periodic inspections of retaining walls.
  • Require the state to be notified of disciplinary action against licensed architects and engineers.
  • Require the Buildings Department to provide an annual report on injuries and fatalities.
  • Change the qualifications in city law to require that either the buildings commissioner or the first deputy commissioner be a registered architect or licensed engineer.

Presumably implementing these proposals will be a major focus of Mayor Bloomberg’s remaining months in office.

Read here the Mayor’s press release on the new construction safety agenda.

The above legislative summary comes from the New York Times’ City Room blog; read the original blog entry here.

Will Bloomberg Remain in Public Life? New York Times Articles Address Mayor’s Future

The New York Times metro section generated buzz this week with news that Mayor Bloomberg was considering ways to remain in public office, including either a run for Governor in 2010 or a campaign to revise New York City’s term limits to allow a third-term Mayor.  Evidently in-house polling had found New Yorkers receptive to the idea of a Governor Bloomberg but also strongly in favor of keeping the two-term limit (no surprise given that the City’s last referendum on term limits passed by a wide margin).   At a City Hall press conference Wednesday, the Mayor conceded that he was still deciding what to do upon leaving office in 2009. 

Read the New York Times articles here and here.

Notable Mayoral press releases: Park Slope Fifth Avenue BID and Citywide Customer Service Survey

Mayor Bloomberg signs legislation establishing the Park Slope Fifth Avenue business improvement district

Mayor Bloomberg and Public Advocate Gotbaum launch Citywide Customer Service survey to assess new yorker’s opinions of city services

Governor Paterson Introduces Package of Campaign Finance Reform

Stricter Contribution Limits Seen as Way Toward Politics of “broad-based fundraising”

Next Step in Campaign Finance Reform: Public Funding of Elections (when the State can Afford it)

Following through on a key campaign pledge from the 2006 Spitzer-Paterson ticket, Governor David Paterson this week announced legislation to reform New York State’s campaign finance system.  The “Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2008” proposes to:

  • lower campaign contribution limits for individuals, PACs, and labor unions;
  • reduce the contribution ceiling for limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporate subsidiaries to one-thirtieth of its current level;
  • restrict contributions from lobbyists;
  • enhance enforcement of prohibition against the personal use of campaign funds;
  • expand the enforcement powers of the State Board of Elections (“State Board”);
  • add a fifth member to the State Board;
  • increase penalties for campaign finance violations.

The legislation calls for across-the-board reductions in contributions to candidates and political committees; it also lowers contribution limits in primaries and elections for local public offices (but exempts New York City because the New York City Campaign Finance Act has comparable limits that operate in an existing public financing framework). Contributions from a candidate’s family members would be subject to these lower limits as well.

Governor Paterson justified tighter contribution limits as a means to equalize citizen influence on and participation in the electoral process.  As he put it, “lowering the contribution limits will reduce a candidate’s dependence on a small number of wealthy donors and will encourage a more broad-based fundraising strategy.”

The Governor was candid in describing revised contribution limits as only the first step in reform of New York State’s campaign finance regime.  To enable full participation in the electoral process for those who cannot afford to write regular campaign checks, the Governor’s next goal was public financing of campaigns.  The Governor cited the State’s fiscal troubles – a $5 billion budget gap is projected for the 2009-10 fiscal year – as reason for not initiating public support of campaigns now.  He cited no estimate, however, of the cost to the State from different levels of public financing for campaigns; nor did the Governor specify the level of fiscal health that would enable the State to begin offering financial support to electoral candidates.

Beyond tightening individual contribution limits, the Governor’s bill also includes new limits on contributions from corporate interests.  In particular, the bill restricts the practice of corporations using contributions from multiple subsidiaries to exceed the existing limit of $5,000 per year from a corporation to a candidate.  Another provision would drastically lower the limit on contributions from LLCs by revising how these entities are treated under Election Law.  Instead of treating LLCs as individuals (who, as other individuals, have a contribution limit of $150,000), the Paterson proposal would treat LLCs as corporations, subject to the corporate contribution limit of $5,000.

“The Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2008” would also affect lobbyist contributions, imposing a limit of $250 and requiring the disclosure of persons who “bundle” $1000 or more (“bundling” referring to the practice of rounding up contributions from others).

If enacted, this bill would also alter composition of the State Board of Elections.  There would be a new fifth member – intended to break gridlock which often besets the State Board – as well as a new Enforcement Unit to investigate alleged violations of Election Law Article 14, which prohibits using campaign funds for personal expenses.

This bill also establishes the State Board of Elections Enforcement Unit to rigorously investigate alleged violations of Election Law Article 14. Unless the State Board, which is restructured under this bill by adding a fifth member, votes publicly to dismiss a complaint, the Unit will conduct an investigation and make its recommendations in public. Campaign finance investigation determinations will no longer be conducted internally, under the cloak of secrecy.

Finally, Governor Paterson proposes stiffer penalties those who violate campaign finance law.  The civil penalty for failure to file campaign finance statements would rise from $500 to $1,000; acceptance of excess contributions, expending campaign funds for personal use, and disregarding campaign finance provisions of the Election Law would also all invite new civil penalties of up to $10,000.

The chart below compares proposed limits to the current maximum contribution limits from individuals or PACs to a candidate or his or her committee:

Individual Limits to Candidates per Election Cycle (also applies to PACS and labor organizations)

Current Law

Bill

Statewide candidates
Primary
General election
Total

$18,000
$37,800
$55,800

$5,000
$5,000
$10,000

Senate candidates
Primary
General election
Total

$6,000
$9,500
$15,500

$2,300
$2,300
$4,600

Assembly candidates
Primary
General election
Total

$3,800
$3,800
$7,600

$1,150
$1,150
$2,300

Local candidates

Depending on office sought, ranged from $1,000 to $55,800

Depending on office sought, ranges from $1,000 to $3,000

The chart below outlines the bill’s other proposals compared to current law:

 

Current Law

Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2008

State Board of Elections

Four members

Adds a fifth member to end inaction when Board splits

Annual aggregate caps:
Housekeeping Individual contributions
Party contributions

Unlimited
$150,000
$94,200

Imposes standard limits applicable to contributor
$25,000
$25,000

Party and Campaign Committee transfers

Unlimited

Defines transfers as a “contribution,” thus subjecting transfers to applicable contribution limits

LLC contribution limits

$150,000

$5,000 (treat like corporations)

Close corporate subsidiary loophole

$5,000 each for parent and for each subsidiary

$5,000 limit on parent and all subsidiaries

Lobbyist contributions

Only restrictions are current high contribution limits

$250

Millionaire amendment

Does not exist under State law

Provision to level playing field when race includes a wealthy self-financed candidate

Bundling

Does not exist under State law

Requires disclosure of persons who “bundle” $1,000 or more

Enforcement

Current enforcement unit is weak

Creation of a statutory enforcement unit within the Board of Elections

Penalties

$500 fine for failure to file campaign finance disclosure forms

Civil fines up to $10,000

Personal Use

Provisions are weak and difficult to enforce

Tightens restrictions on personal use of campaign funds

Fundraisers during legislative session

Fundraisers allowed 365/24/7, anywhere

Regional ban near Capitol during agreed upon legislative calendar (effectively January – June)

Public Disclosure

Difficult to know source of contributions

Facilitates tracking of source of contributions

Read Governor Paterson’s press release on his campaign finance legislation here.

Having Heard The Commission on Property Tax Relief, Governor Paterson Proposes Legislation to Cap School Property Tax Increases

A day after formally receiving the preliminary report of the New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief, Governor David Paterson began a statewide tour to discuss legislation he has submitted that would impose a four percent annual cap on increases in school property taxes.  The cap – which is the Commission’s principal recommendation – would not apply to the “Big Five” cities (New York City, Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse and Yonkers), because residents of those cities do not currently vote on school budgets.

The Commission on Property Tax Relief was established by Executive Order No. 22 in January 2008 to investigate and make recommendations regarding the causes of New York’s high property tax burden, as well to investigate potential remedies, including a cap on property taxes.  The Commission had a mandate to seek the most effective means to constrain school property tax growth without undermining the ability of school districts to provide a quality education to all students.

In presenting its findings to Governor Paterson on Tuesday after four months of study, the Commission highlighted the following facts:

  • New York State’s local taxes are the highest in America – 79% above the national average.
  • Outside of New York City, 62% of property taxes are school property taxes.
  • In terms of tax rate, nine of the top ten counties highest taxed counties in the nation are in Upstate New York. They are Wayne, Niagara, Monroe, Erie, Chautauqua, Onondaga, Cayuga, Chemung and Schenectady Counties.
  • In terms of amount of taxes per household, Nassau, Westchester and Rockland Counties are in the nation’s top ten.
  • Property tax levies are rising at more than twice the rate of inflation and salary growth.

The principal recommendation of the Commission’s Preliminary Report is a school property tax cap to address the growth in property taxes. The Commission recommended a cap on the growth of school property tax levies at 4% or 120% of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is less.

Under the Commission’s recommendation, voters could choose to levy more than the cap by “overriding” the cap at the ballot box. A vote by at least 55% of the voters would be required to override the cap. If a school district has received a 5% or greater increase in state aid, 60% of the voters would be required to override the cap.

Similarly, voters who wanted a smaller increase in the tax levy (or no increase at all) could enact an “underride” of the cap.  In school districts where the maximum levy growth permitted under the cap is not used in a given year, the unused portion would be “banked” and could be used in any future year to increase the levy by up to 1½ percent.  This “banking provision” is designed an incentive for school districts to save tax capacity for years when it is most needed.

Upon receiving the Commission’s preliminary report, the Governor submitted a property tax cap proposal that closely resembled the Commission’s recommendations.  In particular, the bill:

  • establishes a “cap” on school property tax levy increases of 4% or 120% of CPI, whichever is less;
  • requires at least 55% of voters to approve any tax levy over the cap, and increases that “supermajority” requirement to 60% if the school district is receiving an increase in State education funding of 5% or more;
  • provides that if the proposal is rejected by the voters, the levy increase reverts back to the cap of 4% or 120% of CPI, whichever is less;
  • authorizes voters to place an “underride” proposal on the ballot if they wish to adopt a tax levy increase of less than the cap (or no increase at all);
  • provides an incentive for school districts to propose increases of less than the cap, by providing for the “banking” of unused levy growth amounts; and
  • preserves the right of all school district residents to vote every year – even if the board proposes a levy increase of less than 4%.

The Governor’s proposed legislation differs from the Commission’s recommendations chiefly in requiring voter approval for proposed levy increases of less than the 4 percent cap.  Under the Commission’s proposal, school boards are authorized to adopt levy increases up to the cap without seeking voter approval. The Governor’s proposed legislation maintains the existing right of residents to vote in these circumstances, thereby continuing to subject all school board property tax requests to voter approval.

Read the Governor’s press release on property tax legislation here.

Attorney General Cuomo Persuades Rating Agencies to Change How They Assess Mortgage-Backed Securities

New York state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced an agreement Thursday that will change how the three major credit-rating agencies get paid for grading mortgage-backed securities.

Under the agreement, Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings will no longer charge a fee for rating the creditworthiness of mortgage-backed bonds.

Instead, they will be paid merely for reviewing the debt, even if they don’t formally assign a rating. The agencies also agreed to disclose more information about the data given them by issuers, which should reduce the practice of companies or investment banks shopping among the agencies for the highest grade.

Continue reading Crain’s New York Business coverage of the settlement here.

Schedule of Hearings in the New York City Council for the Week of June 9

Youth Services; Juvenile Justice Lewis A. Fidler, Sara M. Gonzalez, Chairs
Wednesday, June 11, 10:00 AM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: Oversight – Preventing Youth Homelessness: Examining the Link between runaway and homeless youth and their experiences with the Juvenile Justice System

Women’s Issues * Addition Helen Sears, Chair
Wednesday, June 11, 10:00 AM
Council Chambers – City Hall
Details: Proposed Res 896-A – By Council Members James, Brewer, Comrie, Gentile, Jackson, Liu, Mark-Viverito, Mealy, Sanders Jr., Sears and Gerson – Resolution calling for the New York State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, the Pay Equity legislative package. Res 1152 – By Council Members Sears, Avella, Brewer, Fidler, Gerson, Gonzalez, James, Liu, Mark-Viverito, Palma, Recchia Jr., Sanders Jr., Seabrook, Stewart, Weprin, White Jr. and Jackson – Resolution calling upon the United States Congress to pass and the President to sign into law the Paycheck Fairness Act. Proposed Res 1329-A – By Council Members Sears, Fidler, James, Liu, Monserrate, Palma, Weprin and Lappin – Resolution urging the United States Senate to pass the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

Environmental Protection James F. Gennaro, Chair
Wednesday, June 11, 1:00 PM
Council Chambers – City Hall
Details: Oversight – Prevention of Backflow of Contaminants into the City’s Potable Water Supply

Civil Service & Labor Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., Chair
Wednesday, June 11, 1:00 PM
Hearing Room – 250 Broadway, 14th Floor
Details: Oversight – Examining the Department of Citywide Administrative Services’ proposed provisional employee reduction plan

Standards & Ethics Inez E. Dickens, Chair
Wednesday, June 11, 1:00 PM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: Preconsidered Int____ – By Council Member Dickens (by request of the Mayor) – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the filing of annual disclosure reports.

Parks & Recreation * Addition Helen D. Foster, Chair
Thursday, June 12, 10:00 AM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: Proposed Int 699-A – By Council Members Foster, Fidler, Gentile, Gerson, James, Koppell, Liu, Mark-Viverito, Martinez, Mendez, Monserrate, Sanders Jr., Seabrook and White Jr. – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the provision of an annual report on non-governmental funding for New York City parks.

Housing & Buildings * Addition Erik Martin Dilan, Chair
Thursday, June 12, 10:30 AM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: Proposed Int 511-A – By Council Members James, Fidler, Gentile, Mendez, Nelson, Palma, Vacca, Gerson, de Blasio and Oddo – A Local Law – To amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to providing notice to the state concerning disciplinary proceedings against certain professionals. Proposed Int 754-A – By Council Members Dilan, Brewer, Comrie, Felder, Fidler, Gentile, James, Koppell, Liu, Martinez, McMahon, Palma, Recchia Jr., Stewart and Vacca – A Local Law – To amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring the department of buildings to post on its website the number of fatalities and accidents at construction sites.

Finance * Addition David I. Weprin, Chair
Thursday, June 12, 11:00 AM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: Preconsidered L.U.____ – By Council Member Weprin – New Foundations, Sutphin Boulevard Round II Site 4c, 115-40 Sutphin Boulevard, 115-42 Sutphin Boulevard, Queens, Council District No. 28 Preconsidered L.U.____ – By Council Member Weprin – New Foundations, Hebert Street Condos, 37 Herbert Street, Brooklyn, Council District No. 34 AND SUCH OTHER BUSINESS AS MAY BE NECESSARY

Stated Council Meeting
Thursday, June 12, 1:30 PM
Committee Room – City Hall