New lines, old debate


With help from Shawn Ness

The New York state Capitol is seen prior to Gov. Kathy Hochul delivering her State of the State address in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol on Jan. 10, 2023, in Albany, New York.

For the seventh time in the past few years, New York mapmakers have released an official set of maps for the state’s 26 congressional districts.

And this one, which appears likely to receive a vote on Wednesday, just might wind up being the one that actually sticks: A GOP-backed lawsuit to challenge the new lines is not expected, two people familiar with the discussions said today.

The new map was released overnight by the Legislature’s Democratic majorities. It’s not dramatically different from the one released by the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission earlier this month, providing a significant boost to Democrats only in the Syracuse-area seat held by Republican Rep. Brandon Williams.

“It does leave a little bit of confusion as to why we voted down the first set of maps,” Assemblymember Anthony Durso, the top Republican on the Governmental Operations Committee, said in reference to the commission lines that were rejected Monday. “From what we’re seeing, they don’t look very different.”

Durso said he hasn’t yet had a chance to review every detail of the new plan and that Republicans don’t yet have a formal position on it. The Senate’s Republican conference has similarly not yet discussed the lines in conference.

But Republicans running in key congressional districts are largely happy with the final shape of the districts under the Legislature’s plan.

It helps, too, that Gov. Kathy Hochul is eager to move forward as well.

“She doesn’t want litigation,” a Republican familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of negotiations said. “She does not want to tie up budget time.”

Hochul will be a key player in the final days of the process. Democrats are considering bringing the bills up for a vote on Wednesday — a day before the proposal hits its mandatory three-day aging period, meaning they’d need a “message of necessity” from Hochul to expedite the process.

The governor didn’t rule out providing such a message when asked this morning. “I have options available to me. I’m having conversations now,” she told reporters.

Another item that’s on tap for Wednesday: The Assembly is planning to pass a bill that was already approved by the Senate that would limit any lawsuits challenging the new lines to four Democratic-friendly counties.

But that could wind up being moot until 2032 if Republicans never consider bringing a serious challenge.

One Republican official, who was granted anonymity because of the sensitivity of the redistricting negotiations, questioned why Democrats pushed a lawsuit to the state’s highest court last year if the map’s alterations were largely at the margins.

“They destroyed the credibility of the Court of Appeals for nothing,” the Republican said. — Bill Mahoney

Gov. Kathy Hochul promoted her program to put mental health clinics in schools today.

FUNDING THE NEW BUDGET WITH OLD MONEY: One of the highlights of Hochul’s budget proposal was her focus on mental health, and specifically her plan to create mental health clinics in public schools.

She celebrated the plan today, kicking off her day with a mental health roundtable with students at Mohonasen High School outside Albany.

The governor’s program creates mental health clinics inside any school that asks for it and grants mental health providers $45,000 to set up a mental health clinic in a high-need school and $25,000 for clinics in other schools.

“It’s startup money and it’s available for any school, anywhere, (they) can just come to us and we’ll set it up,” Ann Sullivan, the state commissioner of mental health, said.

But while the initiative was advertised as a program of Hochul’s new executive budget proposal, the office of mental health says the program will start immediately with existing funding.

“The enacted FY 2024 State Budget has $10 million remaining in start-up funds that providers can tap immediately to establish a clinic satellite at a willing school,” the office of mental health said.

Hochul celebrated the program as a milestone for youth mental health in the state.

“This is how we’re starting to change people’s lives for the better and I could not be prouder,” Hochul said. Jason Beeferman

PAID MEDICAL LEAVE FOR NEW YORKERS: State Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Michaelle Solages are urging Hochul to include more comprehensive paid medical leave for New Yorkers in the upcoming state budget.

The bill (S. 2821B/A. 4053B) would expand eligibility for temporary disability insurance and paid family leave benefits.

“It’s one of those benefits that we never hope to have but, unfortunately, many New Yorkers do depend on when they get sick, when they get hurt, to supplement their parental leave,” Ramos, the bill’s sponsor and chair of the Senate Labor Committee, said.

Temporary disability insurance has been capped at $170 a week since 1989, the proposed adjustments would increase that to $1,150 per week.

“We live in a high-cost state, and we need to make sure that we’re keeping up with the times. In addition, we need to make sure that we’re protecting the average New Yorker,” Solages, the bill’s sponsor in the Assembly, said. — Shawn Ness

Mayor Eric Adams fired back at critics who questioned his fiscal management.

BARRY BONDS OF BOND RATINGS: Mayor Eric Adams, again, touted the city’s rosy credit ratings, and he told anyone who questions his fiscal management to look to the experts.

“People want to give this image that OK, ‘This mayor doesn’t know how to manage this city,’” he said at a wide ranging press conference today. “But the bond raters, who determine how well you’re managing, are saying, ‘This mayor is managing the city and this (migrant) crisis.’”

In a press release today, Adams’ office highlighted that four credit rating agencies — Moody’s, S&P, Fitch and KBRA — recently gave good ratings to the city as an issuer of bonds uniformly praising the city’s financial stability.

Adams also played a video at the press conference showing that good ratings mean cheaper borrowing for infrastructure spending — helping the city “build and maintain schools, streets, parks.”

Probably no mayor in history has talked as much about the wonky issue of the city’s bond rating, which Adams frequently highlights in public comments as a counterpoint to critics of his fiscal management.

And there are critics. The business-backed Citizens Budget Commission, the progressive-leaning Fiscal Policy Institute and council leadership who negotiate the budget have all raised concern about Adams’ budget decisions over the past six months in particular — the latest issue being the cancellation of a further round of budget cuts planned for April. Jeff Coltin

TRASH TALK: City Council members and composting advocates slammed Mayor Eric Adams’ proposed elimination of the city’s community composting program and pushed in a hearing today for legislation that would require the Sanitation Department to install at least 25 composting bins in each community district and empty them weekly.

Adams’ November budget cuts threatened to slash city support for nonprofits that help supplement city composting, but an anonymous donor gave enough to prevent imminent layoffs and keep GrowNYC running until the end of June, Gothamist reported.

“The city has committed to sending zero waste to landfills by Oct. 30, but we have made little progress to achieve that goal,” said Council Member Shaun Abreu, who chairs the council’s sanitation committee. “Our waste conversion statistics are deeply concerning compared to other sizable cities such as Phoenix and Seattle.”

“This is not the time to diminish support for the critical work of community composters,” he added.

DSNY first deputy commissioner Javier Lojan pushed back, saying the agency developed and implemented “the largest, easiest curbside composting program ever.” Still, Lojan said, “We appreciate the bill’s goal” and “are open to evaluating the need for more drop-off points.”

The agency diverted 211 million pounds of compostable material away from landfills in fiscal year 2023, he said, up from 150 million pounds the year before. — Irie Sentner

State Sen. Michael Gianaris and other Democratic lawmakers want congestion pricing

CONGESTION PRICING: A group of Democratic lawmakers are making a push for congestion pricing “done right” which means free busing, increasing bus frequency and reliability.

The new proposal, put forth by Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, requests $90 million for the MTA for bus frequency and free-fares — efforts that have already led to a 20 percent increase in ridership on the free routes.

“We need to get people out of their cars and we need better bus service to make that happen,” Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris said. “And we get people back on the buses, which is what we have been trying to do since the pandemic. We’ve had some success, but we have to go a lot farther.”

MTA buses are the slowest in the nation, moving at an average of eight miles an hour despite the MTA being the largest transit authority in the country. “Most of us [New Yorkers] can walk faster than that,” Mamdani said.

Bus riders are also not satisfied with the bus systems, with 38 percent being satisfied with the reliability.

“It’s a lifeline for people to get to work and economic activities, as well as the school as well as the other appointments. Anything that requires you to walk around you need transportation,” Sen. John Liu said. — Shawn Ness

HOCHUL NOMINATES PSC MEMBERS: Hochul has nominated two women to the powerful Public Service Commission, which oversees the state’s gas, electric and water utilities.

Hochul has sent over two nominees to the Senate: Denise Sheehan, a former commissioner for the Department of Environmental Conservation, and Uchenna Bright, an environmental advocate, according to a person familiar with the moves.

This is Hochul’s first move toward reshaping the powerful Public Service Commission, which oversees the state’s gas and electric utilities and will play a pivotal role in the path forward for New York’s climate targets. All the current commissioners were selected by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Sheehan works at a management consulting firm and is a senior policy adviser for the New York Battery Energy Storage Consortium (NY-BEST), the leading trade group for energy storage companies in the state.

Bright previously worked at the Natural Resources Defense Council for seven years in various roles and has been with a business group supporting environmental policies called Environmental Entrepreneurs since 2020. She’s the eastern advocate for the group with a focus on New York and Pennsylvania. — Marie J. French

NY NEEDS FIREFIGHTERS: The New York State Fire Safety Alliance is calling for new legislation to get more volunteer firefighters as the state is number one in fire fighter deaths in the country.

The number of volunteer firefighters has decreased by over 20,000 over the last 20 years, despite an increase in calls. A report from FASNY found that volunteer firefighters save New Yorkers taxpayers over $3 billion because the volunteers work without pay.

“The Firefighters Association of New York is a staunch supporter of fire safety public education and is working steadfastly to bring awareness to this issue and create change,” FASNY Association President Edward Tase said in a statement.

FASNY also wants to improve tax benefits, local property tax exemptions for volunteers and to boost recruitment efforts.

“While volunteer fire and ambulance providers do not choose to serve their neighbors for the incentives, these benefits, including the state income tax credit, do provide real assistance to those who give so freely of themselves for the protection of others,” state Sen. Monica Martinez said in a statement. — Shawn Ness

SENATE EDUCATION BILLS ON THE MOVE: The Senate Education Committee moved several bills to the floor today.

Among those pushed forward was a bill that would require public schools to be compliant with art education requirements that would be overseen by the commissioner. Another bill calls for a mandate that nonpublic and private schools conduct background checks and submit fingerprints for prospective employees.

The last bill on the docket proposed by committee chair Sen. Shelley Mayer would require nonpublic schools to have external defibrillators on school grounds. Of the six bills voted on, five were sent to the floor and one was sent to the finance committee. — Katelyn Cordero

The New York Fire Department abruptly canceled its Black History Month celebration after its honoree’s family protested the exclusion of the Black firefighters’ association from a documentary about him. (The New York Times)

A former New York University finance director was convicted of stealing over $660,000 meant to support women- and minority-owned businesses, which she instead used to pay for renovations and a new swimming pool at her Connecticut home. (Newsday)

The race to replace Albany’s Democratic Assemblymember Pat Fahy is getting crowded, with at least six candidates trying to get on the ballot ahead of the June 25 primary. (Times Union)

#lines #debate

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