As NYC Subways Melt Down, Only an Upstate Republican Dares Call Out Cuomo

Marc Molinaro, the Republican executive of Dutchess County, did yesterday what few elected officials in New York dare to do: call out Governor Andrew Cuomo for mishandling the MTA.

“I’m sorry… what!? Subways overflow w/ commuters, riders trapped on cars, lives at risk… & the answer? Don’t blame NYS,” Molinaro tweeted. He was responding to the wildly disingenuous assertion from Cuomo’s office that New York City “owns the subway and is solely responsible for funding its capital plan.”

It was, for Cuomo, just another day of misdirection when it comes to the ongoing subway meltdown. The MTA, a state agency, runs and funds the subway system. (Technically, the city leases the subway to the state, but it is not “solely” responsible for capital costs.) Cuomo appoints the MTA’s chair and a plurality of its board members. No funding decisions are made without his explicit consent.

Molinaro tells the Voice he spoke up because “subway platforms are overwhelmed and overburdened, and clearly the state is being disingenuous and not transparent.”

Though Dutchess County is thirty miles north of the city, Molinaro notes that plenty of its residents commute to the city and use its subways. “It’s the state’s problem,” he says. “I have never heard a governor say they are not in charge of the MTA.”

Naysayers will point out Molinaro is mulling a bid for governor and could be trying to score early political points. Maybe so, but nothing he said is wrong. What’s remarkable is how silent New York City’s Democrats have been about the state government’s culpability, even as straphangers suffer.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has grown more assertive, but he has been trolled by Cuomo enough to keep his rage in check. He has expressed openness about the new MTA chair, Joe Lhota, and said he will proffer his own plan for the subways if Lhota doesn’t produce something adequate.

Other prominent city Democrats, though, have steered clear of even mild criticism of the governor. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s office declined to comment on whether Cuomo was to blame for the subway’s failures. Public Advocate Letitia James declined to comment as well. Spokespersons for City Comptroller Scott Stringer and State Senator Jeff Klein — the Bronx leader of the Independent Democratic Conference — didn’t respond to requests for comment, while a spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie replied, It’s more important to fix the subways than to assign blame. Speaker Heastie believes the governor is working very hard to address the issues with the subway system.” In their public statements about transit, they have all declined to criticize the governor directly.

Those close to Cuomo say he appreciates the severity of crippling subway delays. If Lhota asks for more resources, he’ll be willing to give him what he wants, they say.

But the subway system is failing every day in new and spectacular ways. Regular people are beginning to recognize how much the central crisis of Cuomo’s six-and-a-half-year tenure is overshadowing every single one of his accomplishments. As the New York City subway system all but ceases to function, repeatedly costing commuters their time, their jobs, and their sanity, Cuomo’s approval ratings are taking a serious hit. For a long time, many New Yorkers didn’t quite recognize the MTA, the state agency completely under Cuomo’s purview, runs their subway system. Now they seem to be waking up.

Not so for New York City’s Democratic political class, who remain silent at a time that cries out for finger-pointing. Laments about the MTA’s performance exclude mentions of the governor. Audits don’t bother to name him. Elected officials with their own plans for transportation salvation, with few exceptions, fail to note his central role.

The previous MTA chair, Tom Prendergast, was a Cuomo puppet, gleefully attacking the governor’s eternal rival de Blasio for not adequately funding the MTA’s capital plan. As a snowstorm approached the city in 2015, Cuomo unilaterally shut down the subway system. Already, the supposedly independent Lhota is proving he can play Cuomo’s whack-a–de Blasio game as well as any, calling the mayor “incendiary” for daring to suggest that people should be allowed to eat on the subway.

Why does any of this matter? Because absent a strong primary challenge next year to Cuomo’s re-election bid, his insidious obfuscation and misplaced transit priorities probably won’t be held to account. Cuomo can gloat without end about opening the wildly overbudget Second Avenue Subway on time and just a few months later claim he has no say over what the MTA does. As the subway’s nearly century-old signaling network breaks down and the MTA fails to formulate a plan to make the necessary upgrades before the 2050s, Cuomo is still enamored by money-sucking projects like a train from Willets Point to LaGuardia and slapping light shows on bridges.

Recently, Cuomo declared a meaningless “state of emergency” for the MTA and promised it a billion more dollars, which is far less than the system needs, and still hasn’t actually been budgeted for in any case. In six years as governor, Cuomo has never come close to investing the kind of resources needed to head off the transportation catastrophe New Yorkers know too intimately.

If city Democratic leaders shared Molinaro’s gumption and banded together to challenge Cuomo directly instead of hiding their discontent, lest the governor’s office call them up and scream into the phone, the governor would be forced to take mass transportation much more seriously. Cuomo respects power far more than kindness. Yet he has convinced a whole generation of elected officials that the consequences of coming at him are too dire to even contemplate.

What politicians don’t understand is that no voter will punish them for naming Cuomo as the culprit of this subway crisis. Cuomo is not God or Satan — he is a politician like any other, vulnerable to popular pressure, the whims of an electorate, and fickle circumstance. If they don’t want this fight, maybe they should find other lines of work.


Free Public College Has Arrived In New York — With Some Big Catches

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to waive tuition fees for some New Yorkers at any two- or four-year state college, first covered in the Voice in February, has survived the state budget brawl — but it comes with some unexpected and alarming caveats.

The plan, called the Excelsior Scholarship, will be phased in over the next three years beginning this fall but has some noticeable differences from the $163 million program Governor Cuomo first conceived of. That version came with no major catches for those students who would be eligible for it.

Not so in the final version. The most glaring addition: a requirement that students live and work full-time in New York state following graduation for as many years as they received aid, lest their scholarship be converted into a loan they’ll have to pay back.

Officials from the governor’s office told Chalkbeat that the loan conversion was justified: If New York is going to pay for kids to go to school, then its economy ought to benefit from that investment.

“Why should New Yorkers pay for your college education and then you pick up and you move to California?” said Cuomo on a call with editorial writers from around the state, as reported in the New York Post.

But the rule could potentially mean students have to turn down opportunities — the things that a college education is supposed to create — to avoid student debt, the burden the program is meant to alleviate in the first place. Suppose a graduate wants to begin work at a job out of state, one with a higher salary, say, than what they can get here?

State officials said on Monday that they plan to include provisions that will prevent loan conversion for students who pursue advanced degrees out of state, provided they return to New York afterward. An exception will also be made for students who join the military.

“Forcing college graduates to live and work in New York is wrong. A grant should be a grant, not a loan with an escape clause,” wrote Tom Hilliard in an op-ed for the Center for an Urban Future. Other experts say that forcing participants in the plan to stay in New York incentivizes unemployment; students who can’t get a job in the state could opt to remain here, potentially on public benefits, to avoid debt instead of moving elsewhere to work and pay taxes. So far, the plan still includes no additional provisions to support colleges as they prepare for an influx of students, or to help make sure participants understand what they’re signing up for.

Though marketed as free college, the program is more accurately described as a “last dollar” plan, meaning it will award eligible students a scholarship to fill in gaps left over after they receive state and federal financial aid, including New York’s Tuition Assistance Program and Pell Grants. By 2019, any student from a family that earns up to $125,000 will be eligible to apply.

Other additions to the program include a minimum GPA requirement and on-time graduation, something many CUNY students struggle with. Students must also take fifteen credits per semester, meaning part-time students, many of whom belong to a growing sector of nontraditional students (those who work full-time, have children, care for elderly family members, or are not straight out of high school, for example), are excluded entirely. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, three-quarters of undergraduate students were not recent high school graduates in 2011, the most recent year for which such data is available. Undocumented students are also excluded. Additional money was allocated to allow students who opt to attend private universities to use the existing Tuition Assistance Program for added help, something the state senate and private college officials across the state pushed for. Those students will receive up to $3,000 and must also agree to live and work in the state after graduation.

And the final bill still does nothing to help students whose tuition is already covered in full by state and federal aid; those students are often forced to take on loans to pay for room and board, food, textbooks, and student fees — all expenses the governor’s program ignores. John Aderounmu, 20, a junior at Hunter College and member of the Campaign to Make CUNY Free Again, says many CUNY students will be ineligible.

“Not many students are going to have that gap covered because most already have their financial aid to cover their tuition,” said Aderounmu. Those students, he said, must work jobs to pay for rent or books and, as such, take fewer than the required thirty credits per year.

Other states and cities host similar programs for community colleges that come with no income restriction, no requirement to stay in the state, and considerable academic support that begins at the high school level and continues through college graduation, particularly in Tennessee. There, community college is free for any high school graduate in the state regardless of income. Oregon and the city of San Francisco have similar programs. Rhode Island is considering a bill that would make tuition free at two-year colleges only.

The Campaign to Make CUNY Free Again, a coalition of CUNY students and faculty, slammed Cuomo’s program in a release, rejecting his characterization of the program as “free college,” one which happens in tandem with a planned tuition hike for CUNY schools over the next five years. For students unable to meet the terms of the Excelsior Scholarship, college is getting less affordable.

In a release, the group said that the governor’s plan “aids middle-income students while turning poor and working-class students into a profit center, continuing the forty-year trend of reducing access for the poor to public higher education and shifting the funding burden to students.”


Report: Charter Schools Poised To Take A Much Bigger Bite Out Of NYC’s Budget

New York City charter schools may be in for a major budget boost, according to a new report from the city’s Independent Budget Office, one that puts New York City taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.

The city Department of Education’s budget for charter school funding in 2018 represents an increase of $138 million over current levels, but according to the IBO, that number could rise to as much as $274 million for next school year.

Funding for charter schools is determined by a formula codified in state law, and has twice been frozen, causing spending for charter schools to lag behind that of district schools despite overall increases in education spending. In 2014, the state legislature set charter school tuition at $13,527 per student, plus a supplement of $500 this year, sending a total of $14,027 per student to city charter schools. The 2014 act expires this year, which means the tuition formula would shift to determine the new funding amount by multiplying the city’s district school spending in 2015-2016 by the percentage growth of the state’s total education spending over the last three years.

The IBO used three estimates of said growth to calculate its projections after the formula changes — spending for charter schools increases substantially on the city’s dime under each one. Mayor Bill de Blasio has long battled with the city’s charter school representatives over taxpayer’s fiscal responsibility to the schools, which are partly run using public dollars but privately managed.

Currently, charter schools in the five boroughs receive over $1.7 billion from the city DOE’s budget, used to educate over 100,000 students — a small fraction of the city’s over one million public school students. And while it’s true that charter schools have traditionally received less per-pupil funding than their district counterparts (and their funding has increased more slowly, due to tuition allocation freezes in 2009 and 2013), it’s also true that the DOE provides “non-cash resources” to the schools, which tacks on an additional $4,904 per student at charters located in DOE buildings (for schools who receive lease reimbursement and those with none, the numbers are $3,993 and $1,188 per student, respectively). This includes books, materials, transportation, food, and, in some cases, rent-free building space (or lease reimbursements). Charter schools also receive supplementary funding for special needs students, and are eligible for private funding.

When IBO accounted for charter schools that receive rent-free building space in existing DOE schools, per-pupil funding rises to $18,933 per student this school year, narrowing the disparity with district schools to a difference of 5.7 percent; traditional public schools got $20,078. The disparity is larger for a small number of charter schools that receive lease reimbursement for private space, and those who do not receive any public assistance for building space—these schools got up to 24 percent less money than district schools. Private funding to charter schools varies widely, with some major chains with hefty financial backers, while other “mom and pop” schools rely primarily on DOE funding.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a charter school ally who has in the past received large donations from charter school supporters, most recently a $65,000 donation from the pro-charter school, Wal-Mart backed group New York Campaign for Achievement Now, has proposed to keep the supplemental funding but would shift responsibility from the state onto the city, to the tune of an additional $54 million, which is included in IBO’s estimated city tax burden. Earlier this year, he proposed lifting the city’s charter school cap, which restricts the number of new schools allowed to open each year (Mayor de Blasio is a staunch supporter of the cap).

The IBO report comes just days after President Donald Trump’s “America First” budget proposed deep cuts in federal public education spending, partly to help fund a $1.4 billion voucher program, which lets parents use public tax dollars to send their children to private schools.


Reminder: Recreational Marijuana is Considerably More Popular Than Governor Cuomo

Governor Andrew Cuomo today reiterated his position on recreational marijuana in New York State, telling a reporter for Politico that legalizing the world’s most widely used illicit drug remains too risky to contemplate now that he’s stopped smoking it.

“You’ve talked a lot about making New York a progressive leader,” reporter Jimmy Vielkind said, according to an exchange published on Politico. “[But] you haven’t embraced recreational marijuana even as other states have, and I’m wondering, why are you kind of a stick in the mud about recreational marijuana?”

Cuomo, perhaps taken aback by the question, and responded with a joke.

“I support medical marijuana,” he told Vielkind. “I don’t support recreational marijuana. Apparently you do, which explains some of the stories you’ve been writing.”

Cuomo explained that his main concern about marijuana — which he views both as funny and also dangerous enough to warrant locking people up in metal cages — is that it leads to other, presumably not-funny drugs.

“The flip-side argument as you know is it’s a gateway drug, and marijuana leads to other drugs and there’s a lot of proof that that’s true,” Cuomo said, stating that position than the government’s National Institute for Drug Abuse isn’t quite sure about.

Cuomo has been wary of marijuana’s danger since he stopped using it himself as “a youth.” New York’s access scheme, at the governor’s insistence, remains among the most restrictive in the country, with curbs on available forms of the drug and few approved access points.

A 2014 Quinnipiac poll found that the governor is somewhat outnumbered in his fear of the drug he once enjoyed, with 57 percent of residents saying they supported legalizing marijuana for recreational use; New York voters aged 18-29 supported legalization overwhelmingly, 83 to 14 percent. Cuomo’s approval rating stands at 40 percent as of September, according to a Wall Street Journal-NBC 4 New York-Marist poll, a gap of 17 and 43 percent, respectively.

Below is Vielkind and Cuomo’s full reported exchange about the drug the latter used to consume:

Q: You’ve talked a lot about making New York a progressive leader, and in your state of the state written message you talked about restructuring marijuana laws. You haven’t embraced recreational marijuana even as other states have, and I’m wondering, why are you kind of a stick in the mud about recreational marijuana?

A: Why am I a stick in the mud about recreational marijuana? That’s a sort of loaded question, wouldn’t you say Jimmy? It has an opinion in it. I support medical marijuana, I don’t support recreational marijuana — apparently you do, which explains some of the stories you’ve been writing. Recreational marijuana I think should be separated from the workplace, do we agree on that?”

Q: Absolutely, sir.

A: I just wanted to make sure.

Q: But you’ve smoked marijuana, you’ve said you’ve done so. Why not recreational marijuana? Lots of New Yorkers smoke marijuana unlawfully.

A: “The flip-side argument as you know is it’s a gateway drug, and marijuana leads to other drugs and there’s a lot of proof that that’s true. There’s two sides to the argument. But I, as of this date, I am unconvinced on recreational marijuana. If you choose to marijuana recreationally, you know the law, but again, as reporters, I think you should keep it out of the workplace. But it does explain a lot to me, Jimmy. I want you to know that.”



To Stop Trump From Starving NY, Renew The Millionaires Tax

A Republican president was never going to be a very good thing for New York State, but Donald Trump’s election was a worst case scenario, alarming for the potentially savage ways he could punish anyone who isn’t straight, white, and wealthy. What the Trump White House also may do, if Governor Andrew Cuomo doesn’t act soon, is blow a hole in New York State’s budget — a prospect both liberals and conservatives should dread.

If Trump follows through on his promises while proving to be a rubber stamp for congressional Republicans, Obamacare will be dismantled and Medicaid could be turned into block grants. New York spends $62 billion on Medicaid, more than most states, and would suffer drastic reductions in federal aid if people like House Speaker Paul Ryan, a champion of privatization, got his way. Like other Democratic states, New York took advantage of an Obamacare provision that offered federal funding to provide cheap health insurance for people who don’t qualify for Medicaid. If Obamacare disappears, New York will be on the hook for roughly $850 million.

Already facing fiscal uncertainty, New York must protect its budget by renewing the millionaires’ tax, a surcharge on individuals earning more than one million dollars. Cuomo is apparently open to the idea of keeping the tax, which expires at the end of next year, but hasn’t firmly committed. To not commit is a mistake.

The tax, first enacted during the recession in 2009, will become one bulwark against the austerity measures a hostile federal government could impose on the state. It’s about fairness too: the wealthiest people can afford to pay the tax and should do more for a state they still handsomely benefit from.

In his first term, Cuomo all but governed as a fiscal conservative, bragging about the ways he had reined in New York’s high taxes and passed on-time budgets. His desire to cap property tax increases has punished localities in need of revenue to grapple with costs beyond their control, since sales and income taxes can only be raised with the approval of the state government. For Cuomo, obsessed with triangulation, renewing the millionaires’ tax has never been a high priority or one he openly embraced. His ideal Democrat thrived 20 years ago.

But times are changing and Cuomo knows this. He’s thinking about running for president, after all. If he wants to be one of the many Democrats making hay of their resistance to Trump, he can’t drift right any longer. He will need to be talking about the ways he has made his state a progressive leader and there’s only so many times he can mention legalizing same-sex marriage in 2011. By 2020, that talking point will be a decade old.

A failure to renew the tax, especially if Trump does slash the federal money coming to New York, could also damage Cuomo as he seeks re-election in 2018. Putting the fiscal house in order has always been a key talking point, even as he’s done it at the expense of vulnerable New Yorkers who can’t afford to have their municipal services pared back. Keeping a revenue stream in place will bring some certainty to the state’s cloudier fiscal outlook.

Cuomo’s largest donors may not like his left turn. And Cuomo himself probably prefers the middle of the road. A Trump presidency, however, promises that anyone who lingers in the middle is going to get run over.


Will Cuomo Use Monopoly Money to Eliminate NYC’s Toll Booths?

Using his signature Make New York Great Again rhetoric, Governor Andrew Cuomo revealed yesterday that he will upgrade all MTA bridges and tunnels with cashless tolling and bejeweled lighting displays. How will he pay for it?

At the tail end of yesterday’s event, an audience member asked the governor where the funding is coming from. “We have the money,” Cuomo said before smiling at Tom Prendergast, the MTA’s chairman and chief executive officer. “If Tom Prendergast disappears, we have a problem, because he’s got the $27 billion.”

The governor was referring to the MTA’s $27 billion capital program, a list of upgrades spread over five years that received final approval from a state review board in May and includes nearly $2.9 billion for bridges and tunnels. “The funding is secured,” the governor said earlier in his presentation. “Tom Prendergast has it in his back pocket, I know he does.”

But how much more can be squeezed from the MTA’s bridge and tunnel capital budget? It has already been reduced by $200 million since September 2014, as the MTA revised cost estimates downward, stretched out project timelines, and employed other “efficiencies.”

It appears getting that money out of Prendergast’s back pocket and into the governor’s pet project will require a financial magic trick.

Much of the governor’s announcement yesterday gave details about things that were already approved in the $2.9 billion plan, like seismic upgrades, storm retrofits, and continued conversion of streetlights to LEDs. In other words, harmless horn-tooting. But a lot of it was new, particularly the decorative light shows, paid for the New York Power Authority, and the more substantive $500 million decision to shift the MTA from toll booths to a cashless system by the end of next year.

The MTA had been moving very slowly to modernize its toll system. Even though the Henry Hudson Bridge had been a proving ground for cashless tolls since 2012, the MTA still launched a $250 million project last year to rebuild old-fashioned toll booths on the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, while making sure they could “accommodate any future change to all-electronic tolling.”

Of the nearly $2.9 billion set aside for bridges and tunnels in the capital program, only $206 million is for toll plazas and “intelligent transportation systems,” well short of the new project’s $500 million price tag. The capital plan doesn’t mention expanding cashless tolls; instead, it includes $82 million to finish the job on the Henry Hudson Bridge and $89 million to maintain state of good repair at the existing toll plazas.

The bridges and tunnels capital budget would accommodate the $500 million toll overhaul, said MTA spokesperson Beth DeFalco, through “efficiencies generated from other projects, including reductions from toll plaza work that did not assume open road tolling as the means of toll collection.”

Observers question how the MTA will force this new gubernatorial initiative onto its balance sheet. Since it was created in 1968, the MTA has used bridge and tunnel toll revenue to subsidize transit operations. Theoretically, the MTA could take some of this money to pay for the new cashless toll system. “It could be a hit on the mass transit side,” said Citizens Budget Commission research director Charles Brecher, “so New York City Transit has to figure out a way to make up for that loss.”

Naturally, transit advocates are not thrilled about that idea. “We’re glad the governor is turning his attention to the MTA’s infrastructure,” Riders Alliance deputy director Nick Sifuentes said in a statement about cashless tolling. “But we can only support these kinds of nonessential projects if we know that the core investments in maintaining and expanding our subways and buses are moving forward and are fully funded.”

There’s also the question of the money Cuomo already owes to the MTA. Of the $8.3 billion the governor said the state would kick in to the MTA’s $27 billion capital program, only $1 billion has materialized. This year, the governor did not provide any money, and future commitments are only available as a last resort, according to the state budget.

Cashless tolling isn’t the only Cuomo transportation priority with cloudy financing: the governor has been similarly vague about how the state will pay for Moynihan Station upgrade announced last week, and the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement.

In this case, a quirk of the MTA’s capital budget process might help Cuomo escape public scrutiny. Although most of the MTA’s capital plan is subject to approval by the Capital Program Review Board, which rejected previous plans over a lack of funding, projects within the bridge and tunnel budget do not require the CPRB’s stamp of approval.

The potential for financial sleight of hand worries watchdogs, who see it as a symptom of the governor’s last-minute decision to bigfoot the MTA’s capital program. “Somebody outside the process is saying, ‘Hey, I like this idea. Let’s add this to the capital plan,’ ” Brecher said. “It’s not consistent with the way you want to do longer-run capital investment planning.”


I’ll Drink to That: Governor Cuomo Signs Craft Beverage Law

Governor Cuomo proved himself a hero of hooch yesterday by signing into law several measures designed to make it easier for craft start-ups to get off the ground. Anyone who supports the so-called “little guy,” be it a wine, beer, or spirit producer, or really just any small business in general, ought to raise a glass to toast this game-changing legislation. But before landing on the perfect pint to lift, let’s look more closely at what Albany just set in motion.

In the words of the governor himself:

“New York produces some of the best wine, beer, spirits, and cider in the world — an industry which not only creates jobs but supports farmers and brings in tourism dollars across every corner of the state. This new law builds upon this administration’s ongoing efforts to promote this industry by cutting red tape, reducing burdensome regulations, and removing artificial barriers that stifled growth. New York is truly open for business, and I thank my partners in the legislature for their hard work in making this a success for all of our craft beverage businesses.”

Sounds good to me. Good for business, good for booze, good for beer. No problems finding bipartisanship there. Especially when the law allows producers to conduct tastings and serve “by the bottle” and “by the glass.” Additionally, farm distilleries may increase the number of retail outlets where they can sell and offer samples of their products.

Awesome start, especially considering the changes go into effect in just 30 days. But Cuomo went several steps further, launching the Craft Beverage Grant Program, which promises $2 million to market the industry and $1 million more in tourism promotion. Dude seriously wants to develop the scene. Some might be so bold as to call him a true American patriot. If that’s the case, he deserves a local craft selection honoring our region’s revolutionary roots. I cannot tell a lie, Bronx-brewed Gun Hill fits the bill.

Less than a year old, Gun Hill has already won gold at the Great American Beer Festival with its Void of Light Foreign Stout. Hold a flashlight up to a pint of this sucker, watch the beam get swallowed by its pitch-black body, and you’ll know it ain’t some clever name. This beer is unapologetically dark. But its medium body belies its color, offering a versatility in its roasted essence, allowing it to pair as well with Dutch chocolate cake as it would, say, a smoked salmon.

The 8.2 percent offering is yet to be bottled, but it’s currently on tap at many of the city’s craft meccas: Pony Bar’s East and West, Ginger Man, and Jimmy’s No. 43 in Manhattan; Barcade, Brouwerij Lane, and Spuyten Duyvil in Brooklyn. Even Queens can’t resist the dark side, with both Oliver’s and Astoria Beer and Cheese pouring the city’s hottest new stout.

After applying his John Hancock to yesterday’s bill, Governor Cuomo ought to head straight to the brewery’s colonially inspired taproom — within firing distance of one of the Revolutionary War’s most pivotal battles. It was at Gun Hill Road where the Rebels fought off the British, seizing control of the primary thoroughfare into Lower Manhattan. The little guy took on the establishment and emerged victorious. That’s something the folks at Gun Hill Brewing can relate to. And thanks to the Craft Beverage Law, they’ll be armed with more ammunition to make it happen.

Gun Hill Brewing Company is the only microbrewery in NYC open seven days a week. Offering pints, flights, and growler fills out of six selections on tap, they can be reached via a 10-minute walk from their namesake stop on either the 2 or 5 lines. Surely the folks there will be happy to float you a pint, Governor Cuomo — if only for a little while. So I’d hop on that train before it leaves the station, sir.



Three Strikes, You’re Out: Albany Flops on Abortion Rights, Campaign Finance, and Medical Marijuana Bills

Remember the provision in the Women’s Equality Act that would solidify abortion rights here in New York in the face of anti-abortion bills popping up in state legislatures across the country? Remember Cuomo’s call for campaign finance regulation in a state electoral system that is drastically outdated and loophole-heavy? Remember the legislative push for medical marijuana in New York in a state with a record high number of weed arrests? Yeah? Well, none of them are happening anymore.

It all went downhill in the Senate just before the state government adjourns on Thursday. Due in large part to a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, the bills were stopped short from making their way to the floor.

Bronx state Senator Jeff Klein, the head of the Independent Democratic Conference, refused to allow the abortion plank in the Women’s Equality Act to proceed, even against a 67 percent approval rating from the voting populace. “I’m not going to bring a bill to the floor to fail” was his reasoning.

Because, as he told the Wall Street Journal, a “threat nationally to Roe v. Wade … didn’t exist.” Like the new laws in Alabama and Mississippi abortion bills that could close the remaining (read: one or two) abortion clinics in those states because of heightened safety requirements.

In terms of the campaign finance bill, which would simply limit how much you can contribute and establish a public financing system (because it’s 2013 and we don’t have one for state elections), the Legislature failed to garner enough supports; liberals were dismayed by Cuomo’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for the anti-big-donor message and conservatives didn’t want the system, especially after seeing what a Citizens United world can bring to campaign treasure chests. Apparently the whirlwind of the Most Ridiculous New York Scandals Ever in late March had no appeal here.

As we know, a measure to legalize marijuana for medical use, which would place New York among a growing number of states that now have similar legislation, passed in the Assembly a few weeks back. Although the Senate refused to visit it at this time, this one’s future still remains hopeful: the support from doctors, farmers and such still carries an electoral punch and there’s, of course, the economic gain.

Cuomo, the main architect behind all three of these bills, expressed serious dismay at his legislative counterparts’ failure to adhere to his agenda. “This has been an ugly few weeks here in Albany, and it has shaken the public trust,” he said in a radio interview. “People feel that there are questions, and I want them to feel confident, and I’m not going to do a half-baked bill.”

As of this month, the governor has seen his latest approval ratings yet during his tenure. His agenda may have failed him (and maybe his immediate presidential aspirations) but he’s not giving up the fight: For the campaign finance bill, he’s setting up a commission to look into the money at play here. Because, in the end, so much opposition to a campaign finance bill is kinda shady.

Enjoy your summer off, Albany. You guys definitely deserved it.


Obviously Cardinal Dolan Is Really Pissed About Cuomo’s Abortion Bill

A few weeks ago, we wrote a post entitled “Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act Brings The A-Word To New York State Politics.” The headline basically tells the whole story.

It focused on the brewing controversy evoked by a tiny stipulation in Cuomo’s new bill that calls for writing Roe v. Wade protections into state law – an immediate reaction to anti-abortion provisions being enacted in statehouses across the country. It’s the only part of a ten-point bill that’s aroused widespread opposition, led by Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos of Long Island. Because, duh, it’s abortion.

In New York, Republicans’ frustration on social issues is only surpassed by the Catholic Church, which holds a firm stance against abortion. So this should be no surprise: Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the man who informed his followers in 2009 to totally disregard federal and state abortion laws, is not a fan of the Women’s Equality Act.

On an Albany radio station yesterday, Dolan promised serious backlash should Cuomo go ahead with the proposal: “I am going to hope that the better natures prevail here, but boy if you come out you can expect us to be as vociferous and rigorous as possible in our opposition to this. I hope we don’t go there.”

This is the same promise Dolan made around the time Cuomo announced he would be sending the Marriage Equality Act to the Senate and Assembly. Look how that turned out. And last month, Dolan made “welcoming” remarks to the LGBT community, symbolizing a major shift from his call-to-arms just over a year ago.

He continued: “I am in a bit of consternation as to why in a time when there seems to be kind of a sobering up about these horrors of the unfettered access to abortion, why in New York we are talking about even expanding it further.” FYI: It’s 2013. And, to repeat: this bill would just put Roe v. Wade protections into state legal code.

Moving beyond time and place, Dolan reiterated Skelos’s argument that voters do not care about abortion as we gradually awake from a three-year-long jobless recession. “I don’t know of anybody in the state of New York that feels their right to abortion is threatened. It’s available everywhere,” he said. “Most of the time it’s paid for, so I don’t know why we are giving time and attention to an area of the state that really doesn’t seem to need any improvement or any extension here.”

In other words, only Dolan is allowed to give his “time and attention.” The rest of us can piss off.



Governor Cuomo Asks Con Ed to Freeze Executive Bonuses

Last week, the New York Times published a searing piece revealing that Con Edison, which is currently undergoing an investigation for its handling of superstorm Sandy, was paying its top executives more than $600,000 in extra bonuses for 2012.

“In our judgment, the company performed in exemplary fashion,” Con Ed compensation committee chairman George Campbell Jr. told the paper, despite the fact that it took the utilities company four to seven days to fully restore power to 1.1 million of its customers in the aftermath of the hurricane.

Both Governor Cuomo and City Council Speaker Quinn have criticized Con Ed for its executive reward system and Sandy dysfunction, but today the governor asked Con Ed to suspend its bonus payout. “No ratepayer should pay a single penny for bonuses given to senior utility executives, especially for bonuses awarded for their performance during Sandy,” the governor said in a statement.

Today, the governor’s office released the letter he wrote to Con Ed Chairman Kevin Burke, who took home a whopping $7.4 million for the year, including $315,000 in bonuses.

“In order to ensure that the terms of the approved rate plan are upheld and that ratepayers are not wrongly put on the hook for bonuses to Con Ed senior executives, I am directing the [Public Services Commission] to conduct a review of bonuses,” the governor wrote.

You can read the full letter below.

Gov Cuomo Letter Con Ed (1)