With help from Shawn Ness
Proponents of a measure to limit the expansion of the state’s gas system are elated with Gov. Kathy Hochul backing key components of their bill.
But the proposal to end subsidies for new gas hookups and enable neighborhood-wide transitions off natural gas faces a long road with aggressive opposition from labor unions and the gas industry.
“We have to get off the fracked gas system and do it now,” said Betta Broad, campaign director for New Yorkers for Clean Power during a rally with the Renewable Heat Now coalition. Supporters packing the Million Dollar Staircase chanted “New York HEAT” — the name of the bill — and lawmakers spoke in support of the bill.
Assembly Democratic leadership has not endorsed the measure. Assemblymember Pat Fahy (D-Albany) said recent amendments were meant to alleviate concerns from Speaker Carl Heastie.
While Hochul excluded the provision of NY HEAT to formalize the policy goal of keeping energy costs at 6 percent of income for moderate and low-income New York residents, Fahy’s recent amendments would double down on that mandate. It would apply the 6 percent cap to all residential utility customers.
“We want to make sure even our middle income ratepayers aren’t slammed with our necessary upfront investments,” Fahy said.
But the Public Service Commission could limit the costs of the program to subsidize energy costs at 3 percent of utility revenues. Fahy said that should prevent major increases for manufacturers and businesses to pay for the residential limits.
The measure also allows the PSC to limit the amount of energy subject to the affordability cap — ensuring there’s an incentive for conservation. Fahy said conservation was a priority for Heastie.
Both the legislative proposals and Hochul’s budget would end the “100 foot rule” that subsidizes new gas hookups and eliminate the “obligation to serve” requiring utilities to hook up new customers on request.
Labor unions representing the workers who do that work and maintain the gas system are concerned.
“They are risking losing their jobs,” said Pat Guidice, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1049. “It doesn’t give us protections for workers that are displaced going forward.”
“Came to see my people and give them support, make them feel like there’s a possibility that we can run the Earth properly. That’s it,” the Bronx rapper who is known as rap’s greatest storyteller told Playbook as he walked to meet with Senate leaders.
Slick Rick, whose real name is Richard Martin Lloyd Walters, is a hip hop icon who migrated from England to the Bronx as a kid and soon linked up with rappers Dana Dane and Doug E. Fresh. His debut “The Great Adventures of Slick Rick” in 1988 is regarded as one of the best rap albums in history.
“That was part of my childhood. It was the environment I was raised in,” he said of his early music, much of which had a positive message. “It was just to keep a clear focus and try to help others that want to come up too, surviving and having fun at the same time.”
It was Slick Rick’s first trip to the state Capitol, but he owes the place a lot. In 2008, then-Gov. David Paterson granted him a pardon on attempted murder and weapons convictions – a move that allowed him to avoid potential deportation.
“Thank God. Thank you to the Albany family that’s helped support me, stay free and all that good stuff,” he said. “I’m very appreciative. We support each other. Each one; teach one. And I’m here to support them too.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie introduced Slick Rick on the Assembly floor – noting he is a constituent and friend.
“He’s a living example of second chances,” Heastie said. — Joseph Spector
ANOTHER LEGEND: Slick Rick wasn’t the only well known person at the Capitol today. Legendary pitcher Bartolo Colon was also honored by the Assembly and Senate, where he was issued a resolution to recognize his retirement from baseball after 21 years in the major leagues.
The former Yankees and Mets star is a beloved figure in baseball, particularly as a Met when he hit his first and only home run in 2016. He said he was invited to the Capitol by Sen. Luis Sepúlveda, whose district includes Yankee Stadium.
“I’m here today because the Senate made a resolution on my behalf. We already went to the Assembly,” Colon said through an interpreter. “I had the honor to be there and be recognized there, and now I’m going to the Senate to receive a resolution.”
And he was impressed with the state Capitol on his first visit: “It looks like there is a lot of history here.” — Bill Mahoney
HEALTH BUDGET HEARING: State lawmakers grilled state health and finance officials for over four hours about Hochul’s budget proposals to reduce Medicaid spending by over $1.2 billion in the upcoming fiscal year.
Health Commissioner James McDonald and Medicaid director Amir Bassiri said they had to find savings so the program’s spending growth wouldn’t exceed the state-mandated cap, but tried to avoid substantial service cuts. Still, there was a lot of talk of “difficult” choices.
Addressing lawmakers’ concerns about the impact on financially distressed hospitals and nursing homes, McDonald said raising Medicaid rates is not necessarily the solution and the state needs to help facilities reduce their costs.
“We cannot buy ourselves out of this issue,” McDonald said. “The answer isn’t just adding more money every year.”
Nonetheless, the Greater New York Hospital Association and 1199SEIU presented the Legislature with a four-year proposal that would dip into the state’s reserves to close what they claim is a 30 percent gap between what Medicaid pays for services and how much it costs to provide them. — Maya Kaufman
DISORDER IN THE BUILDING: The drama between Mayor Eric Adams and the New York City Council escalated Tuesday when Adams’ office attempted to remove chairs from the City Hall rotunda during a press conference Council Speaker Adrienne Adams organized in response to the mayor’s veto of a law enforcement bill.
When asked about the removal of the chairs, the mayor, who hosted his own weekly presser at the same time, said he wanted “to maintain control in the rotunda area” and said the Council had not requested use of the space.
“We’re gonna communicate so we can be good tenants together in this building,” Mayor Adams said, adding: “We need to maintain order in the building.”
During the Council presser, lawmakers and faith leaders gathered to discuss the “myth vs. facts” of the bill, which the Council passed by a veto-proof 35-9 in December and was vetoed by the mayor on Friday.
The speaker seemed sure the Council would easily be able to override the veto. When asked by a reporter if she was concerned the mayor could flip enough votes, she responded “no,” collected her papers and left the podium.
“We stand united in support of this important reform and against the mayor’s veto, and we look forward to overriding it together” the speaker said, adding that opposition to the bill has been a “campaign of misinformation under the guise of piles and stacks and mountains of paperwork” and that “the NYPD is the most technologically savvy police department on the planet.”
“If paperwork is the tool of implementation for this legislation, ladies and gentlemen, it will not be at the hands of the New York City Council,” she added.
The mayor said he is “hoping that level heads prevail.”
“When I speak to Council members, if they were able to vote with their conscience, they would not be supporting this bill,” he said, arguing that constituents in the speaker’s own district “want their police policing, not doing paperwork.” — Irie Sentner
SUNY’S COMING BACK FOR MORE: SUNY Chancellor John King is gearing up to request additional funds for capital investments that would address deteriorating infrastructure, along with new construction for the 64-campus system. The governor’s budget proposal includes $650 million for capital investment, but King said that’s not enough.
During a Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday he noted that SUNY needs more than $7 billion to address capital needs, and if they want to forge ahead with plans to reduce campuses’ energy footprints that number would be far higher.
“Even though $650 million sounds like a lot of money, so much is being deferred, so much is being done, and if we want to find a way forward, so much investment is needed to be done,” Board of Trustees chair Merryl Tisch said at the Tuesday meeting.
King said he plans to make a plea to the Legislature for additional capital funding, along with a renewed request for the state to fund an $86 million requisition to cover union contract increase. — Katelyn Cordero
WHEN A PRISON CLOSES: Hochul acknowledged today the impact of shuttering as many as five prisons in the state will have on the North Country region.
The vast area is home to 11 of the state’s 44 prisons. The small, rural communities that host prisons rely on the facility as a source of employment and economic activity.
“It does have an impact on the community,” Hochul told reporters as she visited Lake Placid. “I want people to know I understand that.”
But at the same time, the governor defended the provision in her $233 billion budget proposal that would continue the decade-long trend of closing prisons. The state’s population of people in prison 25 years ago stood at 73,000. The prison population is now at 33,000.
Hochul’s predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, had previously argued prisons should not be a source of economic development. But many of the hulking, empty structures have not been developed for practical use.
Hochul wants to change that by possibly converting many of the prisons into other uses, such as housing.
“They’re beautiful properties; they’re like college campuses,” she said. “They lend themselves to so many great opportunities. It takes money and time to do that, but I’m committed to doing that.” — Nick Reisman
MONEY TO ADIRONDACKS: Hochul unveiled a suite of investments to North Country communities today as part of her statewide tour to promote her proposed $233 billion budget.
The town of Lowville, in Lewis County, will receive a $10 million investment through the state’s downtown revitalization initiative, Hochul announced this morning. Canton and Alexandria Bay will also receive $4.5 million each through the NY Forward program.
“I view my responsibilities to be the keeper of the soul of this state,” Hochul said. “When I think about the heart, it has to be the North Country.”
Hochul also announced a $13.1 million investment to help finish construction of the Adirondack Rail Trail, a 34-mile trail for hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers and snowmobile riders. Funding will come from the 2022 Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act. Construction of the trail will began in October 2020. — Jason Beeferman
PAROLE JUSTICE: Leaders from the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucues are seeking the passage of two bills: the Elderly Parole Act (S.2423/A.2035), and the Fair and Timely Parole Act (S.307/A.162). Both bills aim to restructure the state parole system.
According to the Times Union, they found that more than 19,000 decisions from the parole board over the last two years had some aspect of racial bias impact the outcome.
“Do not get it twisted, parole justice is public safety. We know that when our elders who have experienced the worst sentences when they have the opportunity to go back into their communities, they become leaders in their communities,” state Sen. Julia Salazar, one of the sponsors, said. — Shawn Ness
PLENTY OF ROOM AT THE HOTEL CALIFORNIA LAKE PLACID 🎶 🎶 : Beautiful Lake Placid is opening a new hotel for the first time in over a decade.
The Cambria Hotel, a $35 million project with 185 guest rooms, opened its doors today with the support of the governor and Empire State Development.
The inn promises to bring at least 50 full time jobs to the area. Hochul said the new hotel is part of her efforts to boost tourism in the state, an industry which the governor says generated $123 billion in economic impact in 2022.
ESD recommended a $3 million capital grant for the project, in exchange for 51 new jobs, at the time of the hotel’s groundbreaking in 2022. — Jason Beeferman
FOOD AND HOUSING INSECURITY: New York’s working families are struggling to make ends meet since the Child Tax Credit expired in December 2021, a new report from the United Neighborhood Houses and Educational Alliance finds.
To counter this, lawmakers are proposing the New York Working Families Tax Credit, it would be an “effective poverty-fighting tool that can put much-needed cash in the hands of New Yorkers,” a press release from state Sen. Andrew Gounardes’ office reads.
The bill would increase the value of the credit to be between $500 and $1,600 per child, as well as allowing families with the lowest income to receive the most credit.
“[The new report] confirms what we’ve known for years: working families are struggling to get by in New York,” Gounardes said. “If we want this state to be a place where families have a shot at making it, we have to give them the resources to take that shot.” — Shawn Ness
CONGESTION PRICING: The Municipal Labor Committee — an umbrella group for 102 public sector unions — voted to file an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit to stop the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s congestion pricing plan.
Committee chair Harry Nespoli questioned the MTA’s decision to approve the plan to charge a $15 toll for most drivers to enter lower Manhattan without looking into the effects on the outer boroughs
Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella and the city’s teachers union filed a lawsuit earlier this month urging the MTA to complete a rigorous environmental impact statement, including potential impacts on air quality in Staten Island and the Bronx.
“Why didn’t they do more research on the outer boroughs as far as the air quality before you just rush right into this thing?,” committee chairman Harry Nespoli said in an interview. — Madina Touré
— Education leaders in the state are still opposed to school-choice initiatives. (State of Politics)
— Pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia were hit with a “foul-smelling” spray; at least three of the protesters needed medical attention. (Daily News)
— Hochul is making sure workers get increased short-term disability benefits starting next year. (Times Union)