Good Morning from Albany, NY where the Legislature will be back in Session today at 10:30 a.m.
Here’s what got done last week:
Judge Rowan Wilson was confirmed by the Senate 40-19 to be the next Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals. Wilson has served as an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals since 2017. His elevation will mark an ideological shift to the left after former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore’s tenure. Aside from protecting the rights of New Yorkers in the face of a changing federal legal landscape, the Court of Appeals will be tasked with hearing consequential state election cases, including a potential appeal by Democrats challenging the state’s redrawn Congressional lines.
The nomination ends a months-long saga between Governor Hochul and the Legislature. Senate Judiciary Chairman Brad Hoylman, who was instrumental in scuttling Hochul’s first nominee, praised Judge Wilson offering, “Over the last four years and through hundreds of opinions, Judge Wilson has proven himself to be an exceptional and fair-minded jurist with a strong record on civil rights, labor, environmental justice, the right to privacy and tenants’ rights.”
Judge Wilson’s ascension to Chief Judge allowed Hochul to nominate Caitlin Halligan as an Associate Judge on the Court of Appeals. Following a confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Halligan was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday, 47-12. Halligan, who previously served as New York’s Solicitor General, is viewed as more moderate than Wilson, but her nomination nonetheless cements a liberal majority for New York’s top court. In a statement Hochul said, “I am confident that Caitlin Halligan will be a phenomenal addition to our state’s highest court, helping the New York State Court of Appeals once again become one of our country’s leading examples of thoughtful, high-quality jurisprudence.” Republicans in the Legislature have threatened a lawsuit over a recently passed measure that allowed Hochul to expedite the nomination process by jointly nominating Wilson and Halligan. As of today, no lawsuit has been filed.
The Independent Redistricting Commission released and voted to advance a new draft map of state Assembly districts. While the draft map released by the Commission in December included significant changes, this version is much more in line with the existing map that was used in the 2022 elections. The Legislature ultimately has to approve the new map, but given that the 2022 districts were drawn by the Assembly, this map has a much better chance of being enacted than the December version did.
Two Budget Extenders
The Legislature approved a budget extender on Monday and another extender on Thursday, the fourth so far, making today the new budget due date. Expect a fifth extender to be passed today.
What didn’t get done?
Our prediction of last weekend was overly optimistic, but it does feel like we are, as Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins put it, “at the beginning of the end”, if not the end itself. Both sides have indicated they are making progress and there is a broader desire among members to move on to other legislative, non-budget issues before adjourning for the year in June.
We will say there is a really good chance, that possibly–almost certainly–the budget will be done this week.
Where do things stand?
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins said this was the “most policy-laden budget” she had dealt with since becoming Majority Leader in 2019. In addition to general fiscal considerations, the negotiations around the budget have included politically sensitive policy initiatives like criminal justice reform, education, and Hochul’s Housing Compact. Hochul has pushed to deal with these hot-button issues first, certainly a factor in how we got here.
On the criminal justice and public safety front, the two sides are in general agreement on removing the “least restrictive” standard language that some argue has caused confusion amongst the judiciary and resulted in some accused of violent acts being released without bail. Hochul has been adamant about giving judges more discretion. Any agreement will also likely include a key demand from legislative leaders that makes clear that cash bail is only used to ensure that defendants show up for court and not as a punitive measure that allows people to be incarcerated without being convicted.
Hochul’s Housing Compact, a major policy component of her Executive Budget Proposal, is also unlikely to make its way into the final budget. The ambitious plan to build 800,000 new homes in the next decade through required production targets was a step too far for Democrats in the Legislature who instead proposed increased incentive package for municipalities to catalyze affordable housing development. Now, any housing policy, including Good Cause Eviction and a replacement for 421a, are out of budget negotiations and will have to be accomplished in the regular legislative session. “Trying to cram this into the budget is problematic, and as we have seen, it has caused delay in getting the financial piece done, which is what the budget is all about. It is unfortunate that we couldn’t reach an agreement, and I think part of that was because it was put in the budget,” said Assembly Member Harry Bronson, a Democrat representing Rochester who chairs the Assembly Committee on Economic Development.
The Governor and Legislature are still working through a number of proposals dealing with education, including Hochul’s plan to remove the state’s cap on charter school permits (and revive expired, so-called zombie charters) in New York City. While that issue is still up in the air, a proposal to raise tuition at CUNY and SUNY campuses is reportedly dead. Hochul’s plan would have allowed all public colleges and universities to raise tuition by 3% and an additional 6% for university centers at Buffalo, Binghamton, Albany, and Stony Brook. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and her colleagues in the Legislature have concerns about affordability saying, “I think the affordability aspect is still important, even when it comes to higher education or investing in our public institutions.”
Outside of the policy issues, the two sides still need to come to an agreement on the state’s general finances including tax rates, finding funding for the MTA and Upstate transit systems, and public campaign financing among others.
In Washington D.C., House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is expected to hold a vote this week on his newly-unveiled proposal to raise the debt ceiling for one year in exchange for sweeping spending cuts. Titled the “Limit, Save, Grow Act”, the proposal would concede a $1.5 trillion debt limit hike in exchange for over $130 billion in federal spending cuts, a majority of which would come from a repeal of the Inflation Reduction Act.
The proposal has no chance of passing the Senate, let alone being signed by the President, but for McCarthy, the goal is to produce a plan that his fractured GOP conference could coalesce around. So far, the plan appears to have placated the self-described “Five Families” of the House GOP conference which includes the Republican Study Committee, the House Freedom Caucus, Main Street, Problem Solvers, and the Republican Governance Group. The influential and bombastic Freedom Caucus has not publicly come out against the plan (yet) which is a small win for McCarthy, but he still has a number of members who have been equivocal. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) has been the most direct in her concerns, saying the plan is “probably not enough” while freshman Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) said, “I think we’re making progress, but we’re still taking a look at it.” Worth watching this week to see if McCarthy can get the votes.
South Carolina Democrats have had a lot to celebrate since being moved to the front of the line for the Democratic Party’s Primary Election Calendar for future presidential elections. The State Democratic Party Blue Palmetto Dinner is one of the biggest political events of the year and the prime-time speaking slot is generally reserved for presidential nominees in-waiting. Last year’s keynote speaker was Vice President Kamala Harris and organizers figured another high-profile member of the Democratic bench would attend this year. However, they were surprised to find out this year’s speaker was Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. While the former Michigan Governor is a strong cabinet secretary for Biden, she does not have the name recognition or national profile of some of the Democratic Party’s rising stars.
Granholm is also not eligible to run for President given that she was born in Canada. It could be a coincidence, or it could be a way to ensure another Democrat does not start giving off an appearance of being a presidential candidate, at least for the 2024 cycle. The White House is surely aware of polling that shows nearly half of registered Democrats would prefer a candidate other than Biden in 2024 and giving Granholm the speaking slot denies other Democrats a platform to potentially become a candidate.
Finally, in a scene more reminiscent of a Scorsese film than real life, $14.8 million worth of gold was stolen from the Toronto Airport and the police have no leads.
Biden Preparing to Announce Reelection Campaign
New to the NYS Legislature
Assemblyman John Zaccaro Jr. won the open Bronx-based 80th Assembly District following Nathalia Fernandez’s decision to run for the State Senate. Zaccaro Jr., 33, soundly defeated his Republican opponent, Phyllis Natasio, by a 69%-30% margin in a district that includes Morris Park, Pelham Gardens and Allerton.
Zaccaro has formerly served as Chief of Staff for NYC Councilmember Rafael Salamanca and has a background in community organizing, focusing primarily on housing issues. Now, Zaccaro Jr. plans to use his time in the Assembly to create a more collaborative approach to introducing new housing projects to communities that may be skeptical. He also previously worked as the Bronx and Manhattan Borough Director for Intergovernmental Affairs at the City Department of Education and campaigned on improving his District’s public education infrastructure.
Zaccaro Jr. resides in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx with his wife, Daniella, and three children Judah, Miah and Ethan.
In The News