Good morning from Buffalo…where rising temperatures helped the City dig itself out after a generational blizzard paralyzed the area for almost a week. Hurricane-force winds with steady snowfall created whiteout conditions with a wind chill as low as negative 30 degrees. Driving bans blanketed the County as crews worked to remove the snow and, seemingly fed up with the pace of snow removal in the City of Buffalo, County Executive Mark Poloncarz decided to take a shot at Mayor Brown, calling his efforts “embarrassing,” and suggesting he would go above the Mayor’s head and take over snow removal responsibilities from the City. Whether a valid complaint or not, the public jab left many questioning whether it was the right time for Poloncarz to go after other officials, especially when the recovery effort was still underway. For his part, the Mayor said the County Executive never raised any of these issues in person with him.
Poloncarz ended up apologizing, saying “I want to apologize to the members of our community, all of them, as well as of course the men and women of the City of Buffalo Department of Public Works for letting my emotions get the best of me. This is a very, very difficult situation we’ve been dealing with, including the unfolding issues associated with the deaths, the identification of bodies, individuals who have not yet been identified, and new deaths that are coming in that are just absolutely heartbreaking that I basically lost my focus, I will say that.” There have been a growing number of voices that are unhappy with the way the storm was handled at every level of government. For Governor Hochul, the criticism includes not deploying the National Guard soon enough. For Poloncarz, some blame him for instituting a driving ban too late and not giving people enough time to get where they need to be and safely off the roads and for Mayor Brown, the snail-paced snow removal efforts in the City are not doing him any political favors.
While it was not the Christmas and holiday season that we had expected, the storm highlighted some of the best the Western New York community has to offer. There are countless stories of people braving the elements to get the more vulnerable much-needed food or medicine, entire neighborhoods digging a path for first responders, a couple opening up their home to a group of stranded tourists from South Korea, and then there is the story of Sha’Kyra Aughtry, who undoubtedly saved the life of a stranger with a disability when she and her boyfriend found him nearly fully frozen and alone outside their North Buffalo home, forgoing their makeshift Christmas plans to care for Joey until they could get him to a hospital to treat his severe frostbite. Despite some of the petty political infighting and isolated incidents of burglary, the storm demonstrated that Buffalo overwhelmingly remains, the City of Good Neighbors.
Tragically, the death toll as a result of the storm is up to 40 people and we extend our deepest condolences to the families who lost a loved one.
In Albany, Governor Hochul was sworn in yesterday, becoming the first woman in history to take the oath of office for a full term as Governor. The Legislative Session will officially start on Wednesday, January 4th and Governor Hochul will deliver her State of the State Address on January 10th. Below are some key, upcoming dates. (If you’ll be in Albany, let us know!)
When Governor Hochul took to the podium for last year’s State of the State address, she was less than six months into the job and was still navigating her way through Cuomo-era holdouts and his policy initiatives. Now, with a full four-year term ahead of her and more than a year’s experience, it will be her show. At an event in Manhattan in early December, the Governor said she would unveil a new housing plan and has made clear with other comments that housing will be a top priority. Rachel Fee, Executive Director of the New York Housing Conference, predicts “2023 will be the year of housing in New York. Governor Hochul and the Legislature will pass long-overdue land use changes to spur housing supply in response to a decades-in-the-making affordability crisis. There will be pushback, but housing advocates and our allies will hold firm and ultimately win out to the benefit of tenants and communities across the state.” It is likely that the fight around 421-a, a tax credit for developers in NYC that lapsed this past year, will be reignited. The Governor floated a modified version of the program, 485-w, in her executive budget last year but opposition from housing advocates who see the program as a giveaway to wealthy developers ultimately killed the measure. Housing advocates have released their own sets of priorities which includes Good Cause Eviction and giving tenants the right to challenge unreasonable rent increases.
The Governor will also face large decisions on healthcare policy, including whether or not to reverse the highly criticized fee-for-service carve out of the Medicaid drug benefit slated to go into effect April 1, how to shape the future of the Medicaid Managed Care program on the heels of last year’s nixed Executive proposal to procure all Managed Care Plans operating in the program, and how to address rampant hospital and clinical staffing shortages across the state.
She will do all of this without longtime Assembly Health Chair Dick Gottfried, who retired last year. He had been one of the loudest and most consistent voices in healthcare policy in Albany, chairing the Assembly Health Committee since 1987. In short, expect some fairly detailed conversations on healthcare policy this year.
Additionally, the Climate Action Council has issued their scoping plan with recommendations on how the State should meet ambitious greenhouse gas reduction and renewable energy goals in 2019’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. State Lawmakers and the Governor will now focus on legislation to implement many of those recommendations, and perhaps most importantly, engage in a conversation on how to pay for them. Also likely to resurface are two stalled climate bills, one, the Build Public Renewables Act, would authorize the New York Power Authority to build and operate more renewable energy projects and the other would require all new builds be fossil fuel free.
The Governor has also made clear she has no plans to raise taxes this year, saying “I don’t believe raising taxes at a time when we just cut taxes makes sense. We just did that a year ago. I’m not going to turn around say we’re raising your taxes. I don’t foresee that.” On the criminal justice front, the Governor and fellow lawmakers will likely revisit bail reform and other public safety measures to address New Yorker’s concerns about crime while progressives are continuing to push for the Clean Slate Act and parole reforms. Check out our full legislative preview below.
2023 New York State Legislative Session and 118th Congress Preview
Last week, Governor Hochul selected Judge Hector LaSalle to serve as chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court. Of his nomination, Hochul said, “New York’s Court of Appeals has a long history as a beacon of justice, and Judge LaSalle is an outstanding jurist in that tradition. He has the skills, experience, and intellect to ensure that our highest court is seen as a leader across the country.” However, not everyone shares Hochul’s confidence in LaSalle. Many progressives as well as some labor unions believe his history of conservative-leaning opinions are not reflective of the views of most New Yorkers. Most notably, Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris has come out against LaSalle, bringing the total number of Senators who have said they will not support his nomination to twelve. Gianaris offered, “While I respect the Governor’s prerogative to nominate a Chief Judge of her choosing, the most important criteria must be to ensure a change from the harmful tenure of Janet DiFiore and her three followers still serving on the Court of Appeals. Unfortunately, there appears to be a great possibility that Justice LaSalle would represent a continuation of the unacceptable status quo that has sullied the reputation of our state’s highest court and ruled inconsistently with the values held dear by New Yorkers. Accordingly, I would be compelled to vote ‘no’ should this nomination be brought to a vote.”
Senator Brad Hoylman, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the man who would be responsible for shepherding LaSalle through the confirmation process, made it clear to Governor Hochul that LaSalle does not have the votes and thus, she should withdraw her appointment. Failing to get a judicial nominee through would be a bad loss but Hochul has doubled down on her support for LaSalle and remains confident that lawmakers will come around once they get to know him.
New York State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs compared Senators opposing LaSalle to United States Senator Mitt McConnell opposing Democratic judges in comments that were not well received and are sure to make his tenure even stormier.
While all eyes are on the upcoming Legislative Session, there was still work to be done to close out last Session’s business last week. There was a blitz of activity over the weekend with the Governor signing and vetoing a number of bills ahead of the December 31st deadline. Perhaps most notably, the Governor signed a pay raise bill that the Legislature passed during special session in December. The bill will bump legislators’ pay from $110,000 to $142,000 in 2023, as well as limit Legislators’ outside income starting in 2025.
The Governor also acted on a number of significant bills last week. One of the highlights was arguably the largest priority for organized labor in 2022: legislation to establish a registration system for subcontractors and contractors engaging in public works projects across the State. The Governor also signed the long-stalled Digital Fair Repair Act, which requires manufacturers of electronic devices to make public certain diagnostic and repair information so consumers and independent repair shops have the information to fix devices on their own if they choose to do so. The Governor said, “As technology and smart devices become increasingly essential to our daily lives, consumers should be able to easily fix the devices they rely on in a timely fashion. This legislation will empower consumers with better options to repair their devices, thereby maximizing the lifespan of their devices, saving money, and reducing electronic waste.”
Other highlights included a legislative package to support pedestrians, bikers, and transit riders, which included bills that would add a transit dependent representative to the board of the four Upstate regional transportation Authority and a bill to provide funding for “complete streets” design; the Living Donor Support Act, the first State Program in the Country allowing individuals to be reimbursed for the costs of liver and kidney donations; legislation to encourage procurement of zero emissions vehicles for State Fleets; and several healthcare policy bills that were priorities for the outgoing Health Chair—Assembly Member Dick Gottfried: including a medication synchronization program in Medicaid and legislation enhancing coverage for medically fragile children in New York State.
The Governor also ended the year with some vetoes, including legislation to require professionals at insurance companies reviewing treatments for reimbursement to be qualified in the specialty of the claim; legislation to more easily allow for more price shifts in state contracting in light of increasing supply chain costs; and legislation to create a Youth Services Unit at the Port Authority.
Even though the 2023 Legislative Session convenes tomorrow, there is still a path for some of the bills from 2022 on the Governor’s desk to become law. When a bill is delivered to the Governor after the Legislature has formally adjourned sine die (the final adjournment of a legislative session year), the Governor has 30 days to sign a bill or it will be automatically vetoed upon expiration of the time period. No veto message from the Governor is required if this happens. Two of the bills from 2022 the Governor is due to act on by January 30th are the Grieving Families Act, which would update New York’s 175 year old wrongful death statute and expand who can bring a lawsuit, the amount of time families have to sue, and most notably allow for emotional damages; and legislation to expand the New York False Claims Act to individuals who intentionally fail to file tax returns in New York.
Back in Washington, D.C, President Biden signed the omnibus spending bill funding government for Federal Fiscal Year 2023 into law while on vacation in St. Croix, avoiding a government shutdown after congressional leaders were able to come to an agreement last week. The top line number came in at $1.7 trillion with $773 billion for non-defense discretionary spending and $858 billion for defense spending, something both parties can live with. After signing the bill, the President tweeted “Today, I signed the bipartisan omnibus bill, ending a year of historic progress. It’ll invest in medical research, safety, veteran health care, disaster recovery, VAWA funding – and gets crucial assistance to Ukraine. Looking forward to more in 2023.”
The legislation passed the House 225-201 and cruised through the Senate 68-29 despite the lobbying efforts of Kevin McCarthy and those further to the right who would have preferred to negotiate a spending bill in the new Congress when the GOP is in control of the House. McCarthy took to Twitter to say “For the first time in history, a bill in the House was passed without a physical quorum present—more people voted by proxy than in person. The omnibus will damage our country, & the blatant disregard for Article I, Section 5 of our Constitution will forever stain this Congress.” Some of the details of the bill include a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine, $38 billion for disaster relief, reform of the Electoral Count Act, and a ban on TikTok on government devices.
Congressman-elect George Santos (R, NY-3) from Long Island has found himself in a major lying scandal before he has even been seated in Congress. After an explosive story from the New York Times highlighted blatant falsehoods on his resume, the story has snowballed with people taking a closer look at his past statements, and it has only gotten worse from there. The original story focused on his claims that he worked at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs despite neither company having any record of him working there. Similarly, he said he attended Baruch College in NYC despite the school also having no records of him being enrolled there. Ultimately, he confessed and said “A lot of people overstate on their resumes or twist a little bit or (sic) engranduate themselves, I’m not saying I’m not guilty of that” but the questions did not stop there. His finances have come under further scrutiny after he reported on a financial form in 2020 that his salary was $55,000 a year and he had no assets yet, only two years later, was able to personally lend his campaign over $700,000. Federal prosecutors have reportedly opened up a probe into his campaign. There are also questions as to whether he is wanted in Brazil in connection with a fraud case.
Further internet sleuthing brought up past statements that upon closer examination, are also provably false. Santos has referred to himself as a “proud Jewish American” despite being Catholic, and when pressed on it, he said it was a grammatical misunderstanding- what he meant is that he is Jew-ish. The Republican Jewish Coalition was quick to denounce Santos saying, “We are very disappointed in Congressman-elect Santos. He deceived us and misrepresented his heritage.” Possibly the most shameful lie, Santos replied to someone on Twitter that his mother died on 9/11 before telling someone else on Twitter five months later that his mother died in 2016. Despite all that, Congress will have to seat Santos due to a 1969 Supreme Court case.
Nick LaLota, also a freshman Republican from Long Island and whose district borders Santos’ called on the House Ethics Committee to investigate Santos once he is seated. Joseph Cairo, the head of the Nassau County GOP, expressed his disappointment in Santos, saying “Congressman-Elect George Santos has broken the public trust by making serious misstatements regarding his background, experience and education, among other issues.” The Nassau County District Attorney, also a Republican, announced she is looking into Santos as well and said, “The numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated with Congressman-Elect Santos are nothing short of stunning.”
One person who has been deafeningly silent on this saga, is Kevin McCarthy. If Republicans did call on Santos to resign, it would prompt a special election and would further narrow the Republican majority— and McCarthy’s voting bloc for Speaker. Santos had pledged to vote for McCarthy which is worth its weight in gold politically as the current revolt from the far right has left McCarthy short on votes. With only a four-seat majority and at least that many lawmakers from his conference publicly opposing him, it seems McCarthy is likely to avoid doing anything to further rock the boat. Be sure to check out our preview of the 118th Congress here.
“I’m honored to be included on City & State’s Upstate Power list again this year, a recognition that reflects the work of our entire team at OD&A. While my name is on the door, our wins—passing legislation, helping our clients secure resources, delivering results—are a collective effort. If you are not already familiar with our stellar team, click here to learn more about the people behind the success of OD&A,” says O’Donnell.
We are also excited to announce that Alec Lewis will be the newest addition to the O’Donnell & Associates Team. Alec has a wealth of knowledge and experience in state government, previously serving as Deputy Director for Intergovernmental Affairs as well as Statewide Field Director for the NYS Senate Democrats. Alec will be joining our firm as Vice President & Director of Campaigns and will primarily be based in our Albany office.
Finally, we join the sports world in paying tribute to the “King of Soccer”, Pelé, who died this past week at 82. He led Brazil to three World Cup tournaments and had no shortage of memorizing highlights throughout his storied career. You can view a few of them here. While his play on the field immortalized him as one of the best to ever play the game, equally inspiring was all his work off the pitch to help make the world a better place.
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