Items tagged with 'state government'
Here's the rundown of allegations made against Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, today by the office of US Attorney Preet Bharara.
If you've been following state politics over the last few years, all of it will sound sadly familiar.
Cue the Bharara corruption-in-state government soundbite: "By now, two things should be abundantly clear. First, public corruption is a deep-seated problem in New York State. It is a problem in both chambers; it is a problem on both sides of the aisle. And second, we are deadly serious about tackling that problem."
Cue the Skelos statement: "I am innocent of the charges leveled against me. I am not saying I am just not guilty, I am saying that I am innocent. I fully expect to be exonerated by a public jury trial."
The short story: The feds allege that Dean Skelos used his position in state government to set up, and sustain, a job and payments to his son in an arrangement involving a real estate developer and a company that made wastewater filtering tech.
The juiciest bits are in the complaint itself, including this section that must have had the federal investigators snorting with laughter:
On March 28, 2015, ADAM SKELOS placed an intercepted call to DEAN SKELOS (AS4.182), who relayed he was in Albany seeking to finalize the State budget. ADAM SKELOS complained that his father could not give him "real advice" concerning issues with the Environmental Technology Company because "you can't talk normally because its like fucking Preet Bharara is listening to every fucking phone call. It's just fucking frustrating." DEAN SKELOS replied, "It is."
The modern world is: The head of New York State's financial services watchdog agency taking questions about cryptocurrencies -- such as Bitcoin -- on Reddit. From an AMA today with Ben Lawsky, superintendent of the state's Department of Financial Services:
Thank you for joining us here. As a Bitcoin user, I truly appreciate your concept of Open Source Regulation, and I think there is a lot for both the Bitcoin community and regulators to learn here. I have a couple simple questions for you:
Do you believe that Bitcoin, or the underlying technology, will change the world for the better?
Do you want to see Bitcoin, or the underlying technology succeed? In your experience, do most of your peers share this stance, or is the general perspective much more bleak?
I think Bitcoin or the underlying technology has a lot of potential on numerous levels. As Professor Athey said at our hearings, even the experts don't know today how the technology will evolve and what it will ultimately look like. But I do think it holds a lot of promise (if money laundering can be adequately addressed), both on its own and in terms of causing existing payments system technologies to up their game. I've personally evolved a lot on the issue the more I have learned. I wouldn't compare it to a Rocky-IV-final-scene about-face and it has taken time for all of us at DFS to get our minds around it, but certainly our views have changed.
If you're wondering, like we were, why a New York State agency is attempting to figure out regulation for stateless, decentralized virtual currencies that most people haven't heard of, Lawsky took up that question in the AMA and during a recent talk in DC. (An excerpt from the talk is after the jump.) The short version of Lawksy's explanation: New Yorkers send a lot of money to other countries using traditional wire services, which have high transaction fees -- and virtual currencies hold the potential of reducing those costs. And: Regulators are worried about money laundering and terrorism.
The main takeaway we got from this AMA is that the future will be people on the internet talking about money and complicated financial instruments in ways most of us will probably never understand. Which is to say, it's probably a lot like the present.
As you know, this year's State of the State speech was Wednesday. There will be all sorts of coverage dissecting for the next few days. This isn't that. This is just a few quick-scan highlights.
And here they are...
Noted: The state Office of General Services is selling a portable rock climbing wall in its surplus store on eBay.
Starting bid is $7,000. Winning bidder has to pick it up (it looks like it's at Harriman office campus).
Via NDYN, which has the backstory on the climbing wall.
Also noticed while browsing state surplus on eBay: The state is also selling a lot that contains 100 Blackberries -- and three Palm Pilots. And another lot that contains some actually not-that-bad-looking office furniture.
photo: NYS OGS / eBay
State Assemblymen Steve McLaughlin, Jim Tedisco, and Michael Fitzpatrick announced today that they're drafting legislation that would prohibit state politicians, as well as state employees, from keeping frequent flyer miles and hotel/car rental points they accumulate while on official travel.
From the press release:
"Frequent flier miles for state travel should be banked to lower costs for taxpayers, not pocketed by politicians for personal travel clubs," said Tedisco. "In these challenging economic times, when state government is supposed to be reining-in unnecessary spending and asking people to do more with less, taxpayer-funded air travel should be rare. When air travel is absolutely necessary and when it passes the smell test of good and ethical government, the only ones who should benefit from accrued frequent flier miles, hotel discounts and other perks are the taxpayers who are paying the tab for the trips in the form of reduced costs for future state travel related to official taxpayer business," said Tedisco.
Here are the current state rules for employees and travel rewards.
We finally got around to reading "The Albany Machiavelli," the long profile of Andrew Cuomo by Chris Smith in this week's NY Mag. Smith remarks that "Cuomo may be this country's best politician--in the interest-swapping, nut-cutting, backroom sense--since Lyndon Baines Johnson." And there are a bunch of interesting back room bits about Cuomo's handling of issues, his relationship with the legislature, how fracking vexes the Cuomo political calculations, the potential role of Hillary Clinton in blocking in his presidential ambitions.
This section resonated with us:
So far that experiment has been a solid success, especially for Cuomo. He's been more fiscally responsible than many of his predecessors. He's boldly and forcefully delivered on progressive ideals, legalizing gay marriage and passing some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. He's been rewarded with high public-approval numbers in New York and heightened national stature. Yet there's also a cost, and a considerable irony, to Cuomo's tactics. For all his speechifying about the "us" of government, he runs a government of one, controlling decisions large and small. And the way Cuomo wins his battles--strong-arming and horse-trading; a mastery of talking past inconvenient questions and facts--tends to antagonize enemies and allies, as in the most recent round of budget wrangling, in which he managed to chafe both liberals and business fat cats. People are afraid of him; David Paterson, as governor, once described feeling like Cuomo was lurking under the floorboards of the executive mansion, holding a saw. In politics, fear can be a highly useful tool, but it is a risky one. The governor doesn't have many friends. ...
As Cuomo looks to score a wide reelection margin in 2014, he has become New York's most successful governor since, well, the early days of Mario Cuomo. Yet he's engendered much more fear than love--an emotion the governor believes is overrated, in politics anyway. The growing turbulence will show whether he's right about the value of affection in Albany--and whether Andrew Cuomo will loom larger in history than his father.
Now a little arm chair political science: We get the sense that everyone respects Andrew Cuomo, even his enemies and detractors (maybe especially his enemies and detractors). But do people like him? You know, in talking with people it's like there's this acknowledgement that Cuomo has imposed a certain order on state politics, and the situation is no longer the embarrassing train wreck it had been. It's just that there isn't much (if any) love or passion for him. And that's a problem if you're running for president -- because as much as issues and all that stuff matter, there's also an emotional part of it for voters.
Anyway. This (here, totally stripped of its context) quote-- "They have needs, and you have needs. And your appetite has to be calibrated thusly." -- kind of us made us a feel a little bit for Sandra Lee.
For the second time this week, federal prosecutors announced bribery and corruption charges against a state legislator. This time it was state Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, a Democrat from the Bronx. From US Attorney Preet Bharara's statement:
As alleged, Assemblyman Eric Stevenson was bribed to enact a statutory moratorium to give his co-defendants a local monopoly - a fairly neat trick that offends core principles of both democracy and capitalism, simultaneously, and it is exactly what the defendants managed to do. The allegations illustrate the corruption of an elected representative's core function - a legislator selling legislation.
OK, so how much do you think local monopoly-creating state legislation goes for these days? Here's some help: One of the businessmen allegedly involved in this scheme said the moratorium on the opening of new adult day care centers would cause the value of their own day care centers to "skyrocket." That's gotta be worth a lot. So Stevenson must have really raked in some serious coin for this alleged deal, especially when you consider the risks, right?
The alleged bribe: $10,000.
Yep, that's all it allegedly cost to buy a piece of state legislation that would effectively block competition for what is probably a multi-million dollar business. Just 10 grand. That's not even enough to buy a new sub-compact car.
Which leads us to wonder: Why haven't we been buying state legislation all along?! Who knew it was so cheap?! It's practically a steal! Do you get a discount if you buy in bulk? If we order it via Amazon Prime, can we have it delivered the next day (in session only)?
The fact that there is corruption in state government is already frustrating, irksome, and sad -- it's even more so when we find we're all being sold out at such a discount.
A spot in the mayoral primary
Earlier this week, state Senator Malcolm Smith, a Democrat, was charged with being part of scheme to bribe three Republican city officials to let him on their party's primary ballot for mayor of New York City. The alleged price (bribe) for that: about $100,000 paid by an intermediary -- and help getting $500k from the state for a road project.
There will be all kinds of coverage of Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address everywhere over the next few days. But for right now, here's a quick, scannable overview of this afternoon's speech -- enough to get you through a conversation today -- you'll find it after the jump.
Spoilers: "innovation hot spots," upstate New York, casinos, equality, and gun control.
A former SUNY Research Foundation employee at Buffalo State charged almost $131,000 in person expenses a foundation credit card between 2007 and 2011, according to an audit released today by the Office of the State Comptroller. From the OSC press release:
DiNapoli's investigators and auditors found a senior SUNY Research Foundation official at Buffalo State College, Edgar H. Turkle III, used his foundation-provided credit card to personally enrich himself. A review of 424 of Turkle's credit card transactions for the 48-month period November 2007 through November 2011 found 348 purchases totaling $130,887 that were not business-related. Turkle charged the Research Foundation $22,225 for Buffalo Sabres hockey tickets and other personal expenses such as a birthday party for his wife, an Apple computer, iPad and iPhones, chocolates, and groceries. He also traveled to foreign countries, primarily in Asia, in 29 out of the 48 months reviewed, incurring $125,342 in related costs paid through travel vouchers that had no trip itineraries or agendas.
The report says Turkle told them he had been accompanying faculty on trips to Asia because, "I am the guy. No other way to put it." It also alleges that Turkle "inappropriately credited himself with leave time." Turkle was fired this past February, according to the report, and the Research Foundation and the OSC referred the matter to the Albany County DA's office.
The audit also alleges a range of other questionable financial practices at the RF -- including $665,356 spent on compensation for an employee who worked at central office in Albany for just 11 months, and was terminated because she was "not a good fit."
The State Education Building is a century old this year, and to celebrate the department is hosting a series of open houses and tours at the grand building across the street from the Capitol.
The Education Building's exterior, with that huge colonnade, is impressive. But the interior is also very beautiful. And these tours are a rare chance for the general public to get a look at it.
Here's a recent New York Now segment about the building. It give you a sense of the grandeur of the interior.
Tours start October 19 (the last tour is November 15). There's a sign-up form online. The open houses on October 19, 20, and 21.
The Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, once signed by the Gov. Andrew Cuomo will make public reporting about unsafe water conditions nearly as routine as severe weather warnings. The law will require public wastewater treatment plants to publicly disclose within four hours of releasing raw or partially-treated sewage. The state will also for the first time report annually on reported sewage discharges.
This is an important issue around here because of something called "combined sewer overflows" (CSOs). Basically, when many of the antiquated sewer systems in this area become overwhelmed with storm water, they start dumping the excess -- sewage and all -- into the Hudson and its tributaries. Yep, eww.
Riverkeeper did testing last year for sewage-indicating bacteria in Hudson -- and two of the worst spots for contamination were near Albany (Island Creek/Normans Kill in Glenmont, and the Dunn Memorial Bridge). The org reported that the Capital Region's CSOs "dump an estimated 1.2 billion gallons of combined sewage and wastewater into the Hudson each year."
Earlier on AOA: Something stinks about the Hudson near Albany (includes some good discussion in the comments)
The Cuomo admin announced today that state pulled in a little more than $1.6 million in final bids for the eBay auction of surplus 454 state vehicles. (It closed this morning.)
We stopped by the lot on the Harriman office campus earlier this week to check out the inventory. We were especially interested in the 2008 Priuses (Prii?) that were available because even though they had a lot of miles, they seemed like they were in pretty good shape. Of course, if you were to buy one, you'd have to do it "as is" -- without driving it.
So, what sort of discount might people expect for buying under that situation? And did they score a deal?
To get some sense of that we compared the final bids for the group of 2008 Priuses against the Kelley Blue Book value for the vehicles.
You know what that means -- bring on the table...
A project called the "State Integrity Investigation" has released report cards for each state's "corruption risk." And, surprise (not really), New York State scored poorly.
The project is a collaboration between The Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International. The scores were determined by journalists in each state based on a set of 330 question (apparently not among the questions: "Are bills passed by sleep-deprived legislators in the middle of the night?). In New York, the journalist was the Gotham Gazette's David King.
New Jersey was the top-ranked state (87%, B+), Georgia was the lowest (49%, F).
PEF announced this afternoon that its members had approved its revised contract with the state. As a result, about 3,500 state employees -- many of them in the Capital Region -- will not be laid off.
The vote was roughly 70-30 in favor of the contract.
The revised contract includes no pay increases for 2011, 2012, and 2013 (with a 2 percent raise in 2014). It increases the share employees will have to pay for healthcare. And there are 9 furlough days that will be paid back at the end of the contract.
The contract is a year shorter than the original five-year contract. The union's leadership argued shorter length would allow the union to negotiate the next deal "in an economic environment that may be significantly better than the current one." The leadership also said the new deal included stronger layoff protections, deferred payments for the furlough days (as opposed to "retention bonuses"), and more flexibility in using vacation time to offset an employee's share of healthcare costs.
The PEF membership had voted down the first offer, which was very similar to the deal taken by CSEA, in late September. Andrew Cuomo had been threatening to go ahead with the layoffs if the revised contract wasn't approved.
PEF is the second largest state employee union, after CSEA.
State government is a vast and various enterprise. If you ever need reminded of that, go browse New York state's eBay auctions.
The state, which sells surplus on eBay through its account nyssurplus-albany, often has some unexpected items among the usual filing cabinets and office equipment.
Here are some things the state has offered recently on eBay:
How about a little eye candy for Valentine's Day?
The halls of government may not be the first place you think to go to admire the male physique. (Insert Christopher Lee joke here.) But take a gander at the ceiling of the War Room in the state Capitol.
It's a tour through New York's violent past, as depicted in the impressively muscled ceiling murals:
The announcement came bundled with three other appointments -- the relevant portion of the release is after the jump.