Governors Release Special Christmas Report on Port Authority Reform

In their joint press statement announcing the veto of a bill mandating fundamental governance reforms to the Port Authority, Governor’s Cuomo and Christie said they would be seeking new, improved, legislation based on the 103 page Special Report to the Governors,  which they released to the public this evening — a Saturday two days after Christmas.

Port report








Gov. Cuomo’s Veto of Port Authority Reform Bill — Approval of FOI Bill

Citizens Union, Reinvent Albany New York Public Interest Research Group
Tri-State Transportation Campaign

Statement Regarding Governor Cuomo’s Veto of Port Authority Reform Legislation
And Approval of FOI Legislation

We appreciate Governor Cuomo signing a bill improving the Port Authority’s Freedom of Information process. However, Governor Cuomo missed a big opportunity to put the Port Authority on the right track by vetoing the bill reforming governance.

It is obvious that the Port Authority has lost its way, and Governors Cuomo and Christie have now vetoed a bill which was unanimously supported by the state legislatures of New York and New Jersey, numerous public stakeholders and editorial boards. This much-needed legislation would have put in place fundamental reforms necessary to make the Port Authority far more accountable now.

The commission created to review the Port Authority recommended other measures but, this should not have precluded the Governors approving a bill implementing much-needed reforms.

The joint statement from Governors Cuomo and Christie says “Both Governors embrace the spirit and intent of the extensive reforms contained in the omnibus pending legislation.” Our groups hope they act on this spirit by working closely with both state legislatures––and public stakeholders––in a transparent process to introduce and pass comprehensive reforms in the Port Authority’s governance this session.

Statement Port Authority Transparency Accountability Bills 12.27.14

Utah and Feds are Email Transparency Models

background-secondaryEarlier this year, Utah’s State Records Committee required state agencies to being keeping the email records of “executive decision makers” permanently, and the email records of rank and file state employees for at least seven years. Utah’s email retention policy is very similar to the “Capstone” program the federal government plans to adopt in 2015. Utah’s rules essentially requires that all emails by top managers be archived per:

Incoming and outgoing business-related correspondence, regardless of format or mode of transmission, that provides unique information relating to the functions, policies, procedures or programs of an agency. These records document executive decisions made regarding agency interests. Executive decision makers may include the Director, Chief Administrative Officer, Public Information Officer or other internal administrators as identified by the executive office.

Utah also requires agencies to keep almost all non-executive emails for seven years. Utah defines these emails as:

Incoming and outgoing business-related correspondence, regardless of format or mode of transmission, created in the course of administering agency functions and programs. Administrative correspondence documents work accomplished, transactions made, or actions taken.

According to Utah officials the state does not automatically delete any emails. In sharp contrast, New York State has a policy of automatically deleting emails left in in boxes longer than 90 days.  Records “retention” and archiving policies are a hugely important complement to Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. FOI laws govern which records must be released to the public. Archiving laws govern which records (including emails) must be kept. Without strong archiving laws, FOI is next to useless, because government officials may choose to shred or delete records that they do not want released under FOI laws.

Utah is providing a great example for states and cities looking to move their email retention policies squarely into the 21st century.

From Albany to Acapulco: NY Times Documents Massive Ethics Failure in Albany (again)

Today, the New York Times used vivid details to show New Yorkers  that Albany remains awash in money and utterly dominated by a cynical, pay to play culture that exploits every possible legal loophole, and often seems bereft of basic ethics. Huge legal loopholes allow legislators to spend campaign contributions on just about anything they want. Most notoriously, the ” LLC loophole” allows anonymous donors to contribute again and again via Limited Liability Companies.

After Ethics Panel’s Shutdown, Loopholes Live On in Albany is another outstanding piece by the Times’ Albany bureau, but it is long, and would have had a greater public impact run as three or four more focused pieces run over a month. This said, this piece is a must read for all concerned New Yorkers.

According to the Times, eight months after the Moreland Commission was prematurely shutdown by Governor Cuomo, little in Albany has changed.

■ Powerful politicians — including the governor himself — continue to exploit a loophole in state law that allows corporations to funnel huge donations to them in smaller gifts that disguise the true sources of the money.

■ Lax personal financial disclosure laws, critics say, give corrupt legislators a way to mask political payoffs under the guise of part-time jobs. A 2011 reform presented as requiring disclosure of some clients was so narrowly drawn as to be meaningless, and another enacted this year allowed enough wiggle room that lawmakers could well continue to avoid scrutiny.

■ The line between political donations and outright bribery remains murky. Some politicians used their campaign treasuries as piggy banks for personal expenses, the commission’s investigators found, and bank records showed that lawmakers had failed to report some donations and expenditures altogether. A new, beefed-up Board of Elections enforcement unit has yet to show its strength.

Guide to Albany’s Pay to Play Wish List 2015: Governor Edition

governor-cuomoAce Albany reporter Liz Benjamin published an article that should be printed and stuck to the bulletin board of every reformer and government watch dog group. Liz somewhat diplomatically titled her post A Guide to What the Big Cuomo Donors Want in 2015. We think her post is such an important reference that we summarized it for ourselves, to use as quick guide to the upcoming legislative session. (We hope Liz does follow-up guides for the State Senate and State Assembly.)

Governor Cuomo has received $47 million in direct campaign contributions between December 31, 2010 and November 30, 2014. Just 341 contributors (about 6% of all donors) gave $23.8 million. Here’s what the highest of his high donors want.

Real Estate Industry

  1. NYC rent control laws expire in June 2015. Landlords would like controls on rent hikes reduced.
  2. Mega tax abatement programs 421a and J-51 expire in June. ***
  3. Brownfields tax credits extension to 2017 has not yet been signed by Cuomo.

*** This is a three star corruption risk item. These tax breaks have been at the center of numerous pay-to-play scandals, including most recently, tax breaks for the ultra-expensive One57 luxury condo building. These breaks were mysteriously snuck into the last authorization of the bill, and featured in the termination of the Moreland Commission by Governor Cuomo.

Construction Unions

(Particularly, the International Union of Operating Engineers)
  1. Bank settlements for infrastructure.
  2. Design-Build authorization. (Trades want Project Labor Agreements.)

Cable TV Companies

  1. Extension of Cablevision’s $54m a year tax break for Madison Square Garden.
  2. Comcast / Time Warner mega-merger.
  3. Film and TV production tax credits.

Charter School Supporters

(Wealthy Wall Street figures want more charter schools and public funding for those schools. In this case, campaign contributors do not have a pocket book interest in the issue, but are still using money for influence.)

  1. Mayoral control of schools sunsets June 2015.
  2. Cap on number of charter schools.