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New York State Budget Deal Brings Congestion Pricing, Plastic Bag Ban and Mansion Tax



gov andrew cuomo

After weeks of intraparty bickering, the New York State Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Sunday signed off on a $175 billion budget that was wreathed with progressive initiatives, including changes to the cash bail system, a new tax on high-end homes and a groundbreaking plan to charge motorists to drive into Manhattan’s busiest stretches.

The budget deal was immediately hailed as “transformative” by Mr. Cuomo, and it will clearly have an impact felt far beyond taxpayers’ wallets. The agreement included deals that will likely change the way millions of New Yorkers shop, commute and vote: bans on plastic bags from retail stores, billions in new funds for New York’s troubled subway system and a new paid three-hour break on Election Day.

The budget’s progressive theme was a victory for Mr. Cuomo and the newly elected Democratic majority in the State Legislature, most notably Democrats who helped give the party control of the State Senate for the first time in a decade. They largely lived up to pledges to address big money in politics, raise taxes on the wealthy and overhaul a criminal justice system that disproportionately targets minority communities.

But the deal announced in the wee hours of Sunday morning also showed the limits of those campaign promises. Activists criticized a plan to empower small campaign donors as halfhearted. A measure to tax luxury homes was refashioned at the last minute after the powerful real-estate industry intervened. And, perhaps most significant, hopes for legalizing the recreational use of marijuana were dashed, though lawmakers could still approve that later in the legislative session.

Still, for veteran observers of Albany, the sheer variety of issues settled since January — from infrastructure to the environment, from voting rights to transgender rights — was a relief from years of divided government, when interests of Republicans in the Senate often stood in contrast to the state’s overwhelmingly Democratic electorate.

“The process seems very similar,” said Blair Horner, the executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, and a former aide to Mr. Cuomo. “But the product is obviously very different because you have a new majority in the Senate.”
Most of the deals announced on Sunday were largely made behind closed doors, and left to the 11th hour: Voting was likely to push right up to, and perhaps past, the midnight deadline.

Chief among the new policies was congestion pricing, which is likely to affect the habits of anyone who works or plays in Manhattan. Under the plan, the first of its type in the nation, vehicles traveling below 60th Street will be subject to a toll, revenue that will be funneled into the city’s beleaguered subways and other regional transportation needs.

The congestion pricing deal deferred many of the difficult decisions — how much to charge drivers and who will receive exemptions — to the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and a new traffic mobility review board. Eighty percent of the revenue will be directed to the subway and bus network, and 10 percent each to the Long Island Rail Road and the Metro-North Railroad.

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The agreement also calls for an overhaul of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency that oversees New York City’s bus and subway system. Mr. Cuomo, who effectively controls the authority and who has been heavily criticized for the subway’s shoddy performance, has scapegoated the agency in recent months. As part of the budget deal, the authority’s policies will be changed to encourage speedier capital projects and to increase oversight.

A wave of new progressives in the Legislature believed the issue of criminal justice reform was of critical importance, and the new budget reflected that. Under the budget legislation, the state will eliminate cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes, though it will not be completely eliminated, as some of the Legislature’s more liberal members — still recalling the case of Kalief Browder, who took his own life after spending three years on Rikers Island because his family could not raise $3,000 bail — had hoped it would be.

Lawmakers and Mr. Cuomo also agreed to a number of changes to discovery — allowing defendants more access to evidence that prosecutors intend to use against them — and processes to ensure speedy trials.

The compromise on bail, which came after law enforcement officials expressed concerns about the total elimination of such a system, is one of many compromises that appear in the budget.

Another saw a proposed pied-à-terre tax, an annual recurring tax on second homes that were valued at $5 million or more, eliminated. Although the tax had the backing of state leaders, it evaporated under pressure from real estate interests and legal concerns.

In its place, lawmakers and Mr. Cuomo agreed to a “mansion tax” coupled with a real estate transfer tax, two one-time levies that would be charged at the point of sale on multimillion-dollar homes. The tax rate would top out at 4.15 percent on the sale of properties worth $25 million or more.

A plan to ban plastic bags in the state was also included in the budget, but it makes a fee on paper bags optional, which some environmentalists worry will lessen the popularity of reusable bags. New York would be the second state, after California, to ban plastic bags. (Hawaii also effectively has a ban in place, since all the state’s counties bar such single-use bags.)

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Mr. Cuomo trumpeted several other accomplishments, including a permanent property tax cap of 2 percent, something he had said was nonnegotiable, and a new tax on “internet marketplace providers” which he anticipated would generate $320 million a year to help fund the M.T.A. The state also approved a tax on opioid pills.

The budget also increases education spending by more than $1 billion. Mr. Cuomo had initially proposed a number about $50 million lower; the Legislature had requested about $600 million more. Education is consistently one of the biggest spending increases, as well as spending commitments, in the budget.

Mr. Cuomo, who has been criticized for sponsoring big-money fund-raisers, also announced a commission to develop a plan to provide up to $100 million annually in public financing for campaigns for legislative and statewide offices, including his own. The commission’s recommendations, due in December, would be legally binding unless the Legislature convened specifically to overrule them.

A small-donor matching program was a central demand of many of the new legislators who won seats last year by defeating better-financed incumbents.

Under such programs, candidates can collect government assistance for their campaigns as long as they meet certain criteria. Such programs are usually intended to encourage small contributions, and don’t offer a match for large ones.

And while the inclusion of public financing in Sunday’s budget seemed like a victory for proponents, many remained unsatisfied, noting that many details, such as the ratio of matching funds and contribution limits, remained undetermined. That has led some activists to worry that the commission’s recommendations would be weak. Asked why he had chosen to form a commission rather than allowing public hearings and a legislative solution, Mr. Cuomo said that the issue was “too complicated” to be taken up by the state’s 213 elected lawmakers.

Still, if New York adopts a 6-to-1 matching system modeled after New York City’s, it would become the first state in the nation to match small donors’ contributions by a ratio of more than 1 to 1, according to Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the democracy program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. (Hawaii matches donations 1 to 1.)

The negotiations over the budget were the first of Mr. Cuomo’s more than eight years in office in which he dealt with an entirely Democratic-controlled Legislature, and they came at a time of increased financial stress for the state, which had its income tax revenue dip sharply in recent months.

Mr. Cuomo consistently railed against the 2017 federal tax overhaul and the policies of President Trump for worsening the state’s financial problems, but still increased state spending to record levels. His administration also said it would codify protections of the federal Affordable Care Act, such as insurance exchanges and protections for pre-existing conditions, into state law.

During a news conference in the Capitol’s ceremonial Red Room on Sunday afternoon, Mr. Cuomo likened the trouble caused by Mr. Trump’s government to those caused by “extreme weather” and “political extremism.”

“This is a difficult time for government,” the governor said. “It’s a difficult time for New York State.”

It was also difficult, at times, in Albany, as the new Democratic majorities in the Legislature flexed their independence and power, creating significant intraparty tension with Mr. Cuomo.

During negotiations, the governor and other members of his administration repeatedly accused lawmakers of having unrealistic expectations and a lack of experience, a situation that was inflamed by the loss of a giant, multibillion-dollar Amazon deal in Queens in mid-February. Tension boiled over last week when a senior aide of Mr. Cuomo verbally attacked several newly elected lawmakers after they criticized Mr. Cuomo’s fund-raising habits, calling them “idiots,” preceded by a profanity.

Still, Mr. Cuomo seemed to want to glide past such unpleasantness on Sunday, saying that “all Democrats are not the same,” and thanking the legislative leaders for their hard work.

Indeed, even as his exhausted aides left the room, Mr. Cuomo stopped and spoke again.

“This is the best budget that has been produced,” he said, as the room cleared, “since I’ve been governor.”


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Trump blasts New York Times reporting, says paper will be gone ‘in 6 years’





President Trump unleashed a barrage of criticism against the New York Times in a series of tweets Saturday, describing the newspaper as “phony” over its coverage of his immigration policies and predicting it would cease to exist within six years.

In his first Twitter post, the president blasted the paper for its story about his administration’s threats to release migrants into “sanctuary cities” as retaliation against Democrats.

“The New York Times Sanctuary Cities/Immigration story today was knowingly wrong on almost every fact,” the president wrote. “They never call to check for truth. Their sources often don’t even exist, a fraud. They will lie & cheat anyway possible to make me look bad. In 6 years they will be gone………”
Maggie Haberman, the White House reporter for the Times, refuted Trump’s accusation that the paper never reached out for comment.

“POTUS really ought to check in with his press team more often, or they with him. NYT emailed three times for comment and press office acknowledged receipt of emails,” she tweeted.

Trump has repeatedly suggested releasing migrants into “sanctuary cities.” A statement from the Department of Homeland Security to Fox News said the idea to release immigrant detainees onto the streets of sanctuary cities “was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion.”

Trump’s follow-up post said the Times “begged” its subscribers for forgiveness over its “pathetic” 2016 election coverage of him. The tweet referred to a November 2016 letter from Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger that promised readers it would “reflect” on its coverage and rededicate itself to reporting on America and the world honestly.”

“….When I won the Election in 2016, the @nytimes had to beg their fleeing subscribers for forgiveness in that they covered the Election (and me) so badly. They didn’t have a clue, it was pathetic. They even apologized to me. But now they are even worse, really corrupt reporting!,” Trump wrote.

The Times denied apologizing to Trump.
Trump then denied a Times report that claimed he directed acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan to close the U.S.-Mexico border and offered to pardon him if things went awry.

“I never offered Pardons to Homeland Security Officials, never ordered anyone to close our Southern Border (although I have the absolute right to do so, and may if Mexico does not apprehend the illegals coming to our Border), and am not “frustrated.” It is all Fake & Corrupt News!”


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maxine waters

Members of Congress have a long history of behaving like they want just because they can.

On Monday afternoon around 3 p.m., Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) walked out of Reagan airport and made a beeline for a taxicab. It all seems kind of normal except for one thing — the 80-year-old lawmaker who chairs the House Financial Services Committee appeared to display a complete disregard for the most basic public etiquette and cut a line that was about 100 people deep, a Mirror spy told me.

The car she got into was not in the pre-arranged pick-up lane. Still, it is jarring that a committee chairwoman would get into a random taxi and not arrange a ride.

The Mirror sought comment from Waters’ press office on her bypassing the taxi line. A response did not arrive by press time. A taxi dispatcher at Reagan Airport responsible for arranging rides for passengers, said seniors are not readily allowed to skip the line. Unless they need extra help or are using a wheelchair, they, too, must wait for a taxi to become available.

The optics are so Washington. This is a city where sirens blare as government bigwigs are routinely whisked caravan style from one part of town to another. Here’s a lawmaker who appears to think her life is more important than the haggard travelers blindly punching away on their smartphones while they wait in the damn taxi line.

“Who the hell does she think she is?” my spy asked.

One guy in line said, “Go get him girl!”

The bystander presumed that the male onlooker was referring to President Trump, who Waters badmouths any chance she gets. Trump, in turn, has given her a nickname: “Crazy Maxine Waters.”

In July of 2018, Trump tweeted the following:
That same month, Waters returned the favor. While appearing on MSNBC’s “AM Joy,” the congresswoman called Trump “Putin’s apprentice.”

Back at the airport, the societal peons didn’t appear too upset by Waters’ power move.

“Maybe they think congressional people can do that,” my spy surmised.

Also: Why didn’t she just get a staffer to pick her up?

Waters is hardly the only lawmaker to use her status to bypass social norms. Her colleague, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) has a far more astounding history of behaving badly on planes and to her staff.

In 2017, a regular person was bumped out of her first-class seat to accommodate Jackson Lee.

In 1998, when she wasn’t chauffeured to an event, she allegedly said, “You don’t understand. I am a queen, and I demand to be treated like a queen.” (RELATED: Sheila Jackson Lee Is A Notable Boss From Hell)

She has also reportedly lashed out at her own aides, calling them “stupid motherfuckers” and demanded that they open her car doors and remove her shawl.

Like it or not, public officials have demands and they get special treatment. Longtime flack Philippe Reines was famously dubbed the “purse holder” after the New York Times reported that he lugged around then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‘s handbag.

If Washington is famous for ugly people, there is no shortage of ugliness that comes with the premise.


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Trump Bashes Mueller, Democrats and New York Times in Latest Round of Tweets





Trump took to Twitter to bash Robert Mueller and his 400-page report.

labeling the investigation a “witch hunt” that found “no collusion,” Trump told followers that “the Democrats, no matter what we give them, will NEVER be satisfied.”

His tweets come as reports that members of the special counsel team have been frustrated by attorney general William Barr’s 4-page summary of their findings. In response, the House Judiciary Intelligence and Oversight committees have all redoubled their efforts to probe different aspects of Trump’s financial dealings before and during his campaign, including a formal request from the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal for his tax returns dating back to 2013.

Trump’s tweets do not mention his taxes.

“Why should I be defending a fraudulent Russian Witch Hunt,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “It’s about time the perpetrators of this fraud on me and the American People start defending their dishonest and treasonous acts. How and why did this terrible event begin? Never Forget!”
Claiming the Mueller investigation was helmed by “13 angry hating dems” who found no evidence of collusion after spending $30 million on a 672-day investigation.

While Barr’s self-imposed deadline to release a redacted Mueller report is coming within the coming days, Trump claimed he had yet to see the document, while asserting his right to do so at his discretion.

“I have not read the Mueller Report yet, even though I have every right to do so,” Trump tweeted. “Only know the conclusions, and on the big one, No Collusion.”

His latest tweet storm came a day after he slammed a New York Times report that said the Mueller probe was more damaging than Barr made it out to be. Falling back on his “fake news” kabuki, Trump said the Times has “no legitimate sources, which would be totally illegal, concerning the Mueller Report.”

“In fact, they probably had no sources at all!”


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