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December 6th, 2015

December 6th, 2015

Guests: NY Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and Fmr. Maryland Lt. Gov Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

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Read Highlights: Kolb says that Flanagan and Heastie are wrong in resisting reform:

BK: “I think fundamentally what you’re seeing and what you’ve seen in the past is that here you have two majority leaders that have abused their position of power. I’ve said all along that positions of power are in too few hands in Albany, not with just the majority leaders, but also with the governor and this is part of why we have had the problems in Albany along the way. It isn’t something new, but it’s really coming to the surface now that people are actually being charged and going to court. So I think that both John [Flanagan] and Carl [Heastie] are wrong on this issue and I know for sure that I’m going to continue to push, because this is not new for me or our conference … for significant changes that will reform the institution dramatically.”

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Kolb explains why he opposes a full-time legislature:

BK: “Right this second I don’t think we’re ready for a full-time legislature, but more importantly, I don’t think the taxpayers are ready for a full-time legislature. The idea sounds interesting, but certainly I think that there’s a variety of other gaps that could be closed as a priority that would change the makeup of the Legislature. Certainly, the legislative pay has not been changed at all in fifteen-plus years. There’s a commission now that will be analyzing that. So I think at least in the short term, there’s a problem-solving solution that … may increase the salary to try to draw a higher caliber of people, but as you both know, for legislators coming out of New York City, the more lucrative position to hold is the City Council. And … one of the reasons you have these issues in the state Legislature is the amount of money, even if you get a committee stipend, is less than $100,000 and that’s something that just doesn’t go a long way if you live in the City of New York.”

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Asked how he believes Albany should be reformed, Kolb argues that allowing the minority leaders to participate in the budget process and term limiting the leadership and committee chairs are key steps to cutting back on abuse:

BK: “I’ll start with, first and foremost, the budget process. … Over the years that’s always been ‘Three Men in a Room’. Now that they’ve added Jeff Klein to the mix, it’s four, even though he only represents himself and four other members. I think that the two minority leaders from both houses should be part of all the budget discussions. And one of the things I think that the minority leaders would bring is challenging what the majority leaders and Governor are trying to negotiate between themselves. In other words, I would be pushing for a full accountability for every dollar that’s spent and if there is discretionary money, how much is there? Who has the decision-making powers? And is it again concentrated in too few hands versus evenly distributed through the Legislature and the Governor? That’s number one. Number two is that I think we should have term limits for leaders. Every single one of us should not be in that job longer than eight years. I think the same goes for any in the majority, or even minority committee chairs, rankers on any one committee, they can’t serve any longer than eight years as well. What do those things do? They don’t cost anyone any money, but more importantly, it doesn’t allow any one person in either house accumulate positional power to take advantage of. And that’s not just financially, but it’s also controlling the flow of legislation. Richard Gottfried, who I get along with and work with—we co-sponsored the bill on medical marijuana, emergency medical marijuana—Richard has been there since he’s 27. He’s been the … Health Chair for Lord only knows how many years. And I think that’s where people have the opportunity to have power that controls legislation and who gets what done. And I think the rank and file are disempowered by having … these positions unencumbered and without term limits. So I think right there would be a huge, huge step that would have an amazing impact on the Legislature … [and give] more individual freedom [to] the rank and file legislators on legislation and getting bills to the floor for an up or down vote, which is very, very restricted by the majority. For instance … in the state Assembly, they say ‘Well, we’re not going to put a bill out the floor for a vote unless you have 76 Democrats voting for it.’ Well, why is that? A bill with 76 votes of Republicans and Democrats [should be able] to pass a bill. And I think if you change that provision and don’t allow the majority to do that, now you’re going to have more of a true, honest-to-goodness, knock-down-drag-out discussion on issues and Democrats and Republicans working together on certain bills to get certain things done. These are things that actually over the years in Albany where I’ve seen the abuses, I’ve seen the control of the majority leaders of both houses, I’ve seen the money being controlled. All of those things would have a dramatic impact and, quite frankly, I think eliminate most, if not all, of the opportunity to abuse or to corrupt within the system.”

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Kolb explains his support for the 2017 Constitutional Convention:

BK: “[I have reservations] about who gets to serve in a Constitutional Convention, but I think the voters should get an opportunity to have that Convention or not. There’s a lot of special interest groups … [and a] lot of people that don’t want any changes to the status quo and that’s precisely the problem … When you have lobbyists having more input on legislation than the rank and file legislators that were elected to do that, that’s a problem. And that’s another facet of our legislative process that there’s too much outside influence just in writing legislation from outside groups that were never elected by the people of the State of New York to represent them. And so I think the Constitutional Convention is another opportunity to shake the trees and maybe also include overall term limits for all legislators … produce a referendum maybe for term limits for the Governor as we do for the President of the United States, maybe they serve two terms max. There’s so many things that can come out of it that I think that the quote-unquote status quo is refusing to take up in the current environment in Albany.”

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Kolb weighs in on how Shelly Silver and Carl Heastie differ in their approach to the Speakership, concluding “things really haven’t changed in the Assembly”:

BK: “I think the only difference is that Carl Heastie is paying more attention to his rank and file membership in terms of listening to them and trying to … attend to them as the rank and file—which is why … Mike Bragman [tried to depose Silver] back in 2000, because Shelly forgot who elected him as their Speaker. And I think what Carl is saying ‘I’m going to be more attentive to my members so they’ll be happier so I won’t have any insurrections internally.’ And that’s what he’s doing differently than Shelly. From a perspective of how I’ve interacted with Shelly and Carl, Carl has been, shall we say, more open-minded. … I’ll give you one example, Carl said ‘We’re going to provide some infrastructure money, capital infrastructure money for your conference this year.’ Shelly never did that. But, [demonstrating the problems with] power in the hands of the few, Carl said, “You’ve never gotten anything before, so I’m going to be very generous and give your conference $4.4 million dollars’—for the entire conference. [By contrast,] Joe Morelle, the majority leader in Rochester, gave away $13 million dollars on one initiative for the City of Rochester. That’s not change. That’s progress. [But] that’s not even fair and that happens with both majorities in both houses. And that’s sorta where the financial abuse is—not that we shouldn’t have discretionary money to help our districts—but it should be out in the open. There should be parity so that no one is getting a political advantage, Republican or Democrat. But, going back to your original question, things really haven’t changed in the Assembly.”

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Fmr. Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

Kennedy Townsend’s take on the U.S. Depatment of Labor’s recently released proposed guidelines pertaining to state-run retirement security programs:

KKT: “Basically, most of the states have passed legislation regarding IRAs and they mandate all employers will put 3% of their employee’s salary into a fund that will be professionally managed unless the employee says no. But under that mandate the employer—and this is under federal law—cannot contribute any money. However, there is another part of the guidelines that would allow the employer to contribute money, which is called a multiple employer plan. So there really are two parts to the guidelines and under the multiple employer plan the employer could contribute. And that’s a much better plan because not only can the employer contribute … it has much better consumer protection for the spouse and debt protection and allows much larger contributions.”

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Kennedy Townsend says that the regulations should be revised to allow New York City to create its own retirement security program:

KKT: “You want to make it possible for New York City … to write their own initiative.”

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Bill Samuels says that he is starting a drive to draft Kathleen Kennedy Townsend as the next U.S. Secretary of Labor should Hillary Clinton be elected President:

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Articles about this episode

http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2015/12/kolb-progress-not-change-in-silver-to-heastie-switch/

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