March 20th, 2016

Guests: State Senator Phil Boyle and State Senator George Latimer 

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State Senator Phil Boyle

Full interview

Boyle on what his priorities are in this year’s budget negotiations, eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment, increasing the minimum wage, and passing paid family leave:

PB: “I like … the Senate Republican majority’s (proposed) … income tax cuts that we are going to try and bring to New Yorkers. Obviously, for Long Islanders in general and New Yorkers in general, we like the idea of increased education aid including completely eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment, the GEA, this year. We had promised to and this year we want to get it done. The governor may have different ideas about that. …

I’m not speaking for the Republican conference—I’m speaking for myself—I do not like the idea of the governor’s $15 minimum wage. I think it’s far too high. It would make New York State’s by far the highest hourly wage in the country. I do want to say that I do think we need an increase, without a doubt, (but) $15 an hour is too much.

And as far as the family and medical leave is concerned, I could see some compromise and even as a pro-business senator, I would say if it’s an employee-paid thing, if you’re going to take 50 cents out of a weekly paycheck for an employee (to have that benefit) … I don’t have too big of a problem with that. It’s being negotiated right now and I hope we get it done by April 1st.”

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Boyle on whether he thinks there is a need for the Legislature to pass more ethics reform measures:

PB: “Absolutely. I’m a little bit fanatical on ethics, but I always have been. I would like to see term limits. … Certainly, as we passed in the Senate, making sure that elected officials that commit felonies as a part of their office are denied their pensions. I basically support every reform other than taxpayer funding of campaigns. I do not support that. Besides that, for the most part, I’m all-in on any ethics reform.”

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Boyle on the psychology of his fellow members of the Legislature who break the rules, even when the consequences of them doing so is glaring, like in the case of Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak’s recent censure for sexual harassment, despite the fact that her predecessor, Dennis Gabryszak, had to resign also for alleged sexual harassment:

PB: “I scratch my head when I hear of cases like that, both of them. The Gabryszak thing was particularly bad. I don’t know if there’s something in the water in Western New York. … There’s been a series, and it’s not just those two. … A lot of people say you can’t legislate morality. I think you can make it tougher to serve if you have problems in that regard. … There are some crimes or other unethical behavior based on money, obviously, and some based on sex. I think the ones regarding money you can probably crack down on with ethics reform and tougher legislation. The sexual ones are kind of unique to the individual and I don’t know (what you can do about those). You’re always going to have individuals (act) in that regard.”

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Boyle on whether he thinks he, the Governor, and other recipients of campaign cash from Glenwood Management should return the money. Also, Boyle says he favors overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

PB: “I was given about $105,000. This was the first time I ran. I was not a senator when I received these contributions. Basically, as many of us know, business people in New York City, housing interests or whatever the case may be, they want Republicans to maintain control of the State Senate. And my name could have been ‘Phil Jones’ running for the State Senate with an R after my name and they still would have supported me heavily in this way. They’ve never asked me for anything. There was no quid pro quo, obviously. I wasn’t even in office. They wanted another Republican to get elected from this seat so that Republicans maintain the State Senate majority.

As far as asking the governor to give back money and other members, I don’t think that’s realistic. I think if you want to have a debate about the LLC moving forward, that’s certainly a legitimate debate to be had. I think it needs to be part of a broader ethics reform package, shall we say. I also support the idea of overturning Citizens United…”

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Boyle expresses receptivity to closing the LLC loophole provided that unions and other special interest groups that tend to support Democrats are also limited in the amount of money they give candidates:

PB: “I think if it’s done on both sides … making it fair. If the corporations or business owners are supporting the Republicans and the unions are supporting the Democrats—this is generally speaking, it’s not usually that cut and dry—then, if it’s across the board. And I feel the same way about Citizens United. I don’t think it’s just individuals and corporations that need to be limited, I think it’s unions that need to be limited, too. We need to get big money out of the entire political process because I think it’s really ruining our democracy and people’s perception of it. As long as it’s done on a level playing field, I’m open to discuss any of those (reforms).”

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Boyle on how Albany could be improved without passing any legislation by reforming the committee process and Samuels on his call for Governor Cuomo not to sign any bill that does not go through a transparent committee process:

PB: “I think we can make a change and it doesn’t require any legislation. When I was in Washington—before I was elected, as was mentioned, I worked on Capitol Hill for a number of years—they had what was called a bill markup. You sit there with your colleagues, go over a bill, introduce amendments to it, vote up or down on the amendments and then go on and get the final version of the bill for floor consideration.

When I got to the Assembly many years ago, I went to my first committee meeting thinking, ‘OK, here we go.’ We’re going to offer amendments. We’re going to have debates. That committee meeting was over in less than three minutes. And just about all the committee meetings are over in less than three or five minutes, depending on how many bills are there because there’s no debate, no amendments. Everything is decided beforehand and I think that’s wrong.

I think that if we brought the idea of a bill markup to Albany like they do in Washington—anybody can watch it on C-SPAN and watch how it works—it would really have a great impact on getting more members to have input on bills and make for a better democracy in New York State.”

Bill Samuels: “It so happens, not only do I agree with you, but I’ve taken the position that Governor Cuomo, without any legislation, could do a very simple thing. He could say to the Legislature, ‘I will not sign any bill unless it went through the committee process and there were hearings.’ That’s sort of the same point that you are making, that there’s a participating democracy. So I would encourage you to call on your Republican candidates for governor to take that position and I certainly—it’s a position I’m going to urge Governor Cuomo to take that he can do easily.”

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Boyle on the chances of the Legislature passing term limits on the state level:

PB: “More and more, we’re seeing growing support of it. It’s not there yet, I don’t think. But more and more colleagues are liking the idea of term limits, to go back to the community and maybe a couple of years down the road run again if that’s what they want to do.”

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Boyle on whether he favors a yes vote in 2017 on the Constitutional Convention and the chances of the referendum passing:

PB: “I don’t have a problem with it. … The state constitution allows for a constitutional convention and we haven’t had one in a very long time, obviously. Looking at the political realm out there right now, I could see an effort by, perhaps, Common Core or ‘opt-out’ parents to call for a constitutional convention and, perhaps, do something with education where you prohibit Common Core from being in our educational policy. I don’t know how exactly they’d do that, but there are a couple of groups out there that could get the numbers required to pass … a constitutional convention. It’s certainly going to be a very interesting year to see how that plays out.”

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Boyle on the billions of dollars in business subsidies New York distributes:

PB: “I don’t like the idea of the government choosing winners and losers in the economic realm. I think that we have to (leave it to) the free market … I actually voted against the START-UP NY program when it was first brought up and I think that the idea of giving tax benefits to a company that’s coming into New York State, I think it’s unfair to the business people, men and women, who have been here and (been) struggling for years. … I would say let’s lower the taxes … for all New York businesses and make New York State a more business-friendly area.”

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Boyle on eliminating the local share of Medicaid:

PB: “I think it’s an outrage that New York State does this to our counties. And, as you say, we’re the only (state in the union that does this)… I voted for … capping the increase in the Medicaid requirement from the counties and I think the next step is to start lowering the demands by the state that the counties pay their more-than-fair-share. It’s an unfair burden on them. … I certainly support any reasonable effort to do so.”

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State Senator George Latimer

Full interview

Latimer on the chances of the Legislature passing paid family leave and a $15 an hour minimum wage:

GL: “I think paid family leave will pass. I think the devil in the details will determine how long, how the program is going to be funded, what the provisions are and it would be absolute guesswork. You look at the Senate one-house resolution … from (Tuesday) and there was sort of a generic, vague (declaration) … that we believe in paid family leave. And of course, you know, the IDC has plunked down strongly on that. I suspect that they are making that a requirement for the Senate Republicans to negotiate that in. Whether the bill looks more like the governor’s paid family leave (remains to be seen). … There was a bill that (Senator) Joe Addabbo carried in our house … that seemed to me to be the best plan. I don’t think we’re going to come out with the best plan, but I think there will be paid family leave.

My guess on minimum wage—it’s a guess—there will be an increase in minimum wage. It will be phased in over a couple of years. I don’t think it’s going to land at $15. They’ll probably come up with some number lower than that and you’ll probably hear the rhetoric of ‘Well, we’ll reassess where we are in three years,’ you know, that kind of thing. So instead of having a five- or six-year plan to get to $15 in the city or upstate or outside of the city, I think you’ll probably see a three-year plan to get you to a number below that.

Is that better than what we have now? Yes. Is it good enough? No. And that’s what happens when you’re negotiating philosophically across the divide. You don’t have true consensus that we should be doing minimum wage and family leave because of the political construct of the Senate and because of the governor’s philosophies on other things. And so when you’re trading all these things off you get half a loaf. I think you’ll get both of those two things at some version of half a loaf to less or more.”

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Latimer on whether the State Senate Democrats showed poor judgment in supporting Mark Panepinto given his past conviction for participating in voter fraud and whether both parties tend to overlook red flags about candidates if they think those people can help them win legislative seats:

GL: “I think the latter point is a legitimate point, although I can’t speak for Marc. You know, in my case, [not being in the leadership], you go to a meeting and they say, ‘Well, we’ve got some candidates that are running around the state in different seats. Who do we have? We have Ryan Cronin running in Long Island.’ You meet Ryan Cronin at a fundraiser. Maybe you learn a little about his background, his résumé. And fine, ‘Nice to meet you. You’re running in the Kemp Hannon seat.’ And then you meet Shaun Francis and he lives somewhere in the Saratoga Springs/Wilton area. He’s running against Kathy Marchione. ‘Nice to meet you, Shawn.’

Coming from the seat that I live in, I’m not part of the leadership that vets people and does that stuff. So I’m not in a position to know who’s who. Marc Panepinto I meet. Nice guy. We talk. He seems like a good fellow. I’ve heard about his past problem. And I never asked him, but somebody else did into my earshot. (What’s the) story about (the voter fraud conviction)? He says, he made a mistake and you know, it was fifteen years ago and he’s learned from his lesson. So is that a red flag that presages what may have happened? We don’t know if it has or happened.

It was a shock that Marc left, that Marc decided to leave. I had no indication of it. I saw (him) the day before he made the announcement and I had not the least indication that he was going to do that and I guess as these stories come out, that’s going to be the key. What I think is important is how do we react when we find out one of these things. It’s one thing to say, ‘Gee, you should have known this advance.’ Maybe you should and maybe you don’t, but how do you react to it?

I’ll give you the comparables. In the case of Malcolm Smith and the case of John Sampson, who were both leaders of the Democratic conference, I come in as a senator, they’re both still senators, although they’re both no longer leaders. When I come in, we don’t re-elect them. I don’t vote to re-elect John Sampson. I vote for Andrea Stewart-Cousins. So, in essence, we say to John in as nice a way as I can say it, ‘John, we want somebody different in the leadership role.’

Later, when John gets into an indictment situation, the indictment comes down and, you know, I’m loathe to indict people on rumors, but when an indictment comes down (you) read the indictment (and this) is serious stuff. Then I said publicly that John should resign, which made for some awkward moments in elevators when he and I were there. … And he’s a big guy and he’s looking at you like, you know, ‘You have a lot to say.’ And I look at him like, ‘What do you want me to say? It’s a terrible indictment, dude.’ And we also cast him out of the Democratic Conference and the same thing happened to Malcolm Smith. He left us and went to the IDC and the IDC cast him out.

Contrast that with the way the Republicans dealt with Dean Skelos and Tom Libous. Now, I was never close to Dean Skelos. I happen to like Tom Libous as a person. I’m a Met fan. He’s a Met fan. We talk Met baseball. But when both of them went to indictments, and you saw it if you cover the Legislature, the Republicans rallied around them. (They) didn’t throw them out of the conference, didn’t criticize what they had done. They kind of covered it over. So you have a legitimate point to ask whether it’s more about winning a seat or not winning a seat.

But then look at the David Denenberg situation. When David, who I had met (and he) seems like a nice enough guy, when his situation blew up, he was dropped like a hot potato and not because of this crass, callous attitude, but (because) he had done something that clearly disqualified him for public office. He stayed on the ballot but there was no further effort to help (get him) elected. Basically, that seat, which we thought we could win, just became a loss.

So I don’t think it’s quite so clear that we rally around our own no matter what. Now you could also make the case that as you said a second ago that it’s about majority status. When you’re in the majority you don’t want to lose the majority. You tend to rally around your guy a little bit more. On the other hand, I had experiences in the Assembly, Gabriela Rosa, a nice enough woman. She was part of a group of us that went out to dinner and then she got convicted of a terrible thing that she did that was wrong and she left. And Vito Lopez is probably the most recent big example of it. So in certain of those cases I don’t think we’ve all rallied around the flag and defended the individuals. There are cases where that has happened. But I do think that what you have to look at is that it is not a monolithic response to these things. It’s really individual responses and individuals of us have taken those positions that have been much more like, ‘Hey, dude, if you’ve done this wrong, I’m not shouting out on you, but you just can’t be here.’”

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Latimer on changing the way the state funds education:

GL: “The sense that I have representing a suburban district that does touch in Yonkers with an impacted school district, and I have a smaller one in Port Chester that has its needs, but I have a lot of districts that are very wealthy … most of those very wealthy districts would give back all of their state aid, what little of there is. It’s a small percentage of their total. And they would be just as comfortable funding schools out of their own pocket if we lifted the tax cap on them and let them sell their people, not at a 60 percentile approval rate, but at a 50 percent plus one rate on the value of the public schools. And then we don’t need to give Bronxville a dime or Rye a dime or Bedford Hills a dime.

But we also need to deal with some of the unfunded mandates that we’ve had as a state government which we’ve laid on not just schools, but general government, and in so doing pushed up the cost of education so that money is going for the structure of education, but not necessarily for the services that get to kids. When you take the total spending and divide it by the number of kids you get $22,000 per kid, but if you look at the actual services that go to the kid, not just the other background things, those percentages don’t always hold up.”

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Latimer on the 2017 Constitutional Convention vote:

GL: “This is going to sound partisan, so take it for what it’s worth. What I would love to have is at least two years of a progressive Democratic Senate to see if you have that plus a progressive Democratic Assembly, if things would get better. You had one test, literally, one two-year test in the last 75 years. And of course we know the story of (Pedro) Espada and (Hiram) Monserrate, (Carl) Kruger, those guys and the mess that was made. No one can defend that mess. Most of the players that were there that day are out of there, but it still hangs over us as a cloud.

But, absent that one little window of opportunity, you’ve never had a chance to see that state Legislature motivated to try make changes. If we had a couple of years of that and then we were still in the same morass that we are now, then I’d say, ‘You know what, a constitutional convention is going to be necessary because we can’t do it the conventional way.’ But the conventional way we’ve never really had the opportunity to try to do progressive things, because we’ve always had somewhere between the governor, the Senate and sometimes the Assembly and the games that get played, we’ve never really had a full head of progressive steam.”

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