March 27th, 2016

Guests: State Senator Gustavo Rivera and State Senator Kevin Parker

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State Senator Gustavo Rivera

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Rivera admits that being in the Senate minority he is essentially in the dark about what is going on in the state budget negotiations:

Morgan Pehme: “Senator, you keep talking about when you see the budget. Does that mean that essentially you, being in the minority, that you really don’t know much more about what’s going on in Albany right now than somebody who is just reading the paper and well informed?”

GR: “That’s about right, brother. That is about right. I know a little bit more because … I bump into senators who are in the majority that I have personal relationships with that share certain things, or some of my staff speak to some of the staff in the majority or the Assembly and they can hear some things.

Listen, power is not a dirty word. Power means that you have access to the levers of … power. It sounds oxymoronic, but go with me for a second. Being in the room and being able to have the conversations and shape the conversations is certainly the reason I want to be in the majority. Because I am in the minority right now, a lot of times it is limiting. I have a little bit more access than that well-informed person that you posited, because I have the personal access to some of my colleagues. I can walk over to them and say, ‘Hey, what about this? What about this other thing?’ And some of my staff can talk to some of their staff, et cetera.

But, unfortunately, in a lot of ways, we find out when we have the documents in front of us. And many times we are asked to vote on things very quickly without having been being involved in the negotiations and, by the way, this is something I must give credit to my leadership, Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Mike Gianaris, who have always made it clear (that) if you expect us to be voting in the affirmative on something, you better include us (in) the conversations. At times we are. Many times we are not. As it relates to ethics reform in particular, we have not been included even though we have been vocal proponents of it, many of us in the Democratic conference. So it is exactly why I want to be in the majority, Morgan, because I would be able to tell you, as somebody in the room, how negotiations are moving along or not moving along, etcetera.”

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Rivera on the restoration of state aid to CUNY and whether Gov. Cuomo, as his state operations director Jim Malatras suggested this week, was only using the threat of cuts to get the city and the university system to embrace efficiencies and cost reductions:

GR: “I’m certainly not the one who wrote The Art of the Deal, so maybe I’m not very experienced in this whole negotiating business. But it does seem to me that if you want to solve a problem, the best way to come at it is in a constructive fashion and not in a destructive one. So the idea that there might be some things that could be done with efficiencies in the administration of CUNY, well, it’s certainly something (that should be) … in the conversation, as well as the percentage of costs that the city covers as opposed to what the state covers. All of those things should be spoken about.

I never thought that putting CUNY in the middle of this and just saying, like, ‘Hey, we’re going to cut it by almost half a billion dollars’ is the best way to start a negotiation. It baffles me that you would take what I feel is an absolute jewel of the City of New York and put it in the middle of this thing. … As of right now, I’m going to take everybody at their word (who) says that the budget language is going to have full funding for CUNY. But as far as why (Governor Cuomo) would bring it up to try to get some efficiencies … I would not agree that this is the best way to have those conversations.”

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On whether there will be a change in leadership in the State Senate or the IDC will rejoin the mainline Democrats if the Democratic candidate is victorious in the April 19th special election on Long Island:

GR: “I’ve said it in the past that I believe that we as Democrats should be a united Democratic conference, not two different ones. I’ll say that my leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, has a good working relationship and respectful working relationship with Jeff Klein. And I know that there have been conversations about us potentially coming back together. I haven’t been privy to the conversations in person because Senator Klein and myself don’t necessarily have the best relationship.”

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State Senator Kevin Parker

Full interview

Parker on the current status of the budget negotiations in Albany and where the talks on the minimum wage and paid family leave stand at the moment:

KP: “Let me tell you what I do know about where we are with this budget process. Obviously, both the governor and members of the Legislature are committed to having an on-time budget. That was really, really critical when I arrived in Albany in 2003. We had actually had about 20 years, consecutive years, of late budgets. So, certainly, having an on-time budget is critical not just because we get hit with about $100 million worth of debt service per day (when) we don’t have a budget. In addition to that, it also makes it very difficult for local governments around the state who depend on the state government’s budget to plan their budgets. So even though we’ve done it consistently for a couple of years now and it feels like a forgone conclusion, the fact that we are … working towards an on-time budget is important. …

I’m hearing that there’s a lot of progress on the two major issues that the Governor has put forward as the things that he most wants to see done in this budget outside of making it balance, which is the $15 an hour proposal and paid family sick leave. And I’m told that we’re on course to have significant proposals rolled out on both those issues in the context of this budget. What I’m hearing, though … the two things about the $15 an hour proposal that I’m not overwhelmed with, one of which, (is) it looks like there’s going to be a fairly long phase-in, more than four years is what I’m hearing. And the other thing is that it doesn’t really contain a cost of living adjustment. I would love to see minimum wage, period, have a cost of living adjustment so it can stop being used as a political football. I think that the wages of people in the state of New York should not be so tightly held at the discretion of the legislature or the governor.”

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Parker on the Senate Republicans’ prioritization of repaying the Gap Elimination Adjustment over funding the Foundation Formula (This response stems from Bill referencing this new data about the GEA released Friday by EffectiveNY that shows Senate Majority Leader Flanagan’s district would receive the most money from the elimination of the GEA:

KP: “Bad process, bad product, right? You get to a bad product when you have a bad process. And I want to be clear. I have less of a problem with Jeff Klein being in those negotiations than I do a problem with Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins not being included. … In the context of the budget, the Governor certainly has the ability to do the right thing and bring everybody to the table to negotiate this. And I think that directly has to do with what’s happening because at the end of the day, the Senate is simply now being represented by John Flanagan who, (it) is very clear now, is not interested in equity, is not interested in doing the right thing, is not interested in students who need help around the state. But he simply is interested in the school districts that he represents. And that’s certainly not appropriate for any member of the Senate, let alone somebody who is supposed to be the president pro-tem and the majority leader of the senate.

And so I’m appalled but I’m not surprised. Unfortunately, for all the good things that Andrew Cuomo has done in the state, including giving us about five years straight of on-time budgets and getting rid of a lot of budget deficits, he has refused, steadfastly, to address the issue of funding for K-12 education for high needs school districts, not just in New York City, but around the state. And so I’ve been calling, along with Cathy Nolan, the Chair of the Education Committee in the Assembly, and a number of my colleagues for several years now … on the Governor and the Legislature to make good on this promise to young people, but instead what we’ve gotten is collaboration and collusion to, in fact, deny black and Latino students and other kids in high needs school districts money for the education that they need.”

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Parker on State Senator Kruger and Assemblyman Ortiz’s bill calling on the state pension fund to divest from fossil fuels:

KP: “I thought that was a good bill that Senator Kruger and Assemblyman Ortiz from Brooklyn came out with. I had one really major problem with it, which is that it wasn’t my idea. I have become a co-sponsor and I applaud Senator Kruger once again for coming up with great ideas on important issues.

Look, is fossil fuel divestiture the answer? No, but it’s part of the answer. We really have to radically move ourselves into a place where we are moving to 100% sustainable and renewable energy. And I think the governor agrees with that. On Thursday the 24th, I was happy to host the third annual Intersolar conference on solar energy in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Marriott. We had over 450 people attend to talk about expanding our solar energy here in the State of New York.

And really, I give the governor credit on this, him with the leadership of Richard Kauffman, the Energy Czar here in the State of New York. (They) have put together the most ambitious plan for renewable energy, in particular solar energy, in the entire nation, where they have the New York Sun program that’s capitalized with about $1 billion dollars just for solar projects. And there’s another billion dollars being put forward in a green bank to help provide bridge funding and other financial assistance for all kinds of sustainable projects. And so it’s really where we want to be going. And I think it’s important not simply within the context of climate change and dealing with those issues, it’s also important in the context of what we talk about where’s the next industry that is going to be created.

As we battle to find jobs in the midst of an economic recovery without jobs in it, and where, in my community, which is primarily black and Latino, we still have high double-digit unemployment, I kind of look towards Van Jones and others. Van Jones wrote a book called The Green Collar Economy in which he says that this is going to be the next best opportunity to create mass employment for underemployed communities, particularly black and Latino communities. And if we miss this opportunity, it will be 30 or 40 years before we get another one. We certainly need to be not just divesting—it’s not about divestiture—but it’s really about the investing in sustainable energy and sustainable projects and other alternatives like solar energy.”

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Link to audio:

Parker on Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson’s decision not to seek jail time for former NYPD Officer Peter Liang for killing Akai Gurley:

KP: “I was really disappointed, to be honest with you. I thought that he had done something really important by even going for the indictment and getting an indictment and taking it to trial and winning a trial. I think anybody would have thought that the right thing would have been to seek a significant jail sentence. I think this sends the wrong signal. I think that at a time when this has been a national problem, I thought that he had set himself up to be a hero on this issue. I think the world of Ken Thompson. I think he’s done an incredible job as the district attorney here in Kings County. But I really thinks this sends the wrong signal. It doesn’t send enough of a signal to the New York City police department that black and Latino citizens should be as respected as anyone else. And so I’ve been disappointed by his decision not to seek jail time.”

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