blair horner

Blair Horner: A Special Session?

1 hour ago

The talk of a special legislative session heated up last week.  State legislators – particularly those in the Assembly – were still smarting from the governor’s moves to kill their long-awaited pay increase.  In 2015, the governor and the legislature created a pay commission to establish whether lawmakers – and top ranking members of the executive branch – should get a pay hike, and if so how much.

Blair Horner
C.W. McKeen / The Post - Standard, 2006

Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday shopping season.  It is a time when many adults look for gifts for children.  And while the holidays are a time for fun and giving, it is important that it be a safe time as well.

Blair Horner: Ethics Reforms Are Proposed, Again

Nov 21, 2016

Corruption and ethics continue to dominate the headlines out of Albany.  Last week, the verbal sparring over ethics reforms spilled into public view.

New York state government has been rocked by one scandal after another in the past few years, with corruption cases toppling the Assembly and Senate leaders and an ongoing investigation into the executive chamber. Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo released a nearly 1,600-word statement outlining his ethics reform priorities for the legislative session that begins in January. The good-government groups in Albany took note, as New York Public Interest Research Group executive director Blair Horner tells WAMC’s Ian Pickus.

Blair Horner: A Look At Election 2016

Nov 14, 2016

One of the notable surprises of last week’s Presidential Election is that it appears that Donald Trump has become President-elect while getting fewer votes than Mitt Romney received in his losing Presidential bid in 2012.  You heard that right, while there are still results being counted in Michigan, as of now Donald Trump received roughly 60.3 million votes, while Mitt Romney in 2012 received nearly 61 million votes. 

Blair Horner: Governor Pushes Ethics Reform, Again

Nov 7, 2016

As the election staggers across the finish line, the question for New Yorkers is what next?  At the state level, Governor Cuomo weighed in to support legislative candidates who embraced his agenda.  The governor went so as far as to circulate a questionnaire to candidates quizzing them on their support for ethics law changes, asking their position on limiting lawmakers’ outside income and stricter campaign contribution requirements for Limited Liability Companies (LLCs).

During the lazy, hazy days of last summer, the Cuomo Administration approved a plan to hike New Yorkers’ electric utility bills by billions of dollars. The hike is to bail out three upstate nuclear power plants in central and western New York. Some of these plants, built during the Vietnam War era, were slated to be shut down because they were no longer efficient or profitable, having run well past their projected lifespan of 40 years.

Blair Horner: Hunger Hits Colleges

Oct 10, 2016

College students are not the ones that we think of when identifying people who are hungry in America.  Yet, as the income gap has grown, there are an incredible number of college students who go hungry.

Reformers kept up the pressure last week for Governor Cuomo and the state Legislature to overhaul the state’s economic development programs.  In a letter to the state’s political leaders, the groups urged that steps be taken to reduce the risk of corruption in how the state doles out government contracts.

Blair Horner: Another Scandal Rocks The Capitol

Sep 26, 2016

Another week, another scandal.  Once again, it was U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara who brought the charges.  What’s different is that the focus of the investigation was the governor’s office, not the legislature. According to the U.S. Attorney, “It turns out the state Legislature does not have any kind of monopoly on crass corruption in New York.”

New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been battling with Texas based oil giant ExxonMobil for nearly a year.  Last year, the Attorney General launched an investigation into whether ExxonMobil had deliberately ignored its own research about the dangers of global warming and instead set about a campaign to mislead the public – and investors – about the dangers caused by burning fossil fuels, one of which is oil.

Blair Horner: The Sad State Of Voting In New York

Sep 12, 2016

This week, New Yorkers will vote again – for the third time in six months – in primary elections. Yup, that’s right, New Yorkers vote in, and pay for, two primary elections, and this year a Presidential primary as well.  In June, New Yorkers enrolled in political parties, voted in Congressional primaries and this week they voted for state legislative candidates.

Colleges and universities are kicking off their Fall semesters across the state.  As the summer winds down and the dorms open up, it is a good time to review how state policies are impacting higher education.

According to the New York Times, “The United States, the wealthiest nation on Earth, also abides the deepest poverty of any developed nation, but you would not know it by listening to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.”

In November, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office would investigate ExxonMobil—the world’s biggest oil and gas company—for misleading the public about global warming.  Under New York law, the Attorney General has the power to investigate whether companies issue misleading statements that could amount to financial fraud. 

Blair Horner: NY Makes A Big "Green" Move

Jul 18, 2016

Following the hottest year in recorded history, and the warmest winter, New York State is enduring a scorcher of a summer.  In fact, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has declared that all of New York is now on a “drought watch.”  

Campaigns matter.  When candidates commit to a policy objective, there is a good chance, although no guarantee, that it will be taken up.

As the sun rose over the Capitol Saturday morning, state lawmakers put the finishing touches on the 2016 legislative session.  Like all other end of sessions, this one wrapped up with a flurry of activity.  Hundreds of bills were approved by both houses in a blur of legislative activities.

Governor Cuomo recently unveiled a new effort to rein in independent expenditure “Super PACs.”  Independent expenditure “Super PACs” have run amok nationwide in the wake of the now infamous US Supreme Court case, Citizens United.  These Super PACs allow individuals and interest groups to spend as much as they want to help elect candidates or political parties, as long as they do not coordinate with the candidate or the political party. 

Blair Horner: Another Albany Pol Bites The Dust

May 16, 2016

Some of the big news in state politics last week was the sentencing of former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.  Skelos, like the former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, was convicted of corruption.  Skelos was sentenced for five years in prison for his activities in shaking down businesses for often no-show jobs for his son.  A couple of weeks earlier, Silver received 12 years for his corrupt schemes that enriched him by millions of dollars.

Another once powerful figure in New York state politics was sentenced to prison yesterday after a corruption conviction. A judge sentenced former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to five years in prison. Skelos will also be forced to pay $800,000 in restitution and fines. With former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver getting 12 years in prison on a corruption conviction earlier this month and former Senator John Sampson to be sentenced next week, good-government advocates say the time for reform is now. Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, spoke with WAMC’s Ian Pickus.

Blair Horner: And In Other News

May 9, 2016

As New York’s ethics problems continue to dominate headlines, other important issues are getting short shrift.   Just one such issue is the quality of drinking water supplies – particularly those found in New York’s schools.

Governor Cuomo
Governor Cuomo

A spokesman for New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo says the governor still plans to pursue an ethics reform package during the remainder of the legislative session, after news of a federal probe into actions by Cuomo’s former top aide and the governor’s ongoing economic development programs.

Another week, another series of ethics controversies in New York.  The week began with the leak of a confidential report by the state’s elections enforcer that alleged that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had engaged in an illegal effort to circumvent campaign contribution limits in his 2014 push to bolster the re-election prospects of some sitting state Senate Democrats, who presumably would be more favorable to the democrat mayor’s city agenda in Albany.

Last week, the world’s leaders gathered on Earth Day to formally agree to the climate change deal hammered out last December.  While there are still lots of questions about how effective the global agreement will be in limiting the damage from planetary warming, one message is clear; the world has got to move away from relying on fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – to generate energy.

On this presidential primary day, the New York Attorney General’s office has already received a higher number of calls and complaints than for past elections. And the office expects more given the state’s closed primary system. As WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne reports, good government groups want to see the system changed.

For the first time in years, New York State’s Presidential primary is important in determining who will be the nominees from both the Republican and Democratic parties.  No one knew how this primary season would play out.  A year ago, the Democrats looked like they were lining up behind Hillary Clinton – now many voters are “feeling the Bern” as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders makes a spirited run.  On the Republican side, no one predicted the rise of Donald Trump as the leading candidate.

Despite the gloom over many upstate New York businesses, there has been one very bright light – its lobbying industry. For decades, New York’s lobbying industry has had an almost unbroken streak of growth – with almost each year setting a new spending record.

The big news last week was the new budget agreement.  As is increasingly the case, issues that had at best a tangential connection to the budget were part of the final agreement.  The issue that headlined the agreement included a hike in the state’s minimum wage.  The increase is phased in over a number of years and increases at different rates in different regions of the state.  The budget also included a requirement that employers offer paid family leave and lowered tax rates for New Yorkers making less than $300,000.

Recent events in Flint, Michigan and here in New York, the troubles in Hoosick Falls, Binghamton, Syracuse, Western New York, and Long Island, have focused public attention on the problems of keeping drinking water clean. 

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