State Senator Julia Salazar rallies with tenant activists to pass good cause eviction on May 10, 2023. NYS Senate Media Services
As real estate developers resist wage guarantees and try to roll back tenants' rights, a potential budget deal is at an impasse.
By Sam Mellins

Housing costs are rising. New Yorkers are fleeing the state. After last year’s failure to address a housing crisis that keeps getting worse, Albany lawmakers are reportedly making headway toward a deal to temper rising rents and boost the scarce supply of housing.

But as negotiations drag on past the April 1 budget deadline, the talks remain tense, multiple sources told New York Focus. The involved parties — labor unions, tenant organizers, and developers — are still working to overcome two key issues that have bedeviled efforts to strike a bargain.

Here are the essential issues that need to be solved for a comprehensive housing deal to take shape.

Governor Kathy Hochul announces construction milestone on the new Buffalo Bills stadium on January 26, 2024. Darren McGee / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
Guidelines limiting gifts of taxpayer resources have “no teeth whatsoever,” according to good government watchdog.
By Chris Bragg

As Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie cheered for the Dallas Cowboys from a luxury Buffalo Bills suite, he was surrounded by friends: his college roommate and now lobbyist Patrick Jenkins; Jenkins’s wife; and a state lobbyist Heastie has been quietly dating, Rebecca Lamorte.

The taxpayer-subsidized suite is meant to be used to boost western New York’s economy or for other public or charitable purposes. According to guidelines issued by New York’s economic development agency, obtained through a public records request, recipients are required to verify that the tickets are being used appropriately.

But Heastie’s office didn’t provide verification for the December game — and the agency that created the rules, Empire State Development, never asked for it, according to interviews and records reviewed by New York Focus.

Have you or somebody you know applied to a Conviction Integrity or Conviction Review Unit in New York to fight a wrongful conviction?

New York Focus and Columbia Journalism Investigations are taking a look at how these units work—and we’d like to hear from you.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrats of New York, on July 18, 2023. Bonnie Cash / UPI/Alamy Live News
Local regulations haven’t kept up with the rollout of new surveillance tech. Some reformers see Washington as their best hope.
By Chris Gelardi

Hardware that breaks into your phone; software that monitors you on the internet; systems that can recognize your face and track your car: The New York State Police are drowning in surveillance tech.

Last year alone, the Troopers signed at least $15 million in contracts for powerful new surveillance tools, according to a New York Focus and Intercept review of state data. While expansive, the State Police’s acquisitions aren’t unique among state and local law enforcement. Departments across the country are buying tools to gobble up civilians’ personal data, plus increasingly accessible technology to synthesize it.

Regulators concluded that National Fuel had in fact committed some customer funds to lobbying — a practice that is illegal — but that it did so by accident and quickly corrected the errors when notified by the department.
State investigators accused the gas utility of “sloppiness” in managing customer funds, but took a light touch in enforcement.
By Colin Kinniburgh

After New York Focus revealed last year that National Fuel customers’ gas bills may have been funding a lobbying campaign against banning gas, the state utility regulator launched an investigation into the company, which supplies gas to roughly 500,000 households in western New York.

In February, the Department of Public Service, or DPS, published its findings. Regulators concluded that National Fuel had in fact committed some customer funds to lobbying — a practice that is illegal — but that it did so by accident and quickly corrected the errors when notified by the department.

In the wake of the DPS investigation, National Fuel, one of the state’s largest gas-only utilities, continues to rally New Yorkers in defense of gas, while the Senate, Assembly, and governor negotiate key provisions in the budget that would accelerate a phaseout of the fossil fuel.

New York Focus reporters have been digging into the budget process, analyzing the state’s spending priorities and explaining what that will mean for New Yorkers across the state.

Submit your budget related questions to New York Focus reporters below.

New York bars car manufacturers from selling directly to consumers, so they have to franchise with local dealers. John Margolies Roadside America photograph archive / Library of Congress
As the state legislature considers a bill to change warranty payments, unions join their bosses to make car companies pay more.
By Chris Bragg and Julia Rock

Mechanic Daniel Kunz works at a General Motors car dealership in West Nyack, where General Motors assumes that it takes him 8.6 hours to repair a turbo engine in a car under warranty. The 8.6 hour estimate appears in a GM-supplied “time guide” that says how much Kunz should get paid, so that’s what he gets — regardless of how long the work takes.

“I’m thorough, I double check things, so I lose a lot,” Kunz told New York Focus. “It takes three days to do it, but they only pay you for 8.6 hours.”

On Wednesday, the state Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill that seeks to change that. But key stakeholders — auto workers’ unions and local dealerships on one side, giant car manufacturers like GM on the other — disagree fiercely over the impact and who stands to benefit. Both sides have lobbed competing claims, but declined to produce concrete evidence. Both sides argue they’re looking out for consumers.


Copyright © New York Focus 2023, All rights reserved.
Staying Focused is compiled and written by Alex Arriaga
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