As her decision to halt congestion pricing has come under fire, Governor Kathy Hochul has vanished from view. Image: Darren McGee/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul | Illustration: Akash Mehta
Since announcing her plan to put the program on ice, the governor has not appeared in public.
By Sam Mellins

After her 11th-hour decision to “indefinitely pause” New York City’s upcoming congestion pricing program ignited an unprecedented firestorm of criticism from lawmakers, editorial boards, business groups, transit advocates, and subway riders, Governor Kathy Hochul has vanished from view.

She made the announcement just before noon on Wednesday. It was pre-taped, an initial sign that she was planning to avoid tough questions from the press. It upended a program five years in the making that she has repeatedly praised — she called it “a better way forward” just two weeks ago during a speech in Dublin — and whose delay or demise leaves a multibillion-dollar hole in the budget of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Since its creation in February, Solidarity PAC has become a quiet but major force in New York Assembly races. It has channeled at least $300,000 to its endorsed candidates. Logo: Solidarity PAC | Illustration: Maha Ahmed
The recently formed Solidarity PAC has mobilized big finance and real estate to target socialists and the Working Families Party.
By Chris Gelardi and Julia Rock

A pro-Israel fundraising group led by Republican and Democratic operatives has channeled at least $300,000 to nine state Assembly candidates in the Democratic primaries, according to a New York Focus analysis of campaign finance data.

Solidarity PAC, created earlier this year, boosts candidates “who value the American alliance with Israel” and are running against candidates endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America and the Working Families Party, both of which have long called for a ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza.

New York Focus is seeking an experienced editor to manage our growing newsroom and to bring our accountability coverage of New York state politics to new heights.

This position is remote, but the candidate should be based in New York state. Please submit a resume, cover letter, and three clips of articles you have edited or written to by June 9.

DOL Commissioner Roberta Reardon (red jacket, left) with Governor Kathy Hochul at a Women's Equality Day event in Albany on August 26, 2022. Mike Groll / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
No state pursues workers for overpaid unemployment benefits as aggressively as New York. A proposed reform is colliding with New York's own repayment problem.
By Maxwell Parrott

In the final stretch of the legislative session, Governor Kathy Hochul’s administration has pushed back on a bill to provide relief to New Yorkers who owe the state money after receiving too much in employment benefits.

As New York Focus reported in May, the state Department of Labor demands repayment of state unemployment benefits more aggressively than any other state, even as the federal government has encouraged leniency.

State lawmakers have introduced a sweeping proposal for a public takeover of the Hudson Valley’s scandal-plagued gas and electric utility.

Tune in to Colin Kinniburgh’s interview with Radio Catskill about the latest salvo in the movement for public power.

The Senate Working Rules group has no official existence, but it helps decide the fate of hundreds of bills each year. Image: Matt Wade | Illustration: Akash Mehta
A secret group of Senate Democrats helped decide the fate of nearly 650 bills over the last month. Just don’t ask any questions.
By Chris Bragg and Sam Mellins

Early Tuesday morning, a select circle of state senators began filing into the office of Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, on the fourth floor of the state capitol building in Albany. They were there for a meeting of the Senate’s Working Rules group, a body so secretive that even some of their fellow senators didn’t know it existed until New York Focus reported on it last week.

The all-Democrat group holds a series of meetings towards the end of each year’s legislative session to discuss hundreds of pending bills and make recommendations to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins about which should pass.

Our friends at Documented — a news site devoted solely to covering New York City’s immigrants and the policies that affect their lives — have a newsletter that commands the attention of thousands of immigration professionals, lawyers, advocates, and New Yorkers. We highly recommend it.

Kathy Hochul celebrating the congestion pricing program in June 2023. Don Pollard/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
Lawsuits had threatened to kill congestion pricing. Now, it might take a lawsuit to save it.
By Julia Rock

Governor Hochul announced Wednesday that she would “indefinitely pause” the New York City congestion pricing plan, catching the state legislature and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority by surprise just weeks before the new Manhattan tolls were set to go into effect.

“A $15 charge may not seem like a lot to someone who has the means,” Hochul said in a pre-recorded video announcing that she was halting the program, which had gone through decades of deliberation and state and federal reviews. “But it can break the budget of a hardworking or middle-class household.”

But some legal experts say that Hochul may not have the unilateral authority to halt tolls that were passed by the legislature in 2019. That measure, passed in the state budget, said the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which is part of the MTA, “shall establish the central business district tolling program,” referring to the congestion pricing program.

“The way the law is written is very important,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. “Here, the word ‘shall’ looks mandatory.”

The casino floor at Resorts World Catskills. Arabella Saunders
Legislation to accelerate New York’s casino process copies a lobbying firm's draft version nearly word for word.
By Chris Bragg and Arabella Saunders

Last month, Senator Joseph Addabbo introduced legislation to dramatically speed up the licensing process for three casinos in or around New York City. The shift stands to benefit one of the clear frontrunners for a license — the Resorts World racino, which borders Addabbo’s Queens district — while possibly hurting the odds of several rivals. A modified version of the idea is gaining traction in the legislature, now in its final days of session.

Documents obtained by New York Focus indicate that a lobbying firm working for Resorts World helped produce the original bill.

Kristin Fuller, RN, at a telehealth station in the Genesee Valley School District. Bianca Fortis
In rural school districts where doctors are hard to find, in-school telehealth services seemed like a good solution. Then New York state stopped funding them.
By Bianca Fortis

The equipment was ready at the Randolph Central School District in western New York. Two mobile telehealth carts, one at the elementary school and one at the high school, stood prepped and available to help treat students. Each had a computer with a web camera, a stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff, and an electrocardiogram machine, among other diagnostic tools. They’d need a nurse physically present to connect to a remote physician, who would assess students in real time.

To Kaine Kelly, the schools’ superintendent, the mobile clinics seemed like a promising way to provide medical care to kids in the area. Near the state’s southwest corner, the Randolph Central School District spans 254 square miles and has few local doctors. Students’ visits would be billed through the parents’ insurance, and the state would reimburse two-thirds of the yearly $16,000 operating cost. Randolph had hired an additional nurse to its staff, and there was a possibility of offering remote therapy visits, an appealing option with post-pandemic mental health problems on the rise.

“We were ready,” Kelly said. “We were all planned out, ready to roll and we were very, very excited. Our Board of Education was very excited. Our principals were excited about being able to provide this service to our kids.”


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