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Talking Point

Cuomo shifts the funding but the ads stay the same

There is always an ad campaign running to tout Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s “budget battle” agenda, but this year there is a twist. The ads are being paid for by the New York State Democratic Committee.

Since the passage of a law last year to limit the power of independent expenditure committees, Cuomo has little choice but to tap the state party to pay for his messaging. Last year, Cuomo touted the new law as a constraint on dark money empowered by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2010 Citizens United decision.

The Democrats’ executive director, Basil Smikle, would not comment for The Point on how much the party is spending to promote Cuomo’s agenda. Contributions to the party’s housekeeping account are not limited by law. Smikle forwarded a news release saying TV, radio and digital ads will be used “to galvanize support around the Governor’s agenda and engage new voters to continue to strengthen the Democratic Party.”

But presumably, the committee has members on the other side of the annual budget wrangling — that is, Senate and Assembly Democrats.

In the past, outside independent expenditure committees such as the Committee to Save New York got behind Cuomo’s lineup. The group was largely backed by big businesses. Critics have said this blurred a line between governing and lobbying.

The current ad campaign is no more sharply in focus.

Anne Michaud

Pencil Point


Pointing Out

School-aid funding pot starts to boil

With the release of next year’s school-aid proposal from Assembly Democrats in Albany on Wednesday morning, the battle lines have been firmly drawn. This year, though, the fight over how the money is divvied up could be bigger than the argument over total spending and have further-reaching consequences.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants to de-emphasize the “foundation aid” funding formula, which drives a tremendous amount of state funds to schools serving poor students, as do Senate Republicans and their Independent Democratic Conference partners. Assembly Democrats, however, have for years wanted to keep foundation aid as the central factor in deciding state aid to schools and even increase the money it drives to poor districts.

The Assembly budget calls for a $1.8 billion increase over this year’s $24.8 billion school-aid package. The Senate deal calls for a $1.2 billion increase, while Cuomo’s plan asks for a $1 billion bump. But in Cuomo’s plan, only $428 million more goes to foundation aid, while in the Assembly plan, $1.4 billion does. The difference is in the constituencies.

Foundation aid is a formula enacted by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer in 2007 in response to a successful lawsuit which argued that New York City schools were underfunded by the state. As the formula goes, what is good for New York City schools is also good for other big-city schools, as well as low-wealth districts on Long Island, largely represented by Democrats. But it is very bad for suburban higher-wealth districts, which are generally represented by Republicans.

The attempt by Assembly Democrats to push money to the cities and away from the suburbs lends credence to the claim of Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan that a Democratic takeover of the State Senate would leave Long Island defenseless against urban liberals.

Now, the question is how strong a defense he can mount, having maintained the gavel.

Lane Filler

Daily Point

Trump’s LI tax connection

There may not be all that much meat in those two pages of Donald Trump’s 2005 federal tax return that everyone is talking about Wednesday. But one thing is clear: The return was prepared on Long Island.

Listed next to the wording “Paid Preparer’s Use Only” on the second page of the 1040 form is the accounting firm of Weiser LLP, 3000 Marcus Ave., Lake Success, NY, 11042. This is not the first time the firm has showed up in Trump’s financial documents.

The Point pointed out in September that the working address of 2014 filings of the Donald J. Trump Foundation was listed as the offices of WeiserMazars LLP at 60 Crossways Park Dr. W., an office building in Woodbury. At the time, the foundation was in the news because of concerns that Trump might have used it improperly to pay for his own expenses and make political contributions.

Accounting firm partner Donald Bender, who is listed on the Mazars website as having 35 years of accounting experience in the real estate and construction industries, is frequently identified as Trump’s personal and business accountant.

The two pages made big news Tuesday night when reporter David Cay Johnston went on “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC to reveal that he got them in the mail — or, as he quaintly put it, “over the transom,” another way of saying the paperwork came to him anonymously. Johnston speculated during the interview that Trump himself could have sent the documents, stamped “Client’s Copy,” or that he might have directed someone to do so on his behalf.

So, did the envelope have any postal markings that would indicate whether it was mailed from Long Island? We’ve asked Johnston to share an image of the envelope so we can check.

Rita Ciolli