ALBANY, N.Y. — In the latest New York state developments, Gov. Andrew Cuomo denied an allegation that he and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie discussed ways to defuse the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal, while Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told the Trump Foundation it can no longer raise money in New York. Also, legislative pay became a campaign issue and a new coalition vowed to fight New York’s big investment in nuclear power.
A guide to the week’s top stories in New York government:
CUOMO DENIES LINK TO NJ BRIDGE SCANDAL
David Wildstein, a key witness in the trial of two former Christie aides, said he was told Cuomo, a Democrat, and Christie, a Republican, discussed issuing a false report to cover up the political reason for the lane closures, which gridlocked the town of Fort Lee, New Jersey for four days in September 2013. Wildstein said the information about the governors’ talk came from David Samson, former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
“My understanding was that Gov. Christie and Gov. Cuomo had discussed this,” Wildstein said under cross-examination Tuesday. “My understanding at the time was that it would put an end to this issue.”
Cuomo dismissed the allegation as hearsay, and noted that Wildstein admitted he had no firsthand knowledge to back up his account.
“This is a person who admitted that he committed a crime and he’s pled to a felony: ‘I heard a story that the governor said to the governor…'” Cuomo said of Wildstein. “That was not accurate. That’s gossip that he’s passing on.”
Wildstein has pleaded guilty in the bridge scheme and is cooperating with authorities. The Christie aides, Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly, are charged with orchestrating the lane closures at the bridge to punish Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie’s re-election bid. They have pleaded not guilty.
SCHNEIDERMAN TARGETS TRUMP FOUNDATION
Schneiderman’s office last Monday ordered Donald Trump’s foundation to immediately stop fundraising in New York, saying it isn’t registered to do so.
The Democratic attorney general’s office said the law requires a different registration than the foundation has for those that solicit more than $25,000 a year from the public. The Republican presidential nominee’s foundation has been under scrutiny by Schneiderman’s office following media reports that foundation spending personally benefited the candidate.
The Trump campaign said the foundation intends to cooperate with the investigation.
LEGISLATIVE PAY HIKE
Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, of the Bronx, reiterated his support for a legislative pay hike as the proposed raise becomes an issue on the campaign trail.
An appointed commission is now considering whether to recommend an increase for legislators, whose $79,500-a-year salary hasn’t changed in nearly 20 years. Some lawmakers, particularly from New York City, say a raise is needed to keep up with the cost of living. A decision is expected shortly after the election; any increase would take effect automatically unless lawmakers vote to block it.
Several candidates challenging incumbents are blasting the idea, noting that lawmakers have done little to address widespread corruption that has seen many lawmakers leave office facing allegations of misconduct.
NUCLEAR SUBSIDIES UNDER FIRE
A new coalition of clean energy groups and environmental advocates vowed to fight Cuomo’s plan to invest billions of dollars in aging upstate nuclear power plants.
The group, which includes Food & Water Watch, the New York Climate Action Group and the Alliance for a Green Economy, promised a statewide campaign to pressure Cuomo to reconsider the subsidies, which they say are a costly bailout for a hazardous industry.
Cuomo’s administration said the investments are a responsible way to keep plants running while the state reduces its use of fossil fuels and ramps up wind and solar energy.
MENTAL HEALTH EDUCATION
A new law signed by Cuomo will require schools to teach about mental health in state-mandated health classes starting in two years.
Supporters say the idea is to help students recognize the signs of mental illness in themselves and others and seek help when it’s needed.
A federally funded study estimates that half of Americans will meet the criteria for a mental disorder sometime in their lives, with the first onset usually in childhood or adolescence.