Karen DeWitt

Albany Reporter

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.

DeWitt is a past recipient of the prestigious Walter T. Brown Memorial award for excellence in journalism, from the Legislative Correspondents Association, and was named Media Person of the Year by the Women’s Press Club of New York State.

DeWitt has served as a panelist for numerous political debates, including the 2014 gubernatorial debate sponsored by WNED|WBFO

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For weeks, there’s been a stalemate in Albany over the issue of raising the state’s minimum age, with Assembly Democrats backing the idea, Senate Republicans opposing it, and Governor Cuomo remaining neutral in the middle, saying he generally backs the measure, but feels that the GOP can’t be convinced.

The governor and the leaders appeared together at an event in the governor’s ceremonial offices, and were asked if they were doing anything to resolve the impasse.
There was a brief pause.

“Who wants to go first, guys?” Cuomo said, with a laugh.

Governor Cuomo has taken the reigns of the troubled New York Racing Association Board, saying he needs to “restore the public trust” in a rapidly changing gaming industry.

Cuomo convinced members of the independent board that oversees horse racing in New York to agree to a restructuring that will give the governor the majority of appointees on a new, slimmed down board.

This year’s school budget vote was the first to take place after Governor Andrew Cuomo convinced the legislature to adopt the property tax cap.

The governor says the tax cap imposed “fiscal discipline.”

He says he’s  pleased  that few schools attempted to override the cap, and  that most schools kept tax increases to a minimum, and were approved by voters.

He says tax payers, as well as state government, are tapped out.

“At one point, there is no more money, and that’s where we are now,” said Cuomo.

The state’s September primary is going to be delayed by two days, now that the legislature has agreed to move the date from Tuesday September 11th to Thursday September 13th.

Legislative leaders say firefighter groups and others who plan annual memorials for September 11th requested that the scheduled primary be delayed two days, until Thursday September 13th, and they have agreed.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose district includes the World Trade Center site where the planes hit the towers on September 11th 2001, says it was the right thing to do.

A new Siena College poll finds that New Yorkers are starting to feel more positive about the state legislature, but they still don’t want to see Senators and Assemblymembers receive a pay raise.

For the first time in many years, New Yorkers actually view the State Senate favorably, by a 46% to 43% margin,  and the State Assembly is close to evenly split, with 42% viewing them positively and 44% negatively.

Governor Cuomo, who won national praise and attention for championing the passage of same sex marriage in New York, calls President Obama’s support of gay marriage a “major advancement for equal rights in this country.”

Cuomo says he “applauds the President’s courage” and believes that Mr. Obama’s support will “boost” efforts to advance marriage equality in many state where it is to legal, or where efforts are underway to ban gay marriage.

And Cuomo believes it will help change minds, saying people will think “if he can revisit an issue, than so can I”.

On May 15th, voters across New York will go to the polls to consider school district budgets and for the first time, schools will be under the constraint of a property tax cap, and school leaders say they’ve had to make “sacrifices” to live within those limits.

The New York State School Boards Association surveyed its members, and found that the majority of schools , 92%, are proposing budgets that are within the limits of the new tax cap.

Governor Cuomo named a blue ribbon commission to look at the problems facing education in New York, instructing them to come back with an “action plan” not a “theoretical document”.

Earth Day came and went in New York without too much discussion of what many environmentalists believe to be the biggest issue facing the state: when and where the gas drilling process known as hydrofracking will occur.

The future of fracking has been stalled in New York for several months now, as the State Department of Environmental Conservation plows through what Commissioner Joe Martens says is a “mountain” of over 60,000 public comments, collected during an environmental review.

“The focus now is on the comments and its monumental,” Martens said.

Governor Cuomo cast further doubt on issues like campaign finance reform and increasing the state's minimum wage to become law this year and says he’s “shifting” to a new phase of governing instead .

In remarks to his cabinet, Cuomo says he expects a “relatively quiet” end to the legislative session. He says campaign finance reform, including public campaign financing, are measures that he supports, but says that they are “controversial” and “polarizing” issues in the legislature.

Governor Andrew Cuomo for the first time addressed speculation that he might be a candidate for President in 2016, saying it’s “flattering”, but “distracting”.

Governor Cuomo, speaking for the first time about speculation that he might want to seek the presidency in 2016, says he finds the talk “flattering”, but he says overtly political talk can be “distracting” when he’s trying to govern and get along with both parties in the legislature.

“All I’m working is being the best governor I can be, “ said Cuomo.

WBFO News file photo

The State Assembly has introduced a bill to permit for the first time in New York voluntary public financing of some election campaigns. 

The Assembly bill would offer an optional public financing system for campaigns for state legislative and statewide offices, giving candidates six dollars for every one dollar in contributions. It would be financed, in part, through a $5 check off option on state income taxes.  

Bill Mahoney, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, says it’s a “good first step”.

New York’s Presidential primary is today, but the initial excitement over the vote vanished when Rick Santorum dropped out earlier this month.

State GOP leaders say they are looking ahead to the general election instead.

Earlier this year, it seemed that New York, which has a relatively late primary, might actually be a contested state, as first Newt Gingrich, then Rick Santorum appeared to present a serious challenge to GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney.

An historic preservation group is weighing in on hydrofracking for the first tim, and they don't like what they say they’ve been learning about the gas drilling process.

They say it would change the nature of the landscape from rural to industrial and would detract from heritage tourism in the Marcellus shale region.

Every year, the state’s leading historic preservation group, the Preservation League, lists historic sites that they believe are endangered, known as New York’s Seven To Save.

Governor Cuomo has issued an executive order to create a state health care exchange, required by the federal health care reform law, after the legislature failed to act.

Cuomo had sought to create the exchanges, required under the federal health care law, as part of the budget, but some Senate Republicans refused, saying they did not want to codify what opponents call Obamacare.

In the end the governor agreed to drop the health exchanges from the budget, and issue an executive order  to create the exchanges instead.

Governor Cuomo’s administration is conducting the largest ever on line and in person auction of over 450 used cars and trucks as part of what they call a fleet reduction- to try to save money and cut down on government excess.

There are rows and rows of Crown Victorias, Ford Expeditions and even several Priuses on a large lot on the state office campus just outside the City of Albany, 461 in all.

And they are being offered to the highest bidder on E-Bay, and in person.  

WBFO News file photo

Governor Cuomo has vetoed over half a million dollars of legislative member items, saying he’s following through on a promise to ban the funds, which have been used in the past to finance lawmakers’ pet projects.

The Governor’s $640 million in line item vetoes for member items does not include any new money from this year’s budget.

Rather, they are what’s known as re-appropriations for member items that were approved in earlier budgets from two years ago, before Cuomo was in power.

Photo provided by Karen DeWitt

Governor Andrew Cuomo gathered with leaders of the legislature Friday to celebrate an on-time budget for the second year in a row.

Cuomo and majority party legislative leaders praised each other for their efforts in achieving two on time budgets in a row, which they say is considered a feat after decades of late budgets.  Then, they took turns posing for pictures as the governor signed the first of several budget bills.  

Cuomo said government is once again functioning, and it’s a “very proud day for the entire state”.

State lawmakers were headed for an on time state budget for the second year in a row that keeps spending relatively flat.

State legislators and Governor Cuomo have been touting the on time budget for the second year in a row that also, for the second time, reigns in spending.

Cuomo admits that most people would view that as lawmakers simply doing their job.

But he says in a state that has almost never met the budget deadline for over two decades, it’s a “big deal”.

Reaction to the newly agreed upon state budget continued to pour in at the State Capitol, as lawmakers began passing the first of a series of budget bills, in the hope of finishing the spending plan by the end of the week.

Senate Leader Dean Skelos praised lawmakers and Governor Cuomo, for their work on a budget plan that’s likely to be in place by the deadline.

“This is a budget that we all can be proud of,” Skelos said.

The seemingly recession-proof business of lobbying grew once again in New York last year.

The state’s ethics panel finds a total of $220 million was spent to influence the governor and members of the legislature.

The newly formed state ethics commission, championed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, found that a lobbying group closely associated with the Governor’s policies,  The Committee to Save New York was the biggest spender in 2011.

The group, made up of business interests,  financed  nearly $12 million worth of lobbying and advertising  campaigns. 

Lawmakers agree on $132.6 billion state budget

Mar 27, 2012

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the leaders of the state Senate and Assembly today announced an agreement on a $132.6 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts Sunday.

The budget would increase spending by two percent while expanding economic development and jobs programs and providing some protections for the poorest New Yorkers and immigrants.  The agreements include a 10 percent increase in the welfare grant in June. Cuomo wanted to delay half of the increase because of the state's slow economic recovery.

New York lawmakers are very optimistic about getting a budget done on time again this year.

They say 99% of the state’s spending plan has been closed down, and they will pass bills before the end of the week.

In a sign that the end of the budget process is near, some conference committees began wrapping up their work and closing down.

The criminal justice and mental hygiene budget conference committees were among those that gaveled out mid-day Monday.

The state legislature, meeting for the first time since deals were struck on pension reform and new district lines, tried to focus on their new task, agreeing on a budget.

But they found that the old issues continue to have repercussions, as a major union suspended all endorsements and contributions over the pension vote.

The week began with Governor Andrew Cuomo signing into law a bill to expand the state’s DNA data base.

Cuomo says the law will make the state “safer”.

The DNA bill was passed in all night session that ended last Thursday morning.

Photo by Karen Dewitt

Three candidates will be on the ballot in the Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Kirsten Gillibrand.  New York City attorney Wendy Long received the most votes in Friday's convention in Rochester with around 47%, followed by Congressman Bob Turner and Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, who both received just over the 25% required to avoid seeking petitions.  Long, a New York City attorney who is originally from New Hampshire, says she has many similarities with Gillibrand.

The New York Senate and Assembly were poised to vote on new district lines, as Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders announced agreement on a number of other unrelated issues, including expansion of the state’s DNA data base, pension reform, and an amendment to allow more gambling in New York.

After months of hearings, debate, and closely guarded private negotiations, the state Senate and Assembly task force on restricting, known as LATFOR, finally moved to adopt new district lines and send them to floor for a vote.

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