Legislative session winds down in Albany

May 26, 2014

Now that the major party political conventions are over, state officials are shifting their focus back to the remaining issues in the legislative session, which ends in four weeks.  But politics will still be front and center in the waning days of the session.

Credit WBFO File Photo

The spotlight will continue to be on Governor Cuomo in the final weeks of the session, and whether he achieves three major items that he laid out in his acceptance speech to delegates at the party convention.

“We must pass a women’s equality act, public finance, and a Dream Act,” Cuomo told a cheering crowd.

The Women’s Equality Act contains an abortion rights provision that would codify into New York State law the elements of the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision. Cuomo has been seeking to expand New York City’s small donor matching public campaign finance system to statewide offices.  The Dream Act would provide college tuition aid for the children of undocumented immigrants.

Cuomo is under pressure from the left in his party to deliver on those three measures. He’s also getting heat from the progressive Working Families Party, which is still mulling whether or not to endorse him for re election when they meet for their convention on May 31st.   

Cuomo, in his speech and other recent remarks, is blaming the leadership in the State Senate for the stalemate.

“The State Senate so far has failed to deliver,” Cuomo said .

The Senate is ruled by a coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats.

Senate Co Leader and head of the Independent Democrats in the Senate, Senator Jeff Klein, has pushed publicly for enacting public campaign finance for statewide offices. He says he has not given up on achieving it this session.

“I’m hopeful we can get something done for other statewide elected officials as well as the legislature, before the end of the session,” Klein said recently.

And the Senate Republican leader, Dean Skelos, says there are on going talks.

“There have been discussion about non  taxpayer campaign finance, and we’ll see,” said Skelos, who says a check off on tax return forms is being considered.

The door has opened a crack for public campaign finance. As part of the budget deal in late March, Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed to pilot program for this year’s state Comptroller race. The Republican candidate, Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci, says he’ll take advantage of the matching small donor fund source, which will come from the state’s unclaimed deposits fund. The incumbent Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli says he won’t participate because the program is too flawed.   

“They changed the rules on me and on this race three and half years into a four year election cycle,” Di Napoli said.

“It really wasn’t done in a fair way.”

Reform groups agree with DiNapoli and say more is needed.

The Senate has already voted on the Dream Act, and the measure failed. An abortion rights provision in the women’s equality act may not have enough votes, when Republicans and Democrats are counted together, to pass in the Senate.

Cuomo is getting some support from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who says the governor’s successes on progressive issues like same sex marriage and gun control earlier in his term may have unrealistically raised expectations.

“He’s a victim of his own success,” Silver said.

Silver says the Working Families Party should endorse Cuomo for reelection, because a third party candidate on the left would not win and would just take votes away from the governor.

“They’ll be helping the Republicans,” Silver said. “I don’t think that’s their intention.”

The Assembly, led by Democrats who hold a two to one margin in the chamber, has passed all three of the measures that Cuomo wants.

The Speaker predicts, though,  that a more comprehensive form of public campaign financing will not be enacted this year.