Cuomo And The Legislature
From the Morning Memo:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo cast blame on unsettled policy issues and, more broadly, the potential for federal government cuts on Wednesday when discussing the state’s late spending plan.
About an hour later, frustrated Senate Republicans gaveled out of session and announced they wouldn’t be back at the Capitol unless a deal on the budget is in place. And in statements they cast blame not on the issues or the Trump administration, but Cuomo himself.
“Let me make one thing very clear: I promised our communities when I was elected that I would work to ensure that the State Senate acted as a check on the Executive and the Assembly, and we are not going to roll over to help advance the political ambitions of our Governor,” said Sen. Sue Serino, a Republican from the Hudson Valley.
Sen. Rich Funke, a Republican from the Rochester area, was even more direct: “There is only one reason we don’t have a final state budget right now and his name is Andrew Cuomo. The Governor claims he’ll keep working towards a final budget, but the truth is he’s embracing gridlock while middle-class tax relief, local school aid, and Upstate ridesharing hang in the balance.”
Sen. John DeFrancisco, speaking with reporters on Wednesday night, held his tongue, however, when asked if he believed Cuomo was negotiating in good faith as the talks clearly started to break down.
At his Red Room news conference on Wednesday, Cuomo insisted his relationship with both houses of the Legislature and their leaders remained strong — that the situation was “stressful” but not “strained.”
But individually, state lawmakers from both parties are frustrated with Cuomo, who they view as mercurial at best and dictatorial at worst. Once gun-shy about criticizing him, legislators are increasingly emboldened to speak up when they are in public disagreement with him.
Cuomo insisted on Wednesday the blow up over the budget had nothing to do with a scuttled pay raise, denied to lawmakers in December after they failed to coalesce around a package of ethics measures in a special session that never materialized.
And then there is this, after seven years of elections and corruption scandals that remade the leadership of both chambers: The Legislature is a different place than when Cuomo was first elected.
Cuomo’s history with the Senate Republicans in Albany has largely been a positive one. His legislative accomplishments as governor — same-sex marriage legalization, a gun control law, increases in the state’s minimum wage — came after cajoling Republicans in the chamber, who hold a narrow majority there and have had to share power with the Independent Democratic Conference.
But those individual relationships have broken down for Cuomo in the Senate. Despite their ideological differences, Cuomo worked well with figures like the late Sen. Tom Libous. The Republicans who broke ranks to vote for the same-sex marriage law are no longer in the Senate.
Newly elected conservatives in the Senate, meanwhile, were emboldened in the GOP conference following the passage of the SAFE Act, a measure that is deeply unpopular with gun-rights advocates, to stand up to Cuomo’s agenda.
DeFrancisco, the deputy majority leader who challenged Sen. John Flanagan to replace the scandal-scarred Dean Skelos, has been an especially outspoken and biting critic of Cuomo’s in recent years.
Over in the Assembly, Democratic lawmakers gathered in a show of solidarity behind Speaker Carl Heastie as he responded to Cuomo’s remarks.
Assemblyman Ray Walter, a Republican from western New York, grinned behind reporters and told Democratic lawmakers, “If you want to criticize Andrew Cuomo, we’re right there with you.”
He added, to laughs, “Don’t blame us, we voted for Astorino.”
Cuomo has recruited a number of legislators friendly to him in the Assembly, plucking lawmakers like Karim Camara or Sam Roberts to join his administration. It’s difficult to name an Assembly Democrat considered an “ally” for the governor these days in that chamber as the conference remains a large, but close-knit group.
For Cuomo, the hill to climb in the Assembly has stemmed from disagreements over education policy as the Democratic conference remains close with the state’s politically potent teachers unions. Cuomo has been supportive of strengthening charter schools, putting him at odds with Democrats who back more money for traditional public schools.
At the same time, raising the age of criminal responsibility was especially thorny topic for Cuomo and Democratic lawmakers, making a compromise on the complex criminal justice issue difficult.
Lawmakers are now having their pay withheld while a budget remains under a temporary extender. In the past, legislators take out loans to make ends meet while the budget is negotiated and finalized.
Regardless, all this work — wheel spinning in an increasingly tense atmosphere at the Capitol — for no pay will only make for an increasingly contentious 2017 for Albany.
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