Divide And Conquer

Welcome to coverage of Groundhog Day, Albany style.

Reporters are staking out the following locations in the Capitol this morning: The Senate GOP conference, the governor’s office on the Capitol’s second floor, and a Senate Democrats’ press conference at which minority members are decrying the so-called “work stoppage” by the Republicans. The Assembly Democrats are also in conference, but I haven’t seen any scrum gathering over there – yet.

I’m sitting outside the Senate GOP conference room in a lobbyist and protestor-free hallway (everyone is relegated to the million-dollar staircase, which is not good for democracy, but does wonders for working conditions; very sorry).

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos breezed through a gauntlet of reporters at about 9:30 a.m., saying nothing other than “good morning.” Senators slowly trickled in behind him, all saying pretty much the same thing, with the exception – not surprisingly – of Sen. Jim “Born This Way” Alesi.

Alesi was immediately swarmed by reporters, led by CapCon’s intrepid Jimmy Vielkind, and joked that he was like a small crumb of bread being thrown to ducks (first time I’ve ever been compared to waterfowl). The senator was peppered with the usual questions on same-sex marriage, and admitted he is indeed “concerned” about losing momentum toward a potential vote, which is looking less likely with each passing hour.

Alesi insisted he’s not a “single-issue senator” and shares his colleagues’ concern over the yet-undone big ugly. “We have a package of bills that needs to be done, and marriage is one of them,” he said. “…We’re in a Democratic process. If a bill gets to the floor or not, that’s part of the blueprint.”

The senator heaped praise on Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying: “We would like to ride the wave of leadership and do what we’re capable of doing.” He declined to speculate on whether the governor might repeatedly call the Legislature back to Albany if members try to skip town without passing marriage, saying only that it would be his “prerogative.”

Daily Show: ‘Looking To Turn One Vote Gay’

Jon Stewart of The Daily Show again lampooned the Senate’s deadlocked tie on the same-sex marriage vote last night, this time poking fun at the Legislature for taking up an official state vegetable measure.

As loyal followers of state government know, an important battle was waged last month over whether sweet corn or the onion should be the official vegetable (sweet corn won).

“Hopefully after you take care of those important things you can take up a basic civil right for a large portion of people,” Stewart said.

The Senate remains stuck at 31-31 on the same-sex marriage bill (Stewart says the Legislature is “looking to turn one vote gay” just for the night). Senate Republicans said they would discuss late Thursday whether they would bring the bill to the floor for a vote only for the evening to end relatively early after disagreements over rent control and the health-insurance exchange bill.

Senate Republicans will meet again today at 9:30 a.m. Sen. Tom Libous said last night he expects to “probably” discuss the measure today.

Here And Now

Welcome to Groundhog Day. State lawmakers will return – once again – to the Capitol this morning to try to pass the supposed deals they’ve reached on outstanding issues like the rent laws, mandate relief, a property tax cap and SUNY 2020.

Once all that gets squared away, the Senate might – and might not – decide to put a gay marriage bill onto the floor for a vote.

Things kick off bright and early this morning, with legislators increasingly anxious to just pass something and go home, which doesn’t bode particularly well for thoughtful reflection on controversial issues. It doesn’t help matters that the Capitol is increasingly feeling like a small country under siege, with poor ventilation, insufficient food stocks and overflowing garbage cans.

Headlines…

Two issues reportedly caused last night’s blowup: Mandate relief, which the Assembly didn’t start conferencing until late; and the health care exchange bill, which the Senate balked at passing.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos declined to keep his members at the Capitol through the night out of concern for the “Tully effect” and blowback from angry gay marriage protesters.

It’s now possible that the deadlock will keep lawmakers in Albany through the weekend or force them to return to work Monday – one week after the scheduled end of the 2011 session.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo left the Capitol in he late afternoon to attend his daughter’s graduation in Westchester County. He returned to find legislators had made no progress in his absence, and made no public appearances himself.

During an LGBT fundraiser held in NYC at the height of the state’s battle over same-sex marriage, President Obama said gay couples “deserve the same rights as every other couple in our country,” but he stopped short of endorsing marriage outright.

Obama was heckled at the event by marriage supporters.

Sen. John Flanagan, who had been considered persuadable by same-sex marriage advocates, reiterated his 2009 “no” position.

More >

Everyone Goes Home (For Now) UPDATED

A late night here at the Capitol turned out to be a relatively early night after deals quickly crumbled and fell apart.

Everyone here was gearing up for a debate into the wee hours of the morning and a private-closed door conference on same-sex marriage.

But it was not to be.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos adjourned the Senate this evening citing disagreements over mandate relief in order for local governments to live within a 2 percent tax cap.

But the canary in the coal mine this evening was the health-insurance exchange bill not being taken up in the Senate and disagreements with the Assembly remain over rent control.

UPDATE: Senate GOP sources said the conference balked at the idea of codifying so-called “Obamacare” by passing the health exchange legislation approved by the Assembly. I’m told that slang for the health care reform law favored by the right was in fact used during the closed-door discussion.

That does not bode well at all for moving the same-sex marriage bill out onto the floor – the a health care exchange bill is too liberal to come up for a vote, how will gay marriage ever make it?

Cuomo administration aides (I spotted at least three of them on the third floor as the Senate was adjourning) sought to downplay the blowup, insisting the main problem here is that it’s taking longer than expected to print bills. But it appears that things might be a fair bit more serious than that. As the Senate was spinning out of control, the Assembly Democrats were conferencing mandate relief – another big sticking point in the big ugly.

Republican lawmakers plan to meet at 9:30 a.m. and then hold session at 10 a.m.

Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous said that the same-sex marriage issue will now be discussed Friday, postponing a determination on whether it would be brought to the floor for a vote.

Libous also indicated the SUNY 2020 measure could be re-inserted in the omnibus “big ugly” bill afterall. But this, in a way, is classic Albany. Everything must fall apart several times before a deal can be struck.

Meanwhile, rent control will expire for New York City. This is the second time in as many weeks an extension hasn’t been approved.

Ball: I’m Voting No (And Then There Were Three)

Sen. Greg Ball, who had sought greater protections for religious institutions, released a formal statement this evening confirming that he’s voting no on the same-sex marriage bill.

Ball says there’s just not enough religious exemption language in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s same-sex marriage. The Hudson Valley Republican’s statement isn’t that surprising, since he had said since the bill’s introduction that he would vote no unless broader exemptions were added to the bill.

Ball had still insisted that he was undecided on the measure, even soliciting the input from his twitter following on whether he should support the bill.

That now leaves three publicly undecided Republican senators: Mark Grisanti, Steve Saland and Andrew Lanza. The Senate is currently deadlocked at 31-31 on the measure, one shy of what’s needed for it to pass. But it’s likely that 33 or even 34 votes are needed in order to provide political cover for the other GOP lawmakers.

Both Saland and Lanza have met with Cuomo to develop a chapter amendment to the bill for broader religious protections.

From his statement:

“Knowing that marriage equality was likely to pass, I thought it important to force the issue of religious protections. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the distinct opportunity of listening to literally thousands of residents, on both sides of this issue, by holding an undecided stance. I thought it was important to listen to all of my constituents and hold an undecided position until the actual bill language was written and everyone’s voice had been heard. Now that the final text is public, I am proud that I have secured some strong protections for religious institutions and basic protections for religious organizations. The bill still lacks many of the basic religious protections I thought were vital, and for this reason, and as I did in the Assembly, I will be voting ‘no.’”

Gay Marriage Opponents: Bill Not Transparent

As the Capitol gears up for what is expected to be a very long night, opponents of same-sex marriage say a vote on the measure in the early hours of Friday morning is unacceptable.

The Rev. Jason McGuire of the New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms released a statement warning legislators not to vote on the bill “under the cover of darkness.”

“No Republican senator should think that allowing a vote under the cover of darkness is a good thing for the State of New York. Specific legislative language should be vetted by the parties most directly affected, in this case the religious communities. Passing this bill, aids Democrats, not the democratic process.”

Republicans are expected to conference later tonight for the first time on whether the measure should come to the floor for a vote. That’s no guarantee it will ever come to the floor or if it will come after what’s expected to be a lengthy debate.

It also calls into question the “optics” of a late-night vote on a controversial issue. At the same time, lawmakers want to wrap up all their work tonight and not have to return for another day of work Friday.

Senate Dems Knock ‘Work Stoppage’

There doesn’t seem to be much getting done this early evening and Senate Democrats are using that as an opportunity to criticze the Republican conference for not getting much done.

The Senate is currently at ease, but Sen. Tom Libous, the conference’s floor leader, told lawmakers to hang nearby. The Senate is expected to eat dinner at around 7 p.m. and then take up the SUNY 2020 measure.

A Senate source says bill language in the omnibus bill is being printed as its negotiated. In other words, bill language is being substituted and plugged in as it’s locked down. This then leaves more private conferencing on the omnibus bill (what’s printed of it) and then debated and voted on.

After that, Republicans tentatively plan to meet on whether the same-sex marriage bill comes to the floor. That probably won’t occur until midnight or 1 a.m.

In particular, Senate Democrats charge Republicans have been unable to come to terms on a health-insurance exchange bill, which has passed the Assembly this afternoon.
From spokesman Austin Shafran:

“The senate has been in session for almost six hours yet spent less than an hour of that time voting on legislation. Republicans are conferencing the health exchange bill which was already agreed upon, delivered, conferenced and reported to the floor last night. This isn’t stalling, it’s a complete work stopage. Republican delay tactics have managed to stop Planet Albany from spinning.”

To be fair, it’s not surprising that Republicans would want to hammer down the details of a complicated piece of legislation like the insurance exchange. Assembly lawmakers, meanwhile, say they’re waiting on the Senate.

Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif says just that, noting that these issues take time to sort out.

“We are working extremely hard with the Governor’s office and the Assembly to put the finishing touches on a three-way agreement to cap property taxes and provide mandate relief for taxpayers, among other things. These are complicated issues, and our staff, which has been working around the clock, wants to make sure we get it right. Senate Republicans have already delivered a tremendously productive session for taxpayers and businesses, highlighted by passage of a state budget that brought spending under control, and eliminated a $10 biion deficit without raising taxes. These final agreements will build on our historic progress.”

So we all remain in a holding pattern on all these items. Lawmakers in both chambers say there’s very little desire to let this spillover into the next work day and that they want to finish all work late tonight or in the wee hours of this morning.

Extras

It’s going to be a very, VERY long night (and morning) at the Capitol as we await: 1) Conference, debate and voting on the big ugly in both houses, and 2) Conference, debate and voting on same-sex marriage in the Senate. In the meantime, some headlines to keep you busy…

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (who has left the Capitol for a family event, but is coming back) on a potential SSM vote in the Senate: “I’m cautiously optimistic. Let me just say that. I don’t want to get into private conversations that I’ve had.

Here’s what passage of a gay marriage bill would mean for LGBT couples.

Gawker gets in on the SSM action.

How states match up on gay marriage.

From the mouths of babes

“At this pace we’ll be here until Friday sundown,” said Assemblyman Micah Kellner. “The question is, do we come back on Monday?”

Senators would like President Obama to pick up the pace on his evolution on gay marriage.

Former Gov. David Paterson is collecting a $64,938 a year pension for his 27 years in state government.

President Obama flubbed at Fort Drum.

Randy Altschuler is raising campaign cash for his second attempt at ousting Rep. Tim Bishop in 2012.

The fate of a transit funding lockbox hangs in the balance in Albany.

Even Sarah Palin can’t escape jury duty.

Former NYC OTB workers are getting health insurance and other benefits, compliments of the Legislature.

No progress to report in NYC budget talks.

Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino wants Cuomo to make building a new Tappan Zee Bridge a top priority.

Whitey Bulger was a big fan of the New York Public Library.

Alesi: ‘Reprecussions’ If Marriage Bill Doesn’t Come To A Vote

Sen Jim Alesi, one of two announced Republican “yes” votes for same-sex marriage, said he expects a floor vote on the measure either today or Friday.

And he warned of “reprecussions” of the measure not going to the floor for a vote after the critical mass that’s been built for the same-sex marriage bill.

“Regardless of how many people in the conference can’t vote for this or won’t vote for this, collectively it would be difficult not to bring it to the floor right now. I think the reprecussions would not be worth not bringing it to the floor.”

The Senate remains deadlocked at 31-31 on the measure, with Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, being the other GOP yes vote.

Senate Republicans plan to meet privately later tonight to discuss whether the bill should come to the floor for a vote in what’s most definitely going to be a very lengthy conference meeting.

“The vote on marriage equality will most likely be the last vote taken,” Alesi said.

Obama May Address Marriage Vote Tonight

President Obama may address the potential vote in the state Legislature for same-sex marriage legalization at an LGBT fundraiser in New York City tonight.

According to the pool report, Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that he doesn’t anticipate the president endorsing measure, but says state’s should determine the course of same-sex marriage legalization.

From the pool report:

“I’m sure he will mention it and I think make the point that as he always has that he believes that this is something that states should be able to decide.”

Obama has flip-flopped somewhat in his support for same-sex marriage. He has said he supports gay unions, but as a candidate for the U.S. Senate said he backed civil unions.

In recent months, Obama’s views on marriage are said to be “evolving” and that he may change his position. The Obama administration has also determined it would not continue to defend the Defense of Marriage Act and announced it would beging dismantling the controversial policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military.