Lanza Concerned About Religious Exemptions

Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican seemed to side with his colleague Sen. Greg Ball, of the Hudson Valley, after emerging from the closed-door conference on same-sex marriage, saying he’s concerned about religious and non-profit exemptions included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s program bill.

Lanza did add that his position on this issue remains the same: A “no” that could change. (In other words, he’s more or less undecided).

There’s a process, there’s a conversation happening,” Lanza told reporters. “I think there’s a great conversation happening and it’s continuing.”

“I think one of the hallmark principles of this country is respect for the faiths of religion in this country and I think that needs to be preserved. I think there are issues that are outstanding in this legislation with respect to this issue. If nothing else, we are a country that protects religion freedom and that must be embody in any legislation that comes to the floor for a vote in this Senate.

He added: “I think any bill in this state should considered that disregards the religious protections that we are known for in this state.”

No Decision On Senate Gay Marriage Vote (VIDEO ADDED)

After spending nearly four hours behind closed doors, members of the Senate GOP conference emerged without a decision on whether to vote on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

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Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos emerged to tell the antsy, hungry press corps and assorted advocates who have been working the halls on both sides of this issue that the Republicans will take up the issue again tomorrow.

“I thought I would be seeing a little bit earlier,” Skelos told the crowd. “We’ve had a tremendous conference, a thoughtful conference discussing the issue of marriage equality. Discussions are going to continue tomorrow.”

“…The issue has not been resolved. I’m respecting the decision of the conference. Once its made. The conference has asked me to keep the confidence at this point, which is what I intend to do. That’s my responsibility as the leader, and we will continue to conference the issue tomorrow. We haven’t resolved anything other than that we’re going to continue our conference.”

Most senators avoided speaking to the press by exiting the conference room through a back door that leads into the members-only lounge. A few popped their heads out early, including Sen. Bill Larkin, who came out shortly before Skelos did and basically told us the same thing: No decision.

Sen. Kemp Hannon, a Long Island “no” voter, emerged later to say that the conference had been “thoughtful and contemplative” and without fireworks. Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island “no” vote considered potentially switchable, told reports that he is “in the same place I was yesterday.” He also said there’s a “great” process happening that has to continue.

Meanwhile, the governor has sent a message of necessity to the Assembly to circumvent the three-day aging process and allow an immediate vote on the program bill he sent the Legislature yesterday. The Assembly is expected to vote sometime today, although Assembly Democrats I spoke to while staking out the Senate Republicans said the matter hadn’t yet been conferenced on their side.

(The photo, in case you’re wondering, is of an Orthodox Jewish man who was praying outside the Senate conference room as Republicans mulled whether to put the marriage bill onto the floor).

Fare Increases Redux? (Updatedx2)

Shortly before entering the marathon same-sex marriage conference with his fellow Republicans, Sen. Lee Zeldin announced the Senate will take up – and likely pass – a bill to repeal the controversial MTA payroll tax that was part of the bailout package for the perennially cash-strapped authority that was passed by the Legislature in 2009.

The bill calls for phasing out the tax in seven of the 12 MTA service counties impacted by the tax (Dutchess, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Westchester AND Nassau and Suffolk counties – basically everything but the five counties that make up NYC) over the next three years.

According to an Albany insider who crunched the numbers of this, by the time the bill is fully implemented in 2014, it would generate a budget gap for the MTA of about $800 million a year. That would be offset slightly by a statewide sales tax intercept, but the annual estimated hit to the authority is still hovering at about $768 million, this source maintains.

So, where would the money come from to make up that difference? Well, the MTA pretty much has one major revenue generation option: Fare increases.

If the split was 50-50 between the subway system and the rails (LIRR and Metro North), fares would increase 15 percent and 30 percent, respectively, according to this source. If the MTA decided only the commuter lines should take the hit, which one could argue makes sense, since that’s what services those seven counties, fares would have to up a whopping 64 percent.

It’s ironic that the Republican majority in the Senate would pass payroll tax relief bill that would drive a high fare increase for rails,” this source said.

That would indeed seem to undercut the intent here, which is, of course, to reduce taxes in the overtaxed NYC suburbs. The payroll tax was a key issue in the 2010 campaign in which Zeldin ousted former Democratic Sen. Brian Foley.

UPDATE: Zeldin reached out after the Senate GOP’s same-sex marriage confab broke, informing me that the numbers this source has provided are off. The cost, he said is actually $840.9 million, but the bill also has $465 million worth of new revenues for the MTA, leaving it with a gap of $376 million by 2014.

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Dems Push Bill To Ban Smoking In Cars With Minors Present

Senate and Assembly Democrats are pushing a bill that would prohibit drivers from lighting up with a child under the age of 14 in the car.

The bill would allow for $100 penalty to drivers stopped for suspicion of spoking with underage passengers. Other states have adopted a similar law, but the age limit is often 18.

The Assembly is expected to vote on the bill today or tomorrow. It’s unclear if or when the Senate will do the same.

Senate Dems To Try And Force Debate On Millionaire’s Tax

Senate Democrats will make one last-ditch effort this afternoon to bring the millionaire’s tax to the floor for a vote.

Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens) will introduce a hostile amendment to a local county tax extender with the personal income tax surcharge, or PIT, legislation attached. The bill is the same as the one introduced in the Assembly by Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Democrats are trying to make a point that extending the sales tax rates for counties, which the Senate has been voting on for days, the same logic should apply to the millionaire’s tax. They argue that the legislation is simply an extension, not a new tax and it could generate approximately $4.16 billion in revenue for the State.

“The local tax extender will affect hundreds of thousands of middle and working class consumers who will pay the local sales tax over and over, which will only raise approximately 161.8 million,” said Sen. Avella.

“The PIT surcharge will only effect around 79,000 of the most wealthy New Yorkers once a year, and raises over four billion dollars.”

The bill would be a one-year extension and only apply to those individuals making one million dollars or more, unlike the current tax that applies only to those making excess of $200 thousand.

However, Gov. Andrew Cuomo opposes the reinstatement on a tax surcharge, a sentiment shared by the Senate Republican majority.

Settling In For the Long Haul On Rent Regs

While we’re waiting for the Senate GOP to emerge from behind closed doors or send up some smoke signals on same-sex marriage, (we’re almost at the three-hour mark here), the fight over extending and/or strengthening the rent laws, which are set to expire at midnight, is continuing.

An Assembly Democrat told me not long ago that his conference is still struggling with whether to accept a 48-hour extension, an extension until Monday or no extension at all (this in spite of the speaker’s tough talk about rejecting all three).

Meanwhile, the advocates are handing out the flyer that appears below, highlighting the Senate GOP’s close relationship with the Rent Stabilization Association (president Joe Strasburg is the guy with a moneybag for a head) and likening Majority Leader Dean Skelos to a mob boss.

The Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are preparing to dig in. Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who has led the fight for his conference, sent an email to supporters in which he again pledged to remain at the Capitol “as long as it takes” to pass legislation that extends and strengthens rent regulations.

“Following my meeting with Governor Cuomo yesterday, I have once again rejected Republican moves to further weaken rent laws and allow landlords to raise rents and harass tenants,” Espaillat wrote.

“For the next 12 hours – and beyond – I will continue to fight to make sure millions of tenants are protected. I am working closely with Governor Cuomo who has joined us in our call for the extension and strengthening of rent regulations.”

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Sen. Sampson Lobbies GOP On SSM

Senate Minority Leader John Sampson has just released this message calling for his Republican colleagues to pass same-sex marriage. This as the Senate GOP is still meeting behind closed doors to conference this issue (now on their 3rd hour).

“My fellow New Yorkers. We are at the doorstep of a historic moment in the fight for equality.

“Earlier this week, I was proud to stand with Governor Cuomo to announce Senate Democrats were delivering crucial votes to bring New York three steps closer to passing marriage equality.

“After a long journey toward equality, the finish line is now in sight.

“It is my hope our actions will send a strong signal to the nation that we are ready for full equality.

“I hope our Republican colleagues will join us on the right side of history by giving the votes needed to finally pass marriage equality into law.

“Let our journey toward equality be a powerful example of what is possible when people lay aside partisanship and work together to do what is right and just.

“New York is closer now than it has ever been to fulfilling the promise of equality for all our people so our actions finally match our best intentions.

“The final step is before us. To my Republican colleagues – I urge you to do what is right and join us in supporting marriage equality to give all New Yorkers the more equitable and just future they deserve.

“Thank You.”

Libertarians Offer Yes-Voting GOPers An Alternative To Row C

In hopes of countering the state Conservative Party’s threat to strip GOP senators who vote “yes” on gay marriage of the right to run on Row C, the Libertarian Party is offering those ousted lawmakers a place to land in 2012.

“The Libertarian Party does not believe government should have any role at all in marriage,” state Chairman Mark Axinn told me in an email this morning. “But inasmuch as it does, we certainly believe that such involvement should be on a non-discriminatory basis.”

“Various Republican State Senators have stated that they will support equal rights for gay New Yorkers and it is likely that the Conservative Party (and perhaps others) will shun them for that. We believe the opposite reaction is warranted. Those state Senators who indicate they oppose government discrimination are welcome to seek the Libertarian line in 2012, and we would be happy to discuss it with any of them should they be so inclined.”

This isn’t exactly an equal trade.

The Conservatives are an official party with a ballot line. Actually, they saw their ballot standing improve thanks to Carl Paladino in 2010, who received sufficient votes to return them to Row C, bumping the Independence Party down two to the WFP’s old Row E.

The Libertarians, who ran Warren Redlich for governor last year, came within 1,600 votes of official ballot status. (The Greens just made it, thanks to their candidate, Howie Hawkins, who just broke the required 50,000-vote threshold).

So, Republican Senate candidates who want the Libertarian line would have to petition their way onto the ballot, gathering 3,000 signatures, whereas Conservatives can simply cross-endorse non-member candidates and issue them Wilson Pakulas at their annual convention.

Still, it is an option to consider, and it’s not nothing. As Axinn wrote:

“In a cross-endorse state like New York, the extra line is the margin of difference. Look at (Queens Republican) NYC Councilman Dan Halloran. He’s the first person to tell anyone that the Libertarian endorsement and extra line on the ballot was a big part of getting elected in an overwhelmingly Democratic district.

Silver Wants Message Of Necessity On SSM

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has told reporters that he is going to ask for a message of necessity on the Governor’s Marriage Equality Act program bill. That would allow his conference to vote on the measure today or tomorrow, and not wait until Friday.

This comes as a little bit of a shock, because Silver had previously said he wanted to wait for the Senate to pass the bill before his conference took it up and passed it for a 4th time.

Not sure if this decision will in any way impact what the Senate Republicans do. As you know, they are conferencing behind closed doors as we speak.

Sen. Ball Reaffirms Same-Sex Marriage Position

Greg Ball is still undecided on gay marriage, but has just sent out a statement clarifying his position. It includes 3 sections of rough bill language he’d like to see that would get him to support the measure. The statement came after he had already entered the Senate GOP Conference which is happening right now.

“As a young leader and firm believer in less government, not more, I genuinely appreciate both sides of this polarizing issue. I was sent to Albany to cap property taxes, freeze school taxes for seniors, cut state spending and reform Albany, not to advocate on behalf of social issues to the left or the right.

On one side, it is viewed as a civil rights issue, and on the other side, a direct affront on heartfelt religious beliefs. From repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to widespread equality issues, I have always been an advocate on behalf of gay rights, and to this day, would proudly support the most comprehensive civil union legislation in the nation, while placing marriage equality out to the public for a referendum and a vote.

That said, on the specific issue of marriage equality, with the possibility of serious and comprehensive religious protections, I will remain undecided until I see the final bill. Without those basic religious protections, I clearly must vote no.”

The basic wording Senator Ball is seeking:

1) No clergy or other person authorized to conduct marriage ceremonies shall be required to do so against their beliefs or desire, whether religious or not.

2) No religious or tax exempt organizations shall be required to provide any services to which they object because of religious or other beliefs.

3) No house of worship, individual or business with religious objections, or tax exempt organizations shall be required to allow their property or services to be used for any function or purpose to which they object or have their tax exempt status challenged or removed because of failure to permit usage of their property for same sex ceremonies.