3 Senate Dems To Vote ‘Yes’ On Marriage

NY1′s Erin Billups reports (on Twitter) Sen. Shirley Huntley, a Queens Democrat who voted “no” in 2009 on legalizing same-sex marriage, has changed her mind and will vote “yes” on the bill if and when it comes to the floor.

The NY Times’ Michael Barbaro and Nick Confessore add two more previous “no” voters to the mix. Sens. Joe Addabbo, of Queens; and Carl Kruger, of Brooklyn, will be publicly declaring their support – along with Huntley – sometime today.

This is a big win for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a crucial step toward convincing the Senate Republicans who are on the fence to get into the “yes” column. The majority has been griping that advocates were spending too much time focusing on GOP leaners and not enough time pushing their own reluctant members to move.

So, that’s 29 “yes” votes from the Democratic side. Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. is a “no” barring the freezing over of hell. That leaves three votes needed from the GOP.

Anti-Fracking Groups Call For All-out Ban On Drilling

Some advocacy groups have joined Senate Democrats in calling for a ban on hydraulic fracturing, rather than an extension of the moratorium set to expire at the end of the month.

The Department of Environmental Conservation will issue a report with recommendations about “hydrofracking” in New York at the end of the moratorium. However, groups such as Food & Water Watch and Frack Action claim there have been enough studies across the country to conclude that the practice “threatens essential resources, poisons people and livestock, and erodes the quality of life in rural America.”

Last week, the Assembly passed an extension on the moratorium through June 1 of next year. Speaker Sheldon Silver said this would allow more time to fully digest the findings of the DEC before drilling permits are issued. The Senate is not expected to act on the legislation.

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A Different Kind Of Tax Cap

As state lawmakers struggle to make the tentative property tax cap deal a reality, Ron Melendi is lobbying for a cap of a different sort.

Melendi, president of the New York Tobacconist Association and general manager of Manhattan’s De La Concha Cigars, recently traveled across the state to record the suffering of his fellow tobacconists in hopes of convincing the Legislature to pass a $1 cigar tax cap before the 2011 session ends.

“I feel that by documenting the plight that the members are currently facing, that perhaps we can open some of the elected officials’ eyes in Albany and see that action must be taken,” Melendi said. “People of this state are constantly calling for a ‘tax cap’, well us tobacconists need our tax cap as well!”

There’s a bill in the Senate that would limit the tax rate per cigar to 75 percent of the wholesale price or $1, whichever is less. It’s being sponsored by Brooklyn Republican Sen. Marty Golden. There’s a same-as in the Assembly sponsored by Michelle Schimel.

Senators Say Positions On Same-Sex Marriage Haven’t Changed

Several state senators insisted today they haven’t changed their positions to “yes” on same-sex marriage, despite reports they may be backing the measure.

Sen. Kemp Hannon, R-Nassau County, appearing on The Capitol Pressroom radio show earlier this morning, said at the top of his interview that he remained a “no” vote.

“I voted against it two years ago and I’m voting against it now,” Hannon said, adding that his view reflect the sentiments of his Long Island senate district.

“In this case, I’m not in favor of gay marriage,” Hannon said. “What’s on the voters’ minds? It’s jobs and taxes.”

Other lawmakers previously on the record as avowed no votes, including Sens. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, and Sen. Charles Fuschillo, R-Suffolk County, reaffirmed their position today still being opposed to the measure.

Undeclared legislators, like Sen. Shirley Huntley, D-Queens, said she remained undecided.

The new push comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo steps up his efforts to approve same-sex marriage. Earlier today, Steve Cohen, the governor’s top aide, said he knew of multiple unnamed senators in favor of gay marriage, but were hesitant to vote yes because of political calculations.

Those familiar with the governor’s strategy on gay marriage legalization say some GOP legislators need to be given assurances that Democrats will go along with the measure in order to receive political cover, either from angry constituents or the state’s powerful Conservative Party.

Cuomo Submits Insurance Exchange Legislation (Updated)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has introduced his own measure that would create a health-insurance exchange for New York, a measure that would help the state comply with the federal health-care overhaul.

“This legislation would fulfill New York’s commitment to the federal government to set up a health benefit exchange that will enhance access to affordable quality health care for all New Yorkers,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This is a dynamic and flexible proposal that will protect consumers and help bring down the cost of health care for families, businesses, and taxpayers.”

The introduction of the measure comes after Senate Republicans introduced their own measure for the exchange last week. The exchange is meant to be a state-by-state marketplace for businesses to compare health-insurnace policies.

Cuomo’s legislation would create a board of directors and an advisory panel. The governor’s office said that while the federal law requires the exchange to be “self-sustaining” by January 2015, federal funding is available through the end of 2014.

A bill and supporting memo haven’t been posted yet by the governor’s office (I’ll post it once it’s found).

And the state is eligible for up to $28 million in federal grants to get the exchange up and running.

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Cuomo, Assembly Undecided On Temporary Rent Extension

With two days to go before rent control laws in New York City expire, the GOP-led Senate quietly introduced a measure that would temporarily extend the current laws through Friday, a measure that both Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office and the majority Assembly Democrats are yet to have a position on.

Cuomo and Assembly Democrats have tied rent control’s next unspecified expiration date to the sunsetting of a proposed 2 percent cap on local and school property taxes.

Skelos has remained ambivalent about the sunset for the property-tax cap, which he said could lead to uncertainty for businesses and homeowners.

Republicans may vote for the temporary measure in order to either work out details on rent control or last-minute specifics on the cap — or both.

Having the temporary rent control laws extend only to Friday puts pressure on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, who observes the Jewish Sabbath.

Lawmakers are scheduled to be back in Albany next Monday as well.

White House On Weiner ‘Distraction’

Obama administration Press Secretary Jay Carney on Weinergate earlier today – note that he stops just short of joining the call for the embattled congressman’s resignation, but seems to make it clear that the president wouldn’t object at all if this whole thing just went away:

“The president feels, we feel at the White House, this is a distraction, as Congressman Weiner has said himself, his behavior was inappropriate, dishonesty was inappropriate. But the president is focused on his job which is getting this economy continuing to grow, creating jobs and ensuring the safety and security of the American people.”

Carney, who was speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, said he was “not aware” of any top administration aides involving themselves in the campaign to get Weiner to step down. Specifically asked to reiterate his position on resignation, Carney replied:

“I answered that question. We think it’s a distraction from the important business that this president needs to conduct and congress need to conduct. Beyond that I don’t have any comment.”

Pataki Fundraising, Not Debating

A reader forwarded over an invite emailed out last week by former First Lady Libby Pataki, inviting supporters to a birthday fundraiser for her husband, former Gov. George Pataki, next Tuesday at the Water Club in Manhattan.

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Technically speaking, the event is being hosted by the former governor’s new PAC, No American Debt. Tickets for the reception are $250 per person and $400 per couple, while a host committee dinner will set donors back $5,000 a pop.

The event is being held to celebrate George Pataki’s birthday (he’s turning 66 on June 24). The PAC is the latest in a series of vehicles the ex-governor has used to keep his hand in the national political mix as he continues to eye another potential White House bid.

Last year, Pataki used a different PAC, Revere America, to raise cash and fund ads in his home state of New York and several key presidential primary states – particularly New Hampshire – in opposition to candidates who supported the health care reform law.

Pataki left Revere America in February and started the PAC when it became clear that debt would be a top focus of the 2011-2012 debate.

The former governor is not among the seven would-be GOP presidential hopefuls squaring off tonight in the Granite State. But he said in a New Hampshire Union Leader OpEd last week that he will be “listening for specifics” from candidates on how to address the debt crisis.

Skelos: Senate To Discuss Gay Marriage Tuesday

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, headed down just now to meet with Gov. Andrew Cuomo for their Monday morning coffee chats and said his GOP conference wil discuss same-sex marriage on Tuesday.

“If the bill comes to a vote, people are going to be able to vote their conscience,” Skelos said.

Republicans are yet to “conference” or formally discuss the issue so far. Skelos also said he hasn’t taken a head count of his members to see whether they support the bill.

Skelos also he hasn’t spoken at length to his GOP colleagues about the issue.

“I have not asked them privately. We’ve had very, very initial discussions last week. At some point we’ll have more personal discussions,” he said.

Skelos was scheduled to meet with Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Ross Levi today, but that has been postponed.

At least seven GOP members are believed to be on the fence or undeclared.

Earlier today, Cuomo’s top aide Steve Cohen said several Republicans personally support the measure, but fear the political reprecussions of voting no.

Grad Students Angry With Governor ‘Andy’

Since it’s the end of session and all sorts of issues are cropping up, here’s a new one: The Graduate Students Employees Union Local 1104 has launched a radio/print advertising campaign asking New Yorkers to “call Andy and tell him to pay!”

“Andy” of course, is Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who, according to GSEU, doesn’t want to make good on a 2007 agreement the students reached with their union for a modest $300-a-year cost of living adjustment to their already meager salaries.

The governor wants to keep grad students, who teach more than 47 percent of SUNY undergrad classes, “starving with poverty level third world wages,” the union maintains in a print ad running in the Legislative Gazette.

The radio ad notes the governor makes $179,000 and his deputies (some of them, anyway) make $150,000, while SUNY Chancellor Nancy “Zimphler” (sic) earns over $500,000 to run the so-called “empire” of taxpayer-funded higher ed institutions worth more than $10 billion.

A variety of grad students take turns reading the following lines:

“Andy runs ads claiming to support education and workers. But I’m starving and struggling. And I deserve more than poverty wages. Every worker does. So, stand with us and tell Andy to practice what he preached and pass our tiny pay bill. Because SUNY doesn’t work without us.”