Cuomo: Now It’s Up To The GOP

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this afternoon it’s now in the Senate Republican conference to support the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Cuomo’s comments came at a news conference this afternoon heralding the support of three formerly undecided Democrats in the yes column: Sens. Shirley Huntley, Joe Addabbo and Carl Kruger.

Both Huntley and Addabbo said their minds had changed when they polled their constituents, and the majority came back supporting gay marriage. Kruger, meanwhile, who was outed on the front page of The New York Post after he was charged with bribe taking, said his switch was more emotional.

“I belie that what we’re about to do is redefine the American family and that is a good thing,” Kruger said.

The new calculus in the aftermath of 29 out of 30 Senate Democrats support the measure is unclear.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos says he is yet to conference the measure with his colleagues, but expects it to be discussed either Tuesday or Wednesday.

He’s also said he would allow a floor vote if there’s support for an up or down.

The governor, meanwhile, is meeting with gay advocates this afternoon to discuss the measure. Cuomo said at the news conference that he would decide whether to introduce the bill later today.

It’s likely that if waits until later this week he would need a message of necessity in order to bypass the required three-day waiting period for bills to age.

Parsing Sen. Alesi (Updated)

I just got off the phone with Sen. Jim Alesi, who is waiting to enter yet another meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on same-sex marriage. He told me the following:

“As I’ve said, I already know what direction I’m taking. I already know what the outcome is. So this is more of a strategy meeting than anything else….I’ve probably told you more than enough now, haven’t I?”

That sounds like a man leaning toward “yes” to me. I mean, why would you strategize with the guy leading the charge on the effort to legalize same-sex marriage if you planned on voting “no”?

UPDATE: Alesi, just before going in to see Cuomo told reporters: “If the bill comes to the floor the way that I’d like to see it, I would support it.” He did not clarify. Cuomo said during his press conference with the Senate Democrats that he’s open to changes to the 2009 bill that failed, but the bill he would send to the Legislature would look mostly the same – if he sends it. He said he would discuss that and the timing of the vote with the advocates.

Alesi, a Rochester-area Republican, has long been speculated to be the most gettable “yes” vote on a yet-to-be-introduced bill that would let gay couples legally wed in New York.

Exhibit A: His tortured performance prior to voting “no” – after some prodding by Sen. Marty Golden – when the measure failed back in 2009.

Alesi has been playing his cards very close to the vest for weeks now. He told the Wall Street Journal’s Jacob Gershman that he has prayed with advocates on both sides of this issue, adding: “They were both praying at the end of the day to God -I’m assuming it was the same God – that he would direct me to make the right choice.”

Alesi was standing with former Senate GOP spokesman John McArdle when I spoke to him. McArdle, as you’ll recall, is part of a team lobbying working on messaging/communications with Republicans on this issue.

(I’m reminded that McArdle technically can’t lobby, thanks to the two-year ban on former legislative aides formally appearing before the members they used to serve).

Lanza: Still A No, But That Could Change

Staten Island Sen. Andrew Lanza says he’s still a no vote on same-sex marriage, but that position could change.

“I’m still where I’ve always been and that’s a no, but I’m still taking a look at if that’s the right place to be,” Lanza said.

We’ve learned also there’s a 3 p.m. news conference in the Red Room with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, likely on gay marriage.

Lanza, a Republican who was profiled in The New York Times today as one of the “undecided eight,” said his Republican colleagues favor civil unions, just not the term marriage. He also said he would back carve-outs for religious institutions, a provision favored by a fellow undecided, Sen. Greg Ball, R-Patterson.

Meanwhile, there is a flurry of activity on gay marriage, mostly taking place behind closed doors. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is meeting with gay marriage advocates, along with undeclared Sens. Roy McDonald and Jim Alesi later today.

Cuomo aide Joe Percoco was also seen on the third floor with PR guru Jennifer Cunningham, who has been leading the group New Yorkers United for Marriage.

Skelos: Tax Cap Down To A Sunset

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos says it’s going to come down on the sunset for a property tax cap to pass.

“It’s really a matter of sunset or no sunset,” Skelos said.

Speaking to repoters this afternoon, Skelos said he hoped to get the extension of rent control approved temporarily for Friday in order to address concerns of his GOP conference.

Meanwhile, he hopes Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, will change his mind on the tax cap’s expiration provision, which appears to be the key sticking point for Silver’s support.

The Assembly bill, now embraced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, would tie the expiration of the tax cap to rent control for New York City.

“Ijust think at some point the speaker is going to see the wisdom of doing a property-tax cap without the sunset,” he said.

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.