8 days left in NY legislative session, many issues unresolved

Karen DeWitt / NY Public Radio
June 11, 2012

State lawmakers are due to end the 2012 legislative session in just about a week and a half. While Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders are downplaying any hope of major agreements on some key issues, a survey of New Yorkers find that voters want action.

Lawmakers plan on leaving for the summer on June 21st, but they continue to be gridlocked on the issues of raising the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour, and offering tax breaks to small businesses as an incentive to create more jobs.

Assembly Democrats, led by Speaker Sheldon Silver  have already approved a minimum wage bill, while Senate Republicans, led by Senator Dean Skelos, have approved the business tax cuts.

Steve Greenberg, with Siena College Research Institute, says a poll of New York voters find that the majority like both proposals.

“There is overwhelming support,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg says if legislators follow a time honored tradition, its possible voters will get both.

“There is a deal to be had here if the two sides want to make a deal,” Greenberg said.

Governor Cuomo, though, has repeatedly thrown cold water on any such deal, saying the philosophical differences between the two houses are too great.

“I’m not overly optimistic that we are going to bridge that philosophical divide in the time that we have left this session, “ Cuomo said recently.

Cuomo has even said that achieving agreement between the two houses on raising the minimum wage is more difficult than winning the deal to legalize same sex marriage in 2011.

The government reform group Citizen Action offers a theory on why the minimum wage increase seems to be stuck. The group’s Karen Scharff says a search through campaign contribution records finds opponents of the measure gave $400,000 to State Senate campaigns, and 71% of the money went to GOP candidate s coffers.

“It’s business as usual in Albany,” Scharff complained.

Governor Cuomo had listed the public financing of campaigns as one of his goals for the 2012 session, but the governor has been steadily backing away from the issue, as well as other campaign finance reform measures.  Citizen Action is pushing the issue, but Scharff admits it will be difficult to achieve.

“Clearly its a heavy lift, says Scharff, who says if the measure does not pass in the legislature, her group will make it a campaign issue in fall legislative elections.

The push for public financing of campaigns comes as a study by the New York Public Interest Research Group finds more evidence of Albany’s pay to play culture. The study finds that lobby firms, contributed 70,000 times as much money per capita as the average New York State resident, and that the practice of bundling boosts their influence to an even greater level.  Bundling occurs when lobbyists encourage their clients to also make contributions that are then delivered as a package to the politician’s campaign fund.

The report finds that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s campaign committee received the most money from lobbyists, nearly half a million dollars, second was Attorney General Eric Schneiderman , whose campaign fund got around $150,000.