A Senate Shakeup Could Result In Major Changes In Ny

06.27.14 | Sarah Harnisch

A hydrofracking moratorium, a higher minimum wage, stronger abortion protections and public financing of campaigns would top the agenda for Senate Democrats if they win a majority in November.

The decision late Wednesday by a five-member Senate Independent Democratic Conference to rejoin with Senate Democrats would have an major impact on New York policy. And it set off a war of words Thursday between Republicans and Democrats -- a precursor to a bitter election fight over the next four months.

Democrats, if they win control, would push for other issues that have stalled: providing tuition assistance to immigrants in the country illegally, called the Dream Act; and allowing local governments to set their own minimum wages, up to about $13 an hour. They also want to decriminalize possession of a small amount of marijuana.

“We feel at this juncture we can best achieve those progressive results by forming a new coalition between the Independent Democratic Conference and the Democratic conference,” IDC Leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, said Thursday on “The Capitol Pressroom,” a public radio show.

Republicans are warning it would hurt upstate if New York City Democrats regain control, while Democrats say a majority of New Yorkers supports their policy initiatives. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a champion for unions and liberals, brokered the deal.

“I think it ultimately does have a very negative impact on upstate," Sen. Thomas Libous, R-Binghamton, said Thursday. "It’s basically Mayor de Blasio just doesn’t want to run New York City, he wants to run upstate New York and New York City, and some of things he represents is not what we represent in upstate.”

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, on Thursday knocked Cuomo, who Skelos has worked with and has praised since Cuomo took office in 2011. It was perhaps his sharpest comments yet toward Cuomo.

“The most surprising thing in all of this is the governor’s total capitulation to the Working Families Party and abdicating his position as the number one Democrat in the state to Bill de Blasio,” Skelos told Gannett’s Albany Bureau. De Blasio “would become the de facto governor of the state.”

Democrats said their policies would boost the state, such as increasing the minimum wage from $9 an hour at the end of next year to $10.10 an hour perhaps in early 2015. Local governments could increase it further, to $13 an hour.

“I believe this is a critical step forward toward increasing the minimum wage, expanding affordable housing, ensuring women’s equality, passing the DREAM Act and advancing other core values,” De Blasio said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the new majority coalition to move forward on a progressive agenda for New York City and our state.”

Democrats would control all branches of state government when the legislative session resumes in January, if Cuomo and Democrats win election this fall. Democrats hold a wide majority in the Assembly.

Klein, who represents parts of lower Westchester County, said too many issues important to Democrats have stalled in recent months under the current Senate leadership of Republicans and the IDC.

Klein said he will look to share the Senate presidency with Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers. The arrangement would be similar to the one he’s had with Skelos since 2013. They had to agree on what bills to bring to the floor for a vote.

Sen. David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown, Rockland County, dismissed the idea that the new coalition would hurt upstate. The last time Democrats held the Senate majority in 2009 and 2010 it was marred by infighting, scandals and a monthlong leadership stalemate. Republicans charged that Democrats installed a variety of new taxes, including an unpopular payroll tax in the New York City area.

“I think people have learned the lessons of what happened there, and will do everything possible to avoid that gridlock and the harmful legislation that got passed,” Carlucci said.

Carlucci faced a potential primary if he didn’t dump Senate Republicans -- further impetus for him to push for a deal with Democrats.

“For me, locally, I want to avoid a Democratic primary, one that would be a just a distraction from making sure that we’re delivering results for people in New York,” Carlucci said.

Who controls the Senate will come down to a fierce battle in the November elections. It takes a 32-seat majority to control the Senate, and after the last election in 2012, Democrats controlled 32 seats and Republicans had 31 seats.

But Democrats didn’t have a functioning majority after the 2012 elections because the IDC joined with Republicans to share power.

Republicans vowed to win the 32 seats needed to maintain a majority. There are about a half dozen keys seats in western New York, the Hudson Valley and Long Island that will be battleground races.

Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Greece, Monroe County, charged that Democrats from New York City would neglect upstate.

"In the past four years the Senate Majority Coalition has worked for regional balance, lowered income taxes, ensured a fair distribution of resources and worked collaboratively to restore fiscal sanity to our state,” Robach said in a statement.

Karen Scharff, co-chair of the Working Families Party, said voters largely support the party’s initiatives.

“The issues that we’re talking about are issues that the vast majority of New Yorkers agree with us on,” Scharff, who heads Citizen Action, said on “The Capitol Pressroom.” “So I feel that the voters are on our side.”