Capitol Bureau

Capitol Bureau correspondent Karen DeWitt reports on what is happening in Albany, and how the decisions made by lawmakers affect you. Karen reports for WXXI and New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.

She is also a regular contributor to New York Now, the statewide public television program about New York State government seen on WXXI-TV Sundays at 6:30 p.m.  

With just six weeks left in the state’s fiscal year, the Cuomo Administration has still not settled labor contracts with some significant unions, including all of the state’s prisons guards, and professors and other staff at the State University System.

Governor Cuomo sought $250 million dollars in workforce savings in the current state budget, which expires on March 31st. He said the money would come either through union concession in new contracts, or from up to 10,000 lay offs.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has been taking some heat for a series of actions that have been criticized as consolidating more power for the executive branch, at the expense of the legislature and even some other statewide office holders.   

When  Governor Cuomo’s tax commissioner  authorized 62 members of the Inspector General’s staff to look at state employees tax returns, in the context of an investigation, it was viewed with suspicion by members of the state legislature.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver expressed reservations.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli says that Governor Cuomo’s budget is mostly in balance, but he warns that  some proposals would give the governor too much power at the expense of other branches of government.


Occupy protesters briefly disrupted a state budget hearing at the State Capitol Monday,  saying they were angered by inequities in the tax system.

About two dozen Occupy demonstrators chanting “hey you, millionaires, pay you’re fair share unfurled banners at a legislative budget hearing on taxes.  They held a brief mike check denouncing the state’s tax policies, then left.

Occupier Stefan Fink says he’s unimpressed by recent actions by Governor Cuomo and the legislature to renew a temporary tax surcharge on the rich and says more basic inequalities need to be addressed.

A new poll finds most New Yorkers do not think giving the state’s top politicians a pay raise is a good idea right now.

Some lawmakers, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, have been saying recently that lawmakers “deserve” a pay raise, and have suggested setting up a commission, but a new poll by Siena College finds voters are opposed by a two to one margin, with 67% opposed and 31% in support.  Siena’s Steve Greenberg says those surveyed like the idea of a pay hike for the governor and his top commissioners even less, with 74% against and 25% in favor.

This week’s New York NOW on WXXI-TV features a one-on-one interview with longtime Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D- Manhattan).  

This week he put out a proposal that would raise New York's minimum wage to $8.50 per hour in January of 2013. It will surely pass his chamber, but is the governor on board?   

Silver sat down with WXXI Capitol Bureau Correspondent Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio. He also talked about why he's pushing for a pay raise for his fellow lawmakers.

A coalition of labor unions, religious groups, and others are urging Governor Cuomo and the legislature to close what they say are loopholes in the law that protect large corporations from paying their fair share of taxes.

Ron Deutsch, with New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, says the state could begin to close its $2 billion dollar budget deficit and have more money for schools and health care if it began collecting more taxes on corporations and other businesses who the groups believe are underpaying right now.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is out with a report on the state of New York’s economy, and the news is bleak.

The Comptroller’s numbers show that the already sluggish economic recovery in New York is losing momentum. The slowdown began in the second half of 2011, and is expected to continue into 2012, says Comptroller DiNapoli. 

 “That trend is going to be with us, at least for the short term,” said DiNapoli.  

Governor Cuomo told county leaders gathered for their annual meeting that he would meet them half way in providing mandate relief in the form of helping to defray health care and future pension costs. But he told the county officials, it’s up to them to do the rest.  

Governor Cuomo, in a speech to the county leaders that repeated many of the points of his budget presentation,  says he’s working on mandate relief  that will help the counties live within the recently imposed 2% property tax cap.

Governor Cuomo says the possibility of three primary elections in New York this year is not in anyone’s best interest.

A federal judge has already ruled that congressional primaries must be held June 26th. While Assembly Democrats would like statewide primaries to also be held on that date, Senate Republicans prefer an August  primary.  If no action is taken, the statewide primaries will automatically fall on September 11th this year. The presidential primary is in April. Governor Cuomo says having three separate primaries is “less than ideal”.