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Groups seek action in Albany to counteract Trump policies

Karen DeWitt

The New York State Legislature is back at the Capitol for three weeks of meetings before the session ends later in June. A number of advocacy groups say there’s an opportunity for lawmakers to act to address some of the harm that they say President Donald Trump’s policies are causing. But divisions in the Legislature may hinder any chance of achievements.

Michael Kink with the Strong Economy for All Coalition said Trump’s tax plan will benefit billionaires at the expense of ordinary citizens, and the Republican-led Congress is moving to take away collective bargaining rights for workers, jeopardizing wages and pensions.

“Right now, here in Albany, in the last three weeks of session, lawmakers and Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo can take specific steps,” Kink said.

The group wants the state’s millionaires’ tax expanded, among other things.

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Kink and others spoke at a rally of a few dozen people at the Capitol representing social justice and environmental groups. Peter Iwanowicz with Environmental Advocates of New York said lawmakers could take the first step toward a constitutional amendment that guarantees the right to clean water and clean air.

Others want expanded voting access, more help for the homeless and greater protection for immigrants.

Ron Deutsch, who is with the union-backed think tank Fiscal Policy Institute, said Cuomo and lawmakers should act to address an economic development scandal in the governor’s office that’s led to nine former Cuomo associates charged with crimes including bid-rigging and bribery. Trials could begin as early as October.

“Many members of the governor’s inner circle are intertwined in this bid-rigging scandal,” Deutsch said.

Deutsch said one of the bills would reinstate the authority of State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to review the economic development projects before they are finalized to flag potential conflicts or illegalities.

David Friedfel is with Citizens Budget Commission, a budget watchdog group that lists numerous business and Wall Street representatives on its board. His group agrees that procurement reform is needed before the session ends. Citizens Budget Commission also backs a bill to create a database of all economic development contracts in the state.

Friedfel said taxpayers need to know how nearly $9 billion of their money is being spent.

“It’s important that people see what that money is being used for,” Friedfel said. “And whether or not the state really is getting a return on its investment.”

But Cuomo already said in April that his agenda has been accomplished in the state budget. The governor has largely avoided the Capitol ever since.

And while the Senate and Assembly have debated and approved a number of bills, most are supported in only one house and stand little chance of passage.

The Assembly is controlled by Democrats, while the Senate is run by Republicans, with the help of some breakaway Democrats. The leadership of the houses often has different priorities.

Kink, with the Strong Economy for All, warns lawmakers not to give up on reaching deals.

“It’s not the time to slink out of town,” Kink said.

Cuomo in recent days has preferred to act through executive orders to achieve changes as an alternative to dealing with the Legislature. Cuomo enhanced the state’s already existing plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions after Trump announced that the U.S. is pulling out of the Paris Accord to combat climate change.

And Cuomo also issued orders to shore up the state’s continuation of the insurance protections in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, in the event it is repealed by the Republican-led Congress. The governor said insurance companies participating in the state’s health plan exchange must offer 10 key benefits, including pregnancy and addiction treatment. He said insurance companies that don’t comply will be barred from participating in the state’s Medicaid system.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.