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State Lawmakers, Focusing on New Issues, Are Haunted by Old Ones



The state legislature, meeting for the first time since deals were struck on pension reform and new district lines, tried to focus on their new task, agreeing on a budget.  But they found that the old issues continue to have repercussions, as a major union suspended all endorsements and contributions over the pension vote.


The week began with Governor Andrew Cuomo signing into law a bill to expand the state’s DNA data base.


Cuomo says the law will make the state “safer”.


The DNA bill was passed in all night session that ended last Thursday morning.  Cuomo and lawmakers also settled redistricting lines that are largely favorable to incumbent lawmakers for the next ten years, and  approved changes in benefits for future state works, who now will have to contribute more towards their pensions, and receive less in return.  


Legislators are suffering a backlash from those last two votes, from the state’s largest public employee union. Civil Service Employee Association President Danny Donohue announced that the union is suspending all political endorsements and campaign contributions to state legislators, because of the deal. Donohue says lawmakers put “their own political self interest” ahead of the retirement security of future state workers, and he says the union is considering backing primary challengers to key incumbent legislators.


“If they think that we’ll forget about this in a month or two, I don’t think they understand what they’ve done,” said Donohue, who said Governor Cuomo has “burnt a lot of bridges”.


Unions provide key support in the form of staffing phone banks, distributing literature and holding signs at campaign rallies. Governor Cuomo is not up for reelection for two more years, but Senators and Assemblymembers will face the voters this year.  


Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver denies that the lack of union endorsements and help could be a problem for lawmakers’ reelection.  And he chided CSEA for making its decision based on one vote.


“I have no reaction to that,” said Silver, who says “support should not come as the result of a vote yes or a vote no on any particular bill”.  


Speaker Silver says he’s now focusing on the state budget. His house has some disagreements with the Governor’s plan, including Cuomo’s desire to award $250 million dollars in school aid on a competitive basis. The Speaker and several other key lawmakers think most of that money should go directly to aid poor school districts.  


Meanwhile, progressive leaning groups lobbied lawmakers to raise taxes on corporations in the new budget. Ron Deutsch, with New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness says corporate tax loopholes should be closed, to “adequately provide series to struggling New Yorkers”.


The legislature did not seem close to making final decisions on the budget. Conference committees were gathering, but at this meeting of the Higher Education conference committee, little was accomplished, as Assembly Chair Deborah Glick admitted the committee had not yet been told the amount of money it has to allocate.


“We’re a little bit at a standstill,” Glick said.


Lawmakers have nearly two full working weeks before they have to settle on a new budget. It’s due April 1st.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.