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.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office

New York reported the highest number of daily deaths to date from the coronavirus, but despite that grim number, Gov. Andrew Cuomo sees a glimmer of hope. 

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers approved the state budget this week, they slipped in a provision to permit public campaign financing for elections in future years.

But critics say the plan was designed to weaken minor political parties, including the progressive Working Families Party, which has a long-running feud with Cuomo.

The public campaign financing measure has a history. Last year, when the governor and Legislature could not agree on the specifics of a program, they appointed a commission to work out the details.


On the highest single-day increase in coronavirus deaths and new hospitalizations in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is mandating that upstate hospitals share their spare ventilators with downstate hospitals that are overwhelmed with dealing with COVID-19 patients and rapidly running out of the machines. 

The governor said he understands why hospitals in parts of New York where there are fewer cases of coronavirus want to hold on to their spare ventilators for when cases spike.

New York state lawmakers were finishing up the state budget Thursday, two days after the deadline. One area of contention was making changes to the state’s bail reform laws.

In the end, they compromised.

On Jan. 1, New York eliminated most forms of cash bail for nonviolent crimes. There was a backlash as prosecutors and police said too many repeat offenders were being let back out onto the streets, and crime was on the rise as a result.

Matt Ryan New York Now

State lawmakers hoped to finish the budget overnight, one day after the deadline, after  an agreement reached with Gov. Andrew Cuomo will give the governor broad new powers to add or subtract spending throughout the year, as the state continues to cope out with the fallout from the coronavirus.

Cuomo said it’s a “remarkable” achievement that the budget was agreed to at all, when he and state lawmakers are under such stress dealing with the steeply rising cases of COVID-19 in the state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said legalizing recreational marijuana is not going to be part of the state budget this year.

Cuomo made his comments as the budget deadline approached with no agreement on how to close a $15 billion budget gap, caused by the fallout from the coronavirus.

He was asked about the fate of the legal cannabis proposal during his daily briefing on the coronavirus. 

"It's not likely," he said. "Too much, too little time." 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he knows many New Yorkers are trying to get through to the state’s website and phone lines to apply for unemployment, and are facing long waits and crashing systems.

He says the Labor Department normally gets 50,000 calls regarding unemployment a week, now it is getting over 1 million calls a day -- 1.2 million on Monday and 7.8 million over the past week.

Karen DeWitt / WXXI News

The deadline for the state budget is midnight March 31, and lawmakers, facing a massive deficit, are meeting at the State Capitol, which is off-limits to the public.

Meanwhile, yet another legislator has tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The latest to become sick is Sen. Jim Seward, a Republican from Oneonta who's the ranking minority member on the Finance Committee. Seward, who is receiving cancer treatments, has had mild symptoms from COVID-19 and will be discharged from the hospital shortly to recover at home, his office said. Seward's wife also has the virus. 

Governor Cuomo's office

More than 230 New Yorkers died of the coronavirus in the past day, for a total of more than 1,200 so far, a number Gov. Andrew Cuomo called “beyond staggering.”

Cuomo, in his daily update on the virus, said hospitals and their workers are already overwhelmed, two weeks before the virus is expected to peak. He asked health care workers from around the nation to consider coming to New York to help. 

Governor Cuomo's office

A new poll by Siena College shows a big change of fortune for Governor Andrew Cuomo, with 87% approving of his handling of the coronavirus.

In addition to high ratings on how Cuomo’s dealing with deadly virus, Siena spokesman Steve Greenberg says the Governor’s favorable rating, which for years has hovered in the mid 40% to around 50%, (in February of 2020 his approval rating was just 44%), is now much higher.