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.  

Matt Ryan New York Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo quietly froze the pay of 80,000 state workers Wednesday night, saying that with the state’s finances in tatters from the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, he had little choice. 

Most state employees were due to receive a 2% pay raise in their next paychecks under terms of collective bargaining agreements worked out between their unions and Cuomo’s administration. 

But around midnight Wednesday, the governor’s budget office informed the unions that the pay raise is on hold for at least 90 days. 

Karen DeWitt / WXXI News

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the highest daily death toll yet, saying that 799 New Yorkers died on Wednesday of the coronavirus.

“You’re talking about 799 lives,” said Cuomo, who said he has to bring in additional funeral directors to deal with all of the dead.

“If you ever told me as governor, I’d have to take these actions, I couldn’t even contemplate, ” Cuomo said.

The trend of fewer people being admitted to hospitals with the virus continues downward, with 200 people being admitted Wednesday. Cuomo said that’s the lowest number since the “nightmare” began.

Karen DeWitt

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it was another day of mixed news about the coronavirus.

Another new daily high for deaths was reached, while the overall rate of new infections and hospitalizations is flattening. 

The governor announced that 779 New Yorkers died from COVID-19 on Tuesday, the highest daily death toll yet, bringing the total to 6,268.

“The bad news isn’t just bad,” Cuomo said. “The bad news is actually terrible.”

One of those who likely died of the virus is former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, who passed away Wednesday morning.

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.