NY Legislature Returns For Part Two Of Session

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New York State Senate Leader John Flanagan (left) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

New York State lawmakers are due back at the Capitol Monday following a two week break. The Senate and Assembly are scheduled to meet for around two more months. 

Governor Cuomo, speaking a week after a budget was approved, told reporters that there isn’t much left to do. “The budget did so much work for us,” Cuomo said.

But many lawmakers, as well as interest groups, have said there’s plenty more that needs to be accomplished.

The Dream Act would extend college aid to undocumented immigrants, now including the free tuition for middle class students at public colleges. However, it’s met resistance in the Senate, which is led by a coalition of Republicans and Independent Democrats.

Ethics reform was also left out of the budget, because the governor says the political will was not there. Nine former associates of Cuomo, including his former closest aide, face federal corruption charges of bribery and bid rigging in connection with hundreds of millions of dollars of  the governor’s signature economic development projects.

John Kaehny, with the reform group Reinvent Albany, said lawmakers need to make economic development contracts more transparent to avoid potential corruption in the future.

“Something very, very big happened “, said Kaehny. “Albany has done nothing to fix the problems that were revealed by that.”

Karen Scharff, with the reform group Citizen Action, said Cuomo and lawmakers also need to act this spring to modernize voting requirements. She wants them to make it easier to vote through early voting and automatic voter registration.

“We have a broken democracy where people in New York don’t vote,” said Scharff. “We need to do something about it before we go through another election cycle.”

Business groups are also seeking more action from Cuomo and lawmakers. The State’s Business Council will make a push in early May to get upgrades to energy infrastructure and to win swifter approval of energy pipelines, which are often stalled due to reviews by the Cuomo administration’s environmental agency.

Others say the governor and legislature need to do more to respond to potential actions by President Trump and the Republican Congress, which could lead to deep funding cuts and loss of immigrant rights.

Mike Kink, with the group Strong Economy for All, said state lawmakers should act to strengthen reproductive rights for women, including the right to choose abortion, in the light of threats to the landmark Roe v .Wade decision in the U.S. Supreme Court.

He said Cuomo and lawmakers should expand the state’s existing tax on millionaires and close a tax loophole popular with hedge funds, known as the carried interest law. “Our tax system should get ready for big budget cuts in Washington,” Kink said.

The federal budget is supposed to be finalized in the fall. Kink and others predict the legislature will be back in a special session after October 1st to deal with potential budget cuts.

Cuomo won a provision in the budget to make unspecified changes later in the year, if needed, to react to potential deep federal funding cuts. The legislature will have 90 days to come up with their own plan first.

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