Thursday, December 18, 2014

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NY1 Political Director Bob Hardt's daily look Inside City Hall.

NY1 ItCH: Tricky Political Math in the State Senate

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New York is getting a little taste of government, Italian-style. With our State Senate in Albany, no one is quite sure who's in charge or whether legislation there will somehow make its way to the governor's desk to be signed into law.

The messy situation originated three years ago when a small group of Democratic lawmakers split off from their colleagues and formed a governing coalition with Republicans. The group, led by State Sen. Jeff Klein, hasn't always agreed with the GOP on every issue but has sometimes managed to be a tail that has wagged the Republican dog.

Frustrating for the "traditional" Democrats is that they actual have a numerical majority in the Senate when it comes to party affiliation. Thirty-two of the group's 63 members are registered Democrats but only 24 of them vote as a bloc. Two Democrats – John Sampson and Malcolm Smith – are under indictment on corruption charges while one of them – Simcha Felder – usually votes with the Republicans. And then there are the five members of Klein's Independent Democratic Conference. Confused? So are New Yorkers who wonder what bills will actually be taken up by the Senate.

The power-sharing arrangement has worked well for Klein but not always for other Democrats who are pushing liberal legislation like a bill that would provide college aid to the children of illegal immigrants – or supporting Mayor de Blasio's plan to raise taxes to pay for universal pre-k. Senate party affiliation might better resemble a "?" rather than a D or an R.

The state's unofficial Democratic party leader could get involved in this mess and try to straighten things out but Gov. Cuomo seems content with the Senate confusion. As Susanne Craig and Thomas Kaplan point out in today's Times: "..Mr. Cuomo actually has a friendly working relationship with many Senate Republicans. He and those senators have been at odds on social issues, but he has relied on their backing for his fiscal agenda, which has focused on issues of great importance to Republicans, like restraining government spending and cutting taxes."

When Cuomo's father was governor, Senate Democrats expressed similar frustration that Mario barely lifted a finger to try to help them win a majority, happy to use Majority Leader Warren Anderson (and later Ralph Marino) as convenient foils when Democratic legislation died in the Senate. A house divided worked well for the father and it appears that way for the son.

Meanwhile, expect more intrigue and confusion in the Senate for the rest of this legislative session. You better brush up on your Italian.

Bob Hardt

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