An early test for the new Democratic majority in the state Senate in 2019 was a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for and receive driver's licenses. Long a third rail in New York politics, the measure squeaked through the chamber, but with Democrats from key swing districts voting against it.
Rather than punishing the party in power, voters handed Democrats a supermajority two years later.
But now a new test of the big tent is facing lawmakers in Albany: The proposed creation of a fund to aid workers who did not receive the strengthened pandemic unemployment benefits in the last year.
The money will fall to two marginalized groups who garner strong feelings among rank-and-file voters, the formerly incarcerated and undocumented workers.
Lawmakers are discussing a $2.1 billion fund, which is smaller than the $3.5 billion initially proposed. Nevertheless, the creation of the one-time fund has caused trouble within the budget talks themselves.
Advocates over the weekend swung into action to shore up the provision's chances of winning final passage, releasing letters from business owners, clergy, and labor unions in support of the plan.
"It is also economically disastrous for our state to leave hundreds of thousands of our neighbors without the ability to buy basic necessities—low-income workers spend nearly every penny in local businesses on food, clothing, diapers, and basic supplies," the letter from union officials released Saturday stated. "This fund makes economic sense for all New Yorkers — getting survival cash to these families will serve as a badly-needed stimulus to small businesses and local economies desperate for relief."
And supporters of the proposal also protested on Easter Sunday outside of the offices of lawmakers who had signaled their opposition to the proposal.
Republicans, meanwhile, sent some signals of their own, namely a preview of what an election year theme for them could look like.
"As New York families and businesses fight for their physical and economic well-being, Democrats are raising taxes and using your federal stimulus dollars to enact a radical agenda rather than helping veterans, small main street businesses, teachers, and senior citizens," said Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt.
As with the driver's license issue, states have seemingly found themselves little choice to act where the federal government has not been able to for generations with a broader solution to immigration, perhaps the ultimate wedge issue in American politics.
Democrats hold a supermajority with a diverse conference, lawmakers from the Long Island suburbs, Western New York, and rural areas of the Hudson Valley. Once in a while, the poles of that tent are tested.