After delaying the start of their annual retreat by one day due to bad weather, New York State Assembly Democrats privately met Tuesday. The hottest topic was campaign finance reform.
Lawmakers would have to take action before December 22 to make changes to an ambitious proposal officially unveiled Sunday — but there didn't seem to be much of an appetite to do so.
"We had a good cross-section. Members talked about the good things in it, the things they had concerns with. We will see what happens. I think members were satisfied that there is a public financing system. They did raise some concerns. I know the Senate is meeting next week. But we'll see what happens," Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said.
The recommendations for a new system of publicly-funded campaigns came from an independent commission appointed by legislative leaders earlier this year.
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And while advocates have blasted those recommendations for not going far enough to limit big money in politics, others say the proposed program is better than the current state system, which has no public matching funds awarded on any small-dollar contribution.
"There are quite a few people dissatisfied, there are quite a few people complacent about it and think it's fine," said Linda Rosenthal, a Democrat who represents parts of Manhattan in the Assembly. "I mean, what also rankles me is that it was punted to a commission."
But because of what some are calling a design flaw of the commission, or perhaps even a "poison pill," lawmakers cannot simply reject the commission's recommendations. To reject them, the Assembly would need a three-way agreement between the state Senate and the governor.
"I think overall there was an agreement that they were kind of in this altogether. So I think, Zack, your assumption that it should kind of be a three-way agreement — if people are having problems with it, it should be that way, and if people can accept it and there are concerns, then maybe there has to be a three-way discussion on that, too," Heastie said.
As the discussion focuses on public money for campaigns, New York state may be facing a very serious deficit to the tune of $6 billion in next year's budget. Heastie opened the door to raising taxes to fill the hole, something Gov. Andrew Cuomo does not want to do. A spokesperson for the Senate Democrats said they will discuss it at a conference at their retreat in Albany next week.