Karen DeWitt

Capitol Bureau Correspondent, Albany

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for 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 the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now.  She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers. 

Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.

She is a past recipient of the prestigious Walter T. Brown Memorial award for excellence in journalism, from the Legislative Correspondents Association, and was named Media Person of the Year for 2009 by the Women’s Press Club of New York State.

Karen is a graduate of the State University of New York at Geneseo.

Ways To Connect

Karen Dewitt / WRVO News

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s labor commissioner is likely in the next few days to finalize a phased in hike in the minimum wage to $15 an hour for fast food workers. That action dismays some business groups, who say it will have some unintended consequences.

The governor, after unsuccessfully trying to raise the minimum wage further through the legislature, appointed a wage board, which voted in July to increase the minimum wage for fast food workers to $15 an hour over the next several years. Cuomo spoke to jubilant fast food workers and union leaders when the vote was announced.

stgermh / Flickr

A New York State Board of Elections investigator appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo may have found a back door way into breaking some of the secrecy surrounding a major campaign contribution loophole in New York.

Eileen Buckley / WBFO News file photo

The New York state education commissioner’s plans to quell the testing opt out movement is getting some back lash from some Republicans in the legislature, including a former teacher.  

At a recent conference held by the teacher’s group Educators for Excellence, New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia says she plans to try to convince parents not have their children repeat this year’s boycott of standardized tests associated with the Common Core learning standards, which resulted in 20 percent of students statewide opting out of the tests.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

The controversial state ethics commission is in the midst of a review by a panel appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature. Government reform groups say they’ve already been asked to give their opinions on how to fix some of the commission’s problems.

wadester16 / Flickr

New York’s first openly gay state legislator says it’s time to appoint an LGBT person to the state’s highest court.

When Assemblywoman Deborah Glick was first elected to her job nearly a quarter century ago, she was the first state lawmaker to publicly disclose that she’s a lesbian. Back then, there was no same-sex marriage, and there was not even a law against discriminating against New Yorkers based on their sexual orientation. Glick helped that law get passed in 2002.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

There’s been an unusual focus on upstate New York among top state politicians from the downstate area in recent weeks.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a speech in Utica Thursday, says downstate lawmakers -- who numerically dominate  the legislature -- have been unified in seeking aid and programs for New York City and Long Island. But he says upstate lawmakers are more balkanized and have been largely unsuccessful.

“There is no place called upstate,” said Cuomo, who said New Yorkers tend to identify with the city they leave nearest, like Syracuse or Buffalo or Rochester.

Alberto G. / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he doubts that there will be  federal sanctions for schools that have high rates of students who boycotted standardized tests this spring.

Twenty percent of students statewide boycotted the controversial exams associated with the Common Core learning standards, with higher rates upstate and on Long Island. Federal officials had the power to sanction schools with high opt our rates by withholding funding, and the state’s education commissioner said a few days ago that she was talking to officials and would not rule out the sanctions compete.

timlewisnm / Flickr

A new school year is starting soon, and education officials say they will try to reverse a growing movement of parents having their children opt out of standardized tests.  The boycott could jeopardize a new system of teacher evaluations that are based on the exams and were supposed to begin later this fall.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO News

The New York State Board of Elections recently issued its final report on an experimental public campaign finance system that had no participants. Government reform groups say it’s another sign that the pilot program for one race in the 2014 election cycle was designed to fail, and that politicians in New York are not yet serious about real campaign finance reforms.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

New York state’s Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx native, has spent a portion of the summer touring upstate New York. The speaker replaced Sheldon Silver who was arrested on corruption charges earlier this year.

Heastie has been to Buffalo, Binghamton, Syracuse and Utica, the Thousand Islands and surrounding areas as part of a listening tour to familiarize himself with issues that might not be front and center in New York City.  

“I’m used to cement,” said, Heastie who said says he’s “gained an appreciation” of the beauty of upstate regions.

NY Assembly Video (file)

The speaker of the New York State Assembly says any talks about convincing General Electric executives to relocate their headquarters back to New York should include discussions on the company’s Superfund cleanup of PCBs in the Hudson River that’s about to end.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been talking to GE executives, trying to lure the company’s corporate headquarters back to New York, according to a report by Politico New York.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

As the fourth anniversary of the devastating storms Irene and Lee approaches, the Cuomo administration says it’s more ready than ever for hurricanes, floods, and other adverse weather events .

Since Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office in 2011, there’s been a succession of severe storms, including hurricanes Irene and Lee that brought massive flooding to upstate and Superstorm Sandy in 2012 that flooded beach front communities on Long Island and submerged portions of the New York City subway system in corrosive salt water.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been making frequent trips to upstate cities this summer, touting his success in reviving the regions’ faltering economy. But a new report from the New York state comptroller on job creation shows there is still some work to do.

stgermh / Flickr

 

New Yorkers will get their first chance in 20 years to vote on whether to hold a convention to change the state’s constitution in November of 2017. But groups advocating for an informed vote on the issue say it’s not too early to start getting the word out.

A constitutional convention, dry as it may sound, has the potential to make big changes to New York’s government. Delegates could decide to switch to a unicameral legislature, or require that lawmakers be full time. They could also tighten what critics say are lax campaign contribution laws.  

Eileen Buckley / WBFO News file photo

New York State Education officials say there’s some improvement in the Common Core aligned math and English tests taken by third through eighth graders this year, but admit that two-thirds of the students who took the test are still, essentially, failing the exams.

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who just began her job in July, put the best face on data that shows student test scores in third through eighth grade math and English tests have made just incremental progress in year three of the state’s implementation of the Common Core learning standards.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News File Photo

 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he’ll try to get the state legislature to broaden an increase in the state’s minimum wage beyond fast food workers, but the newly appointed deputy majority leader of the state Senate is throwing some cold water on that plan.

Cuomo, who used his executive powers through a wage board to phase in a $15 an hour rate for fast food workers, says next he wants to try to get a similar increase through the state legislature next year. Earlier, he spoke about his desire to increase the minimum wage for all workers.

Bret Jaspers/WSKG

New York’s political world is focused on a race in the Southern Tier that could help determine the future of the state Senate.

The Deputy Majority Leader of the State Senate, Tom Libous, was convicted of lying to the FBI over obtaining a politically connected job for his son, and had to resign his seat in late July. The Binghamton based Senate district has held by Republicans for the past 100 years, and has included former Senate Leader Warren Anderson.

stgermh / Flickr

A fiscal watchdog group says it’s uncovered what it calls a “secret slush fund,” used by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislators to fund pet projects around the state, but the governor’s budget office says the grants are subject to oversight.  

governorandrewcuomo / via Flickr

Counties across New York are concerned over reports that sales tax collections are plummeting, they are asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tax department for a more detailed explanation.

The New York State Association of Counties, dismayed over a report by the state comptroller that sales tax collections have slowed to half of what they were last year, are asking Cuomo’s tax department for more information, says the group’s Steven Aquario.

Kate O'Connell / WXXI News

President Barack Obama’s plan for national standards to curb power plant emissions is based, in part, on a type of cap-and-trade program already existence in New York.  

Conor Bambrick, with the group Environmental Advocates, says he thinks the president's plan , billed by the White House as the “first-ever national standards” to curb carbon pollution from power plants has some of its roots in New York.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO News file photo

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli says he has no interest in challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a primary in three years, saying he prefers to seek re-election as comptroller.

DiNapoli, a favorite among many state Democrats (especially in the party’s left-leaning base), says he has no interest in running in a primary against Cuomo. The state comptroller says he intends to seek another term in his current post and says he’s set up a campaign committee for the comptroller’s slot for 2018.

“I happen to love this job,” DiNapoli says. “I think it’s the best job in state government.”

Melinda Shelton / Flickr

Schools across the state are bracing for a potential zero percent growth in their tax levy next year. While the latest provisions of an ongoing tax cap won’t take effect until the 2016 school year, the state schools boards association says schools are starting to worry now.

Governor Andrew Cuomo / Flickr

Two more lawmakers, a former Senate Leader and the Deputy Majority Leader of the Senate, were convicted of corruption in the past week. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to say it would not be a good idea to call state lawmakers back to the Capitol to enact more ethics reform measures.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO News

Supporters of paid family leave in New York say they hope 2016 will be their year, but business groups are urging caution.

A measure to allow all workers in the state 12 weeks of paid leave to take care of a new baby or sick family member was approved in the New York State Assembly, and two measures gained support in the New York State Senate, but the issue fell by the wayside in the end of session rush to pass bills and adjourn for the summer.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

While supporters are declaring victory over New York’s new higher minimum wage for fast food workers, the action, by a state wage board, highlights a larger question why are so many in the state dependent for their livelihoods on what are essentially entry level work force jobs.

The victory celebration by fast food workers and the state’s major union leaders also featured Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The governor, who appointed the board when Republicans in the legislature were reluctant to act, predicts more actions to come.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

A state wage board has voted to phase in an increase in the minimum wage for fast food workers to $15 an hour, making New York the first state in the nation to increase the wage for a single segment of the work force.

New York State Senate

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act saw some successes in the legislature in 2015, after the most controversial of the measures -- an abortion rights provision -- was separated out from the rest of the items.

Eight of the of the 10 provisions in the Women’s Equality Act passed in 2015, including anti-human trafficking laws, protections for pregnant workers, broadening anti-sexual harassment laws  in the workplace, and making it easier for women to sue for equal pay, says the co-chairwoman of the Women’s Equality Coalition, Suzy Ballantyne. 

Kramchang / Flickr

A wage board convened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to vote to raise the hourly minimum rate for fast food workers in New York state from the current $8.75 cents an hour to as high as $15 an hour when it meets on Wednesday.

The board was appointed by Cuomo when Republicans in the New York State Senate did not agree to raise the minimum wage any higher than the current phased-in increase, which will bring the minimum wage to $9 an hour by the end of this year.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO News file photo

New York state’s comptroller finds that local and school property taxes will increase by the lowest percentage in decades, under the rules of the tax cap program recently renewed by the state legislature.

According to the law, property taxes are capped at 2 percent per year or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The projected rate of inflation for the 2016 calendar year is less than 1 percent, at .73 percent, says Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

governorandrewcuomo / via Flickr

In the legislative session that recently ended, Governor Cuomo saw the state legislature reject a number of agenda items he’d been pushing. The governor, perhaps taking a cue from President Obama, has used his executive powers to advance some of the proposals anyway.

Pages