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.

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Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Democrats in the state Senate remain hopeful that they will regain the numerical majority and control of the chamber after a special election is held later this month. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo dampened those expectations, in remarks made Wednesday in New York City.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she expects the seat of former Sen. Bill Perkins, a Harlem Democrat who won a city council post, to be filled by another mainstream Democrat when a special election is held on May 23.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News File Photo

New York state’s education commissioner said Tuesday that new state-specific learning standards will offer several improvements over the controversial Common Core standards.

Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia’s report came on a day when large numbers of students in some parts of the state were expected to once again boycott the required third- through eighth-grade math tests.

Elia said the timing was pure coincidence.

“This is about standards,” said Elia. “This is not about opt-out.”

David Sommerstein / NCPR file photo

Assembly Democrats grilled Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s energy officials for more than four hours Monday about a plan executed by the Public Service Commission and a major energy company that will keep three upstate nuclear power plants alive for the next 12 years.

Utility ratepayers, mostly from downstate, will pay for the deal through a surcharge on their bills.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright, chairman of the Environmental Committee, said he’s “very disappointed” in what he said was an opaque process hastily decided last summer that ratepayers ultimately will have to finance.

New York State Senate

Bills to improve voter access advanced in a New York State Senate committee, but their ultimate passage is uncertain.

The measures, which would allow same-day voter registration and early voting, were approved in the Senate Elections Committee and moved to a second committee.

Last year, the second committee, on local government, never met before the session ended, but advocates hope that 2017 is different.

Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan cast doubt on the measures, saying he has concerns about potential costs.

Ken Teegardin / Flickr

President Donald Trump’s tax cut plan is so far just a one-page outline, but it’s already raising some red flags for New York’s political leaders.

The plan would slash corporate taxes and nearly double the standard deduction for married couples to $24,000.

But the proposal also would eliminate the practice of deducting state income taxes and local property taxes from federal income taxes, and that could harm taxpayers in states with high local taxes, like New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been worried about the potential change for a while.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO News File Photo

A bill that could address corruption in Albany is progressing in the state Legislature, but it might not be the measure that Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to become law.

Several former Cuomo associates, including a former top aide, face federal corruption trials on charges of bribery and bid-rigging in connection with the contracts for some of the governor’s signature economic development projects, including the Buffalo Billion.

Gage Skidmore / via Flickr

Several New York state lawmakers are sponsoring a bill that they say would force President Donald Trump to make his state tax returns public.

Trump broke with a more than 40-year tradition of presidential candidates and presidents voluntarily releasing their tax returns. Trump has said he can’t release his returns because he is under audit.

In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon began the practice of releasing the tax filings, even though Nixon himself was under federal audit at the time. Since then, every president has voluntarily released his tax returns.

Catherine Loper / WRVO News

State lawmakers and lobby groups say Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in error when he said that there was no political will to enact reforms in 2017.

Catherine Loper / WRVO News

A fiscal watchdog group is questioning the state’s century-old prevailing wage law for construction workers, saying it unnecessarily costs taxpayers billions of dollars a year in added expenses for big road, bridge and other projects.

The Empire Center, a fiscally conservative budget watchdog group, looked at the state’s constitutionally protected prevailing wage law. It requires contractors on public projects to pay their workers the amounts set in unions’ collective bargaining agreements.

Catherine Loper / WRVO News

State legislators are due back at the Capitol Monday, following a break for Easter and Passover after they passed the new state budget. It contained numerous non-spending items -- like free public college tuition for some middle class students and an expansion of ride-hailing services. So what, if anything, do lawmakers still need to do before adjourning in June?

The Senate and Assembly are scheduled to meet for around two more months this year, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo, speaking a week after the budget was approved, told reporters that there isn’t much left to do.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Environmental advocates say that New York state officials could do a better job of cleaning up pollution sites caused by the fossil fuels industry that they say in some cases, have dragged on for decades. Cuomo’s environmental aides defend their record.

An Ithaca-based environmental research group analyzed data on dozens of alleged toxic spills for just one company -- Exxon Mobil.

SUNY Oswego / Facebook

After a week of criticism from the left and the right of the political spectrum, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget director is among those defending the state’s new free public college tuition program for some middle-class students.

Conservatives say Cuomo was just trying to win a headline for a potential 2020 presidential campaign by convincing the state Legislature to enact a plan to offer free tuition to middle-class students attending public colleges and universities.

Onasill ~ Bill Badzo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the recently enacted state budget included the majority of the priorities that he named in his January State of the State message, including raising the age for adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18, providing free public college tuition for some middle-class families and allowing ride-hailing services to operate upstate.

Topics such as ethics reform were left out of the final budget package for a reason, the governor said.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

A residency requirement for college students seeking free tuition at New York’s public colleges is drawing criticism. Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended the late addition to the plan, approved as part of the state budget earlier this month.

Cuomo proudly touted the free tuition program for some middle-class students passed in the week-late state budget, appearing with former first lady and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at LaGuardia Community College in Queens on April 12.

New York State Senate

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers missed the midnight budget deadline after they failed to solidify deals on state spending and taxation, as well as some unrelated items like permitting ride hailing services outside of New York City.

New York State Senate

State lawmakers are still trying to negotiate a deal, but are heading toward a late budget. The state Senate adjourned for the day Friday about 4 p.m., saying they would come back when there was something to vote on.

There are tentative deals on increasing tuition aid to college students, approving a bond act to protect water infrastructure and allowing ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to operate outside of New York City.

Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) said the trouble is getting everyone to agree to all of the details at once.

David Sommerstein / NCPR file photo

Midnight Friday is not just the deadline for the state budget to be finished. It’s also the date for an $8 billion bailout of some upstate nuclear power plants to begin, and more than 80 local government leaders are making a last-ditch effort to stop a plan that they say will cost electric utility ratepayers billions of dollars.

In the summer of 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Public Service Commission announced a deal to provide nearly $8 billion to help Exelon, which owns two upstate nuclear power plants, buy a third one and keep them all running for another 12 years.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Deals on some issues tied to the state budget are coming together as lawmakers rush to meet the New York state budget deadline.

Agreements on permitting ride-hailing services outside New York City and a measure to treat 16- and 17-year-olds as juveniles in the court and prison system, known as Raise the Age, were coming together Thursday.

Matt Churchill / Flickr

New York’s Democratic congressional delegation is pushing a measure to prevent federal Medicaid funding cuts to the state.

Several Democratic representatives, along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, want the state to take over the cost of counties’ Medicaid bills, but want the federal government to provide the $2.3 billion to pay for it.

“This is about fundamental fairness,” said Cuomo, who said the state gives more money in tax dollars to Washington than it gets back in services.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

With lawmakers in Albany preoccupied with getting the budget done by week’s end, groups have to get creative to gain attention. Supporters of spending for public defense for the poor came up with one way: a “Wheel of Fortune”-style game staged right in the middle of the action.

The New York Civil Liberties Union chose a busy corridor in the Capitol between lawmakers’ offices and the Senate and Assembly chambers to hold a contest featuring a brightly colored wheel styled after the one on the iconic television show.

J. Stephen Conn / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is warning that the state might not be able to add more money for schools this year because of uncertainties in Washington over federal funding.

Just days before the state budget is due, Cuomo is urging the state legislature to pull back on additional spending for school districts beyond the $1 billion increase he’s already proposed, saying there’s too much uncertainty over federal funding right now.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders plan to meet all week, but no agreements are finalized yet on a state budget that’s due Friday.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Several proposals in Washington could mean multi-billion-dollar budget gaps for New York state. With the budget due in one week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders think that at the very least, they may have to come back later in the year to revise the spending plan.

formulanone / Flickr

Another sitting state legislator, Sen. Rob Ortt, has been indicted on corruption charges, along with George Maziarz, who held the western New York Senate seat before him. The indictments come as ethics reform proposals in the state budget are faltering.

Ortt is accused of creating a no-show job for his wife to pad his own salary while he was mayor of North Tonawanda in Niagara County.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Proponents of raising taxes on New York’s wealthiest say they have a new impetus to increase the state’s revenue — the continued bad news from Washington about deep federal cuts to health care and other areas.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has called an amendment to the federal repeal of the Affordable Care Act that would force the state to pick up county Medicaid costs “unconscionable.”

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

A provision to shift Medicaid health care costs in New York from counties to the state as part of the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act by Congress is meeting with a cool reception from state leaders.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The next two weeks at the New York State Capitol are going to be very busy as lawmakers face the deadline for a new budget. Several issues remain unresolved.

Marco Varisco / Flickr

Now that Preet Bharara is no longer the U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York, some in Albany wonder who will investigate potential corruption now.

Jim Bowen / Flickr

Tensions between opposing groups of Democrats in the New York State Senate reached a flash point this week -- over whose faction would be allowed to present their budget priorities for a floor debate. The dispute resulted in an exchange that included some racially charged name calling.

A growing group of eight breakaway Democrats, who rule the Senate in an informal coalition with 31 Republicans, have left regular Democrats smarting for some time now.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The smallest faction in the divided state Senate, the Independent Democratic Conference, has been permitted by the ruling party Republicans to issue its own alternate spending plan. That has angered the rest of the Democrats.

Currently, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have the same amount of members – 31 each – but the Democrats are divided, with eight members in a breakaway group that forms an informal ruling coalition with the GOP.

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