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

Faith leaders from around New York came to the Capitol to gain support in the state Senate to adopt a statewide single-payer health care system. It would be an alternative to the national Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which Republicans in Congress and President Donald Trump have been trying to dismantle.

New York State Senate

After an embarrassing controversy over stipend payments, the beleaguered group of breakaway Democrats in the state Senate is trying to change the subject.

The eight-member Independent Democratic Conference has been the target of some bad headlines lately because some of its members have accepted stipend payments of $12,500 to $18,000 for chairing committees when they were in fact the vice chairs, a position that does not legally entitle a senator to extra pay.

The IDC’s leader, Sen. Jeff Klein, has said repeatedly that it’s all legal.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

There are reports that state senators who received payments for chairing committees that they actually did not chair are now under a probe by the state attorney general and at least one U.S. attorney.

Several Republican and independent Democratic senators were paid stipends allocated to chairs of Senate committees. But the senators weren’t actually the chairs; they had all been designated as vice chairs, a relatively new title. There is no provision in state law to pay stipends to vice chairs.

New York State Senate

The state is one step closer to having ride-hailing services available before the Fourth of July, now that the state Senate has passed a bill to speed up when companies like Uber and Lyft will be allowed to operate in upstate New York.

When state lawmakers agreed to allow the companies to operate outside New York City as part of the budget, they thought that they would pass the legislation by April 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The leader of the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference for the first time publicly answered questions from the media about news stories that some of his members received stipends for committee chair positions that they do not actually hold.

State Sen. Jeff Klein defended the practice, while the leader of the Senate Democrats is calling for an investigation.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

There are calls for a criminal investigation of some questionable stipend payments to some New York state senators. One of the senators who received those payments is giving it back, while another is calling the controversy a “witch hunt.”

Several senators who are part of a breakaway group of Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference were paid extra stipends — ranging from $12,500 to $18,000 a year — for serving on various Senate committees controlled by the majority party Republicans.

Payne Horning / WRVO News

School districts across the state are holding votes on their budgets Tuesday. While almost all of them are keeping their spending requests within the mandatory tax cap, some districts wonder whether the cap is sustainable over the long term.

The property tax cap is now in its sixth year, and according to David Albert with the New York State School Boards Association, most of the state’s nearly 700 school districts are asking for increases that are within the limits of the cap.

A new online video ad featuring Gov. Andrew Cuomo and promoting tolerance has once again fueled talk that New York’s governor may be planning a presidential run. There are some questions, though, about the ad and its donors.

The ad, which for now is only running online, features Cuomo and several well-known actors, including Steve Buscemi and Whoopi Goldberg. All claim to be something other than they actually are to promote a message of unity and tolerance in a diverse state.

“As a New Yorker, I am black,” Cuomo says in the ad.

“I am white,” Goldberg says.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

One of the top issues remaining before the state legislature adjourns for the summer is fixing problems in the state’s economic development contracts. That’s after a scandal led to federal corruption charges against nine former associates of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

A bill by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to reinstate the comptroller’s ability to oversee economic development contracts is gaining momentum in the legislature.

stgermh / Flickr

New York voters get a chance to decide in the fall whether the state should have a constitutional convention. Both state legislative leaders, however, say they are against it.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Leader John Flanagan appeared together Tuesday at a forum sponsored by the Albany Times Union’s Hearst Media Center.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Some lawmakers are pressing the state’s comptroller to divest the state’s pension fund from the fossil fuel industry. But Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said he believes he can be more effective in changing the companies’ behavior by acting from the inside.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Some of New York’s Democratic leaders are expressing outrage over the Republican House of Representatives vote to undo the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has warned for months that the proposed repeal of the ACA would blow a multi-billion-dollar hole in the state budget and potentially cost state and local governments and New York’s hospitals $4.5 billion.

Those who get their health care through the New York Exchange, set up under Obamacare, could lose $400 million in tax credits. And 1 million New Yorkers could lose their health care. 

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.

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