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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8:25am

Thu March 27, 2014
Politics and Government

FBI investigating alleged corruption in state Assembly, Senate

State lawmakers in the Assembly and the Senate are coming under scrutiny from the FBI. The state Capitol offices of an assemblyman were raided, and a state senator gave a tour of her home property in an attempt to debunk allegations from federal investigators that she engaged in an illegal land deal.

Assemblyman William Scarborough's offices were raided by the FBI, over allegations that he overcharged for travel, lodging and meal reimbursements paid to lawmakers when they gather in Albany for weekly sessions.

Scarborough says he's innocent.

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8:39pm

Wed March 26, 2014
Education

State lawmakers say delay of Common Core effects likely in state budget

Wallyg Flickr

State lawmakers say it’s likely the state budget will include a moratorium on the effects of school exams administered in connection with the controversial Common Core learning standards.

The state Assembly already passed a bill to delay the effects of the new Common Core tests on students and teachers, after widespread complaints that schools and the state education department were not adequately prepared to make the needed curriculum changes.

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7:01am

Wed March 26, 2014
Politics and Government

Lawmakers come closer to budget agreement

Legislative leaders say they are working together and are close to a budget agreement, after last week's blow up that left the Senate and Assembly leaders negotiating separately with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The legislative leaders, following a two-hour, closed-door meeting with the governor, seemed in high spirits. Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos gave his oftentimes rival Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver a hug.

“Look how much I love Shelly,” Skelos said with a laugh.

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7:28am

Tue March 25, 2014
Education

Last minute push for school aid amid voter dissatisfaction

Actress Cynthia Nixon speaks at an event in Albany in early June 2013. (file photo)
Karen Dewitt WRVO

Education funding advocates, including actress Cynthia Nixon, made a last-minute pitch for extra money for schools in the state budget. Meanwhile, a new poll finds many New Yorkers think the quality of education in the state is deteriorating.

"Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon has a child entering college as well as one in kindergarten. She says Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education policies in New York have increased inequality and led to two separate school systems within public schools, one for the rich and one for the poor.

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7:10am

Tue March 25, 2014
Politics and Government

New Siena poll finds state electorate not optimistic

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (file photo)
Ryan Delaney WRVO

A new poll finds the majority of New Yorkers say they aren't better off now than they were four years ago, but these sentiments do not seem to be hurting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s chances for reelection.

The Siena poll asked voters whether they felt things were better now under Cuomo than they were before he was governor. It found that in several key areas including business climate, taxes, corruption and public education, less than a quarter think the situation has improved.

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3:48pm

Fri March 21, 2014
Politics and Government

Dispute ends budget meeting

Wallyg Flickr

The next several days will be crucial ones in Albany for negotiations on the state budget. Tensions ran high at a closed-door meeting between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos abruptly left the final leaders meeting before the weekend early, complaining there was too much emphasis on the needs of the New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, at the expense of the rest of the state.

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6:51am

Fri March 21, 2014
Politics and Government

Dozens arrested at Capitol as budget talks continue

Protesters rally at the state Capitol on Thursday.
Karen Dewitt WRVO

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders continue to meet behind closed doors to hash out a budget deal, while outside the governor’s offices dozens of angry protesters were arrested.

Cuomo is calling legislative leaders into his office for twice-a-day private meetings to hash out details of the $145 billion state budget.

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6:54am

Thu March 20, 2014
Politics and Government

Activists take to their smartphones to webcast Assembly meetings

-JvL- Flickr

Government reform activists took their smartphones into Assembly Committee meetings to live stream meetings that so far have not been available online to the public.

To mark what’s known as Sunshine Week, to promote a more open government, the activists took their smartphones into several Assembly Committee meetings. Using simple software, they pressed record and streamed the proceedings live on the Internet.

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7:04pm

Tue March 18, 2014
Politics and Government

Dream Act supporters vow to fight on

Assemblyman Francisco Moya speaks at a news conference held by supporters of the Dream Act at the Capitol Tuesday.
Karen DeWitt/WRVO News

Supporters of Dream Act legislation say they were “set up,” when a hastily arranged vote on the bill in the New York State Senate chamber late Monday led to the measure’s failure by just one vote.

The focus is now shifting to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Backers say they will try to get the governor to put the measure into the state budget.

Supporters of the measure to give state aid for college tuition to children of undocumented immigrants say they are disappointed and saddened that the measure lost in the Senate by just one vote.  

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7:19am

Tue March 18, 2014
Politics and Government

Cuomo pushes property tax freeze

Gov. Andrew Cuomo brought local leaders from both parties to the Capitol to promoted his property tax plan.
Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo enlisted the aid of some local government leaders to promote his tax freeze proposal, which has been losing ground in the New York state legislature.

Cuomo, surrounded by several county executives from across the state, promoted his plan, which is not supported in the state legislature. He says he’s signed up 150 local government leaders as supporters.

“It is a bold proposal, I understand that,” said Cuomo. He predicts the more people hear about it, the more they will support it.

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7:16am

Tue March 18, 2014
Politics and Government

Dream Act dies in New York State Senate

Wallyg Flickr

The Dream Act is dead for now in New York state, after the state Senate voted down the measure that would have granted college tuition aid to the children of undocumented immigrants. The 30 to 29 vote defeating the Dream Act left leaders of rival Democratic factions pointing fingers.

Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein , who is in a ruling coalition with the Republicans, says he’s disappointed that two Democrats joined the GOP to vote no on the bill to allow tuition aid for children of undocumented immigrants.

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5:34am

Mon March 17, 2014
Politics and Government

Education fights will dominate final weeks of budget talks

The state Senate and Assembly are scheduled to begin conference committee meetings on Monday, now that both houses have finished with their resolutions laying out their positions. 

Sticking points include funding for charter schools. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republicans want to restore changes made by  New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to three charter schools. The mayor says the schools can no longer  have rent-free space in existing public school buildings.

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6:47pm

Sun March 16, 2014
Politics and Government

Senate public finance provision raises questions

The New York state Senate for the first time includes Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan for public campaign financing in its budget resolution.  The sparsely worded proposal has left supporters and opponents trying to sort through the political tea leaves.

The inclusion of public campaign financing would seem to signal an abrupt change of policy for Republicans, who co-lead the Senate. The GOP has long maintained that a matching small donor plan using public funds is a waste of the taxpayers’ money, and would only lead to more annoying robo-calls.

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5:58am

Fri March 14, 2014
Politics and Government

Business groups knock Cuomo's tax freeze plan

Both houses of the legislature are making changes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tax freeze plan in their budget proposals. And now small business groups are speaking out, saying the proposal favors some homeowners at their expense.

The state Assembly’s budget replaces Cuomo’s plan to distribute widespread rebate checks to homeowners with an alternative to benefit New Yorkers who can least afford to pay their property taxes. The Senate is also making changes, even though Republicans in the majority say they still want to reduce property taxes.

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11:42pm

Wed March 12, 2014
Politics and Government

Assembly presents budget resolution

Education funding protesters outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office Wednesday.
Karen DeWitt/WRVO News

Assembly Democrats say there should be more money for schools and the environment, and major changes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to freeze property taxes. It’s all part of a one-house budget resolution, the first step in reaching agreement on a final spending plan by the end of March.

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7:26pm

Tue March 11, 2014
Education

Three incumbent & one new Regent elected

The state legislature replaced one member of the State Board of Regents, but allowed three others to remain, in elections held for the state’s top educational policy board.  

The vote featured complaints from Republican Senators, who voted against all of the candidates  to demonstrate their displeasure with the state’s implementation of the new Common Core.

Senate Republicans, who attended the joint legislative vote for the first time in several years, voted against nearly all of the Regents candidates.  

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6:24am

Tue March 11, 2014
Politics and Government

State Republicans expected to vote against Regents to protest Common Core

The New York State Assembly will vote on appointing members to the Board of Regents Tuesday.
Wallyg Flickr

State Senate Republicans say they will break a long-standing tradition of boycotting the election of new Regents. They now say they will attend a joint legislative session, and that many will vote “no” over dissatisfaction with the Common Core.  

It’s uncertain whether all four of the incumbent Regents members will be re-elected.  

Senate Education Chairman John Flanagan says Republican Senators will be attending a joint session of the legislature Tuesday to appoint members to the New York State Board of Regents to new terms. But he says many GOP members plan to vote no.

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8:10am

Mon March 10, 2014
Politics and Government

Fate of estate tax provision uncertain in state Assembly

On Wednesday, both houses of the legislature are due to release their one-house budget proposals, which they will then use to negotiate a final spending plan with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, in an interview with PBS's New York Now and public radio stations, says Assembly Democrats are not yet on board with part of Cuomo’s plan to cut the estate tax.

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7:27am

Mon March 10, 2014
Politics and Government

Assembly, Senate budget plans due

Budget negotiations are expected to get serious at the state Capitol this week, with the spending plan due at the end of the month.

The Senate and Assembly are due to put out their one house budget resolutions Wednesday, the first step toward reaching a final deal with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

There are a number of unresolved issues, including how to pay for and structure a plan to provide universal pre-kindergarten to New York’s four-year-olds, and a multi-step plan proposed by Cuomo to freeze property taxes has faced skepticism.   

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7:28am

Fri March 7, 2014
Politics and Government

Growing unease over Cuomo's tax freeze plan

There’s growing unease over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tax freeze plan.

One hundred local government officials have signed a letter opposing the plan, including Syracuse Mayor and state Democratic Party Co-Chairwoman Stephanie Miner, and there are signs that the legislature may modify what critics have called an overly complex proposal when the Senate and Assembly release their one house state budgets.

Lobby groups for the state’s counties, cities, and school boards are voicing numerous concerns. Tim Kremer, with the New York State School Boards Association, is one of them.

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7:00am

Thu March 6, 2014
Education

Assembly votes to delay some effects of Common Core

The state Assembly passed a bill Wednesday to delay some of the effects of New York’s Common Core learning standards.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says the bill delays the effects of the new learning standards for two more years, for both students and teachers. Teachers fear they will be evaluated on their pupils’ test scores when there wasn’t enough time to prepare and teach the new material.

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8:14pm

Wed March 5, 2014
Politics

Astorino makes it official, via YouTube announcement

Rob Astorino
Karen DeWitt/WXXI

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino announced on YouTube his candidacy to run as a Republican against Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Astorino, a Republican who has won the county executive seat twice in the Democratically dominated Westchester County, painted a grim picture of New York under Cuomo, saying the state is “dying” from the highest taxes in the nation and is one of the poorest business climates in the country.

“Is New York winning? Or are we losing?” Astorino asks.

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7:39am

Wed March 5, 2014
Politics and Government

Cuomo, de Blasio speak at dueling education rallies in Albany

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at an educational rally in Albany on Tuesday.
Karen Dewitt WRVO

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at dueling rallies on education at the state Capitol, highlighting the two politicians’ differences over education issues.   

A rally to promote de Blasio’s plan for universal pre-K had been planned for weeks. The mayor spoke to around 1,500 union members, urging them to put pressure on lawmakers to approve in the state budget the mayor’s plan to provide classes for thousands of four-year-olds starting in September.

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7:39am

Tue March 4, 2014
Politics and Government

Cuomo spends on ads to promote budget priorities

A screenshot of Gov. Andrew Cuomo during an ad for his upstate New York budget plan.
Cuomo Committee Vimeo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is dipping into his multi-million dollar campaign war chest to run ads promoting his state budget priorities.

The ads, which begin with Cuomo speaking directly into the camera, focus on the governor’s pitch for his tax cut plan and an ethics package that includes public financing of political campaigns and a crack down on bribery.

Karen Scharff, with Citizen Action, says the ethics ads are a good sign.

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7:27am

Tue March 4, 2014
Politics and Government

Advocates say lack of money at core of New York school struggles

The state budget deadline is approaching and education issues are taking center stage. Only one day before massive rallies for universal pre-K and charter schools, other advocates say they’ve gathered evidence for potentially another lawsuit for more state aid for schools.

The Alliance for Quality Education has been touring schools around the state to document what they say is the erosion of districts in economically depressed areas.

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7:34am

Mon March 3, 2014
Politics and Government

Westchester County Executive expected to become a GOP candidate for governor

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino speaks with reporters in Albany.
Karen Dewitt WRVO

It’s expected that Republicans will have an announced candidate for governor as early as this week. Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino has formed an exploratory committee and has expressed interest in what most believe will be an uphill climb against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is seeking reelection.

Astorino, a former radio executive, has twice won the county executive’s seat in Westchester County on the Republican line, in a region where Democrats now dominate.

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7:20am

Fri February 28, 2014
Politics and Government

Cuomo begins new push for tax freeze proposal, counties have alternative plan

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is starting a new push for his property tax freeze plan, while counties in the state say they have a better idea which could result in lower property taxes in New York for even longer.

Cuomo has begun a new campaign to promote his multi-part property tax freeze plan. It’s aimed at enlisting the aid of the public to help convince the legislature. A video features average homeowners and advocacy groups endorsing his plan.

“Lower our property taxes,” say various people identified as homeowners and standing in front of suburban looking homes.

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7:05am

Thu February 27, 2014
Politics and Government

State Senate ruling coalition gains a new member

The ruling coalition in the state Senate has grown by one member. Sen. Tony Avella, of Queens, has left the minority Democrats to join the governing coalition of Republicans and Independent Democrats.

Avella is a progressive-leaning Democrat who’s been called a maverick. He says he’s become convinced he can get more accomplished by joining the Senate’s ruling coalition, which includes all of the Republicans and a few break away Independent Democrats.  

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7:29am

Wed February 26, 2014
Politics and Government

New Siena Poll finds New Yorkers divided on Common Core

A new poll finds New Yorkers remain confused about the worth of the new Common Core learning standards, which schools in the state are in the process of adopting.

The Siena College poll finds voters are divided over the program, with around the same amount saying they are not confident that Common Core will result in better preparing students to be college or career ready, as those who say that the new learning standards are on the right track.

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7:18am

Wed February 26, 2014
Politics and Government

Assembly leader urges Senate to pass Dream Act, says no consensus on free college for prisoners

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver discusses the Dream Act while in Albany.
Karen Dewitt WRVO

Assembly Democrats passed a one-house version of the Dream Act, a bill to give college aid to the children of undocumented immigrants, and urged the Senate to follow suit.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who calls the Dream Act a top priority, blamed opposition among Senate Republicans for the measure’s failure to advance in the upper chamber. And he says the breakaway Independent Democrats in the Senate, who are in a coalition government with the GOP, need to work to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

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