Cuomo avoids Albany, but presses for end-of-session agenda

May 22, 2015

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been steering clear of public events at the state Capitol recently, after a second major party legislative leader, the head of the Senate was forced to resign over corruption charges.  But the governor is still finding ways to press for his legislative agenda in the last weeks of the session.

This month, the Senate leader was forced to resign after being charged with six counts of corruption, and was replaced. The replacement of Sen. Dean Skelos by Sen. John Flanagan as Senate majority leader comes just three months after the Assembly speaker was also forced to step down from his post over corruption charges.

In recent weeks, Cuomo has spent little time at the state Capitol. He did not speak after a private meeting with legislative leaders. He also did not attend the annual state Democratic Party gathering in Albany.

Nevertheless, Cuomo is still pushing some key issues in appearances around the state, as the legislative session draws to a close.

The governor is pressing for stricter anti sexual assault laws on college campuses. He was joined at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, where Cuomo said one in five women may be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

“I’ll tell you what’s worse, only 5 percent of rapes on college campuses re reported,” said Cuomo, who said only 10 percent of perpetrators found guilty of sexual assault are actually expelled from their schools.

“We are still covering this up,” the governor said.  

The governor wrote a letter, published in the Huffington Post, pressing for criminal justice reforms that would include treating 16- and 17-year-olds convicted of crimes as children, not adults, in the state prison system.

Cuomo has bypassed the legislature altogether and acted administratively to appoint a wage board to look at raising the minimum wage for fast food workers. The measure has been blocked in the Senate, which is led by Republicans who believe it would hurt businesses.

But Cuomo does need lawmakers to enact an education tax credit. It would benefit private schools by financing scholarships for poor children, as well as some after school programs at public schools. Donors who contribute up to $1 million would receive a credit worth up to $750.000 dollars on their taxes.  

The governor appeared with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, on Long Island and in Buffalo to promote the plan. The cardinal admits he’s been disappointed that the measure has failed in the past, and has suggested that some supporters, without naming name, have not pushed vigorously enough. But speaking to school children brought to the event, Dolan says he’s pressing on.

“There’s been reason in the past to be discouraged,” Dolan admitted. The cardinal says meeting with school children re energizes him.

“I know it’s all worthwhile,” Dolan said.  

Cuomo has added two new proposals , in an attempt to make it more palatable to opponents, including a  tax credit for parents who send their children to private schools, and money to help teachers buy additional school supplies..

The idea is backed by Senate Republicans, who already approved their own version, but it lacks support among the majority of Assembly Democrats.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says even with the governor’s revisions to the bill, there is still not enough support among Democrats to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

“I still think the conference is where it is ,” Heastie said.

Even though there are numerous Republican supporters in the Assembly, perhaps even enough for the bill to pass, Heastie says he’s sticking to a long time Albany tradition. Majority parties often withhold bills if there aren’t enough  votes among their own members for the measure to pass, without help from the minority party. Cuomo, at an event to promote the education tax credit at a Brooklyn Yeshiva, blasted that practice, saying it’s disingenuous.

“At least be honest with the people,” Cuomo said. “What they have done up until now has been a game, and it’s been a sham.”

Heastie says he won’t be pressured by the governor.

“If we don’t have a consensus of Democrats to pass a bill it’s not going to come to the floor,” Heastie said. “I don’t care what campaign goes on.”

The state’s teachers unions, who are close allies of the Assembly Democrats, are also against the tax credit, saying it benefits rich donors at the expense of regular public schools, something the Cuomo administration denies.

In addition to the distraction of the ongoing corruption scandal, Cuomo has also had issues in his personal life to deal with. His long time partner, Food Network star Sandra Lee, had cancer surgery this week, and the governor took time off to help in her recovery.