Public campaign financing, abortion, tax free zones top end-of-session list

Jun 4, 2013

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There’s three weeks to go in the legislative session, and advocates are pushing hard for two of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s agenda items -- translating the federal abortion rights in the Roe v. Wade decision into New York state law, and enacting public financing of statewide political campaigns.

The governor, meanwhile, is focusing on his proposal to bring tax free zones to upstate public college campuses.

Advocates for public financing of campaigns and advocates of abortion rights are entering the final push for passage of the measures, and are using a variety of tactics to spur action in the state Senate.

Public campaign finance activists have been holding demonstrations at the Capitol, and are now targeting individual senators who they see as obstacles to passage. Senate Republicans have already rejected public campaign finance. But the GOP leads the Senate in a power-sharing coalition with four breakaway Democrats.

The Independent Democratic Conference supports public campaign financing, and has introduced a bill that goes even further than legislation proposed by the advocates.

Sen. Diane Savino, one of the members of the Independent Democratic Conference, raised hackles among advocates when she said, in a recent interview with New York State Public Television and Radio, that the IDC would not try to strong-arm the Republicans to vote for bills that the GOP opposes.

“Forcing a vote on the floor is not the way the IDC and the coalition was put together,” said Savino, who said she does not want the opposite problem, where Republicans might try to force the Democrats to vote on items they disagreed with.

“The coalition wouldn’t work if we allowed that to happen,” Savino said.   

Since then, Savino’s constituents have been sent mailers from the Fair Elections Coalition, paid for by a PAC created by activist billionaire Jonathan Soros. Members of the left-leaning Working Families Party have gone door to door in Savino’s district to ask voters to urge the senator to bring the measure to the floor.

Jessica Wisneski, with Citizen Action, says Savino and the rest of the IDC are in the majority in the Senate, and the groups expect them to exercise their power and influence.

“We definitely want to encourage her in particular to come out as a strong champion and figure out how to move the legislation,” Wisneski said. “Not just introduce it and say ‘here’s a nice bright package, but we can’t do anything with it.’”

Savino has fought back on her Facebook page, where she accused the advocates of selling themselves to the highest bidder.  

Also,  a major rally is planned for Tuesday on the Women’s Equality Act. Barbara Bartoletti, with the League of Women Voters, says it will focus on equal pay and anti-sexual harassment measures, and add to New York state law the abortion rights protections in the federal Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

“Women should be allowed the private reproductive decision making guarantees under Roe,” Bartoletti said. “It needs to be codified here in New York.”

There are not enough votes currently in the state Senate, even when the Independent Democratic Conference and rest of the Senate Democrats are counted together, for the abortion provision to pass. Cuomo and women’s groups have been trying to craft legislation that would appeal to handful of moderate Republican Senators, and are scheduled to make it public on Tuesday.  

Cuomo met with legislative leaders in a closed-door meeting, but did not comment.  

The governor did however, make a public appearance on an entirely different proposal. Cuomo held his 11th public event in a week-and-a-half  on his plan to create tax free zones business zones at college campuses.

“If we unshackle these entrepreneurs that are all across upstate New York, you’re going to see upstate New York rise on the merits,” Cuomo told a crowd of college presidents and leaders of Regional Economic Development Councils at the SUNY Albany Nano Tech Center.

But, just like public campaign financing, and the abortion rights provision of the Women’s Equality Act, the governor still does not have the full support for the details of his tax free proposal from the majority party legislative leaders.