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Upstate business group concerned over governor's shifting politics

The fallout from Governor Cuomo’s new alliance with the progressive Working Families Party continues at the Capitol, with those who say they represent upstate interests dismayed at the development.

Brian Sampson, with the business friendly group Unshackle Upstate had planned to begin his organization’s final push on several items they wanted to see passed in the legislature.

But he arrived at the Capitol just after Cuomo struck a deal with the progressive Working Families Party to help Democrats take over the State Senate. He was not optimistic about any action in the final days of the session.  

“After the weekend, you would certainly think that there’s not a lot that’s going to get done,” Sampson said.

Sampson says if the Senate changes hands from the current coalition of Republicans and moderate Democrats, then, it will be more difficult to achieve passage of bills to repeal some state regulations. They include what’s known as the Scaffold Law, that Sampson says favors workers who claim injuries over businesses, and renewal of the state’s Brownfields Law, which governs clean up and re use of polluted industrial sites.

He says his group is also against some measures that could be more likely to pass, including public campaign financing, and a higher minimum wage in some cities in New York.    

“It’s incredibly concerning,” Sampson said.

“It’s a dramatic turn for this governor and I think it’s a dramatic turn for upstate New York.

He says the Working Families agenda “does not align well” with the Unshackle Upstate agenda.

“I think they’re diametrically opposed,” he said.

Senate Finance Committee Chair John DeFrancisco,  a Republican from Syracuse, says there’s no question that the interests of moderate to conservative upstaters will not be well represented if Cuomo follows through on his pledge to retake the Senate for Democrats.  He gives as an example the last time the Democrats held the Senate earlier in this decade.

“In 2009 and 2010, everything was New York City,” DeFrancisco said.

“We had $14 billion in new taxes in two years, and $14 billion in additional spending.”

Senator DeFrancisco says the legislature in those years approved a bail out for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but did not provide and funds to repair roads and bridges upstate.   

Democratic Senate Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, who was not in power during that era, says that’s not true, and the composition of the Democrats is different now. She says there are a greater number of upstate Democrats now than when the party was in power the last time. She says, for example, Democrats would like to work with Governer Cuomo to continue his regional economic development councils that receive grants for local job creation projects.

“There’s no one size fits all,” said Senator Stewart Cousins, who said she wants to “bolster” all regions of the state.

It’s unlikely, though that any priorities for business groups, upstaters, or progressives for that matter, will get done in the next few weeks. The current GOP Co-Leader of the Senate, Dean Skelos, says it will be difficult to achieve any major agreements now that the governor has begun the political season early.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.