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Legislative session finally ends, amid recriminations

Karen DeWitt

The legislature finally ended its 2017 legislative session, after the Assembly voted overnight on a privately negotiated omnibus bill, and the Senate finally finished on Thursday afternoon. The messy process drew condemnation from both sides of the aisle.

Both Democrats and Republicans condemned an end of session that included the governor calling an extraordinary session of the legislature to deal with expiring laws, private meetings between Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders, and rank and file lawmakers kept in the dark about the details.

After two days with little or no information on an omnibus cleanup bill , the leader of the Senate Democrats, Andrea Stewart- Cousins, stood with her conference members, and said -enough.

“Stop wasting time, stop wasting taxpayer dollars,” Stewart-Cousins said. “And do the things that people sent us here to do.”  

On the Senate floor, Deputy Senate Minority Leader Mike Gianaris, continued the criticism, saying the extraordinary session was called to simply extend some already existing, ordinary laws.

“These are things that have been in place for years, but somehow in this building, they are so controversial that we need to come back for an extraordinary session,” Gianaris said. “And spend two days doing just that.”

The bill extends mayoral control of the New York City schools, and counties’ authorization to keep charging sales taxes.  It also provides $55 million dollars to flood victims living on Lake Ontario, and a bail out to the financially ailing Vernon Downs race track in the Mohawk Valley.  

It was not just the Democrats who are unhappy. Republican freshman Senator Jim Tedisco decried Governor Cuomo’s calling of the special session, when there was no real agreement or an agenda.

“Don’t just let us spin our wheels don’t just come here and play politics ,” said Tedisco.  

Senator Tedisco ultimately voted no, saying he objected to a provision in the measure to rename the Thruway’s Tappan Zee bridge for the current governor’s father, the late former Governor Mario Cuomo.

Most Democrats and Republicans did vote yes for the measure.

Other Senators  complained of unfinished business, including helping the beleaguered MTA mass transit system, and enacting reforms after a series of corruption scandals.

The only Senator to speak in favor of the measure was Deputy Republican Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, who says a lot was accomplished.

“It’s a balance that shows compromise,” said DeFrancisco who  said unlike other  bodies of government around the country , the New York State legislature is moving forward.

Afterward, Governor Cuomo weighed in, saying the two day session got a “phenomenal amount done very quickly”.

“I think it’s fair to say the extraordinary session was extraordinarily productive,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo says all that really had to get done was extension of mayoral control, which was to expire June 30th.  And he says at first, he wanted to wait to extend the counties’ sales tax, which expire in the fall, until he knows more about the effects of potential federal health care changes. An amendment by New York Congressmen Chris Collins and John Faso would require the state to pick up the costs of county Medicaid costs, leaving a nearly $2.5 billion dollar hole in the state budget.  Cuomo says it’s possible that the sales tax could have been altered to help make up the potential deficit.

But he says ultimately, he’s happy the sales tax extensions were included in the omnibus bill, which he called a “beautiful capstone” on the 2017 session.     

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.