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Liz Benjamin - Cuomo's 2013

Members of Congress are ringing in the New Year down in Washington, D.C. racing against time to get a deal in place that averts sending the country over the so-called fiscal cliff.

After spending Christmas with the possibility of getting called back to Albany by Governor Cuomo for a special session hanging over their heads, it looks like state lawmakers can relax and enjoy themselves tonight.  Meanwhile, Cuomo has spent the past several days on a family ski vacation up in the North Country. It looks like it’ll be an Adirondack New Year’s for him.

All of New York’s elected officials should get their good times in while they can. Aside from the usual to do list – closing a budget deficit of at least $1 billion dollars, fighting over dwindling resources for schools, health care and local governments – new challenges loom for both the Legislature and Cuomo in the coming year. 

The ongoing rebuilding effort in the wake of Superstorm Sandy will be a priority for years to come. Of course, to do that, New York needs Congress to pass President Obama’s $60.4 billion disaster aid package – or some version of it – as soon as possible. Though the Democrat-run US Senate approved the measure late last week, things are not looking good in the GOP controlled House.

The fiscal cliff is sucking all the proverbial air out of the room on Capitol Hill.

Back home in New York, Cuomo has been focused on gun control in the wake of the December 14th Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Lots of elected officials, from President Obama on down, would like to satisfy the public call for action in response to the Newtown shooting. But the hard-charging governor, often speculated to be mulling a White House run in 2016, wants to be the first in the nation to actually sign something into law.

Capitol observers expressed skepticism that Cuomo would be able to wrangle a deal out of the Legislature in such a short period of time. He does have a track record. Just last December, he managed to put together a lightning fast tax code reform agreement that lawmakers passed 24 hours later in a whirlwind special session. 

This time, however, Cuomo wasn’t so lucky. The Senate Republicans, who have received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the gun lobby, are balking at tightening New York’s already tough gun laws any further. And the Assembly Democrats, while eager to pass a number of gun control bills, are – as usual – reluctant to heed the Senate GOP’s call to increase penalties for gun related crimes.

Needless to say, the holiday season talks did not go well. And maybe that’s for the best. Calling lawmakers back to Albany before the year ended would have opened a whole Pandora’s box full of problems for Cuomo. That includes reigniting talk of a legislative pay raise, which undoubtedly would not have been well received by the general public - especially not in connection with a gun control deal.

Lawmakers have been chomping at the bit for a raise. Their base pay has remained stagnant at $79,500 since 1999. Cuomo initially seemed amenable, particularly since a pay hike would also apply to his top aides and agency heads. But Sandy and its potential impact on the state’s bottom line largely derailed that train.

Now Cuomo is caught between wanting to make a splash with a quick gun control deal and the knowledge that every passing day makes getting that deal more difficult. Some Senate Republicans are already echoing the NRA’s call for tighter security at public schools. That is not the focus of the five-member Independent Democratic Caucus about to ink a power sharing deal with the GOP on January first. They, like their fellow Democrats, are calling for stricter gun control.

It’s possible gun control will be the first real test of the IDC-GOP coalition’s strength. And if it all falls apart, Cuomo will have a real mess on his hands. Just in time for budget season.

Better enjoy that champagne while you can governor. It could be a long 2013.

Liz Benjamin is host of Capital Tonight on YNN. You can follow Capital Tonight all day long at capitaltonight.com.

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