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Commentary & Opinion

Blair Horner: The End Of The Legislative Session

With two weeks to go until the scheduled end of the 2014 legislative session, how’s it looking? Despite the fact that the governor and state lawmakers will face the voters this November, increasingly the session looks like it will end with a whimper, not a bang.

There are even rumors that lawmakers will throw in the towel and just wrap things up this week instead of next week as scheduled.

Even though there has been a lot of public debate on important issues, it appears that lawmakers will hit the campaign trail without resolving them. 

For example, even though it was one issue that dominated debate, as of now it doesn’t look like there will be an agreement on the so-called DREAM Act.

As you may recall, the DREAM Act was state legislation to provide state financial aid opportunities, such as the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and are otherwise eligible.

Under current New York State law, these children can attend public elementary and secondary schools.  They can also attend public colleges and pay the same tuition as other in-state students.

But they are not eligible for in-state college financial assistance.

The proposal – the New York State Dream Act – expands the state’s financial aid programs to students of undocumented immigrant parents. It was part of the state Assembly’s budget, and supported by Governor Cuomo, but was defeated in the state Senate. In the Senate, the vote was 30-29 in favor, but the bill did not receive the necessary 32 votes needed for passage. This was one example in which Governor Cuomo’s refusal to call special elections for open legislative seats – there are two in the Senate – had negative consequences.

Another example is campaign finance reform. During the state budget negotiations the governor demanded and got approval for a plan to create a voluntary system of public financing for one elective office – state Comptroller, for this November.

Only the governor knows why he would push for public financing for one office – and why he didn’t offer to have his office the one subject to the new rules. Moreover, the governor’s plan was ill-conceived, the state Board of Elections is still scrambling to pull together the rules for that race. Given the uncertainties surrounding the plan, the incumbent state Comptroller has ruled out running in this voluntary system.

After the governor received widespread condemnation of this plan – coupled with the public’s outrage over the governor’s agreement to end the Moreland Act Commission to Investigate Public Corruption before it had completed its work as part of the deal – the governor pledged to push hard to get a more comprehensive public financing plan in place.

But it’s not happening either. We will never know whether there was a real effort to negotiate an agreement, but we do know that – at least as of today – Senate Republicans are not willing to sign off on any campaign financing deal.

Why the seeming lack of productivity?

A lot of it stems from the recent pledge by the governor to knock out the Senate Republican-led coalition in the upcoming elections. As part of the governor’s successful efforts to win the endorsement of the Working Families Party, he pledged to overturn the Senate Majority coalition of Republicans and Independent Democrats. Obviously, the Senate Republican leadership is in no mood to work with a governor who is looking to slit their political throats.

Of course, bills will get passed into law. Typically, the last two weeks of session are when the bulk of non-budget bills are approved. And there is still hope that some of the big ticket items will become law before the legislature breaks next week.

But with two weeks to go, it’s looking more like the governor and lawmakers are hoping to slink out of town and run on their record of previous achievements. Whether the public is in the mood to accept legislative inaction will be known this November.

That’s all for now. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Capitol and will talk to you again next week.

Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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