Capitol Watch: Dems pressure Senate GOP to return to Albany
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — In New York state government news, tops Democrats are ratcheting up the pressure on Senate Republicans to return to Albany.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie say the Senate’s Republican leaders should immediately reconvene to take up measures codifying abortion rights in state law in case the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
Meanwhile, a fiscal watchdog group is urging lawmakers to use billions of dollars in legal settlements to increase the state’s rainy day fund, warning that New York could be in financial trouble if the economy turns.
Here’s a look at stories making news:
ABORTION POLITICS: Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court has Democrats and abortion-rights supporters worried that his replacement will tilt the court to the right, jeopardizing Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. If the decision is overturned, it would likely be up to each state to set its own regulations on abortion.
The state Assembly has repeatedly passed legislation to codify the rights guaranteed in Roe. But the Senate has blocked the measure for years. The debate received only limited attention, since Roe was considered settled law.
Now, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, both Democrats, are calling on the Senate’s GOP leaders to call the chamber back into session to take up the measure.
“The political games need to end,” Cuomo said at a rally in Suffolk County last week. “Senate Republicans must reconvene to pass this law before the Supreme Court rolls back the progress this nation has made. We will not tolerate any gaps in a woman’s right to choose and we will not stop fighting until we codify Roe v. Wade into New York state law.”
Heastie also wants the Senate to approve the renewal of New York City’s school zone speed camera program, which is set to expire after lawmakers failed to reach a deal on the issue before adjourning the regular session last month.
“Senate Republicans must stop standing in the way of progress here in New York,” Heastie said. “They need to stop trying to water down good bills in order to please their ever-shrinking political base.”
Senate Leader John Flanagan has so far balked at the request, and Republicans have given no indication that they’ve changed their mind about the bill. They accuse Cuomo and Heastie of refusing to compromise with Republicans, and say they’re now using abortion as a political club.
“We are always open to having real and substantive discussions if they can lead to a positive result for the people of this state, but if anyone is playing politics it’s the speaker and his Cuomo-controlled Assembly,” said Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif.
Democrats are likely to continue to press the issue ahead of the November elections, when the party hopes to wrest control of the Senate from the GOP.
RAINY DAY FUNDS:
A fiscal watchdog group is urging lawmakers to increase the state’s rainy day fund to protect its bottom line should the economy turn.
The Citizens Budget Commission released a report last week faulting lawmakers and Cuomo for not using billions of dollars in recent financial settlements to shore up the state’s reserves. Instead, the report found, much of the money went to pay for economic development programs or big infrastructure projects like the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, which replaced the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River.
“A better use of these settlements would have been to bolster the state’s rainy day funds,” according to the report, which noted that the state’s current reserves amount to only 2.7 percent of total general fund tax revenues. The group says 10 percent is a more responsible level.
A recent analysis from Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli sounded a similar alarm, warning that the state could face soaring deficits and the need for sharp spending cuts if a recession leads to revenue declines.