Capitol Watch: Senate deals with gridlock, session nears end

June 9, 2018

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — In New York state government news, the state Senate is beset by gridlock as Republicans hold on to power by the thinnest of margins.

With one member away on military duty, Republicans are relying on the support of a renegade Democrat to stay in control. But with the chamber split, Democrats are demonstrating they can shut down work when they choose.

The deadlock prevented votes on several bills last week and forced Democrats and Republicans into an uneasy detente.

Meanwhile, sports gambling supporters are making a final push before the session ends in two weeks.

Here’s a look at stories making news.

SENATE STALEMATE: With Sen. Tom Croci of Long Island serving in the Navy Reserve, Republicans are down to 31 members of the 63-seat Senate. They only remain in charge because one of the 32 Democrats — Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn — broke ranks with his party to support the GOP.

That razor-thin margin, however, means that Democrats can effectively shut down the Senate whenever Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul chooses to use her constitutional authority to chair the Senate — and provide tie-breaking votes. Typically that’s only a formal role for the lieutenant governor, but repeatedly in the past few weeks Hochul’s presence has allowed Democrats to make life difficult for the Republicans, bringing work in the Senate to a near halt. Twice Republicans have ended the day’s work to prevent Hochul from leading the Senate. Democrats, meanwhile, used their numbers to block a non-controversial Republican bill requiring private schools to address sports concussions.

Both sides blamed the other.

“They want to have politics rule the day. It’s embarrassing. It’s disgusting,” said the Senate’s ostensible leader, Republican John Flanagan of Long Island.

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, meanwhile, called the Republicans’ actions “an assault on our democracy.”

Heading into the session’s final weeks the two sides have worked out an uneasy detente. It remains to be seen whether the truce will last — and what the underlying discord means for the usual flurry of end-of-session deals.

One group is rooting for the stalemate.

“On the whole, New Yorkers can breathe a sigh of relief if the state Senate’s gridlock forces an early end to the 2018 regular session of the Legislature,” said Ken Girardin of the Empire Center, a conservative fiscal think tank.

SPORTS BETTING: Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo so far has dismissed talk of passing legislation to authorize sports betting, saying there isn’t enough time left in the session to reach agreement on what’s sure to be a complicated set of regulations.

That’s not deterring supporters from pushing anyway, arguing that the state shouldn’t let New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states to get a head start on sports gambling.

“It is going to happen all around us and I don’t want to have other states eating our lunch,” Flanagan said during a recent radio interview.

CORRUPTION TRIAL LOOMS: Opening arguments are scheduled for June 18 in Manhattan in the trial of former economic development guru Alain Kaloyeros and several developers accused of bid rigging. All four defendants have pleaded not guilty. They are: Kaloyeros, former head of SUNY Polytechnic Institute and a former top economic development leader in the Cuomo administration; Cor Development executives Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi; and Louis Ciminelli, CEO of LP Ciminelli. All four are accused of colluding to steer lucrative state economic development contracts to Cor and Ciminelli.

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