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Cuomo casts doubt on success of remaining session issues


Governor Andrew Cuomo says he has some goals for the rest of the legislative session, including reforming the campaign finance system and possibly raising the state’s minimum wage.

Governor Cuomo previously said he thought that now might not be the right time to raise the minimum wage, but his position has softened in recent days. He now says that “philosophically” he supports an increase, and he cast doubt on opponents’ claims that it would hurt job creation.   

“I don’t believe the minimum wage costs jobs,” said Cuomo. “If it’s an intelligent increase, I believe it can create jobs.”

But he says Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans remain far apart on the issue.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he’s been meeting with the governor, who he says is “sympathetic” to a minimum wage hike proposal. Silver says the public supports it, it would serve as an “economic stimulus,” but more importantly, he says, lawmakers have a “moral imperative” to act.   

“People who work a 35 hour week should not be poor,” Silver said. “And if they work at the minimum wage  today under our standards,  they are poor. And we’ve got to do something.”

Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos is unconvinced.

“This is just not the right time,” said Skelos .

The Senator admits he has voted to hike the minimum wage in the past but says it would cause “additional costs” to job creators and the consumer.

Senator Skelos is seeking tax breaks for businesses as a priority issue for the remainder of the session, but he says there’s no talk of a trade of the two issues.

The Republican Senate Leader also threw cold water on a proposal to enact public financing of campaigns, an issue that both Speaker Silver and Governor Cuomo support. He says in some cases in New York City the taxpayer funded donations have gone to politicians who are now being investigated for corruption and misuse of the money. Skelos says the $200 million a public financing system could cost would be better spent on something else.

 “I’d rather take that money and put it into education,” said Skelos.

The Assembly released a one house bill that would extend New York City’s matching public campaign financing system to races for all state offices. Speaker Silver says it’s important that Assembly Democrats stick up for something they think will improve democracy.

“It will give the public the right to believe that their  legislators, and their executive, and their attorney general and their comptroller  are working harder on their behalf,” said Silver.

Cuomo has been receiving pressure from national reform groups, who say he has a chance to be a nationwide hero if he can get his campaign reform proposals outlined in his State of the State message, approved by the legislature. The governor says he thinks it will be “difficult” though, to get an agreement when the two houses are so far apart.

The governor says he also wants to finally settle the complicated issue of how to give parents access to newly mandated teacher evaluations without subjecting the teachers to complete public scrutiny.

The governor, who says 90 percent of his agenda was already accomplished during the budget season, including a new pension tier for public workers and DNA data base expansion, seemed more fatalistic about the success of the remaining items on the list.  

“Whether or not we’ll get agreement on any of them remains to be seen,” said Cuomo.

The governor has about eight more weeks to find out. The session is scheduled to end June 21.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.