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Uncertainty over what legislature can accomplish with 8 days left

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The 2014 legislative session has just eight working days left to go, with the closing day scheduled for June 20. As lawmakers prepare to return for the final two weeks, there’s uncertainty whether anything will get done, now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has publicly vowed to try to oust the current Senate leadership. 

Cuomo’s end-of-session agenda was already in peril even before the governor agreed to work to get rid of the current ruling coalition in the Senate, made up of Republicans and five breakaway Democrats. The Senate leadership had already voted down the Dream Act, which would give college aid to the children of undocumented immigrants, said no to Cuomo’s proposal for public campaign financing, and refused to put an abortion rights provision in Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act on the floor at all.

Cuomo, in a video sent to the Working Families Party convention, said the alliance has failed.

“They said none of the items would pass,” Cuomo said in the video.

Cuomo pledged to help the left-leaning group retake the Senate for the Democrats, and the governor secured the party’s nomination.

“Together we must go out and we must win a majority of the seats in the Senate,” Cuomo said. “It is that simple, but it is that sweeping.”

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, who had enjoyed a good working relationship with Cuomo, called the governor two-faced.

“He’s really going to have to figure out which Andrew Cuomo he wants to be,” said an annoyed Skelos.

Skelos predicted that nothing of importance would be agreed to in the remaining days of the session, and blamed the governor.

Other GOP Senators, like Senate Finance Chairman John De Francisco, are taking the governor’s promises to the progressive group less seriously.

“Sometimes you say things in the heat of a day or two in politics that you live to regret,” said DeFrancisco. “He’s been touting the fact, and it’s true, that we work together.”

DeFrancisco says he’s adopting a wait and see approach.

“I’d rather see what he does as opposed to what he says,” DeFrancisco said.  

Cuomo’s actions just four days later seemed to bear that out. The governor invited Republican Sen. Joe Robach to an economic development announcement in Rochester, and the two heaped praise upon each other. Cuomo seemed almost defiant when he spoke of the strong bipartisan relationships in state government.

“The lack of partisanship in Albany is something that I am very proud of. Democrats, Republicans we’re New Yorkers first and that’s how I govern,” said Cuomo. “And I’m not going back.”

The leader of the Senate Democrats, Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, says she’s looking forward to the governor’s help. In an interview with New York State Public Radio and TV, Stewart-Cousins says Democrats in the Senate are already willing to back the governor on many of the agenda items he and the Working Families Party are now seeking, including a proposal to let individual cities set their minimum wage higher than the state’s rate.

“I’m carrying a bill,” Stewart-Cousins said. “It’s gathering momentum.”

But, Stewart-Cousins says, she doesn’t know if the minimum wage bill or any other legislation will get passed in before the session ends. For the next couple of weeks, the Republicans and the Independent Democrats are still in charge.

“Whether they allow certain things to get done, it’s up to them,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Stewart-Cousins says if the governor is successful in helping Democrats retake the chamber, she expects the Senate to be much more functional than it was the last time the Democrats were in power.

She says her Democratic conference is nothing like the one in 2009 and 2010, the last time the Democrats were in power. The period was marked by corruption, partisan strife, and even a coup attempt. Now, one of the former leaders who was Stewart-Cousins’ predecessors is in jail, another is one trial, and a third has been indicted. She says it’s a different Senate now.

“First of all there’s new leadership,” said Stewart Cousins. “There’s a brand new conference. We have 14 new members since that time.”

She says the Democrats are also racially, ethnically, and geographically diverse.

And she says most New Yorkers want many measures that the current leadership of Republicans and break away Democrats have been unable to pass, including a higher minimum wage and college aid for children of undocumented immigrants.

It’s likely the stalemate over end-of-session issues will not be resolved until after the November elections.

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.