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Legislative session enters final weeks, with low expectations for achievement

Governor Andrew Cuomo
File Photo

The state legislature ends its session for the year on June 16, and expectations are low for any major pieces of legislation to be resolved before the adjournment, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration faces increasing scrutiny from the U.S. attorney over economic development projects.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s probe involves the Buffalo Billion project and other upstate economic development programs. Bharara is also investigating two people: Todd Howe, a lobbyist and close Cuomo family associate, and Joe Percoco, a former top aide to the governor.

Numerous subpoenas have been issued from federal authorities, as well as the state attorney general, who conducted a raid on an office at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany on Thursday. 

To add to the uncertain atmosphere, both former leaders of the legislature were sentenced to prison earlier in May following corruption convictions.

Cuomo is trying to downplay the effect of the probe and its distractions. He continues to hold events outside of the Capitol, including an announcement to improve the state fairgrounds in Syracuse, and to renovate Jones Beach on Long Island.

But the governor in recent remarks has been talking up past achievements instead of discussing future goals. He’s said repeatedly in Syracuse, Albany and on Long Island that he’s already had a major achievement this session — the state budget, which was passed in early April. 

“We probably had one of the most progressive, productive state budgets in modern history,” Cuomo said on Long Island on May 26.

The budget also includes a phased-in partially paid family leave measure.

Cuomo continues to push for ethics reform, a topic he dropped during budget talks. The governor released eight different bills on closing the campaign finance loophole that exempts limited liability companies from donation limits.

“There’s no doubt that ethics reform is one of the priorities,” Cuomo said. 

Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, said with polls showing that New Yorkers care about ending corruption, it must seem inexplicable to residents that lawmakers aren’t rushing to clean up state government. 

“You have subpoenas dropping around the administration like confetti at a Broadway parade in New York City,” Horner said. “What does it take?”

The most likely reform measure to become law is a proposal to cancel the pensions of elected officials convicted of a felony. The Assembly and Senate agreed to the concept last year but have yet to finalize specific language.

Legislators are expected to consider several other items before the session ends:

  • Ride-sharing services, including Uber and Lyft, are seeking to expand to regions outside of New York City, and need legislation changing some insurance rules in order to do so.
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is seeking a renewal of a law that allows him more control over the city’s schools.
  • Cuomo also said he wants to make it easier for women to get breast cancer screenings, and he’d like to take steps against the heroin epidemic.
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.