ALBANY – It was Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s steamroller moment.
In the aftermath of a deal by Republicans and a handful of Democrats to run the State Senate through a coalition, the governor took pen to hand last week and wrote 10 priorities that would form the basis of whether he would “give or withhold my support.”
Cuomo called it his “litmus test.”
But Cuomo’s list includes a mix of items that legislators already passed into law, are likely to pass, were long ago proposed by others or are just too vague to judge, such as his insistence that lawmakers address “our changing climate.”
One of Cuomo’s most-mentioned tests – raising the state’s minimum wage – is considered all but certain in the coming session of the Senate despite some hand-wringing on the topic earlier this week by the Senate’s GOP leader.
And even though the issue may be front and center for Cuomo now, the governor – for most of the last legislative session – would not say whether he backed a proposal by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, to raise the minimum wage to $8.50, from $7.25. The governor got on board with a minimum-wage increase in May – a month before the session’s end and five months after Silver proposed it.
Republican lawmakers are already showing support for a hike in the minimum wage that would affect hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.
“I think we’ll see an increase in some form or another, regardless of what the Senate’s control was going to be,” said Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane. “It’s clear it’s time for a minimum-wage increase.”
Some Senate Republicans treated Cuomo’s list as pre-session rhetoric from a governor criticized by left-of-center Democrats for not helping the Democrats regain control of the Senate.
Senate Republicans already have shown a willingness to work with Cuomo, according to Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, who was in Albany on Tuesday for a meeting with colleagues.
“The governor has the right to point out what’s priority to him. We have our priorities,” Skelos said, noting that job creation will be a major topic for the Senate GOP in 2013.
But as for some of Cuomo’s litmus test items – such as hiking the minimum wage and having a taxpayer-funded campaign finance system – Skelos offered a mix of noncommitments and some of the same concerns the GOP expressed earlier this year.
“There’s no agreement on any legislation, whether it will pass, not pass or come to the floor for a vote,” Skelos said.
By Wednesday, Cuomo was clearly furious with that tepid endorsement, and he took to the airwaves on an Albany radio station. His mission: blast Skelos.
“If that’s true, then we’re going to have a problem … and we’re going to have a problem sooner rather than later,”’ Cuomo said on WGDJ about Skelos not committing to his litmus test ideas.
While Cuomo acknowledged that he did not see the full transcript of Skelos’ remarks from Tuesday, that did not stop him from threatening to go after the GOP leader.
“If Sen. Skelos is opposed to the agenda of the people of this state, then I will oppose him, and then I will be involved,” Cuomo said.
Silver earlier said the proof of Cuomo’s litmus test will come in the next session.
“Ultimately, this arrangement will be judged on its ability to deliver on progressive measures that I have championed – things like raising New York’s minimum wage and campaign finance reform,” Silver said. “Results are the most important thing, not the politics.”
Some lawmakers have privately suggested that Cuomo’s list is a lean to the left to make up for criticism that he did not help his fellow Democrats retake the Senate. At event after event in recent days, Cuomo has not missed an opportunity to talk about the “progressive” agenda he will push in 2013.
In addition to the minimum-wage increase, Cuomo wants to codify the state’s position on women’s access to abortion.
He also wants to relax New York’s marijuana-possession laws to end what liberal Democrats say are abuses by police in New York City. Interestingly, Republican Sen. Mark J. Grisanti of Buffalo was ahead of Cuomo by more than a year in making a similar proposal.
And the governor is backing campaign finance “reform,” which is still vague but includes some sort of taxpayer-financed system of paying for political campaigns as a way to lessen the role of deep-pocket special interests in Albany.
The idea from Cuomo, who has at least $19 million in his own re-election account, is sharply opposed by Senate Republicans. But his proposal could stand a chance now if the new Senate coalition breaks the system that has long allowed the GOP to bottle up in committees the bills that its members don’t like.
Skelos said he was confident that some campaign finance deals on “transparency” could be reached. Some Republicans say they could be comfortable requiring donors to list their employers – something the federal government did more than 30 years ago – and to possibly lower contribution limits.
Then there are items on Cuomo’s litmus test – four out of 10 – that already have been accomplished in some form or another.
These include a growth cap on annual property taxes, an annual 4 percent increase in education and Medicaid spending, an evaluation system for public school teachers and principals, and maintaining a tax cut from last December for middle-class residents.
That December deal also included a $2 billion tax increase on wealthy New Yorkers.
Officials say those items were included on the litmus test list because there was chatter that lawmakers might try to undo some aspects of those initiatives – such as relaxing the property tax cap – had the Democrats taken control of the Senate.
One of the least-fleshed-out items on the governor’s agenda is No. 5: “Environmental protection and initiatives that address our changing climate.”
It comes at a time when environmentalists have been pummeling the governor for what they fear will be a push to allow some level of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” for natural gas.
A Cuomo spokesman would say only that the idea includes some ways to help the state better cope with future natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy.
The last item on the litmus test is half completed: permitting a dramatic expansion of gambling with up to seven new casinos on non-Indian lands.
Earlier this year, the State Legislature gave the needed first passage to a constitutional amendment to allow the casinos. If the same resolution passes the Legislature next year, it would go before voters in a referendum in November.
Still unsettled is where the casinos would be located, how they would be selected or licensed, what kind of state franchise fees might be required, and whether host communities would get a final say on whether the casino is welcome.
GOP lawmakers do not appear to be taking Cuomo’s litmus test as a threat.
“I’m not rubbed the wrong way by it,” said Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma. “… I think when you look at the things the governor has thrown out there, with the exception of the climate-change thing, I don’t know that there’s anything new for him.”
But some Republicans say the governor’s Top 10 list was lacking.
“The issue here is jobs, economic development, and that’s got to be on the list,” said State Republican Chairman Edward F. Cox.
And the notion of a litmus test?
“I think the litmus test will fade for the real issues of this state,” Cox said. “… We’re two years away from another election cycle, so whatever litmus test there is now, I’m sure there will be another litmus test in the future.”
With him or against him?
Governor offers lawmakers a top 10 list to show political loyalty
Property tax cap - Already done
Campaign finance “reform” - Vague and uncertain
Minimum-wage increase - All but certain
Easing of marijuana-possession laws - Likely
Initiatives to address “our changing climate” - Cuomo plan too vague to judge
Maintain education/Medicaid funding formulas - Done
Middle-class tax cut - Done last year
Teacher-evaluation program/SUNY improvements - Done
Codifying of access to abortion - Stalled for years
Casino expansion Part 1 - done, Part 2 likely