NYS Legislative Session Finally Ends, Amid Recriminations

Jun 29, 2017

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, speaks with reporters Wednesday night.
Credit Hans Pennink / AP Photo
 

The New York State Legislature finally ended its 2017 session, after the Assembly voted overnight on a privately negotiated omnibus bill. The Senate finally finished on Thursday afternoon. The messy process drew condemnation from both sides of the aisle. 

The governor called what's formally known and an "extraordinary session" of the legislature to deal with expiring laws. The extra period was characterized by private meetings between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders, with rank and file lawmakers kept in the dark about the details.

After two days with little or no information on an omnibus cleanup bill, the leader of the Senate Democrats, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, stood with her conference members, and said, enough.

“Stop wasting time, stop wasting taxpayer dollars,” Stewart-Cousins said. “And do the things that people sent us here to do.” 

On the Senate floor, Deputy Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mike Gianaris continued the criticism. He said the extraordinary session was called to simply extend some already existing, ordinary laws.

“These are things that have been in place for years, but somehow in this building, they are so controversial that we need to come back for an extraordinary session,” Gianaris said. “And spend two days doing just that.”

The bill extends mayoral control of the New York City schools, and counties’ authorization to keep charging sales taxes. It also provides $55 million to flood victims living on Lake Ontario and a bailout to the financially ailing Vernon Downs race track in the Mohawk Valley.

It was not just the Democrats who are unhappy. Republican freshman Senator Jim Tedisco decried Cuomo’s calling of the special session when there was no real agreement or an agenda.

“Don’t just let us spin our wheels don’t just come here and play politics,” said Tedisco. 

Tedisco ultimately voted no, saying he objected to a provision in the measure to rename the Thruway’s Tappan Zee Bridge for the current governor’s father, the late former Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Most Democrats and Republicans did vote yes for the measure.

Other senators complained of unfinished business, including helping the beleaguered MTA mass transit system, and enacting reforms after a series of corruption scandals.

The only senator to speak in favor of the measure was Deputy Republican Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, who says a lot was accomplished.

“It’s a balance that shows compromise,” said DeFrancisco, who said unlike other bodies of government around the country, the New York State Legislature is moving forward.

Afterward, Cuomo weighed in, saying the two-day session got a “phenomenal amount done very quickly.”

“I think it’s fair to say the extraordinary session was extraordinarily productive,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo said all that really had to get done was extension of mayoral control, which was to expire June 30. And he said at first, he wanted to wait to extend the counties’ sales tax, which expires in the fall, until he knew more about the effects of potential federal health care changes. 

An amendment by New York Reps. Chris Collins and John Faso would require the state to pick up the costs of county Medicaid costs, leaving a nearly $2.5 billion hole in the state budget. Cuomo said it’s possible that the sales tax could have been altered to help make up the potential deficit.

But he said ultimately, he’s happy the sales tax extensions were included in the omnibus bill, which he called a “beautiful capstone” on the 2017 session.