Published in
The Empire

Legislative leaders signal their cooperation on Cuomo's reform agenda

By Karen DeWitt, New York State Public Radio Capital Bureau Chief

Courtesy of the Governor's office.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is for the second year in a row asking the state legislature to enact some changes that promise to shake up business as usual at the Capitol. While, the governor was successful in persuading the legislature to adopt his ideas during his first year in office, it’s not yet known whether he have as much luck in the second year.

Cuomo’s budget plan contains at least two major policy shifts that the governor admits “pose dramatic change” that will unsettle the “big players” in Albany: pension reform and statewide teacher evaluation systems.

In both proposals, Cuomo is taking on powerful unions of state workers and teachers, who have long been allies of the Democrats who lead the Assembly and even Republicans who in charge of the state Senate. It’s an election year for all 212 members of the legislature, and unions often provide support for field campaigns in the form of volunteers to staff phone banks and to drop off campaign literature door to door.

Despite that, legislative leaders did not rule out backing Cuomo’s plans.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos worked cooperatively with the Democratic governor last year to enact a property tax cap. He also permitted the historic Senate vote on gay marriage, even though Skelos personally opposes same sex marriage. The Senate leader predicts that the budget will once again be on time, and that the legislature will ultimately approve Cuomo’s proposal for a new pension tier with fewer benefits for future workers.

“I believe there will be a three way agreement on pension reform,” said Skelos. “Which is significant.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who made a point recently of speaking to a rally organized by a group allied with the teachers union, says he thinks Cuomo’s plan to force teacher evaluation agreements makes sense.

“He’s on target,” said Silver. “It gives the incentive to both sides in the collective e bargaining process to come to an agreement.”

Although the governor’s policies, if enacted, will likely anger many established groups in Albany, lawmakers may conclude that they are taking an even greater chance if they alienate the extremely popular governor.