GOP, independent Dems claim N.Y. Senate majority
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference struck a deal Tuesday to take control of the state Senate in an unprecedented power-sharing deal that a leader says will result in raising the minimum wage.
The announcement by Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos and IDC leader Jeffrey Klein dashed the hopes of the traditional Democratic conference from taking the near absolute control of the majority, even though Democrats won more seats than Republicans in the November elections.
It means the GOP and independent Democrats will share control of moving legislation and even in negotiating a state budget with the Assembly speaker and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The deal will create a third conference for the IDC members under the Senate rules, assuring the five-member IDC of rights and powers.
For New Yorkers, the partnership likely means a new direction for the Senate and for state government. For two years, Republicans used their slim majority to enact a cap on local property tax growth, flat budgets and caps on school aid increases, cuts to several programs and spending on economic development enticements to businesses to grow jobs.
Republicans had blocked Democratic priorities, including those held by the IDC, for public financing of campaigns, raising the minimum wage, restrictions on the stop-and-frisk techniques of New York City police and more gun control.
"We’re committed to seeing major pieces of progressive legislation pass in the Senate, such as increasing the minimum wage, a reform of stop-and-frisk and serious campaign finance reform," Klein said in an interview.
That would pave the way for a higher minimum wage for millions of New Yorkers. Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has proposed increasing the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour from the current $7.25. Cuomo also supports raising the minimum wage, but the Senate’s Republicans blocked the bill, calling it a job killer.
"The last time the Democrats were in charge with a 32-vote majority it didn’t work," Klein said, referring to the 2008-2010 Democratic majority dogged by an aggressive GOP minority. "It caused chaos ... so bridging the gap is the way we are going to accomplish things."
Now the GOP has renewed life in the state where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1 and likely will have to move to the left to work with the IDC and to have a chance at protecting its members in elections in two years.
"Welcome to ‘The Twilight Zone,"’ said Doug Muzzio, political scientist at Baruch College. "But my gut tells me this might work out better than anyone anticipated."
He said the coalition, if it holds, would have more votes and therefore be more stable than the alternative, which would likely be a single vote difference between Republicans and Democrats.
"We’re seeing this for the first time. It’s another one of these head-slappers," he said, referring to the coup and power grabs that had gridlocked the Senate in 2009 and led to sharp partisanship since.
The traditional Democratic conference angrily called the deal a coup.
"This is not a coalition, but a coup against all New Yorkers who voted for Democratic control of the Senate and a progressive state government," spokesman Mike Murphy said.
"Sadly, the real victims of today’s announcement are the people of our state, whose clearly expressed desire for progress on a host of issues will now be scuttled," Murphy said. "Senate Democrats will remain fierce advocates for them and the issues New Yorkers want to see implemented like standing up for women’s health, passing real campaign finance reform, raising the minimum wage and enacting common sense gun laws."
Skelos and Klein said the coalition will work for New Yorkers.
"We’ve brought spending under control, ended Albany dysfunction and consistently delivered the bipartisan results New Yorkers need and deserve -- even on many of the most difficult issues," Skelos said. "Sen. Klein has proven to be a thoughtful and effective leader, and I look forward to partnering with him to move this state forward."
Under the agreement, the position of temporary president of the Senate, the leadership post, will alternate between Republicans and the IDC every two weeks.
To pull off the bold move, Republicans and the IDC will have to vote for the leader and the new rule with at least 32 votes. The partnership should provide at least 35 votes. The coalition could still run the Senate if Republicans lose two close races now being decided in court by a count of absentee ballots.
The IDC grew by one member early Tuesday when Sen. Malcolm Smith, a Queens Democrat, joined the conference.
By accepting Smith, the IDC addressed one of the recent criticisms by other Democrats that the IDC lacked any member of color. Smith, who is black, had refused this year to join the Democratic conference meetings. Smith has also considered running for New York City mayor as a Republican.
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