By Michael Gormley
BROOKLYN — Tensions are rising again in the New York state Senate as each side prepares for what will be a marquee political fight in the fall elections, state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Downtown Brooklyn/Lower Manhattan) pointed out recently.
Republicans are claiming victory following a Tuesday night special election in which their candidate performed well in heavily Democratic Brooklyn. Meanwhile, the Senate’s Democratic minority is trying to wage its fight on the Senate floor, accusing the GOP majority of returning Albany to its old dysfunctional days.
On Wednesday, the Democrats offered their second “hostile amendment” this week to try to force a vote on one of their proposals by linking it to a Republican bill. Both amendments failed.
“It’s as bad as it used to be,” said Squadron. “Certainly, there seems to be a greater fear of open debate. They seem afraid of conversation on certain issues.”
Democrats have said their rights to debate were curtailed when they opposed the Republican-drawn legislative district lines that will now be in place for the next 10 years, which good-government groups say are designed to protect the Republican majority. Squadron says Republicans are also cutting off debate on other touchy political subjects, including school aid in the budget now being negotiated and last week’s approval of a less generous pension plan for public workers that has drawn the anger of powerful public unions.
“It’s not limiting debate,” said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos, a Nassau County Republican. “It’s trying to maintain some sort of order within the house.
“You have over 300 petitions to bring bills to the floor or move them out of committee,” Skelos said, referring to the Democrats’ effort a week ago. “They are really looking to just stop the process within the Senate. But we are not going to go back to the dysfunctional ways when they operated the Senate. It’s not going to happen.”
Republicans have a 32-30 majority in the blue state with a nearly 2-1 Democratic enrollment advantage going into the fall elections. Democrats had won the majority in 2008 for two years, but that tenure was marked by power struggles when two dissident Democrats sided with Republicans in a brief coup followed by partisan gridlock.
The tension continued in other debates yesterday. Democratic Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens criticized a Republican bill on the floor aimed at making a felony of the tossing of bodily fluids at police and other peace officers. Gianaris said the bill was so poorly written by Republicans that it would result in a felony if someone’s dog urinated on a dog catcher, a claim Republicans denied.
Later, in a debate over a transportation funding bill, Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan complained the minority lawmakers weren’t given enough information on the measure to be part of state budget negotiations with the Assembly’s Democratic majority and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, from which Senate Democrats are also excluded.
“It’s hypothetical,” she said of her question, “because that’s all I can do because we aren’t having a discussion on the budget.”
Skelos said Tuesday’s special election to fill a seat vacated by Democratic Sen. Carl Kruger, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges, shows even New York Democrats want Republicans to run the Senate.
Although that race was too close to call Thursday, Republican David Storobin had a 120-vote lead over Democrat Lew Fidler. Skelos says about 700 absentee votes are yet to be counted.
“I think we’re going to be successful,” Skelos said. “But really what it’s about is our message is resonating — in a district that’s 5-1 Democrat — that Republicans are making government function, that we are looking to cut taxes, cut spending, and (encourage) private-sector job creation and that’s resonating in Democrat communities and Republican communities throughout the state.”