Cuomo has his Albany to-do list ready

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. (Credit: AP )

ALBANY -- Casinos, political corruption, abortion and the Long Island Power Authority will dominate the stretch run of the 2013 state legislative session, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers say.

"Those issues, some may fall off, it may become an even smaller handful as we get closer," Cuomo said last week as he outlined what he'll push over the next seven weeks.

The governor, working in his hurdle-filled third year, also hinted that he's working on "big" economic development projects to help the state's still-stalled economy. Yet he seems to have put off a decision on natural-gas exploration indefinitely.


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Look for Cuomo and legislators to use May as a staging period, trying to build up support for key issues, then make a concerted drive in June to sew up deals before the scheduled June 20 adjournment.

"Seven weeks or so is right around the corner," the governor said. "Actually, it's very early for the legislative session closing. The real intense focus doesn't come down to just a couple of weeks before, if not several days before, believe it or not."

Here's a look at some of the items on the top of the agenda:

CASINOS

Rank-and-file lawmakers in 2012 approved a resolution to amend the state constitution to create up to seven new non-Indian-run casinos. That resolution has to be approved again this year, then win voters' support in a statewide referendum before any casinos can go forward.

Cuomo threw a curveball this year when he proposed splitting casino development into two phases. He would first create three upstate and put off further expansion -- including possibly in New York City, on Long Island or in the northern suburbs -- until at least five years after the upstate locations open.

Cuomo also wants site selection to be done by a commission, for which he would name most of the members.

Lawmakers have balked at the three-casinos-only idea, saying it wouldn't generate enough support to survive a statewide referendum. They want more say in selection and say the public needs to know where gambling would go before it would support the proposed amendment.

"We need transparency in order to pass the referendum," said state Sen. John Bonacic (R-Mount Hope), who wants to bring casinos to the Catskills.

"To tell the public a gaming commission will decide later where casinos will go would not be good for the likelihood of getting it passed."Another factor is that the state is in arbitration with the Seneca Nation of Indians. The tribe has withheld revenue-sharing payments from its three western New York casinos because of a dispute over imposing taxes on cigarettes sold on reservations. Some believe the outcome -- expected before the session adjourns -- might influence the direction of casino talks.

 

ANTI-CORRUPTION

In the wake of several scandals involving state legislators, Republicans, Democrats, minor political parties and activists have flooded the Capitol with ideas of how to "clean up Albany."

Some of the competing proposals include using taxpayer money to publicly fund campaigns to limit the influence of big donors, holding "open" primaries to end party-boss control of ballot access, eliminating party "housekeeping" accounts that have few restrictions on use, giving the public a chance to launch recall elections, and giving the attorney general or an attorney appointed by the governor power to investigate election-law violations.

Senate Republicans, who oppose the use of public money to fund campaigns, have generally conveyed that lawmakers shouldn't rush through laws just to answer the scandal headlines.

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said he's reviewing election-law proposals but added that "there isn't a law that would have stopped those crooks and idiots from doing what they did."

 

ABORTION

Most of Cuomo's 10-point "women's agenda" (which includes toughening laws against domestic violence and human trafficking) has met with little controversy. But Cuomo might have to decide whether to jettison an abortion-rights proposal if it means gaining State Senate approval.

Cuomo has said he merely wants to codify into state law protections under Roe v. Wade, in case the historic abortion rights decision is ever overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Skelos says such action is unnecessary.

 

LIPA

Cuomo has backed off his original plan to privatize the Long Island power grid after local officials failed to embrace it. Now, he's offering a modified plan: reduce LIPA to essentially a financial holding company and let New Jersey-based utility PSEG take over almost every day-to-day function.

This plan has been more warmly greeted. But Cuomo still needs lawmakers to approve legislation to make it work, including refinancing LIPA's debt.

LOCAL FINANCE BOARD

Following criticism that he hasn't helped municipalities, Cuomo has counterpunched with this idea: Create a financial restructuring board that would help fiscally distressed local governments. He also has continued to bang the drum for local-government consolidation.

Both ideas are likely to generate union opposition. And some lawmakers say towns and cities might be leery of placing themselves under state control.

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