Cuomo plan to punish errant utilities may falter

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says he's staying out

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says he's staying out of the politics of the Nassau County executive race. (Sept. 19, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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ALBANY -- A Cuomo administration plan to pull the operating certificates of utilities that perform poorly during storms might be postponed as lawmakers continue to try to remove any hurdles that could prevent them from reaching a budget deal in a matter of days.

Yet, in contrast, momentum for raising the minimum wage continued to grow as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators continued negotiations, one key legislator said.

In the wake of superstorm Sandy, Cuomo said the state needed stronger incentives and penalties to get utilities to better prepare for and respond to storms. He proposed giving state regulators the ability to pull a utility's certificate to operate in the state.

State legislators have put the brakes on the plan for now. The State Senate and Assembly omitted the operating-certificate provision from their state budget resolutions unveiled this week. The omission means that the entire topic of strengthening regulation of utilities likely will be taken up in the second half of the legislative session. Lawmakers are trying to clear away most of the controversial issues -- such as casino expansion -- so they can make the April 1 budget deadline.

Key legislators said there were too many questions to move quickly on utilities.

"We agree with the governor that utilities have to do a better job of restoring service after a storm," said Senate Energy Committee chairman George Maziarz (R-Niagara County). "But the governor's bill cast a very wide net. He included telecommunications companies, cable TV companies. We want to have a little more time to discuss it with the governor."

Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale), Maziarz's Assembly counterpart, said her house omitted a provision Cuomo wanted that would have allowed the Public Service Commission to "divest" some or all of a utility's assets.

"We don't know what that means -- is it equipment, is it power lines, is it the franchise?" Paulin asked.

Separately, the top Democrat in the Senate indicated support was growing for raising the state's minimum wage. "I think we're at a consensus that minimum wage has to be in the budget," said Senate co-leader Jeff Klein of the Bronx.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has proposed raising the rate from $7.25 per hour to $9 and indexing increases to inflation. Cuomo proposed $8.75 per hour, but no indexing. The politically split Senate has indicated it could support an unspecified raise -- though Republicans want it to be offset by tax cuts for small businesses and perhaps a graduated scale.

With Joan Gralla

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