By YANCEY ROY
(Originally posted Apr. 1)
ALBANY — A tense standoff, a three-hour delay and backroom wrangling marked an internal Republican struggle before GOP senators decided to vote in a bloc to support a steep minimum wage hike in exchange for a budget that increased school spending and cut income tax rates for many.
State Sen. Tom Croci (R-Sayville) was at the center of the drama when dawn broke Friday and the Senate was trying to finish an overnight, 17-hour session to approve the $156 billion budget. When the bill that combined the minimum wage hike and school aid — the final bill — came to the floor, Croci wasn’t in his seat. That led to an impromptu, lengthy delay.
“Tom was the reason for the three-hour delay,” one Republican source said. “Some of the others noticed and said, ‘Hey, I’ll take a walk, too.’”
The session almost blew up, but Croci eventually walked back into the Senate and voted yes. He wasn’t immediately available for comment Friday.
“His heart was not there,” a source said of Croci’s deliberations. “It was the hardest decision he ever had to make . . . He heard from his constituents that this would hurt them.”
Ultimately, Croci voted with his fellow Republicans because of what the budget provided for schools, the source said.
“He took it to the very last second to decide,” the source said.
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), who wanted Republicans to vote in a bloc, sought to downplay the fireworks.
“I think everybody had last-minute reservations,” Flanagan said just minutes after the vote. “Senator Croci is no different than me or any one of my colleagues, no matter what part of the state.”
Notably, Croci already is facing a possible challenge from a Conservative Party candidate in this fall’s elections.
Croci was one of many Republicans who didn’t want to back Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s push for a statewide $15 per hour minimum wage. In the end, they bargained to delay its implementation on Long Island and Westchester County (where it will hit $15 on Dec. 31, 2021, three years after New York City) and to raise it to $12.50 per hour upstate with a review process that could eventually boost it to $15 per hour.
“Yeah, we got resistance because it’s real life,” Flanagan said. “These are people who went back and heard from their nonprofits, chambers of commerce, hospitals, nursing homes. We took a proposal and made it significantly better. We got a billion-dollar tax cut to go with it . . . delays in some of the (minimum wage) implementation. So there are some very positive terms that are a direct reflection of what our members” accomplished.
One critic of the minimum wage hike said Republicans concluded it was best to stick together “like any other team.” “It was an agreement that we stay together,” said Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse). “It’s important for our conference to stay together like any other team on tough issues . . . ”