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State Senate coalition yields no results yet

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. (July 26, 2012)

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. (July 26, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

ALBANY -- Senate Republicans huddled Tuesday but said they had reached no agreement on legislation they would propose with six breakaway Democrats who have joined a coalition to run the chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos seemed to downplay assurances made by his new Democratic partners that minimum wage, campaign finance and other "progressive" proposals would soon hit the Senate floor.

"There is no agreement on any legislation whether it will pass, not pass, or come to the floor for a vote," said Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who will share power with Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), leader of a group that calls itself the Independent Democratic Conference.

"The only agreement is that we will discuss all the issues that are important to them and all the issues that are important to us," Skelos said.

Perhaps underscoring that notion, Skelos voiced support for increased "transparency" in campaign-finance laws but expressed skepticism about publicly funding campaigns -- which Democrats support.

Skelos and other Republicans, who met at the State Capitol for the first time since Election Day, acknowledged that the new "Senate Majority Coalition" is still working through the nuts-and-bolts of governing.

For instance, Skelos and Klein have agreed to alternate the largely administrative title of temporary Senate president every two weeks. Asked who would hold the job first, come New Year's Day, Skelos paused to laugh and said: "I'm not sure."

Rank-and-file Republicans said the power-sharing arrangement was not ideal but pragmatic and described the closed-door session as "upbeat." That they unanimously re-elected Skelos as GOP conference leader showed they endorsed the pact.

"We've all witnessed before elected officials not being about to put aside partisan bickering," said Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley). "Right now, the exact opposite is happening here, where Republicans and Democrats are committing to work together."

Democrats had appeared on the verge of wresting control of the Senate when Election Day results showed them leading in 33 of 63 races. But since then Klein's five-member group and one other Democrat have said they would join with Skelos to form a governing coalition.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, has given the coalition tacit support and has criticized the 2009-10 period when Democrats alone controlled the Senate.

Skelos sought to make clear that Republicans aren't concerned about having to politically shift left to accommodate their new partners.

"Our agenda is not changing," he said.

Other Republicans agreed.

"Not at all," Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick), saying that tax and spending cuts are priorities. He noted that Republicans, while holding a slim 32-30 majority during most of 2011 and 2012, teamed with the IDC to pass high-profile bills.

Many Republicans are expected to keep committee chairmanships they held through this year; for instance, Fuschillo said he will stay as leader of the Senate Transportation Committee.

The coalition has rankled mainline Senate Democrats and black political leaders. Last weekend, minority lawmakers rallied to denounce the coalition, which contains just one minority.

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