Wages, Ethics, Schools Top Issues Facing NY Lawmakers

ALBANY (AP/Hamodia) -
Workers on Tuesday remove stacks of aging bills from legislators’ desks in the Senate Chamber at the Capitol. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Workers on Tuesday remove stacks of aging bills from legislators’ desks in the Senate Chamber at the Capitol. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

New York lawmakers returning to Albany on Wednesday face a long list of challenges as they seek to turn the page on a disastrous 2015 that saw the leaders of both the Senate and Assembly convicted of corruption.

Debates over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call to raise the minimum wage to $15, funding for public education and proposals to allow Uber to expand upstate will all be on the agenda for the 2016 legislative session, which gets underway Wednesday.

Whether lawmakers pass tougher ethics rules to address the corruption problem that last year roiled the state Capitol remains to be seen. And budget negotiations could quickly show whether the Legislature is serious about reform. For decades, the spending plan has been hammered out behind closed doors by the governor, the speaker and the Senate leader. It’s an insider process that has been criticized by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara as ripe for corruption.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said this is the year the tradition of “three men in a room” should stop.

“The days of backroom deals, secretive negotiations, and putting too much power in too few hands must end,” said the Canandaigua Republican.

But ethics were not mentioned in a statement from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie about his vision for the session, which included references to school funding, higher education and the Dream Act, which would extend financial help to students in the country illegally.

Cuomo’s push to phase in a $15 minimum wage has broad support in the overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly but faces obstacles in the Republican-led Senate.

Teachers unions and public-education groups are urging lawmakers to approve $2.4 billion in additional school spending, and Hamodia reported last month that both Cuomo and Senate Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, have promised to get a tuition aid bill passed. The Democratic Assembly has held it back in previous years.