ALBANY—One notable detail about the results of the State Senate's debate on Andrew Cuomo's government consolidation bill late yesterday was the final vote tally: the measure passed 46-16.
Several Republicans–including Minority Leader Dean Skelos–voted against the legislation. It has been touted as a way to lower property taxes, particularly in suburban areas.
"We obviously have supported efforts to reduce property taxes, but we had a number of concerns about this bill including that fire districts were not exempted, that library districts were not exempted and he wanted to see a detailed cost-benefit analysis by the state comptroller to give an idea by how much money could be saved by this," said Skelos spokesman Scott Reif.
His colleagues offered amendments to alleviate those concerns, which failed on party lines. No doubt, Skelos will use the votes as cover for his negative vote. (The Republicans who voted no are: Kemp Hannon, Owen Johnson, Carl Marcellino, Bill Larkin, George Maziarz, Chuck Fuschillo, Kenneth LaValle, Roy McDonald, George Winner, Hugh Farley, Dale Volker, Cathy Young, James Seward and Vincent Leibell.)
Every Democrat except State Senator Craig Johnson voted for the legislation. ("We need to do it in a way that corrects the pitfalls," he said. "There are just too many unanswered questions. So as much as I regret it, I'm going to have to break ranks with my friend Andrea Stewart-Cousins and I am going to have to oppose this legislation.")
One interesting case among the Democrats is State Senator Brian Foley. The Long Islander (he and Johnson are the only Democrats from the region) voted against the amendments, but supported the bill because "over the next nine months, there will be a number of us in the senate who will be working closely with the attorney general to offer chapter amendments that will address he number of issues that have been raised by our fire services."
This vote may become a point of attack against him. The Republican "no" votes, by the same token, may undermine their ability going forward to make a clean argument against the Democrats on taxes.
The measure has already passed the Assembly, so now it's up to David Paterson. Earlier Wednesday he was asked about the legislation, which he declared support for a few weeks ago, and said he would "examine the legislation they pass."
"I support the concept of the consolidation of local governments," Paterson said. "We had a local government consolidation commission chaired by former lieutenant governor Lundine that put its report in last June. The attorney general has taken this issue and worked with it wonderfully, and come up with some great proposals, working with our office and working independent of our office. And, so, for the most part I think the legislation is quite admirable. I would be willing to take a look at some of the concerns of the local governments that they're expressing."
A statement from Cuomo's office arrived within minutes of the legislation's passage, heralding senators for "taking action on such a critical issue and giving local communities the ability to reduce government overhead and cut property taxes."
One of the most interesting explanations for opposing the bill came during the floor debate from Senator Bill Larkin, a Republican, who said he was opposing the bill because he felt it was being rammed through for political gain.
"This is a rush job. Do I appreciate what the attorney general has to do? Absolutely," Larkin said. "What are we really doing? We're making a big political show because we haven't produced this year for the people of the state of New York."
He went on: "We're looking for a quick fix. And a quick fix–that's what drug dealers do. We're legislators: we were sent here to do a job. Not play politics. We were sent here to do something to increase the quality of life for the people in this state."