State Senate Unveils 'Unprecedented Agreement' to Share Power Between GOP, Breakaway Dems

Dean Skelos. (Photo: Facebook)

Dean Skelos. (Photo: Facebook)

It’s a particularly wild week in Albany, and in a surprise announcement, five members of of the “Independent Democratic Conference” have joined their Republican counterparts to form a “historic bipartisan partnership,” even as the Democrats protest the situation by pointing to their on-paper majority in the chamber. The IDC, whose numbers expanded today with Democratic Senator Malcolm Smith joining their ranks, had hinted at a bipartisan coalition of some kind, but only now have the details of this arrangement emerged.

According to the joint declaration, the breakaway Democratic conference and the GOP will split as many duties as possible, with the actual title of Temporary President alternating back and forth between the two:

Under the unprecedented agreement, the Independent Democratic Conference will be formally recognized as a third, permanent Senate conference. Senator Klein and Senator Skelos will assume the roles of Conference Leader for their respective conferences and will administer joint and equal authority over (1) the daily senate agenda (a/k/a the “Active List,” which lays out which bills will be voted on each day), (2) the state budget, (3) appointments to state and local boards, and (4) leadership and committee assignments for their respective conferences. Under the agreement, coalition leaders will need to work together to lead the Senate forward. The new agreement will also provide for a process by which the title of Temporary President will alternate between the two conference leaders every two weeks. Therefore, the role of the temporary president will be constitutionally fulfilled at all times.

How effective this delicate balance of power is remains to be seen. The IDC’s leader, Senator Jeff Klein, has presented a progressive set of priorities that includes scholarship aid for illegal immigrants, an increase in the minimum wage and campaign finance reform. At least some of these ideas have been steadfastly opposed by the Republican conference. How Governor Andrew Cuomo, who’s managed to push his agenda through Albany thus far, manages the situation will likely have a big impact on the ultimate legislative outcome.

A sixth Democrat, Senator Simcha Felder, elected last month in a conservative Brooklyn district, previously announced his intention to caucus directly with the Republican conference, placing the Democratic conference at a significant numerical disadvantage even if they win two outstanding races that appear favorable to them.

Update (2:30 p.m.): A statement from the Senate Democratic minority: 

“This is not a coalition but a coup against all New Yorkers who voted for Democratic control of the Senate and a progressive state government. Sadly, the real victims of today’s announcement are the people of our State, whose clearly expressed desire for progress on a host of issues will now be scuttled. Senate Democrats will remain fierce advocates for them and the issues New Yorkers want to see implemented like standing up for women’s health, passing real campaign finance reform, raising the minimum wage and enacting common sense gun laws.”

View the full press release, which was provided by the current Republican majority:

Senator Dean G. Skelos, leader of the Senate Republican Conference, and Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, today joined together to announce an historic bipartisan partnership to continue the tremendous progress that has been achieved over the past two years in New York State. This new bipartisan governing coalition guarantees a fiscally responsible, fully functional Senate that will continue to produce positive results for all New Yorkers.

Two years ago, Independent Democrats and Senate Republicans put partisan differences aside to end the dysfunction, gridlock and reckless fiscal policies of the previous Senate leadership. This partnership returned function and order to the Senate Chamber, restored fiscal integrity, and produced remarkable accomplishments that have benefited all New Yorkers. Today’s agreement marks a bold new chapter in this partnership, that will allow the Senate to continue pushing New York State forward, while ensuring that there will be no returning to the failed leadership of the past.

Of tremendous importance is the bipartisan coalition government’s commitment to working with Governor Cuomo on progressive policy issues that benefit all New Yorkers in the next legislative session.

Senator Skelos said, “The Senate Republican Conference has worked closely with the Independent Democratic Conference and Governor Cuomo to bring historic progress to New York. We’ve brought spending under control, ended Albany dysfunction, and consistently delivered the bipartisan results New Yorkers need and deserve — even on many of the most difficult issues. Senator Klein has proven to be a thoughtful and effective leader, and I look forward to partnering with him to move this state forward.”

Senator Klein said, “Over the past two years, members of the IDC and Senate Republicans have shown that the best way to overcome New York’s biggest challenges is by working in a constructive, bipartisan way. Legislating is a deliberative, cooperative process—not a spectator sport. Having dedicated the past two years to a serious, policy-driven agenda, this agreement delivers on the IDC’s pledge to become a permanent third conference within the State Senate and to have a major voice in all policy decisions moving forward. Having worked together over the past two years, I know that Senator Skelos is not only an effective leader, but is as committed as I am to delivering major bipartisan results for all New Yorkers.”

Under the unprecedented agreement, the Independent Democratic Conference will be formally recognized as a third, permanent Senate conference. Senator Klein and Senator Skelos will assume the roles of Conference Leader for their respective conferences and will administer joint and equal authority over (1) the daily senate agenda (a/k/a the “Active List,” which lays out which bills will be voted on each day), (2) the state budget, (3) appointments to state and local boards, and (4) leadership and committee assignments for their respective conferences. Under the agreement, coalition leaders will need to work together to lead the Senate forward. The new agreement will also provide for a process by which the title of Temporary President will alternate between the two conference leaders every two weeks. Therefore, the role of the temporary president will be constitutionally fulfilled at all times.

This partnership will be memorialized in the Senate’s rules for the upcoming legislative session. The two conferences, which will form the governing coalition, will be recognized in the 2013-2014 Senate Rules as the Senate Majority Coalition.

Senator Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) also announced that he has joined the Independent Democratic Conference as its fifth member.

Senator Smith said, “I’m thrilled that today I’m not only joining the IDC, but I’m becoming an immediate part of this historic and bipartisan governing coalition. Our state’s biggest issues are too important to address on a narrowly focused, partisan basis. Over the past two years, Senator Klein and his colleagues in the IDC have shown that they’re driven by policy, not politics. They have delivered on an impressive bipartisan agenda, have stayed true to their Democratic principles, and have laid the groundwork for an historic bipartisan model of governing. I would like to thank Senator Klein and all of my new IDC colleagues for welcoming me into the conference and for committing to move New York forward in an exciting, bi-partisan, and common-sense way. We have made tremendous strides over the past two years, but as we all recognize, there’s plenty of work still to be done. I’m very confident that the new governing model we’re announcing today is the best way to get the results that New York’s families and businesses need.”

Senator Tom Libous (R-C-I, Binghamton) said, “Today, we are taking steps to formalize our existing partnership through a new Senate Majority Coalition, which we believe is the best, most effective way to ensure that true bipartisanship and meaningful progress will continue in Albany. My constituents want Democrats and Republicans to work together to achieve real results that improve their lives, and that’s what we are going to do in cooperation with the IDC.”

Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn) said, “Two years ago, we realized that in order to serve our constituents effectively, we needed to take the politics out of policymaking. That’s what we’ve done since forming the IDC and that’s what we’ll continue to do as part of the new coalition government. Our constituents, particularly mine, cannot afford the type of political gamesmanship that has, in the past, overrun a healthy and functioning legislature. We’re here to accomplish the people’s business and that’s why we’ve formed this historic bipartisan coalition.”

Senator George D. Maziarz (R-Newfane) said, “Today is a great day for all New Yorkers as we move forward and announce the new Senate Majority Coalition. I can work with anyone to get things done for the people of my district and am excited to continue on the path to move New York forward — and doing so in a bi-partisan fashion.”

Senator David Valesky (D-Oneida) “Today is a great day for government in New York State. By building a bipartisan coalition of Senators from across the state, we will remake the New York State Senate with a bold new model, where partnership is valued over partisanship, and a focus on important issues will be at the forefront. This coalition will enable stability, functionality and a wide-ranging legislative agenda that will benefit the people of New York. I look forward to working with my colleagues in a productive legislative session that will hopefully serve as an example for governance.”

Senator John A. DeFrancisco (R-C-I, Syracuse) said, “My constituents are looking for a bipartisan government to get things done. We’ve had great success working with the Independent Democrat Conference over the past two years to pass on-time budgets that reduced state spending, lowered taxes and helped create new private sector jobs. The new coalition will allow this team that has worked so well together to continue the progress we’ve made for the benefit of all the people of this state.”

Senator David Carlucci (D-Rockland) said, “In order to bring meaningful results to New York families and businesses, we need to break down party barriers and work across the aisle. This bipartisan agreement will help us do exactly that. By taking the politics out of policymaking, I know that we’ll achieve big things for all New Yorkers.”

Senator Martin Golden (R-C, Brooklyn) said, “The new bipartisan coalition will be an effective way to ensure that we continue to move New York forward. The people of this state want their representatives to work together to address the issues that impact their lives and, particularly important to the people of my district, work with other state and federal leaders to help us recover and rebuild from the devastation of hurricane Sandy.”

Senator John Bonacic (R,C,I-Mount Hope) said, “The recently formed coalition between the Senate Republican Conference and the Independent Democrat Conference is good news for the hardworking people of our great state. The coalition, which has been working together for the past two years with Governor Cuomo, will ensure a functional and productive Senate working in a bipartisan way to provide solutions to the great challenges we all face in the coming year.”