It has been a decade since both the New York State Senate and Assembly were controlled by Democrats. That has kept New York from securing some typical Democratic priorities, despite the state’s voter registration being overwhelmingly blue.
But the power balance in Albany changed Tuesday, with Democrats roaring to the majority in the upper chamber — and now controlling all levers of state government.
Here’s what those gains could mean for some state-level issues that affect NYC.
If you had a terrible voting experience on Thursday — long lines in the rain, jammed ballot scanners, confused polling staffers shrugging and saying go grab a slice down the block while you wait — you weren’t alone.
The woes of the city Board of Elections have been well-documented cycle after cycle.
One way to alleviate some of the stress on the system is to make voting easier. Democrats in the State Assembly passed an election package in 2018 that would have established a seven-day early-voting period and no-excuse absentee voting. Both would help people with inflexible schedules vote ahead of time.
Republicans have opposed such policies.
“Could someone tell me the part of the voting process that is difficult,” asked (losing) Long Island State Senate candidate Dean Murray, a Republican, in an interview with our editorial board this year.
Democrats could flip the narrative.
Also related to elections, Democrats have said they support closing the loophole that allows real estate and other corporate interests to funnel enormous sums to candidates, getting around the state’s already weak campaign finance rules.
Students across the city walked out of school this spring to protest mass shootings. With anger here and around the country still percolating, Democrats could push forward gun control measures beyond New York’s SAFE Act, legislation that passed in Albany after Newtown.
That includes more comprehensive background checks or a so-called “red flag” rule, which would prevent people “determined by a court to have the potential to cause themselves or others serious harm from purchasing, possessing, or attempting to purchase or possess any type of firearm, including hand guns, rifles, or shotguns,” according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who campaigned on the issue and was overwhelmingly re-elected on Tuesday.
The tricky stuff
City representatives who find themselves in the majority in Albany can now take the conductor’s seat on the MTA, that flailing government bureaucracy that affects so much of New Yorkers’ daily lives.
They can hold hearings, a rare event in the Republican-controlled Senate.
And they can figure out a responsible way to fund the system.
If you want to read the tea leaves via the State Assembly’s early moves on this front, here was Democratic Speaker Carl Heastie’s statement on the subject Wednesday: “For the MTA to keep New Yorkers and the millions of people who come to our city moving, we need to identify new sustainable funding sources that will support critical capital and operating needs.” Sources, plural.
One source could be congestion pricing, which could toll vehicle entry to parts of Manhattan that had been free. That would raise some needed money for MTA coffers and perhaps reduce the number of cars driving into the central business district, depending on the size of the toll. This is a no-brainer for transit advocates, given the above benefits and the fact that studies have shown that those who drive into the city for work generally earn higher incomes. But the tolls have proved tricky when outer-borough elected officials are asked to take a stand. Even Democrats have been leery.
Then there’s a so-called “millionaire’s tax,” Mayor Bill de Blasio’s favored proposal which would raise city personal income taxes on high earners. Cuomo has opposed it, and some new non-NYC members of the Democratic coalition have been gun-shy to even the idea of new taxes (though the tax would appear to apply just to city residents). Those suburban members will also have to answer to constituents about congestion pricing.
Some will remember Long Island Democratic State Sen. Brian Foley, who lost his seat in 2010 after supporting a commuter tax.
Expect this all to be tricky.