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Cuomo distances himself -- sort of -- from Senate Democratic renegades

ALBANY –- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he had no role and offered no support to a breakaway group of four State Senate Democrats who last week likely made his job of dealing with the Senate a little bit easier.

Four Democrats formed what they called an independent caucus in the Senate, which is now narrowly controlled 32-30 by the Republicans, saying they had lost faith in the Democratic leadership and were ready to vote on the merits of legislation and not based on party allegiance.

The move was immediately seen last week as aiding Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos and giving him perhaps another vote –- or four -– on controversial bills that the main Democratic conference might oppose as a bloc. That, in addition, could end up helping Cuomo on certain votes the Democratic conference would not be willing to give the Democratic governor.

Cuomo said he was only told about the move by the dissidents right before they held a press conference a few hours before his State of the State speech last Wednesday.

“I had no knowledge. I don’t approve. I don’t disapprove," Cuomo said Monday. “It’s, frankly, none of my business. It’s a separate branch. It’s a separate house. They’ll make their own political decisions, which obviously they have."

The four Democrats -– Senators Jeff Klein of the Bronx, Diane Savino of Staten Island, David Carlucci of Rockland County and David Valesky of Onondaga County -– released a report Monday showing what they said could be $312 million in “questionable" state spending and ways for the state to save money as it faces a $10 billion deficit. The ideas include things like limiting overtime by state workers and new “accountability standards’’ for outside contractors.

Klein said the group has not held any talks with Skelos or been given any promises, such as committee chairmanships or leadership titles that would reward them with additional stipends beyond their base pay of $79,500. Nor have there been any talks, the group said, about bigger staffs or nicer offices in return for disrupting the Democratic conference. He also said no one from the state Democratic Party -– which is run by Cuomo –- has asked the four to go back into the Senate Democratic conference.

Asked if he wanted to be treated as a new leader to the closed-door talks over policy and upcoming budget talks, Klein said, “This is a work in progress.’’

--Tom Precious

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