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Cuomo’s progressive agenda runs into legislative roadblocks

ALBANY – This was to be, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the Year of the Progressive Agenda.

But the governor all but conceded defeat Monday on several key initiatives he had floated to restore his ties with the progressive wing of his party, from a new abortion rights measure to public financing of political campaigns. Not even on his lips these days is talk of lessening penalties for marijuana possession, among his top priorities earlier this year.

With just three days left on the 2013 legislative calendar, it remains uncertain what Cuomo’s tongue-lashing and threats against the Legislature, made in a radio interview Monday, were meant to accomplish.

But one thing seems clear: The governor’s major political victory in getting reluctant Republicans to go along with him in early January on a gun-control measure is not helping with his progressive agenda at the end of this session.

“I think it hurt all his endeavors for the rest of the year. He probably got people who voted for that gun bill who shouldn’t have. That has made them gun-shy for the rest of the year,” said Michael R. Long, chairman of the state Conservative Party.

So while Cuomo was issuing his own 2014 electoral threats Monday against those lawmakers not supportive of his abortion rights and campaign finance plans, so, too, was Long, whose name recognition may not be as high with voters but whose title holds sway with Republicans eager to hold partial control of the Senate.

His message to Senate Republicans has been simple. “Hold firm,” Long said. And has he made that clear to them? “I couldn’t have made it any clearer.”

M. Tracey Brooks, president of Family Planning Advocates, said women’s organizations support Cuomo’s vow to not press for passage of nine women’s rights provisions he proposed – including the toughening of laws on sexual harassment and human trafficking – unless an abortion rights measure he and the groups want is included in the package.

Senate Republicans and four independent Senate Democrats say that isn’t happening.

Brooks said that any link between the gun law and abortion measure is a “misread” of public opinion, which she says has shown support for the abortion provision.

Many lawmakers say they can’t wait to leave Albany, but there are some matters still to be resolved:

Casino gambling – Will Cuomo and lawmakers cut a deal to permit up to seven new casinos in New York before asking voters this fall to approve such a change to the State Constitution?

“Tax-Free NY” – Will Cuomo get lawmakers to go along with a program giving tax breaks – including even no state income tax payments by employees – to firms willing to locate on state and private college campuses?

Local government assistance – What will be the final form be of an expected deal to let localities ask a special state restructuring board for help with their structural deficits, and will there be real or window-dressing solutions for “distressed” municipalities to pay what they can afford in cases of binding arbitration with police and firefighters unions?

While those measures get the headlines, dozens of others are in the mix. Upstate lawmakers fear that momentum has stopped for a new public-private entity to help utilities finance improvements to electrical transmission lines, which could help Western New York power plants with more ways to sell energy to downstate.

Some parents are pressing for a ban on over-the-counter sales of certain cough medicines being abused by teenagers for their hallucinatory effects, while others, led by a Western New York contingent, want increased penalties for repeat child-abuse offenders.

“We have a framework for further discussions,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said of where the sides are on the various issues.

After more than an hour of closed-door talks, there was only one thing on which the sides appeared to agree. “We agreed we want to be finished by Thursday,” said Senate co-leader Jeffrey D. Klein, D-Bronx.

On a public radio program, Cuomo threatened lawmakers with the creation of a panel with broad investigatory powers if they do not enact a taxpayer-funded campaign finance system along with other ideas he says will reduce corruption.

He also bashed the four independent Senate Democrats, who run the Senate with the GOP in a coalition, for refusing to bring his abortion rights bill to the floor; he said the matter will now be a factor in the 2014 legislative elections.

The governor also defended his newest casino idea, which calls for allowing slotlike devices into new gambling halls in certain parts of the state – Western New York would be excluded because of the new casino deal with the Seneca Nation of Indians – if a referendum to add seven full casinos with table games and real slots is defeated this fall by voters.

While some sources said the sides had agreed Monday to a casino-expansion measure, key lawmakers say the terms are still being negotiated.