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Cuomo’s had a tough legislative session

ALBANY – One has to wonder if Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s muscles are sore following a legislative session when he twisted so many arms to try to get his way on things.

As the 2013 session was ending Friday and Saturday morning, the governor found that governing in his third year was not as easy as he might have come to expect, as lawmakers and special-interest groups were more willing to take him on and push back against some of his ideas.

After emphasizing fiscal restraint themes during his first two years as governor, Cuomo took a sharp turn to the political left, beginning in January with his successful campaign for stronger gun-control laws. That leftward turn continued to the end with his failed abortion protection measure this past week.

Not getting approved Friday was Cuomo’s push to what he termed “codifying” state law to ensure abortion remains legal even if the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision is ever reversed of the federal level.

Critics said the bill, which never came up to a vote on the floor of the State Senate, would have encouraged more abortions and expanded late-term procedures in New York. The Senate ended its session Saturday morning.

In fact, a series of major bills that would protect women’s rights at work, at home and when they face domestic violence was derailed Friday over the contentious late-term abortion proposal.

Senate Republicans defeated a surprise amendment that would have forced the chamber to consider the abortion measure, which was part of Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act. The Senate had planned to pass the nine other bills in the act.

But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, moments after the Senate vote, said the Assembly now won’t consider the nine bills, which address discrimination and abuse without the abortion measure. The Assembly ended its session Friday.

Meanwhile, Cuomo’s leftward turn may have come with a price: a drop in the polls, especially among upstate voters.

The governor’s post-session spin came into public view Thursday afternoon in the Capitol’s historic Red Room, where he checked off his 2013 victories.

He cited, among others, the gun bill, another on-time budget, another round of regional economic development funding, as well as more recent deals ending disputes with three Indian tribes, including the Seneca Nation.

And he cited approval of his plan for a dramatic casino gambling expansion and his program to offer tax free zones on college campuses for new companies that locate there.

“If you go back and look at what we laid out as plans and concepts in the State of the State … it’s a remarkably high completion rate,” Cuomo said.

But it also was a year when the governor had to use more political threats and wage more battles to try to get his way. It didn’t always work.

He failed to get his much-touted “anti-corruption” package, which he began pushing in earnest only after the arrests of several lawmakers on various corruption charges. He was unable to get approved taxpayer funding of statewide political campaigns, a measure he began pushing hardest after he amassed more than $22 million in his own campaign account.

He could not get the abortion bill through the Senate, despite all manner of arm-twisting. It also was a measure he called historic but also said had little practical effect because Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. He also could not get an item that for months he called a priority: essentially decriminalizing possession of marijuana.

And there were the less-noticed items. For instance, he has talked about improving the state’s congested and aging power transmission system, an idea that could be a financial boom to power plants in Western New York looking to sell power to energy-hungry downstate. A bill to devise a way to finance the upgrades fell apart and died last week.

It was a contentious year for Cuomo. He fought with lawmakers, with public employee unions, with religious organizations, with teachers, with gun owners and with business groups.

He now says he will appoint a special investigatory panel to probe possible abuses in legislative fundraising and campaign spending because lawmakers would not go along with his anti-corruption package, including the public financing of campaigns.

The governor watched as his own, hand-picked co-chairwoman of the Democratic Party, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, went public with her protests over his fiscal policies. More recently, he picked a fight with Canada over Peace Bridge improvements in Buffalo.

Republicans see some wounds in this year’s session for Cuomo.

“Andrew Cuomo’s 2013 legislative session was all politics and no substance related to jobs, economic growth or Albany’s culture of corruption,” said state Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox.

One Republican lawmaker considering a run against Cuomo next year called the session a failure for the governor, starting with his “Howard Dean-like performance” in the State of the State when he screamed into the microphone for the need for a gun control bill and called for the tax-free plan for businesses that locate on college campuses.

“He’s saying this is the best thing we’ve ever done for upstate New York. That’s insane,” Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, a Washington County Republican, said of the tax-free campus plan.

“If that’s the best you’ve got, you might as well pack up shop now because this is a joke and a slap in the face to people upstate who own businesses and are working their tails off trying to pay these outrageous taxes and fees.” the lawmaker said of a plan he believes unfairly treats existing businesses over those coming for the tax-free zones.

The tax-free zone program was approved Friday by the Senate and Assembly. It gives a host of tax advantages, including no state or property taxes and even no personal tax income tax liabilities, for workers of a firm relocating to a state or private campus.

The program comes on top of a measure also approved Friday, permitting four new casinos in three upstate regions; Western New York would not be included because of a recent deal Cuomo struck with Seneca President Barry Snyder to preserve the tribe’s exclusive right to operate casinos in the region.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. email: