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Livable Streets Progress in Albany Will Have to Go Through a GOP Senate

12:56 PM EST on November 5, 2014

Andrew Cuomo may have won re-election, but New York was no exception to the national Republican wave in yesterday's elections. The GOP regained control of the State Senate, weakening its bond with the Independent Democratic Conference and keeping mainline Democrats in the minority. With last night's results, the landscape for transit and livable streets legislation in Albany has shifted.

Dean Skelos, right, is back as the sole leader of the State Senate. What will it mean for the MTA? Photo: MTA/Flickr
Dean Skelos, right, could come back as the sole leader of the State Senate. What will it mean for transit in NYC? Photo: MTA/Flickr
Dean Skelos, right, is back as the sole leader of the State Senate. What will it mean for the MTA? Photo: MTA/Flickr

Republicans now have 32 of 63 seats in the State Senate. They gained control by ousting three upstate Democrats and losing only one seat, in a tight three-way Buffalo-area race. The balance of power no longer rests with the breakaway IDC, which formed a power-sharing agreement with Republicans. Leadership of the Senate could be consolidated next session in Dean Skelos of Long Island, who currently splits control with IDC leader Jeff Klein.

With Republicans in the majority, NYC's two GOP senators -- Martin Golden of Brooklyn and Andrew Lanza of Staten Island, who both won re-election last night -- will be key for any street safety legislation affecting the city. Golden initially resisted speed camera legislation earlier this year, though he ultimately voted for the bill. Lanza is best known to Streetsblog readers for refusing to allow flashing lights on Select Bus Service vehicles.

The rest of the statewide political landscape did not change much. The Assembly will remain in the hands of Democrats, led by Speaker Sheldon Silver. Silver and Skelos will return to Albany next year with Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and Governor Cuomo, who all secured expected victories over Republican challengers.

The most pressing transportation issue facing Cuomo, Silver, and Skelos -- the proverbial "three men in a room" -- will be closing the $15.2 billion gap in the MTA capital program.

Skelos represents a suburban constituency that strongly opposes the Payroll Mobility Tax, which has been a staple of MTA funding since its creation in 2009. He is also on the record opposing congestion pricing. Silver, for his part, played a lead role in the demise of congestion pricing in 2008, but later came out in favor of East River bridge tolls pegged to the subway fare (a proposal that then-council member Bill de Blasio also supported). If a toll reform plan like the one proposed by Move New York is to gain any traction as a transit funding fix, Skelos and Silver would have to allow it to proceed.

And nothing can be enacted without support from Cuomo, who remains the biggest question mark. The governor recently called the MTA capital plan "bloated" while also saying that "everything is on the table" when it comes to funding transit. Cuomo brokered a deal to cut the payroll tax in 2010 and batted away talk of toll reform last year. Without new revenue, MTA debt has continued to skyrocket under his watch. Now that the election is over, New Yorkers may finally get a clearer sense of where he stands on this all-important regional transportation issue.

Also at stake in the next session will be street safety legislation. Thanks to help from IDC leader Jeff Klein, Mayor Bill de Blasio secured a 25 mph citywide speed limit and an expansion of school zone speed cameras from Albany earlier this year. The mayor's Vision Zero Action Plan goes further, calling for home rule over automated enforcement and a host of state laws to crack down on reckless driving.

If progress on any of those items is going to happen in historically lethargic Albany, it will have to go through Skelos's State Senate. While the chamber isn't held by de Blasio's allies, livable streets measures have been able to gain support from Republicans before. Both the speed limit and speed cam bills cleared the Senate this year in overwhelming bipartisan votes.

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