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by Susan Hellauer
NY State Senator David Carlucci, who has been representing Rockland since 2010, gets straight “A”‘s from an environmental Albany watchdog group and shows up regularly with state grants for his constituents’ green needs. Now, local eco-activist groups are demanding that he change his ways.
Time for a short walk in the tall weeds of Albany politics.
The IDC and Albany
Carlucci is one of the four original members of the Independent Democratic Conference, formed in 2011 by Bronx Democrat Jeffrey Klein, who still heads the breakaway group. In 2012, Klein and the IDC cut a deal for shared leadership with the senate Republican conference. The collaboration deal created a majority governing coalition, and was renewed this year, now with eight members—one-fourth of the senate’s 32 Democrats. (Republicans currently number 31.)
Sounds like your typical Albany mud wresting match–with a lot more red and blue mud than we have space for here. What’s the big deal?
For local environmental groups, it’s a big, bad deal.
Trump changes everything
The Trump Administration wasted no time neutering the EPA and other agencies that enforce air and water quality regulations, with consequences close to home. A clean energy future? Prospects have dimmed with fossil-fuel advocates in charge in D.C. This has environmentalists looking to state and municipal governments to fight pollution and move forward aggressively with a renewable energy program. In blue New York State, with a Democratic governor and majorities in the assembly and senate, that shouldn’t be a problem.
But it’s not so simple. With the help of the IDC, a Republican minority controls the senate agenda and committees such as the one for Environmental Conservation. Environmental bills can be sponsored by enough senators to pass—often with help from many IDC members. But, under Republican rule, these bills can be stalled in committee or simply never introduced to the Senate floor.
The Rockland Sierra Club has been closely following this issue:
Sierra Club is disappointed that a number of good environmental bills have failed to come to the New York State Senate floor for a vote because the Republicans have control as a result of their alliance with the IDC. It has been very frustrating, year after year, to see strong environmental bills languish in the Senate, even though the bills had the sponsorship of the IDC. Three examples are the Child Safe Products Act (which in the 2013-2014 legislative session as S.4614 had 40 Senate co-sponsors, including all of the IDC at that time), Closing the Hazardous Waste Loophole (which in the 2015-2016 session as A.6859/S.884 had 32 co-sponsors including Avella, Carlucci, Klein, Savino, Valesky, Peralta and Hamilton) and the GMO Labeling Act (which in the 2015-2016 session as S.485-B had 32 Senate co-sponsors, including 5 IDC members: Avella, Carlucci, Hamilton, Peralta & Savino).
Each of these bills died in the Senate without coming to the floor for a vote even though they had enough votes to pass if they did.
Along with other local groups, we have been giving Senator Carlucci our honest feedback that the IDC has impeded the passage of good environmental bills by the Senate because they have given the Republican leadership the ability to keep the bills from being voted on. Even bills the IDC supports have not gotten passed, so we have asked him to consider resigning from the IDC.
Peggy Kurtz, Rockland Sierra Club
Perks, power and progressives
Senator Carlucci regularly introduces and votes on environmentally friendly bills. He was the only one of Rockland’s state lawmakers to vote against the Bag It bill, which prevents NYC from taxing or otherwise regulating single use plastic bags. And the senator recently bagged a $100,000 grant to help Rockland’s Water Task Force assess the vulnerable Ramapo Watershed. The IDC itself advertises a progressive agenda, aimed squarely at middle- and working-class New Yorkers.
The Republicans must give the IDC some “wins” on progressive bills, or they risk losing the IDC’s support. But if Carlucci and the IDC can’t bring important environmental legislation to a floor vote, concerned green groups like the Sierra Club, 350.org, NY Food & Water Watch and other progressive political activist groups will continue to demand that IDC members return to the traditional Democratic senate conference.
So, why don’t the IDC members come back and move forward with the environmental agenda they say they support, without the procedural blockade their IDC-Republican coalition has created? It’s complicated—by Brooklyn Democrat, Simcha Felder, who caucuses with the Republicans (a whole ‘nother story), and by power and perks.
Senate members in leadership positions get stipends, referred to in Alban-ese as “lulus.” (Leave it to Albany to make “payments in lieu of expenses” sound shady.) IDC members, who might lack seniority in their own party, get appointed to important committee positions by the Republicans with whom they align. They get a seat at the budget-making table and more discretionary funding for constituents. IDC members also have “bigger offices, [and] larger staff allotments,” according to Brooklyn democrat Sen. Kevin Parker. (Recently, the manner of lulu distribution to IDC members is getting the attention of the US Attorney’s office in Brooklyn, as well as the NY State Attorney General.)
As the senator sees it . . .
Earth Matters reached out to Sen. Carlucci, to ask why he is a charter member of the IDC, and why he feels the IDC’s collaborative agreement with Senate Republicans works for the environment, and for his Democratic constituents:
I first ran for the Senate after a terrible period of partisan gridlock in the chamber. State government came to a halt as a result of partisanship and too many people losing sight of the reasons they were elected. We had a huge deficit and budgets were always late. That has changed. I have always said that nobody has a monopoly on good ideas. Getting results for the people of Rockland and Westchester is always my top priority.
The Republican Conference has 32 members to control the chamber and committees without the IDC. That is a fact that is often glossed over. With the Republicans having 32 votes there would be zero Democratic Party input if the IDC was not in place. Therefore the IDC does not enable the Republican Conference at all.
The best thing any of us can do as Senators, in any conference, is to advocate for what we believe in. My beliefs are clear and I am passionate about protecting our environment. That is why I sponsored these bills (and more) and several of my colleagues in the IDC do as well. The solution is simply to elect more people that believe in the things we do. Right now a majority of Senators don’t share those beliefs.
Pushed, and pushing back
NY state senators face the voters every two years, so it’s pretty much always campaign season. Amid the current media scrutiny of lulus, and increasing pressure—local and national—to return to the democratic conference, the IDC is pushing back to proclaim their “pragmatic progressive” credentials. But they may have pushed the wrong button.
A recent mailing created by the IDC for its members, including David Carlucci, uses the logo and implies the endorsement of Planned Parenthood. It refers to specific bills as well. Planned Parenthood immediately denounced and disavowed the mailing, pointing to the political roadblocks that the IDC has created, which have derailed the very legislation mentioned in the mailer. There was swift reaction, as well, from local IDC opponents.
Meanwhile, the Rockland Democratic Committee is talking about a primary challenge to Carlucci in the 2018 election, and environmental activists plan to turn up the heat as well.
- The Independent Democratic Conference website
- IDC introductory video
- IDC opponent group No IDC NY
- The NY Working Families Party’s case against the IDC
- Environmental Advocates of NY Albany Bill Memos
- EPL/Environmental Advocates Albany 2016 Environmental Scorecard
- Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ June 8 letter to Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on environmental legislation, in the wake of the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement
Featured image: Sen. Carlucci on the floor of the NY State Senate. Photo courtesy NY State Senate
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