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Will it work? Uncertainty over power sharing

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New Yorkers have reason to wonder what kind of government they will get with the unprecedented power sharing arrangement between Senate Republicans and five dissident Democrats, who will now control the state Senate.

Republicans had hoped to retain control of the 63-member chamber after the November elections, but two tight races remain undecided. They could go Democratic to give that party a majority and, under normal circumstance, control of the Senate. That won’t happen now that the five-member Independent Democratic Conference has joined forces with the Republican conference in exchange for shared leadership of the chamber.

The deal calls for GOP Sen. Dean G. Skelos of Long Island and Democratic Sen. Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx, who leads the IDC, to jointly run the Senate by alternating the post of temporary president of the Senate every two weeks.

The two leaders will share “joint and equal authority” over budget talks, deciding which bills will come to a vote and committee assignments, all privileges that are usually enjoyed by the majority party alone. That could complicate budget talks when the traditional “three men in a room” negotiating a state budget becomes a foursome with Sen. Klein expected to take a seat at the table with Sen. Skelos, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Sens. Klein and Skelos called their arrangement a “bipartisan governing coalition,” but angry Democrats denied their hoped-for return to power call it a coup. The majority of Democrats as a caucus will be left out, while the arrangement gives the IDC as a third conference under Senate rules power and influence beyond its small size.

The makeup of the 36-member coalition could help bridge the traditional divide between upstate and downstate and rural and urban interests.

Coalition government could work in Gov. Cuomo’s favor. Although he stayed out of the fight, he lashed out afterward at Democratic lawmakers for “squandering the opportunity to pass meaningful reform.”

Among 10 legislative goals he considers a “litmus test” for his support of lawmakers is raising the minimum wage, which has been opposed by Republicans. The IDC has generally supported the governor’s agenda.

The arrangement maintains a GOP leadership role, although with apparently diminished powers since they will be shared. However, it prevents the Legislature and state government from being dominated by New York City Democrats.

The need for leadership agreement could lead either to gridlock or compromise. Details, such as committee memberships and chairmanships, have yet to be worked out. Legislation might actually be debated on the Senate floor. Albany could actually function the way it is supposed to work.

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