By Jon Lentz - City Hall News
Advocates, good government groups and even Planned Parenthood are cheering Liz Krueger’s replacement of Carl Kruger as ranking member on the Finance Committee, despite a widely held belief that her impact on the budget will be slight at best.
“Senator Krueger has shown herself to be open to new ideas, innovation and reform,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. “I think that the Finance Committee is a place that could use more innovation and an open, creative attitude.”
Sean Barry of VOCAL-NY said that despite having similar names, Krueger is “the polar opposite” of Kruger.
“She is a familiar presence in our district. She’s not seen as someone who’s distant or disconnected in any way,” Barry said. “Where I think Carl was muted in fighting for the interests of the middle class and poor New Yorkers, I think you’re going to see Liz give a more full-throated advocacy for their needs.”
Indeed, in a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Krueger called on Republicans to amend their budget to address what she called a $1 billion budget shortfall and a series of “broken promises” to the state’s residents.
“We want a fair budget,” Krueger said. “We want a budget where we share the pain. We want a budget where those in the least need provide assistance to those in most need.”
But as ranker, Krueger’s power will be limited. In his short time as ranker, Carl Kruger groused about being left out of budget negotiations, and chafed at having to give up running the whole committee. Kruger was originally able to grab the finance chairmanship by withholding his vote for majority leader. Krueger was made vice chair of the committee, as a mea culpa by the conference leaders.
The current chair of the Finance Committee, Sen. John DeFrancisco, commended Krueger as an articulate lawmaker. Recalling his own time as ranking member on the committee, he said it had been “very frustrating on many occasions.”
“But I would suspect that there were times in the course of the debate that I may have convinced a person or two, and I don’t know where any positions changed on the budget,” DeFrancisco said, “but certainly legitimate issues were raised, and sometimes reason does prevail and people do change their minds.”
In an interview, Krueger acknowledged the limitations of her role and expressed hope that the Democrats would take back the Senate in the 2012 elections, which would position her to become the committee chair.
In the meantime, she said she is diving into the “whirlwind” of negotiations over the budget even as it is going to print.
“For the next few weeks it’s all about budget, budget negotiations, and trying to make sure as best we can that the i’s are dotted, the t’s are crossed, the numbers add up, and that the Democratic conference priorities and principles are fought for, even if we may not be successful,” she said.
As for specific items such as the millionaire’s tax, Krueger said it would take much more than her “sitting in one chair versus another.”
“You need either the governor or the Senate Republicans to change their positions,” she said.
But some budget experts say it hardly matters where Krueger sits, she will still have a hard time having her voice heard in the process.
“Her grandmother will be happy with the news, but it doesn’t make much impact,” said Jerry Kremer, a lobbyist and former member chair of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, agreed, saying it was likely too late in the budget process for Krueger to change the negotiations very much.
“She’s very smart, and she brings a keen mind to the budget issues, so if there are areas of impasse that require a creative thought she’ll be a likely source of ideas,” said Wylde, who is opposed to the millionaire’s tax that Krueger supports. “At the same time, I think the majority, at least in my conversations with them, has a pretty clear commitment of where they want to go.”
Blair Horner, NYPIRG’s legislative director, said Krueger’s role will at least allow her to draw attention to budget reform, a cause she championed. In 2010, she proposed a two-year budget, an independent legislative budget office and other budget changes.
“Their ability to enact any of them is limited by the fact that they’re not in the majority,” Horner said of Krueger and her fellow Senate Democrats. “And as we know, even when they were in the majority, they weren’t able to enact some of them.”
Some lawmakers predicted that Krueger’s leftward bent could lead to some clashes in the Senate.
“She has positioned herself as being a real reformer,” said Assembly Member Keith L.T. Wright. “I think that she will probably be a thorn in the side of the Senate Republican majority.”