By JON CAMPBELL
ALBANY -- Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced Sunday he is backing a bill that would move primary elections for state offices to June 26 -- the same date a federal judge ordered New York's congressional primary to be held.
The bill, which was quietly introduced Friday, would push the state primary up from Sept. 11 and eliminate the possibility of three primaries being held in 2012. The state's presidential primary will be held April 24.
Each primary is estimated to cost about $50 million, with the majority of the price tag picked up by local governments.
"There is no good reason why our local governments should be asked to spend an extra $50 million to hold three primary elections in one year," Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, said in a statement. "That's why we should be holding both state and federal primaries on the same day."
The bill was met with opposition by Senate Republicans, who hold a slim majority in the Legislature's upper house and have advocated for an August primary. Silver's bill would move the state primary for future years to the fourth Tuesday in June.
New York's 2012 primary dates have been at the center of legal and political battles for months, with Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats not being able to come to terms on just the state and congressional contests should be held.
Federal District Court Judge Gary Sharpe last month ordered the state to hold its congressional primary on June 26 after the U.S. Department of Justice sued over the New York's lack of compliance with the MOVE Act. The federal statute requires states to get absentee ballots in the hands of overseas military at least 45 days before an election.
Sharpe had no jurisdiction over the state primaries, and current law calls for them to be held on the first Tuesday after the second Monday in September. The judge's ruling allows for the federal primary to be moved if the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo can agree on a date, so long as it complies with the statute.
All state Senate and Assembly seats are up for election in 2012, as well as congressional districts and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's seat.
Silver's bill increases pressure on Senate Republicans, who have expressed concern over the possibility of three primaries but have criticized the June date for clashing with the end of New York's legislative season. The Legislature's 2012 session is scheduled to end June 21.
Assembly Democrats have said an August date would result in low voter turnout since it is a traditional vacation month.
Cuomo, meanwhile, hasn't taken a position on when the primary should be held, but has called the idea of three separate dates "less than ideal." His office did not respond to a request for comment.
"This bill ignores just how disruptive a June 26 primary would be to the state legislative session, which concludes in June," Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif said in a statement. "After all the progress we've made in ending the dysfunction in Albany and turning New York around, why would Assembly Democrats want to take that chance?"
Further complicating matters is the state's still-unresolved redistricting process. A panel of state lawmakers released a draft set of new district lines for the Legislature last week, but has yet to issue any congressional lines.
Cuomo, meanwhile, has vowed to veto any lines drawn by lawmakers, who have long been criticized for concocting maps that are designed to keep the Senate and Assembly's majority parties in power. A veto would send the lines to court, where a judge could appoint a special master to redraw them.
Silver's bill would slash the number of petitions signed by district residents that candidates would need to get on the state primary ballot. Senate candidates would need to collect 750 signatures, down from 1,000; Assembly candidates would need 375, down from 500.
The filing deadline for petitions would be April 16.