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Final Weekend Before End Of Session, No Deals Yet

Times Union Website Crime Confidential Blog

The final week of New York’s legislative session begins Monday, and so far, Governor Cuomo and lawmakers have still not come to agreement on a number of major laws that expire.  

New York City’s rent laws, which impact over one million apartments, sunset at midnight. They are tied, through legislation, to a property tax cap important to suburbanites and upstaters. Also set to expire, a tax break for large real estate developers who agree to set aside some of their projects for affordable housing, and mayoral control of the New York City schools.

The time is so short that Governor Cuomo has begun floating the idea of doing simple extenders of many of the laws, and perhaps decide how to change them later. He admits a six-month extender of the real estate tax break is under consideration, because he says he does not want to see a program that provides some affordable housing “expire.”

“I would favor a short term extension,” Cuomo said. “So you still have the pressure on people to get a new agreement done, but you don’t actually stop producing affordable housing in the meantime.”

A straight extender of the rent laws is also under consideration. That dismayed housing advocates, who want tenant protections strengthened.

The tenant groups, who have come weekly to Albany and were involved in a protest that led to 60 arrests outside the governor’s offices, call it an “abdication of responsibility and leadership.”

Straight extenders would be a blow to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who’s sought changes, as well as labor unions, who want the real estate tax break law changed to require prevailing union wage be paid on all construction projects. Cuomo has sided with the unions and against de Blasio on that issue, but has not put out a specific proposal.

There is another factor that’s hampering end of session deals. That’s the on going ethics scandals that’s led both leaders of the legislature to resign their posts this session over corruption charges. Federal probes are continuing. Senate Finance Committee Chair John DeFrancisco says the cloud is weighing heavily on lawmakers as they try to forge end of session deals.

“You’ve got that hanging over everybody’s heads,” DeFrancisco said. “Even terming something as ‘this for that’ is a dangerous thing to do in the climate of the presumption of guilt.”

The cases against the former legislative leaders Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos include charges that they used their posts to gain favors from real estate developers, who are among the largest campaign contributors to top politicians. No developer has been charged with any wrong doing, but the chief executive of one firm, Glenwood management is a cooperating witness in the cases.

Governor Cuomo, who has received millions from developers, including Glenwood, as well as from labor unions, concedes that any deal forged to change the real estate tax break, known as the 421a provision, could be misconstrued.

“If 421a helps the real estate industry, you’ll say that’s because the real estate industry are big donors,” Cuomo said. “If it helps labor they’ll say it helps labor. So, it’s that kind of complicated issue.”  

The governor outlined an ambitious agenda in January, but as the session closes, he’s focusing on just one other remaining issue, an education tax credit for donors. Individuals and corporations who give up to a million dollars to finance scholarships for children to attend private schools, would get a $750,000 tax break. The money could also be used to pay for some extra curricular public school programs. Lobbying by backers has been intense, with television ads featuring the governor.

Assembly Democrats who oppose the measure have been targeted with mailers and robocalls. Catholic school children and their teachers have been organized into protests outside lawmaker’s offices, including the Chair of the Assembly Education Committee. So far, Assembly Democrats say the tactics have backfired, and not enough members of their conference have agreed to the proposal. As the final days approached, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he was ruling out a deal where rent law reforms are exchanged for the education tax credit.   

“Anything that we vote on is going to be because that’s what the conference wants,” Heastie said. “Not some convoluted package where people have to vote on things they don’t want. That’s not what we’re going to do.”

Even the Governor, who’s said the issue is a top priority, has lowered expectations for its passage in recent days.

“You don’t have a lot of urgency on a lot of these issues,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo, putting the best face on the potential lack of action, says he and the legislature already accomplished a lot earlier in the year, when they passed the state budget. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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