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Mayoral Control, Reform, Uncertain As NY Leg. Session Nears End

New York State Capitol
Karen DeWitt

The New York state legislative session is drawing to a close. Democrats and Republicans are digging in on the remaining issues of 2017 including a measure to extend the New York City mayor’s control of the public schools, which has now been linked to a number of diverse issues affecting people in the rest of the state.

Games of chicken are common at the Capitol whenever a deadline like the budget or the end of session draws near. This time, it was the State Senate’s turn to go first. Republicans, who control the chamber, offered three bills extending New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s control of the public schools, for one, two or five years.  The measures are linked to passage of an education tax credit that would benefit charter schools. Charter schools have long been championed by Republicans, but are viewed with suspicion by some Democrats.

The three take it or leave it measures were angrily rejected by the Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who was asked about them by reporters.

“God bless them, we’re not doing them,” Speaker Heastie said. “Next question." 

Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco joked that he could easily walk away with the extension of mayoral control unresolved.

“I can go home without it happening,” DeFrancisco said. “I live in Syracuse.”

Mayor de Blasio unsuccessfully campaigned for Democrats to take the chamber away from Republicans in 2014, and some GOP members continue to hold some resentment.

But the Assembly has tied mayoral control to the renewal of sales tax in counties outside of New York City, in upstate and on Long Island, and including counties in DeFrancisco’s district.

Speaker Heastie defended the linkage, saying there is a certain logic to it.

“We passed a bill that respected every localities’ request for an extender including the City (of New York),” Heastie said.  “We’re trying to treat every county with the same amount of respect and we wish the Senate Republicans would do the same for the City of New York.”

Heastie says he hopes that there can be a “three-way agreement” between the Assembly, Senate and governor on another key end of session issue- increasing oversight of the state’s economic development contracts, in light of a scandal that’s led to corruption charges against several of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s former associates.

“We’ll see what happens,” Heastie said.

The bills supported by the Assembly and Senate reinstate the state comptroller’s oversight over economic development contracts. Governor Cuomo does not support that plan. He instead wants to create a new inspector general under the executive branch to root out potential corruption in procurement practices. Senator DeFrancisco says that plan would not provide true oversight.

“You just have to be somewhat sane to realize that that’s not a check and balance over anybody,” DeFrancisco said.

A spokesman for the governor responds that it’s a “joke” to think a comptroller’s pre-audit of an economic development contract could flag a corrupt arrangement, and says spokesman Rich Azzopardi dismissed DeFrancisco’s comments as a personal grudge against Cuomo because, he says, the governor criticized the senator for spending some time in Florida.

The session ends June 21.

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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