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No Progress So Far In NY Special Legislative Session

New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie
Karen DeWitt
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie outside the Assembly chamber Wednesday

Lawmakers came back to the state Capitol at the command of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who called an extraordinary session of the legislature at 1 p.m. Wednesday to deal with unfinished business. But, as the afternoon wore on, there were still no agreements on how to tackle the remaining items.

Under the rules of what is technically called an extraordinary session, the governor proposes the agenda, and lawmakers must vote yes or no.

Shortly after 1 p.m., the Assembly gaveled into the session.

There was only one item officially on the agenda, to extend the New York City’s mayor’s control over the school system, for one more year. The current authorization expires on Friday.

But, there are other outstanding issues that did not get finished when the session ended June 21st, including the extension of sales tax authorization for New York’s counties, a measure that has routinely passed both houses of the legislature for decades. The Assembly Democrats had linked the sales tax to mayoral control, a connection that was rejected by the Senate leadership coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats. The Senate had tied mayoral control to strengthening charter schools, something Assembly Democrats said was not advancing in their house.

Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco says it doesn’t make sense to just act on mayoral control, which is really a New York City specific issue, then leave again for summer break. He says other outstanding issues include the fate of the sales tax extenders for counties upstate and on Long Island, and flood relief for areas ravaged by high waters on Lake Ontario.

“It’s a really big state,” DeFrancisco said.

All three major credit rating agencies are threatening to downgrade the counties’ credit ratings if the uncertainty over the future of the sales tax continues.

Other items began to surface. New York City also needs a bill to extend authorization to impose its personal income taxes. And the Vernon Downs racetrack near Utica is threatening to close. A bail out aid package is also stalled in the legislature.

Senator Joseph Griffo, who represents the Mohawk Valley region, says he’s “frustrated”.

“You’ve got 300 people who could lose their jobs,” Griffo said. “And I don’t understand the insensitivity to that here right now.”

Governor Cuomo issued a statement, saying he fully supports helping out Vernon Downs, but he says the legislature needs to pass a bill first.  

Earlier, legislative leaders met behind closed doors with Cuomo in an attempt to work out a larger deal including more items. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was asked whether he was optimistic or pessimistic that a deal could be worked out.

“I’m not a soothsayer,” Heastie said.

Even though the session was called for early afternoon, there’s no rule that says the lawmakers have to immediately vote on the governor’s bills.

They exercised the option of delaying the vote, by pausing the action in a maneuver known as standing at ease.

The majority parties in both houses then returned to closed door conferences, to discuss what to do next.

Senator DeFrancisco even says if no deal is reached Wednesday, there might not be an end to the proceedings.  

“The governor could easily just call us back tomorrow, and the next day,” DeFrancisco said.  “And he’s the type of guy who would do that.”

DeFrancisco described the governor as someone with a “strong ego”, who “thinks he’s the government”.

A spokesman for Cuomo had no comment.

Even though the session was only called for just one day, one legislator said he was told to bring an extra suit. 

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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