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De Blasio Frustrated By Lack Of Leadership In Albany

New York State Capitol

In the final weeks of the legislative session, groups are lobbying for some of the major remaining issues still on the table, including the Mayor of New York and groups who want a property tax break for homeowners struggling to hold on to their houses. And both accuse Governor Andrew Cuomo of not taking an active enough role.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio came to meet Wednesday with Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders to push for reform and renewal of the city’s rent control laws, which impact around 2 million people, and a related property tax break for developers who set aside some of their new dwellings for affordable housing.

De Blasio says that law, known 421a, also needs to be fixed. Both measures expire on June 15. With the session in disarray following the arrests of the leaders of both houses of the legislature, and their subsequent resignations, many expect the laws to be simply extended for another few years, without making any changes. The mayor says that would be “irresponsible." And after a private meeting with Governor Cuomo, he accused the governor of not working hard enough to get the issues settled.

“We particularity need the governor to act,” de Blasio said.  “We need leadership, and we know the governor has been able in the past to create real change here in Albany and get big things done. This is a moment where we need that leadership.”

The mayor points out that his proposal to change 421a is also supported by the city’s real estate industry, which should make it easier to win broader support among Democrats and Republicans.  An Assembly proposal would require that construction workers be paid the prevailing union wages. But the de Blasio plan would not. The mayor says that would make it more expensive to build affordable housing.

“Here we have something that’s been agreed on by a progressive mayor of New York City and the real estate community. That’s not every day,” deBlasio said. “That should be a good sign to people that it’s a smart, balanced plan that everyone can buy in to.”

De Blasio also wants mayoral control over New York City schools to be made permanent, saying the alternative is “chaos and corruption,” but he says he would settle for a three-year extension.

Meanwhile, some are trying to revive a proposal to provide tax relief to lower and middle income homeowners who pay a high percentage of their income on property taxes.  

Ron Deutsch, with the thinktank the Fiscal Policy Institute, which is partly financed by unions, says his group and others were encouraged when Governor Cuomo picked up the idea in his State of the State message in January. Cuomo even held a special event on Long Island, where property taxes are among the highest in the state, where he said “this is probably the single most important challenge that we’re facing economically.”

Deutsch says since then, the governor has not championed the issue. He says attempts to talk to Cuomo or his staff have gone nowhere.

“We’ve reached out to the governor on multiple occasions,” Deutsch said. “The silence has been deafening.”

The proposal would draw on $1.7 billion in the state budget, saved through a self-imposed 2 percent per year spending cap. It’s backed by Assembly Democrats. But Republicans who lead the Senate prefer instead to expand an already existing school property tax relief fund, known as STAR. Critics, including budget watchdog groups, say STAR is inefficient and has simply led to padding of school budgets, not any real decrease in property taxes for homeowners.

John Whitley, with the New York State Property Tax Reform Coalition, admits the circuit breaker tax relief may be a victim of a session preoccupied with arrests and leadership changes. The Assembly Speaker has held his job for just over three months. The Senate leader has been in his post for less than three weeks.

“There does seem to be a lot,” said Whitley, who said the circuit breaker for tax relief is “not a difficult thing.”

The governor held no events at the capitol following the private meeting with de Blasio. A spokesman for Cuomo says the governor is still pushing for the plan, but he says there’s still time because it would not event take effect, as written until 2016.

“The governor believes his tax credit proposal is the best way to ensure real relief goes to the property taxpayers and renters who need it the most. As proposed, this program will be phased in beginning in the 2016 tax year and we will continue to work with the Legislature to make this law before then,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi in a statement. “As the governor has repeatedly said: New York has no future as the high tax capital of the world.”

Mayor de Blasio says the ongoing corruption scandals are “no excuse for inaction” but he still holds out hope that things could change.

“In Albany terms there’s a lot of time on the clock here,” de Blasio said. “There’s still several weeks, and a lot can happen.”

Lawmakers are not scheduled to adjourn until June 17.

And While Cuomo did not appear in public, he did write an op-ed article to the legislature, asking for passage of another one of his agenda items, raising the age that juvenile offenders are treated as adults from 16 to 18 years of age. 

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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