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End-of-session deals bring compromises, postponements

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (left), Gov. Andrew Cuomo (center) and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan announced their end-of-session deal to reporters Tuesday.

The legislature ?hoped to pass final end of session bills Thursday, two days after a framework deal was announced by legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The session is limping to a close, after a year that’s seen the resignation of both leaders of the legislature over corruption scandals, and ongoing federal probes.

Cuomo endured many personal obstacles during this session. His father, the former Gov. Mario Cuomo, passed away January 1. His long- time partner, chef Sandra Lee, underwent a double mastectomy for breast cancer.

“This was a very difficult year,” Cuomo admits.

Cuomo, in the earlier years of his governorship, won numerous legislative victories, including same-sex marriage and gun control laws. This year, the first in his second term, he achieved a four-year extension of the property tax cap that he championed, along with four more years of rent regulations.

But the governor pulled back from efforts to pass an education tax credit that would benefit donors who give up to $1 million, if they give money to scholarships for poor children to attend private schools. It would also have funded some public school programs. Cuomo settled instead to pay $250 million to religious and private schools, money Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan says was already owed.   

Billy Easton, with the public school funding advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education, portrays the entrenchment as a loss for wealthy campaign donors, who gave money to the governor and some legislators, something Cuomo denies.

“The governor, the Senate and the billionaires who were backing their privatization agenda came out the losers,” Easton said.  

Cuomo also was unsuccessful in winning criminal justice reforms, for which he was widely condemned by advocates. The governor says he will use his executive powers to remove 16- and 17-year olds from adult prisons, and appoint the attorney general for a one year term as a special prosecutor in police cases where a civilian is killed. The governor says he’ll work on the issues with lawmakers next year in hopes of getting agreement.

As the session dragged on into an extra week, and rent laws were temporarily extended, criticism grew and comparisons began to be made to the pre-Cuomo days, when missed deadlines and disarray were common.

Cuomo mocked those who he said were over-dramatizing, saying “the vultures were circling," and warning of descent into dysfunction. But Cuomo says the last chapter of the “drama” has a happy ending.  

“This is a great agreement,” Cuomo said.

The governor praised the two new legislative leaders for stepping up , comparing them to baseball rookies who arrived in the 7th inning, and told they had to pitch.

Both new leaders can claim some victories from the final deal. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie had pressed for greater tenant protections in the rent regulations. Instead, he received just a small change in what’s called vacancy decontrol.

Currently, an apartment goes back onto the open market when the rent rises to $2,500 a month. That will be increased to $2,700 a month. Tenant advocates predict 100,000 rent stabilized units will be lost during the new four year extension.

But Assembly Democrats in the end successfully blocked the education tax credit, which many Democrats opposed.

Senate Leader John Flanagan and Senate Republicans, who largely represent suburban regions, were able to partially revive a property tax rebate program that Democrats in the legislature had ended back in 2009. The amount of the check will now be pegged to income ranges, with poorer homeowners getting more money, up to household incomes of $200,000 a year.

Ron Deutsch, with Fiscal Policy Institute, had argued for a more focused circuit breaker.  He says a key factor, for politicians are that the checks will come in the mail to homeowners and voters in the fall of 2016, just before elections.

“Albany has an affliction for handing out rebate checks during election years,” Deutsch said.

On some other issues, lawmakers punted. They sent a property tax break for real estate developers who build some affordable housing back to the industry and labor unions to work out. And they extended the New York City Mayor’s control over the school system for just one year.

Despite the arrests of the legislative leaders and the on going corruption probes, there is no new ethics reform as part of the end of session package. Cuomo and lawmakers even took a step backward from agreement made as part of the budget in late March. They said they would begin the process to strip state pensions from legislators convicted of felonies. But now, that bill has also fallen through and won’t be approved.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.