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Cloud of corruption lingers over legislative session

WBFO File Photo

Lawmakers are struggling to reach end of session deals, as the corruption scandals and on going federal investigations seem to be hampering their progress. 

With just over one week left until the session is scheduled to end, lawmakers seem far apart on many key issues.

New York City’s rent regulations expire next week, along with a property tax break for real estate developers who agree to set aside some of their project for affordable housing, known as 421a.  

Assembly Democrats and now Governor Cuomo say they want the rent laws strengthened to protect tenants, by either repealing a provision known as vacancy decontrol, or changing. Vacancy decontrol allows rents that reach a threshold, currently $2500 a month, to be released back into the free market.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says Democrats are dug in on the issue.

“It won’t change,” Heastie said. “I’m happy to see the governor’s come to where we are, we hope to see if we can get the Senate there.”

Senate Republicans are not interested in repealing vacancy decontrol or increasing the threshold. But the GOP does want to continue a statewide property tax cap, that is linked by legislation to the rent laws.

Senate Republicans and Governor Cuomo have been pressing for an education tax credit that would allow donors who give up to $1 million dollars a $750,000 credit on their taxes, if they donate the money to fund scholarships to poor children at private schools. The money would also be used to fund extra programs at the public school of the donor’s choice.  Many Democrats oppose the idea. In past years, deals have been struck where Republicans might give on rent law reform in exchange for Democrats giving on the education tax credit. But Speaker Heastie says he does not want to link issues together anymore.

“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.”

Heastie concedes that Democrats did reluctantly agree to change the teacher evaluation process in March, in order to get the budget done on time, even though they disagreed with the proposal, but he says this time it will be different.

Senate Finance Committee Chair John DeFrancisco says the atmosphere of corruption and on going criminal investigations by federal prosecutors is making it harder tied together in a huge end of session agreement, that has earned the nickname “the big ugly”.

“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.”

Both leaders of the state legislature have been arrested on corruption charges since January, and have resigned their posts.

Senator DeFrancisco predicts that the rent laws, the related property tax break for developers, and even mayoral control of the New York City schools might be simply extended for a short amount of time, such as a year, and leave the details for later.

“Just to push it down the road,” he said.

There are a number of issues that are still on the table for the end of the session, but are not gaining traction so far. Thy include changes to the criminal justice laws, including raising the age from 16 to 18 to treat teenagers as adults in the court and prison system, and appointing a special prosecutor in police cases where an unarmed civilian is killed.

Other items that have slipped off the table, the Dream Act, which would provide college aid to the children of some immigrants, any new ethics reform, and paid family leave.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.