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State leaders agree on key issues

Photo from Karen Dewitt

Nearly one week after the legislative session was supposed to end, governor Cuomo and legislative leaders have announced a deal on all major end of session issues, including renewal of New York City’s rent laws and a related property tax cap, as well as a new tax rebate program for property owners.

After several days of closed door negotiations, and one extension of expiring rent laws, Cuomo and legislative leaders reached a deal on several key issues.

“We have a framework of an agreement”, Cuomo said.

The agreement  includes a four year extension of the rent laws, tied to a four year continuation of the state’s two percent per year property tax cap. It will include some new tenant protections. A provision known as vacancy decontrol, which currently permits apartments to go back on the open market when the rent reaches $2500, will be increased, something Assembly Democrats had sought..

Homeowners in the suburbs and upstate will be eligible for an additional rebate totaling $1.3 billion, mailed in checks to home owners over the next year. The provision was pushed by Republicans in the State Senate, led by Majority Leader John Flanagan.     

“The tax rebate is real money to real people,” said Flanagan. “That’s something that people are clamoring for.”   

Both Senate Leader Flanagan and the Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie, are relatively new to their jobs. They replaced the former legislative leaders of each house earlier this year, when the leaders were charged with multiple counts of corruption.

Speaker Heastie, who shuttled in and out of meetings with Cuomo almost constantly in recent days, admits it’s been tough.

“It’s been a long few months,” said Heasite.

In the end, everyone had to give up on something in order to reach a wide ranging end of session agreement.

Governor Cuomo, who pressed for completion of the deal before he had to leave to attend his daughter’s High School graduation, had to end his fight to win an education tax credit. It would have allowed donors who give up to $1 million to  receive a credit of up to $750,000 on their taxes ,if they funded scholarships for poor children to go to private schools.  The measure was criticized by teachers unions and some Assembly Democrats as a give away to the rich.  Cuomo says he’s not disappointed, though. He says instead he and leaders have agreed to provide $250 million more  directly to private schools by reimbursing schools some non-mandated services.

“I’m excited about $250 million dollars,” Cuomo said. “It’s about getting support to non public schools.”

There will also be opportunities for more Charter schools to open.  

Cuomo also did not achieve agreement on a number of criminal justice proposals, including a measure to raise the age to treat teenagers as adults in the criminal justice system. The governor says he will use his executive authority to take 16 and 17 year olds out of state prisons and place them in special juvenile detention centers. He will also appoint State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as a special prosecutor in cases where an unarmed civilian is killed after a police encounter. Cuomo, who has had a rocky relationship with the Attorney General, says he does so reluctantly.

“I don’t believe the best approach is to have one special prosecutor for the entire state,” said Cuomo, who said he will continue to work on the issue with lawmakers over the next year.

Two other laws set to expire were extended , but for relatively short periods of time. Mayoral control of New York City’s schools will be extended for just one more year, and a property tax break for large real estate developers who build some affordable housing will be continued for just six months. Any further extension is contingent on labor unions and the real estate industry reaching a deal on paying prevailing union wages for the construction jobs.

Legislative leaders admit they still have many details to work out before they can vote on bills, and there are more negotiations ahead before they can finally adjourn for the summer. 

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.