ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders huddled behind closed doors Monday to find still-elusive deals on a range of matters as a corruption-weary Capitol looks to end the 2015 session.
While lawmakers pushed through dozens of minor-to-medium bills in committee and on the two chamber floors, Cuomo and the Senate and Assembly leaders negotiated issues affecting education policies, criminal justice and New York City rent-control laws.
The deal-making was made a bit more uncertain with the possibility that federal prosecutors could have more official corruption cases coming and the reality that two of three men-in-a-room – Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan – have never closed a legislative session before. Both are new on the job after taking over following the departures this session by former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, both arrested on separate corruption matters.
Laws that keep New York City rents lower than market levels for hundreds of thousands of residents dominated the day, as they do every several years when the rent-control provisions are up for renewal. In contrast, there are believed to be fewer than five rent-controlled apartments in all of Erie County.
The governor caused somewhat of a stir with his plan Sunday to drive $100 million in new aid to “struggling” upstate school districts. He said $28 million of that should go to Yonkers, which is geographically attached to the Bronx, but has not said how or where the rest of the money should be spent. It is also unclear where the $100 million is coming from and if it is a one-shot or represents recurring money for future years.
It is unclear how many districts in Western New York might qualify to apply for some portion of the $70 million or so left after the Yonkers’ bailout money is earmarked. The Cuomo administration Monday declined requests to provide details about the bill to authorize the $100 million, suggesting the idea could be jammed into a “big ugly” omnibus bill in the closing hours of the 2015 session.
Budget observers believe Cuomo timed his $100 million offer to win over reluctant lawmakers from the Assembly who oppose his plan to provide tax breaks to help private and religious schools. “That’s a heck of a coincidence,” said E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for Public Policy.
But Heastie said of the possible link: “He said publicly it isn’t, so I guess we have to take the governor at his word.”
Asked his view of the $100 million suddenly being proposed outside of the normal budget process, Heastie said, “If there’s an acknowledgment that upstate cities need more education funding, I’m happy to have the governor believe that.”
McMahon noted that Cuomo this year and in past years has insisted that many New York State school districts are bloated with state or local funding and have only lackluster performance results to show for it.
“In this case, he’s basically implying that money is the solution to the problems,” McMahon said.
The $100 million, which Cuomo said his budget division will control, could generate some geographic turf fights. “Listen, if he wants to advance more money for education, we’re not going to blanch at that,” Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, said in a brief interview.
But, he added, “You could arguably say everybody needs more money.”
Are there Long Island schools that might qualify under the “struggling” definition? “Sure, but we’re working through what the definitions are,” Flanagan said.
Under the legislative calendar, the 2015 session is supposed to end Wednesday.
Among the bills getting final, two-house approval Monday were measures making it harder for state agencies to delay in the courts the appeals process involving Freedom of Information requests and extension of a state law that permits the City of Buffalo to sell bonds at private sale.
© 2015 The Buffalo News
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