ALBANY — Spurred on by the Senate’s new Democratic majority, legislators next week are likely to pass a long-sought bill to help immigrant college students, as well as a measure that protects teachers from being evaluated based on student test scores.
But another bill, which would make permanent the state’s property and school tax cap, may end up in the middle of a fight over rent regulations toward the end of the legislative session.
The first bill, known as the New York DREAM Act, would let children of undocumented immigrants apply for state financial help such as scholarships for college. Known as Dreamers, many of these immigrants were brought to the U.S. as young children or babies but due to their undocumented status, can’t get state aid for college. The bill has passed in the Assembly for at least the last four years but had been blocked in Senate where Republicans were in control until this year.
Now, with Democrats controlling the Senate, the measure, with an approximately $27 million price tag, is expected to handily pass both houses.
Democratic Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa, who sponsored the bill with Senate Democrat Luis Sepulveda, said she’s confident there are enough votes in both houses to approve the measure.
The same goes for the testing-evaluation bill, which passed last spring in the Assembly but didn’t move in the Senate. That measure would permanently prevent the mandatory linking of student test score results to teacher evaluations. That measure has been a priority with the politically powerful state teachers’ union, New York State United Teachers, whose members heavily backed Senate Democrats in November.
“It’s a very common-sense measure,” said Yonkers Democratic Sen. Shelley Mayer, who chairs the education committee.
The test-score evaluation battle dates back more than five years, to when Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a teacher evaluation system that leaned heavily on test results. That idea sparked a backlash by teachers and NYSUT, which said it wasn’t a fair way to evaluate job performance.
Cuomo later abandoned the plan and state education officials placed it under a moratorium , but NYSUT wants legislation ensuring it won’t resurface in the future.
While a DREAM Act and a testing bill appear likely to pass, the fate of a permanent tax cap could end up being tied to rent regulation laws and it could thrust lawmakers into a classic urban-suburban battle.
That’s because rent regulations, which affect more than 2 million tenants in New York City, expire in mid June.
When Cuomo pushed through the property tax cap at the end of the 2011 legislative session, it was linked to rent regulations.
Politically, rent regulations are to New York City lawmakers what property tax caps are to suburban and upstate legislators. Both are popular among constituents and lawmakers feel like they need to protect these pocketbook programs.
That may be especially true in the newly Democratic Senate, where suburban members want to ensure their constituents that they aren’t under the sway of New York City interests. Indeed, the sponsor of the Senate’s permanent tax cap bill, Democrat James Gaughran, is from Long Island.
“It was an issue that I ran on,” said the freshman lawmaker.
But a core group of Assembly Democrats from New York City say they worry about extending rent regulations, which impacts their constituents since many are renters rather than homeowners.
“The rent control issue is an important one for us,” said De La Rosa, who noted that her district in upper Manhattan and the Bronx has one of the highest concentrations of regulated apartments in the state.
Lawmakers from the city may push for strengthening and expansions of rent regulations, or giving control of the regulations to New York City, as a bargaining chip to approve a permanent tax cap.
And while popular with the public, the tax cap has drawn criticism and even lawsuits from the state’s vast education lobby as well as municipal officials who say it hinders their ability to raise funds.
On the other hand, Cuomo in his budget address earlier in the month said that making the cap permanent was among his priorities.
“If it’s truly a high priority with the governor, it will happen,” E.J. McMahon, research director at the Empire Center said in an email. “The governor,” he added, “has all the leverage he needs to lock this down as his legacy.
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