Getting to Yes (photo: The Governor's Office via flickr)
It often seems Albany lawmakers have a kink for waiting to the very last minute. With only seven days scheduled in the legislative session due to end June 17, the 'three men in the room' are likely to move, perhaps begrudgingly, toward agreement on issues of great importance to New York City that face sunset this month and even a few other bills that don't cause either majority conference any political headaches. But Albany, as everyone who spends more than a few minutes in the capital finds out, is a place that has a knack for upsetting expectations - and often in a headache-inducing way.
As prime deal-making time is upon us, a 'Big Ugly' may be breweing and legislators no doubt count down till they can leave for summer break without further scandal, Gotham Gazette takes a look of what legislators are likely to address in the final days and recounts other key policies that have been jettisoned along the way. At the top of the agenda appear to be three New York City-centric items with sunsetting deadlines, along with policies favored by Governor Andrew Cuomo, such as his education investment tax credit, extending the state's property tax cap, and other issues favored by either Assembly Democrats or Senate Republicans, who control their respective chambers.
Top of the Agenda: rent regulations; 421-A; mayoral control of NYC schools; education tax credit; property tax cap; campus sexual assault
Gone But Not Forgotten: LLC loophole; paid family leave; minimum wage; DREAM Act; 'raise the age'; farm workers bill of rights; GENDA
The Disappeared: ethics reform; campaign finance reform; abortion plank of women's equality agenda
TOP OF THE AGENDA
Renewing the laws that govern affordable housing the city is something that legislators on both sides of the aisle expect to get done - the only question is whether there will be any real debate on the issue, or if the current laws will simply be extended. Democrats see straight renewal as a loss. Advocates and tenants - thousands of whom are due to rally in the capital on Tuesday - say a straight extension would be a deathblow to working families and the city's affordable housing stock because the current laws allow landlords to increase rents and remove units from the regulated rolls. The powerful real estate lobby is basically fine with how things currently stand.
"This is such an important issue to city folks that we should hold everything up until it is addressed," said Sen. Adriano Espaillat, the sponsor of the Senate omnibus bill that would strengthen rent laws. "There are many other meritorious issues: mayoral control, 421-a, the tax cap, but they can wait until there is action on this."
Other leading Democrats have said the same. Meanwhile, advocates have targeted Cuomo because his leadership on an issue can go so far and citing his close ties to real estate. Cuomo appeared to react to that pressure this past weekend as he penned an op-ed in the Daily News outlining a fairly aggressive, tenant-friendly take. "We must eliminate vacancy decontrol or at the very least significantly raise vacancy decontrol thresholds; further limit vacancy bonuses to ensure landlords aren't rewarded financially for schemes to force tenants out; make major capital improvements and individual apartment improvement surcharges that go away once recovered by landlords, instead of ways of artificially raising a unit's monthly rent; and make the preferential rent operate as the legal rent for the life of the tenancy," Cuomo wrote. "These should be foundational elements of any new rent regulation legislation." Many advocates say they believe Cuomo is simply posturing and they point to the progressive agenda he promised to win the the Working Families Party nomination and subsequently failed to deliver this year.
421-A Tax Break
This controversial tax break is seen by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Cuomo, and many legislators as a key incentive to keep developers committed to building affordable housing. Opponents say that it is a giveaway that costs the city millions while producing a small amount of housing that isn't truly affordable and that is only cost controlled for a short period of time.
The indictments of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos only complicated the already delicate situation. The cases against both men involve Glenwood Management, the nexus of the state's biggest campaign donorship, and its efforts to secure tax breaks for its properties. Some legislators are afraid to cut any deal on the issue out of fear that US Attorney Preet Bharara may connect more dots.
Meanwhile, de Blasio's renewal proposal, designed to ensure he can deliver on his promise to build or save 200,000 units of affordable housing, faces steep opposition from labor and prominent Democrats because it does not include a prevailing wage provision for construction workers. It appears a compromise that includes such a provision could be imminent as Senate Republicans recently introduced a measure.
Mayoral Control of Schools
Mayor de Blasio finds himself in a tough position on mayoral control: he's angered Senate Republicans who are excited to have an issue to hold over his head, education advocates who might normally be involved in the push to extend are preoccupied fighting against Cuomo's education agenda, and a number of Democratic legislators would love to have a detailed debate about how to increase parental participation. Senate Republicans are looking to pair any extension of mayoral control with the abolition of the state's charter school cap. There appears to be little interest in de Blasio's proposal to make mayoral control permanent, with a two- or three-year extension likely.
Education Tax Credit
With most of his progressive agenda off the table for the year, Cuomo surprised many by putting significant energy into passing a bill that would provide tax credits to businesses and individuals that donate to private schools and nonprofits that award scholarships to students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
The bill has been attacked by many education advocates and some Democrats as a giveaway to the rich and as diverting state funds that should be going to public schools. Multiple sources say that Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan touted the tax credit as his top priority during a recent leaders meeting and Capital New York is reporting that Cuomo is linking an extension of rent regulations with the tax credit in an effort to get both passed. In his budget, Cuomo had tried to link the education tax credit with the DREAM Act, which appears to be going nowhere thanks to staunch opposition from Senate Republicans.
Property Tax Cap
Another major priority for Cuomo, and both Senate conferences, is extending the two percent property tax cap the governor and the legislature implemented in 2011. Cuomo and Senate Republicans say they'd like to see the cap extended indefinitely. Although the cap does not sunset this year, it was made law in a package that extended the rent laws, and needs to be addressed if the rent laws are adjusted. Assembly Democrats passed a rent law bill earlier this year that did not include the tax cap - it is unclear exactly where the conference stands on the issue.
Sexual Assault on Campus
Cuomo's "Enough is Enough" bill looks to address the high rates of rape reported on New York State college and university campuses. The bill would mandate affirmative consent for all sexual encounters and forward all reports of rape to law enforcement, rather than have them settled by campus officials. Senate Republicans appear to be inching closer to agreement on the issue and a compromise could be part of an end-of-session deal. Cuomo has expended a lot of time and energy on the issue in recent months - which appears to be paying off as a deal appears imminent, according to Tom Precious of the Buffalo News.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
Senate Republicans have stonewalled on a number of issues that Cuomo, Democrats, and progressive activists pushed earlier in the year. They remain unlikely to be included in end-of-session deal-making.
An issue that was abandoned in budget negotiations but has been given new life by the Skelos indictment and has been championed by Sen. Daniel Squadron - who has hammered away at the Senate's opaque committee system, Senate Republicans, the State Board of Elections and most recently Cuomo - is the LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited campaign donations. Squadron continues to attempt to get a vote on his bill that would end the Loophole that allows corporations and individuals to obliterate the state's campaign finance limits.
Squadron and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, the Assembly sponsor of the bill, recently wrote to Cuomo to express their disappointment in comments the governor made that suggested that the fight for the bill was lost this year. Cuomo's office passed the buck in response to the letter, saying in a statement to State of Politics from Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi: "For years, the Governor has fought to close the LLC loophole and continues to do so. It's time for the Senate to act." Meanwhile NYPIRG and Hedgeclippers have remained on the issue, highlighting how major abusers of the loophole look to influence policy.
Paid Family Leave
Assembly and Senate Democrats can't seem to agree on how to best achieve paid family leave for New Yorkers whereby workers would be able to care for a new child or sick relative while still earning a paycheck. The Assembly passed a bill in March that would provide two-thirds of an employee's salary for up to 12 weeks by expanding the state's temporary disability fund. Democratic Sen. Joseph Addabbo is carrying the same-as bill in the Senate, but Sen. Jeff Klein, of the IDC, is pushing a version that would provide six weeks off and cover up to 50 percent of a worker's average weekly salary. The Cuomo administration has seized on the discord and indicated the governor would support something more comprehensive. The administration has yet to make a firm proposal. "There are a lot of people out there deciding whether they should care for a family member and lose their job," Addabbo said. "This bill will get done - the question is when not if."
Wage advocates are now focused on the fast food workers wage board called by Gov. Cuomo through his Department of Labor, asking it to consider the appropriate minimum wage for those workers. Advocates see it as important in two ways; the board is all but certain to recommend a significant increase that Cuomo can then take executive action on, and pressure will increase on Senate Republicans to address the minimum wage for virtually all hourly employees. No compromise is expected this month, though.
Tied to the education tax credit in the executive budget, Cuomo now appears to have abandoned the issue. Legislators and advocates keep up some hope that Cuomo may take executive action on the issue as he did on the minimum wage, but any real legislative action this year is a longshot.
'Raise the Age'
Governor Cuomo continues his push to see New York become the 49th state with 18 as the age of adult criminal responsibility (North Carolina and New York are the only two states treating 16- and 17-yeard-olds as adult criminals). But, he continues to get a cold response from Senate Republicans. Cuomo has expended a significant amount of energy on the issue, so far to no avail. Representatives from New York City recently sent a letter to state lawmakers backing Cuomo's push and several lobbied in Albany last week, meeting with legislators individually. If the governor prioritizes it enough, he may get something through.
Farm Workers Bill of Rights
The bill that would give seasonal migrant workers certain protections under labor laws, like an eight-hour work day, days off, and overtime pay, has enjoyed support from the second floor in the form of Cuomo's daughter Michaela. This year, chaos in the legislature and Senate Republican's reticence to address measures that can be taken as of benefit to Democrats has doomed the bill and as burdens on business. Supporters say that they believe they have the votes of all 28 Senate Democrats and the Republicans who voted to move the bill from the labor committee to finance. But the bill won't come to a floor vote without Flanagan's approval.
The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act is one of several bills that the Assembly passes annually only to see die in the Senate. The bill would expand the state's hate crimes law to specifically include crimes against transgender people. Many localities around the state have such a law. Senate Republicans have refused to bring it to a vote, while the Assembly passed the bill again this year June 2. "Today's Assembly vote, without debate, shows that the time is long overdue for equality in New York State," said Sen. Squadron in a statement. "It's shocking that our state allows discrimination against transgender New Yorkers -- in housing, employment and public accommodations -- simply for being who they are. Countless other states, and localities within our own state, have acted."
Campaign Finance Reform
Abortion Plank of Women's Equality Agenda
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette