LI issues in limbo as Albany wraps up legislative session

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ALBANY -- It's showdown week for Long Island as state lawmakers move to close the 2013 session.

With adjournment slated for Thursday, Nassau and Suffolk counties have a slew of high-profile items in limbo. The delegation is trying to get video slots approved for Island off-track betting centers. The governor wants to overhaul the Long Island Power Authority.

Nassau and Suffolk officials are asking permission to borrow extensively to relieve debt pressures; to "sell" a Suffolk County building and then lease it back; and to renew sales and hotel taxes. Similarly, Long Beach is asking to borrow $12 million to help recover from superstorm Sandy.

Additionally, the Montaukett Indian Nation is seeking to become a state-recognized tribe.

It's a lengthy laundry list as the Thursday deadline looms.

"There are an awful lot of big issues on the table that are going to make a difference on Long Island for a very long time to come," said Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), who, as dean of the Suffolk Assembly delegation, is at the center of many of the debates.

"All of this stuff is being actively discussed now," Sweeney said. "Where we are Monday will tell us a lot about what we can get done."

Because of a three-day waiting period between introducing a bill and voting on it, the Legislature would have to reach agreements on bills by Monday to vote by Thursday, the final scheduled day. It's possible they could continue into Friday this year.

Local and low-profile issues dot the agenda, too. Sweeney is pushing for a bill to designate certain lands in the Carmans River watershed as part of the protected Central Pine Barrens Area. Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) has a bill to raise the ceiling on the purchase of highway equipment for Brookhaven.

"This is like finals week in college," Flanagan said. "All the term papers are due. All the exams are coming up."

LI's push for financial relief

Gambling, borrowing and LIPA loom as the biggest issues.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers are poised to take up two major pieces of gambling legislation. One would trigger a statewide referendum to allow up to seven non-Indian-run casinos in New York. The other would designate where the first round of casinos go.

Cuomo wants to approve four upstate casinos and give them a five-year exclusivity period. Senate Republicans are pushing to cut Long Island in on the action by allowing Nassau and Suffolk off-track betting corporations to offer video slot machines.

Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), who sponsors a video slots bill, has said he wants to keep gaming money on the Island to "help to shore up the finances of our struggling local governments."

Those financially troubled county governments are also asking state lawmakers for significant financial assistance.

Suffolk and Nassau want to use the state Dormitory Authority to borrow $500 million apiece to help cover lingering debts. Officials said financial restructuring is needed to help recovery from superstorm Sandy -- though critics said the proposal is a way for Nassau to borrow while sidestepping controls established by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority.

Jon Schneider, spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, said the counties are working in tandem on video slots and borrowing as part of a "regional problems, regional solutions" approach.

"Clearly, we're stronger when you have a Democrat and a Republican coming together to speak about regional problems and solutions as a region," Schneider said. Bellone is a Democrat; Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican.

Suffolk also wants approval to sell the Dennison Building in Hauppauge and lease it back, giving it a cash influx. It also needs a renewal of the county sales tax. Nassau needs a sales tax and a hotel/motel-tax renewal. Mangano's office didn't immediately comment.

LIPA negotiations continue

Lawmakers still aren't near a deal on LIPA. After the authority's dismal performance during Sandy, Cuomo has proposed shrinking it to about 20 employees and allowing it to exist only as a financial holding company, refinancing its debt and turning over most of the daily operations to PSEG, a private utility.

But the plan has hit snags regarding oversight, consumer rates and local-tax assessments of power plants, among other things. Some legislators privately are saying an overhaul shouldn't be rushed through. But negotiations continue.

"Discussions are still going on," Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said last week. "We're asking to see more numbers, that type of thing."

Cuomo could call the legislators back to Albany later.

"We have a lot of pieces in play," said Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). "To jam it all into four days is a tall order."

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