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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Cuomo puts his clout behind tuition tax breaks

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks during a news

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks during a news conference in Manhattan on May 11, 2015. Photo Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is making his education tax-credit bill a top bargaining priority as lawmakers look this week to adjourn their Albany session.

Critics and allies alike anxiously await the outcome.

The bill in principle gets big backing from religious leaders -- and vocal opposition from teacher unions.

And as other items from his 2015 agenda fell off the table, Cuomo in the latest negotiations has linked the so-called Education Investment Tax Credit to reviving New York City's rent-control laws.

That's a major strategic move. The rent regulations affect an estimated 2 million people, so legislators had better decide their fate before leaving town.

The fact that the regulations lapsed Monday only adds pressure on them to act.

Cuomo could have coupled the rent-law extensions instead to grand jury reforms or other actions he said he supported. But he cast the die for the tax credits.

Earlier in the session, during budget talks, the governor tried to get the tax credits approved by Assembly Democrats in exchange for Senate Republicans allowing high school graduates without legal immigration status to apply for state financial aid for college.

That trade-off didn't make the April 1 budget.

Pushing anew, Cuomo called for $150 million worth of tax credits in all.

Families with incomes below $60,000 would receive $500 tax credits to offset private school tuition. Donors of as much as $1 million to fund scholarships would be rewarded by the government with tax credits of up to 75 percent of the contribution. Teachers who buy classroom supplies out of pocket could get tax credits of as much as $200.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and other religious leaders have helped lobby in support, saying the bill would help poorer students.

New York State United Teachers, among other opponents, has pushed against it with the charge that it would shift resources to private schools and subsidize wealthy private donors.

This dispute followed battle lines similar to those over legislation surrounding Common Core, teacher evaluations and charter schools, posing Cuomo on one side and many educators on the other.

Assembly Education Committee chairwoman Catherine Nolan (D-Ridgewood) has introduced an alternative tax-credit bill.

She said that unlike Cuomo's bill, hers would not benefit the wealthy.

The rhetoric is barbed.

Recent mailings to a number of Democratic Assembly districts from the Coalition for Opportunity in Education -- which has poured millions of dollars into the tax-credit lobbying effort -- accused incumbents by name of "blocking the way to a brighter future for our kids."

"Our schools need help -- but our Assembly member is standing in the way, acting as a road block to progress for our kids," states one mailer.

Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) fired back Monday in an emailed commentary of his own.

"I support strengthening all our schools -- public, private and parochial -- but stripping resources from public schools under the guise of helping private schools is not the answer," Ramos said.

"The slick PR campaign, with its glossy mailers and ads, is designed to make you think this proposal would help our neediest students," but "would actually benefit the wealthiest New Yorkers -- not those in need."

For better or worse, we could know soon who is right.


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