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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

New Senate leader John Flanagan racks up more political gains than losses

Sen. John Flanagan, R-Smithtown, speaks during a joint

Sen. John Flanagan, R-Smithtown, speaks during a joint legislative budget hearing in Albany in 2014. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) appears ready to come away with more political gains than losses from his first end-of-session deals as New York's top elected Republican.

For starters, Flanagan, 54, agreed with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and new Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (R-Bronx) to extend the property tax cap for four years, and to send homeowners tax rebate checks in a legislative election year.

Those are big items in the suburbs.

Another plus, from Flanagan's perspective, affects New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio got his state-granted control of city schools extended for only one year.

De Blasio has campaigned to oust Republicans from the Senate majority, and along the way became a progressive piñata in conservative districts. Now, Flanagan & Co. will have added leverage over the mayoral agenda at a crucial time -- just as they are running for re-election.

Only six weeks ago, on May 11, Flanagan bested an upstate competitor, John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) to succeed indicted Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) as majority leader. Skelos stepped aside from the leader's post, but remains in the Senate.

Notably, the most pronounced lines of conflict in the final weeks of the session emerged between Cuomo and de Blasio, not between Flanagan and Democrats.

A prime example: the tax break for developers known as 421-a, which faced renewal this month.

A previous renewal of this program has come up in separate corruption cases pending against Skelos and Assemb. Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who stepped aside as speaker in February, but retained his legislative seat.

Clearly, their successors wished to keep 421-a out of the limelight this session. But de Blasio started pushing for the program to be renegotiated in a way that would support his affordable-housing agenda.

That wasn't about to happen. Cuomo led resistance to the plan.

Instead, 421-a will be extended for six months, conditioned on a wage deal between developers and labor unions.

Bottom line: It becomes an outside-of-Albany issue from which Flanagan and the other elected leaders get a desirable distance.

End-of-session agreements also called for rent controls to be extended for four years in a way that won't alienate real estate owners.

One Republican lobbyist said privately that even one of Flanagan's big losses this year carries a major consolation prize.

Like Cuomo, Flanagan proposed tax credits that would encourage donations to schools and help parents struggling to pay private-school tuition. Heastie ultimately refused.

Instead, all three agreed on a $250 million funding boost for nonpublic schools, purportedly to cover services mandated by the state. "That's better than the tax credit," the lobbyist argued.

Still, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and other promoters of the tax changes say they will try again next year.


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