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'Big Ugly' bill leaves out LI sales tax, VLT proposals

"The Big Ugly" bill excluded a proposal regarding

"The Big Ugly" bill excluded a proposal regarding two video slot machine parlors that off-track betting entities in Nassau and Suffolk are having trouble siting. Credit: Nancy Borowick

ALBANY - As they rushed to adjourn for 2015, state lawmakers rejected a plan that could have affected the siting of video slot machine parlors on Long Island, as well as a proposal to force Nassau County to direct some sales tax revenue to two villages in Assemb. Earlene Hooper's district.

But they approved a request by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to increase annual registration fees for passenger vehicles registered in the county from $5 to $15, matching fees in Nassau.

Politicians began passing dozens of bills Thursday on what was expected to be the final day of the 2015 legislative session in Albany. The session has run eight days over because of a stalemate over the rent-control law.

Rent control ultimately was lumped into a massive final bill -- called "The Big Ugly" in Albany parlance -- which also covers standardized exams in schools, the state's property-tax cap, a new property tax rebate and the new Suffolk vehicle fee, among other things.

But the bill excluded a proposal regarding two betting parlors that off-track betting entities in Nassau and Suffolk are having trouble siting.

Supporters said it merely would make clear that the state's 2013 gambling expansion law didn't give local jurisdictions final say over siting decisions involving video slot machines, also called video lottery terminals. Opponents said it effectively would override local zoning decisions.

Nassau and Suffolk received approval in 2013 to each open gambling casinos with up to 1,000 video slot machines. But the idea hit roadblocks on Long Island once officials began trying to pick specific sites.

For example, Nassau Off-Track Betting Corp., which estimates the gambling parlors will generate $20 million in new revenue for the county, withdrew a proposal to use a vacant Fortunoff property in Westbury after protests. Suffolk too has run into protests about a proposed site in Medford.

Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) said in a statement, "I oppose the proposal and any effort to pre-empt local zoning oversight in Nassau County."

Hooper (D-Hempstead), revisiting a battle fought four years ago, was looking to secure some of the county's annual sales tax revenue for two villages in her district, Freeport and Hempstead. She introduced a bill that would renew Nassau's authorization to impose sales taxes -- only if the county directs $2 million to Freeport and $2.5 million to Hempstead.

Instead, the Assembly will extend Nassau's authorization to collect the tax with no strings attached, officials said. The authorization would expire this year if not renewed.

The Republican-led Senate also favored a simple renewal of the county sales tax with no directives on how to split the money, which amounts to more than $300 million annually.

The new $15 Suffolk surcharge will apply to cars weighing less than 3,500 pounds. Fees for larger passenger vehicles will jump from $10 to $30 -- which also applies to commercial trucks and buses. The county legislature will have to enact a local law to authorize the fee.

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