Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks at Molloy College. (Feb. 2,...

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks at Molloy College. (Feb. 2, 2012) Credit: Alejandra Villa

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators struck a deal Wednesday that diminishes pensions for future government hires, authorizes a dramatic expansion of casino gambling in New York, and makes the state's criminal DNA database one of the nation's most extensive.

The governor, as a key aspect of the deal, also will approve a set of election district maps prepared by the Senate and Assembly as part of decennial redistricting process.

Rank-and-file lawmakers began passing the package of bills, including the redistricting maps, late Wednesday and intended to stay the night to complete the agenda. The Assembly passed the redistricting bill, 93 to 43. The Senate passed it 36 to 0 after 26 Democrats walked out in protest. The Assembly passed the casino bill 93-43; the Senate 36-0, according to unofficial totals.

"Working with the governor and our colleagues in the Assembly, we've made progress on many fronts, including expansion of the DNA databank and pension reform to protect hardworking taxpayers," Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said. Cuomo didn't immediately comment on the deal although he issued statements praising the casino and DNA measures.

Under the deal:

Pension benefits would be reduced for future government hires, and they would be forced to contribute more toward retirement. The retirement age would increase to 63 from 62; employees earning $45,000 or more would have to pay more into the system than currently (Cuomo wanted it to begin at $30,000). A 401(k)-style "defined contribution" option would be offered only to new, nonunion hires who earn about $70,000 or more annually. Cuomo originally wanted the option for all workers. The Cuomo administration says the pension changes will save $80 billion over 30 years; his original proposal projected $113 billion.

The legislature would give first passage of a constitutional amendment to remove the ban on non-Indian-run casinos and authorize up to seven casinos in the state. The constitutional amendment would have to be approved again by the legislature next year and then ratified by voters in a statewide referendum. "We will deal with where, when and how next year," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said.

The DNA databank would be expanded. Currently under state law, those convicted of any felony and some misdemeanors must submit a DNA sample to the state's database. Cuomo and Skelos wanted the law to cover any misdemeanor conviction. Silver said the deal would include aspects Democrats favored such as giving the accused more access to the databank and the right to request that his/her DNA be submitted. Silver called these "innocence provisions," meant to protect the wrongly accused.

The wide-ranging agreement stitches together high-profile yet unrelated issues thanks to the process of redrawing legislative and congressional district boundaries. As a key part of the deal, Cuomo backed off his threat to veto new election-district maps prepared by legislators themselves.

Legislators would change the redistricting process -- but not until districts are redrawn following the 2020 census, and they would retain approval authority. Legislators faced a deadline Thursday to report to a federal judge overseeing redistricting. Some feared that a lack of an approved set of maps could lead to the courts taking over the process.

With the deadline looming, Cuomo pushed legislators to approve some of his main proposals, including reducing pension benefits and broadening the DNA database. After a day of negotiating -- while union members lobbied lawmakers to block the pension proposal, and black and Hispanic legislators blasted the redistricting proposal as unfair to minorities -- lawmakers confirmed at around 5 p.m. they had reached a consensus on the sprawling package of legislation.

Some lawmakers said they were concerned about the open-ended casino proposal.

"I am obviously unnerved on the prospect of beginning approval of legalized gambling without knowing exactly where they're proposing the casinos be placed," said state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), whose district includes Belmont racetrack, where some would like to see a casino.

The state has five Indian-run casinos and nine racinos -- horse racing tracks that sport video slot machines. Notably, the nine racinos (including Aqueduct in Queens) have been strongly lobbying lawmakers to authorize them -- and only them -- to host full-scale casinos. The legislation, limiting casinos to seven, sets up a fight next year for determining locations. The proposal must be passed again in the next legislative session before it's put to a public referendum. Good-government groups have been critical of redistricting, saying the process protects incumbents. One group ripped Cuomo for trading his veto threat for unrelated legislation.

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