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Bill de Blasio grilled by Senate GOP over state budget

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio testifies

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio testifies during a joint legislative hearing on local government on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, in Albany, N.Y. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY - After campaigning against them, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio faced a tough line of questions Tuesday from Senate Republicans, who grilled the Democrat for nearly five hours over the city university system, Medicaid and a property-tax cap

“The city is awash in money right now,” Senate Finance Chairwoman Cathy Young (R-Olean) said in an opening exchange of the legislative budget hearing, signaling Republicans weren’t going to give the mayor an easy time over the 2016-17 state budget.

In a bit of surprise, Republicans and a few Democrats pressed the mayor about extending the statewide, 2 percent property-tax cap to New York City — a priority for the influential Real Estate Board of New York — perhaps indicating a coming battle in this year’s budget negotiations.

De Blasio also met privately with Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport). The mayor said it was a “productive” and “respectful” discussion.

De Blasio has said that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed $154.5 billion budget includes about $1 billion in cuts to the city, primarily through Medicaid and the City University of New York system. De Blasio has dialed back his initial criticism after Cuomo said administrative cost reductions in Medicaid and CUNY would offset any spending reductions.

The surprise of the hearing came in the push by some for the city to have to abide by a 2 percent property cap that applies elsewhere in the state. It comes not only as real estate interests have tried to advance it, but also after the expiration of “421-a,” a program that gave developers tax cuts to create certain numbers of affordable housing apartments.

“I just thought the folks in New York City . . . deserve the same protection” from the cap, said Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island). The Republican-led state Senate passed a bill while de Blasio was testifying at the hearing that would subject the city to the tax cap (which limits property tax growth to about 2 percent unless approved by a 60 percent “super majority”).

De Blasio said he opposed the cap philosophically and argued that the city’s income tax means it doesn’t have to rely as heavily on property taxes as other locales.

De Blasio asked legislators to make mayoral control over city schools permanent or extend it for seven years. Last year, still smarting over the 2014 campaigns, Senate Republicans went for a one-year renewal. The mayor said he was surprised the issue didn’t come up more this year, but wouldn’t predict whether legislators would be more amenable this time.

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