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Long IslandPoliticsSpin Cycle

Cuomo, Cardinal Dolan make late push for private school tax break (Updates)

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Gov Andrew M. Cuomo

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Gov Andrew M. Cuomo talk during an event on May 12, 2015, at the Yes We Can Community Center in Westbury. Credit: Uli Seit

ALBANY - (Updates with Assembly view, opposition's comment)

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Gov. Andrew  M. Cuomo on Monday sought to push for the additional Assembly votes needed to enact an education tax credit bill in the last 10 days of the legislative session.

Emerging from a lengthy closed-door luncheon at the governor's mansion, Dolan exuded his usual optimism despite having past pledges of support from dozens of lawmakers and Cuomo fail when the issue came to a vote. The education tax credit would provide a bigger tax break to encourage donations to nonpublic schools to fund scholarships for low-income children.

"You'd think I'd learn my lesson," Dolan said, laughing. "I don't know what to say. I guess by nature I tend be a hopeful, optimistic man. And I trust people when they come up to tell me that they are behind us. I tend to take them at their word."

But this time Dolan offered no prediction, no spin that he's close to gaining enough votes for the long-sought issue that faces substantial opposition from the Assembly's Democratic majority. There was no indication the Assembly majority's opposition has changed.

Dolan offered an incentive to lawmakers to pass the measure using his well-known folksy delivery, but with a not-so-subtle hard edge. He first noted that the education tax credit has support from suburban conservatives, urban liberals, Republicans and Democrats, Jews, Catholics and atheists, and every ethnic group.

"I suggested to the members, 'Do we not have a providential opportunity to hit a home run?' "  he said he told lawmakers who already face criticism for doing little in a legislative session marked by unprecedented corruption cases.

"This would be a way to tell our people, 'We can make things work and we can do things for our most sacred treasures namely the kids,' " he told reporters. "And I think if it doesn't work, it's going to be a great cause of frustration and people are going to shake their heads again and say, 'See, we can't get anything done.' "

Cuomo supports the bill and Dolan said this time the governor has "gone the extra mile."

Cuomo told WCNY public radio's "The Capitol Pressroom" that the tax credit is on a short list of "many, many good things we can get done" before the scheduled end of the session on June 17.

The education tax credit would provide a bigger tax break for taxpayers to contribute up to $1 million to religious and other nonpublic schools to create scholarships for families that can't afford tuition. The bill also provides the tax credit for donations to public schools for spending in the classroom.

Critics of the measures including the Assembly's Democratic majority say the tax credit will create a tax haven for big-money supporters of private schools, while public schools require more funding.

A direct mail and advertising blitz led by New York State United Teachers union calls the bill "the governor's tax giveaway to the rich" because they could get a tax break on donations up to $1 million under the measure. The teachers union contends the bill is a deal for the rich campaign contributors who favor Cuomo and the Senate's Republican majority, which supports the bill.

"The state should not be in the business of providing backdoor funding for private schools at taxpayer expense," said Billy Easton of the Alliance for Quality Education.

"I say, 'Why are we concentrating on from whom the contributions are coming?' " Dolan asked reporters. "Shouldn't we concentrate on where they are going, namely all our kids?"



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