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No consensus on major issues as legislative session nears end

The Senate and Assembly instead approve a host of small bills, such as renaming highways.

Assembly members vote on Bills in the Assembly

Assembly members vote on Bills in the Assembly chamber at the state Capitol during the last scheduled day of the legislative session on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink) Photo Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

ALBANY — A divisive 2018 legislative session was plodding toward a finish late Wednesday as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers traded bluffs all day but didn’t strike any significant agreements.

On what was scheduled to be the final day in Albany, they said they could not reach consensus on teacher evaluations and speed cameras in New York City school zones, and long ago gave up sports betting and bail reform.

Finally, just shy of 10 p.m., lawmakers said they threw in the towel on the bigger issues, agreed to approve a series of local jurisdiction and tax-renewal bills and call it a year. The Senate expected to approve the final bills of the night after midnight.

All 213 legislative seats are up for election this fall, as well as Cuomo.

Earlier, legislators spent the afternoon approving scores of small-scale bills (renaming highways, creating a radon task force) and trying to jam each other with various take-it-or-leave-it proposals assured to raise objections.

For example, the Democrat-led Assembly approved a bill that tied local tax renewals with controversial items such as raising the debt ceiling for the Nassau Interim Finance Authority.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed a teacher evaluation bill tied to an increase in charter schools. Cuomo, multiple sources said, wanted to combine local tax renewals with an eminent domain proposal to jump-start the construction of an “AirTrain” rail link to LaGuardia Airport, one of his pet projects.

“That’s the way in Albany. It’s part of the game: Leverage to try to get what you want,” Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) said about the standoff.

Among other issues in play on the final day, the Assembly gave final passage to a bill to allow some public employees in Nassau County to receive “step” raises even when county wages are frozen — a measure Cuomo vetoed in 2017 as undermining NIFA.

The Assembly approved a bill to double NIFA’s debt ceiling to $800 million, but the Senate didn’t consider the proposal.

Some issues did win approval. Both houses approved a land lease that would allow Stony Brook Southampton Hospital to build a new facility on Stony Brook University property.

Also, both houses approved a measure that will allow Nassau County to charge commercial property owners an annual fee to pay future commercial property assessment refunds. It also would provide the county flexibility to access the more than $150 million in its “Disputed Assessment Fund” to distribute the refunds. The bill was requested by County Executive Laura Curran.

And lawmakers were planning on voting on Cuomo’s LaGuardia bill, as a stand-alone proposal not tied to any others. It would permit the state to use eminent domain to seize land to build the rail link in Queens.

The lack of the normal last-day deal making reflected how the New York political landscape changed in 2018 and how it affected the nuts and bolts of making laws.

The Senate has been split among 31 Republicans and 31 Democrats since Sen. Tom Croci (R-Sayville) announced this month his intention to rejoin the U.S. Navy. He has been in training and has been in Albany only a few days since, leaving the GOP without a majority and forcing it to negotiate with Democrats on even minor pieces of legislation because 32 votes are needed to approve any bills in the 63-seat chamber.

The stalemate came into full view Wednesday afternoon when a GOP-backed bill to renew local mortgage and other taxes failed because it garnered just 31 votes.

Cuomo, too, has been largely disengaged since declaring earlier this year that little would be accomplished in the final month of the session because he achieved most of his 2018 priorities in March when the state budget was adopted.

Up for re-election and under pressure from the left, Cuomo has been focused more on national issues, such as gun control and immigration — he did six TV interviews Wednesday to talk about the Trump administration’s policies on the latter. With the Senate stalemate, the governor said the unresolved New York issues will become campaign fodder this fall.

“The issues that are left on the table are fundamental philosophical differences,” Cuomo told reporters in a conference call Tuesday. “This is an election year and the people are going to decide these issues in the election.”

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