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Albany OKs ‘big ugly’ bill to extend mayoral control, renew sales taxes

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) speaks to the

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) speaks to the media during a special legislative session in Albany on Wednesday, June 28, 2017. Photo Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

ALBANY — The State Senate gave final legislative approval Thursday to a “big ugly” piece of legislation that linked important, but unrelated issues including renewal of county sales taxes and mayoral control of New York City schools.

The package also included expansion of full-day kindergarten programs; a bailout for a Utica-area harness racing track; financial assistance for Lake Ontario-area flooded communities; and a change of name for the Tappan Zee Bridge — to the Mario Cuomo Bridge.

It was approved by the Legislature in an “extraordinary” session convened one week after it adjourned its regular session without extending key laws that were set to expire this year.

Less than an hour after final legislative passage, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill extending mayoral control of New York City schools for two years and endorsed the rest of the big ugly — Albany parlance for a sprawling bill that contains just enough incentives to win support from most factions in the Legislature — he helped negotiate. Without action, the law providing mayoral control — rather than local boards, a system abandoned in 2002 as ineffective — was set to expire Thursday.

“The question is what is the alternative?” Cuomo said. “A board of education? Forget about it. It’s not even close.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio said, in a statement: “Providing a two-year extension gives the system an important measure of stability that’s key to initiatives that have produced record achievement.”

The Republican-led Senate intially had insisted on a charter-school expansion in exchange for the mayoral bill, but traded that for other pressing needs.

For instance, more than 50 counties need authorization to renew local sales taxes; otherwise they would expire at the end of the year, costing them billions in local revenue. The renewal would mean about $300 million apiece for Nassau and Suffolk.

“There is a balance in this bill, it’s not perfect, but it showed compromise,” said Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse).

The Senate passed the bill, 48-2, (13 senators were absent), about 13 hours after the Assembly overwhelmingly approved it.

In usual Albany fashion, the deal was negotiated behind closed doors by the governor and two house leaders. Rank-and-file members had to wait for hours before seeing a printed bill, followed by a short window to review it before voting.

Further, several blasted the absence of funding and planning help for the troubled subway system.

“It’s pathetic,” Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) said in Thursday’s floor debate. He said New Yorkers are subject to “an apocalyptic world” because of delays, poor service and a derailment of the ailing New York City subway system, but Cuomo didn’t include anything about it in his agenda.

The agreement included a measure sought by Cuomo to name the new Tappan Zee after his father. Cuomo issued a “message of necessity” reserved for emergencies for this and all other bills in the package to avoid the state constitution’s requirement of three days’ public review of all bills before a vote.

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