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State leaders reach consensus on Long Island water quality program

The New York Capitol in Albany on Sept.

The New York Capitol in Albany on Sept. 4, 2016. Photo Credit: Getty Images iStock / DebraMillet

ALBANY

State leaders said Wednesday that they have reached a consensus on a multibillion-dollar water quality program that will help Long Island finally address its years-old septic waste problem.

But the rest of the state budget is being held up over major issues that were unresolved Wednesday, a day after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced they “basically had agreement.”

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Senate Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie emerged from a closed-door meeting with Cuomo Wednesday agreeing only to a tentative deal on the massive water quality program.

The state would borrow at least $2 billion and as much as $7 billion over several years to address Long Island’s aging septic systems, which threaten ground water and commercial fishing in Long Island Sound, while avoiding a big hit on local property taxes. The bond act also would replace crumbling pipes upstate, although no details were released Wednesday.

“There is strong agreement” on water, said Flanagan (R-East Northport).

“I think that one is probably resolved,” Heastie said, noting no final deal is set until the whole budget gains agreement.

A Senate Republican source said the final agreement is expected and that it will end up being the largest single investment in clean water in state history.

A Senate report released last year after months of public hearings found 360,000 homes in Suffolk County alone don’t have municipal sewers and that causes about 70 percent of the nitrogen pollution in the area’s waterways. The nitrogen from septic systems leads to algal blooms that cut oxygen in the water, killing fish and reducing plant life in coastal marshes, which help protect Long Islanders against severe waves and flooding, the report found.

The 2017-18 budget, which will exceed $162 billion, is due by midnight Friday.

But on a key issue in the budget talks — creating a new court procedure to keep 16- and 17-year-olds from adult criminal courts — negotiators seemed further apart than Cuomo’s optimistic assessment Tuesday. Legislative leaders also said Wednesday their fiscal staffs were still working on proposed compromises.

State budget negotiations had a “blowup” overnight on Tuesday as legislative leaders and Cuomo clashed over the youthful offender proposal sought by the Assembly, which was linked to a Senate proposal to expand the number of charter schools statewide, sources on all sides said Wednesday.

Assembly Democrats want to divert the youths to give them another chance rather than send them to what is assumed to be harsher prison sentences from a county or state criminal court. Senate Republicans warn that many of these youths pose a serious danger to society and that leniency in any diversion could become a recruitment tool for violent gangs seeking to use youths in crimes.

“Those discussions are ongoing between the staffs,” Flanagan said.

Also complicating closed-door negotiations is the insistence by Senate Republicans to raise the cap on charter schools. The publicly funded, privately operated schools are limited to 460, compared to 5,000 traditional public schools. Many charter schools report long waiting lists of students, while the state teachers unions and public schools argue that charter schools siphon too much funding from traditional schools.

“Let’s be clear,” Flanagan said, “charter schools are public school . . . I believe we will find more money for charter schools.”

Heastie said there are still dozens of unused charters that private entities could use to seek state approval to open schools.

“So there’s no need to even address the charter cap at this point,” Heastie said.

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