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De Blasio urges lawmakers to change tax break for developers

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio takes

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio takes a question during a news conference on Wednesday, May 27, 2015, in Albany. De Blasio is in Albany to make his case for renewing mayoral control of city schools, strengthening the city's rent regulations and changing a tax break for real estate developers to require more affordable housing. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday it would be "irresponsible" for state lawmakers to simply extend a controversial tax break that he considers a "giveaway" to developers.

At stake is an obscure tax break, known as the 421-a program, that subsidizes real estate developers to the tune of $1 billion annually and has been at the hub of several investigations that have shaken up New York politics in the past two years.

The tax break expires this year and de Blasio and others are urging changes to force developers, who benefit from it, to provide more affordable housing units. But as Newsday reported earlier this month, ongoing investigations that touch on lawmakers' dealing with real estate laws might have a chilling effect on negotiations over the tax break, with some lawmakers preferring to do a "straight extension" rather than amend it in any way. The mayor called that approach irresponsible.

"I'm not going to let Albany off the hook," de Blasio said.

The mayor came to the State Capitol to lobby on 421-a, rent control laws and mayoral control of New York City schools. Though all three are likely to be renewed in some fashion, de Blasio used the bully pulpit to urge state lawmakers to make the changes he wants. He also said he was "quite frustrated" that the issues aren't close to settled yet and mildly chided Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, for not moving them along.

"We particularly need the governor to act," de Blasio said after a one-hour meeting with Cuomo. "This is a moment when we need that leadership."

Cuomo's office declined to comment.

The mayor also met with Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx). Neither leader commented afterward, though later a Flanagan spokesman said: "Every outstanding issue, including those raised by the mayor, will be considered on the merits during the remaining three weeks of the legislative session."

The mayor repeated his view that the current version of 421-a doesn't do enough to require developers to build more units of affordable housing.

"If you extend it, it just constitutes more giveaways to developers and less ability to create affordable housing," de Blasio said, adding the law should "stop providing a tax credit for luxury condos."

De Blasio wants state lawmakers to make mayoral control of city schools permanent, but he said he's willing to accept a three-year extension offered by Cuomo and the Democrat-led Assembly.

"It should be permanent, but if three years is a practical possibility right now, that would significantly help us," he said.

The Republican-led Senate, which backed a much longer extension on the schools issue when Michael Bloomberg was mayor, has said it wants changes before it would renew the law.

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