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Lawmakers OK 'Big Ugly' legislative bill with tax break, rent protection

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, center, speaks

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, center, speaks during a news conference as Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), left, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Smithtown) listen in the Red Room at the Capitol on Thursday, June 25, 2015, in Albany. Photo Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY -- New Yorkers will receive property tax relief averaging $130 on Long Island and $185 upstate just before the 2016 elections under a "Big Ugly" bill that also protects New York City tenants in affordable apartments and gives Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo the power to officiate at weddings.

The massive bill of disparate policies negotiated behind closed doors was approved by the State Legislature late Thursday night as it ended the 2015 session more than a week late.

Cuomo called the package a "Big Lovely."

"I am personally very happy and very proud," he said. "I think it actually is a very robust and extensive package."

The bill's $3.1 billion property tax break -- spread over four years for 2.5 million homeowners -- will be dispersed in the form of a check next year before Election Day for legislators. In subsequent years, the rebate will be in the form of a tax credit.

A qualified taxpayer on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley would get an average $130 rebate by Oct. 15, 2016. Qualified upstate homeowners would receive an average $185.

The rebate would be combined in a single check with the previously enacted property tax "freeze" program. That will raise the average check total to $423 in Nassau County, $425 in Suffolk County, $418 in the Hudson Valley suburbs of New York City, and $302 upstate.

The statewide average would be $347, according to documents. By the fourth and final year, the average tax credit would be $532.

The maximum income threshold would be $275,000 for a household. Lower-income families would get a greater share of the rebate.

The state's cap of 2 percent growth in property taxes also will be extended for four years.

"This is real relief for real taxpayers with real results," said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), whose conference pushed for the tax measures. "We want people to be able to live where they want to live."

The tax relief doesn't go to New York City property owners, but the bill provides what Cuomo called historic protections for tenants in moderate-rent apartments.

The rent law that expired June 15 is extended in the bill for four years with changes tenants sought, although some advocates say Cuomo didn't go far enough. Under the new law, vacant apartments could be deregulated when the rent reaches $2,700 -- rather than the previous standard of $2,500. That ceiling would be indexed to rise in future years through action by the city's rent board to help keep moderate-income families in the high-priced city.

Cuomo acknowledged more apartments still would be lost from the rent program, but the new law would curb the rate.

"The Assembly has a vision, the Senate has a vision . . . and it's the art of compromise," said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), who had said "rent, rent, rent" was his conference's top priority.

"It is the best law in the history of New York," Cuomo said. "It is the strongest ever -- period."

In other parts of the bill, parents and teachers will get more access to the tests and elements of the Common Core that has vexed so many of them. The bill will direct the state Board of Regents to review the national, higher standards of the Common Core as it's been implemented in New York, while working to reduce testing for students stressed by the rise in standardized exams.

Cuomo slipped a late measure into the mix Thursday that will empower the governor to preside over weddings.

"After the marriage equality law, "I have had a number of requests to conduct marriages . . . Some of these marriages are very meaningful to me personally and I would like the opportunity to officiate," said Cuomo, a father of three.

The massive package was negotiated behind closed doors for weeks and rushed into print minutes before a vote after the state constitution's three-day review period was suspended.

"When democracy descends into the shadows, that's where the lobbyists live, and not the public, so the public's issues don't always get addressed," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.


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