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In NY Legislature's final week of the 2015 session, no high expectations

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown in

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown in a photo taken on June 11, 2015 in New York. Photo Credit: AP / Bebeto Matthews

ALBANY - Corruption indictments, new legislative leaders and a governor's sag in public opinion polls all have New York lawmakers setting expectations low as they head into the final scheduled week of the 2015 legislative session.

Lawmakers said they anticipate tackling legislation deemed necessary -- such as rent control and mayoral control of New York City schools -- because of laws that expire soon. But they aren't setting the bar much above that.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, has pitched including in any rent-control agreement an education tax credit that would benefit private schools. But the Democrat-led Assembly, which believes the proposal would benefit the wealthy and hurt public schools, strongly opposes the idea -- even after Cuomo raised the prospect of throwing in infrastructure money to help strike a deal, sources said.

An effort by Assembly Democrats and Cuomo to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 seems stalled. A proposal to change the way sexual assault allegations are handled on college campuses appears to have better odds.

The bulk of the final days will, as usual, center on addressing hundreds of local proposals -- such as the renewal of Nassau County's sales tax.

By and large, with a few days left, many lawmakers said their colleagues are looking to finish up business, then regroup. It's the prevailing sense around the State Capitol, an analyst said.

"There's a variety of factors," said Steve Greenberg, spokesman for the Siena College poll. "There are new [legislative] leaders. There is a cloud hanging over Albany based on the indictments, the arrests and the corruption investigations. And the issues being discussed have very strong divisions largely, but not completely, along party lines."

The 2015 session has been rattled by the indictments of the Senate and Assembly leaders, forcing changes at the top in both houses. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) are still new to their jobs.

Hesitant on housing laws

The fact that the indictments of the former leaders, Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Assemb. Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), are linked to real estate legislation and a large developer has many legislators reluctant to tinker much with key housing laws set to expire. That includes rent-control and "421-a," a controversial tax break that subsidizes developers $1 billion annually. Six communities in Nassau County have rent-stabilized apartments.

Some favor a simple extension of the laws, changing only the expiration date. They worry that any changes would be perceived as favoritism by federal investigators who have put state lawmakers under a microscope.

"With the indictments of the two leaders, I would say people are not confident as they used to be," Sen. John Bonacic (R-Mount Hope) told Time Warner Cable News. "It's not they've done anything wrong. But it's like Big Brother is watching."

A range of potential extensions have been floated, from a few months to four years.

"We're definitely going to do rent control" before adjourning, said Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn). "The question is: What are we going to do to rent control?"

Cuomo raised the possibility of a short-term extension of 421-a.

"I would not want to see the program expire because then you would have no construction," Cuomo told reporters after an event Thursday in Manhattan. "On these facts, I would favor a short-term extension so you would still have the pressure to get a new agreement done, but you wouldn't have a stop in affordable housing."

Lacking leverage

Cuomo doesn't have as much leverage now as he once did to make lawmakers adopt a state budget. Further, his public approval ratings have hit an all-time low, removing some of the pressure to go along with his agenda, some lawmakers said. Recent meetings between the governor and legislative leaders have gone nowhere, sources said.

"Nothing definitive, nothing concrete," Heastie said in clipped remarks after meeting with Cuomo and Flanagan last week.


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