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State lawmakers continue to negotiate details of the 'Big Ugly'

ALBANY -- Few details emerged Wednesday of the "Big Ugly" agreement reached by state leaders this week and furious negotiations continued on major elements of it, including a property tax break.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Senate's Republican majority said they were confident the deal reached Tuesday -- which included extending New York City rent control and the statewide property tax cap and providing $250 million to nonpublic schools -- would pass into law this week.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, however, was more cautious and faced some opposition to the agreement in his conference. "It wasn't a deal . . . [Tuesday]," Heastie (D-Bronx) said Wednesday afternoon, "it was a framework."

He said the agreement was on track, "but like they say, the hell is always in the details."

Heastie met with Cuomo for more than an hour Wednesday evening. "Nothing is closed down," Heastie said. He wouldn't comment further.

Several senior legislative members and staff, however, said they saw no major obstacles to a final deal.

By evening, none of the bills from the agreement were in final form or voted into law. The Assembly had already planned to be in session to vote on the measures Thursday, while the Senate had hoped to end its business around midnight last night.

Details of the promised $1.3 billion property tax cut were unknown even to lawmakers more than 24 hours after the agreement was announced in a televised news conference Tuesday. When pressed at the time to estimate a typical tax break to taxpayers, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders would only say a taxpayer would see "hundreds" of dollars in relief.

Wednesday, negotiations were aimed at meshing Cuomo's concept for a "circuit breaker" on the tax break to the tax rebate check plan that has been championed by Senate Republicans. No details were released.

Lawmakers said about 25 percent of the tax break was likely to go to Long Island homeowners, who pay some of the nation's highest property taxes.

Cuomo's "circuit breaker" would likely direct much of the tax break to lower-income households making under $70,000 annually and end the break for those earning much higher amounts, likely at a household income of $200,000 or more, according to those briefed on talks.

"It certainly is better than the plan the Senate originally floated that would try to get a little bit of money to everybody," said Ronald Deutsch, executive director of the labor-backed Fiscal Policy Institute.

One element of the deal announced Tuesday appeared to be less substantial than leaders portrayed.

Cuomo, who had campaigned last year with promises to lift the cap on charter schools, announced Tuesday that the deal would include 50 more slots upstate and 150 more charters in New York City. The details, however, show no net gain in charter schools, but a re-use of un-issued and expired charters approved in past years and the transfer of some upstate slots to New York City.

Meanwhile, an effort to legalize mixed-martial arts bouts in New York still had a fighting chance going in the extra week of the legislative session.

Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle (D-Irondequoit), who is sponsoring the bill, said Wednesday that he was still trying to firm up the 76 Democratic votes needed for passage in the Assembly before the bill is allowed to the floor for a vote.

Cuomo is expected to sign the Senate-approved bill into law if the Assembly passes it.

With Yancey Roy

State & Region