With about 95 hours to go until the hard deadline for getting legislation passed this week in Albany, the ugliness is mounting and the clarity is not. It’s supposed to be the last week of the session, although Gov. Andrew Cuomo can always make everyone stay after class. More and more of late he does seem to ready to keep them after class, since he's not allowed to cane them. But as it stands, any bills that are going to be passed during this session, by the time Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and other observant Jewish lawmakers leave Albany Friday for the Sabbath, must be printed by late Monday night to “cure."
For Long Islanders the biggest story is LIPA. Everything in that deal is settled except the important parts. What matters is agreeing that taxes on the over-assessed power plants owned by National Grid will be decreased in a manner gradual enough to let affected school districts and municipalities adjust and fast enough to provide real savings to LIPA that can start going toward the $7 billion Shoreham debt. Additionally, some understanding has to be written in stone on whether these plants will be upfitted and repowered in the future or closed.None of that is in any bill that's circulated.
Lawmakers whose districts benefit greatly from hosting over-assessed plants have been fighting adding wording to the legislation that would solve the problem, but Cuomo reportedly countered by saying he’s happy to let assessment challenges play out in the courts. If that doesn’t terrify those towns and districts, it should. If they lose, they could owe refunds back to 2011 and see their tax bases slashed in an instant. It's not a risk LIPA needs either.
Without an agreement on assessments, this isn’t a good deal for anyone.
The governor generally isn’t having it his way as much as he has the past two years, at least thus far. He’s locked in a battle with gambling interests over his plan to plop four casinos upstate but none downstate that has everyone screaming. Some of the big gaming players want a downstate location. The companies want it because it’s where the money is. But Cuomo, furious at being balked (the gaming companies say they’ll fight to kill the voter referendum on casino gambling if they don’t get their way) is threatening to open more racinos if the referendum fails, and cut into the business of the current VLT parlors at Aqueduct, Yonkers Raceway and seven other locations in the state.
Cuomo is also, at least thus far, getting no satisfaction on his women’s rights/abortion bill or campaign finance reform, both of which his camp says will be “election issues” if they don’t pass.
It’s Albany in the last week of session. We could wake to find it all sewn up, and all participants the best of friends. Thus far though, this year, it doesn’t look like that’s how the story’s going to end.