NY lawmakers plan changes to Cuomo's tax cap idea

Associated Press
A man talks on a phone outside the Assembly Chamber at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., Monday, Jan. 10, 2011.  Legislators open the first full week of the legislative session on Monday.  (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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As the first week of New York's legislative session began, the good will of lawmakers rallying around Gov. Andrew Cuomo's top priorities gave way to reshaping and threatening his key proposals over taxes and government reform.

Opposing lines between the majorities of the Senate and Assembly were being drawn Monday over Cuomo's proposal to cap the growth in property taxes at no more than 2 percent a year.

Opposition also surfaced about whether to end, as scheduled, a temporary income tax hike on New Yorkers making more than $200,000 a year. The temporary tax created three years ago to raise revenue in the fiscal crisis is set to expire this year.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Monday that his Democratic majority is discussing whether Cuomo's proposed property tax cap limit of 2 percent or a lesser inflation rate is too low. Democrats also are discussing whether there should be more instances in which the cap could be suspended, such as an unexpected expense like a health care spike or big court judgment.

The state's teachers unions with great influence in the Legislature have opposed Cuomo's proposed cap. Opponents say the cap will cut school programs and force teacher layoffs, resulting in larger class sizes.

Silver also cast doubt on whether the temporary income tax on wealthier New Yorkers will end this year.

After cutting spending on programs including schools and hospitals to address a $10 billion budget, Silver said he's unsure "whether we can afford to provide that tax relief for the wealthy."

The Senate's Republican majority strongly supports the property tax cap, which is important to its suburban constituents. But on Monday the Republicans refused to trade the cap for one of Silver's top priorities. Silver wants to revise rent regulation in New York City on 1 million apartments, critical to the majority's New York City base, in order to protect renters from "enormous spikes" in rent.

Powerful interests are engaged in this issue, too.

Silver's rent proposal is opposed by the Senate's Republicans and New York City real estate interests, which were major contributors to Cuomo's campaign last year.

"We will be taking up rent laws this session, but the existing laws do not expire until June 15th and should be separate from tax cap," said Scott Reif, spokesman for the Senate's Republican majority. The session is scheduled to end June 20.

Cuomo said after meeting privately with legislative leaders Monday in the governor's mansion that he won't link issues "as part of a deal."

"I think one of the mistakes we made in the past is the Legislature has tended to take issues, lump them together in a negotiating style rather than analyzing individual issues and make the best policy on that issue," Cuomo told reporters.

He wouldn't commit to a rent control bill, saying many details had to be discussed. He called the meeting over lunch collegial and productive.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Nassau County Republican, also said the private session struck the right tone for further talks.

Within the Senate, Democrats who lost the majority in the fall elections accused Republicans of abandoning their pledge for reform. Republicans had promised voters reform after two often chaotic years under Democratic rule in the Senate.

Cuomo as well as most senators from both parties signed a pledge from New York Uprising, a good-government group, to redraw election districts this year in a nonpartisan manner. For decades, this redistricting process every 10 years by the majority party was done to protect their incumbents with voter enrollment stacked to favor the majority party.

"Keep your promise, pass the pledge," Senate Minority John Sampson, a Brooklyn Democrat, lectured the Republican majority.

However, when pressed by reporters about why his Democratic conference didn't enact the redistricting reform when it was the majority the last two years, Sampson would only say: "Once again, we have a great opportunity to get it done now."

Sampson's aides later said the conference wanted to enact the reforms while in charge over the last two years, but it was one of the issues they didn't finish.

Senate Republican spokesman Reif said the new majority conference's immediate priority isn't reform, but dealing with the state deficit of more than $10 billion without raising taxes and spurring an economic recovery.

"We're going to put forward reforms at some time in the future," said Reif, speaking for the Republicans' 32-30 majority. He wouldn't say if the conference would reform the redistricting process this year.

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