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NYSNYS NEWS: Cuomo, legislators finish work on budget2015, keeping some key details secret and inserting tax break for wealthy owners of yachts and private aircraft.
NYSNYS NEWS: Cuomo, legislators finish work on budget2015, keeping some key details secret and inserting tax break for wealthy owners of yachts and private aircraft.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 30) – Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators labored Monday to complete work on budget bills, one day before the deadline arrives for the start of a new fiscal year for the state.

They held background briefings yet declined to provide specifics about many of the open issues, including ethics reforms Cuomo has touted as historic but which face sharp criticism. They also came under fire for the last minute addition of a tax break for the purchase of luxury yachts and private aircraft.

"In Alaska, lawyer-legislators are required to report the number of hours that they work for the (private law) firm," NYPIRG lobbyist Blair Horner said in an e-mail blast sent to reporters. "Will this agreement require such disclosure?"

The answer appears to be no. The proposed disclosure rules require reporting of pay and a description of work responsibilities, Cuomo aides said. They rejected any suggestion that it would be easy to exploit loopholes in the rules adopted in the wake of the arrest of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on bribery and corruption charges.

Horner also questioned sketchy details being put out about a pay raise for legislators and their aides said to be tied to ethics reform. "Will there be automatic pay raises -- something that few New Yorkers enjoy?" Horner said.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman scoffed at the ethics deal announced over the weekend as part of budget talks. "This is more tinkering around the edges," he told reporters at a press conference in New York City, predicting it would only produce "more investigations, more prosecutions, and further erosion of the public confidence."

As for the tax break for purchases of boats and airplanes costing more that $230,000, "I was not aware the Yacht-Up NY program was even on the table," Ron Deutsch of the Fiscal Policy Institute said. "This seems like a case of some seriously misplaced priorities."

The "Yacht-Up" comment was a shot at Cuomo's Start-Up New York program that waives all taxes on certain new businesses here. Existing small businesses who pay the full menu of New York taxes have derided the program as a insult and a gimmick.

The yacht tax break was not in Cuomo's original budget proposal. Senate Republicans said it was inserted to help create jobs in New York state. "It makes New York State more competitive," Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos told reporters.

Cuomo, whose only public comments on what is in the $142 billion budget was a hallway Q&A Saturday, summoned reporters for off-the-record spin sessions.

Lawmakers appeared to be struggling with another big open issue, education. Cuomo had signaled that fundamental reform to teacher tenure and job performance evaluations was a top priority, but he appeared Monday to be settling for minor changes to the current system for both.

The teachers union promised to fight until the last minute.

"The Legislature, led by the Assembly, mitigated some of the worst elements of Gov. Cuomo’s toxic agenda after parents and teachers stood up to his bullying," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee.

The Catholic Conference expressed incredulity that another big education item appears to be out of the budget, creating a tax credit for donations to public and private schools. The measure is strongly opposed by the teachers union and its allies.

"We have a difficult time understanding how in the world this has proven to be such difficult legislation to pass," Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Monday. "We have a Governor who has called it a ‘matter of justice’ and included it in his executive budget. We have a Senate that passed it overwhelmingly by a vote of 44-16 earlier this year. And we have an Assembly with a solid majority of Democrats and Republicans who have said they support it. In addition, it has the support of more than 150 community, business, education, faith and labor organizations. Yet, somehow, it ended up pulled from the budget agreement, while the public schools again get a new boost to their gargantuan budget."

Legislators have not yet release provided specifics, but say that the increase in state aid to education will be as much as $1.6 billion when all programs are figured in.

The meet the deadline for an on-time budget, the bills must be passed by midnight Tueday.