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Deal reached on reforming ethics laws

ALBANY – Seeking to prod Senate Republicans, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie Tuesday night hastily announced a tentative agreement on a proposal to strengthen the state’s ethics laws.

But the two Democrats provided virtually no details of their conceptual deal for an ethics package framework, which Cuomo has said is a line in the sand for him if he is to sign off on a 2015 state budget deal that is due by March 31 for the budget to be on-time.

Sources said Tuesday night there was not an agreement linking the ethics law changes to a legislative pay raise, or at least not yet anyway. Assembly Democrats have pushed for years to boost their pay, not increased above the $79,500 base, since 1999.

“I’m more than happy with this package,” said Cuomo, who broke with his usual budget negotiation tradition of hesitating to announce any deals until all parts of the fiscal plan are agreed to by his administration and both houses of the Legislature.

In a budget filled with important matters affecting education, health care and other policy areas, Cuomo Tuesday said toughening ethics laws is the “single most important” part of this year’s budget.

Cuomo signaled that the tentative deal he made with the Assembly does not halt the ability of lawmakers to earn outside incomes, as Attorney General Eric Schneiderman proposed Monday. Instead, he suggested his arrangement with Heastie improves disclosure of outside incomes with some undisclosed restrictions on private business dealings that conflict with official duties.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos declined to comment.