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Cuomo huddles with Catholics, lawmakers to push tax credit for private schools

ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appeared Monday to throw in the towel for passage of stronger anti-corruption measures as well as his own plan to give special property tax breaks to lower and middle-income New Yorkers.

But the governor spent part of the day trying to provide a boost to efforts to help private and parochial schools with new tax breaks and lifting the present cap on creation of new charter schools.

Cuomo worked for a couple of hours with Catholic leaders at the governor’s mansion trying to twist the arms of lawmakers reluctant or opposed to their effort to provide tax incentives to help religious and other private schools.

Among those at the mansion with Cuomo were Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, New York City’s Catholic spiritual leader, and Bishop Richard J. Malone of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. One session featured lawmakers from the State Senate, which is already behind the Education Investment Tax Credit proposal and, later, lawmakers from the Assembly, where the effort has been blocked.

Dolan, after a brief meeting with Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, D-Bronx, who did not attend the luncheon at the governor’s mansion, said he had “constructive and helpful” discussions with lawmakers.

Dolan, however, did not express rising confidence that the measure – proposed in many forms over many years – will be approved before the session ends.

The latest proposal by Cuomo, more expensive than one he proposed and saw defeated in March during budget talks, would provide $150 million in tax breaks mostly to parents of low-income families who send children to nonpublic schools and for scholarship programs that benefit students in private and parochial schools.

Critics, however, call the tax credit plan an unconstitutional, back-door way to create a private school voucher system and to give tax breaks to wealthy scholarship donors.

Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, who was one of those stopping by the mansion gathering, said a variety of views were expressed in the meeting. “It would be hard not to be respectful … but I have to say not many minds were changed today,” Ryan said.

Ryan said there are a variety of bills kicking around and that Cuomo’s legislation has not yet been introduced. He said people getting the tax breaks would benefit no matter their income levels and that state money would go to some of the nation’s most expensive schools.

“If the idea behind this bill is to help struggling city Catholic schools, we have to make sure the bill is structured in a way to help those schools and not New York City private schools that charge $40,000 to $50,000 a year in tuition,” Ryan said.

The school tax break issue was among hundreds of issues that interest groups were pressing for as lawmakers on Monday began the final 10 days of the 2015 session.

In Buffalo, State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman made a push for a bill he introduced last week to add provisions to reduce corruption cases in Albany. They include making the Legislature full time with a pay increase and banning outside income for lawmakers, while closing loopholes that permit donors to create multiple limited liability corporations as ways to skirt campaign contribution limits.

“This is the right way to run government,” Schneiderman said in Buffalo.

On Friday, Cuomo had dismissed Schneiderman’s package, saying in part that it is late in the legislative session – it ends June 17 – to be introducing complex legislation.

Schneiderman said there is plenty of time left for Cuomo and lawmakers to consider his plan. “Let us not confuse a lack of time with a lack of will,” Schneiderman said.