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State Senate leader blasts Assembly Democrats over sales tax measure

ALBANY – The State Legislature’s top Republican has accused Assembly Democrats of using counties as hostages in the ongoing end-of-session talks at the Capitol by refusing to approve pro forma legislation allowing localities to extend sales tax levels.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, said in an interview Monday afternoon that $2 billion is at risk because of the Assembly’s attempt to link the sales tax levels with unrelated legislation Assembly Democrats are seeking for New York City apartment renters.

Flanagan said the alternative for localities is to raise property taxes. “That is unacceptable,’’ he said.

The senator’s comments came shortly after Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie characterized as a “non-starter” a Senate plan released over the weekend to extend New York City rent control laws for another six years. Heastie said the Senate proposal does not contain enough provisions to encourage affordable housing.

Besides rent control, New York City issues are key in a number of talks as Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Heastie and Flanagan try to get deals before lawmakers return to the Capitol Tuesday in another bid to end the 2015 session. Also being discussed is a tax break program for New York City housing developers and whether to continue to let Mayor Bill de Blasio control the city’s school system.

“Everything that’s being talked about involves affordable housing and education,’’ Flanagan said.

The Senate leader said the Republican push to extend the state’s property tax cap program “is about affordable housing,’’ just like the talks over New York City rent.

Flanagan said the Senate, in closed-door talks, is still pushing for income verification for people who live in rent-controlled apartments in New York City. He likened it to the state’s STAR property tax program in which residents must verify their address and income in order to receive the tax breaks.

“I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” he said. “We ask almost three million people to do that. Why can’t we do that for the people in the city of New York so we can actually find out if someone is getting affordable housing?’’

Flanagan said the private talks with Cuomo and Heastie also involve the state’s Common Core-based standardized testing program for public schools, including, he said, the actual tests given to students, release of the test information, steps for better student outcomes and how to improve professional development for teachers.

After talks Sunday night and Monday morning at the Capitol, Flanagan said, “I would say we’re getting closer but no final resolution. These things are all sort of inter-woven.’’

Asked if the negotiations could drag on beyond this week, Heastie told reporters, “We’ll see. It was a good conversation today.’’

Cuomo has not publicly commented on the issues he is discussing in his Capitol office with Flanagan and Heastie.