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New York legislative leaders reach deal on ‘Big Ugly’

ALBANY – Legislative leaders cut their final deals to end the 2015 session, including acceptance of a last-minute demand from Gov. Andrew Cuomo: giving him the power to solemnize marriages in New York state.

The final agreement will include a rebate check program aimed at property taxpayers that, in the first year, will go to all homeowners and then be scaled down over the following three years based on geography and income levels, according to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

In upstate, the rebate checks will phase out for residents with incomes over $200,000 while on Long Island the top threshold will be $275,000 – similar to the STAR property tax rebate program, the Bronx Democrat said, confirming what the Buffalo News reported Wednesday.

The formula for determining rebate check levels starts easy in the first year: $185 is a taxpayer lives upstate.

In the second year, the rebate is based on a resident’s existing STAR property tax savings, so people with incomes of under $75,000 will get a rebate check based on 28 percent of the STAR annual savings. Those with incomes over $75,000 but less than $150,000 will see a rebate that is 20.5 percent of STAR savings. Higher incomes get a lower percentage.

By the program’s fourth year in 2019, the biggest benefits will be seen when the program’s total cost to the state will be $1.3 billion. People with incomes under $75,000, for instance, will get 85 percent of their STAR savings in a separate rebate check, while checks worth 60 percent of STAR savings will go to taxpayers making between $75,000 and $150,000.

“This really is relief for people who pay property taxes,’’ Heastie said.

The rebates will total $3.1 billion over four years, with the largest component – $1.3 billion – coming in the final year.

The rebate program will not be available in New York City.

The legislation, known as the “Big Ugly,” is still being printed, so final details on several agreements could not yet be verified. The bill is expected to be voted on sometime Thursday afternoon or evening.

Senate Republicans have declined to discuss the agreements, and Cuomo has not publicly spoken since a framework agreement was announced two days ago.

Gone from the final deal is a Cuomo push for tax credit program to help nonpublic schools. It was replaced with $250 million, to be paid over two years, that reimburses nonpublic schools for state-mandated services they already provided and they say the state has owed them.

The final deal includes a four-year extension of the state’s property tax cap program. Heastie said two new exclusions to the cap’s annual formula to determine property tax levies are being provided to localities: payments to BOCES and payments-in-lieu of taxes.

Heastie said the only major change since the framework deal was announced Tuesday was Cuomo asking that he be given the authority to solemnize marriages. In New York, there is a long list of people – from clergy to judges to mayors and county executives – who can perform marriages, but not governors.

Heastie said he did not know why Cuomo wanted the authority.

“I don’t know if I’d want him,’’ Heastie said when asked if he would want Cuomo to preside over his marriage.

Cuomo and Heastie, fellow Democrats, have had a number of spirited closed-door talks in recent days over a series of high-profile issues, mostly affecting New York City rent control laws.