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State lawmakers face looming deadline

ALBANY – The state Legislature is coming back to Albany Tuesday for a special session to give lawmakers and top state officials their first pay raise since 1999, okay a set of ethics and campaign finance law changes and let ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft bring their services upstate.

Or not.

It was that kind of night in Albany Friday when sources from two sides were privately pronouncing deals and those from another were saying not so fast.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican, sought to stop the speculation furor when, he declared Friday night, his house will not be coming back to the Capitol until January 4 when the 2017 session is set to start.

In a statement, Flanagan said talks over a range of issues have “not borne fruit” and that there “isn’t enough in this package (of legislation) to justify convening a special session and bringing 213 legislators back to Albany before the end of the year.’’ He said time is needed to resolve some outstanding matters, which he did not identify, and that talks can start again in January during the next regular session of the Legislature.

While many senators want a pay raise, the issue is especially thorny for Republicans who, come January, will retain the majority in the 63-member chamber only with the help of renegade Democratic Brooklyn senator Simcha Felder. There is little to be gained, insiders have said for weeks, for Senate Republicans returning for a special session that the public will view as a thinly veiled gathering ostensibly called to give themselves a salary boost.

Little, though, is ever truly final in Albany, so the prospects for agreements on a range of controversial topics could remain in flux through the holiday weekend and into next week.

Assembly Democrats were being told to expect to come back to the Capitol on Tuesday to okay a package of agreements in a special session of the remaining days of the 2016 session.

If they don’t act by Dec. 31, it would be another two years, per the state constitution, before a salary hike could take effect for lawmakers.

A day before Christmas Eve and the first night of the start of Hanukkah, there was a flurry of activity as dozens of bills suddenly emerged into an online system run by the Legislature.

One side in the talks described the tentative – sometimes called “conceptual” or even “virtual’’ in Albany – agreements as including:

• Lawmakers getting pay hikes of at least $20,000 above their base pay of $79,500;

• New ethics and campaign finance provisions, in the wake of corruption scandals, including the indictments of eight individuals connected in various ways to Cuomo, including those involved in the Buffalo Billion contract awards process for the SolarCity project at RiverBend;

• Providing a taxpayer-funded campaign finance system for candidates for judicial posts and additional funding for housing programs for homeless individuals and for hate crimes investigations by the State Police.

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