ALBANY – A week after lawmakers ended their 2017 session, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday said he is calling both houses of the State Legislature back to Albany Wednesday to deal with items the sides could not resolve last week.
The sole issue Cuomo mentioned in a proclamation issued Tuesday for the “extraordinary session” was control of the New York City school system by its mayor. That authority, vested in Mayor Bill de Blasio, is set to expire later this week; the Assembly and Senate could not agree on a simple extender of that power when they left Albany a week ago.
But Cuomo said the session, set for 1 p.m. Wednesday, can also include “such other subjects as I may recommend.’’ He did not elaborate.
As is so often the case in Albany, specifics about actual legislation were elusive, even on Wednesday morning just hours before lawmakers were preparing to go into private caucus meetings at the Capitol and then onto the Senate and Assembly floors for the 1 p.m. session. From Tuesday night until 8 a.m. Wednesday, zero bills were introduced or amended -- thereby denying both the public and rank-and-file lawmakers any insights into the components of legislation that might be taken up later today.
Beyond the lack of transparency, it's also possible, as is also often the case again in Albany, that the sides reach no deals and lawmakers go home. Officials in both houses were not ruling out such an outcome of the Cuomo-called gathering.
A major issue for 53 counties across New York, including Western New York, is the lapsing authority at different points this year that permits them to impose additional sales taxes. Without the usually pro forma approval, counties face a $1.8 billion hole in their budgets, according to the New York State Association of Counties.
The group representing counties accused lawmakers of linking the sales tax extenders to unrelated policy items, including the New York City mayoral school control matter. It said, for instance, that Erie County's inability to charge additional sales tax collections – permitted by state lawmakers for years with never a controversy – would force a doubling of its property tax levy to make up for the difference.
In a written statement Tuesday, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said the additional sales tax revenue authorization adds up to $279 million annually, of which it shares $12.5 million with localities throughout the county.
"The loss of this funding would have an immediate negative effect on multiple county programs and would force drastic reductions in funding for road repairs, anti-opioid efforts, libraries, arts and cultural organizations, the Sheriff's road patrol, parks and many more county-provided services,'' Poloncarz said.
Stephen Acquario, executive director of the group representing New York's counties, said the uncertainty created in Albany shows the need to enact permanent authorization for counties to be able to set their own sales tax levels without having to rely on the state every two years.
"The continued inaction, uncertainty and lack of leadership at the state level will do nothing to prevent increased property taxes, keep families here, attract jobs or improve the quality of life in our great state,'' Acquario said.
If not extended by November 30, the sales tax in Erie County would drop from 8.75 percent to 7 percent. Poloncarz added his voice to efforts by county leaders to not have to rely on Albany to extend the sales tax levels every two years. “The extenders should not be tied to other bills in the future as they were this year, a move that tied taxpayers statewide to a New York City issue that they had nothing to do with and should not be penalized for,’’ Poloncarz added.
Not addressed during the regular session was a series of items, including efforts by lawmakers to increase oversight of economic development programs and government ethics provisions in the wake of the Buffalo Billion and other upstate economic development procurement scandals.
Whether those items get linked to other measures in Wednesday's special session appears, for now, unlikely. If history is a guide, the one-day scheduled session could produce a range of unrelated deals, or all sides go home empty-handed.