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Albany Mega Deal To Cover Redistricting, Casinos, Pension Reform Nearly Done

Sources: Agreement On Teacher Evaluations, Including NYC, Also Possible
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New York State Legislature

New York State Legislature (Photo: Al Jones/1010 WINS)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders were close to finalizing deals Wednesday night to settle four of the thorniest and high-profile issues at the state capital.

Cuomo and state lawmakers are placing their bets on casino gambling, and a whole lot of other issues in a mega deal that likely will bring pension reform and an all-crime DNA database to New York, along with new Senate and Assembly district lines.

“I don’t know whether it’s good government, but it is necessary government,” Hofstra University pundit Larry Levy told CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.

“Looks like classic Albany: Three men in a room, huge log roll, no transparency,” added Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College. “There used to be two forms of Albany dysfunction — of means and ends and of process and outcomes. It’s still dysfunctional means and sometimes inferior ends.”

All the deals were expected to be done late Wednesday night into Thursday morning, with redistricting as the catalyst. It was expected to be done because a federal judge was to enter the picture Thursday.

“There are two guns to the heads of the Legislature. One is the possibility of losing to a federal judge to draw the district lines,” Levy said.

The redistrict plan creates a new 63rd Senate District in the Albany area and puts two Queens Democrats, Tony Avella and Toby Stavisky, competing for the same seat. However, the governor has promised to sign it if he gets pension reform. New employees would get reduced benefits and have to retire at 65 instead of 55.

An official told the AP that Cuomo will sign the Senate district boundaries drawn by the Republican majority and the Assembly boundaries drawn by the Democratic majority by early Thursday, before the federal court considers intervening.

The senior administration official spoke on condition of anonymity because although the deal is sealed, the officials haven’t yet announced it. The official noted the deal includes a constitutional amendment that will assure some measure of independence in drawing election district lines in 2022.

Cuomo has said he would veto any plan he saw as “hyper-partisan” designed to protect the majorities’ power. Common Cause-NY said the district lines were drawn to favor one party or the other.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver appears to have gotten some of his objectives into Cuomo’s demand for a less expensive pension system for local and state governments. The deal omits Cuomo’s proposal for an optional 401k-like retirement plan for all future employees, but will offer it to non-union, higher-wage workers. The deal also requires higher contributions from future employees at higher income rates than Cuomo proposed, among other provisions. The deal provides most of the savings sought by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who led a statewide effort to drum up support for Cuomo’s proposal.

The casino deal would let the public decide in a public referendum in November 2013 whether New York should have full casino gambling. It is central to the governor’s plan of building a new convention center at Aqueduct Racetrack. The company that would build the convention center operates the Aqueduct racino and wants to make it a full-fledged casino.

Silver predicted that New York will soon have as many as seven new casinos under a constitutional amendment that must be approved this year and next year by the Legislature.

“All it’s going to have is a maximum of seven,” Silver said. “We’ll deal with where, when and how next year.”

Cuomo and Silver, however, oppose having a casino in Manhattan.

Cuomo wanted to expand casinos off Indian reservations as an economic development tool. There are already nine state-approved video slot machine centers at race tracks and five Indian casinos. The administration has sought a broad approval, but Silver had insisted on some specificity.

“Doing it all at once gives them some mega headline of great accomplishment that may be justified when we analyze the details of what they actually agreed upon,” Levy said.

Sources also told Kramer that it’s possible that a deal on teacher evaluations to now include New York City could also be struck.

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