Education, ethics remain NY budget sticking points

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A deal on education and ethics reforms remain the key dividing lines between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature before the fiscal year starts a week from today.

Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, Monroe County, said the sides are trying to ensure that schools at least know a range of potential aid if a deal on new teacher evaluations lingers into June. Cuomo has linked school aid to tougher evaluations, as well as a longer tenure period of teachers: from three to five years. It appears the sides are moving toward a four-year period before a teacher could get tenure.

Joseph Morelle, Mark Gjonaj

Schools want school-aid estimates as soon as possible as they prepare their budgets for a public vote May 19.

“We want to give as much clarity and predictability to school districts as we can to allow them to plan budgets,” Morelle said. “By the same token, the governor has been very clear that he wants, as part of the budget, a teacher-evaluation system different from the one we currently have.”

Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Greece, Monroe County, said schools should know their aid amount by the start of the fiscal year April 1.

“I don’t think any decisions are easier to make in May, June, July or August,” Robach said of budget deliberations.

Ethics reform continues to be negotiated between Cuomo and Senate Republicans. Some Republican lawmakers who are lawyers have concerns about having to publicly disclose their clients: Clients might balk at using the legislator for legal work if the clients’ names are made public.

“Lawyers don’t think it’s ethical to disclose their clients when they have nothing to do with state business,” said Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, who is an attorney. “Clients don’t like to be contacted by reporters, media, other people because their name is listed on some private document that they thought was going to be a private relationship with a lawyer.”

But Barbara Bartoletti said she’s concerned that the ethics deal would be watered-down legislation that would do little to clean up Albany, which has been engulfed in scandal, often because of conflicts involving lawmakers’ outside income.

“It really needs to be much more substantive, at least for those of us who have been asking for profound ethics reform that would change the culture of corruption in Albany,” Bartoletti said. “This definitely won’t do that.”

Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa cautioned that the ethics reforms are still being negotiated. Cuomo already has a deal with Assembly Democrats on greater income disclosure, and DeFrancisco indicated earlier today that a deal with the Senate is near.

“What’s being reported that Senator DeFrancisco is describing is not disclosure, it is current law,” DeRosa said in a statement. “As the governor has said, he will not enact a budget that doesn’t include an ethics package with real disclosure of legislator’s outside income, and he meant it.”

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