- Associated Press - Monday, April 20, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York City and its mayor have a lot riding on the last two months of the legislative session as lawmakers return to Albany to consider the extension of city rent regulations, mayoral control of schools and a minimum wage hike.

The outcome could determine the rent and hourly wages of thousands of New Yorkers while significantly impacting the political fortunes of one city resident in particular: Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Other items confronting lawmakers include juvenile justice reforms, charter schools, campus sexual assault, limits on local property taxes and the Dream Act, which would extend financial aid to students in the country illegally. Lawmakers return Tuesday and expect to end their session in late June.

Meanwhile, a federal investigation of Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos of Long Island threatens to upend the Capitol’s already complicated political calculus.

This year, even more than usual, it is New York City that has the most to win or lose.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo initially included much of de Blasio’s agenda in his budget proposal, including the Dream Act, the continuation of mayor control of city schools and an $11.50 minimum wage for the city, though de Blasio wanted $13. Each of those items was stripped out, however, after facing obstacles in the GOP-dominated Senate.

“Clearly that agenda is in trouble,” said Baruch College professor Doug Muzzio. “He ain’t going to get the Dream Act. He may get something on rent control. Is he going to get anything on the minimum wage? He ain’t going to get $13 an hour. He may get the $11.50 Cuomo wanted instead.”

Despite the opposition, the mayor is undeterred.

“Mayor de Blasio has been clear: Albany should pass an agenda that will lift up all New Yorkers,” his spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said in a statement.

The state laws governing the city’s rent stabilization rules will expire in June. The rules regulate the rents of 1 million apartments occupied by more than 2 million city residents. Lawmakers could vote to strengthen, weaken, or simply renew the rules, which progressives like de Blasio say ensure the city remains affordable at all income levels.

Mayoral control of schools is another key priority for the mayor. Cuomo supports an extension of the policy started under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but Republicans want to hold detailed hearings before voting on a renewal.

Two other items - a minimum wage increase and the Dream Act - face longer odds. The wage is now $8.75 an hour and is set to rise to $9 at year’s end. De Blasio has called for a $13 wage, but Senate Republicans have balked.

Despite that, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said it would be wrong to give up.

“Even when others don’t agree with you, you continue to push the point,” the Bronx Democrat told The Associated Press. “You can’t just ignore the issue of income inequality or say it’s not politically expedient.”

The Dream Act in particular appears dead in the water this year. “We’re not going to do it,” Skelos said last month.

Republicans counted several victories in the budget that dominated the first half of the session: No tax increases, curbed spending, support for businesses and protecting state aid for suburban schools.

Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif listed three objectives for the session’s remaining two months: a tax credit for donations to private or public schools, authorization of more charter schools and the permanent extension of a local property tax cap.

“We believe taxpayers need and deserve certainty,” Reif said.

Skelos may have another priority he’s not talking about: avoiding the fate of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the Manhattan Democrat now fighting charges that he accepted nearly $4 million in payoffs. The charges roiled the Legislature and forced Silver to step down as speaker in January.

The New York Times has reported that federal prosecutors are investigating whether the Skelos influenced Nassau County’s decision to award a stormwater treatment contract to an Arizona company that hired his son. His outside legal income and his law firm’s lobbying activities have also attracted scrutiny.

The allegations prompted Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers to add ethics reforms to the legislative to-do list. Stewart-Cousins leads the Senate’s Democratic minority, which supporters limits on lawmakers’ outside income and tighter campaign finance rules.

“Hope springs eternal,” she said of the outlook for those changes.

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