The legislative session is off to a subdued start, with the governor’s State of the State message delayed for two weeks. Nevertheless, fault lines are already forming over some key issues, including rent regulations and how to measure teacher performance.
State lawmakers are offering hints of what their positions might be on some key issues in 2015. In June, New York City’s rent regulations expire, as happens periodically. In the past, legislators and governors have used the sunset date to shift the balance from tenants to landlords, with what’s known as vacancy decontrol, once the monthly price of an apartment and the tenants’ income reach a certain threshold. Under the rules, land lords are permitted to raise rents by a small amount each year. If the rent reaches $2500 a month, and tenants have earned $200,000 or more dollars for the past two years, then the dwelling can be deregulated and put on the free market.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, wants to modify the rent regulations, and he expects extensive discussions between himself, the governor and the Assembly.
“I come from the point of view that this is a person’s property and the state should not be interfering with the value of that property,” Skelos said.
Assembly Democrats, who are in charge of that chamber, have traditionally supported tenants rights during rent law discussions. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver even says rent for regulated apartments should be reduced, since fuel prices are plummeting.
“The cost of fuel and oil has gone in half,” Silver said.
Silver predicts it will require significant negotiation in order to meet the June deadline.
The debate over the rent regulations does not just affect apartment dwellers and their landlords in New York City, though. It also indirectly effects homeowners upstate and on Long Island.
That’s because a deal struck in 2011 ties the renewal of the rent regulations to the continuance of the state’s property tax cap, which also sunsets in June. The rent regulations also expire at the same time that a law that allows New York City's mayor more control over education also sunsets.
Sen. Jeff Klein is the leader of a group of breakaway Democrats in the Senate, and is close to Skelos and the GOP. Klein, who represents portions of the Bronx, says renewing the rent regulations is extremely important. Klein also says mayoral control of education should be extended to more cities, including Yonkers and some bigger cities upstate, like Rochester.
“An issue as important as education should be directly in the hands of an executive, like the mayor,” Klein said.
Another hot topic in education policy will be over changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has questioned why more than 95 percent of teachers last year were rated adequate or above average, when two thirds of schoolchildren in grades three to eight were found in standardized tests not to be meeting the new requirements. The governor’s remarks that he intends to overhaul what he calls the public school monopoly have led to tensions with the teachers’ unions. Recently, as the union protested outside of the governor’s mansion, Cuomo refused to back down.
“I understand the union’s issue, that they don’t want anyone fired,” Cuomo said. “But we have teachers who have been found guilty of sexually abusing students that we can’t get out of the classroom.”
Cuomo’s plans are likely to meet resistance in the Assembly, where key Democrats have alliances with the teachers.