Deals have been reached between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders on siting new casinos and creating tax free zones at college campuses. But a bill on abortion rights was struggling, and reform measures appear dead for the session.
The agreement on casinos would allow four resort-style gambling centers; one in the Capital Region, one in the Southern Tier, and possibly two in the Catskills, if voters approve the change to the state’s constitution in the fall.
Nassau and Suffolk counties would be allowed to open more slot machines, under the terms of the bill.
Cuomo’s tax-free zones at SUNY campuses have been rebranded as "start-up zones," and expanded beyond upstate public college campuses to allow at least one City University of New York (CUNY) campus to also participate, as long as it is located in an economically distressed area.
Businesses who have locations there would pay no taxes of any kind for a decade. Even employees would be exempt from income taxes for a ten year period. The governor believes it can revitalize struggling economies.
“I believe it’s the boldest economic development program for upstate New York ever. Period,” Cuomo declared.
Not everyone is on board with the proposals. Ron Deutsch is with New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, a progressive group backed by unions, and he says that giving away subsidies to businesses in the past hasn’t worked. He cites the state’s over $800 million investment in IBM as an example. The company has recently announced mass lay offs. And he says similar programs in the past known as Empire Zones were equally ineffective.
“Despite the name change, it’s a rehash of old Pataki-era economic development programs,” said Deutsch. “Time after time, year after year, we see that these programs just don’t work.”
Deutsch says the money would be better spent improving infrastructure to aid businesses, and on education, to provide a skilled trained work force.
While the governor achieved two items on this agenda, another significant issue has been left off altogether. Cuomo’s reform package that includes anti-corruption measures and public campaign financing did not succeed, despite a wave of scandals that have hit the legislature in recent months.
Cuomo puts part of the blame on himself, saying he was unwilling to compromise on his proposals. He says he’s decided to launch an investigation of the legislature’s campaign filings at the State Board of Elections instead.
And the future of a bill to codify into state law the abortion rights spelled out in the federal Roe v. Wade decision was in doubt. Cuomo agreed to separate the provision out from a 10 point women’s equality act, in order to make it easier for a vote in the Senate, where Republicans oppose it.
The abortion rights provision is sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino, a member of the break away Democratic faction that rules the Senate along with the Republicans.
Tracey Brooks, with Family Planning Advocates, says Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos said two years ago that as leader, he would allow so called “votes of conscience” on social matters that might be controversial among his Republican members.
“We are holding him to that,” said Brooks. “We are asking the senator to allow his conference to vote their conscience.”
Cuomo says he respects senators views, whether they are pro-choice or pro-life, but he says they owe it to the public and their constituents to hold an up or down vote.
“A non-vote is a no vote,” Cuomo said. “If you are not willing to stand up and vote for a pro-choice amendment, then you are not pro-choice.”
A spokeswoman for Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos says, however, that Republicans have not changed their minds about preventing the abortion rights bill from coming to the floor. Republicans have said previously that they believe it expands abortion rights, something supporters deny.
“We expect to pass nine of the 10 elements of the Governor's women's equality agenda, however, we continue to oppose bringing the abortion provision to the floor,” said spokeswoman Kelly Cummings, in a statement.
Voting is expected to conclude on Friday.