New York would see up to seven Las Vegas-style casinos, a doubled DNA database to fight crime and free innocent people, and a less cushy pension for future public workers under deals struck behind closed doors Wednesday.
By late Wednesday night, the Cuomo administration as well as the Senate's Republican majority and the Assembly's Democratic majority said the deals were done, with only minor details remaining.
The measures have been pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who also held the key to the Legislature's priority of redistricting. A senior administration official said Cuomo will withhold his threatened veto of the election district lines drawn by the Senate's Republican majority and Assembly's Democratic majority in exchange for a constitutional amendment to end the process beginning in 2022. Majorities have drawn their own districts for decades to protect their power and incumbents.
After that signal, the backroom dealing among the governor, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos raced toward agreement on the governor's priorities.
"Looks like classic Albany: Three men in a room, huge log roll, no transparency," said 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."
Assembly Speaker Sheldon 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.
Silver also 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 retirement age would move to 63 from 62 for most public workers.
A senior official in the Cuomo administration said late Wednesday that the deal will save local governments about $80 billion in pension costs over 30 years. Cuomo had proposed a pension overhaul estimated to save $113 billion over three decades and relieve local governments of a growing cost in employer contributions that could threaten solvency. The deal worked out Wednesday made changes to the plan, reducing the total but still producing a hefty savings.
The senior administration official spoke on condition of anonymity because although the deal is made, minor details are still being worked out. The deal would provide about $22 billion in savings to New York City. Cuomo's original plan sought $30 billion in savings. Either amount meets the substantial savings Mayor Michael Bloomberg sought when he built a statewide coalition for Cuomo's proposal.
Silver was also able to provide greater access to DNA data after conviction, to help use the tool to free the wrongly incarcerated as well as catch criminals earlier in their careers.
The deal would double New York's DNA database with genetic information from those convicted of all felonies and all but one penal misdemeanor. The deal excludes misdemeanor possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana in public view. Various lower-level violations are also excluded.
"It is a proven fact: DNA helps solve crimes, prosecute the guilty, and protects the innocent," Cuomo said.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the measure essential.
"New York will now have one of the strongest DNA laws in the country — and we will be safer for it," Bloomberg said.
The measure would guarantee defense access to the database in efforts to exonerate suspects through both pretrial and post-conviction motions to a judge. That would apply to "reasonable" requests in advance that the information is material or "credible allegations" afterward that the evidence would determine actual innocence. Even after pleading guilty, a defendant could file such a motion within five years.
In New York, prosecutors don't have to share discovery evidence until the eve of trial.
"It's an epic change in the law," said Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat.
Richard Aborn of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, an advocacy group for public safety, said the bill balances the legitimate needs of law enforcement with those of defendants and the unlawfully convicted.
The state police lab in Albany has more than 416,000 offender DNA patterns on file. The automated system uploads as many as 4,000 samples a month in a blind process, meaning saliva samples are identified by numbers, not names, and there are no markers for race. They show gender. The 15 numbers measuring genetic patterns are unique to each person and to identical twins.
Lab officials say they have the capacity already to process 10,000 samples monthly, which are compared against crime scene DNA patterns.
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