ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo is poised to veto a $90 million relief package for Lake Ontario flood victims and municipalities unless lawmakers agree to make changes to the program.
Cuomo on Thursday said his office will discuss potential changes to the bill with the Legislature, which ended its annual session Wednesday but will likely be forced to return to the Capitol before year's end.
The Legislature unanimously approved the measure, which would make grants available to homeowners, small businesses and municipalities affected by Lake Ontario or St. Lawrence Seaway flooding.
"We are still working through that bill but we have programs (for flood victims) that are currently operational," Cuomo told reporters, with his budget director saying there are "technical issues" with the bill.
The bill was crafted by Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, Monroe County, and Sen. Pam Helming, R-Canandaigua, Ontario County, as a way to respond to high Lake Ontario water levels, which have caused damage to hundreds of properties along the shoreline.
Morelle was miffed by Cuomo's contention. The bill was carefully crafted and is comprehensive, he said.
The grants would be split up like this: $15 million for homeowners, $25 million for businesses, $25 million for local municipalities, $15 million for flood mitigation and $10 million for additional disaster relief.
Individual grants would be capped at $60,000 for individual homeowners, $100,000 for small businesses and farms and $1 million for municipalities.
The bill is separate from the estimated $7 million the Cuomo administration made available last month for residential flood victims, available in increments of up to $40,000, depending on income. There's also $10 million available for infrastructure repairs and $5 million for small businesses.
But the legislative session ended Wednesday before any Cuomo-approved agreement was reached.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Cuomo's budget director, Robert Mujica, said there were "technical issues" with the bill.
Mujica also said the measure doesn't have a dedicated funding stream, but said Cuomo's office is "working with the Legislature to correct the bill" and expressed optimism an agreement would be reached. He said
Cuomo would not sign the bill as currently written.
A few hours later, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi raised another issue: There isn't any cap on the amount of income a grant-seeking homeowner can make.
"The problem with Morelle's bill is that there is no income threshold and we'd be reimbursing multimillionaires for damages," Azzopardi said in a statement. "The median household income in New York is $56,000 -- why should we be flipping the bill for multimillionaires?"
Morelle defended the bill, which was the product of negotiations with the Republican-led Senate.
The measure makes clear the funding would have to come from Empire State Development, the state's economic-development branch, though it doesn't specify exactly what pot of the entity's money should fund it.
Cuomo has broad control over Empire State Development and is often protective of its funding.
"It was a pretty comprehensive package. It was passed unanimously in both houses," Morelle said.
"And respectfully, there is money behind it because we took the dollars from Empire State Development. They have significant pots of un-designated money appropriated in the budget."
Albany Bureau Chief Joseph Spector contributed to this report.
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