ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers will return to the Capitol on Jan. 8 for a six-month legislative session that will mix calls for property-tax cuts with efforts to enact social and ethics reforms.
Cuomo wants to adopt a two-year freeze on property taxes to offset the high cost in New York. He also will be faced with renewed calls to adopt stronger abortion rights, install public financing of campaigns and allow immigrant youth to get financial aid for college.
Legislators and Cuomo will also be under pressure to come up with tougher laws to root out corruption in the Capitol after a string of scandals this year.
And Cuomo and the Legislature are up for election in November.
"It's an election year for the governor and for 213 legislators, so there is going to be lots of politics," said Steven Greenberg, a Siena College pollster.
Greenberg said that the sides will be looking to score victories to tout to constituents back home when the session ends in late June. But election years can also make them leery of taking on controversial issues.
"They have governmental and policy priorities, but they also have political priorities," Greenberg said. "All of those factors are going to intermingle on fiscal issues, on social issues and on ethics and corruption."
Cuomo wants to cut taxes for homeowners and businesses as he seeks a second term.
He is supporting recommendations this month from a tax commission he empaneled that said the state should freeze property taxes if local governments and schools stay within a property-tax cap. The cap limits the growth in the property-tax levy to less than 2 percent a year; it's 1.66 percent this year and will be even lower for schools this May.
Cuomo said property taxes are "bigger and more oppressive" in New York than income taxes. He has rebuffed calls from business groups that he focus on cuts to income taxes.
"You ask people in this state what is your income-tax rate, nobody knows," Cuomo told reporters Dec. 16. "You ask them what their property tax is, they can tell you the number to the penny."
Cuomo appears to have set up a potential grand compromise among the legislative conferences through the tax commission report.
Assembly Democrats, largely from New York City, want renters to get a break and to tie property taxes to incomes. Senate Republicans, mainly from the suburbs and upstate, want tax breaks for homeowners and businesses.
Cuomo is recommending all those proposals, and he'll lay out the broad strokes in his State of the State address Jan. 8. The tax cuts would cost about $2 billion a year.
"To pass an economic package, you need balance," Cuomo said. "You have a Senate and an Assembly; they have different philosophies when it comes to this issue."
Cuomo and the Legislature will need to find the money for the tax cuts in the state budget. Cuomo will release his 2014-15 budget proposal on Jan. 21.
Cuomo said the $2 billion will come from restrained spending, saying the state should have a surplus next year instead of the current estimate of a roughly $1.3 billion budget deficit.
Unions are knocking the tax cuts. They say the roughly $135 billion budget should include more aid for schools. The state provides $21 billion a year in school aid, the most in the country on a per-student basis.
"New York simply cannot starve itself of the revenue necessary to fund critical investments in education from pre-K to higher education," the groups said in a report this month.
Women's rights group will renew their push for a 10-point Women's Equality Agenda. The Legislature left Albany last June failing to agree on one of the 10 points: language that would strengthen New York's abortion laws.
Senate Republicans and a few Senate Democrats haven't supported the abortion piece, despite backing in the Democratic-led Assembly.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, Westchester County, said she hopes an agreement can be reached. One of the 10 points she is sponsoring would bolster human trafficking laws.
Good-government groups are seeking public financing of campaigns. A corruption-busting panel appointed by Cuomo put out a report earlier this month that supported the proposal and criticized New York's pay-to-play culture.
"Public financing, the centerpiece of reform, allows candidates to run without support from special interests," the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law said in a statement Dec. 4.
But Senate Republicans said taxpayer money shouldn't go to political campaigns.
The state's Conservative Party also opposes public financing, as well as the abortion bill, and could seek to unseat Republicans in November if GOP lawmakers back the measures.
The threat is real. In 2012, two Republican senators lost re-election to conservative candidates after they backed same-sex marriage a year earlier.
"Senate Republicans continue to oppose the creation of a statewide campaign finance system funded by taxpayers, which would needlessly divert upwards of $200 million away from our schools, infrastructure and initiatives to provide tax relief for hardworking families," Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif said earlier this month.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said Monday that he would seek legislative approval for the Dream Act, which would allow undocumented students to apply for financial aid. It would also create a separate fund for private scholarships for immigrant youth.
The measure hasn't passed the Senate.
"The Dream Act is about opening the doors to higher education and self-fulfillment for all of our children," Silver said in a statement.
The Senate is controlled by a coalition of Senate Republicans and a four-member Independent Democratic Conference. Pressure will be on the IDC to deliver on the Democratic priorities, but the IDC members have warned that some of the measures doesn't have enough votes for approval.
In November during a campaign speech in White Plains, Cuomo said he would push for the women's agenda, calling out Senate Republicans and their "co-conspirators" – which was presumably the IDC.
Cuomo appointed a Moreland Commission to root out corruption in Albany. It listed public financing, as well as tighter limits on campaign contributions and tougher elections enforcement, as ways to clean up Albany.
But whether the sides can reach a deal in an election year remains uncertain.
Cuomo has chided the Legislature over a series of scandals, such as a bribery case and another in which a lawmaker wore an FBI wiretap to nab colleagues.
The Moreland Commission is locked in a fight with lawmakers and their private employers over disclosing more details about their outside incomes. The flap has threatened the relationship between Cuomo and the Legislature, and he has scored a number of legislative victories since he took office in 2011.
Cuomo said that the state needs to ensure the public's confidence in its government and Legislature.
"It doesn't mean that they are all corrupt. They are not," Cuomo told reporters in Manhattan on Oct. 29. "But you do need a system that gives people confidence that if there is a bad act, that person will be caught and convicted."