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2015 session to focus on rent laws, teacher performance

Credit Jim Day WXXI

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, landlords 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, Silver have traditionally supported tenants rights during rent law discussions. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says with fuel prices plummeting, rents in regulated apartments should even be reduced.

“The cost of fuel and oil has gone in half,” Silver said.

Speaker 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. The rent regulations also expire at the same time that a law that allows the New York City Mayor more control over education  sunsets.

Senator Jeff Klein is the leader of a group of breakaway Democrats in the Senate, and is close to Senator Skelos and the GOP. Senator Klein, who represents portions of the Bronx, says renewing the rent regulations is “extremely important”. And he 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. Governor Cuomo has questioned why more than 95% of teachers last year were rated adequate or above average, when two thirds of schoolchildren in grades 3 to 8 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.

Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio.
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