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Talks over special session go off track

Discussions over a December special session has turned to finger pointing, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republicans blame each other over lack of progress.

Closed-door talks between Cuomo and legislative leaders  broke down, with the governor saying the session is on “life support,” and blaming the GOP-led Senate for the holdup. He says he’s in agreement that lawmakers should get a modest pay raise, but says he wants other items finished  as well, including freeing up $1 billion more to help the homeless and the expansion of the state’s hate crimes law, and the State Police authority to enforce them.

“My focus is on the people’s agenda,” Cuomo said. “We’ve made good progress with the Assembly. We have not made as good progress with the Senate.”

In a statement, Senate Republican leader John Flanagan shot back, saying the Senate is not the “impediment” and that it’s Cuomo who is the “biggest obstacle to doing the people’s business.” Flanagan also said that lawmakers deserve a pay raise.

The governor, who spoke at an unrelated event at JFK airport to announce renovation plans, did not mention any ethics reforms as part of a session agenda. Cuomo had sought a ban on outside income for lawmakers to address scandals that’s led to prison terms for both former major party legislative leaders. In exchange, the governor’s appointees on a pay commission said they were willing to approve a substantial salary increase, if lawmakers went along with Cuomo’s proposal.

Legislators have not agreed to limit outside income, and the pay increase proposal is now likely to be more modest, from the current $79,500 a year to just under $100,000 annually.

Cuomo also has sought reform of the state’s economic development contracts to answer a bid-rigging and bribery scandal in his own administration that’s led to several indictments. The governor did not mention his plan again.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli also has a proposal. But he says the changes should not be made in haste, in a rushed end-of-year session.

“It should be done in a more deliberative process,” DiNapoli said.

The comptroller was removed from oversight of some of the economic development contracts, including the Buffalo Billion, that became a target of federal prosecutors. DiNapoli wants that responsibility back, along with other changes to make the contract awards more transparent.

Blow-ups and finger-pointing are common occurrences during negotiations between governors and legislators, and the acrimony may be forgotten if Cuomo, Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie all reach an accord before the end of the month.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.