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Power NY passes late at night; fate of same-sex marriage still unclear

Albany, N.Y. – State lawmakers late Wednesday night passed legislation meant to help homeowners save energy while renewing lapsed policies to allow more power plants in New York.

They left their chambers sometime around midnight before tackling a short list of high-priority issues: a property tax cap, New York City rent regulations, raising university tuition and same-sex marriage.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged patience on Wednesday, saying he remained confident his “people’s agenda” – including the legalization of gay marriage – would pass successfully.

By Wednesday evening – two days after the regular legislative session was set to end for the year – lawmakers were still waiting for the bills that explained the details of that agenda.

It remains unclear whether Senate Republicans would allow gay marriage to come to the floor before lawmakers leave for the summer. Only 31 senators – 29 Democrats and two Republicans – openly support the bill, one vote shy of the number needed for passage.

Today, lawmakers are expected to take up the economic issues first.

The proposals include a $300 hike yearly for five years for full-time tuition at State University of New York schools, an effort supported by both houses.

Disagreements loom, however, over a proposed property tax cap and an extension of rent-controlled laws for some New York City tenants.

Republicans generally favor the tax cap, a law that would limit local governments’ ability to raise property taxes to 2 percent or the rate of inflation. The GOP lawmakers are worried, though, the law will not include any help for those same towns, villages and school districts when it comes to mandated costs from the state. That could leave local governments, like the city of Syracuse, with less local tax money to pay higher state-imposed bills.

Democrats are balking at the revised rent regulations for their Downstate constituents. The plan calls for allowing people making $200,000 to qualify for lower rental rates, up from the current $175,000. Opponents say that’s not a high enough income level for middle-class families who rent in New York City’s high-priced climate.

The “Power NY Act of 2011”, passed last night, tied together two separate issues – building power plants and creating home improvement loans – to solidify Republican and Democratic support.

The Senate Republicans had wanted to renew a state law, which expired in 2003, to standardize the permits and rules that govern building power plants. The Assembly Democrats wanted to jump start the state’s Green Jobs/Green NY program, a plan that uses state money to finance home improvements and then allows people to pay off the loan as part of their utility bills.