Assembly Pulls Tuition Tax Credit From Budget

ALBANY -

Despite majority and bipartisan support for helping non-public school parents, the state Assembly on Monday pulled a potentially historic education tax credit from budget negotiations, saying it will revisit both that bill and another granting free tuition to illegal immigrants later in the session.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement shortly afterward, saying that both bills were not his priority and should not hold up lawmakers’ work for an on-time budget. He added that legislation could still pass after the budget deadline of March 31.

The statement, released by Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa, came as a shock to supporters of the Education Investment Tax Credit bill, which failed last year despite promises of support by the governor. Supporters were buoyed by statements by the governor a week before his reelection last year, during a rare visit to Boro Park, that the tax credit was “a matter of justice.”

State Sen. Simcha Felder, one of the bill’s sponsors in his chamber who organized a “parent petition” to help push the bill through, said he was particularly incensed that the Assembly passed the legislation giving free college to illegal immigrants, but not the EITC to help American citizens who attend non-public schools.

“Once again, the Assembly is telling us — yeshivah parents — that we are not a priority at all,” Felder said. “The Assembly passed the Dream Act to give undocumented immigrants free college tuition, but won’t even consider the tax credit for overburdened tuition-paying parents.”

Felder added that “the Assembly will not fool us by trying to shift blame to the governor.”

In his budget proposal, Cuomo linked the credit with passage of the Dream Act, an act that was seen as a poison pill since Senate Republicans are adamantly against it.

He reiterated in his statement Monday that it was either both or none.

“The Dream Act is supported by the Assembly and the Education Tax Credit is supported by the Senate. Last year, neither initiative was passed,” DeRosa said. “The governor believes at this point that either both will pass or neither. The governor supports passage of both and included them in his budget. If they don’t pass in the budget, they could still pass in regular session.”

Cuomo added that his two priorities were ethics reform and a change to the way teachers are evaluated. He “wouldn’t sign a budget” without the ethics component and would agree to significant increases in the public school’s $21.5 billion budget if they agree to include student scores in the formula for rating teachers.

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, a Democrat representing southern Brooklyn, told Hamodia on Monday that there was still a broad coalition coalescing to get the education tax credit passed.

“The thinking [behind the Assembly’s move] is that the governor wants the budget to be done on time,” Cymbrowitz said, “so he is taking out all contentious issues.”

The budget deadline is on March 31, the end of next week. But the annual session lasts until June 17, although lawmakers many times stay beyond that date for unfinished business.

“The thought is,” Cymbrowitz added, “that once the budget is done we’ll get to these things” such as the EITC and the Dream Act.

However, Felder questioned how lawmakers could pass bills but not include them in the budget.

“If they are not in the budget,” Felder said, “it doesn’t get done since they both cost money.”

The tax credit is designed to help both public and private school parents. Its cost — between $100 million to $150 million — is equally divided between public school enrichment and tutoring services and private school tuition credits. It allows between 75 to 90 percent of donations to a scholarship fund to be taken off the state tax bill.

The education bill has taken a few wild turns since the Senate proposed it in January. One surprising new sponsor was Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky, a Long Island Democrat who this year replaced the retiring Harvey Weisenberg, who led the fight against the EITC last year.

“This tax credit will ensure that both public and private schools are able to provide the best education possible for our children, while alleviating the tuition burden that so many families face,” Kaminsky said in a statement.

His stance was a surprising change from last year, when Kaminsky called the tax credit a “step too far for me” during a debate with his Republican opponent.

Kaminsky said that he has since met with families who send their children to religious schools and are having difficulties paying tuition.

“There’s a difference between campaigning and governing,” he told Capitol New York.

“Public school is not an option for them,” he added, referring to his Orthodox constituency in the Five Towns. “It’s not fair to tell them to go that route.

Supporters estimate that as many as 75 Democrats in the Assembly — the vast majority of the 103 Democrats in the chamber — would vote for the EITC if Speaker Carl Heastie would allow it to come to the floor for a vote.

“We will not give up,” Felder said. “We must continue to pressure the Assembly and governor to pass the EITC immediately and unconditionally.”