Flanagan Holding Out for EITC, Rejects Cuomo’s Bill

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in the Senate Chamber on Tuesday. Sen. Dean Skelos is on the right and Sen. Simcha Felder at left. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in the Senate Chamber on Tuesday. Sen. Dean Skelos is on the right and Sen. Simcha Felder at left. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

The new Senate majority leader is holding out for the education tax credit that establishes scholarship funds, rejecting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan for direct tax credits to parents.

In an exclusive interview Wednesday, Sen. John Flanagan told Hamodia that the Republican majority in his chamber had already passed the potentially historic private school tuition aid bill earlier this year. That, he said, represents his position in his talks with Cuomo and Assembly Speaker CarlHeastie.

The Education Investment Tax Credit “was one of the first pieces of legislation we passed,” said Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican who was elected on Monday to lead his chamber. “It is something we are still very focused on from now until the end of session. That is a top priority.”

The Senate passed a $150 million tuition aid bill in January providing for a 90 percent deduction for donation to a scholarship fund. Cuomo, who had promised the Orthodox community in a pre-election Boro Park appearance that he would get a tuition aid bill passed, then introduced his own bill, cutting it to $100 million and allowing only a 75 percent deduction.

Both bills were killed in the Assembly.

On Tuesday, Cuomo sprung a surprise proposal on the legislature. In a rare move, he introduced his own legislation to provide a $70 million tax credit that would go directly to low-income parents who pay tuition.

The credit, which is paid to parents regardless of whether they owe taxes, is limited to $500 per child. This, Cuomo hopes, will attract more support in the Democratic-led Assembly than the EITC, which some Democrats have derided as a “tax break for the rich.”

Several Orthodox groups and elected officials have swung behind Cuomo proposal, with Agudath Israel of America labeling it a “watershed moment” and promising to make it a lobbying priority over the next month.

However, critics of the governor’s bill in the community say that by giving money directly to parents, it removes an important incentive for mega donors to step up with large contributions to the yeshivah world. That, they say, is the only solution to chronic financial troubles among parochial schools.

Cuomo’s bill also has a separate $50 million provision for donors to a scholarship fund, similar to the EITC, which was sponsored by state Sens. Simcha Felder and Martin Golden. That allows a 75 percent deduction for contributions to nonpublic school education of low-income families — defined as a family of four earning less than $60,000 a year. An additional $20 million is allocated for public school education and $10 million for public school teachers to purchase materials.

Flanagan, 54, on Wednesday joined for the first time the club of “three men in a room” who lead the state. The top three officials of state government gathered behind closed doors to discuss priorities for lawmakers before the annual session ends next month.