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AP Source: NY gov, leaders agree on 4 casinos

Michael Gormley, Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders struck deals Tuesday night to authorize four upstate casinos and to allow separate votes on a women's rights package including an abortion proposal that appeared to have been blocked in the Senate, according to a senior administration official.

The official told The Associated Press there is also a deal for Cuomo's tax-free zones to attract employers tied to universities that will extend beyond upstate to New York City and Long Island. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deals won't be announced until Wednesday.

The agreement was being printed in bills overnight Tuesday for public review on Wednesday. Votes by the Legislature are expected Thursday and Friday, and legislative officials immediately disputed some elements of the agreement.

Michael Whyland, spokesman for the Assembly's Democratic majority, said there are 10 items in all and the chamber plans to vote on and approve them as a single bill.

Senate Republicans had supported nine of the items, but refused to pass the abortion proposal because they consider it an expansion of abortion rights. A Senate Republican official late Tuesday night said: "There is still no commitment to bring the abortion bill to the floor." He wouldn't elaborate.

The Senate's Independent Democratic Conference supports the 10 items which also involve workplace protections and tougher domestic violence laws. They had spent the last several days trying to find a way to save the bills not related to abortion which the Republicans blocked form the floor.

It's uncertain how the Senate will vote on the issues, but separating the bills revives Cuomo's women's agenda.

The agreement will authorize four Las Vegas-style resort casinos in the Southern Tier near Binghamton, the Hudson Valley and the Albany area with a fourth possibly planned for the Catskills. The agreement includes a proposal for a large video slot machine center on the Suffolk and Nassau counties line. The official said the center, with 2,000 machines, if approved in further talks, would be operated by the off-track betting agencies of each county.

Legislators, however, had said the Long Island center remained a contested item Tuesday night.

The deal with legislative leaders will mean Cuomo's abortion proposal will get the vote a coalition of women wanted. Cuomo, a Democrat, and the coalition had refused to break off the abortion piece even though it threatened the other nine items that focused on combatting workplace discrimination, domestic violence and prostitution. The 10 bills will get votes, which could result in passage of all of the measures including one to assure pay equity for women.

The abortion proposal would bring a 1970 state law into line with a more expansive 1973 federal law, allowing late-term abortions if a woman's health is danger. The current state law sets a higher bar, allowing the risky abortions after six months of pregnancy only if the woman's life is in danger.

The deal struck Tuesday night also includes legislative leader approval of Cuomo's proposal to offer tax-free zones to employers and their employees for 10 years if they set up shop on or near a college campus, a move that is expected to boost New York's growing high-technology sector.

The deal with legislators expands Cuomo's idea of reviving the moribund upstate economy by providing the program to campuses in New York City and on Long Island, the official said.

The governor and legislative leaders are also agreeing to some elements of Cuomo's bill to combat corruption in Albany, the official said. Cuomo had sought greater enforcement powers for local district attorneys and bills tailored to government corruption, such as bribery of a public official, which would make prosecutions easier.

In a deal publicly announced by Cuomo and legislative leaders Tuesday, New York's financially ailing upstate cities will get help to avoid insolvency.

The agreement would create a state Financial Restructuring Board to advise local governments on how to cut expenses and streamline services. The deal includes an alternative binding arbitration process to resolve labor disputes.

The 10-member board of municipal finance experts will provide a step before a state takeover of local government finances through what are called financial control boards. Financial control boards have extraordinary legal power to change labor contracts and take other drastic action. Local governments, especially upstate, have suffered for decades with declining populations and tax bases while the cost of public workforce pensions, labor contracts and health care coverage has risen sharply.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli identified two dozen communities he designated as fiscally stressed statewide.

"The challenges facing local governments have reached a critical point, and these fiscal stress scores should serve as a wakeup call," DiNapoli said.

He identified Monroe and Franklin counties as being under significant stress, as well as Ramapo in Rockland County, Genesee Falls in Wyoming County, Niagara Falls and the town of Colonie in Albany County. Several other municipalities were included in less serious stages of stress.

Peter A. Baynes, executive director of the New York State Conference of Mayors, said the measure is long overdue. He said the measure will help municipalities by requiring arbitrators to consider a local government's ability to pay large settlements in labor disputes.