State lawmakers were poised Wednesday to approve a constitutional amendment to dramatically expand the number of casinos in New York, hike pension costs on future government employees and require people convicted of any crime in New York to submit a DNA sample to a statewide crime lab.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he has cut an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to add up to seven casinos on non-Indian lands that would be part of a constitutional amendment that voters statewide could not consider until November 2013 at the earliest.
After nightfall, pressure mounted, and it was uncertain if the casino deal would hold unless specific provisions were included. The state now has casinos at nine racetracks and five Indian casinos, including the three in Western New York run by the Seneca Nation of Indians. Skelos and Cuomo did not comment.
The deal does not include specifics on where the new casinos would be located or operated.
"We will deal with where, when, how next year in legislation," Silver said.
Lawmakers would have to approve a constitutional amendment this year and next year before it could go to a statewide referendum. Cuomo has said the casinos are needed for economic development; critics have warned of boosting gambling when the state is cutting back on gambling treatment programs.
The Seneca Nation has been pressing to halt the expansion in Western New York, saying new casinos would severely eat into their exclusivity deal with the state.
The deals on casinos, pensions and DNA are all linked in talks on a plan by the majority parties in the Senate and Assembly for new district boundary lines. The unrelated issues of casinos, pensions and DNA -- which Cuomo wants -- came as a redistricting bill, which most lawmakers want, was set to be approved late Wednesday.
On pensions, several of Cuomo's ideas to raise costs on future state and local government workers are being changed in the final talks. Silver said, for instance, that Cuomo's call to raise the retirement age from 62 to 65 was, in the end, accepted at age 62.
Silver said the emerging deal would keep employee pension contributions unchanged for workers making under $45,000 annually -- up from the $30,000 proposed by Cuomo. For those making more than $45,000, it would raise the current 3 percent contribution rate to as much as 6 percent, depending on salary.
Public unions were furious and said the calculation upon which workers' pensions are based is being lowered and that pensions will also now be based on a worker's final five years of salary instead of the current three years.
"This is about redistricting," said Fran Turner, legislative and political action director at the Civil Service Employees Association, the largest state workers union. "This is about sacrificing the retirement for real people for [politicians'] own self-interests in redistricting. The two issues are linked."
Turner estimated the average future government worker's pension benefits will be lowered under the new deal by up to 30 percent from the current system. "The message is they don't want to stand up for middle America and working people," Turner said of lawmakers.
Officials also confirmed a deal has been made to expand the state DNA database to include samples from people convicted of all crimes. Assembly Democrats wanted provisions to reduce wrongful conviction cases -- such as videotaping police interrogations -- but that died. The final deal does provide more access to DNA samples by those convicted of crimes.
"I think it's a major victory," said Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat who chairs the Codes Committee and helped negotiate the compromise. The deal covers all felonies and misdemeanors except low-level marijuana possession convictions.
The deal carries several new provisions to make it easier for people convicted of crimes with the use of DNA to gather evidence to try to prove their innocence. Courts would also be permitted to "order comparisons between offender samples in the databank and probative evidence in both the pre-trial and post-conviction contexts."