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AP source: Cuomo may OK Legislature election maps

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo is willing to accept the Legislature’s latest redistricting proposals, with conditions, and the Democrat is ready to force a late budget if lawmakers don’t agree to his new pension proposal as part of the budget due April 1, according to a senior administration official.

If the deal in the works goes as Cuomo plans, there would be agreements within days on redistricting, a cheaper pension system for future public workers, an expanded DNA database to fight crime and the first approval of a constitutional amendment to legalize casinos outside of Indian lands. The issues would all be tied to the 2012-13 budget, which could be adopted next week, said the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of legislative negotiations.

The official said Cuomo feels his cost-cutting pension plan for future local and state employees, known as Tier VI, must be passed mostly as he proposed, although he remains open to minor revisions. But the official said Cuomo would be willing to drop his provision for an optional 401(k) retirement plan.

The official said Cuomo “can’t do a budget without Tier VI” and his “position is not going to change.”

That means Cuomo would hold up the budget until April 1 and then force his pension proposal into emergency extender bills, leaving the Legislature with the choice of either approving the whole bill or shutting down government. That would hurt the governor and the Legislature, in a year when lawmakers face re-election.

Legislators and public unions have opposed Cuomo’s proposal, saying it hurts the future middle class of New York.

“I could see all these chips falling,” the official said of the major issues.

Assembly majority spokesman Michael Whyland would only say in response: “We continue to have meaningful discussions.” There was no immediate comment from the Senate majority.

The Cuomo administration official said the governor will accept the Legislature’s proposed redistricting lines only with a strong law to required future redistricting by an independent panel. Good-government groups have condemned the lines draw by the Senate’s Republican majority and the Assembly’s Democratic majority as distortions designed to protect their power and their incumbents for the next 10 years.

In February, Cuomo had rejected the majorities’ initial proposals as wholly unacceptable and promised a veto. The latest district maps submitted Sunday are only slightly changed. Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos called them “cosmetic” changes.

The law Cuomo seeks as part of the redistricting deal would create an independent panel with greater power, a measure the legislative leaders would find more objectionable than going the route of a constitutional amendment, the administration official said. The law would take effect only if the Legislature fails to approve a constitutional amendment a second time next year, as required to put it to a referendum before the state’s voters.

The official said the governor will also require a more “severely constrained” ability for future Legislatures to overturn district lines drawn under either the amendment or the law.

“Allowing the deal to pass continues to put the power to draw future legislative districts in the hands of self-interested legislators instead of in the hands of a truly independent process,” said Bill Samuels of the reform group Effective NY. “Anything less than a veto and the governor loses his claim to being a reformer of the dysfunctional Albany process.”

Samuels called it “breach of faith” by Albany leaders.

The Cuomo official said a deal is also near to give the first legislative approval to a bill that would amend the state constitution to allow casinos off Indian lands, the only place they’re now permitted. Approval is required again next year, after legislative elections are held, and a referendum could go to voters in the fall of 2013.

The official said a late-session deal for May or June is also under discussion. In that, the Senate’s Republican majority wants to resume cutting checks to New Yorkers for their STAR rebates of a portion of local school taxes they pay. That measure could be linked to the Assembly Democratic majority’s push to increase the minimum wage.