ALBANY, NY — With a number of thorny issues continuing to hamper negotiations, state leaders seemed set to exceed a midnight deadline Thursday to agree on a new state budget.
The April 1 deadline seemed achievable, with enough federal funds to allow government Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, to propose a record $216.3 billion in spending. Its first executive budget was designed to jump-start the state’s pandemic recovery through investment in education, infrastructure and health care.
But members of the Democrat-controlled legislature had resisted with even more robust financial plans, costing at least $6 billion more than the governor’s proposal.
And on Thursday afternoon, the chance for a timely budget evaporated when the state Senate adjourned to April 4. (The Assembly, the larger, slower-moving chamber, also issued on Thursday.)
Non-tax policies are often stuffed into the spring budget process, and the biggest hurdles this spring have been complicated social issues that have divided lawmakers, most notably the issue of revising the sweeping bail bill reform that was part of the 2019 budget deal.
Other controversial issues also arise, but veterans of the budget process can attest that once the big things are done, less complicated deals fall into place.
Although the April 1 deadline is in the state constitution, according to the state comptroller, no state audits will be postponed unless a deal is postponed after 4 p.m. Monday.
After the legislature was adjourned, Mrs. Hochul issued a statement with a hopeful forecast, even though her first budget is overdue. “We are moving closer to an agreement, with consensus on key policy issues,” she said. “New Yorkers need to know that progress is being made.”
Here’s a quick look at where the negotiations lie on some outstanding issues, from more money for childcare to takeaway alcohol.
Bail reform could hold the key to everything
Three years later, the landmark 2019 changes to the bail bill are still rumbling through Albany halls, sparking unrest among some Democratic lawmakers and anger at others.
Ms. Hochul has proposed a series of new changes in response to a pandemic surge in violent crime and, perhaps, Republican success in attacking Democrats on bail reform. She called for an expansion in the number of felonies eligible for bail and to allow judges to consider the danger a suspect poses when deciding on bail. But those ideas, backed by Mayor Eric Adams, met resistance in both the Senate and the Assembly.
Republicans — outnumbered in both chambers — have continued to hammer Democrats on bail, hoping to use the issue to win seats in fall’s campaigns, including for the governor. (That race is at least an opportunity: Republicans are heavily outnumbered in the state and haven’t won a statewide race in two decades.)
Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who heads the State Senate, said Thursday afternoon that she expected some changes to bail laws to be budgeted, but she flatly rejected the hazard provision. “We’ve always stood the same way,” she said. “We are not introducing any danger.”
Casinos in New York City are still on the table
The state has already taken a hit with mobile sports betting, which kicked off in January, and lawmakers seem poised to try their luck by allowing a handful of new casinos to take bets in New York. Those new arcades would likely be allowed in the New York City area — including within the city limits — unlike previous expansions aimed at economic development for the state.
Such a plan — which would allow new three casino licenses — has already made developers and casino operators salivate and lobby hard: Millions have been spent by gambling companies to urge the state to speed up the current timetable, calling for the postponement of extension to 2023.
Now, however, with Governor Hochul’s backing, the deal appears to be gaining momentum, perhaps because of the bonanza the state has already seen from mobile betting: tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue since January as gamblers made quick bucks. York the best state for mobile gambling in the nation.
Senate Democrats have also embraced the idea — proposing operators pay a minimum of $1 billion for each license — though some Assembly Democrats still seem wary, as have many Manhattan lawmakers who fear neon lights and craps- tables can be harmful to their neighborhoods.
With so much money at stake, many believe that the city will soon see a casino, even if it is on the outskirts of the city, where activities such as Resorts World New York in Queens – which only offers computer games, not personal table games or poker — have been hugely successful.
One casino-adjacent issue likely to be approved despite the dismay of lawmakers was a $1.4 billion appropriation for a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, a deal that comes with a pledge of about $850 million in public funds. resources.
Earlier this week, Ms. Hochul said about half of that government funding would come from revenue recently paid to the state by the Seneca Nation, which operates three casinos in western New York. The decision to use the stadium’s tribal payment sparked an outraged response from Seneca leaders, who called using their money for the benefit of the Bills part of the “long history of mistreatment and abuse of indigenous people.” .
SUNY + CUNY = money
Democrats have proposed pumping more money into the State University of New York and the City University of New York to recruit new faculty and support business and capital expenditures for the system, which has nearly 375,000 students.
Democrats are also looking to ramp up the state’s tuition program, following a push from a coalition of students and staff who called for a return to funding for public university systems, which have often been the subject of budget cuts in the past.
More money, not less, seems to be flowing into SUNY and CUNY this year, though the exact number will likely wait until more controversial issues (see above) are resolved.
Also childcare and healthcare
Another of the top priorities for Democrats in Albany this year is to invest billions in childcare for low-income families, and to support new and existing daycare centers; lawmakers see the proposals as the first steps toward a universal childcare system in New York that would provide free childcare to everyone, regardless of income.
Aside from that utopian vision, this is also a discussion of dollars and minds that may not close until after the trickier negotiations on bail and other issues are completed.
All the major players have offered more money for childcare, ranging from Ms. Hochul – who proposed a $1.4 billion plan – to the state Senate, which has a version that would cost $4 billion.
A $345 million proposal to provide health care to undocumented immigrants, which supporters say would strengthen the social safety net for more than 150,000 low-income people excluded from insurance because of their immigration status, was also debated. This comes a year after the state gave more than $2 billion to undocumented workers who have lost revenue due to the pandemic.
Ms Hochul’s budget officials have questioned the price tag of some budget proposals from lawmakers, saying lawmakers have far underestimated the potential costs. But supporters like Ms Stewart-Cousins said such spending was intended to make up for years of divestments exposed by the coronavirus trials.
The mayor’s hope for school control is just that
The latest player in the budget negotiations — at least in absentia — is Mayor Adams, who probably seemed to harbor a common feeling for New York City mayors in Albany: disappointment.
Although it includes a large contingent of city-based Democrats, the legislature has not embraced its desire to extend mayoral control over New York City schools by four years.
Democrats in both chambers have traditionally supported advancing mayoral scrutiny, but believed it was a policy discussion that could be had outside budget talks, as the scrutiny doesn’t expire until June.
Still, city lawmakers could most likely claim victory on a number of issues close to and dear to their residents, including fairly predictable increases in spending on schools.
As a man who loves the nightlife and the industry surrounding it, Mr. Adams may also be pleased with the progress of a proposal to allow restaurants and bars to sell alcoholic beverages, a practice that became temporarily legal during the pandemic. . Ms. Hochul had supported a plan to make to-go drinks permanent, despite 190-proof opposition from the influential drink lobby.
Ethics, anyone? Okay, how about a tax freeze?
There seemed to be some momentum for a new ethics office to audit Albany, an always difficult task that has been the subject of decades of failed attempts. But a reported proposal to replace the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (whose members would be appointed by the executive and legislative leaders) with another panel (whose members would be appointed by the executive and legislative leaders) is already in conflict. with good governance groups that have experienced similar iterations.
One proposal likely to be more popular is a legislative plan to temporarily suspend a state tax on gasoline until Dec. 31 — a move also supported by Republicans in a rare instance of duality within the state capitol.
The governor had initially expressed some doubts, although the continued rise in prices at the pump has made a deal more palatable, with Ms Hochul saying “the timing of the budget is perfect to handle this.”
Another possible icing on the cake of the eventual budget agreement is the accelerated implementation of an existing middle class tax credit, a move that Ms Hochul supports.
Grace Ashford and Dana Rubinstein reported.