NYS Gov. Hochul announces tentative state budget deal weeks after deadline; bail reforms to be revised again
ALBANY — Gov. Hochul and legislative leaders reached a “conceptual agreement” on a roughly $229 billion state budget on Thursday, nearly a month after the official deadline.
The framework includes changes to New York’s bail laws, new charter schools in the city, increased crackdowns on illegal cannabis shops and a bump for the state’s minimum wage, the governor said Thursday. The budget also has $1 billion to assist the city’s migrant crisis.
A proposed hike for the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s payroll tax for businesses in the five boroughs will be in the spending plan, too.
Negotiations between Hochul, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester) dragged on for weeks past the April 1 start of the state’s fiscal year amid differences over housing and the governor’s insistence that changes to New York’s bail laws be included in the spending plan.
The three sides eventually reached a compromise granting judges greater leeway to set bail in violent felony cases by removing a requirement they impose the “least restrictive means” — but will keep in place a section of the law defining bail as a tool to ensure a defendant returns to court.
Hochul initially called for removal of both the “least restrictive means” clause as well as the “return to court” standard that judges must consider when setting bail. Prosecutor-backed changes to the state’s evidence-sharing, or discovery, laws, will not be included following intense pushback from public defenders.
“I know this budget process has taken a little extra time, but our commitment to the future of New York was driving this,” Hochul said during a briefing at the State Capitol.
“I believe today we’ll be able to unveil the concepts of a framework that’ll reveal that what is important is not a race to a deadline, but a race to the right results.”
The state will also send $1 billion to the Big Apple to help cover the cost of housing the thousands of migrants who have flooded into the city in recent months. Mayor Adams has called for more funds and petitioned the federal government to step in.
The governor suffered a major loss as there are no housing-related measures in the final deal. That’s despite weeks of drawn out negotiations that centered around the Democratic governor’s ambitious proposal to spark development in the Empire State.
Hochul cast blame on the Democrat-led Legislature for putting the kibosh on her sweeping housing plan, but vowed to stay the course and hinted at future executive actions to address the issue.
“I believe major action is needed … to meet the scale of this crisis,” the governor said. “The Legislature saw it differently, they’re not ready to commit to the kind of transformative change I proposed.”
The three sides also agreed to a plan to raise the state’s minimum hourly wage from $15 to $17 in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County by 2026 and bump wages upstate by 2027, as well as tie future increases to inflation.
A deal was reached that will make it easier for the state to shutter illicit black market pot shops that have sprouted up across the state and hampered legal sales.
Lawmakers in both the Senate and Assembly left Albany for the weekend and voting on budget bills is likely to begin early next week.
In January, the governor unveiled a policy-heavy $227 billion budget blueprint that included a ban on menthol cigarettes, a sweeping “housing compact” and a plan to index minimum wage to inflation and a host of environmentally-friendly measures.
While some of Hochul’s wish list items made the final cut, lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Senate and Assembly rejected or pushed back on a majority of the governor’s original plans in their one-house rebuttals released in March.
That set the stage for intense negotiations that stretched well past the start of the state’s new fiscal year and necessitated five separate stop-gap measures to keep state workers paid while the process played out.
Compromises were eventually reached on contentious issues including increasing the number of charter schools in the five boroughs by allowing 14 so-called “zombie” charter licenses to be reissued. Hochul initially proposed a plan that could have seen hundreds of privately-run schools open, but progressive lawmakers and teachers’ unions balked at the idea.
The state will cover costs associated with locating the charters, not the city, sources said.
The soon-to-be approved budget includes $34.5 billion in education funding and $134 million for school meals.
Wider tax increases on the state’s wealthiest residents sought by progressive were not included.
While the budget includes a payroll tax hike on city businesses, with funds going to the MTA, Hochul’s not getting a similar hike she’d wanted for suburban counties served by the cash-strapped authority. Other revenue raisers, including a tax on streaming services proposed by lawmakers, were scrapped, too.
Adams scored a few minor victories as the city will be on the hook for $165 million a year — not the $500 million in recurring MTA funds Hochul had called for.
A pilot program for free bus service with two free routes in each borough will also be included, something progressive lawmakers have rallied for.