$220 billion state budget draws mixed reviews from lawmakers
ALBANY — Reaction was mixed to approval on New York’s $220 billion state budget, which went into law Saturday — more than a week after its official, April 1, deadline. The plan, which relies on an influx of federal funds and higher-than-expected tax revenues, drew applause for its approval of to-go cocktails and jeers from some over changes to the state’s bail reform measures.
The budget boosts pay for health care and home care workers, shaves 16 cents off the cost of a gallon of gas through December and helps New Yorkers with unpaid rent and utility bills.
On the heels of the state budget passing, local and regional officials weighed in with varied reactions over the weekend:
• Assemblyman Brian Miller, R-101, New Hartford, said: “This year, more so than many in the past, the budget process was messy and convoluted. But, there are some positives to draw from it. The expansion of child care, the accelerated rate of middle class tax cuts, the small business seed funding grant program are all welcome additions. We’re also seeing a continued investment and expansion into broadband with the repealing of the Department of Transportation’s right of way for free fiber and a small but significant gas tax pause which will last from June to December of this year.”
“These are welcome considerations for New Yorkers this year. While changes to our state’s bail laws represent a step in the right direction, New Yorkers deserved swifter and stronger action to combat the public safety crisis. We in the Assembly will definitely pay attention to what these small changes do to improve public safety,” Miller added.
• “Albany Democrats once again kept opposition voices out of the negotiation process, went a week by the April 1 deadline and passed a record-setting $220 billion state budget,” said Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush, R-117, Black River. “Unchecked single-party rule once again pushed a tone-deaf monumental price tag as regular New Yorkers continue to face record inflation and price increases.”
“With this being said I was glad to see a suspension of the gas tax beginning June 1, something I have pushed for alongside my Republican colleagues since November,” he said. “On bail reform, the budget did include some meaningful changes granting judges the ability to assess an offenders’ prior criminal record. While this is a step in the right direction, New Yorkers are still owed bold and decisive reforms on public safety to combat the crime crisis plaguing our state.”
• Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, D-119, Marcy, said “The 2019 bail reform must be changed. Unfortunately, the revisions contained in this current budget do not go far enough. “Our judges need more discretion. They must be allowed to consider dangerousness and community safety as standards for bail. The changes in this budget did not achieve those objectives. For that reason, I opposed this inadequate attempt at bail reform.”
“I have reached out and convened meetings with judges, law enforcement, non-profit support groups, community leaders and other advocates. We have all tried to consider the needs of at-risk youth and others in need of vital services. Without exception, we are striving to provide a safe community,” she added.
Here’s a look at what’s in the budget.
Homeowners can expect tax relief: New York will spend $2.2 billion in one-time property tax rebates for low- and middle-income homeowners. That rebate would arrive this fall, when the Democratic governor is set to appear on the ballot.
New York will also decrease tax rates for the middle class by $162 million by April 2023, instead of waiting until 2025 to fully phase in those long-planned tax cuts.
BAIL, GUN CRIMES
The budget follows through with Hochul’s proposal to give judges more power to jail people who were repeatedly ticketed for minor theft or property damage offenses.
Judges have to release people if the court determines the alleged theft is “negligible” and not “in furtherance of other criminal activity.”
Criminal justice advocates say the new law will lead to more poor and minority New Yorkers being held behind bars while awaiting trial.
New York has also added more firearm possession crimes to the list of offenses that could land people who can’t afford bail behind bars.
GAS TAX CUT
New York will cut state gas taxes by 16 cents a gallon from June 1 until the end of the year in response to soaring gasoline prices, with the state asking counties to consider doing the same.
Liquor and wine are now available for take-out and delivery for three years, as long as the purchase includes a “substantial food item.”
That revives a practice instituted during the pandemic to help struggling restaurants.
State regulators will decide whether French fries or other snacks will count as “substantial” items.
Courts can now order people to undergo more assisted outpatient treatment if they are perceived to be a threat to themselves or others.
It’s an expansion of Kendra’s Law, which New York passed on a trial basis in 1999 when 32-year-old Kendra Webdale was pushed in front of a subway train by a man living with untreated schizophrenia. The law is set to expire June 30, but New York is extending that expiration to 2027.
CASINOS, BUFFALO BILLS
The state will start accepting bids for three new casinos this year, one year earlier than planned. A new casino will need two-thirds approval from a community board consisting of political appointees selected by the governor, mayor and state and local representatives.
Hochul can also move forward with a deal to send $600 million in state funds for the Buffalo Bills’ new stadium. Erie County would pitch in another $250 billion.
The state will provide over $250 million in capital and maintenance subsidies over three decades.
Good government groups say there’s a potential conflict of interest: Hochul’s husband William works for Bills’ concession vendor Delaware North.
Hochul defended the deal as needed to ensure the Bills franchise doesn’t leave New York, telling the news program “Capital Tonight” on Friday she has a “very solid wall” between her work and her husband’s.
The spending plan directs $250 million to help New Yorkers with unpaid utility bills and $925 million for landlords struggling with overdue rent amid the pandemic.
The budget excludes some measures backed by legislative Democrats, including $250 million for a new statewide rental subsidy.
New York will spend about $1 billion over the next fiscal year to increase eligibility for child care subsidies to 300% of the federal poverty level. That’s $83,250 for a family of four.
Hochul said the move will help expand access for more than half of New York’s young people.
The budget also increases reimbursement rates for certain child care providers.
HEALTH WORKER PAY
The state will spend $7.4 billion over several years to give a $3-per-hour raise to home care aides who bathe, feed and provide other non-medical services in clients’ homes.
That’s lower than the 50% minimum wage raise sought by backers of the Fair Pay for Home Care Act.
Aides generally are private employees, but the state Medicaid program funds about 90% of their services.
The budget also includes $1.2 billion in bonuses for other health care workers, aimed at keeping people in the industry after a grueling two years.
The budget pares down a proposed $345 million for a state health coverage option for more than 150,000 low-income New Yorkers whose immigration status bars them from getting health insurance.
Instead, New York will expand coverage for New Yorkers living in the state illegally who are age 65 or older.
Voters in November will decide whether to approve $4.2 billion in bonds to fund environmental and energy projects such as conservation, climate-change mitigation, zero-emission school busses and green buildings.
The budget doesn’t include Hochul’s proposal to ban natural gas in new buildings, to the disappointment of climate activists. She said she hopes to keep trying to pass that change.
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