NY State Passes $220 Billion Budget

Marc Gronich

Originally published in The Jewish Press

Governor Kathy Hochul and state legislative leaders pushed through a $220 billion budget more than one week late, and included policy issues in the fiscal plan. The budget is $4 billion more than what the governor proposed earlier this year and $6 billion less than what state lawmakers were requesting in their budget proposals.

Normally, before a bill becomes law it must sit for three days so rank-and-file lawmakers can read the bills and be ready for a debate. This process is circumvented when the governor issues a Message of Necessity allowing the bills to move to the floor of the Senate or Assembly expeditiously. The governor, who has focused on openness in government, decided to send the two houses a Message of Necessity that allowed for immediate passage of the budget bills, leaving some lawmakers in the dark about what they were voting on. The budget passed on Saturday, April 9, leaving some lawmakers like Senator Simcha Felder and Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein in a quandary about voting for the budget.

On Thursday, April 7, Hochul announced a budget was near completion and unveiled the components of the budget that were important to her.

Fifteen percent of state operating funds, she said, will be deposited in a “lock box’ in addition to the four percent in reserves from the Cuomo administration.

Hochul also talked about tax relief for homeowners.

“This budget will put more money back in people’s pockets,” Hochul said. “We are providing tax relief for middle-class families as well as a new property tax credit for middle-income households, with an investment of $2.2 billion that will help approximately 2.5 million homeowners. This will give tax relief to 6-point-1 million homeowners.

“We are going to suspend from June 1 to December 31 the state sales tax on fuel, which will result in an estimated $585 million in relief for working families and businesses across our state,” Hochul announced. “We’re already having conversations with counties, asking them if they will consider doing the same.”

Long Island state lawmakers are putting pressure on Suffolk County and Nassau County lawmakers to suspend the local portion of the gas tax.

“The pain at the pump is real, and we need to do whatever we can to help Long Islanders fill up without breaking the bank,” said Senator Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck, Nassau County). “I fought hard to cut the gas tax in New York, and now I’m calling on (Nassau County Executive) Bruce Blakeman to follow our lead and do the same thing so that people in our community can get some real relief from these rising costs.”

The calls for gas tax relief came from the Assembly as well.

“Skyrocketing gas prices resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine are hurting Nassau County residents in their wallets,” said Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove, Nassau County). “I urge County Executive Blakeman to take this step which will provide significant relief as we face price increases for goods and services across the board from inflation and other factors.”

In response to the Democrats’ call for gas tax relief as of June 1, Blakeman and Republican county lawmakers are countering with calling for the immediate suspension of the four-and-a-half percent per gallon tax. County lawmakers were seeking to call an emergency session of the county legislature and emergency votes on Monday, April 11.

“We want to cut the gas tax without raising the county tax. We’re trying to do the fiscally responsible thing and give people the tax relief they need,” Blakeman said. “One of the reasons why we share in the gas tax as a county is this is one of the few states where the state charges the counties for Medicaid. Hundreds of millions of dollars a year we are charged for Medicaid when other counties throughout the United States do not have to pay that. It’s an unfunded mandate because we have no say as to how that money is spent. We get peanuts in the form of gas tax revenue to try and offset the big Medicaid burden that we have.”

Hochul also announced a salary bump for home health care aides.

“We know how critically important they (home health care aides) are to families and their sense of security,” Hochul said. “We’ll provide nearly $7.4 billion to support a wage increase, a $3 wage increase for home healthcare aides. And that’s just the beginning. We’re also going to invest $2.4 billion to improve our healthcare infrastructure, as well as dedicate $3.9 million in funding over four years to help our hospitals.”

Hochul also talked about revisions to the cashless bail law, putting a positive spin on the rancor that erupted during budget talks.

“This will now include a defendant’s history of gun use and whether the crime involved was a serious one, would it cause harm to people,” Hochul said. “We’re not here to undo the progress that was made in the past. Never been my objective, never will be. There are areas where improvements can and need to be made. To the New Yorkers who are concerned about the rise in crime, we have put forth a comprehensive package that again achieves and continues the progress we’ve made in the past to make sure our criminal justice system is fair. We are not moving backwards. We are moving forward with a thoughtful approach.

“We’ll be protecting victims of domestic violence and hate crimes. We’ll close loopholes and the discovery law that led to the unnecessary dismissal of too many cases. We’re going to allow police to make arrests for hate crimes. As I mentioned, let’s talk about bail again. We are now for the first time going to allow judges to set bail for gun charges that were previously subject only to release. Also adding factors that a judge must consider. All in the interest of making a safer and more just New York,” Hochul concluded.

“Over the past year and a half in New York we have been creating more victims,” said Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro (R-Red Hook). “The legislature and the governor had an opportunity to state firmly that cashless bail as it is written in New York is failing. This particular law is not a wild success. This law is failing victims. There are spouses who are abused. The alleged abuser is immediately returned to the home and we have situations where the victim is forced out and living in a shelter while the abuser is allowed to stay back in the home. We know we are failing victims and creating new victims through revictimization. Cashless bail fails the community, it fails the victims and it fails the alleged offenders.”

While Hochul has touted her budget as an inclusive document, the county sheriffs say they were left out of the process and did not have a seat at the negotiating table.

“I called for a new version of the American Dream,” Hochul said. “A better, fairer, more inclusive version that I called the New York Dream. This budget is a blueprint for the future. There’s an embodiment of that dream. And not only are we going to recover from the ravages of a pandemic, we’re going to emerge from it even stronger. That was my promise to you then and now, with this budget … and the relationships that were cemented working through this process, in a collaborative, respectful way. We will now be able to usher in a new era for New York, where everyone is treated equally and fairly as well as have access to the same opportunities to prosper.”

“You can say anything you want but if you don’t take all the stakeholders’ thoughts or concerns into consideration, then public safety isn’t important,” said Chenango County Sheriff Ernie Cutting, chairman of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association executive committee. “You’re not helping the public. You’re not helping public safety. It’s not just us, it’s public defenders, district attorneys, probation, it’s the whole system.”

One group extolling the virtues of the state budget is Agudath Israel of America. The budget includes $45 million for Nonpublic School Safety and Equipment Grant (NPSE). This triples the amount allocated last year, and was a major Agudah priority. The NPSE program boosts school safety and security, and can be used for certain capital repairs for building safety. This is in addition to $25 million allocated under the Securing Communities Against Hate Crimes grant.

“I am especially proud of how our team and the community came together and had siyata d’Shmaya in advocating for the tripling of the Nonpublic School Safety and Equipment Grant to $45 million, and in fighting for hardworking, tuition-paying parents,” said Avrohom Weinstock, Agudah’s chief of staff.

Agudah’s advocacy included personal meetings with the governor, led by Board Chairman Shlomo Werdiger, personal meetings with the state budget director and many days during which school officials and community leaders met with dozens of state legislators, according to Agudah.

The budget also includes a major investment in aid for child care, including $7 billion over four years towards a goal of full, universal, free child care. “This will be a tremendous benefit to many working parents who are burdened with costs of child care while they are supporting their families,” according to Weinstock.

The budget also includes a substantial increase in the Empire State Child Tax Credit based on income levels. “This Agudah priority directly impacts families with children, by putting additional dollars in their pockets and helping them keep up with the costs of raising families,” Weinstock wrote in a prepared news release.

At least one Jewish lawmaker was touting a victory in the state budget.

The Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP) is a state Medicaid program that allows eligible individuals to select their own caregivers. The program allows for the consumer to hire a family member or friend as their caregiver, thereby eliminating language barriers and the potential stress of having strangers serve as a caregiver at the consumer’s home.

The legislation will require the Department of Health to offer contracts to fiscal intermediaries under CDPAP that serve at least 200 consumers in New York City or 50 consumers in other areas of the state as of March 30, 2020.

“Covid-19 has shown us that the need for quality home care services is more important than ever,” said Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, who characterized the legislation as a “monumental win for vulnerable New Yorkers and their caregivers.”

“As more people are seeking care at home rather than in a nursing home, the demand for qualified caregivers who are caring and compassionate is increasing dramatically. Now is not the time to exclude fiscal intermediaries that have been servicing these vulnerable populations,” he said.

State lawmakers are on a two-week break and won’t return until April 25 to begin the final days of passing bills. There will be 19 more session days before they leave Albany on June 2 and embark on running for reelection, fending off dozens of primary challenges and general election opponents. Let the political season begin.