ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday announced a $227 billion spending plan, placing affordable housing, education and public safety high on her docket this legislative session.
The plan would be a 2.7% increase from last year’s operating budget, a rise of $5 billion.
Likely to face backlash from the minority conference are plans to keep fossil fuels out of new construction and the overall price tag, and likewise a political grenade for both conferences — for the third time in four years — efforts to retool bail reform.
“This is a pivotal moment for our state,” Hochul said. “We can’t just sit on the sidelines, wish things were different. If we want to make real progress for our people, we can and I believe that the members of the legislature want to do that.”
She’s also opted to keep personal income taxes flat.
The beefy budget plan arrives as the Hochul administration rides the wave of an $8.7 billion surplus boosted by sales tax revenue and undisposed federal COVID-19 relief funds. A mild recession is projected to hinder fiscal growth.
“The surplus will be used to strengthen the state’s capacity to weather the economic downturn on the horizon,” said Acting Budget Director Sandra L. Beattie, who replaced longtime fiscal chief Robert Mujica in January.
The budget proposal process was delayed this year as a result of a hostile standoff between the state Senate Judiciary Committee and Hochul’s office over the state Supreme Court of Appeals nomination of centrist Hector LaSalle.
Hochul, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have until April 1 to reach a spending agreement.
Here’s a closer look at the executive budget for items impacting upstate New York:
EDUCATION & CHILDCARE
Included in the education proposal is a record-breaking $34.5 billion in school aid, $3.1 billion more than yesteryear. Foundation aid, the main source of public school funding, would be slated to increase $2.7 billion under the executive plan.
Her efforts are intended to reinvigorate a system marred by a widening teacher shortage and low test scores following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our kids are still struggling,” Hochul said. “Our teachers have been through so much.”
For parents, plans include $7 billion for child care assistance, allowing instant eligibility for households already receiving government support. $15.6 million would be allotted to grow child care programs at public colleges.
At a $25 billion price tag, the executive budget includes plans to build 800,000 housing units within the next 10 years in light of the recent housing crisis. Hochul wants to grow housing stock 3% in downstate New York and 1% upstate over a three-year period.
This effort, she said, would also help curb depopulation.
“We’ll work with our local partners,” Hochul said. “But the whole objective is so families stay in New York, kids can raise their own families when they grow up, employers won’t have to worry about whether there are employees in the community.”
While 319,020 residents exited the state between 2020 and 2021 — an unprecedented loss in modern history — the greater Capital Region experienced a 0.063% estimated population increase, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Echoing pledges from her State of the State address in January, Hochul proposed a $337 million plan to reduce gun violence. This includes an $18.2 million increase in funding for 20 police departments outside New York City, $1 million to support the establishment of a data center for tracking illegal gun sales and $37 million for youth employment programs.
Adjusting bail reform will likely be a tougher sell for progressives, who believe that the further touching law is a step towards making the reform obsolete. Hochul wants to give judges more discretion over potentially dangerous offenders.
“I will not turn our backs on the progress that was made but conflicting language in the law leads to confusion and a lack of accountability for the judges makes her terminations, so let’s just simply provide clarity.”
Members of the Republican conference and some Democratic outliers, including Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, want a full-on repeal of bail reform.
In her speech Wednesday, the governor tooted her own horn on past efforts in New York to combat climate change.
“Yes, we have the nation’s most ambitious plan,” said Hochul. “We’re proud of it, but I am never one to rest on our laurels. Not now, not ever. We’ll continue to ensure a cleaner, healthier environment for future generations.”
A heavy emphasis on electrification, Hochul’s plan includes $200 million to provide electric bill discounts for more than 800,000 eligible households earning less than the $75,157 state median income and $400 million to help residents retrofit electric appliances.
The budget briefing book includes a prohibition on gas-based systems and equipment in new construction. During her State of the State address, Hochul mapped out a plan to phase out such supplies for both new and existing construction within the next 12 years.
MENTAL & COMBATING THE OPIOID CRISIS
Some 2,802,000 adults in the state have a mental health condition, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Responding to the state’s sizable behavioral health woes, Hochul seeks to erect 2,150 new inpatient residential beds and pour $10 million to expand school-based mental health care.
“Mental health in the state of New York has suffered from disinvestment for so long and the pandemic only made things worse,” Hochul said. “And for people who are struggling with mental illness, severe mental illness, they deserve a system that actually works.”
With the opioid crisis, Hochul has offered $6.5 million to maintain over 1,500 residential addiction recovery units. By the end of the next fiscal cycle 2024, over $320 million in funds secured by opioid settlement agreements is expected to fund addiction support services.
“There are too many families, including my own, that know the deep loss of losing a loved one,” Hochul said. “And now fentanyl has its hands wrapped around people’s necks, suffocating them, and they can’t escape.”
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3749 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TylerAMcNeil
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