There are plenty of legitimate issues that directly relate to actual budget matters that state government leaders should be debating right now.
One of them is finding funding sources — including new taxes and higher contributions from New York City — to support New York City’s transit system, the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Another is proposed tuition increases at SUNY and CUNY and cuts to CUNY. Another is a major environmental initiative designed to combat climate change that will affect everything from new construction to pollution controls.
Raising the tax on cigarettes and banning the sale of flavored cigarettes is another.
Also budget related is a proposal from the governor to exempt $12.8 billion in spending and $2.6 billion in competitive bidding from oversight by the state’s chief fiscal officer, the state comptroller.
These are among the many money matters that should be driving the close-door discussions among Gov. Kathy Hochul, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins as the April 1 deadline for passing the state budget disappears farther and farther in the rear-view mirror.
But instead, lawmakers say two issues not directly related to the budget are holding up progress on the real budget issues.
Bail reform and housing.
The governor has insisted on including modification of the controversial bail reforms as part of the budget talks. Politically, the issue gives her leverage over the Legislature in negotiations on unrelated budget matters. Same thing with the proposal to increase housing across the state, a proposal that includes the potential for allowing the state to override local zoning laws to achieve minimum quotas for new housing.
Both of these matters are so important on their own that they should not be lumped into the negotiations for the budget, but rather be given their own space and time separate from the budget talks to allow for a full and transparent debate.
With regard to bail reform, the governor and the legislative leaders, according to multiple reports, are in disagreement over the governor’s plan to give judges more discretion over bail for serious crimes by removing the “least restrictive” standard judges are instructed to follow.
Among those opposed to including revisions to the bail reforms in budget negotiations is the New York State Bar Association, which issued a statement recently calling for separate review of the reforms and saying there is “significant risk of this issue not getting the attention it deserves.”
We agree. We also agree that the proposal to increase affordable housing stock in the state — which could significantly curb local control over development — is also worthy of its own separate airing and debate.
To debate these impactful issues behind closed doors along with other budget matters does justice to neither.
Lawmakers and the governor need to focus on genuine budget matters, and then tackle bail reform and housing separately.
It’s the only way all three matters get the attention and consideration they deserve.