ALBANY — State legislators unveiled their latest budget proposals Tuesday, setting the scene for the next round of discussions as officials craft the 2024 state spending plan.
Despite a snowy day in Albany that closed the Capitol Tuesday, work continued through the day to publish the Assembly and Senate’s separate spending proposals, which are the legislature’s counter to Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul’s executive budget proposal that came out in early February. The result was blasted from lawmakers in the GLOW region.
Both the Senate and Assembly budgets call for more spending than the governor’s executive budget, which asked for a $227 billion spending package. The Assembly version has $6 billion more spending and the Senate version is more than $9 billion higher.
Each chamber’s budget is slightly different, including more money in some places and less in others, but they share some common lines. The upcoming discussions will seek to unite the governor’s plan with the two legislative plans that can be passed into law.
Lawmakers in both chambers rejected Gov. Hochul’s proposal to intercept $624 million in federal Medicaid funding that has historically gone to the counties. That issue has been top of mind for many local officials, who expressed concern that their county Medicaid budgets could grow by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars and require a property tax increase to cover the extra costs.
Money has not been provided by either chamber for prison redevelopment, despite local advocacy and some action taken by the executive branch this year to redevelop two now-closed prisons.
Senate Majority Leader and President Pro-Tempore Andrea A. Stewart-Cousins, in a news conference in the Capitol on Wednesday, said she doesn’t intend to address prison redevelopment in this year’s budget, but said there may be opportunities in the future.
“It was not in our one-house bill, but that doesn’t mean it can never be discussed,” she said. “Just not at this moment.”
Both the Senate and Assembly also removed the changes the governor proposed in her budget for the state’s bail reforms, aiming to give judges more options when setting bail. Sen. Stewart-Cousins said, as Albany Democrats have repeatedly, that she does not believe the argument that the state’s bail reforms lead to an increase in violent crime. She said violent criminals have always been bail-eligible, and other states who did not reform their bail systems experienced similar or worse increases in violent crime around 2020.
Both budgets also reject a proposal pushed by counties to make their sales tax collections permanent. Counties now have to seek state approval every two years to maintain their sales tax collections. The governor’s executive budget called for those collections to be made permanent, but that was removed in the legislature’s proposals.
The Senate and Assembly budgets also call for nearly $200 million in grants to be established for local public defense programs, which provide legal representation to those who can’t afford a private attorney. Counties have been required by a court order to increase public defense staff and bring the offices into parity with local district attorney offices.
The state long-term care ombudsman’s office, which oversees a network of professionals and volunteers who advocate for the rights of patients living in long-term medical care facilities, has been given a $12.5 million boost in the Assembly bill. The Senate bill does not include a similar boost. The office has openly struggled with its inability to monitor all the long-term care homes in New York, and advocates had requested a $15 million budget for the organization at a public hearing earlier this month.
The Assembly bill does not include any language that would increase funding for the Consolidated Local Roads and Highway Improvement Program, or CHIPS, but the Senate budget bill includes a $200 million boost to the program. Other state highway and bridge maintenance programs were also given tens of millions more in the Senate budget.
Both bills have been drafted mainly by Democratic leaders in Albany, as they hold all three levers of power in the Capitol. Senate Republicans blasted the one-house budgets on Wednesday, criticizing the $233 to $236 billion spending plans.
“Our state budget, as I’ve said numerous times, is already larger than Florida and Texas combined,” said Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda. “They have more people. Florida will soon have more New Yorkers.”
Ortt criticized the Senate bill for rejecting the bail reform adjustments proposed by Hochul, especially.
“I thought the governor’s bail changes, while not nearly enough of what was needed, because there was more, she stopped short of that, maybe she anticipated a very tough negotiation, but as we’ve seen they aren’t even willing to go where she wants to go,” he said.
Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, was also highly critical.
“Between the governor’s budget and the budget proposal from the Assembly Majority, more spending is on the agenda, and it’s going to hurt New Yorkers,” Hawley said in a statement. “Despite this dramatic inflationary period, the Majority is intent on asking New Yorkers to be taxed more in exchange for numerous programs that will likely never benefit Upstate residents. It is disappointing, irresponsible, and shameful.
“I don’t believe more taxes are the solution,” he continued. “I would like to see New York rein in its spending to more manageable levels, where the necessities are taken care of, and the rest is considered case-by-case. Banning gas stoves or giving free healthcare to illegal immigrants is not helping our bottom line. Our spending habits in this state are unsustainable, and if they continue, we’re only going to set ourselves up for failure.”
Assemblywoman Marjorie Byrnes, R-Caledonia, said she was voting no.
“It’s disappointing, yet unsurprising, that the Assembly Majority has rejected the governor’s proposal to restore judicial discretion and other measures to fix the bail reforms that have endangered our state for the past five years,” she said. “Although I am pleased they also rejected her nonsensical upstate housing mandate, this plan still spends too much and does too little to fix the real, existing problems New Yorkers deal with day in and day out. People need Albany’s help making New York more affordable, fixing our roads, providing access to affordable internet and safeguarding our communities from the ongoing crime spree that these so-called bail reforms exacerbated.”
The budgets were proof Albany Democrats don’t care about the concerns of everyday New Yorkers, said State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay.
“Poll after poll have shown residents’ top concerns to be rising crime and the state’s lack of affordability,” he said. “The Majority’s response? A record-breaking $236 billion budget and a back-breaking tax increase on the group of New Yorkers who already pay the largest share of taxes and who are fleeing the state in droves. Even more concerning is that the outrageous level of spending in this budget is unsustainable and sets the stage for deficits and big, broad-based tax increases in the years to come.”
Pleas from small businesses were ignored, Borrello said.
“A minimum wage increase proposal even more aggressive than the one proposed by the Executive would devastate our economy, family farms and employers of every size,” he said. “Despite a $10 billion revenue surplus, not a dime was allocated to help small businesses who have been unjustly burdened with paying the $8 billion in unemployment insurance debt caused by the state.”
But the budget bills did include some improvements over Hochul’s plan, including restoration of $625 million in Medicaid assistance to communities, he said, finding little to like otherwise.
“It is clear from this budget that the Majority has no intention of shifting away from the radical agenda of recent years, an agenda that has made New York into a showcase for the failures of the far left,” Borrello said. “The funding and policies in this plan would only worsen the problems New Yorkers are most concerned about, which is why I voted against it.”
State Sen. Pamela Helming, R-Canandaigua, also voted no, saying the budgets represented a 39 percent increase compared to 2009.
“It shortchanges our veterans by not including additional funds for the Dwyer Program,” she said. “It weakens public safety by rejecting the Executive’s proposal that would have addressed judicial discretion, and instead, advances language to enact the ‘Clean Slate Act,’ which provides for the automatic sealing of criminal conviction records for misdemeanors and felonies.
“This budget includes provisions that ban gas hookups in new construction of family homes starting January 1, 2025, and extends producer responsibility measures that would skyrocket the cost of business for local restaurants and small businesses,” she continued. “ ... We cannot get our economy moving again or get people back to work unless we fight for our small businesses. We must do better and we can do better for New Yorkers.”
The budgets introduced this week are scheduled for committee votes in their respective houses on Thursday, but negotiations between the Assembly, Senate and governor will continue over the next few weeks as they try to negotiate a single budget that can be agreed upon by all three. The state Constitution requires the budget be completed by April 1, but negotiations can sometimes run late and hold off passage of the final bill into April.