Hochul announces conceptual agreement on the four-week late state budget
Governor Kathy Hochul announced Thursday evening that she and legislative leaders have a conceptual agreement on the nearly one month late state budget. The governor said bills could be printed as soon as next week.
Hochul called the news conference a couple of hours after Senate and Assembly members left the Capitol for the weekend, saying that there were too many unresolved issues to approve a spending plan this week.
The governor, who appeared alone, without the two Democratic legislative leaders, said there was sufficient agreement with the legislature on major items to announce the conceptual accord.
“A few hours ago, we agreed that we're at a point where the major decisions have been made. There's obviously fine tuning that has to be done. That'll be worked out over the weekend,” Hochul said. “But literally bills can start being printed and we’re on a path to shutting down the budget process.”
The governor had to give up some core elements of her agenda, including a plan to build 800,000 new housing units over the next decade. She blamed the legislature for resisting elements of the plan that would have allowed the state to override local zoning laws. But she says they will try again in the remaining weeks of the session.
Hochul did achieve one of her top priorities. She convinced lawmakers to make more changes to the state’s controversial bail reform laws. It will give judges more power to set bail in cases of serious crimes, by eliminating a requirement that they seek the “least restrictive means” to ensure a defendant comes back for court dates. Hochul said that clause was leading to higher recidivism rates for more serious felony crimes.
“I'm here to announce that we've made improvements to our bail laws. The agreement removes what is known as the least restrictive means standard, which many judges have said tied their hands,” Hochul said. “It gives judges discretion. They need to hold violent criminals accountable, while still upholding our commitment to a justice system that is fair and accessible to all and also ensuring that poverty is never treated as a crime.”
The governor had sought the opening of 100 additional charter schools, the final agreement will yield 22 schools.
Existing public schools will receive a record $24 billion in state aid, finally fulfilling a court order that requires all schools be fairly funded.
The legislature did not agree to a proposal by Hochul to raise tuition at public colleges and universities.
Hochul said there’s agreement to raise the state’s minimum wage to $17 an hour and tie future increases to the rate of inflation.
And there’s accord on a plan to help curb climate change. It includes a ban on gas hookups of new homes by 2025 and for all new buildings by 2028. It also includes $400 million in subsidies to low income households struggling to pay utility bills and to help upgrade to more energy efficient heating systems.
There’s agreement to implement a so called- cap and invest program, where power plants that emit greenhouse gas emissions have to purchase allowance for the pollution they produce. But Hochul said the details have not yet been nailed down.
And, she said the budget includes new powers for state agencies to close down illegal cannabis shops operating across the state. Hochul said they are unfairly competing with the emerging state created legal marijuana industry, where just five retail outlets are currently allowed to sell the drug.
“What we did not have was a mechanism for individuals from office of cannabis management, or from our state tax and finance office to go in and enforce the laws they needed,” the governor said. “They weren't even able to allow to do searches because we only had civil penalties and not criminal penalties.”
The agencies would have the authority to conduct searches and seizure of illegal products, and impose fines and bring criminal charges, under the state’s tax laws.
Spokespersons for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins confirmed that a conceptual agreement has been reached on the spending plan, but did not say why the leaders were not at the announcement. They also could not immediately provide a timetable for when bills might be voted on.
Assembly spokesman Mike Whyland also offered the caveat, that while there is an overall accord, the details of many issues remain unresolved.