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New York's budget deal runs late

Like many of New York State’s budget deals, this year’s is late. How late is anyone’s guess, but if recent history is any guide, an agreement will come soon. Among the major contributing factors to the missed budget deadline are the governor’s last minute demands for changes to the state’s criminal justice law and her agreement to use hundreds of millions of tax dollars to pick up the lion’s share of costs for a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills NFL franchise.

Assuming that the state’s political leaders come to an agreement within the next few days, it looks like the deal will end up spending more than Governor Hochul’s proposed $216 billion, maybe even a lot more. Yet, given that the state is flush with cash – thanks to federal bailouts and better-than-expected state tax revenues – it’s not surprising that a lot will get spent.

A bigger question is what policies will go along with the budget agreement?

Usually a state budget is a mix of spending plans and policy changes that often go along with those plans. Often the budget agreement includes policies that have little to do with the state spending, but are included as another piece of the budget puzzle that the governor and legislative leaders piece together to forge an agreement.

One example of such an issue is the state’s climate change plans. Of course, the state has spent – and will continue to do so for decades to come – monies for the mitigation and adaptation costs of reacting to a rapidly heating planet. Under the best of circumstances, the state will spend billions annually to confront climate change.

So addressing the worsening climate catastrophe has budget implications, but not all climate plans are directly attributable to state spending. For example, in her budget the governor proposes that the state’s housing code drastically restrict the use of gas (or other fossil fuels) in new building construction. Her plan is modeled on a new law in New York City – likely the building capital of the world – which bans the use of gas power for cooking and heating in new buildings as of 2024.

Hochul’s plan is similar, but goes into effect in 2027. Environmentalists are pushing back, arguing for a 2024 deadline that tracked New York City.

Opponents, led by the American Petroleum Institute, have launched a campaign of misinformation to confuse lawmakers. As we all know, the oil, coal, and gas companies have been very successful in undermining environmental legislation that would have reduced the likelihood of climate catastrophe. The fossil fuel industry also worked to install political toadies in federal, state, and local elected offices to stop climate protection legislation.

As a result, sea levels are rising, ice caps are melting, famine is spreading, wildfires are huge, and storms are staggeringly – and unprecedentedly – dangerous.

The oil lobby and their allies are using the same playbook in New York. One argument that they have been using to great effect is to attack the science behind “heat pumps.” Heat pumps offer an energy-efficient alternative to furnaces and air conditioners for all climates. Like your refrigerator, heat pumps use electricity to transfer heat from a cool space to a warm space, making the cool space cooler and the warm space warmer. During the heating season, heat pumps move heat from the cool outdoors into your warm house. During the cooling season, heat pumps move heat from your house into the outdoors.

You would think that on its face, lawmakers would understand that “heat pumps” have that name for a reason – they heat homes. But the smokescreen that the oil industry and their pals are arguing is that heat pumps don’t work in really cold places, like upstate New York.

You’d understand why opponents would ignore the facts, but why would lawmakers ignore the fact that heat pumps operate at more than double the efficiency of gas systems below zero and have been successfully field tested in Minnesota and the Arctic Circle. More than 60% of Norwegian households use heat pumps as their primary source of heat. Heat pumps now dominate the market in Europe for both new and existing buildings. They’re also working well in cold places in the U.S. like Minnesota and Maine – and yes – New York.

Another of the opponents’ arguments has been that New York doesn’t have the electrical capacity to produce the power needed if new construction (and cars) rely on electricity. The legislation doesn’t go into effect right away, so the additional power needed in the short-term is small.

The New York Independent System Operator recently concluded that the state “will meet all currently applicable reliability criteria from 2021 through 2030 for forecasted system demand,” which means that they believe that the state has sufficient power to cover its energy needs through the end of the decade.

We all know that the world has to kick the fossil fuel “habit” and that power will come to our homes from either the electrical grid or personal alternative energy sources. Requiring that all future building construction rely on electricity for power makes sense and over the long haul will save money. Constructing buildings in that manner is far cheaper than retrofitting them later.

Inaction has its own costs beyond the cost of housing. Failure to aggressively respond to the ongoing and growing threat of global warming will have far worse costs than anything imagined for New York’s housing stock.

The oil companies have bamboozled lawmakers before, this budget (and this session) will reveal if they have done it again.

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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  • This week, Albany may well finalize a deal on the state’s upcoming budget, an agreement that is supposed to be in place by April 1. The final budget will clock in at some $216 billion – the largest in state history. This year’s budget negotiations have been one of, if not the most, secretive in memory. The information black-out makes it essentially impossible for even the most astute Capitol-watcher to know how the budget deal will play out.
  • New York State lawmakers are moving closer to a final budget. Both the state Senate and state Assembly have separately advanced budget plans as countermeasures to Governor Hochul’s proposed budget. Last week, both houses began the process of harmonizing their plans in order to meet the March 31st deadline for a final agreement.
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