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Albany wraps up budget, sprints to end of session

The big news out of New York’s capital last week was that Governor Hochul and state lawmakers finally adopted a budget. The final budget – over one month late – with a price tag $9 billion more than last year (roughly 4.5% more) and made numerous changes to policies not closely tied to the budget.

Governor Hochul had jammed up budget negotiations in order to secure changes in the state’s bail laws to give judges more discretion to require that defendants post bail or stay in jail after arrest. The issue of the state’s rising crime rate hurt the governor when she ran for election last year and she was determined to get changes to the bail law. While the connections between bail standards and the rising crime rate are, at best, debatable, she was able to obtain the changes that she wanted.

In another largely not-tied-to-the-budget issue, the governor and state leaders approved a measure that will require that new buildings constructed later this decade will have to rely on electricity, not fossil fuels, to power them. Environmentalists largely cheered the agreement since it will significantly limit the use of fossil fuels going into the future. New York is the first state to approve such a mandate.

The $229 billion budget was approved without many significant cuts to programs as the state has been awash in cash as the pandemic ebbed and federal funding was still available. College students and their families should be happy – the governor’s proposed public college tuition hike and her proposed cuts to financial aid programs for the needy were rejected. Instead, the state will provide resources to the State University of New York (and the City University of New York) to fund necessary spending. Left unaddressed in this area is adopting a state plan for reversing the financial decline at many public and private colleges.

The budget would also add to the “rainy day” fund as it is expected that the state will face increasing fiscal difficulties in the years to come as federal COVID financial support dries up.

Now that the budget is finally finished, lawmakers now turn their attention to non-budget policy issues. With the end of session scheduled for June 8th, that leaves little time to grapple with complicated legislation.

One issue that impacts the budget and will be central to state spending and policies is how to address the state’s aging infrastructure – in particular roads, bridges and coastline protection – in the age of climate change.

New Yorkers have already spent hundreds of millions on climate damages and resilience this year alone. Governor Hochul recently announced a taxpayer funded $4 million coastal resiliency project in Jefferson County, part of a $300 million resiliency project for Lake Ontario. And in just the first two months of this year, she announced a combined $750 million in taxpayer funds to pay for climate change-driven damages. The Long Island Regional Planning Council is projecting $75 to $100 billion in taxpayer funds for new roads and other infrastructure improvements, thanks to worsening storms and sea level rise.

In addition, a new study from NYS Comptroller DiNapoli found that over a ten-year period (the last five and next five years), 55% of New York localities’ municipal spending outside of NYC was or will be related to climate change. Separately, the State Comptroller’s office looked at New York City’s FY 2023 budget and found that the City plans to spend $829 million on projects fully intended for climate change adaptation and resilience just this year. The City also plans to spend an additional $1.3 billion on projects that are partially for these purposes.

Right now, New York taxpayers are on the hook to pay for climate change resiliency and damage projects. And those costs will only increase.

In the budget, the state Senate advanced a plan to make the biggest oil companies pay $3 billion annually for the next 25 years to help cover those costs. The Senate plan was also designed to ensure that Big Oil could not pass those onto the public.

Yet the governor reportedly opposed the plan and it was rejected from the budget.

The climate costs are projected to rise to as much as $10 billion annually. Governor Hochul apparently wants those costs to be completely borne by the public. Legislation in both houses seeks to change that by putting the biggest oil companies on the hook, advancing the Senate’s budget plan in a separate bill. We’ll see how that legislation progresses post-budget. Will both houses approve the plan and force the governor to decide whether she stands with fossil fuel companies or New York taxpayers when it comes to paying for climate costs? By early June, we’ll know.

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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