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Talks continue with New York state budget nearly a week late

 New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaking at the University at Buffalo Aug. 31, 2021
WAMC screenshot
New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaking at the University at Buffalo Aug. 31, 2021

Governor Kathy Hochul and New York state lawmakers inched closer to a budget agreement today, six days after the spending plan was due, but didn’t cross the finish line.

After being in session for just over 5 minutes, the Senate adjourned until Thursday morning, ensuring that there won’t be any budget bills ready for the chamber to vote on until at least then.

Hochul and the Legislature are keeping details of the budget talks close to the vest, but Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris confirms that one major sticking point is close to being settled. He says there’s consensus on making some changes to the state’s landmark 2019 criminal justice reforms that ended most forms of cash bail.

“It’s as close as you can get to an agreement without the bills being printed,” Gianaris said. “We are moving on from those issues onto the rest of the budget.”

Gianaris did not divulge specifics, but proposals that were being discussed include adding back some gun-related crimes to the list of offenses where judges can set bail, and easing discovery laws. Those laws permit defendants to see evidence that prosecutors hold against them. District attorneys say the 2019 reforms set shorter timelines to turn over evidence that are too onerous, and as a result, they’ve had to drop the prosecution of some criminal cases.

A measure to make it easier for judges to order mandatory hospitalization or outpatient treatment for mentally ill people accused of crimes was not yet settled.

Democrats, who control the Senate and Assembly, were still holding closed-door party meetings on many of the spending items. They include whether to mandate that home health care workers get a significant pay increase, and whether to create a universal child care plan.

Also likely to be approved: some kind of gasoline tax holiday to ease rising prices at the pump, and a temporary measure to allow restaurants to offer alcoholic drinks along with takeout food.

Details of a plan to speed up the timetable for the siting of three new casinos in downstate New York were being worked out, as local elected officials in New York City called for more control over where the gaming centers might be located.

And a plan to help fund a new Buffalo Bills stadium, announced by Hochul in late March, continued to draw opposition. Opponents say the state and local governments could have to pay for more than a billion dollars in costs.

Hochul, speaking on Monday, defended the stadium deal, saying that the NFL and the Bills’ owners will finance more than half of the deal. The governor spoke as home health care advocates chanted in the background.

“It is not majority taxpayer-funded, I just want to be clear on that,” Hochul told reporters. “The state’s share is 43%.”

The governor and lawmakers have already approved a spending extender that’s good through Thursday. If the budget remains unfinished after that, they will likely have to approve another extender so that New York can continue to make its payments and deliver checks to state workers.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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