ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Crime, high fuel prices and child care are among the big issues on the negotiating table as the Democrats who control New York state government try to hammer out a state budget deal.
This year’s budget negotiations are the first for Gov. Kathy Hochul, who took office over the summer and is trying to solidify her status as the frontrunner in the Democratic primary.
Like other state budget fights in recent years, this one has been an intraparty struggle between centrists and the left, with Republicans largely weighing in from the sidelines.
Hochul has asked legislative leaders to approve a $216 billion spending plan. The budget is due by Friday, April 1, though that deadline can be extended.
The governor said Thursday she was having “productive conversations” with leaders of the state Senate and Assembly.
“I appreciate their collaboration and good faith approach to these negotiations,” Hochul said in a prepared release. “We are getting closer to agreement, with consensus on major policy items.”
The governor threw a curveball with just days to go before that deadline by asking the legislature to help the Buffalo Bills build a new stadium — a deal that would involve at least $1.1 billion in state and county aid to the team. Some lawmakers have pushed back on the proposal.
Here are some of the other top issues in the budget talks:
A spate of headline-grabbing crimes and a rise in gun violence during the pandemic have prompted some lawmakers to push for changes to the state’s bail laws — including some that would partly roll back recent reforms intended to make the criminal justice system less unfair to the poor.
New York eliminated bail for many nonviolent felonies in 2020 to address the inequity of poor people being jailed because they couldn’t afford to buy their release, while wealthier people accused of the same crimes went free.
Hochul’s administration circulated a draft plan that would reinstate bail for some crimes, plus give judges latitude to decide whether some people might be dangerous if released.
Those changes have the support of some law enforcement figures who claim the earlier bail reforms have made New Yorkers less safe.
The proposed changes have met with stiff resistance, though, from liberal Democrats, who say there is no evidence they had a real impact on crime.
New York looks poised to dramatically increase state support for child care. The question is, by how much?
Currently, families in New York whose household income is up to 200% of federal poverty level qualify for subsidized child care.
Hochul has proposed a $1.5 billion plan increasing it to up to 300% of the federal poverty level over three years, but the Legislature forwarded more expansive plans.
The Assembly’s plan includes over $3 billion in child care investments to expand eligibility to 400% over three years.
The Senate proposed a $4.1 billion plan that would expand access to subsidized care to households earning up to 500% of the federal poverty level by 2024.
PUMP PRICE RELIEF
New York could join other states responding to soaring gasoline prices by either slashing state fuel taxes or offering rebates.
State officials around the nation have been weighing tax breaks and rebates in recent weeks with pandemic-induced inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hiking prices at the pump.
In New York, proponents of the tax break have noted state and local taxes on a gallon of gas are around 50 cents.
The budget could authorize three casino licenses for the New York City area a year sooner than planned.
An amendment to the state Constitution approved by voters in 2013 authorized seven casinos statewide. But state leaders initially agreed to wait until 2023 to move ahead on downstate casinos in order to give four upstate casinos time to establish themselves.
Hochul said the new casinos would provide “substantial” revenue for state education aid through license fees and tax payments.
The Assembly and Senate separately proposed adding at least $1 billion in funding to New York’s tapped-out Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which was created to help people who suffered economic setbacks in the pandemic.
The aid program that helps landlords and tenants struggling with unpaid back rent and utilities had originally received $2.4 billion in federal funding, with more funds coming later.
New York’s eviction moratorium expired in January. Individuals who applied for rental assistance have eviction protection while their applications are reviewed.
HOME CARE WAGES
Lawmakers were looking at boosting pay for home care workers.
One proposal would require that home health and personal care aides be paid at least 50% more than the minimum wage for their region.
Proponents argue that home care workers are desperately needed and should receive fair wages.
UNDOCUMENTED NEW YORKERS
Both chambers had proposed $345 million for a state health coverage option for more than 150,000 low-income New Yorkers whose immigration status bars them from getting health insurance.
New York has exhausted its $2.1 billion pandemic relief fund for workers whose immigration status made them ineligible for federal stimulus checks and other COVID-19 relief.