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State budget deadline set to come and go with no agreement on a new spending plan

Gov. Kathy Hochul discusses the state budget in an interview with public radio on March 30, 2023.
Peter Wendler
Gov. Kathy Hochul discusses the state budget in an interview with public radio on March 30, 2023.

The deadline for the new state budget was set to come and go Friday without a new spending plan in place.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders threw in the towel on Thursday, saying they were too far apart on key issues to be done in time.

The deadline is April 1.

Hochul is seeking more changes to the state’s controversial bail reform laws and an ambitious housing plan that could build 800,000 new units in the next several years, and in some circumstances, override local zoning laws to do so.

So far, the Legislature has not agreed to either of those plans.

Hochul, in an interview with public radio on Thursday, said she’s not giving up on her agenda, but she will need more time to reach a deal with the Senate and Assembly.

“I think it's just a reality check,” said Hochul, who added she’d had “very productive meetings” with legislative leaders.

“But there's a lot of issues that are still outstanding,” she said. “If we can take more time to get it right, that's more important than getting it on time.”

Hochul wants to give judges more discretion to set bail for more serious charges by eliminating a clause in the law, added last year, that requires judges consider the “least restrictive” means of ensuring that a defendant returns for their court dates.

Legislative leaders, who, like Hochul, are Democrats, have resisted the changes, saying bail reform is being unfairly blamed for the state and nationwide crime spike.

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins hinted that Senate Democrats might be open to a more narrow tweaking of the law to make it easier for judges to make decisions on whether to set bail. She said that could potentially satisfy the governor.

“She wants to make sure there is a clarification of the jurisdiction, and the discretion, that the judiciary has,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We want to help to clarify the judicial discretion, as well as keep the integrity of our bail laws.”

Assembly Democrats also do not agree with the governor’s proposal.

ButAssembly Speaker Carl Heastie said his Democratic conference presented Hochul with a counterproposal. He did not offer details but said he’s not averse to fixing any potential errors in the law to make it easier for judges to operate their courts.

“There’s always room for compromise,” Heastie said. “Particularly when it comes to clarifying things that we believe are in the law. If things need to be cleared up, we don’t have an issue.”

Heastie said bail reform, along with the governor’s housing agenda, have bogged down budget talks. Both houses say they want to increase grants to localities who agree to build more housing, but they’re not on board with proposals to override local governments’ authority to enact and enforce their own zoning laws.

Heastie said there has not yet been time to focus on other parts of the budget.

“If and when these two big dominoes fall, can things move a little quicker? Sure,” Heastie said.

He said outstanding items include education aid and health care, how much total spending will be necessary, and whether taxes need to be raised on the wealthy to help pay for it all.

If there’s no budget agreement by later in the day on Monday, Hochul and the Legislature will need to agree on a spending extender, which would keep government functions running and ensure that state workers will be paid.

With Passover beginning the evening of April 5, and Easter on April 9, the extender could be a lengthy one.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.