Budget extender ensures an even later state spending plan
The state Senate and Assembly are poised to pass a short-term spending authorization that’s good through Thursday, after failing once again to reach an agreement with Gov. Kathy Hochul on a state budget, which is now four days late.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the extender ensures that 62,000 state employees who work at hospitals, prisons and other institutional settings will be paid on time Wednesday.
“We want to make sure that all of our dedicated public servants are getting their paycheck,” Heastie said. “And it will give us a couple more days to finish this process up.”
The budget’s been held up as Hochul presses for changes to the 2019 criminal justice reforms, which ended cash bail for most crimes.
Hochul wants to once again make some gun-related crimes eligible for bail. She also wants to amend changes to the state’s discovery laws, which allow defendants to see, in a timely manner, any evidence against them in order to prepare their defense. Prosecutors say the 2019 law makes it too difficult for them to build cases, and they’ve had to drop charges in some instances.
The governor also wants to revise what’s known as Kendra’s Law to make it easier to mandate that mentally ill New Yorkers who might be a danger to themselves or others be hospitalized or be required to receive outpatient treatments.
Many Democratic lawmakers championed the bail reform laws as a way to treat Black and brown New Yorkers more equitably in the criminal justice system. They have been reluctant to make some of the changes without seeing more evidence that the reforms are linked to the crime spike in New York and the nation.
Heastie said Hochul’s proposed criminal justice changes, and other items not directly related to the state’s spending plan, were bound to drag the process out.
“I predicted this,” Heastie said. “If we’re going to be dealing with a budget with all these conversations around policy, it’s going to be late. So here we are.”
Heastie said the Assembly’s budget plan did not include any policy items. He said those should be debated outside of budget talks.
Government watchdog groups say the 2022 budget talks are among the most secretive in recent history.
Blair Horner with the New York Public Interest Research Group said Hochul promised transparency when she took office last August.
“This has been one of the most secretive budgets I’ve ever seen,” Horner said. “I feel sort of like I’m in the Vatican City waiting for the smoke to come out of the chimney, in terms of how much information we have.”
Even legislative leaders, who need to approve the budget plan, have at times been kept in the dark.
Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she didn’t know about a controversial plan to build a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, which could cost taxpayers over $1 billion, until Hochul and NFL officials announced it. Three days after the deal was announced, Stewart-Cousins said she still had not seen all of the details.
“We are still trying to figure out what the parameters are,” Stewart-Cousins said on March 31.
Hochul, breaking a 10-day silence on the budget, spoke about it Monday as she appeared publicly to receive her second COVID-19 booster shot. She said one of the factors contributing to the late budget was a COVID outbreak last week among her top negotiating staff. Hochul ended a statewide mask mandate in early March.
The governor, speaking as protesters advocating for better pay for home health care workers chanted in the Capitol’s hallways, said she doesn’t believe the budget talks have been secretive. She said she is “proud” of her record on transparency and accountability.
“This is a very normal process,” Hochul said. “And we are just going through what we believe is going to be a very good budget, ultimately.”
Hochul offered no details of budget talks but promised that they will be concluded “very soon.”
Proposals that are still being discussed include providing New Yorkers some relief on the soaring gasoline prices, either by suspending the state’s gas tax or mailing out rebate checks, along with making permanent a rule issued earlier in the pandemic that allows restaurants to offer alcoholic drinks to go.