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New York state budget talks intensify as deadline looms

New York state legislative leaders begin the General Conference Committee meeting on March 20, 2023.
Karen DeWitt
New York State Public Radio
New York state legislative leaders begin the General Conference Committee meeting on March 20, 2023.

New York’s legislative leaders kicked off what’s expected to be an intense two weeks of state budget negotiations on Monday with a public meeting to lay out their priorities on housing, crime, taxes and other issues as talks with Gov. Kathy Hochul intensify.

The meeting of the General Conference Committee, known colloquially as the “mothership,” marks the start of the end phase of budget talks, when legislative leaders start making deals with the governor in order to agree on a spending plan.

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, both Democrats, already detailed their plans on March 15. In them, they rejected several key proposals from Hochul, who is also a Democrat, including further revisions to the state’s controversial bail reform laws, which ended many forms of cash bail.

The Senate and Assembly budgets do not include Hochul’s proposal to allow the state to override local zoning laws to build more housing. They also said no to the governor’s plan to alter the rules to allow more charter schools, and they’re against raising tuition at public colleges and universities. Stewart-Cousins said they want to instead provide direct monetary support to campuses.

“We're also investing in higher education while rejecting tuition increases for SUNY and CUNY,” she said.

Democratic lawmakers also reject Hochul’s plan to ban flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, Heastie said.

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“I don’t think there’s enough support to support the governor’s proposal among our members at this point,” he said.

Republicans, who are in the minority party in both houses, said they disagree with many items in the Democrats’ plans.

Senate GOP Leader Robert Ortt said he backs Hochul’s proposal on bail reform, which would give judges more discretion when deciding on charges of serious crimes. But he said the governor doesn’t go far enough to reverse what he calls the law’s harmful effects.

“We need to address violent crime and the fallout of these disastrous bail and discovery reforms,” he said.

Ortt said the Democrats’ spending plans also don’t address the $11 billion unemployment insurance debt that New York owes to the federal government. Currently, the state is requiring that private businesses contribute more to pay it back.

Republicans also object to new taxes in the Democratic legislators’ budgets.

Both the Assembly and Senate want to raise income taxes on New Yorkers making more than $5 million. Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay is objecting to the Assembly majority’s proposal to impose an 8% tax on subscriptions to streaming services, like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

“And with the proposals to tax streaming services, the state is now going to charge you to watch ‘Ted Lasso,’” Barclay said.

With the bigger-than-usual differences between the governor’s and legislators’ spending plans, all say it will be a challenge to get everything done by the March 31 deadline.

Heastie said he won’t mind if the spending plan is a little bit late.

“I've always felt a good budget is more important than an on-time budget,” Heastie told reporters after the meeting.

Hochul has already said she also would rather get the budget agreement she wants, even if it comes later in April.

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.