June 9, 2023
Advocates crowd NY Capitol as budget negotiations continue and deadline looms

Advocates crowd NY Capitol as budget negotiations continue and deadline looms

ALBANY — Backers of tenant protections and raising taxes on New York’s wealthiest residents pleaded their cases at the state Capitol on Wednesday as Gov. Hochul and Legislative leaders negotiated a state spending plan behind closed doors.

At least 36 activists were handcuffed and escorted from the Capitol after setting up sleeping bags and moving boxes outside of the governor’s office as they called for renter-friendly measures to be included in the state budget.

“This fight is personal to me. My landlord said I could be evicted within weeks — after I fought a 75% rent hike on the apartment I’ve called home for decades,” said Dorca Reynoso, an Inwood tenant and board member of the Met Council on Housing.

“I’m scared to death, but I’m still here because I’m even more scared that more communities will be torn apart if we don’t do something,” Reynoso said.

The groups hope Hochul and the Democrat-led Legislature will get their message and include measures that could give tenants defenses against evictions — the right to challenge unreasonable rent increases and a separate program making vouchers available to those at risk of homelessness.

Hochul, a Democrat, and legislative leaders are working to reach common ground on the governor’s $227 billion budget plan as the state’s new fiscal year begins on April 1, which is Saturday.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul presents her executive state budget in the Red Room at the state Capitol Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

Insiders say early negotiations have centered around Hochul’s proposed rollbacks to the state’s 2019 bail reforms.

Both Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) have expressed reservations about revisiting the bail issue after altering the law twice in the past two years.

The governor hopes to remove the “least restrictive” standard judges are meant to follow when setting bail for serious crimes.

Hochul claims the clause, which predates the 2019 reforms that limited pretrial detention for most nonviolent crimes, has led to confusion among judges after changes included in last year’s budget directed jurists to weigh a host of other factors when considering bail.

Proponents of the current system say Hochul’s plan would gut the law and remove the sole purpose of bail, which is to ensure that someone returns to court.

Senate Majority Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

“Gov. Hochul’s proposal to erode bail reform would only further cement the racism and unfairness inherent in the practice of pretrial detention,” Jocelyn Simonson, professor and associate dean for research and scholarship at Brooklyn Law School, said following the release of letter opposing the bail changes signed by over 100 law professors.

“The proposed changes would give judges even more power to use racism — whether intentionally or not — to cage people because of the color of their skin,” Simonson added.

One insider with knowledge of the negotiations said a three-way agreement could be reached if the changes are scaled back and only applied to violent repeat offenders, something Mayor Adams has advocated for.

Hochul is also pushing for sweeping changes meant to address New York’s housing crisis by prompting municipalities to build more and focus on transit-oriented development.

Advocates are pushing lawmakers to resist Hochul’s housing proposal unless tenant protections are included.

At one point in the day, benches and other furniture were removed from the War Room, an ornate ante-chamber adjacent to the governor’s office where advocates calling for increasing taxes on the rich have gathered and attempted to camp out in recent days.

While Hochul has repeatedly said she doesn’t want to raise income taxes, Democrats in both the Senate and Assembly pitched plans to bump up rates for New Yorkers making more than $5 million a year.

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