June 8, 2023
Battle lines drawn in NY state budget fight over bail, charter schools and other Gov. Hochul priorities

Battle lines drawn in NY state budget fight over bail, charter schools and other Gov. Hochul priorities

ALBANY — Legislative leaders drew lines in the sand on bail, taxes and housing mandates as they laid out their fiscal priorities this week and set up a budget showdown with Gov. Hochul.

The governor’s fellow Democrats, who maintain a supermajority in the Legislature, put forth budget blueprints this week that reject many of the marquee proposals included in Hochul’s $227 billion executive budget.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) downplayed the wide gulf between lawmakers and the governor Wednesday on issues including charter schools, changes to the state’s bail law and housing with only two weeks remaining until the state’s final spending plan is due.

Gov. Kathy Hochul

“I think we’ve all looked at the issues and … there are different approaches but what I always say is that we’re all rowing in the same direction for the most part,” she said.

Differences over bail reform have hampered negotiations in the past. Last year’s budget was more than a week late after Hochul insisted on giving judges more discretion to set bail in cases involving repeat offenders, guns and defendants who are in violation of orders of protection.

This year, the governor again wants to amend the law to remove the “least restrictive” standard meant to ensure a defendant returns to court, arguing that the measure conflicts with other statutes.

Neither chamber appears ready to revisit the issue.

“We want to deal with data,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We all want to combat violent crime. I think we have to keep our eyes on what is important: keeping New Yorkers safe and not confusing New Yorkers with false equivalencies and false connections.”

Senate Majority Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins

Republicans, as well as Democratic Mayor Adams, have repeatedly linked bail reforms to increases in crime and have pushed for further rollbacks despite a lack of evidence.

Hochul’s latest call to again amend the law comes on the heels of a closer-than-expected gubernatorial win over Republican Lee Zeldin, who hammered the governor on crime during last year’s campaign.

Instead of once again overhauling bail, Stewart-Cousins said investments in mental health, education and violence prevention will “help to combat crime.”

“What I want to do is put the focus, put the emphasis, where it belongs,” she added.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), likewise indicated that there’s little appetite to revisit bail among his members.

“I’ve said that this argument has been political all along,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) told reporters. “You’re not going to incarcerate people into crime dropping.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie

Lawmakers also countered Hochul’s ambitious plan to spark a new housing boom, requesting more tenant protections and incentives for municipalities to build instead of the governor’s call to override local zoning laws if towns don’t meet certain targets.

The governor’s resistance to increasing taxes will also likely be a point of contention as both houses want to see the state’s wealthiest resident contribute more to the state’s coffers. Lawmakers have also said they want to see the state’s minimum wage increased before they agree to Hochul’s plan to tie future bumps to inflation.

Budget negotiations got underway with tensions already high in the State Capitol after Senate Democrats handed the governor a historic defeat earlier this year when they rejected her nominee to lead the state’s judicial system.

The governor, however, has indicated she’s ready to stand by her plans and is willing to play hard ball with lawmakers.

“I would like an on-time budget. I’m not planning on one that’s not,” Hochul said on Monday. “But I also know that I’m here to do the work of the people of New York State and they expect me to not leave town until the job’s done.”

Mayor Adams, whose priorities closely align with those of the governor, said he remains hopeful that compromises can be worked out.

“Now it’s about going to the tables, there are going to be table conversations,” he told reporters during an unrelated press conference in Brooklyn. “This is part of the process, where each house will list their priorities. We are looking forward to the next level of this. It is not done until it is done.”

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