June 9, 2023
NY state budget talks drag on past deadline as Gov. Hochul, legislators go back-and-forth on bail, housing

NY state budget talks drag on past deadline as Gov. Hochul, legislators go back-and-forth on bail, housing

ALBANY — Lawmakers made for the exits Friday at the state Capitol as Gov. Hochul and legislative leaders prepared to blow past the midnight budget deadline and continue negotiations throughout the weekend.

Disagreements over proposed changes to the state’s bail law and housing mandates have hampered discussions, and common ground appeared to be elusive despite the state’s new fiscal year, which begins Saturday.

Members of the Democrat-led Legislature returned to their home districts for the weekend as Hochul dug in her heels on bail and leaders pushed back on the governor’s plan to override local zoning rules if municipalities fail to meet certain housing construction targets.

Governor Kathy Hochul

“I’ve been very clear on what I’m looking for. I’m looking to restore people’s confidence in our system,” the governor said Friday when asked about whether she is willing to waver on her bail plan. “There have been very productive conversations… many meetings as recently as yesterday and regular conversations about how we meet our mutual objectives and protecting public safety.”

Hochul’s latest proposed bail reform rollback, included in her $227 billion budget blueprint, would remove the “least restrictive” standard judges are meant to follow when setting bail for serious crimes.

The governor claims the clause, which predates 2019 reforms limiting 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.

On Thursday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said bail and housing are “taking up most of the oxygen in the room.”

Assemblyman Carl Heastie

Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) have both expressed concerns about again amending the controversial statute after agreeing to rollbacks twice over the past two years.

Stewart-Cousins said that she doesn’t expect a “very late” budget and discussions are ongoing on a variety of issues.

“There’s just a lot of big policy issues that the governor had put in her budget that require discussions that we are all happy to have and we are having,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins

“Everything is on the table — you’re gonna hear me say that a lot,” Stewart-Cousins added. “That’s why I’m saying we’re in the middle of the middle.”

While Hochul and both leaders said a budget extender — which prolongs the current budget — is likely to be approved in the coming days so that state workers can be paid, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli called on the three sides to reach a deal as expeditiously as possible.

“The governor and Legislature are discussing many important issues as they work to finalize the state budget, but they need to find common ground and resolve them soon,” DiNapoli said.

The state’s fiscal watchdog also pushed back on a proposal from Hochul that would limit oversight by exempting $12.8 billion in spending from review by the comptroller’s office and another $2.6 billion from competitive bidding.

“The final budget should also meet high standards of transparency, and I urge lawmakers to reject the proposed changes, which eliminate competitive bidding requirements and oversight by my office of nearly $13 billion in spending,” DiNapoli said.

Good government groups have backed the comptroller’s call for more transparency and also noted Friday that the Legislature’s one-house budget bills would add millions in new lump sum pots, also known as discretionary funds, that could be spent with little oversight.

Reinvent Albany and the Citizens Budget Commission released a joint report, titled “Lump Sum Warning,” on Friday arguing that such spending can “fuel undemocratic and special interest driven policies since they are allocated in private, outside of the relatively more transparent process of negotiating, publishing and adopting the State budget.”

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