New York lawmakers finalize $220 billion budget, boosted by federal funds
ALBANY, NY (AP) — New York is expected to rely on an influx of federal funds and higher-than-expected tax revenues to balance a $220 billion one-year state budget, which lawmakers passed Saturday morning.
Disagreements over political issues delayed passage of the spending plan more than a week past the April 1 deadline. The budget has often served over the decades as a vehicle for passing major political legislation, and this year is used to tackle issues that should resonate with voters in an election year.
The budget will head to Governor Kathy Hochul’s office for its expected signature. Plans to raise wages for health and home care workers, cut the cost of a gallon of gas by 16 cents through December and help New Yorkers pay unpaid rent and utility bills.
Some Democrats voted against parts of the spending plan, in part to crack down on repeat offenders. Those lawmakers also called for more spending on homeworkers rather than spending $850 million to support a new $1.4 billion stadium for the Buffalo Bills, which is owned by billionaires Terry and Kim Pegula.
Here’s an overview of what’s in the budget.
Homeowners can expect tax relief: New York is expected to spend $2.2 billion on one-time property tax refunds for low- and middle-income homeowners. That discount would arrive this fall, when the Democratic governor is expected to appear on the ballot.
New York should also cut middle-class tax rates by $162 million by April 2023, instead of waiting until 2025 to fully implement these long-planned tax cuts.
Bail, gun crimes
The budget would follow through on Hochul’s proposal to give judges more power to jail people who have been convicted repeatedly of petty thefts or property damage crimes.
Judges are expected to release people if the court determines the alleged theft is “negligible” and not “part of other criminal activity”.
Criminal justice advocates say the legislation will lead to more poor and minority New Yorkers being held behind bars awaiting trial.
New York is also set to add more gun possession crimes to the list of offenses that could land people who can’t afford bail behind bars.
GASOLINE TAX REDUCTION
New York will cut state gasoline taxes by 16 cents per gallon from June 1 through the end of the year in response to soaring gasoline prices, with the state asking counties to consider to do the same.
COCKTAILS TO GO
Liquor and wine should be available for take-out and delivery for three years, provided the purchase includes a “substantial food item”. This revives a practice instituted during the pandemic to help struggling restaurants.
Courts could order people to undergo more assisted outpatient treatment if they are perceived as a threat to themselves or others.
It’s an extension of Kendra’s Law, which New York adopted on a trial basis in 1999 when 32-year-old Kendra Webdale was pushed in front of a subway train by a man with untreated schizophrenia. The law is due to expire on June 30, but the budget would extend that expiry until 2027.
CASINOS, BUFFALO BILTS
The state plans to start accepting bids for three new casinos this year, a year ahead of schedule. A new casino will need to be two-thirds approved by a community board made up of politicians appointed by the governor, mayor, and state and local officials.
Lawmakers are also allowing Hochul to move forward with a deal to send $600 million in public funds for the Buffalo Bills’ new stadium. Erie County will contribute an additional $250 billion.
The state will provide more than $250 million in capital and maintenance grants over three decades.
Good government groups say there’s a potential conflict of interest: Hochul’s husband, William, works for Bills’ dealership, Delaware North.
Hochul defended the deal as needed to ensure the Bills franchise doesn’t leave New York, telling the “Capital Tonight” news program on Friday that she had a “very strong wall” between her job and that of her husband.
The spending plan includes $250 million to help New Yorkers with unpaid utility bills and $925 million for landlords struggling with overdue rent amid the pandemic.
The budget excludes some measures backed by legislative Democrats, including $250 million for a new statewide housing benefit.
New York will spend about $1 billion in the next fiscal year to raise child care subsidy eligibility to 300% of the federal poverty level. That’s $83,250 for a family of four.
Hochul said the move will help expand access for more than half of New York’s youth.
The plan will also increase reimbursement rates for some child care providers.
REMUNERATION OF HEALTH WORKERS
The state would spend $7.4 billion over several years to provide a $3-per-hour raise for home health aides who bathe, feed and provide other non-medical services in clients’ homes.
That’s less than the 50% minimum wage increase sought by supporters of the Fair Pay for Home Care Act.
Aides are usually private employees, but the state Medicaid program funds about 90 percent of their services.
The budget also includes $1.2 billion in bonuses for other healthcare workers, aimed at keeping people in the industry after two grueling years.
HEALTH WITHOUT PAPER
The spending plan cuts a proposed $345 million for a state health coverage option for more than 150,000 low-income New Yorkers whose immigration status prevents them from purchasing health insurance.
Instead, New York should only expand access to New Yorkers living in the state illegally and age 65 or older. The cost of the new plan was unclear on Friday.
In November, voters will decide whether to approve $4.2 billion in bonds to fund environmental and energy projects such as conservation, climate change mitigation, zero-emission school buses and green buildings.
The budget does not include Hochul’s proposal to ban natural gas in new buildings, much to the disappointment of climate activists. She said she hopes to keep trying to push through this change.