Some lawmakers doled out praise, some called it unacceptable and others held their collective nose as they cast their votes, bleary-eyed from an all-night session.
But in the end, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s first budget cruised through the state Legislature – albeit more than a week late.
The Democrat-controlled Senate and Assembly gave final approval early Saturday to the $220 billion spending plan after debating and voting throughout the night, putting an end to a stalemate with the governor that persisted beyond the April 1 start of the state’s fiscal year.
The budget battle represented the Democratic governor’s first major negotiation with the state Legislature since she took office last August, and it wasn’t without its tensions with lawmakers who felt blindsided by a late push by Hochul to change the state’s 2019 criminal-justice reforms.
It was far from a model of transparency: Lawmakers took key votes in the middle of the night, with the Senate wrapping up its work around 4:45 a.m. Saturday and the Assembly following around 9:30 a.m.
But in the end, Hochul was able to secure changes to the state’s criminal justice laws and $600 million for a new stadium for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills – her hometown team – despite aggressive opposition from progressive lawmakers and activists who sought to block both measures.
“This budget is a blueprint for the future,” Hochul said Thursday. “There's an embodiment of that dream. And not only are we going to recover from the ravages of a pandemic, we're going to emerge from it even stronger.”
The budget includes a $7 billion boost in child care subsidies spread over the next four years, along with a record $31.5 billion in funding for schools and a $3-an-hour boost for home health care workers. It also will provide $2 billion in rebate checks to homeowners making less than $250,000 a year, clear the way for a vote on a $4.2 billion environmental bond act and add $800 million to the state’s dwindling assistance program for renters who faced financial hardship during the pandemic.
But it also goes far beyond dollars and cents. It makes a handful of changes to the state’s bail and evidentiary discovery reforms that progressive Democrats fought hard to enact three years ago. And it failed to include measures sought by the progressive left to expand health coverage for undocumented immigrants, nor did it replenish the Excluded Workers Fund that provided money to those workers who were ineligible for pandemic-era unemployment assistance.
Those changes and omissions left some left-leaning Democrats furious, particularly because Hochul waited two weeks before the budget deadline to make her criminal justice push.
“With neither hesitation nor equivocation, I vote nay on this moral travesty,” state Sen. Jabari Brisport, D-Brooklyn, said on the Senate floor.
Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, a Manhattan Democrat, said the state needed a “bold and ambitious New Deal.”
“That was the budget I hoped we would see,” she said. “Unfortunately, the budget we are voting on is a shadow of that transformative agenda.”
The 2019 criminal justice reforms kept judges from enacting cash bail requirements for those charged with most misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges.
Included in this year’s budget is a measure that will make clear repeat offenders are subject to cash bail if their alleged crimes include theft, with an exception if the theft is “negligible” and doesn’t further any other crime. Another would add a few gun-related charges to the list of bail-eligible offenses, including unlawful possession of a firearm in cases when the firearm is not considered loaded. And a third would lower the number of firearms needed to charge someone with gun trafficking.
When it comes to the discovery process, prosecutors will be given more leeway if they discover a piece of evidence after the deadline for turning it over to the defense. Prosecutors have long complained they weren’t able to keep up with the 2019 reforms, which sped up the discovery deadline.
The criminal justice changes come as Hochul continues to take criticism from her political opponents for a spike in crime in New York City and some other parts of the state. So far, they’ve received a mixed reaction – with some local officials calling them an important step, and activists and public defenders criticizing them as a political reaction to a crime spike that’s happening across the nation.
“These bail rollbacks do little more than further criminalize poverty — throwing people in jail pre-trial on petty theft charges,” said Scott Levy, managing director of policy at The Bronx Defenders.
The Police Benevolent Association, the NYPD’s union for patrol officers, took the opposite position: President Pat Lynch said the criminal justice measures didn’t go far enough. Same for Senate Republicans, including Sen. Tom O’Mara of Chemung County, who called the bail changes a “plain fraud” and a “cover-up that is doing nothing to protect New Yorkers from vicious criminals.”
Mayor Eric Adams, a former police officer who pushed for changes to the bail laws, came down somewhere in the middle.
“While I commend the Legislature and the governor for making some progress on public safety, it is also evident that a good deal more work will be needed on this issue,” Adams said in a statement.
Democratic lawmakers were able to scale back Hochul’s original proposals, which she only presented to them on March 17 – two weeks before the since-blown budget deadline. Originally, Hochul had sought a more aggressive plan for repeat arrestees that would have made anyone charged with a second crime subject to bail if their first case was still open, regardless of whether either crime was eligible for bail on its own.
“It is a thoughtful package that reacts not just to a narrative but actually reacts to the need for people to feel safe and for us really to adjust the gun crimes,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat.
Some Republicans, meanwhile, had praise for certain areas of the budget, including a measure cutting the state’s gasoline taxes by 16 cents a gallon from June 1 through the end of the year. Others said the gas-tax holiday didn’t go far enough, while most Republicans have been calling for a full repeal of the 2019 bail reforms.
GOP lawmakers also had near uniform disdain for a chaotic – albeit standard, by Albany tradition – process for voting on the budget. Lawmakers were asked to vote on the multiple, complicated budget bills within hours of receiving them, with the first bills put to a vote before a full financial plan was available.
The money for the Buffalo Bills stadium was included in a bill that was introduced overnight, just before the Senate put it to a vote. Like the other budget bills, Hochul waived the usual three-day waiting period before legislation can be put to a vote.
“It doesn’t even appear that it’s light out fully yet, which is exactly why we’re voting on this now,” Assemblymember Michael Lawler, a Rockland County Republican, said around 7 a.m.
During a debate late Thursday, O’Mara accused Democrats of “putting the cart before the horse” by forcing a vote before all of the budget legislation was available. That spurred Senate Finance Chair Liz Krueger, a Democrat representing Manhattan, to acknowledge the process was less than ideal.
“It goes back to the phrase: If you don’t like seeing how sausages are made, maybe you shouldn’t go to state capitols,” Krueger said. “But this is how the sausage is being made this year, because we know, all of us, how important it is to get the budget done.”