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Hochul's budget directs dollars to schools, health care and housing and addresses bail reform

Gov. Kathy Hochul presents her executive budget for fiscal year 2024 on Feb. 1, 2023, in Albany.
Karen DeWitt
New York State Public Radio
Gov. Kathy Hochul presents her executive budget for fiscal year 2024 on Feb. 1, 2023, in Albany.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul presented a $227 billion state budget plan on Wednesday that includes more money for schools and public transit and raises taxes on cigarettes.

She also put the spotlight on public safety, including another set of revisions to the state’s controversial bail reform laws.

The governor’s plan includes a 10% increase in school aid, finally fulfilling a nearly 20-year-old court order that said more money needs to be invested in the state’s poorest schools. Health care spending would be increased by about 8%, with $1 billion used for more psychiatric beds and residential mental health treatment facilities.

The governor is able to add the money because of larger-than-expected tax collections and funds remaining from federal pandemic relief programs that have led to an over $8 billion budget surplus.

“We’ve set the table for what should be one of the most prosperous times in our state’s history,” Hochul said. “But if New Yorkers don’t feel safe, they can’t afford to buy a home, they can’t pay their rent, the cost of everything keeps rising, then nothing we’ve done will make a difference.”

To that end, Hochul is proposing that 800,000 new housing units be built in the state over the next decade, financed mostly by private developers, but with 100,000 units of affordable housing paid for by the state.

No new broad-based taxes are proposed, but she wants to extend a temporary corporate tax surcharge. She’d add a payroll tax surcharge for businesses in the regions served by the downstate Metropolitan Transit Authority to help stem pandemic-related losses for the transit agency. Hochul also wants to raise taxes on a pack of cigarettes by $1 to $5.25.

The governor also detailed a public safety plan that includes $337 million to fight a surge in gun-related violence and provides $80 million to district attorneys to hire more prosecutors and to better follow recent statutes that require them to turn over evidence to defendants in a timely way.

She also wants to revise the state’s controversial bail reform laws to allow judges more discretion to set bail when people are charged with serious crimes. Hochul portrays the changes as an attempt to clear up confusion caused by previous changes to the 2019 laws that she said conflict with each other. A standard imposed during changes made last year requires judges to choose the “least restrictive means” to ensure that someone accused of a crime returns for court dates.

“We looked at this very thoughtfully, and realize what judges are telling us that they don't have the clarity that they need to have, when someone's before them, and meets the standards of being bail-eligible,” Hochul said.

Democrats who lead the state Legislature have been resistant to making more changes to bail reform.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was noncommittal about the new proposal. But he said he wants to look at all the factors affecting crime and public safety.

“Can we just stop focusing so much on bail (reform)?” Heastie said. “And concentrate on the stuff that really drives crime.”

Hochul held up the budget for nine days last year to win revisions. She said she won’t comment on her strategies for getting an agreement this year.

The governor is also proposing that public colleges and universities be allowed to raise tuition at a rate of up to 3% a year for colleges and 6% for universities.

Heastie said he doesn’t see support for that proposal from members of his Democratic conference.

“I think it going to be tough for the conference,” he said.

Another flashpoint in the budget is lifting a cap on charter schools in New York City, something many Democrats in the Legislature have opposed in the past. New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest teachers union, said it would have a “devastating impact” on public schools.

The budget address comes at a time of increased tension between Hochul and Democrats in the Legislature. A dispute between the governor and the Senate over her choice for chief judge remains unresolved. And earlier this week, she vetoed an update to the state’s wrongful death statute, angering the measure’s sponsors.

Hochul shook hands with legislative leaders sitting in the audience before she began her speech, and she briefed them privately about her budget on Tuesday. Heastie said he is looking to work collaboratively with the governor over the spending plan.

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins did not comment publicly after the budget address, but she’s said previously that she has a good relationship with the governor and does not expect any hard feelings from the standoff over the chief judge selection to affect budget talks.

Republicans, who are in the minority in the Legislature, were more critical of the plan.

Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt said in a statement that the governor’s plan taxes and spends too much and does not provide “any real relief to struggling New York families and businesses.”

“New York needs a rescue plan — this isn’t it,” Ortt said.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.