Editorial: A budget with heart


March 29, 2023

Here are some initiatives we hope to see included in the state spending plan.

By Times Union Editorial Board

Former Gov. Mario Cuomo’s axiom that we campaign in poetry but govern in prose is slightly off the mark. If by “poetry” he meant aspirationsvaluesheart and vision, then we need a little poetry in our governance, too.

Yes, the grind of deal-making, number-crunching and bill-drafting may take the glow off policy work. But it’s important to remember that a budget — especially in New York, where the spending plan is so often the vehicle for the year’s major initiatives — is a statement of values.  With that in mind, here is a selection of measures we hope to see in the final budget.


With New York adding more jobs than residences, Gov. Kathy Hochul has called for the development of 800,000 new housing units over the next decade. That’s good, but it’s only one piece of our housing problem: We must address the lack of affordable housing — and statewide, not just downstate. It’s true that as supply increases, the market may bring prices down — but that doesn’t address the surge in evictions and homelessness happening now. Make good-cause eviction protections and the Housing Access Voucher Program part of the plan.

The governor’s mandated housing targets will be necessary to overcome suburban NIMBYism, but they should be paired with expanded incentives, particularly incentives that encourage investments in affordable housing  —  the stick as well as the carrot.

The governor would like to extend the deadline for projects that got started under the expired 421a tax break. The Senate’s idea is better: Address these projects individually and help those with the most housing affordability. Make public investments work for the public.

Bail laws

We’ve said it over and over again: Anyone with the means to post bail can do so and walk out of jail. It’s a mechanism that treats the poor and the well-off differently, and when judges are given more discretion to decide when to set bail, their decisions too often reflect implicit bias, disproportionately jailing people of color and freeing white defendants to go back to their homes, jobs and families while they await their day in court. The state’s decision to make bail laws more equitable was the right one, and the statistics bear that out.

The bail debate has no place in the budget. But since it’s here (for the second year in a row), consider this: Judges are currently required to use the “least restrictive means” to ensure a defendant’s return to court, and there is a long list of past offenses that judges can use to adjust those means for different defendants. If judges are not using that power — and the data suggests that’s what’s happening in many cases in which people who are charged and released commit new offenses — the state needs to do a better job of training them and monitoring their decisions.

Gov. Hochul’s proposal to remove the “least restrictive means” language from the law could create what is, in essence, a dangerousness standard. Under state law, the purpose of bail is to ensure return to court — not to detain a person who poses a threat to the community. New York is the only state that does not have an explicit dangerousness standard, which allows a judge to weigh whether a defendant might commit crimes if released. Polls suggest that New Yorkers may welcome such a standard for bail. We worry it could become just another avenue for racial bias — but it’s an issue that deserves a full public debate, not a few lines in the budget.

Other initiatives

    • Universal free school meals. This proposal will help keep kids healthier and improve their school performance. Feeding hungry children should be a no-brainer.
    • Overdose prevention centers. Supervised injection sites help drug addicts stay alive until they’re ready to get help. Such centers are already operational in New York City and elsewhere in the world. The governor has worried they might violate federal law; well, so might New York’s legalization of cannabis, but that didn’t stop us.
    • No SUNY tuition hike. Regular modest tuition increases are one thing. A 30 percent raise over five years at the big research universities is another. Campuses need the money, the state says — but direct state aid stands at about 32 percent of SUNY’s revenue, about where it was a decade ago. So start there.
    • Film Production Tax Credit. Gov. Hochul is right to expand it. Productions may not need an incentive to film in New York City, but for upstate communities like Troy, these subsidies have paid off.
    • Access to Representation Act. It’s cruel and unjust to expect immigrants, who may not even speak English, to represent themselves in court proceedings that could shape the course of their families’ lives. This bill would guarantee a right to counsel.
    • Extended Producer Responsibility. This measure puts responsibility for post-consumer recycling of packaging waste back on the producer. It’s a smart idea that will ease costs for municipalities and reduce packaging. Throw in the Bottle Bill expansion as well.
    • Climate change mitigation. In one sense, the increasingly alarming data on global warming makes all the state proposals look inadequate. But we can’t stop moving forward, however imperfectly. The All-Electric Building Act and Gov. Hochul’s “cap-and-invest” plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are a place to start. Lawmakers would like more input into the design of the program, which is understandable, but it would be a mistake to let disagreements scuttle the measure entirely.

Written By Times Union Editorial Board
Editorials are the institutional view of the Times Union. They represent the consensus of the editorial board, whose members are George Hearst, publisher; Casey Seiler, editor; Akum Norder, senior editor for opinion; Jay Jochnowitz, editor at large; Tena Tyler, senior editor for engagement; and Chris Churchill, columnist and editorial writer. While the Times Union’s news coverage frequently informs our editorials, the board’s opinions have no bearing on that coverage.

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