May 9, 2023
ALBANY, NY — It took over a month, but New York State has passed its budget for fiscal year 2024.
The $229 billion budget, originally due April 1, was signed by Gov. Hochul on Wednesday, May 3. Bail reform changes and housing policies, among other items, held up negotiations between Hochul and the heads of the Senate and Assembly.
In the end, Hochul landed an agreement in the budget to give judges greater discretion in setting bail, but a proposal to create 800,000 new homes across the state did not survive.
A press release from Hochul’s office highlights “smart, responsible investments” in areas such as housing, public safety and the environment.
“With this budget, we are delivering on our promise to make the Empire State a more affordable, more livable, safer place for all New Yorkers,” said Hochul in the press release. “These bold investments will lift up New Yorkers today—and tomorrow—while maintaining a solid fiscal footing, and I thank my partners in the legislature for their collaboration throughout this process.”
This year’s budget process was “one of the most courteous we’ve had” in terms of getting along in the New York State Assembly, with Republican and Democratic members talking with one another, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther told the River Reporter. Gunther has 20 years of experience in the Assembly with those negotiations.
Gunther highlights additional investment in veterans, farmers and infrastructure, as well as in mental health.
The budget makes a long-term, $1 billion investment in mental health care, including $890 million to build new residential units for mental health patients.
The budget also invests a total of $34.5 billion in public schools, including the provision of free lunch for all students, says Gunther. Figures provided by Gunther’s office show a 14.17 percent increase on average in aid over the previous year’s budget given to Sullivan County schools; Sullivan West CSD got an extra $654,910 or 3.70 percent, while aid to Eldred CSD dropped slightly by $96,556 or 1.57 percent.
The change that gives judges more discretion in setting bail is very important to keep counties safe, says Gunther.
The record amount of spending in the budget results in a few benefits, Sen. Peter Oberacker said in a statement. He supports the budget’s spending on education aid, mental health services and a new grant program for volunteer fire departments. But on the whole, he says, the bad outweighs the good.
“It outlaws gas appliances in new homes, fails to make substantive changes to bail reform, and forces additional costs on counties that will increase local taxes… the bad far outweighs the good in this budget which was crafted by one party in complete secrecy and rushed to the floor for a vote without allowing any opportunity for substantial review,” said Oberacker. “New York is number one in outmigration and this budget will do nothing to reverse that sorry status.”
A much talked-about proposal included in the budget, the All-Electric Buildings Act, mandates that new buildings be built without using gas heating, stoves or other utilities (though it does not address the use of gas in preexisting buildings). It takes effect in 2026 for buildings up to seven stories tall, and in 2029 for larger buildings.
The act “is a significant step toward decarbonizing our buildings sector,” according to a statement from the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV).
The NYCLV praised other measures in the budget including $400 million for the Environmental Protection Fund and $500 million for the Clean Water Infrastructure Act.
Hochul proposed an extensive housing plan in her initial budget. It called for the creation of 800,000 new homes throughout the state and included ways to bypass local zoning if needed to accomplish it.
That proposal didn’t make it in the final budget. Instead, the fund puts $391 million toward the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, a fund to help renters in arrears, and $40 million toward nonprofits that help homeowners in default and foreclosure.
Housing advocates, including Hudson Valley advocacy group For the Many and the Family Homelessness Coalition, have criticized the budget for not doing more to address the state’s housing-affordability issues.
In the run-up to the budget negotiations, county leaders—including in Sullivan County—pushed back against a Medicaid proposal from Hochul. The proposal takes funds earmarked by the federal government for local governments and gives them to the state; the proposal is included in the final budget, with the addition of an agreement to phase out the funding over several years.
“The state’s decision to intercept these funds is totally unnecessary and counterproductive… New York State is at a crossroads with a soaring cost of living and a declining population,” said New York State Association of Counties president Michael Zurlo. “Reversing this trend starts with reversing the state’s self-sabotaging habit of disguising the true cost of its budget actions by passing those costs on to local governments, who in turn must raise property and sales taxes to cover those new costs.”