Education/Arts, Health, Top Categories in NYS Budget
By Mary Alice Miller
New York State’s Fiscal Year 2024 $229 Billion budget has completed after a month of intense negotiations between Governor Hochul, the State Senate, and the Assembly. There were several points of contention between Governor Hochul and state legislators regarding budget priorities, chief among them Hochul’s new housing plan, charter schools and bail reform.
Governor Hochul’s budget proposal includes a plan to build 800,000 new homes within half a mile of a subway or MTA commuter railway station in the next decade across the state. The MTA service area includes the Long Island Rail Road, Metro North and New York City. Hochul’s plan would require towns and cities to voluntarily build more housing, with the caveat that the state could take over local zoning rules if local jurisdictions do not comply. Hochul’s transit-oriented development plan would create clusters of housing with at least 50 housing units per acre (apartment buildings) near public transportation, creating compact, walkable neighborhoods that would be less reliant on cars and could revitalize those areas and bring shops, restaurants, and services.
As housing costs increase, suburban homeowners cite the need for more housing and lament that their children and grandchildren cannot afford to live in the communities where they grew up. But, those same homeowners resist suggestions for the construction of more housing in their communities, citing the stress that increased populations would place on their local roads, water system, schools, and police and fire services in single-family home zones.
Additionally, Hochul’s plan does not specifically designate any affordable housing in her plan, increasing the risk of only luxury housing being built.
State Senate and Assembly budget plans agree with the necessity for new housing but do not include Hochul’s transit-oriented development proposal nor her plan for state override of local zoning laws. Brooklynites might remember when the Empire State Development Corporation was allowed to override local zoning rules to build Barclays Center and Atlantic Yards. Imagine that fight in municipalities across the state with the ensuing concurrent lawsuits.
As a result, Hochul dropped her housing plan from the budget.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said Hochul’s Housing Compact wasn’t a bad concept. Williams had a problem with Hochul “trying to shove this down people’s throats in a short span of time in the budget. What I think should have been done was a series of sessions where you are speaking to the community, hearing what the concerns are, and responding to it, at the minimum, getting some of these elected officials on board. That didn’t happen. ”
Williams added, “The things that would have helped us the most in housing the governor did the least on good cause eviction and housing vouchers. Those are the two things that could help us right now. We are up from 30% in 2020 to 50% of New Yorkers now who cannot reach their minimum needs. That is not going on vacation or going to a play or a movie, that is New Yorkers literally trying to feed and house themselves. Utility companies or landlords, when they have issues that have to do with their bills going higher, they get to go to the tenant or the consumer. But the tenant or the consumer has no place to go when their bills get higher.”
Hochul proposed an increase of 100 charter schools in New York City. The final budget adds 14.
“Charter schools are not inherently bad, but how we have treated them is harmful to other public schools in the city. Sixty percent of charter schools already existing are empty,” said Williams. “If you had some of the great schools we have in the Dept. of Education put the same money out to advertise themselves, people would say the same thing about those schools. NYC is the only city in the entire nation where we have to pay for charter school rent. Sixty percent of the foundational aid we will get goes to charter schools. It is unbalanced.”
Big employers in NYC will see a small increase in the payroll tax, but not those in the suburbs, which are also served by the MTA Metro North and Long Island Rail Road. Suburban Democrats were successful in killing Hochul’s housing plan and the MTA payroll tax outside NYC for fear of losing more state and federal seats to Republicans, like in 2021 and 2022.
The budget includes an experiment of one bus line in each of the five boroughs becoming free as a pilot program that could lead to all MTA buses being fare-free.
Federal law limits pilot programs to a year if you don’t do an environmental review. The MTA decides which bus line in each borough will be free and have 150 days to decide. The criteria are fare evasion, ridership, service adequacy and equity for low-income and economically disadvantaged communities, and access to commercial areas and places where people are employed.
“I do think our transit service should be aiming to be free at some point,” said Williams. “This is actually needed for people to get around, so we have to move in that direction.”
The minimum wage will increase to $16 in 2024 and $17 in 20205 from $15 in NYC, Long Island, and Westchester, thereafter it will be tied to inflation in 2027 and beyond. There will be an increase in home health care worker’s wages but not the $3.00 above minimum wage that was expected.
The budget does not include an increase in tax on the wealthy.
There will be a statewide ban on fracked gas in new buildings and ramp up renewable energy by the New York Power Authority.
The budget includes a 7 ½% increase in Medicaid reimbursement rate, which would help safety net hospitals retain staff and provide services.
Mayor Adams requested and got $1 Billion to help assist New York City with the cost of sheltering recent migrants sent here from Texas and Florida.
Regarding bail reform, Williams said, “Where we have seen least restrictive standards have happened the way the governor wants, it is black and brown people who are deemed should be remaining in jail. What she could have done is put more money in pre-trial supportive services that never got the funding that they needed with bail reform.”
Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (Queens) said “We did the best we could to minimize the harms of policies we disagreed with to get things moving forward for the people of New York.”