ALBANY, NY – New York is expected to rely on an influx of federal funds and higher-than-expected tax revenues to balance a $220 billion one-year state budget, which went into effect Saturday.
The sale of take-out cocktails became legal once Governor Kathy Hochul signed the budget bill on Saturday.
Disagreements over political issues delayed passage of the spending plan more than a week past the April 1 deadline. The budget has often served over the decades as a vehicle for passing major political legislation, and elected officials are using this year’s budget to tackle issues that are expected to affect voters in an election year.
The budget raises wages for health and home care workers, cuts the cost of a gallon of gas by 16 cents through December and helps New Yorkers pay unpaid rent and utility bills .
Some Democrats voted against parts of the spending plan, in part to crack down on repeat offenders. Those lawmakers also called for more spending on homeworkers rather than spending $850 million to support a new $1.4 billion stadium for the Buffalo Bills, which is owned by billionaires Terry and Kim Pegula.
Here’s an overview of what’s in the budget.
Homeowners can expect tax relief: New York State will spend $2.2 billion on one-time property tax refunds for low- and middle-income homeowners. That discount would arrive this fall, when the Democratic governor is expected to appear on the ballot.
New York will also cut middle-class tax rates by $162 million by April 2023, instead of waiting until 2025 to fully implement these long-planned tax cuts.
Bail, gun crimes
The budget follows through on Hochul’s proposal to give judges more power to jail people who have been convicted repeatedly of petty theft or property damage crimes.
Judges must release people if the court determines the alleged theft is “negligible” and not “in the course of other criminal activity”.
Criminal justice advocates say the new law will lead to more poor and minority New Yorkers being held behind bars awaiting trial.
New York also added more gun possession crimes to the list of offenses that could land people who can’t afford bail behind bars.
GASOLINE TAX REDUCTION
New York will cut state gasoline taxes by 16 cents per gallon from June 1 through the end of the year in response to soaring gasoline prices, with the state asking counties to consider to do the same.
COCKTAILS TO GO
Liquor and wine are now available for take-out and delivery for three years, provided the purchase includes a “substantial food item”.
This revives a practice instituted during the pandemic to help struggling restaurants.
State regulators will decide whether French fries or other snacks will count as “substantial” items.
Courts can now order people to undergo more assisted outpatient treatment if they are perceived as a threat to themselves or others.
It’s an extension of Kendra’s Law, which New York adopted on a trial basis in 1999 when 32-year-old Kendra Webdale was pushed in front of a subway train by a man with untreated schizophrenia. The law is due to expire on June 30, but New York is extending that expiry until 2027.
CASINOS, BUFFALO BILTS
The state will begin accepting bids for three new casinos this year, a year ahead of schedule. A new casino will need to be two-thirds approved by a community board made up of politicians appointed by the governor, mayor, and state and local officials.
Hochul may also move forward with a deal to send $600 million in government funds for the Buffalo Bills’ new stadium. Erie County would contribute an additional $250 billion.
The state will provide more than $250 million in capital and maintenance grants over three decades.
Good government groups say there’s a potential conflict of interest: Hochul’s husband, William, works for Bills’ dealership, Delaware North.
Hochul defended the deal as needed to ensure the Bills franchise doesn’t leave New York, telling the “Capital Tonight” news program on Friday that she had a “very strong wall” between her job and that of her husband.
The spending plan includes $250 million to help New Yorkers with unpaid utility bills and $925 million for landlords struggling with overdue rent amid the pandemic.
The budget excludes some measures backed by legislative Democrats, including $250 million for a new statewide housing benefit.
New York will spend about $1 billion in the next fiscal year to raise child care subsidy eligibility to 300% of the federal poverty level. That’s $83,250 for a family of four.
Hochul said the move will help expand access for more than half of New York’s youth.
The budget also increases reimbursement rates for some child care providers.
REMUNERATION OF HEALTH WORKERS
The state will spend $7.4 billion over several years to provide a $3-per-hour raise for home health aides who bathe, feed and provide other non-medical services in clients’ homes.
That’s less than the 50% minimum wage increase sought by supporters of the Fair Pay for Home Care Act.
Aides are usually private employees, but the state Medicaid program funds about 90% of their services.
The budget also includes $1.2 billion in bonuses for other healthcare workers, aimed at keeping people in the industry after two grueling years.
HEALTH WITHOUT PAPER
The budget cuts the proposed $345 million for a state health coverage option for more than 150,000 low-income New Yorkers whose immigration status prevents them from purchasing health insurance.
Instead, New York will extend coverage to New Yorkers living in the state illegally and age 65 or older.
In November, voters will decide whether to approve $4.2 billion in bonds to fund environmental and energy projects such as conservation, climate change mitigation, zero-emission school buses and green buildings.
The budget does not include Hochul’s proposal to ban natural gas in new buildings, much to the disappointment of climate activists. She said she hopes to keep trying to push through this change.