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What’s at stake as clock ticks on New York’s budget

With New York’s annual budget due Friday morning, Gov. Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers’ 11th-hour negotiations are centered on potential changes to bail reform, opening Big Apple casinos and public funding to build a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills.

State Sen. Diane Savino told The Post Wednesday the debate over tightening bail laws is one of the items slowing down budget talks, putting Hochul’s first budget in peril of being late.

“It’s bail, the Buffalo Bills Stadium, casinos,” Savino (D- Brooklyn) said Wednesday from Albany. “A whole bunch of us are not leaving here without bail reform.”

Assemblywoman Latrice Walker (D-Brooklyn), a liberal lawmaker who has vocally advocated for maintaining the current no-bail laws, would not budge from her position.

“We need to celebrate bail reform as opposed to trying to roll it back within the 99th hour of our budget negotiations,” she said. “We’re continuing to fight back.”

Walker — who is on Day 9 of a hunger strike with the aim of blocking changes to the criminal justice reforms she pushed – declared, “I am willing to hold back the budget, if that’s what it takes in order to get what the people of the state of New York need and desire.”

Assemblywoman Latrice Walker
Assemblywoman Latrice Walker vowed “to fight back,” against any opposition to New York’s bail reforms.
LightRocket via Getty Images

Walker also said that discussions are still ongoing regarding repeat offenders, making gun crimes bail eligible and reforms to the state’s discovery law.

Legislation to allow Mayor Eric Adams continue to control New York City public schools is expected to be left out of the budget, lawmakers said.

The ongoing negotiation comes after Hochul in January proposed spending a record-breaking $216 billion for the new fiscal year while the Assembly called for spending $226.4 billion in its “one house budget” proposal —  a blueprint outlining the chamber’s preferred plan to spend state dollars ahead of the deadline. 

The governor, Assembly and state senate are also addressing to-go alcoholic drinks, expiring real estate tax break 421-a, funding for childcare, mayoral control of public schools and ethics reforms.

View of the floor of Senate Chamber during a legislative session at the state Capitol Wednesday, March 23, 2021, in Albany, N.Y.
Albany lawmakers are still debating about amending bail reform as the state budget deadline looms.
Hans Pennink

Bail reform

Following a spate of high-profile violent crimes committed by repeat offenders, Hochul proposed to state legislative leaders a sweeping public safety package that amends the Empire State’s 2019 criminal-justice reforms.

Though the Legislature’s 2022 session ends in June, the uncertain situation means the clock is ticking on the state making changes to bail laws, since big-ticket items typically are resolved in the budget.

Under the measures signed in 2019 as part of the 200 budget by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, judges can no longer order defendants charged with most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies to post bail before being let out.

The bail reforms were slightly rolled back in summer 2020, when state lawmakers made a number of charges deemed ineligible for bail under that law “qualifying offenses” again. 

Hochul’s 10-point plan, first reported by The Post, includes changes that will make additional crimes bail eligible in New York. The sweeping blueprint includes a measure that would give judges more discretion to order bail and detain criminal defendants for a host of additional crimes based on their criminal history, including repeat offenders.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul waves as she takes the stage during the 2022 New York State Democratic Convention at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel on February 17, 2022 in New York City.
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s first state budget could arrive late.
Getty Images

Crimes against straphangers and transit workers will also be subject to bail, and more gun crimes would also be eligible for bail, according to the memo.

Hochul’s plan would also allow judges to decide whether prosecutors are in “substantial” compliance on discovery, rather than only operate under the current regulations, which require all evidence to be turned over in most cases within 20 days of arraignment.

Crime-victim advocates on Friday demanded that the state legislature support Hochul’s proposed criminal-justice reforms. The state’s district attorneys association for prosecutors — whose board of directors include Bronx DA Darcel Clark, Queens DA Melinda Katz, Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez and Staten Island DA Michael McMahon — also wrote a letter endorsing Hochul’s proposed changes.

But Democratic leaders in the legislatures’ two chambers — State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins — have repeatedly rejected more restrictive bail measures sought by moderate Democrats like Mayor Eric Adams along with Republicans.

“I think the general sense is that nobody in our conference is wanting to go backwards,” Stewart-Cousins told reporters in Albany last week. “Absolutely not.

“I think I’m ready to let the law continue the way it is,” Heastie recently said .

Recent polls have shown a majority of New Yorkers believe the no-cash bail law has contributed to the spike in crime and should be fixed.

Adams has repeatedly called on state legislators to help him reduce the city’s surging crime rate by giving judges the power to lock up defendants based on their danger to the community — a provision not included in Hochul’s blueprint — and making gun-toting teens eligible for criminal prosecution via changes to the “Raise the Age” law.

Adam’s police commissioner, Keechant Sewell, on Monday traveled to Albany to advocate for changes to the state’s controversial criminal-justice reforms.

During an appearance on Fox 5 Wednesday morning, Adams was optimistic about the process but declined to divulge details. “Negotiations are going great, and when you’re in the midst of negotiations, the worst thing you can do is aggravate those negotiations,” he said on “Good Day New York.”

“We are in Albany, walking the halls, the [police] commissioner spent the day up there as well as the deputy mayor of public safety [Phil Banks], and so we are really focused on doing things around crime.”

Buffalo Bills Stadium

Following weeks of closed-door meetings, Hochul, Erie County officials and Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula on Monday came to an agreement on a deal to build a new stadium for the team to replace its current venue.

Under terms of the deal, New York taxpayers would be on the hook for an unprecedented $850 million in public money for the construction of the Buffalo Bills’ brand-new $1.4 billion stadium.

Rendering of the proposed renovations to Buffalo Bills Highmark Stadium.
The Buffalo Bills ownership previously threatened to move out of New York if their new stadium wasn’t subsidized by taxpayers.
Populous

Hochul wants the state to set aside $600 million for the stadium’s construction in the budget, while Erie County would cover another $250 million and the NFL and the Bills the remaining $550 million, according to Hochul’s office.

The deal — which includes an agreement for the franchise to remain in the Empire State for another 30 years — came after the Bills owners threatened last year to leave New York if the franchise wasn’t provided public dollars for a new stadium.

The Bills’ existing lease at nearly 55-year-old Highmark Stadium — one of the oldest NFL stadiums in the country — was set to expire in 2023. The Post on March 11 first reported about the massive public subsidies planned for the new Bills stadium.

But for the project to proceed, state lawmakers will need to approve the stadium funding when they vote on the annual budget.

Highmark Stadium is illuminated by the sun prior to a game between the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots on January 15, 2022 in Buffalo, New York.
New York taxpayers will be forking the majority of construction costs to the Buffalo Bills’ new stadium under Gov. Kathy Hochul’s deal.
Getty Images

Critics had questioned the need to provide a massive giveaway for the stadium, given Pegula’s fracking fortune of more than $7 billion. 

Sources told The Post Wednesday that lawmakers are furious that Hochul released the Bills proposal they consider a massive corporate giveaway without conferring with them during budget negotiations.

“I know that like me many of my colleagues are also taken aback by that last minute stadium proposal,” said Ramos, a progressive lawmaker who represents Western Queens.

“It’s actually very worrisome,” the lawmaker added. “If you were even to just to take a slice of that $800 million in order to help buffalo with their child care situation, I bet you money that parents in Buffalo would be very appreciative of that.”

A former Cuomo official familiar with the negotiations said the $600 million state tax subsidy is off the charts.

State Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-NY) delivers remarks while immigrant and labor activists participate in a rally outside of a Amazon distribution center on December 16, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York City.
State Sen. Jessica Ramos blasted the Buffalo Bills’ stadium deal for absorbing taxpayer dollars from social services.
Getty Images

“We would have never given that much,” the former state official told The Post Wednesday. “The deal doesn’t make any sense.

“We can build a stadium, but let’s have the billionaire pay, not the fans and taxpayers,” Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Suozzi said.

State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D- Queen), tweeted, “This is a straight-up corporate giveaway and transfer of wealth,” labeling the agreement a “giveaway to billionaires.”

“I don’t recall reaching any f–g deal to give the 8th richest NFL owners $850 million of taxpayer $$,” the progressive lawmaker fumed Monday.

Meanwhile, the Bills deal has also come under fire for a potential conflict of interest.

The governor’s husband, Bill Hochul, serves as senior vice president and general counsel for hospitality giant Delaware North, the major food concessionaire at the Buffalo Bills’ current Highmark Stadium.

Delaware North and its employees stand to potentially benefit from another 30 years of work at the new stadium.

“One of the biggest winners of this bad stadium deal is Delaware North. Delaware North will make far more money from additional new food service and beverage business in the new stadium,” said John Kaehny, executive director of good-government group Reinvent Albany. “This is such a bad deal for the taxpayers, it’s mind-boggling.”

NYC Casinos

In her budget proposal, Hochul included a plan that could bring legal casino gambling to New York City. The measure would permit the state Gaming Facility Location Board to issue a Request for Applications to open three new gambling parlors in addition to the four already operating upstate.

State budget director Robert Mujica has said there is “no specific designation that they have to be in New York City,” but said it was likely the focus of applications would be on the downstate area.

Casino gaming
Assembly members who represent Manhattan refuse to allow casinos in their neighborhoods.
Getty Images

In response, Senate Democrats have floated proposing a price tag of at least $1 billion for each license, according to Politico.  Key lawmakers, backed by the powerful hotel and casino workers union, advocated for Hochul and the state Legislature to award up to three casino licenses in the New York City region, The Post reported in January.

Assembly Democrats discussed the plan to license three downstate casinos during a caucus meeting Tuesday night, when there was consensus around granting the two existing “racinos” — MGM’s Empire City at Yonkers raceway and Genting’s Resorts World at Aqueduct race track in Queens — two of three downstate licenses, Assembly sources said.

Currently, the two “racinos” are slots parlors and cannot offer live table games like blackjack and poker. A full casino license would allow the two venues to expand and offer live card games.

But many Assembly members who represent Manhattan oppose siting a casino in the borough. There were also discussions of opening a casino in Coney Island, but lawmakers from southern Brooklyn oppose the idea, arguing traffic is already a problem on the Belt Parkway.

Lawmakers want the power to approve or reject any casino proposal.

A roulette machine in the main hall of Genting's new Resorts World New York casino at Aqueduct Race Track in Jamaica section of Queens, in New York on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.
State Senate Democrats are mulling a $1 billion price tag for casino licenses in New York City.
Corbis via Getty Images

Negotiations include creating a casino siting board — a move that would mandate input from the local community board, the local state assembly members, the council representative and borough president.

During an unrelated press conference Wednesday, Adams was warm to the idea of adding a gaming facility in addition to Aqueduct’s Resorts World New York, currently the sole casino within the five boroughs.

“We are hoping that we have two locations in New York City. and we’re looking for the proposal,” he told reporters.

“We don’t have the authorization to determine siting, Albany is going to do that,” the mayor added. “But we’re hoping to help boost our economy and tourism that we can get two sites in New York City.”

To-go alcoholic drinks

Hochul earlier this month made the case for the state to permanently allow bars and restaurants to serve to-go booze.

“We saw that this is a critical revenue stream,” said the governor. “This is what kept people afloat during those dark, dark months and years of the pandemic.”

Selling drinks on the run was a popular alternative for bars and eateries during the height of the pandemic last year, allowing them to continue selling booze while being required to shut down indoor dining spaces.

People are enjoying take-away Guinness beer in Hop House Lager plastic cups in the street in Dublin city center, during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has praised to-go booze sales as “a critical revenue stream,” for businesses.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Takeout and delivery of alcoholic beverages were first allowed in March 2020 via an executive order signed by Cuomo to help eateries amid a COVID-19-induced shutdown in indoor service.

The state quietly extended the practice in March 2021, but state lawmakers let a proposed renewal lapse in June, shutting down venues’ takeout drink operations.

Hochul first announced she planned to reinstate the state’s popular “Drinks-to-Go” initiative during her first State of the State address in January.

“So many small businesses are pushed to the brink,” she said at the time. “Thousands of bars and restaurants, the soul of our neighborhoods, have had to close. For others hanging on by a thread, survival depends on whether they can create more space outdoors, a tough task during our New York winters.”

But a group representing liquor stores has opposed codifying legislation that permits to-go and delivery cocktails, arguing it will harm the 3,500 small businesses that employ over 35,000 workers in the state.

And both the state Senate and Assembly intentionally omitted making the program permanent in their newly released state budget plans, putting Hochul’s alcohol to-go measure in jeopardy.

That’s a policy item so we took that out – we’ll have that discussion,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-The Bronx) told reporters when asked why the idea was excluded.

Savino, a moderate who also represents parts of Staten Island, said lawmakers determined that the plan didn’t include an assessment financial impact and wouldn’t be taken up as part of the state budget. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, the status of to-go cocktails is “fluid,” according to a Democratic state senator.

An alcohol industry source told The Post on Wednesday there are three sticking points that state lawmakers and Hochul have to resolve: 1 whether or not to make the measure permanent in-state law, with no sunset clause, 2 whether or not alcohol needs to be purchased with a meal or just food in general to keep it broad, and 3 whether or not to legalize purchase of wine bottles to go.

During a March 2 press conference on the matter, the governor said, “I don’t believe it’ll be necessary to have food associated with” alcoholic beverages.

Nearly 80 percent of New Yorkers want to keep the legalization of booze takeout and delivery at bars and restaurants, according to a survey released last year by the New York State Restaurant Association.

Mayoral control

During a January meeting with The Post’s editorial board, Hochul said she intended to give Mayor Eric Adams a four-year extension on mayoral control of Big Apple public schools. Adams had asked for three years of mayoral control, set to expire in June, but Hochul explained that she wanted to give him another year to show she’s “more collaborative” than her disgraced predecessor.

But in their budgetary proposals, both the state Assembly and state Senate removed Hochul’s extension of mayoral control over city schools from their budget documents, attempting to block Adams’ bid.

NYC mayor Adams City Hall presser.
Mayor Eric Adams has demanded three years of mayoral control.
Paul Martinka

Mayoral control will not be included in the budget, legislative sources told The Post Wednesday. That means the issue will need to be handled outside of the budget process ahead of its June expiration.

The omission comes as mayoral control hasn’t been discussed in state Senate or Assembly Democratic conferences recently, according to legislative sources. Members told The Post that, despite the mayor’s press conference on the topic weeks ago, Adams hasn’t contacted members to lobby them

Adams’ predecessor, Bill de Blasio, repeatedly lobbied to extend mayoral control of the schools. De Blasio in 2017 was granted mayoral control for two years, and in 2019, he received a three-year extension through June 30, 2022.

“At least Bill de Blasio tried. Unfortunately for him everyone hated him — but at least he did try,” a Democratic lawmaker told The Post Wednesday. “This mayor isn’t even trying — there’s been zero outreach to legislators, including members that he has known for a very long time.”

School control was initially championed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and approved by state lawmakers in 2002, then renewed several times since then.

The law abolished the old Board of Education and gave the mayor authority to choose the schools chancellor. The move also turned the Department of Education into a city agency, eliminating the locally elected community school boards.

Under the previous system, the seven members of the Board of Education — five appointed by the borough presidents and two by the mayor — picked the chancellor and were in charge of education policy.

New Schools Chancellor David Banks labeled the arrangement prior to mayoral control a “broken system.”

Other issues

Childcare: Hochul proposed a $1.4 billion plan earlier this year, and the Assembly proposed a $3 billion plan, while the Senate’s iteration would cost $4 billion. Adams on Monday issued a plea to Albany for more child care funding in the state budget. It’s unclear which version will be passed.

421-a: 421-a, a tax break designed to incentivize construction of affordable housing, is scheduled to sunset in June. Hochul outlined 485-w, a tweaked version of the program executive budget proposal in January. The new iteration of the controversial tax break would require slightly deeper levels of affordability projects as well as wage requirements.

Called Affordable Neighborhoods for New Yorkers, 485-w creates a new tax law that would grant the 35-year break to rental projects that offer below-market rates on at least 25% of their units. For example, tenants who earn as much as 130% of the area median income would no longer be eligible; subsidized units would go to those with far lower average incomes.

But currently, most lawmakers in senate and assembly don’t approve of Hochul’s proposal due to a belief it doesn’t include sufficient levels of affordability and want it to nix it from the budget. The real estate industry and top unions have backed the governor’s 421-a replacement, so the issue could be revisited ahead of the end of session in June.

Speed cameras: Adams and local lawmakers last week demanded that Albany renew and expand the state laws that allow city officials to run cameras which police traffic lights and speed limits in select areas.

The legislation, backed by Adams and sponsored by state Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Brooklyn), would renew the city’s authority to operate traffic law enforcement cameras, which is set to expire this summer. Gounardes’ bill would also allow school zone speed cameras to catch speedy drivers 24 hours a day, instead of the current hours of 6am to 10pm.

But a source told The Post the mayor and his City Hall team hasn’t asked for this as a budget item beyond the press conference.

Andrew Cuomo’s staffers: Hochul is seeking to spend up to $5 million in taxpayer money to pay the legal bills of dozens of current and former state employees who got caught up in the sexual harassment scandal that drove disgraced ex-Gov Andrew Cuomo out of office, The Post exclusively reported last week. It’s unclear if the spending will be included in the fiscal year 2023 state budget.

Gas Tax: MTA CEO Janno Lieber revealed Wednesday that a potential gas tax holiday is being discussed in Albany but that would not reduce money dedicated the cash-strapped transportation agency.

“All of the ideas about the gas tax holiday or some action of the gas tax have as one of their principal provisions the dollar for dollar replacement of any lost revenue to the MTA,” he said. That’s what we’ve been assured by the players in Albany who are working on the budget. That’s what we’re counting on, 100 percent.”

The MTA estimates it will lose $100M to the “versions of this idea that are floating around the budget table in Albany.”

“What [is] being considered is the motor fuel tax,” said MTA Chief Financial Officer  Kevin Willens. “There was an earlier proposal to include the petroleum business tax… Based on the version we understand, it would be the motor fuel tax, not the petroleum business tax, and then a little piece from sales tax that we get on motor fuels.”

JCOPE: Hochul in January proposed replacing the 14-member Joint Commission on Public Ethics — created by Cuomo and often derided as “J-Joke” — with an independent agency.

JCOPE’s members are currently appointed by the governor and legislative leaders. Hochul’s change would create an independent, rotating board composed of five deans from the state’s law schools or their designees.

But legislators still want to be granted input in appointments to an ethics panel. The government watchdog groups — Reinvent Albany, Common Cause, League of Women Voters, Citizens Union, NYPIRG and the Sexual Harassment Working Group — released out a joint statement Wednesday saying hey oppose any board that is not independently appointed.

Additional reporting by Nolan Hicks and David Meyer

https://nypost.com/2022/03/30/whats-at-stake-as-clock-ticks-on-new-yorks-budget/ What’s at stake as clock ticks on New York’s budget

JACLYN DIAZ

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