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What state budget 'conceptual' agreements, and disagreements, could mean for New Yorkers

What state budget "conceptual" agreements...and disagreements, could mean for New Yorkers (WRGB)
What state budget "conceptual" agreements...and disagreements, could mean for New Yorkers (WRGB)
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New York Governor Kathy Hochul laid out the preliminary budget agreements on Thursday night, setting the stage for the State Senate and Assembly to vote sometime next week.

While not all of the details of the issues addressed, or not addressed, will be known until final approval, the Governor shared some of what's been compromised over the course of the last month (The budget was due April 1st).

For the third time, the State will make changes to bail laws that were enacted in 2019. This time, the Governor is removing the "least restrictive means" language from the law, saying it will avoid confusion for judges and give them more discretion.

While statistics have shown bail reform laws are not tied directly to crime, the Governor cited individual events and recidivism also as part of her reasoning.

"There's some horrific cases splashed on the front pages of newspapers," she said. "They talk about individuals where a judge or the defense lawyer in following the least restrictive means say 'you have to let this person out'. Some of those cases literally shocked the conscience."

Those changes have been met with pushback from justice advocates, the NYCLU releasing a statement saying:

“With the bail reform rollbacks reportedly included in this year’s budget, the Governor has prioritized fear over facts. If true, this is another backslide on justice that will cause even more New Yorkers to languish in jail while they await their day in court. This is unconscionable and anti-democratic. Lawmakers must continue holding the line against these proposed rollbacks.

Affordability was also a focus for the Governor heading into the budget, introducing the New York Housing Compact with the goal of building 800,000 homes over the next decade.

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"It is disgraceful that in 2023 we can't open up our communities to multifamily housing to help our young people, and to people just starting out and our seniors to have a place to live," Governor Hochul says.

The Compact, which include funds for infrastructure along with the State's ability to override local zoning restrictions, fell out of budget talks late in the process. But, during her address on Thursday, Governor Hochul hinted at the use of executive privilege, saying she hopes negotiations can continue outside the budget process.

"There's so many arcane rules out there that we need to put forth," Hochul says. "Our budget is a compressed timeframe, it's an intense time frame. "We're going to take the time necessary to talk about other ways that we can build housing stock. We'll look at the suburbs, talk about our transit hubs and find a path forward, because we're not surrendering on this issue."

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree on the need for more affordable housing, but the solution is still under debate. Republicans like Assemblyman Chris Tague say they're against the State interfering with local municipalities, but as the Assembly proposed, more incentives for growth could help.

"I think incentivizing in some cases or being able to negotiate with local government or local citizenry is not a bad idea," Tague says.

MORE: Lawmakers ask for budget boost to help students with disabilities pursue higher education

Democrat Assemblyman John McDonald says housing needs to be addressed, but at times, well-intentioned environmental guidelines have challenged that kind of growth.

"I think her approach is a little aggressive, the hammer up front is not going to help," McDonald says. "I think what we should be doing is providing some model language to local governments to reconsider and have them look at what they can do to help improve the housing situation in New York State and work through their zoning."

The State raised the minimum wage in 2023, and another raise could be on the way soon. Governor Hochul says there's an agreement in place to raise the minimum wage Upstate to $15 in 2024, up from the current rate of $14.20. It will then go up 50 cents in 2025, then 50 cents more in 2026. In 2027 it will align with inflation rates.

"I mean it's very common for people to be working 2 or 3 jobs, but what if they didn't have to?" Michael Edmonson, an Albany resident, says. "I mean what if they could just work 8 hours and that would be enough?"

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More issues remain to be fully debated and voted on by the legislature next week, when there should be a clearer picture of how taxpayer money will be spent in 2024.