Battle Lines Drawn in New York State’s Budget Fight Over Bail Bonds, Charter Schools and Other Gov. Hochul’s Priorities
ALBANY — Legislative leaders drew lines in the sand on bail, taxes and housing mandates by setting out their fiscal priorities this week and setting up a budget showdown with Gov. Hochul.
The governor’s fellow Democrats, who hold a large majority in the Legislature, filed budget proposals this week that reject many of the major proposals included in Hochul’s $227 billion executive budget.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) played down the wide gap between lawmakers and the governor Wednesday on issues including charter schools, changes to the state’s bail law and housing with only two weeks left until the state’s final spending plan.
“I think we’ve all looked at the issues and… there are different approaches, but what I always say is that we’re all paddling in the same direction for the most part,” he said.
Differences over bail reform have hampered negotiations in the past. Last year’s budget was delayed by more than a week after Hochul insisted on giving judges more discretion in setting bail in cases involving repeat offenders, weapons and defendants violating protection orders.
This year, the governor again wants to amend the law to remove the “least restrictive” standard meant to ensure the defendant returns to court, arguing that the measure conflicts with other statutes.
Neither camera seems ready to review the issue.
“We want to deal with data,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We all want to fight violent crime. I think we need to keep our eyes on what’s important: keeping New Yorkers safe and not confusing them with false equivalencies and false connections.”
Republicans, as well as Democratic Mayor Adams, have repeatedly linked bail reforms to rising crime and have pushed for further reductions despite a lack of evidence.
Hochul’s latest call to amend the law again comes on the heels of a closer-than-expected gubernatorial victory over Republican Lee Zeldin, who criticized the governor over the crime during last year’s campaign.
Instead of once again reviewing bail, Stewart-Cousins said investments in mental health, education and violence prevention “will help fight crime.”
“What I want to do is put the focus, put the emphasis, where it belongs,” he added.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) also indicated that his members have little interest in reviewing bail.
“I have said that this argument has been political all along,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) told reporters. “You’re not going to put people in jail to get them to give up crime.”
Lawmakers also opposed Hochul’s ambitious plan to spark a new housing boom, calling for more tenant protections and incentives for municipalities to build instead of the governor’s call to strike down local zoning laws if cities don’t comply. with certain objectives.
The governor’s resistance to raising taxes will also likely be a point of contention, as both chambers want the state’s wealthiest residents to contribute more to the state coffers. Lawmakers have also said they want to see an increase in the state’s minimum wage before agreeing to Hochul’s plan to tie future increases to inflation.
The budget negotiations began with tensions already high at the state Capitol after Senate Democrats handed the governor a historic defeat earlier this year when they rejected their nominee to head the state’s judicial system.
However, the governor has indicated that she is ready to follow through with her plans and is willing to play hardball with lawmakers.
“I would like an estimate on time. I’m not planning one that isn’t,” Hochul said Monday. “But I also know that I’m here to do the job of the people of New York State and they expect me not to leave town until the job is done.”
Mayor Adams, whose priorities align closely with those of the governor, said he is hopeful the compromises can be worked out.
“Now it’s about going to the tables, there will be table talks,” he told reporters during an unrelated news conference in Brooklyn. “This is part of the process, where each house will list its priorities. We are looking forward to the next level of this. It’s not done until it’s done.”