New York Democrats and Republicans spar over fiscal priorities as budget negotiations begin in Albany
ALBANY — Republican lawmakers pressed their Democratic colleagues on spending, debt and public safety Thursday as the Senate and Assembly passed their single-house budget resolutions.
Democrats defended their fiscal priorities and touted investments in social services, education and environmental initiatives as negotiations with Governor Hochul begin with just two weeks to go before the state budget deadline.
Sen. Tom O’Mara (R-Elmira) questioned Democrats about plans to cut emergency funding and increase spending given the uncertain economic outlook for years to come.
“Certainly my perspective, and I think those on my side of the aisle here, being generally more fiscally conservative, is that it would be smarter and safer … to protect those reserves rather than increase spending at the rate that We are talking. O’Mara said during floor discussions Thursday morning.
Democrats, who hold veto-proof majorities in both the Senate and the Assembly, have presented budget plans that would increase spending above Hochul’s initial $227 billion executive budget proposal.
The Assembly plan would increase the price by $5 billion and the Senate proposal, which includes more policy elements, would add a total of $9 billion on top of the governor’s plan.
Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, responded to O’Mara.
“Research shows that governments that actually invest in spending during economic downturns actually do better by changing things themselves as they come out of bad times,” Krueger said.
Republicans also rejected the Democrats’ plan to raise taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents, arguing that it could cause wealthy New Yorkers to flee to other states. Krueger noted that the state has gained more millionaires in recent years despite raising taxes on top earners in 2019.
Much of Thursday’s debate centered on Democrats’ rejection of Hochul’s calls to once again review the state’s bail laws, something Republicans have pushed for in recent years.
Democratic leaders have accused Republicans and other opponents of spreading fear on the issue, as the GOP has repeatedly linked the state’s 2019 bail reforms to rising crime.
Hochul wants to amend the statute to remove the “least restrictive” standard meant to ensure a defendant returns to court, arguing that the measure conflicts with other elements of the law and has led to inconsistencies in how and when judges set bail. .
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) reiterated Thursday his belief that opponents are playing politics while beating the drum on bail.
“I have said that this argument has been political all along,” Heastie told reporters. “You’re not going to put people in jail to get them to give up crime.”
Republicans offered their counterparts across the aisle mild praise for rejecting the governor’s plan to spark a statewide housing boom, as lawmakers on both sides raised issues with Hochul’s proposals.
The governor, hoping to spur the development of 800,000 new housing units over the next decade, has called for new housing targets to be set and for a state panel to be allowed to overturn local zoning decisions if cities or towns fail to achieve certain goals.
The plan has faced bipartisan pushback from suburban lawmakers. Instead, Hochul’s fellow Democrats are calling for incentives for communities to help ease the cost of infrastructure improvements needed to handle additional housing.
In the coming weeks, Hochul, Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) will seek common ground as they work to reach an agreement before the fiscal deadline of December 31. March.
Despite the glaring differences that threaten to delay the adoption of a budget on time, Hochul is optimistic that an agreement will be reached.
“I’ve been called an iron fist in a velvet glove,” Hochul told Fox 5’s “Good Day New York” early Thursday. “I have a lot of respect for legislators. They are representing their views in their districts. I represent the entire state of New York and we will figure it out.”