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Gov. Hochul's proposed $261 billion budget spends boldly, with emphasis on pandemic recovery

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Darren McGee/Mike Groll- Office of Governor K
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Governor Kathy Hochul presents fiscal year 2023 Executive Budget in the Red Room of the Capitol as Budget Director Robert Mujica stands by to provide more details.

Governor Kathy Hochul attached some numbers to what she calls her bold agenda to recover from the pandemic and push the state forward.  Hochul has the rare advantage of entering the budget season with a surplus due to better tax collections and generous federal aid packages. 

The extra cash gives Hochul the freedom and flexibility to think big in her $216 billion spending plan. She calls it a once in a lifetime opportunity.

"This is also about meeting New Yorkers where they are now: Frustrated by a persistent pandemic; anxious about rising prices for everything from milk to gas to housing; worried about whether or not their paycheck will be enough to make ends meet; and stressed most of all about their kids: The quality of education, affordability of child care, and even thoughts about what their future will be in a world beset by climate change. So, New Yorkers, this budget is for you and about you."

Hochul is proposing accelerated middle class tax cut impacting six million dollar new Yorkers, and a two billion dollar property tax rebate…both mentioned in her state of the state address two weeks ago. She wants to shore up a health care system that’s crumbled under the stress of the pandemic.

"And that's why we're making up for lost time and positioning the state to have better footing going forward with the largest investment in healthcare in State history, $10 billion. One of our shared values as New Yorkers is that everyone deserves the dignity of access to quality health care, especially during a public health crisis."

Hochul is proposing a record $31 billion in education aid, which she says should be used for expanding pre-k and after school programs to support working parents. And, she wants to increase the state’s investment in children care so 400,000 more families are eligible for subsidies. Hohcul is also proposing a five year, $25 billion plan for affordable housing, and funds to address the opioid epidemic and speed the transition to clean energy. Despite the record spending, she calls her budget socially responsible and fiscally prudent. Hochul say she’s also putting money away in the state’s rainy day fund to be better prepared for the next economic downturn.

"As we assess the risks, we do have concerns about long-term economic erosion caused by the pandemic and the impact of inflation and even - hate to say it but possible resurgence of COVID. We just can't predict the future. But I want to ensure share New Yorkers that we are prepared. And that's why we're making these investments with those worst case scenario calculations built in."

She wants to commit resources every year until the state has reserves of at least 15 percent of operating spending, which is what experts recommend.

BUDGET SPENDS MORE, BUT WON'T CAUSE NY TO GO INTO DEBT
By Karen DeWitt

New York governor Kathy Hochul released a $216 billion state budget, that includes what she says are “pandemic recovery” programs, with $10 billion dollars for health care over the next several years, more money for schools, and childcare, as well as infrastructure projects and a larger environmental bond act proposal.

Hochul says she’s able to propose the ambitious spending programs because the state is awash in cash, due to better than anticipated tax receipts, a “thriving” stock market, which is heavily taxed by New York, and an historic influx of federal aid.

This is a once in a generation opportunity to make thoughtful, purpose-driven investments in our state and in our people that will pay dividends for decades,” Hochul said.

Hochul wants to spend $10 billion more over the next five years on health care, with a goal of increasing the health care workforce by 20%, and helping to supplement salaries.

She would like to raise school aid by more than 5%, with a record $2.1 billion increase to a total of $31.2 billion. Her budget for the first time fully complies with a court order that said New York needs to spend billions more dollars on its poorest schools in order to provide an equitable education.

The governor increases her initial plan, announced in the State of the State January 5th , to help families pay for child care, from 100,000 households to benefit 400,000 families.

Hochul is also taking advantage of generous federal subsidies, to spend $32.8 billion dollars on infrastructure projects, ranging from big renovations of airports and train stations, to fix smaller, but aggravating, road problems.

“I’ve also declared war on potholes,” said Hochul saying her goal as to spend $1 billion to go from pot holes to “not-holes”.

The governor’s plan would cut taxes, including $2.2 billion, in property tax relief, accelerating a planned middle class tax cut, and providing $250 million to small business hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

She does not propose any tax or fee increases, but the budget does rely on more revenue from the gaming industry. Her plan calls for speeding up the timetable by one year to accept applications for three new gambling casinos, potentially opening up the lucrative market for gaming halls in New York City region. Budget director Robert Mujica says the newly authorized mobile sports betting pulled in $150 million in over 650,000 new subscribers in its first weekend alone and he projects $357 million in revenues from it the new fiscal year.

We expect our revenues will meet our targets,” said Mujica. “If not exceed them.”

Mujica, who says half of the revenues collected from mobile sports betting goes to education aid, says the state is now “number one in the nation” in volume of sports bets placed.

Hochul promised to be prudent with all of the spending she’s proposed. She says there are no built in recurring programs that can’t be financed in future years. And she says she’d like to put more money into the state’s rainy day reserve fund, to total 15% of the state’s budget by 2025.

For the first time ever, with smart planning, New York will have no out year gaps,” Hochul said. “All these commitments are either one-time expenditures or are supported by the expectation of a reasonable growth in revenue as projected by our division of budget.”

Patrick Orecki, with the watchdog group Citizens Budget Commission, says while a 15% reserve fund is better than New York’s historically low rate of 5%, the state should be putting even more aside. He says New York’s finances are heavily deponent on taxes imposed on the stock market and on high income earners, which are both less predictable sources of revenue.

A good national benchmark is 17%,” Orecki said. “Given New York’s tax structure we think revenues are more volatile and therefore the state should be saving more than 17%.”

Hochul is upping the amount of money in an environmental bond act that would go before voters in November from $3 billion to $4 billion.

She would like to extend the state’s Tuition Assistance Program to part time college students and to inmates in state prisons.

Hochul also adds some items that are not related to state spending. It’s a practice often employed by governors because, under New York’s laws, they have more power in spending plan negotiations to successfully win agreement on legislation than during the regular legislative session.

Hochul includes a proposal to revamp the state’s troubled Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE. It would be replaced by a rotating panel of 5 commissioners nominated by 15 leading law school deans. She also includes a proposal for a constitutional amendment to limit statewide office holders to two, four year terms, and bills to lower the voter registration deadline to 10 days before election day and to locate polling places on college campuses.

One item that’s not in the state budget- any funding for new stadium for Hochul’s beloved Buffalo Bills football team. Budget director Mujica says that’s because the talks are still in progress.