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Political disagreements over NY's migrant crisis heat up

Gov. Hochul visits PPC Broadband in East Syracuse Feb. 5, 2024.
Mike Groll
Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
Gov. Hochul visits PPC Broadband in East Syracuse Feb. 5, 2024. She also took questions from reporters on the migrant crisis.

New York’s migrant crisis has once again become a political issue between Democrats and Republicans. This time, it’s playing out in state budget negotiations.

Governor Kathy Hochul is proposing spending $2.4 billion to help house and feed some of the over 160,000 migrants who have entered New York during the past year. She wants to take $500 million from the state’s reserve funds to help pay for the migrants’ needs.

She outlined her plans at her state budget presentation in January.

“Because the number of migrants and expenses have only grown, I am proposing that we draw $500 million from state reserves that are intended for one-time emergencies like this,” the governor said on January 16. “This will help manage the migrant crisis for a total of $2.4 billion.”

Hochul also wants to slow the rate of growth for funding school aid. She proposes changing the way that the annual inflation rate is calculated, so that the average growth rate is lowered. She also wants to end a provision called “hold harmless” that guarantees each school district never gets less money than it did the previous year. The changes would result in a $420 million loss to school districts.

The governor says the migrant and school aid proposals are unrelated. But Republicans, who are in the minority in state government, see a connection.

Senator Jack Martins, a Republican for Long Island, spoke at a news conference to support school funding, where he said schools in his Senate district face reductions.

“The governor's budget proposal prioritizes things other than education,” Martins said. “At a time when she's cutting education for our children, she's prioritizing spending $2.4 billion on a self-created migrant crisis.”

He blames policies begun by Democratic administrations in local governments, including designating New York City as a sanctuary city for immigrants.

“The residents of my district, and residents across the state, did not vote for New York state to be a sanctuary state, they did not vote for New York City to be a sanctuary city,” Martins said on January 30. “They didn't vote to have undocumented immigrants come into our country and take over resources that were meant for our communities, and most importantly in this case, for our children in our schools.”

Hochul argues that the GOP is conflating the two issues and twisting the narrative. She says Republicans in New York should call on their leadership in Congress to sign on to an immigration reform deal that has bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate.

“It's like somebody sets their house on fire and then complains because it takes so long for the fire department to respond,” Hochul said on January 30th.

On Monday, Hochul called out New York’s Republican congressional delegation to back the deal. She says together they have enough votes to get the immigration reform approved, which Hochul said would limit border entry and bring New York billions of dollars to help house and feed migrants who are already here.

“I am calling on all 10 of the members of the delegation who are in the majority, the 10 Republicans who have enough just by banding together to support their state, they have enough of a voice to work together with the Democrats and have enough votes to make sure that this can become a reality,” Hochul said.

Shortly after Hochul spoke, the House GOP leadership issued a statement saying, for the second day in a row, that the bill is dead on arrival.

CNY Congressmember Brandon Williams agreed, saying he’ll be a “no” vote. In a release, he says the senate bill “crams through more spending” and “gives President Biden a get out of jail free card” on the border. Williams and other republicans claim Biden has the executive authority to end the migrant crisis and secure the border. But experts say any presidential order might not hold up legally, and that congressional action is the only long-term solution.

Hochul is accusing the GOP of wanting to “keep the chaos going” for political advantage in the 2024 presidential election, where President Joe Biden is likely to face Republican former President Donald Trump.

Senate Republicans say when it comes to school aid funding, they will work to see the cuts restored. Senator Jim Tedisco, a Republican from Saratoga County, spoke at a recent budget hearing. He also criticized Hochul for wanting to use state reserve funds to ease the migrant crisis, instead of directing the money to schools.

“I just want to put on the record that I and my conference are not going to go quietly into the night if this or any other budget tries to balance itself on the backs of our kids, their education, their future, or the taxpayers of New York State,” Tedisco said on February 1.

On that topic, New York Democrats, at least in the Legislature, agree. While they have not disagreed with the governor’s proposed spending on migrants, they also say that they want to restore the school aid cuts.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.