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Budget talks begin in earnest in Albany

The New York state Capitol building at night.
Matt Ryan
New York NOW
The New York state Capitol building at night.

New York legislators are beginning what they hope is the final stretch to agreeing on a state spending plan before the budget is due at the end of the month. As Karen DeWitt reports, lawmakers and Governor Kathy Hochul have a lot of decisions to make, including whether to raise taxes and how much money to give schools.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Monday convened the first meeting of the General Conference Committee meeting for the state budget, also known as “the mothership.”

The public meeting is an annual ritual, held at the start of budget negotiations. After this, the talks will be conducted behind closed doors until an agreement is announced.

In between, the Democratic lawmakers, who are mostly in agreement with each other on their spending priorities, have to hash out their differences with Governor Kathy Hochul, who is also a Democrat.

One of the biggest differences is over how to distribute school aid.

Hochul wants to end a provision known as hold harmless, which guarantees that no school district receives less money than it did the previous year. Her plan would result in half of the schools in the state getting fewer resources than they did last year.

Senate Leader Stewart-Cousins expressed opposition earlier this month.

“Almost half of the school districts in the state will be receiving less funding than they would have anticipated,” Stewart-Cousins told reporters on March 6th. “We're very, very concerned about that.”

Both the Senate and Assembly want to raise income taxes on multi-millionaires and corporations to help pay for more school aid and other items.

Hochul has said repeatedly that she won’t support new taxes.

“Raising income taxes is a nonstarter for me,” Hochul said on March 12th.

Senate Leader Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Heastie say for now, though, everything is on the negotiation table, and nothing is off it. Speaking to the media after the general conference committee meeting, they say it’s possible to get the budget wrapped up — potentially with a deal on building new affordable housing -before the Easter holiday on March 31st.

“Ten days in Albany time is a life time,” Heastie said. “I’m hoping we get there on a housing deal. It's critical.”
The budget is due April 1st, but in past years, it has been anywhere from a few days to one month late.

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.