ALBANY — A state budget appears to be on the brink of completion, according to Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul, although she admitted lawmakers are still not completely in agreement over some policy details included in the spending plan.
Speaking in the Capitol’s Red Room, standing in front of a vacant conference table she said was used for budget negotiations, Hochul told reporters progress is being made on the fiscal year 2024 spending plan.
“I do see a path to wrap up the budget perhaps as early as the end of this week,” she said.
This year’s budget is the latest in a decade, as the state’s top lawmakers in Albany meet behind closed doors to nail down agreements on policy proposals included in the spending plan.
Hochul had shrugged off criticism over the late budget, as have Legislative Democratic leaders, arguing they would rather get it right than done on time.
On Tuesday, the governor said she recalls years when the state budget wasn’t passed until August, months past the April 1 deadline set by the state Constitution.
“I was an Assembly intern, and I thought budgets were due in July and August, because that’s when they showed up. That’s how it was for decades, and I’m not interested in going back to that.”
Hochul did not discuss specifics, repeatedly stating she doesn’t believe any deal is set until the final agreement is made.
“Nothing’s really over till it’s over,” she said.
Among the topics still being debated between the Hochul and the legislative leaders she’s been negotiating with, Speaker of the Assembly Carl E. Heastie, D-Bronx, and Senate Majority Leader Andrew Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, are the issues of closing illegal marijuana stores and reissuing charter school licenses currently held by closed institutions.
Both are major issues for New York City, which has hundreds of unlicensed marijuana stores operating across its five boroughs, although there are a limited number of illegal operations in upstate cities and towns, as well.
Part of the problem is enforcement. Under the current marijuana laws, it’s not clear whose job it is to search and shut down marijuana dispensaries that have no license from the Office of Cannabis Management.Hochul wants to give the OCM and the state Tax and Finance Department the ability to search and shut down illegal shops, and fine their owners up to $200,000.
Hochul says, as a result of the proliferation of illegal shops, the legal stores that are slowly opening across the state are suffering.
“You set up these businesses to fail already, because of illegal competition,” she said. “We have to take some dramatic steps now, and give the enforcement tools to the proper agencies.”
Heastie said this week he doesn’t support Hochul’s enforcement plans, and would like to see a more pared down approach that still helps the legal market to thrive without what he termed “overreacting.”
As for the charter schools, officials have not come to a final agreement on whether charter school licenses given to now-closed schools should be reissued to new institutions. Legislative leaders, spurred by their progressive members, especially, have resisted allowing more charter schools in New York, and are opposed to any proposal that would allow a charter school to operate in the same building as a public school, known as co-location.
“I believe in public schools,” Hochul said. “But it’s hard for me to turn my back on 50,000 parents who put their names on waitlists so their kids can have a different alternative.”
Another topic of budget discussions, Hochul’s proposal to implement growth targets for housing stocks in towns and cities across the state, with a ‘builders remedy’ to build more units over local opposition when targets are not met, has been kicked off the negotiation table.
Hochul's plan has been maligned and misrepresented by its opponents, who argue it’s a case of the state mandating and taking control away from local governments, she said, adding it has been removed from budget negotiations, but said she intends to continue advocating for it in the remaining months of the legislative session.
“I’m continuing conversations with the Legislature through the end of the session,” she said. “I also want the mayor of New York to have the tools he needs.”
On the last major topic of budget discussions these last few weeks, bail reform, Hochul had little to say. She avoided specifics when asked if her call to remove the requirement that judges use the least restrictive means of ensuring a criminal defendant returns to court was still under discussion, and would not say whether a compromise policy change had been agreed to or if she had secured the changes she wanted.
“That will be forthcoming, as well,” she said.
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