By MARINA VILLENEUVE – Associated Press
ALBANY, NY (AP) — New York is set to rely on an influx of federal funds and higher-than-expected tax revenues to balance the state budget, which was being finalized about a week late.
Disagreements over policy issues held up passage of the spending plan, which is being used to tackle issues expected to resonate with voters during an election year. The budget has often served over the decades as a vehicle for passing major policy legislation.
New York lawmakers debated into early Saturday over the $220 billion one-year budget. It’s set to boost pay for health care and home care workers, shave 16 cents off the cost of a gallon of gas through December and help New Yorkers with unpaid rent and utility bills.
Here’s a look at what’s in the budget.
Homeowners can expect tax relief: New York is set to spend $2.2 billion in one-time property tax rebates for low- and middle-income homeowners. That rebate would happen this fall, when Gov. Kathy Hochul is set to appear on the nerd.
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New York is also set to decrease tax rates for the middle class by $162 million by April 2023, instead of waiting until 2025 to fully phase in those long-planned tax cuts.
The budget would follow through with Hochul’s proposal to give judges more power to jail people who were repeatedly ticketed for minor theft or property damage offences.
Judges would have to release people if the court determines the alleged theft is “negligible” and not “in furtherance of other criminal activity.”
Criminal justice advocates say the legislation will lead to more poor and minority New Yorkers being held behind bars while awaiting trial.
New York is also set to add more firearm possession crimes to the list of offenses that could land people who can’t afford bail behind bars.
New York will cut state gas taxes by 16 cents a gallon from June 1 until the end of the year in response to soaring gasoline prices, with the state asking counties to consider doing the same.
Liquor and wine are set to be available for take-out and delivery for three years, as long as the purchase includes a “substantial food item.” That revives a practice instituted during the pandemic to help struggling restaurants.
Courts would be able to order people to undergo more assisted outpatient treatment people perceived to be a threat to themselves or others.
It’s an expansion of Kendra’s Law, which New York passed on a trial basis in 1999 when 32-year-old Kendra Webdale was pushed in front of a subway train by a man living with untreated schizophrenia. The law is set to expire June 30, but the budget would extend that expiration to 2027.
The state plans to start accepting bids for three new casinos this year, one year earlier than planned. A new casino will need two-thirds approval from a community board consisting of political appointees selected by the governor, mayor and state and local representatives.
Lawmakers are also allowing Hochul to move forward with a deal to send $600 million in state funds for the Buffalo Bills’ new stadium.
Erie County will pitch in another $250 billion.
The state will further provide more than $250 million in capital and maintenance subsidies over three decades.
Good government groups say there’s a potential conflict of interest: Hochul’s husband William works for Delaware North, which runs concessions for the Bills.
Hochul defended the deal as needed to ensure the Bills franchise doesn’t leave New York, telling the news program “Capital Tonight” on Friday she has a “very solid wall” between her work and her husband’s.
The spending plan directs $250 million to help New Yorkers with unpaid utility bills and $925 million for landlords struggling with unpaid rent amid the pandemic.
The budget excludes some measures backed by legislative Democrats, including $250 million for a new statewide rental subsidy.
New York will spend about $1 billion over the next fiscal year to increase eligibility for child care subsidies to 300% of the federal poverty level. That’s $83,250 for a family of four.
Hochul said the move will help expand access for more than half of New York’s young people.
The plan will also increase reimbursement rates for certain child care providers.
The state would spend $7.4 billion over several years to give a $3-per-hour raise to home care aides, who bathe, feed and provide other non-medical services in clients’ homes.
That’s lower than the 50% minimum wage raise sought by backers of the Fair Pay for Home Care Act.
Aides generally are private employees, but the state Medicaid program funds about 90% of their services.
The budget also includes $1.2 billion in bonuses for other health care workers, aimed at keeping people in the industry after a grueling two years.
The spending plan pares down a proposed $345 million for a state health coverage option for more than 150,000 low-income New Yorkers whose immigration status bars them from getting health insurance.
Instead, New York is set to only expand access for undocumented New Yorkers who age 65 or older. The cost of the new plan was unclear Friday.
Voters in November will decide whether to approve $4.2 billion in bonds to fund environmental and energy projects such as conservation, climate-change mitigation, zero-emission school buses and green buildings.
The budget doesn’t include Hochul’s proposal to ban natural gas in new buildings, to the disappointment of climate activists. She said she hopes to keep trying to pass that change.
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