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What Does Kathy Hochul Stand For? Casinos, Charter Schools, and Rolling Back Bail Reforms

Governor Kathy Hochul would very much like you to pay to save yourself.

Governor Kathy Hochul presents her fiscal year 2024 executive budget proposal in the Red Room at the State Capitol. (Mike Groll / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

It's an old and overused axiom that a budget is a statement of someone's values. But let's throw novelty to the wind, lean in, and take Governor Kathy Hochul's $227 billion budget plan that she unveiled yesterday as a statement of what she really believes in. According to her budget, that would be casinos, revamped horse racing, sweetheart deals for real estate developers, an expansion of charter schools, regressive taxation on the poor, no new taxes for the wealthy, increased fares for public transit, and rolling back proven-to-be-safe criminal justice reforms. But hey, at least no billion-dollar, publicly funded, only-used-ten-times-a-year football stadium! Things could be worse.  

This budget is a conservative document from the provincial Hochul—and just an opening pitch for a legislature that will certainly move many parts of this budget back in line with New Yorkers' actual values. But it does tend to get tiring, year after year, to see all of the state's governing shoved into one document known as "the big ugly," that renders legislating mostly meaningless and compresses all of Albany's business into a thousand-page testament to horse-trading that no one even bothers to read before voting on it. 

So now, for the next ninety days (or more, fuck it!) comes the deals—who wants what more? 

Downstate politicians were laser-focused on a few things: finding a way to sustainably fund the MTA amidst a possibly perpetual downturn in ridership; robust funding for mental health programs amidst a deepening crisis for the city's mentally ill; state money to help cover the costs of an influx of migrants to the city; and something, anything, to stem the tide of evictions and unaffordability hollowing the city out. 

The city got…some of those things. But probably not the way they wanted it. Hochul proposed a new payroll tax on downstate businesses to help stave off the MTA's financial woes, while also announcing she would redirect some hundreds of millions of dollars of casino revenue to the agency. So, yes, New York City could keep its current level of inadequate service (there is no money for improved service, only the forestalling of cuts), BUT only if its working people pay more taxes, and the casinos that prey on poor people make money. Quite a deal! 

The millions for rebuilding the state's mental health infrastructure that Hochul announced a few weeks ago would go a long way to getting people the help they need, and Hochul also threw in $1 billion in funding to help the City offset the cost of providing assistance to migrants (something that President Biden could easily solve, but is not). Left completely out? Any substantive program to stave off evictions in New York right now, or provide financial assistance to tenants facing rising rents. (California, allegedly our peer, has a newly minted statewide rent stabilization law that, while imperfect, still stems the bleeding). 

Instead, Hochul has focused on the future—the distant future, after every legal challenge is exhausted, and the state is allowed under this budget to order Long Island towns to build some damn apartments. In her budget, Hochul has included massive subsidies for developers to build more housing, resurrecting the now-expired 421-a tax break (by extending a deadline for when buildings could be finished to qualify for it). Critics have assailed the tax break as hyper-charging luxury development, to no apparent benefit to low-income and middle-income city residents. Real estate developers have cheered, but man, even the carpenters are pissed!

There were some concessions to progressives, like a modified version of the Build Public Renewables Act (again, without labor-friendly provisions) and a ban on gas stoves in new construction, and sops to conservatives (who happen to include the mayor of New York City), like a further rollback of the state's bail reforms and a lifting of a cap on charter schools. 

So what happens now? The budget is due April 1, and obviously, a lot can happen before then. 

Progressives under the banner of the Invest in Our New York coalition, which is calling for new taxes on New York's wealthiest, said they'll keep fighting to shift the burden away from New York's poorest, and will be a presence in Albany throughout the budget season. "It makes a lot of sense—corporate profits are at an all-time high," said Charles Khan, of the group Strong Economy for All. "New York State had an eight percent increase [on filers making] over $10 million a year. We know where to go for the money."

Khan pointed to recent signs that the legislature is now standing up to the governor as an indication that the final budget will look far different from what the governor presented on Wednesday.

Hochul is coming off what should be a humbling defeat at the hands of the New York State Senate, who rejected her pick to lead the state's Court of Appeals. Apparently, she took her ire out on them by vetoing a bipartisan update to the state's 175-year-old wrongful death statute. (Damn, Kathy!)

Will Hochul bend the legislature to her will like Cuomo at the height of his powers? Or will the legislature continue to flex its muscle after its apparent defeat of Hochul's chosen jurist? At this hour, it's getting quite hard to imagine Hochul entering a "three men in a room" situation with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who both appear to have no intention to further modify the state's bail statutes or lift the state's charter cap. (Stewart-Cousins said she hasn't even spoken to Hochul in two weeks.)

In 2021, with Cuomo hobbled by sexual harassment allegations and outrage over nursing home deaths during the pandemic, the state legislature took control of the process and passed a robust and deeply progressive budget, raising taxes on the wealthy and staving off the worst economic impacts of the pandemic. In 2022, with historic budget surpluses, and harboring goodwill from the state's legislators (who themselves were heading into election season), as well as a friendly push from NYC Mayor Eric Adams, Hochul was able to pass a budget that was tilted toward her wealthy friends (like the aforementioned football-related expenditure). 

This year, however, appears truly up for grabs. Adams is without many allies and things are getting grim for him, and Hochul just barely survived her election

Maybe this is just Hochul's opening offer in what will be a spirited, good faith negotiation—she tacked right so she can end up in the middle.

Or maybe this is who Governor Hochul is, and we should believe her when she puts her values down on paper.

Some links to get your Thursday going: 

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