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One month after New York state spending plan’s due date, lawmakers begin passing budget bills

This photo looks down the hallway that runs alongside the upper floor of the New York State Senate chamber. The public viewing galleries are accessible from this area.
Anthony & Roberta Giorgio
CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
This photo looks down the hallway that runs alongside the upper floor of the New York State Senate chamber. The public viewing galleries are accessible from this area.

A month after the state budget was due, state senators and Assembly members started to pass the first budget bills on Monday.

Despite a “conceptual” agreement announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul last week, though, details for many major spending items have still not been worked out.

Voting began after bills were printed to fund the state’s capital projects, public protection and health-related programs, as well as the legislative and judiciary branches of government.

But as of Monday evening, not all the bills had been printed yet.

Two of them — education and state operations — were not yet completed. And at least one of them is expected to include major policy changes, including revisions to the bail reform laws, a climate action plan that includes a ban on gas hookups in new buildings, and an authorization to open 22 more charter schools in New York.

It’s an Albany tradition to cram a diverse array of items into the final budget bill, earning it the nickname “the big ugly.”

Sen. Tom O’Mara, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said that final bill is expected to be voted on shortly after it is finished. He said that won’t leave much time for lawmakers in the minority party — or the public — to examine what’s in the legislation.

“We’re assuming that ultimately one of those two is going to be what we call ‘the big ugly,’” said O’Mara, who added the bills are “yet to be in print” and so he and other lawmakers are not able to read them.

“And certainly (not) yet for any New York state citizen to read the language,” he said.

Democrats, who lead both houses of the Legislature, said the final measures could be ready to vote on as early as Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins cautioned, though, that the spending plan is not yet wrapped up.

“It’s got to be the middle of the end now,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Stewart-Cousins said the governor’s proposed bail reform changes caused the weeks-long delay in reaching an accord. Democrats had been resistant to Hochul’s proposal to make it easier for judges to set bail in cases of serious crimes by removing a clause that required them to seek the “least restrictive means” to ensure that a defendant returns to court.

Stewart-Cousins said she agrees with clarifying the law for judges. But she said data on the 2019 laws shows that bail reform, which ended most forms of cash bail, is working as it was supposed to and is not the cause of the pandemic-era crime wave in New York and the nation.

The Senate leader said she would have liked the budget to have been finished sooner.

“This has been a very policy laden budget, and a lot of the policies had to be parsed through,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I would have liked to have done this sooner.”

There are some items that the Legislature and governor will not be acting on. Hochul dropped a plan to build affordable housing after the issue stalemated, and it will not include her proposed ban on flavored cigarettes, including menthol cigarettes.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.