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Lawmakers expected to hold late-night session debating final New York state budget bills

new york state capitol at night
Matt Ryan
/
New York NOW
The New York state Capitol building at night.

New York state lawmakers on Tuesday were in what they hoped would be the final hours of action on the $229 billion state budget that is already over a month late.

The spending plan contains many new policy changes, ranging from what energy sources can be used for new buildings to raising the minimum wage.

Among the many changes are measures aimed at combating climate change. One would require fully electrified new homes — meaning they don’t use any other fuel source — starting in 2026.

New buildings of any kind would follow suit beginning in 2028.

A plan issued late last year by the Hochul administration’s Climate Action Council recommended the changes.

The council also proposed that the state discontinue the sale of all new natural gas appliances — including gas stoves, furnaces and dryers — by 2035, and forbid new gas hookups in existing buildings after 2030. But those provisions, which became controversial, are not part of the final budget agreement, Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

“I know people love to misinterpret this. But people with existing gas stoves, you're welcome to keep them,” Hochul said. “Do what you please.”

She also said there are some exemptions for the new construction. Restaurants, for example, would still be allowed to have gas hookups for their stoves.

Republicans, who are in the minority party in the Legislature, said there aren’t enough provisions to build out the electricity grid to make up for all the extra power that would be needed if gas and other fuels, like home heating oil, are discontinued.

Assemblyman Philip Palmesano, who represents portions of the Southern Tier, said the changes limit free choice, and ratepayers will have to shoulder the additional costs.

“This is really more government control, taking away total energy choice for the consumer, putting all our eggs in one basket for electrification,” Palmesano said. “It's really socialized energy policy.”

Hochul said the budget sets up a mechanism that will eventually offer rebates to consumers who buy clean energy appliances and heating systems and could also lower utility costs. A cap-and-invest program would be created to require greenhouse gas producers to pay a fee for any emissions they produce above a limited cap set by the state. Those fees could generate an estimated $1 billion.

“Number one, in my opinion, was to be able to give rebates back to ratepayers to help them offset their costs, as well as purchasing the energy-efficient appliances,” Hochul said.

The budget also revises the state’s bail reform laws to give judges more discretion to hold defendants before trial. It eliminates a clause that required judges to use the “least restrictive means” when considering whether to set bail for a bail-eligible crime.

Republicans, who say the bail reform laws were a major factor in the state’s pandemic-era crime wave, said the new revisions don’t go far enough.

“These are not the changes that we need in order to better our quality of life. The state of New Jersey, I believe two years before our state, passed the bail reform laws, but the difference there is that they included dangerousness for a judge to consider when making decisions,” said Assemblyman Michael Tannousis, who represents Staten Island. “We need to increase judicial discretion.”

Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, a Democrat, bucked her party’s leadership to speak against the bill. Walker, who has been on a hunger strike for the past three weeks to show her opposition to the changes, said there is no data that shows the law has contributed to the higher crime rate. She said the revisions will fracture families and communities and “reignite mass incarceration.”

“The budget that we are being asked to vote on, in large part, will lock more Black and brown people up, and more poor people pretrial, as a solution to a political problem,” Walker said. “And that's something that I simply cannot support.”

Under the budget, the minimum wage will be going up by 2026 to $17 an hour in New York City, and $16 an hour in the rest of the state. After that, it will be automatically increased each year at the rate of inflation.

The state will be given new authority to crack down on illegal cannabis shops that are competing with the slowly emerging legal marijuana sales industry.

The spending plan does not include any new housing policy. Hochul dropped an ambitious proposal to build 800,000 units over the next several years after lawmakers rejected key provisions. Legislators also rejected the governor’s proposal to ban menthol cigarettes but agreed to a $1-per-pack additional tax.

The governor fended off proposals by Senate and Assembly Democrats to raise taxes on the rich.

Hochul and legislative leaders said even though the budget is weeks overdue, they aren’t concerned. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said it’s hardly the first time the deadline has been missed under Hochul or her predecessors.

“We didn't always pass the budget by April 1,” Heastie said. “And as I've said, good budgets are better than on-time budgets.”

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.