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NY State Capital Building

 New York State’s Mammoth, Unwieldy Budget

Earlier this month, Governor Kathy Hochul presented a $216.3 billion spending plan that she says is balanced for this year and three years out. The budget enjoys a surplus due to various financial assistance from the federal government and anticipated revenue from online sports betting legalized last year by the state legislature. However, figuring out what exactly is in the budget of this size, the ninth largest in the world, remains a stumbling block for state lawmakers who have to sign off on the package before April 1.


New York state rarely enjoys such financial windfalls, but when it has happened, elected officials often add to the bottom line and increase the size of any spending plan by approximately five to ten percent. At times like this, such budgets are the most difficult to adopt on time because every one wants an additional bite at the big apple.

Most lawmakers are still reviewing the intricacies of the budget and taking a deep dive trying to understand how the numbers add up.

When asked for reaction to the budget, few lawmakers responded. to the request. The best some could do was talk in generalities.

“The budget bills are not yet printed and I am still pouring through the voluminous budget briefing book, so I reserve judgment until I’ve had a full opportunity to review and digest,” said Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D-Upper West Side, Manhattan), chairwoman of the Assembly social services committee. “At first blush, the proposed executive budget reflects a historic investment in climate and clean energy, support for our health care system infrastructure and pandemic assistance. As we all know, the devil is in the details, so I will be looking closely at the details and working to ensure that we invest significantly in supportive and affordable housing, funding for runaway and homeless youth, access to universal child care statewide, services for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, expanded supportive services for people struggling with substance use disorder as well as fair pay for homecare and other human services workers.”

Between January 25 and February 16, the Senate and Assembly will hold 13 joint conference budget hearings, which sometimes last for more than 12 hours on one topic, to decide how to adjust the budget numbers proposed by Hochul. Rank-and-file lawmakers get the opportunity to question state officials about their state agency, gripe about issues that never get resolved and hear from interest groups as well as lobbyists about how to broaden the bottom line so more money can be spent on the programs closest to their heart.

The joint hearings are divided into 13 topic areas, including public protection, elementary education, workforce, housing, environmental conservation, human services, higher education, health, local government, mental hygiene, transportation, economic development, taxes. In case you can’t sit through the many hours of hearings while they are happening you can view and read archived testimony at

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hearings will not be held in person.

“In the interest of public health and safety, the hearings will be conducted virtually using web-based video conferencing,” according to Senate Finance Committee Chair, Liz Krueger (D – East Side, Manhattan) and Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chair, Helene E. Weinstein (D – Marine Park, Brooklyn, Kings County). “The hearings will be available for viewing on the Senate and Assembly websites. The Legislative Channel (on cable systems throughout the state) also will carry the proceedings.”

At least one Albany-based think-tank organization questions whether state lawmakers can hold the line on spending during an election year and presupposes the governor’s budget could be a springboard for a broader election-year spending spree.

“The projected $5 billion annual increase in tax revenue revealed by the state budget director provided Governor Hochul an historic opportunity to both replenish the state’s depleted reserves and allow New Yorkers to keep more of what they earn. She could have revoked last year’s unnecessary hikes or provided significant broad-based relief to stem outmigration and inspire businesses investment,” said Peter Warren, director of research at the Empire Center. “Instead, beyond investing in the reserves, she directs the vast bulk of the windfall to increased spending. The budget’s record-high $216 billion in proposed spending for the upcoming year builds on the 13 percent increase in last year’s budget, which was supposed to be a one-time spike. That’s not what’s happening here. The legislature will view the governor’s new programmatic initiatives in the budget as a baseline on which to build.”

To back up Warren’s assertion, on Monday, January 24, in a joint appearance at UAlbany with U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-Park Slope, Brooklyn), Hochul boldly proclaimed, “Well, Senator Schumer, one thing I’ll commit for sure, you keep sending that federal money, we’ll find ways to spend it.”


Covid-19 Death Update

The month of January is expected to end with approximately 4,600 New Yorkers dying from COVID-19 even though hospitalizations are reportedly on a downward trend. That’s because the death rate is a lagging indicator of the virus.

The governor maintains that wearing masks and getting booster shots is the main reason for the positive downward trend in hospitalizations.

Last January there were 5,035 deaths due to Covid. That was the highest number of deaths in one month during all of 2021.

On Monday, January 24, New York State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Rademaker of Nassau County struck down the Hochul Administration’s statewide mask mandate on schools and public locations as unconstitutional and a violation of state law.

“This is a win for small businesses, parents, students and the freedom of all New Yorkers,” said Congressman Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville, Saratoga County). “By forcing masks on the children in our schools, these mandates have impeded the development of our next generation. I am proud the New York Supreme Court overturned this unprecedented overreach of power and will continue to stand up for the freedom of New Yorkers.”

“Nearly two years ago, New York became the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our state was shut down, our schools were closed, and our economy was decimated,” said Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda, Niagara County) in a prepared statement. “Nearly 700 days later, today’s ruling by a New York State Supreme Court Judge reinforces what my Republican colleagues and I have said from the beginning: it’s past time for Governor Hochul and Democrat One-Party Rule to end the mandates. New Yorkers are fed up – and they are counting on us to return to a system of governance based on collaborative decision making, guidance, checks and balances.”

“The governor does not have the authority to impose the mandate, and the state legislature would have to debate and approve laws requiring masks in schools and other places,” Rademaker wrote in his decision.

“My responsibility as governor is to protect New Yorkers throughout this public health crisis,” Hochul wrote in a prepared statement. “These measures help prevent the spread of Covid-19 and save lives. We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately.”

The next day, Tuesday, state Appellate Court Judge Robert Miller granted an interim stay of the mask mandate order while the appeals process continues. Miller, of Brooklyn, serves in the Second Judicial Department of the state Appellate Court and was appointed to the post by Governor David Paterson in 2010.

The attorney general’s office is appealing the case on behalf of the state health department. Initially set to expire on February 1, the governor has extended the mask mandate until February 15.


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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at [email protected].