Photo Credit: Marc Gronich
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro

The New York state budget is due today but as of this writing it is unlikely it will be on time. That seems to be just fine with Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-Buffalo, Erie County) who expressed acceptance that if the budget is a few days late it won’t matter.

“On time or close to on time budgets are very important,” Hochul said recently. “Localities need certainty. My expectation is that the budget will be on time or close to on time but I don’t have any intention of it going much beyond that.”


Many unresolved issues remain, with just a few days to go before the budget deadline. Issues such as fully-funding universal pre-K, cashless bail reform, gas tax elimination, spending the surplus, increasing mental health services to drive down prison costs and having non-fiscal policy programs in the state budget.

Advocates supporting the current version of the cashless bail law want nothing to do with rolling back the key elements of the law, tweaking the finer points of the law or changing one dotted “i” or crossed “t.”

Opponents of the current law want to give judges additional authority and discretion in setting bail for lower-level crimes.

“Unless the state of New York confronts cashless bail it is not taking seriously the growth in crime,” said Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro (R-Red Hook). “What cashless bail has allowed to occur in the state of New York is a disincentive for community policing. It undermines the ability of prosecutors in law enforcement to protect both victims and witnesses. It also casts aside the real needs of individuals who are alleged to have perpetrated a crime that may be dealing with mental health or substance abuse disorders because the state does not allow the system to provide any aid until an individual has committed too violent a crime. That is a glaring, glaring failure of the state’s cashless bail. Unless you confront it, we are just compounding a very dangerous situation.”

Nassau County’s chief executive is on a crusade of sorts to reform the cashless bail law.

“I’m going to continue to fight to repeal the bail reform law which is nothing more than a get out of jail free card,” Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman told The Jewish Press. “I believe crime is spiking around the state. Crime has no borders and it has now become a state problem. Crime went up 47 percent in February in New York City, our bordering neighbor. It’s a crime epidemic and a crime pandemic and the governor and state legislature should address it by repealing the bail reform law. We should start supporting law enforcement rather than making their job more difficult. I believe the state legislature has made a terrible mistake and they are not willing to admit it. One of the important things to do in government is to admit it and correct it. People will accept that. It seems like they are doubling down and it’s having a deleterious effect on the public safety of the citizens of New York.”

Other county leaders spoke out against the measure.

“When cashless bail was instituted, it seemed to center around New York City, but you can see it has impacts in every community across the state, including in a county like mine where there are 26 town courts where judges are simply releasing [people] 12, 14, 16-year-old and older,” said Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente (R-Utica). “We had one incident of an individual who was arrested four times the same day and released each time. Two stolen cars, one assault and one attempted robbery all in the same day. Until that is addressed, anything the governor has done and the legislature does regarding crime is insignificant.”

Molinaro said people are getting away with minor criminal offenses because of a lack of effort by prosecutors to expend valuable time and resources just to let an offender out on the street to offend again.

“Discovery reform is beyond an unfunded mandate; it is a massive disincentive to prosecute even the simplest, let alone the most complicated of crimes, and victims or witnesses to crimes are either revictimized or in fear of having their safety threatened because of the broad nature of the reform,” said Molinaro.

Other hot topic issues facing budget negotiations don’t make the headlines, such as unfunded mandates burdening county budgets because of policies set by state lawmakers and the governor.

“There’s a long-running litigation in foster care that’s more than a decade old. The state settled it at the end of last year,” said Dave Lucas, the director of finance and intergovernmental affairs for the New York State Association of Counties. “Unfortunately, the state settled it with the proviso they are going to increase rates in all the counties operating under a foster care block grant. The state didn’t put anything in the budget for it. That means the rate increase is going to have to be fully supported by counties. We don’t know the exact dollar amount. Rate increases could be anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent outside of New York City and close to 50 percent in New York City. If you’re at the maximum state aid rate now for foster care payments, your impact will not be as much as a county that is not there. The state settled the litigation and made somebody else pay for it. That’s just not right, c’mon. The New York Public Welfare Association is estimating the cost for New York City could be as high as $120 million annually and $80 million for the other 57 counties across the state.”

Steve Acquario, executive director of NYSAC, was more diplomatic about where he sees this issue heading.

“The foster care settlement is something the state negotiated to settle and they simply need to appropriate the resources to properly implement that settlement,” Acquario told The Jewish Press. “We need the legislature to properly fund the foster care settlement.”

Eliminating the state’s portion of the gas tax temporarily is a troubling issue for Hochul.

“We already have a cap,” Hochul said. “The state’s share right now is capped at eight percent. Counties have a different dynamic right now. They continue to go up because it’s a percentage of the sale. That’s an area we’re having conversations about. We understand this is one area we should be looking at. I also know that many of our funds are for roads and bridges and the people calling for the end of the gas tax are also asking for more money for infrastructure. So these are the conversations we need to have in a robust way.

“There is unanimity and there is agreement among county leaders that together with the state we have to confront the high cost of gasoline and the price at the pump. State law provides a few options for counties to consider. We are engaged in a very detailed conversation to identify which steps we can take. Some counties may act independently. The hope is county governments across the state will embrace relief for consumers at the pump. We hope in the days ahead the state comes to some conclusion to address this issue and provide relief and that counties together will have a resolution that will provide to our consumers, our residents, our taxpayers,” Hochul added.

Hochul remained cautious just days before the budget deadline.

“If we reduce the taxes and ensure that the money will end up in the pockets of the consumers it has my attention,” Hochul said. “We also know that as the prices continue to escalate, it could go up to $6 per gallon, I don’t have any way to guarantee that the savings from not having to pay up to 20 cents a gallon is going to end up in the consumers’ pocket. I’m being very thoughtful about this. I understand we need to do everything we can to relieve the pressure for the consumers. Thanks to what Putin did, which was his advancement to the attempted unlawful taking of another country, there are going to be consequences, and we’re trying to examine all the different options we have on the table to reduce the impact we have on our New York residents. The surpluses we have from tax receipts, the stock market, as well as stimulus funds will not be there in the future so I already budget in a way that does not have out-year growth. Everything we’re putting in our budget we’re going to be able to fund. I’m also cognizant of the fact that we could be facing a recession. I cannot count on the tax receipts and stock market revenue generated will be there for us even next year. If gas goes up to $6 a gallon, it hits our consumers, our residents, but raises our expenses to do business as a state government.”

When state lawmakers unveiled their versions of the state spending plan, the bottom line increased from Hochul’s proposed $216 billion to the legislature’s $226 billion. There is an unprecedented spending spree being spurred on by the legislature. The saying “if you have it, spend it” could become a common refrain.

Acquario, a longtime analyst on budgetary matters, summed up the situation at the end of the NYSAC annual legislative meeting earlier this month.

“When we leave here the fight is not over with,” Acquario warned. “When we leave here the fight has just begun. The governor wants to put the surplus in a reserve fund. The comptroller said it [the surplus money] should be in a lockbox reserve fund, not a discretionary one. The legislature is taking a different approach. They want to spend the extra revenue on programs and services. That’s what legislators do. They spend money to help people. We have a bit of a challenge here between the legislative branch and the executive branch. We probably have about 200 asks on the table right now on reforming public policy from cell phones in our jails and how that process works to ending AIM (Aid and Incentives for Municipalities) funding and ending distressed sales tax funding, raising the bidding threshold for using our CHIPS (highway aid) funding, using our in-house workers. Who really cares at the end of the day except for the local taxpayers? Who is really accountable to the local taxpayer? That’s us (county leaders).”

Hochul admits that the spending plan will not be all about the money but policy positions that could be accomplished after the budget is passed. She cites examples of how her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, added non-budgetary items into the budget in an effort to speed up the clock towards the end of session, which this year is June 2.

“We’ll have policy measures in the budget,” Hochul said. “There were at least 10 policy initiatives that were in the budget one year ago. The year before that there were at least seven or eight. There is precedent for policy and I believe it makes sense especially since we have a shortened time frame. The legislature plans to leave early in June. We want to get it all done. We have a lot of ideas that we want to work through with the leadership so I feel comfortable with that.”


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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].