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Election-year state budget has a little something for everyone

Jan 20, 2022

Nassau DPW crews repair potholes on Uniondale Avenue in 2021 in Uniondale. Gov. Kathy Hochul's proposed budget sets aside money for repairing potholes statewide. Credit: Howard Schnapp Updated January 19, 2022 7:09 PM ALBANY — A flush New York has given Gov. Kathy Hochul a state budget built for an election year, analysts say. Hochul, while facing a half dozen or so would-be challengers, has stuffed her $216.3 billion proposed budget, unveiled Tuesday, with something for seemingly every key constituency. There’s generous proposed increases for school districts and child care. There’s bonuses for new health care workers and raises for veteran ones. There’s more money stashed in reserves to please fiscal hawks. There’s expanded investments in wind power and electric vehicles for environmentalists. There’s business tax breaks for restaurants, farms and small companies. There are no new tax or fee hikes. And there’s a new property-tax rebate that means those who qualify could receive a check averaging $970, arriving in the mail just before Election Day. The power of an incumbent to dole out cash — while she’s already leading in the polls and in fundraising — gives Hochul an advantage not available to challengers. Get the Breaking News newsletter! Get the latest breaking news as it happens. By clicking Sign up, you agree to our privacy policy . "This is an election-year budget that every chief executive dreams about," said Steve Greenberg, spokesman for the Siena College poll. "Not only does she have lots of money to spend this year — health care, education, transportation, environment — she also says there’s no deficit for the foreseeable future and no tax hikes. Tell me the last governor of New York who was able to present a budget that had no cuts, lots of new spending and a rosy outlook of no deficit. I can’t think of any." Hochul, a Buffalo Democrat, proposed a budget that would increase overall spending by 3%, or $4 billion, over last year. But the state is able to cover the growth without tax hikes because of a massive influx of federal pandemic aid and a faster and better-than-expected economic recovery over the last 12 months. It’s stark difference from 2021 when Andrew M. Cuomo cut state spending in some areas, reduced help for local governments and said further cuts would be necessary if state government didn’t get $15 billion in federal pandemic aid. Cuomo resigned in August while facing a possible impeachment trial following a sexual harassment investigation, making Hochul, his lieutenant governor, New York’s first female chief executive. The amount Cuomo said New York needed proved to be overstated because the economy rebounded faster than projected. Combined with a series of federal aid packages, the state now has a budget surplus and no projected "out year" shortfalls — something almost unheard of in state politics. "No tax increases. No shortfalls. It’s a happy time budget," said Doug Muzzio, political scientist at Baruch College. Muzzio noted the budget was delivered on the same day a Siena poll showed Hochul with a commanding lead over New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), two Democrats seeking to challenge her in a primary. And it came on the same day new campaign finance reports showed Hochul raised $21.9 million since August and has $21.6 million on hand. Suozzi raised $3.3 million and has about $5.4 million in the bank. Williams raised $221,996. On the Republican side, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) topped a handful of potential candidates by raising $4.2 million. The fundraising, combined with the ability to shower budget goodies around the state, could make Hochul "formidable" in the campaign, Muzzio said. While legislators largely praised Hochul’s proposed budget, her campaign rivals were her most vocal critics. Suozzi said Hochul’s plan spends too much, doesn’t address rising crime rates and doesn’t lower New York’s high tax rates. Republican Rob Astorino, the former Westchester County executive, said it "exhibits no fiscal restraint nor the imagination needed to help reverse the decline of our state" or counter out-migration. Flashpoints with state legislators are bound to happen as Hochul looks to get a budget adopted by the April 1 deadline. Policy debates loom on criminal justice, housing and workforce benefits. But historically legislators often battle to add more spending when a governor proposes cuts or modest increases. That’s not the case this time. For instance, Hochul’s starting point on school aid growth is 7% — a "breathtaking" amount in the context of New York politics, said Lawrence Levy, executive dean at the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. The generosity could be cynically viewed as shoring up electoral support, he said, but after more than a year into the pandemic, many schools, workers and businesses are still hurting. So Hochul is in the position of meeting needs while reaping a "political dividend." "There may be something in the budget for everyone, but also this is a time when everyone needs something," Levy said.

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