NEW YORK - Gov. Kathy Hochul unveiled the largest budget proposal in New York history: $216.3 billion. She announced her first budget proposal on Tuesday, laying a framework for how New York can invest in key sectors and rebound economically from the pandemic.
"This is an extraordinary time and it will be met with extraordinary solutions," Hochul said.
Tucked into the $216.3 billion budget proposal is $2.2 billion in property tax relief, $1 billion over three years in capital investments for transit-related projects, and $1.2 billion in bonuses for the state's health care workforce.
"I promised to start by rebuilding our health care workforce," Hochul said. "They're the heroes of this pandemic. So let's stop talking about debt we owe them and actually pay them what they deserve."
Hochul also included $2 billion for pandemic recovery initiatives, which she said could go to helping tenants, landlords, and others looking for temporary relief.
But advocates criticized the lack of targeted aid to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and the Excluded Workers Fund. The Excluded Workers Fund passed last year in order to give aid to undocumented immigrants who were left out from receiving federal assistance.
"Workers have made clear what they need to weather the omicron surge and any other crisis that strikes in the future: more funding for the Excluded Workers Fund and access to financial support if they lose a job or income. Half-measures simply won't cut it," Fund Excluded Workers Coalition coordinator Bianca Guerrero said.
State Budget Director Robert Mujica, however, offered a different picture of the issue.
"There were no jobs, everything was shut down," Mujica said. "We have now seen the unemployment numbers decline dramatically."
Hochul is also proposing a $2.1 billion boost to school aid, bringing the total to $31.2 billion, investments to childcare and afterschool programs, an increase to the Tuition Assistance Program, and even a rainy day fund.
"We just can't predict the future. But I want to assure New Yorkers that we are prepared and that's why we're making these investments, for those worst-case scenarios," Hochul said. "Calculations will be built in and we will be committing resources every year until the state has reserves of at least 15% of operating spending."
With the influx of federal aid and last year's tax increase on the wealthy, the state is in a better position financially than it has been in years.
But New York is still struggling to rebound, having regained only 62% of jobs lost in 2020. And Mujica said inflation in New York is approaching 5%, the highest since 1991. There has also been an outmigration of residents from New York City but Mujica said most are to areas within the state.
"Part of living in New York City, there's lots of things to do to have fun and when you close those things down you go someplace else," Mujica said. "So with that ending, I think it's directly tied to COVID."
Hochul is also proposing to allow the state to go ahead and issue the last remaining three casino licenses. If approved, this would pave the way for casinos in New York City.
After Hochul's address, statements from agencies and advocates came pouring in.
Mayor Eric Adams praised Hochul for proposing a four-year extension to mayoral control of schools, which expires in June. Mayoral control allows the mayor to appoint the city's schools chancellor and a majority of the members to the Panel for Educational Policy, which runs the city Department of Education.
"Mayoral control will allow us to best serve our schools and support our students as we emerge from the pandemic," Adams wrote in a statement. "This is a top priority for my administration, and we'd like to thank Governor Hochul for putting our students first. We look forward to working with the legislature and all our partners to make our schools the safest and most supportive environments possible."
Yet the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog, took Hochul to task over the scale of this budget proposal.
"New York's competitiveness, stability, and recovery would be better served by taking steps to restrain recurring spending, to ensure State programs are targeted and managed for results, and to start to roll back last year's tax increases that made New York's combined business and top personal income tax rates the highest in the nation," President Andrew Rein wrote.
What's next? Lawmakers will be holding a series of joint legislative budget hearings in order to come to a finalized budget deal by the end of March.