One-house budgets are coming

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With help from Shawn Ness

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins alluded the Senate's budget proposal will include changes to school funding.

Both houses of the state Legislature are planning to introduce their one-house budget proposals next Monday then pass them sometime before they adjourn for the week on March 14.

That will frame the debate around the $233 billion spending plan proposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul as lawmakers ramp up talks over the product due on March 31 — but which will likely come at least a little late due to the overlap of that date and Easter.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins didn’t offer many teasers for her house’s proposal at an appearance in the Capitol today, saying she doesn’t want to “be preemptive.”

But she did indicate the Senate will propose changes to Hochul’s proposal to decrease funding for 337 school districts — despite the budget plan including a nearly 3 percent increase in overall education aid.

“It’s safe to say that we are concerned about the education proposals the governor has put forward,” Stewart-Cousins said told reporters as she outlined a series of agriculture bills set to be passed today.

“Almost half the school districts in the state would have been receiving less than they anticipated.”

School aid expects to be one of the most contentious issues as the sides negotiate in earnest in the coming weeks.

In an appearance at the Capitol this afternoon, Hochul’s budget director Blake Washington said there would be “collaboration” on how to address school funding.

He was asked specifically about a plan recently mentioned by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie — not cutting any funding for this year, but reexamining the formula going forward.

Hochul’s office could “be receptive” to “amending the formula to provide a meaningful result that the legislative leaders can agree upon,” Washington said. “There’s probably a near term and a long-term goal here. If past is prologue, you’d probably see a little bit of both.”

Other subjects might face longer odds to make it into the one-houses. Both houses — particularly the Assembly — are historically a bit more reluctant than the governor to include policy items in the budget.

“I wouldn’t expect to see a lot of innovation, around A.I. in our one-house,” Stewart-Cousins said when asked about that subject.

On housing, another cornerstone of Hochul’s plan, the majority leader said “it’s important we have” a conversation on that subject, “whether it’s inside the budget or outside the budget.”

Hochul isn’t proposing as robust a housing plan as last year after her effort to mandate new homes in communities was rebuffed by lawmakers.

But several proposals in her executive budget are nonetheless controversial — like a new version of the expired 421-a tax break, and a measure to lift the cap on residential density in New York City. Some lawmakers also want to again push for “good cause” eviction laws that would better protect tenants.

Plenty of advocates are doing their best to ensure their interests stay in discussions as the budget talks continue. Tuesday was the busiest day in the Capitol complex so far this year, with lines for security at the Legislative Office Building’s elevators stretching far down the halls.

The largest rally included unions, such as NYSUT and the AFL-CIO, to call for changing the Cuomo era “Tier VI” pension plan into something a bit more generous to public employees.

That idea is expected to be included in the Senate’s proposal, according to two officials familiar with the plans, but the details were still being ironed out. Bill Mahoney

State Sen. Jeremy Cooney is sponsoring a bill that would phase in dramatic increases to paid medical leave over four years.

PAID MEDICAL LEAVE WARS: Three Democrats want to make changes to the state's paid medical leave laws — which haven’t been updated since 1989. But it’s put some colleagues in awkward positions.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and state Sens. Jeremy Cooney and Jessica Ramos each have their own ideas on how to boost paid medical and disability leave benefits in New York, which currently has been capped at $170/week since 1989.

But each disagree over how quickly businesses should be required to raise the benefits. The proposals also differ in terms of how much support employers should offer workers on leave — and for how long that support should be required.

The result of the three-way spat: Advocates for Ramos’ bill from NYCLU and nonprofit legal organization A Better Balance awkwardly ended up behind Cooney during a press conference today for his bill.

But the advocates then clarified to POLITICO that they were not supportive of Cooney’s bill — which aims to achieve parity with paid family leave at 67 percent of the average weekly wage over four years — and had erroneously stood behind him.

Instead, they’re backing Ramos’ measure, which aims to achieve increases by 2025. Hochul wants to do it over five years.

“It doesn’t go far enough,” Cooney, who has the backing of the Life Insurance Council of New York, said of Hochul’s proposal. — Jason Beeferman

DRUG TREATMENT: State Sens. Gustavo Rivera and Nathalia Fernandez and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal are pushing for two bills that aim to expand harm reduction services for drug users.

The lawmakers gathered with unions and advocacy groups in the Capitol to churn up support for the bills.

“Addiction is not a moral failing. And criminalization does not work,” Rivera said. “Because if it did it would’ve worked already. People are dying today. They died yesterday and they will die tomorrow, but they don't have to.”

The duo is each sponsoring their own bill: Rivera and Rosenthal’s bill aims to expand the number of overdose prevention programs, while Fernandez’s bill would provide drug users a safe way to test their drugs in controlled environments to see if it is laced.

Rivera hammered home the point that if users have a safe place to use, that it will drastically decrease the number of drug overdoses, as most users end up dying alone, “you can’t recover if you are dead,” he said.

“We know the benefits of the OPCs [overdose prevention centers] that we were able to introduce as a pilot program in New York City,” Assemblymember Demond Meeks, a Rochester Democrat, said. “We need them all across the state, and it is absolutely safe.” — Shawn Ness

Mayor Eric Adams said the decrease in subway crimes is due to an increased police presence.

SUBWAY CRIME: Transit crime was down by double digits in February, which Mayor Eric Adams today attributed to City Hall shifting officers to 12-hour tours and adding an additional 1,000 police officers into the subway system each day. The subway system sees over 4 million riders and about six felonies per day, he said.

“We know people feel unsafe, and we want to make sure that the balance of their actual safety matches what they’re feeling,” Adams said, noting that City Hall is striving for an “omnipresence” of uniformed officers in stations.

In addition, the NYPD is “reinstituting” bag checks in the subway system “in the next week or so,” Adams said. “There was always a version taking place — they might elevate and escalate it a little more.”

He added that City Hall has identified two models of metal detectors that are “promising” and going through “rigorous inspections.”

“I feel confident that we’re going to find technology that’s going to identify firearms,” he said. — Irie Sentner

State Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Karines Reyes are advocating for more protections for retail workers.

BREAKING OUT THE OLD ANTI-FRACKING POSTERS: Advocates who campaigned to block hydraulic fracturing to extract gas in New York a decade ago returned to Albany again to fight a new proposal to use carbon dioxide instead of water.

A bill to block the proposal by Southern Tier Solutions, which wants to test the technology in that part of the state, is moving through the Senate and Assembly.

“This company is offering an opportunity at the expense of working people,” said state Sen. Lea Webb, the sponsor of the bill. “The impacts are too devastating.”

Environmental advocates repurposed old banners and posters for the new campaign, with some marking in “CO2” above “Fracking = Climate Change.” A Cuomo-era poster reading “Don’t Frack with our Future” also made an appearance (the part with Cuomo’s face was kept rolled up). — Marie J. French

FAITH-BASED HOUSING: Amid a dire housing shortage in New York state lawmakers are scrambling to come up with ways to boost the state’s housing supply.

One option — make churches, synagogues and other religious institutions eligible to bypass local zoning laws and build housing, as of right, on land owned by faith-based organizations.

“Increasing the supply of permanent housing is a critical part of ensuring that we get out of the (housing) crisis,” Brian Kavanagh, chair of the senate housing committee, told Playbook.

The measure is separate from a push from Mayor Eric Adams to make it easier for churches and religious institutions to provide temporary shelters for migrants, who are also pressed for a place to stay in the city.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Brian Cunningham, ensures the housing built on religious institutions' lands would be “deeply affordable,” with restrictions varying based on whether or not the development is located within New York City.

“We think that, given the depths of the housing crisis that we're in right now, it makes sense to make it easier for these institutions to develop affordable housing, as long as they meet certain affordability requirements,” Gounardes said — Jason Beeferman

PROTECT RETAIL WORKERS: State Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Karines Reyes, the chairs of the Labor Committee and Subcommittee on Workplace Safety, respectively, are urging other lawmakers to support and pass the “Retail Worker Safety Act.” (S.8358/A. 8947).

Unions and lawmakers railed at the state Capitol today in support of the measure.

“We are being presented with a false choice: We do not need to choose between protecting goods from retail theft and protecting workers,” Ramos said in a statement. “The basic premise of the Retail Worker Safety Act is that workplaces should have a plan. Employers and workers should think about a course of action in advance, in the hopes that they will never have to use it.”

The bill would require retail employers to develop plans to protect their workers from violence, as well as provide annual training and reviews of the programs.

“This challenge is deeper than the changes that are being made to display shelves and cases, but one that is central to worker safety,” Reyes said in a statement. “These steps are necessary to comprehensively reduce violence against workers and customers, which should be addressed in the final enacted state budget.” — Shawn Ness

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo was subpoenaed by the Republican-led House subcommittee investigating the Covid-19 pandemic. (POLITICO)

— Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris talked about redistricting and how the process should look in the future. (Capitol Pressroom) 

— Election boards are looking for more workers for upcoming elections. (State of Politics)

— Police officers found more body parts in a park in Babylon, Long Island. (Newsday)

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