Featured PieceThe Northern Westchester Examiner

Bail, Housing Major Stumbling Blocks in State Budget Delay

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Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state legislature are at odds over  proposed revisions to bail reform and housing.

Disagreement over Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed changes to bail reform and the controversial Housing Compact are largely to blame for New York State’s 2024 Fiscal Year budget stalemate having entered a second week.

The legislature passed a one-week extender on Apr. 3 before leaving Albany for the holiday week two days after missing the Apr. 1 deadline. State Sen. Peter Harckham (D-Lewisboro) said a second extender was expected to be approved on Monday to continue funding the government and to pay state employees.

While there are a variety of issues that still need to be clarified, such as MTA funding and the Cap-and-Invest Program to help pay for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, according to Harckham, Hochul’s quest to give judges more discretion in setting bail is getting the biggest pushback.

“We know that (Hochul) is digging in her heels on bail and that is why everything else is sort of on hold,” Harckham said last week. “So, until that issue is resolved, then the substantial talks with the other issues isn’t going to move.”

Hochul signaled during comments to public radio on Mar. 30 that the budget was going to miss the Apr. 1 deadline, marking the second straight year it’s been late since she ascended to the governorship in August 2021. She gave no indication when it could be settled.

“But as I have said all along, it’s not about a race to a deadline, it’s about a race to getting the right results,” Hochul said at the time.

Local state legislators could only guess when a final budget agreement might be reached. Assemblyman Matt Slater (R-Yorktown) said when he left the Capitol last Monday, there seemed to be a wide gulf among the Democratic majorities in the Assembly and Senate on the issue.

Slater gave Hochul credit for trying to address bail reform with crime being top of mind for many New Yorkers, although he doesn’t think the governor’s proposal goes far enough. He said New York is the only state in the nation that has implemented cashless bail but has not included “dangerousness” standard for judges when they weigh setting bail.

However, the New York City contingent is providing the stiffest opposition to the governor’s bail law revision, Slater mentioned. Perhaps the most difficult piece of it is whether judges should always enact the least restrictive means when setting bail.

“I don’t see us getting the least restrictive across the finish line, nor do I see us giving full discretion back, nor do I see us implementing a dangerousness standard,” Slater said. “So the final product isn’t going to get us where we need to go to fix the issue, and my fear is it’s going to become (more of a) a feel-good measure than actually dealing with the issue at hand, which is what we hear from law enforcement and D.A.’s offices.”

Assemblyman Chris Burdick (D-Bedford) said it’s a difficult issue because the state is grappling with fairness in the criminal justice system, which previously punished those with fewer financial resources after being arrested. However, having people feel safe, not only in New York City but in neighborhoods closer to home is equally critical.

“I think I owe it to those who I represent to keep an open mind on these matters and to consider some changes as long as it doesn’t do violence to the underlying reforms that had been made,” Burdick said. “I’m cautiously optimistic we can get there.”

While the bail issue has become the dominant issue late in the budget process – Burdick said it’s “taking up 90 percent of the oxygen” – the controversies surrounding Hochul’s Housing Compact haven’t disappeared.

Burdick said he believes that a housing plan will ultimately be in the final budget, but legislators around the Hudson Valley and elsewhere are working to make sure there are incentives and local control remains intact. Requiring municipalities to submit a plan to reach the goals of a 3 percent increase in housing units will likely remain, but where that housing goes must remain with the local communities, he said.

The biggest outcry this winter was the transit-oriented development piece, which would automatically have rezoned properties within a half-mile radius of every MTA train station to allow for as many as 50 units per acre.

“If the agreement is coupled with incentives, then I would not have a problem if there’s a requirement that every municipality has to adopt a plan to how they’re going to get to a target,” Burdick said. “Don’t tell them how to get to it; tell them they have to come up with a plan. That I think is reasonable.”

Burdick said he wasn’t certain a budget would be approved this week, but is more hopeful that it can be achieved by next week.

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