Done deal? Hochul announces ‘conceptual’ $229 billion New York state budget plan nearly a month late

Governor Kathy Hochul presenting a ‘conceptual’ Fiscal Year 2024 budget deal in the state capitol.
Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

After 27 days of negotiating past their April 1 deadline, Governor Kathy Hochul said Thursday night she and state legislative leaders have finally reached a “conceptual” Fiscal Year 2024 state budget agreement.

The tentative state spending plan shakes out to a balanced $229 billion, Hochul said during an impromptu Thursday night press conference in the state capitol, that’s up roughly $2 billion from her $227 billion executive budget unveiled in February

Hochul announced a not-yet-final deal without her counterparts in the state legislature — state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. But Hochul assured reporters in attendance that all three parties are on the same page and the budget is all but finalized.

“We agreed that we’re at a point where the major decisions have been made,” Hochul said. “There’s obviously fine tuning that has to be done, that’ll be worked out over the weekend. But literally, bills can start being printed. And we’re on a path to shutting down the budget process.”

Heastie confirmed the conceptual deal in an emailed statement shortly after Hochul’s presentation.

“After months of deliberations and hard work by our members, we have reached a conceptual agreement on a budget,” Heastie said. “While there are still some issues we need to discuss with our members, I am confident we will pass a budget that meets our goals to make New York more affordable and place our state on a strong path forward.”

A state Senate spokesperson didn’t return a request for comment by publication time.

The governor said the extra three weeks it took to reach a budget agreement allowed her to fight for the inclusion of her top policy priorities aimed at making New York “safer, more affordable and more livable,” a vision she dubbed the New York Dream in her State of the State address at the start of the year.

Wins for Hochul on bail reform, charter schools

To that end, Hochul said, the plan will include perhaps her biggest priority: Further rolling back 2019 bail reforms by giving judges more discretion to set bail by eliminating what’s known as the “least restrictive means standard” for violent crimes. The fight between Hochul and legislative leaders over that particular change was reportedly responsible for much of the drawn-out budget negotiations.

Hochul argues the standard, which stipulates judges must consider the least restrictive means for getting defendants to show up for their court dates, sowed confusion among judges across the state about what crimes they could and couldn’t set bail for. But she said the change won’t undue the original intent of the reforms — to not hold people in jail pretrial simply for not having the money to post bail.

“I’ve always been clear on where I stand on this issue,” Hochul said. “Overall, bail reform was needed. I support the core of its true premise that no one regardless of money should be incarcerated because they don’t have enough [money] … But I do believe that judges should have more authority to set bail and detain dangerous defendants.”

The governor said she heard from many judges who insisted having to consider the least restrictive means prevented them from being able to hold certain violent offenders in jail pretrial.

“It was important to remove that, to give the judges the clarity, don’t fall back on that but look at other factors in determining whether or not this person should be remanded or whether or not they should be let out on recognizance or with bail,” she said.

Another win for Hochul included in the plan she detailed Thursday night, is a measure that would allow more charter schools to open in New York City — where there’s been a cap of 275 on privately-run, publicly-funded schools since 2019. The proposal would clear the way for establishing 14 new charter schools in the five boroughs by freeing up licenses from charters that have either closed or had their licenses revoked and reissuing them.

Earlier Thursday, before Hochul’s announcement, charter school advocates celebrated reports that a deal had been reached to raise the number of charters in the city. James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, said Hochul’s decision was a “win for families and their children.”

“She understands that having both a strong and growing charter sector makes all of our public schools stronger and better able to meet the complex needs of our students and families,” Merriman said. “For years, leaders, including many of color, have been on hold to open innovative new schools in NYC communities.”

Nothing doing on housing, yet

But the tentative agreement doesn’t include Hochul’s New York Housing Compact — a plan she pitched to build 800,000 new units statewide over the next decade. That scheme was aimed at boosting the amount of available housing in the state, where demand is outstripping supply and causing rents to soar.

Hochul’s compact would’ve required downstate municipalities to construct new housing at a rate of 3% every three years and areas upstate to build at a rate of 1% every three years. But it quickly became unpopular with suburban lawmakers in the state legislature because it included a provision allowing the state to override local zoning rules and take over construction for areas that didn’t meet their targets. 

Both houses of the state legislature had pitched increasing the amount of incentives available to localities as an alternative, but neither plan appears to have made it into the final deal.

The governor said that while it was clear the legislature wasn’t “ready to commit” to her compact, she intends to keep fighting for it.

“I believe major action is required to meet the scale of this crisis,” Hochul said. “The legislature saw it differently. They’re not ready to commit to the kind of transformative change I proposed. And I know change can be hard or not walking away from this issue. And I won’t stop working hard and fighting to make housing more affordable for New Yorkers.”

With additional reporting by Sarah Belle Lin