Lawmakers Have Adverse Reactions To Proposed State Budget

January 31, 2024

The Jewish Press

By Marc Gronich

State lawmakers from Rockland and Westchester counties on both sides of the aisle are upset about the latest state budget proposed by Governor Kathy Hochul last Tuesday. The budget totals $233 billion and is aimed at covering the costs for all state agencies, education, and some local programs.

In addition to the spending plan is the income side of the budget, which will continue to rely on casino revenues and sales from marijuana. A new item to the list is congestion pricing, expected to be implemented in the spring at a cost to drivers of $15 to enter Manhattan below 60thStreet from the east to west side. The money is targeted to help the Metropolitan Transportation Authority offset costs, which are spiraling out of control.

A group of five Hudson Valley Republican assemblymen in the MTA region have signed onto a letter sent to the MTA and the Department of Transportation this past week seeking a delay in kicking off the program.

“If congestion pricing is going to be here and the bill to repeal it is not going to pass, the next thing we want is to hold off implementation of the program,” freshman Assemblyman John McGowan (R – Pearl River, Rockland County) said in speaking with The Jewish Press.

“We want to hold off on implementation because there are no credits as of right now for Rockland commuters. It’s really unfair and it’s simply a money grab. It creates a gap between what we get as residents within the MTA region and our ability to commute into the city versus what we pay, it is a tremendous gap. It’s something we can’t stand for, so we’re going to be pretty aggressive fighting this during the session, pushing back, making noise, and hopefully, if we’re not going to repeal then, we get a delay in implementation while additional credits are considered for Rockland residents. My colleagues throughout the Hudson Valley feel the same way as well on behalf of their constituents.”

McGowan said there should be exemptions for emergency service providers as well as the media.

“As of right now there are no exemptions for police officers [and] emergency personnel going into the city, and the media would be another group that we would need to include. You’re going in for work purposes and there shouldn’t be restrictions or other financial burdens on members of the press,” McGowan said.

“I’m a realist and I understand that congestion pricing is here and it is not likely to be repealed. I do have a bill to repeal it. I don’t think I have any support from the majority on that and I don’t anticipate realistically that the speaker or the majority in the assembly or the senate would realistically consider it.”

A Westchester Democrat gave her assessment of how the budget meets her priorities. She said a cut in state aid for municipalities is unfair and she will fight for school aid.

“I am concerned about the impact on school districts with the Hold Harmless clause, especially with some school districts in my district who are fighting for their fair share of foundation aid. They got it and now it’s going to be rolled back,” freshman Assembly member Dana Levenberg (D – Ossining, Westchester County) told The Jewish Press.

“Even those school districts getting their “fair share” because of the way the formula is, could have actually hurt them instead of helping them. I’m going to continue to look at that with my school districts [officials] to try to figure out what we can do to make sure that they are made whole essentially so that they can continue to provide the excellent education we expect in Westchester County.”

A former town supervisor, Levenberg said she wants more money for Aid and Incentives for Municipalities [AIM funding] for local governments, more money for roads and bridge repair and maintenance, which the governor cut in the budget, and additional money for the arts, which was rolled back in the governor’s proposed budget.

“Some of the cost of living increases actually aren’t really adjusting to all of the needs of our labor force,” Levenberg said. “There’s a lot of good. We’re going to have to continue to work together as a complete legislative and executive team to really get this over the hump and make sure we’re addressing all of the needs in New York state.”

With all the additional spending Levenberg listed, McGowan believes the $233 billion will increase by a few billion dollars from what the governor proposed in order to achieve the spending goals of the majority members.

“I think the voices calling for being more fiscally conservative are not coming from the folks who have the majority,” McGowan said. “Giving out more money seems to be a solution the majority believes in. It’s [The final budget is] probably going to be more than what the governor proposed.”

Democrat Levenberg and Republican McGowan said the fentanyl crisis is not hitting their counties as it is in Suffolk County, where more than 400 residents died from an overdose of the lethal drug last year.

“My concern is that it’s going to get worse and perhaps some of the stats don’t really tell you the true story of how much is out there and how many people are having ill health effects from it,” McGowan, a former special victims’ prosecutor with the county, said.

“To an extent they can survive with Narcan, but it is only going to get worse. I think there is no doubt about that. That’s what the trend is and Rockland County is not immune from it, so it is a major issue, the danger, the potency, how lethal this substance is. If we can educate and really go after and prosecute those who are trafficking and putting the substance that is so deadly in the hands of folks who are suffering from an addiction, we need to put together a full-out offense and defense to this problem.”

Across the river in Westchester County, Levenberg said this issue has not risen to the top of the pile of concerns for her.

“I’m not saying it’s not an issue for me but I’m not particularly focused on it so it’s not an issue for me to tell you exactly what I’m doing on it. [Fentanyl] is not the most pressing issue in my district. We’re going to continue to do whatever we can to prevent people from becoming addicted to substances that there really is no getting away from. I’ve seen the impact of the opioid crisis on many constituents in my district. Personally, it has affected friends of mine. We want to make sure older people and younger people are not getting harmed. It hasn’t really come to my attention in my particular community as much as I have heard about it in some of the neighboring communities.”

Levenberg and McGown have divergent hopes, dreams and aspirations.

“We’re going to continue to advocate to protect ourselves as a state,” Levenberg said. “We want to make sure we help all the people who come through and find housing for them, good paying jobs, food and clothing that is actually sustainable and we know where it came from. My focus continues to be on building healthy communities, environmentally, economically, physically and mentally all through the lens of equity.”

McGowan has a broader view for the future.

“I’m learning every day. I was never a staffer. I never worked in Albany. This has been a whole new experience for me. I’m a big believer in political mortality. You’re not guaranteed anything beyond the term you were elected for,” McGowan said. “Fighting for affordability, fighting for fiscal fairness for the folks I represent. I want to make sure my constituents do not get shortchanged by the MTA or continue to be taxed and burdened by congestion pricing; to ensure we have a budget that is fair and doesn’t take money away from the kids in our state to provide for migrants.

You can’t take money from kids and give it to a situation that was created by failed policies and a failure to enforce laws by our federal government. Fighting for criminal justice, fighting for law enforcement, fighting for small businesses and putting New York on the right track moving forward. I’m going to fight to keep bringing New York back to what it once was. We kind of lost our path a little bit.”

The final budget is due on Monday, April 1.