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Full Episode: Hochul's 2023 State of the State, Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, Capitol Update
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Hochul's 2023 State of the State, Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, Capitol Update

Full transcript of Hochul's 2023 State of the State, Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, Capitol Update


Dan Clark: It was Governor Kathy Hochul’s, first State of the State as an elected governor, and with an election behind her, she's looking to make some big moves in this year's legislative session.

Kathy Hochul: As I said in my inaugural address when we are united, there's no stopping us. When it comes to the mountains yet to be climbed, we're ready to scale them this year, because of the peaks we already summited last year.

DC: The big ticket issue this year is housing, Hochul said she wants 800,000 new homes built in New York over the next decade. The plan would lean on localities to help create that housing with financial help from the state, some new tax credits, and changes to zoning laws.

KH: Every single locality across the state will have a target for building new homes. Upstate. The target is for the current housing stock to grow 1% every three years. Believe me, it's very manageable. Downstate 3% every three years.

DC: The plan would provide extra incentives for affordable housing units. That's to reflect the state's rising cost of living while inflation remains high. To that end, she also wants to raise the state's minimum wage and tie it to inflation, meaning it would go up each year with the cost of living.

KH: Costs go up, so will wages. Our families deserve this. Like other states that have implemented this policy, we'll put on guardrails to make sure for employers the increases are predictable for them. I understand this. We also need to have flexibility in the event of a recession.

DC: On public safety, Hochul wants to invest more money in law enforcement, including the state police and local district attorneys, while also adding funds for services like mental health treatment and reentry programs after prison.

She also wants to change the state's laws on cash bail, among the most controversial issues at the Capitol. Her plan would give judges more control to set bail on high level bail eligible charges, but she also said she would work with the legislature to see if more changes should be made.

KH: So to my partners in government, in the legislature, let's start with this base of shared understanding and have a thoughtful conversation. Talk about what we can do during the budget process and make improvements to that law.

DC: On education, Hochul wants to boost funding for public schools by $2.7 billion and continue the state's expansion of pre-K. And on the topic of health care, Hochul wants to create a new commission on the future of health care and boost coverage options for Medicaid recipients and those on the state's low-cost essential health care plan. She also wants to boost mental health care, proposing more inpatient beds and supportive housing.

KH: We have underinvested in mental health care for so long and allowed the situation to become so dire that it also has become a public safety crisis as well.

DC: Details on those proposals and a lot more are anticipated in Hochul’s executive budget proposal, which we're expecting in the coming weeks. 

Dan Clark: We caught up with a few top lawmakers after the speech for their reaction including Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat from the Bronx who said he would have to see more details on some of the governor's proposals but backed her plan to tie the state's minimum wage to inflation.

Carl Heastie: I think that's a very important thing. I think the people on the lower rungs of the economic scale have been squeezed. So, the fact that you're looking to always adjust minimum wage, I think it's a very good proposal.

DC: On the other side of the aisle, Republicans said they didn't hear enough from Hochul on lowering the state's cost of living, a top issue for New Yorkers. Assembly Republican leader Will Barclay argued that raising the minimum wage wouldn't be the right approach.

Will Barclay: By mandating certain wages, I think that just drives business away. Ultimately, what we want to do is have more jobs, more opportunities in New York, and raising the minimum wage isn't the way to get there.

DC: Some interesting discussions ahead for the state budget, which is due in March, but that was all happening against the backdrop of a Democratic divide at the state capitol. At least 14 Democrats in the state Senate said this week that they will not support Governor Hochul’s nominee to be the state's next Chief Judge.

That's Hector LaSalle, a presiding justice of one of the state's four appellate courts, and 14 votes against LaSalle could be enough to tank his nomination. A few lawmakers rallied this week with a handful of union leaders to oppose LaSalle. State Senator Kirsten Gonzalez was one of them.

Kirsten Gonzalez: Now more than ever, we need our Court of Appeals to be the leader in safeguarding our civil liberties, in defending our democracy, and in protecting the most vulnerable New Yorkers. And I urge governor Hochul to pull this nomination and every single one of my colleagues to vote no on LaSalle. Thank you so much.

DC: As of now, Hochul is sticking by the nomination and the state Senate has scheduled a hearing for this coming week. We're expecting it to be a tense day at the Capitol. Here's what Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said this week when she was asked about the nomination.

Andrea Stewart-Cousins: That would clearly be easier, but, you know, that said, here we are.

DC: But there's also another scenario that's been floated at the Capitol that would be for Republicans to lend the votes if LaSalle makes it to the floor. Senate Republican leader Rob Ortt said this week that Republican members want to feel it out.

Rob Ortt: As far as our conference goes, I think this conference is keeping a very open mind on Judge LaSalle. I think this conference wants to hear from Judge LaSalle, they want to talk to Judge La Salle, and they believe he should get a hearing, and a floor vote.

DC: He was speaking there at an event this week where Senate Republicans unveiled their own agenda for this year. For more on that and Governor Hochul’s, State of the State we caught up with Leader Ortt for his take on the speech and this year’s session.

DC: Thank you so much for coming back. I appreciate it.

RO: Good to see you, Dan. Happy New Year to you and your viewers.

DC: To you as well.

So, the governor gave her State of the State speech on Tuesday and I'm wondering what stood out to you.

RO: There were a couple of things that stood out, certainly. She mentioned bail and she sort of doubled down in her support for the changes, but noted that crime continues to be a problem to New Yorkers. But she really didn't go beyond that as far as a plan or what she intended to do, and the reason I think that's important is my colleagues in the Senate Democratic Conference and in the Assembly, they're not going to make changes to bail on their own, absent the governor driving this in the budget or somewhere in session. I do not anticipate that my colleagues in the Senate across the aisle are going to take any kind of lead to change the bail laws, which our conference certainly believes needs to happen. 

You know, the governor talked about housing and how we need to build more housing in all parts of the state, but there were some real problems that I saw with her plan. One, how do you build housing in places that are losing population? There are large swaths of this state, places that I represent, rural counties that are losing people. So why on earth would any developer or homebuilder build more homes in a place that maybe doesn't have the need for it?

I also think that she didn't address why. Why is housing more expensive? Why is that? Because it's costly. That's why you don't have more homes being built because you got rid of 421a, because you got rid of the incentives that would drive builders and developers to construct more units, particularly affordable units in places like Manhattan, in Brooklyn, in New York City. You can set all the goals you want, I don't think you're going to reach those goals absent addressing sort of the root causes, which is that building homes in New York, constructing homes in New York, people wanting to live in New York, is more expensive today than it was four years ago, than it was eight years ago, and as a result, people have left the state and sought opportunities elsewhere, and homebuilders are going to follow those people.

DC: That's a really interesting point about the housing goals. So the goal is 800,000 new housing units over the next decade, but as you pointed out, places like the city of New York may have a much greater need than somewhere upstate that's actually lost population and may have more housing than residents need. 

There's also this part of it that her plan, as we understand it right now at least, would allow some municipalities to override local zoning laws if they're having trouble meeting their housing goals. I know that's been a problem in the past. What do you think about that part of her proposal?

RO: I think she's going to face serious pushback. This is a big issue for me more in a philosophical way. So, this is the latest move by Albany to basically eradicate home rule. New York State is a home rule state and always has been. Albany, in recent years, mostly driven by people out of New York City, has decided that we're not going to recognize local zoning, we're not going to recognize basically local laws, passed by local elected bodies because we don't think that's the right thing. 

By we, that means usually somebody from Manhattan or somebody from Brooklyn or somebody from the Bronx. I just think that it is offensive to me as an upstate leader, but I think it should be mostly offensive to any local town board member, county executive, board of appeals member, zoning board member, and that is sort of the frustrating piece. The governor being from western New York, having been a town board member, a county clerk, I'm surprised that she would go down this path because she, more than maybe anybody knows the importance of local governing leaders making those decisions.

DC: You know, on the bail issue just to go back to that, she has this interesting proposal that I think has been talked about a little bit where higher-level crimes, we’re talking about the ones that are currently bail eligible. It would remove a piece of the statute where a judge has to release somebody by the least restrictive means is the gist of what it is. So, she wants to have that change. What did you think of that? 

I know you would like to see the bail law repealed and then have kind of a start over process with stakeholders coming in, but does that get us closer to where you would want us to be?

RO: It addresses a key point which the language about least restrictive means, when I've talked to judges and district attorneys, that has been the problem. Even with some of the tweaks or even saying that, judges will get discretion on some of these offenses, as long as that language is in there, the person is going to be released without bail. 

That that is sort of the key piece of this of this law that ensures that most defendants will be released with a desk appearance ticket, and I think that's an important part, a hugely important part. I don't want to undersell that, but obviously we would like to see more. I do think there are a dangerousness standard in there, allowing judges to say this person has been, arrested four times in the last month or based on the offense, domestic violence or what have you, I'm going to hold them, because I think they pose a greater risk to the public or to even themselves. 

But again, in the legislature and my colleagues across the aisle, there was no applause when she talked about bail. There was no response, and I think that shows that she's going to have to be really serious about getting this done, because I do not think my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have any appetite to try to fix this, even though a majority of New Yorkers, I think, would say they would like to see something done about cash bail.

DC: Yeah, I think it will be a fight in the state budget in March or maybe after, I guess we'll have to see when it comes to the forefront of everything. Another interesting proposal that I want to touch on before we run out of time is this plan from Hochul that would index the minimum wage to inflation. So as much as inflation goes up, the minimum wage would go up. In New York, we're at $15 an hour for the suburbs in New York City, a little over $13 upstate right now. So, we don't know where it would actually go. But what do you think about the idea of tying it to inflation?

RO: My concern when you talk about raising the minimum wage, yet again, and I've only been here for eight years, we already passed a minimum wage increase in my time in the Senate, and now we're talking about potentially increasing it further. My concern is if it goes up, especially tying it to inflation, inflation has been at some record numbers. So, you could have minimum wage jump considerably if it's tied to this, and we know what that does. 

It causes compression. It causes other things to go up like basic goods and services. For someone that might be out of work, that affects them as well. So, it's going to give employers another reason potentially not to hire more people, because they're going to say, I can't afford to hire all these folks. We have to make do with what we have, and I just don't know if this is the answer to the to the issue of making New York more affordable. I actually will argue this is going to help continue making New York one of the most expensive states to live in the country.

DC: I think it's going to be a big issue in the budget in March, if it gains traction. I know that some Democrats in the legislature want to see it move forward. Others may be less inclined, especially those upstate. We'll see where it goes. 

Senate Republican leader Rob Ortt, thank you so much.

RO: Dan, good to see you.

Dan Clark: I's been a busy week in Albany. Let's get into it with Joseph Spector from Politico and Keshia Clukey from Bloomberg Government. Thank you both for being here

So, this was the governor's second State of the State address. Joe, I'm going to go to you first. What stood out to you?

Joseph Spector: Well, what stood out was what the governor race last year showed were the most important things were for voters. Affordability and crime. Let's face it, it was the closest governor's race since 1994 due to the fact that Lee Zeldin was effective in hitting on those two issues. So, what did the governor talk about? Affordability and crime. Particularly the affordability piece was interesting.

It's no secret that New York leads the nation in outmigration and population loss. You've heard governors talk for a long time, for decades, in fact, about the need to try to stem that tide, try to bring people back to New York, try to lower taxes, a property tax cap, they give back money each year through various tax programs. But Hochul is trying to look at a systematic way to make it more affordable. 

That was in part through her housing plan, which she's trying to create more housing, particularly in the New York City suburbs and in upstate. If you if you have more housing, theoretically it might be cheaper for people to live. For people from New York City, where it's increasingly hard to find housing and makes it more expensive than it might be an ability to lower some of that.

DC: We’ve talked about it earlier in the show, but there's a part of her plan that would, I don't want to say force because we don't really know the exact details of it, but it would allow local governments or the state to override local zoning changes to make some of these changes for housing in the long term. Joe, do you see that being a big fight?

JS: Oh, I see that being a big fight. I mean, when you are coming in as a state and trying to tell local municipalities, you need to build X number of houses, I think it's like 3% a year in sort of an inner ring suburbs and then 1% a year. It's the reason why a lot of times New York tries to dissolve villages.

People like their local government, they like their local control, so how is the governor going to convince people on Long Island or in Westchester, Rockland or wherever that you need to build X number of houses to bring in new people? What does that do to the schools? What does that do to infrastructure in these communities? There's a lot of questions there. 

It was talked about in the State of State, we wrote about it, but it's going to be a real big issue going forward.

DC: I think so, too. Keshia, what stood out to you? I know that you covered the minimum wage part of it and some other parts.

Keshia Clukey: Yeah, touching on Joe's issue of affordability that the governor brought up, she is planning on tying the minimum wage to inflation, which I think goes half way to what unions and worker advocates want, especially like Senator Ramos and Assemblywoman Joyner, both have a bill that would first raise the minimum wage and then attach it to inflation so that it basically takes it out of the legislature so you don't have to have this fight every few years, and it would just tie it to the increases that we're all seeing. She got a standing ovation on that part, but there's still a lot of work to do. So I think we'll kind of see what happens, especially in the budget and then as the process unfolds. 

We also saw a lot of stuff on climate. She talked about electrifying buildings, banning new gas installations by 2025 for small buildings, I believe 2028 for larger buildings. This is the fight against the gas stove, which I think there are a lot of opinions on one way or the other. So, we'll kind of see how that plays out as well, and I'd also like to note something that she didn't discuss at all, which is education.

DC: Yeah, it was in the book we got, a 277-page book with all the governor's proposals every year, at various page lengths, and there were some sections on education, but as I was putting together our story this week I did notice in the speech she didn't talk about it. I wonder why.

KC: I don't know, and especially if you're touching on affordability, you know, she talks about herself as a as the first mother governor so it's kind of interesting that she didn't touch on that. 

The state in the book did say that it would fully fund schools under this foundation aid formula that has been the bane of everyone's existence, trying to get this thing fully funded for decades now. So, I don't know, we'll kind of see from that.

I'd like to note, too, that, of course, you know, this wasn't the budget, so this is just her policy proposal. So there's a lot of top line issues that she touches on that we need to wait and see what the actual bill language says.

DC: You know, a lot of these issues, a lot of the proposals that she's putting forward and that have been talked about in the early part of session have kind of set up this divide of the Capitol, where we have Democrats controlling both chambers of the legislature and the governor's office, but we have this faction of Democrats in the state Senate and the Assembly that are considered Far-Left, more progressive types, pitted against the moderates.

Joe, I want to ask you, just politically, does that make it more difficult for the governor this year? Democrats control everything, but it seems like it doesn't help us get to solutions faster when they're trying to strike a deal.

JS: Yeah, that's right. You have everything controlled by Democrats, but that doesn't mean they're in lockstep with each other either. They come from different parts of the state. An upstate Democrat can be quite different from one in New York City, and so you see some of that. Now in last year's election, some moderates did lose so I think it's pushed the legislature to Democrats more to the progressive end, and so that's created a little bit of a divide. 

When you talk about issues like bail, she wants to have this least restrictive standard removed where judges would have essentially more discretion to set bail, which has been at the crux of this issue since the law was first passed in 2019. 

Maybe some moderate Democrats would support bail changes, but I don't think you're going to see progressives. Speaker Carl Heastie talked about it. You're not going to see them moving to do much on bail. But we'll see what the budget comes out with.

DC: I agree. The Democrats that lead the Assembly and the Senate have been very resistant to bail changes to the point where last year it only happened because the governor brought it up last minute in the budget negotiations. I'm wondering if something similar happens again this year.

We have a few minutes left and we have to touch on the Chief Judge nomination. Hector LaSalle, as we've mentioned, is the nominee, and it's kind of like the same situation where we have progressives trying to block the nomination and moderates, it kind of like seems like they're on the fence. It doesn't seem like there's a lot of moderates coming out with strong support for LaSalle. 

Keshia, where is this fight right now?

KC: Yeah, it's really interesting because it's kind of gaining traction. There are several sides to it. There's Latinos for LaSalle who want to see the first Latino Chief Judge on the Court of Appeals, and then you've got all these unions coming out against him, and so you are seeing a little bit of a turn here. It's not just necessarily progressives coming out on that. So, it's kind of interesting that Kathy Hochul is not standing down. She is saying this is my candidate, I think he's very important to get through, and progressives are saying, listen, we just lost seats to redistricting, which ended up giving the Republicans majority in the in Congress because of the seats lost in New York, and that was part of redistricting from a conservative court. 

They're saying we can't have a conservative court, look what's happening at the federal level. Work with us to get a candidate that works. So, we'll see what happens with that. It sounds like the Senate doesn't have enough votes to make it out of the Judiciary Committee and therefore it wouldn't go to the floor. 

Then there's this whole constitutional question that we don't know yet. This has never happened. This process was set up in the seventies, and there's only been two times where the Senate Judiciary Committee didn't agree with the judge's candidate and in both situations they sent it without recommendation to the floor for a vote.

There the governor had wrangled enough votes to get it on the Senate floor to pass. In this case, the committee is saying we don't have enough votes to even do that. It's probably going to die in committee.

DC: Wow. Joe, how does this compare to this process in the past. This seems messier than usual, right? 

JS: Yeah, you usually see this on a federal level for the U.S. Supreme Court, now we're seeing it here in our backyard in New York. 

So just set the stage, Wednesday will be the confirmation hearing for LaSalle. What happens out of that? As Keshia well put it, does it get out of committee? Does it get to the floor? 

Usually that happens on the same day, it's kind of a celebratory situation where you get the judiciary. The Chief Judge sits up in the Senate gallery with his or her family, and it’s a celebratory day. I'm not so sure it's going to be celebratory on Wednesday.

DC: Right, it's a really complicated situation, and as Keshia said, kind of unprecedented as we're seeing play out in history right now. Kind of a cool time to be covering the New York state government, but we are out of time.

Keshia Clukey from Bloomberg Government, Joe Spector from Politico. Thank you both so much for being here.

On This Week's Edition

Catch this week's show on your local PBS station, or watch on YouTube, Facebook, or using the free PBS app anytime after Friday.

On this week's edition of New York NOW:

  • Gov. Kathy Hochul delivered her 2023 State of the State address this week. We'll have a recap.
  • Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt joins us with his response to Hochul's agenda for this year's legislative session.
  • Joe Spector from POLITICO New York and Keshia Clukey from Bloomberg Government join this week's panel with analysis.
  • We'll have an update on Hochul's nomination for New York's next chief judge.