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Hochul’s Budget Proposals Meet Some Resistance

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Hochul’s Budget Proposals Meet Some Resistance

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s new budget plan, released earlier this week, holds the line on spending increases — but it might hit some headwinds in the State Legislature.

While both houses of the Legislature are led by her fellow Democrats, Hochul’s budget is not guaranteed to be an easy sell. One item expected to meet resistance is her proposal to keep state aid flat for some suburban and rural school districts.

Hochul and her budget office managed to close a $4.3 billion projected deficit by tamping down the spending growth rate in education and other areas.

“It’s a lot more pleasant to say yes to everybody,” Hochul said. “But now we’re called upon to make the tough decisions.”

Hochul is proposing an increase of $825 million for schools, but that’s far less than the record spending over the previous two years. And she wants to funnel much of those funds to the state's poorest schools, many of them in New York’s cities.

The plan would end the decades-long tradition known as “hold harmless,” which ensures that no school district — even the state’s wealthiest — will ever get less money in the state budget than it did in the previous year.

“As much as we may want to, we are not going to be able to replicate the massive increases of the last two years,” Hochul said. “No one could have expected the massive jumps in aid to recur annually.”

Robert Ortt, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, said some GOP senators who represent suburban and rural districts object to the proposal. He said he believes it’s no coincidence that the school districts that are less likely to receive cuts are represented by Democrats in the Legislature.

“It's all rural and suburban districts that are going to see cuts in spending, in some cases drastically, and not to cities,” Ortt said. “And that, to me, really smacks of hypocrisy, but it also smacks of partisanship.”

Ortt predicted that some Democratic senators who represent suburban districts will also be opposed to the idea.

“If the governor's plan is taken at face value, I have to believe that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are going to have something to say about this,” he said.

Advocates for school funding that have been closely allied with Democrats in the Legislature, including the New York State United Teachers union, are also against ending “hold harmless.” In a statement, NYSUT President Melinda Person said the “critical need to consistently support our students and educators should not vary with the fluctuations in our state tax revenue.”

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins sought to minimize any potential friction over the proposal and other items in the budget, including the governor’s plan to trim $1 billion out of the Medicaid budget. It comes as the state’s safety net hospitals say they are nearing financial ruin due to low Medicaid reimbursement rates.

Stewart-Cousins said everything will be discussed.

“We’re going to talk about her approaches to a lot of things in the budget,” she said. “That's why this is going to be an exciting season. We can't wait.”

In a few weeks, the Senate and Assembly will present their own budget counterproposals. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he’s not ruling out some changes after he’s gone through the spending proposal with his Democratic members. That may include spending increases and raising revenues, possibly through tax increases for the wealthy.

“I have to see what the spending, the wish list, is,” said Heastie. “And then we have to try to see if we have enough revenue to match it.”

Any proposals for tax increases will also likely create a budget roadblock. Hochul has already said she will not accept any new proposals, saying New Yorkers’ taxes are already high enough.