By STEVE BITTENBENDER
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – A week after it was due, New York legislators finally began approving the fiscal year budget.
Various bills regarding the $220 billion spending plan were still being released as of Friday afternoon. Nevertheless, lawmakers began their work on approving various pieces of the budget on Thursday night.
The budget features a lengthy list of items beyond traditional spending and taxes. Among other things, it halts the state gas tax as of June 1 through the rest of 2022 and begins the move to replace the state’s beleaguered public ethics agency. The agreed-to plan also approves licenses for three downstate casinos and changes the state’s bail reform laws to bolster safety in the state.
The budget “delivers for all New Yorkers,” Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement.
“As we make our comeback from the COVID-19 pandemic, we are embracing this once-in-a-generation opportunity to usher in a whole new era for New York with a bold budget that brings much-needed economic relief to New Yorkers and looks to the future with historic investments in education, health care and infrastructure,” Gov. Hochul said. “This agreement brings us closer to an enacted budget and makes good on our promise of a stronger, safer, more inclusive and more prosperous New York state.”
Another measure included in the budget was the reinstatement of allowing restaurants to sell alcoholic drinks to customers who purchased food for takeout or delivery. It’s in place for three years.
The state’s dining establishments were allowed to do that during the COVID-19 state of emergency when they faced bans or restrictions on indoor dining.
Another new revenue item that Gov. Hochul pushed for, along with key lawmakers, is the expedited licensing of three casino licenses for downstate New York.
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo, the Queens Democrat who chairs the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, has said the licenses alone could generate upward of $2 billion for the state. Sen. Addabbo and Assembly Racing and Wagering Chairman Gary Pretlow, D-Mount Vernon, pushed for moving the licensing process up a year. They said it would help the downstate’s hospitality and construction industries, which were particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
With up to three licenses available, Resorts World New York City and Empire City Casino in Yonkers, two existing video lottery terminal facilities in the region, have expressed interest in obtaining a license and offering live-dealer table games and Las Vegas-style slots.
Resorts World owner Genting Group said it’s ready to work with the state and “immediately double” its workforce by getting one of the coveted licenses.
“More than 10 years ago, we made a commitment to our partners throughout the state that we would create good-paying union jobs, have a strong and diverse workforce, generate much-needed education revenue, and be an economic engine for the entire community,” Bob DeSalvio, president now Genting Americas East, said in a statement. “A decade later, we have kept our promise backed by more than $1.1 billion invested in our world-class property. We welcome the opportunity to work with the state and local stakeholders on this important and timely leap forward.”
While Gov. Hochul claimed the budget as a huge victory, not everyone saw it that way.
The Associated Builders and Contractors Empire State Chapter tweeted Friday that the budget was “a gut punch to the 70 percent of New York state’s construction workforce” who aren’t represented by unions.
Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, criticized the plan to suspend the 16-cent per gallon gas tax only for seven months through Dec. 31, arguing that New Yorkers deserve a full gas tax holiday. He also ripped a one-party system that gave Republicans in both chambers just hours to go through the budget documents.
Even Democrats found ways to criticize Gov. Hochul, who is running for a full term later this year. And her party colleagues hit her from both sides.
State Sen. Julia Salazar, D-Brooklyn, tweeted Thursday that the plan funded a new Buffalo Bills stadium instead of the state’s working people. The latter group, she said, would have benefitted from a plan to provide single-payer health care in the state.
“It commits public (money) to an NFL team owned by a billionaire while failing to fund #Coverage4All,” she tweeted.
U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi also criticized Gov. Hochul for including $600 million in state money for the $1.4 billion Bills project. However, the Long Island congressman, who is running against Gov. Hochul in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, called the budget a “squandered opportunity” to improve the state.