ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) New York Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed increasing state school aid by 10%, tuition hikes for public universities and raising cigarette taxes to a nation-high $5.35 per pack as part of her budget proposal Wednesday.
The $227 billion spending plan also includes a proposal to yet again revise state bail law, which is expected to be resisted by liberal state lawmakers. The proposal kicks off weeks of intense negotiations with state legislative leaders as they try to agree on a finalized budget by the April 1 deadline.
The budget would raise the state cigarette tax from $4.35 to $5.35 per pack. Washington, D.C., currently has the highest excise tax nationwide at $4.50, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators.
The budget also would prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products, as opposed to just flavored vaping products. The administration said the moves will reduce the number of young smokers.
The governor is proposing a record 10% increase in school aid, to $34.5 billion.
Under Hochul’s proposal, state and city colleges could increase tuition by either 3% or an amount tied to the Higher Education Price Index, whichever is less. The state’s university centers would have the flexibility to raise tuition 6 percentage points above the system’s base tuition rate each year for the next five years for in-state students.
Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group said the proposed tuition hike made little sense amid declining enrollment.
“The last thing in the world you want to do is make it more expensive to go,’’ he said.
Hochul also wants to make more revisions to the state’s bail law, which was changed in 2019 to do away with pretrial incarceration for people accused of most nonviolent offenses.
The law has been tweaked since, but Republicans and some moderate Democrats continue to argue the rules have deprived judges of a tool they could use to hold people likely to commit new crimes.
Budget briefing documents say Hochul wants to give judges greater discretion by removing the “least restrictive means’’ standard to ensure a defendant returns to court, as opposed to considering how dangerous they appear.
Hochul has said she favors eliminating that “least restrictive’’ standard for serious crimes.
Hochul proposed dramatic spending to help New York City handle a wave of international migrants and to stabilize its reeling public transit system with her $227 billion state budget Wednesday, even as she warned of tougher economic times ahead.
Hochul said caring for new migrants and the solvency
of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs subways and other public transit in downstate region, are among the most pressing issues facing the state. The MTA has been dealing with lower ridership and revenues since the pandemic.
“The New York City economy drives the state of New York, MTA helps drive the New York City economy. So it’s critically important to all of us,’’ Hochul said during her budget presentation.
Hochul’s MTA package relies in part on increasing a payroll tax on cityarea employers to raise $800 million annually. She also wants the authority to receive a share of state money that will come in from up three new casinos planned for the New York City region.
Hochul called for $1 billion in “extraordinary funding’’ to provide services and help with migrant resettlement, with the costs divided among the state, city and federal government. Hochul said President Joe Biden assured her there would be federal money to help the city, though she said ``he did not give a number.’’
Mayor Eric Adams has said that the city has been overwhelmed with new arrivals and has criticized the practice of some governors who transport migrants straight from the border to the city.
The spending plan includes a number of policies announced last month during the Democratic governor’s State of the State address, including $1 billion to provide psychiatric beds and services for mentally ill and a plan to spur the creation of 800,000 new homes, in part through changes in zoning rules.
Hochul made the spending proposals even with a possible national recession looming. State tax collections are expected to fall in the coming fiscal year and the administration projected multibillion dollar, out-year budget gaps.
Acting state budget director Sandra Beattie said a current $8.7 billion surplus will help the state weather an economic downturn.
This is the first spending plan Hochul has crafted since winning an election in November by a tighter margin than Democrats are accustomed to in the reliably blue state. Republicans made gains in New York after hammering Democrats on bail and public safety.
The proposal kicks off weeks of intense negotiations with state legislative leaders as they try to agree on a final ized budget by the April 1 deadline.
By Michael Hill and Maysoon Khan