Hochul packs $220B spending plan to recover from Brian Benjamin corruption scandal

It’s an election-year, chicken-in-every-pot budget if ever there was one.

Gov. Kathy Hochul is packing this year’s state spending plan with a cornucopia of goodies — from gas tax cuts to bail changes — that she can bank on for a boost at the polls this fall and use to recover from the damaging Brian Benjamin corruption scandal, sources say.

The mana from heaven that Hochul and state Democratic leaders packed into the massive, $220 billion state budget includes items for public schools, homeowners, renters, landlords, parents, government workers, law enforcement and even casino operators — as they take advantage of federal pandemic relief cash and a post-pandemic rise in state tax revenues.

“It’s a budget you can sell in every part of the state,” said Allen Cappelli, a veteran Democratic operative who has worked for former Gov. Mario Cuomo.

“It’s a budget that works in the Democratic primary and general election.”

The government giveaway comes with perfect timing for Hochul, as she needs something to distract from the indictment of Benjamin, her handpicked lieutenant governor, who was indicted by the feds Tuesday in a campaign finance bribery scheme.

Hochul chose Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin as her running mate in August.
Richard Drew/AP

“It’s a Christmas tree budget. You have everything under the tree,” said Baruch College public affairs professor Doug Muzzio.

“The size of the budget is a cushion against all kinds of problems. The budget is her safety net.”

 Among the gifts in the budget: 

  • Partial rollback of pension reforms aimed at reining in runaway costs, including overtime abuse. The budget reduces the number of years the most recently hired public employees will have to work to be vested for a pension from 10 years to five years and exempts overtime pay from counting toward a worker’s contribution toward their pension.

The New York state AFL-CIO, the umbrella group for 3,000 private- and public-sector unions representing 2.5 million members that is backing Hochul, praised the pension changes.

  • Changes in the controversial no cash bail and discovery laws that give judges the authority to order bail for more gun offenses and defendants who are serial offenders.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the $220 billion budget on April 7.

Hochul believes that bail changes hit the sweet spot on public safety between the interests of liberals and centrists.

“I had to work out the details with individuals, who at the time, had very different views on this. And that is how I was able to be successful,” she said Monday. “Some elements of bail need to be addressed, adding more crimes that have been left out, violent crimes that are left out, repeat offenders have been left out — that needed to be put back in (bail eligible).”

  • A $2.2 billion property tax rebate for low- and moderate-income homeowners. The budget also suspends the gas tax — albeit by a meager 16 cents a gallon — for inflation-shocked motorists feeling the pinch at the pump. She accelerated modest state income tax cuts for low- and middle-class New Yorkers — but didn’t roll back tax hikes on the rich and businesses approved last year..
  • A controversial $850 million state and Erie County tax subsidy for a new Buffalo Bills stadium that has led to a firestorm of criticism — including from Democratic primary opponents Jumaane Williams and Tom Suozzi.

Hochul’s support for the project helps to solidify her support from Bills fans in western New York because the deal guarantees the popular team stays in the Buffalo region for the next 30 years.

Republicans representing the Buffalo area, including Senate Republican Minority Leader Robert Ortt, have been muted on the Bills stadium deal. Ortt — who hails from Lockport, just a half-hour from Buffalo — is headlining a $2,500-a-head fundraiser Thursday for the NYS state Senate Republicans in a suite located at Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula’s other Buffalo sports team stadium — the Sabres’ hockey rink.

  • Bonus pay for home care workers and other health care workers in the budget, which will likely put the powerful health care workers union, 1199SEIU, in her corner. There’s also $800 million in post-pandemic funding added to the final budget to shore up financially distressed hospitals. 
NY Lt. Governor Brian Benjamin speaks at a press conference March 4.
NY Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin speaks at a press conference March 4.
Stephen Yang
  • A 7.2% increase in education spending while Hochul didn’t push to lift the cap on charter schools, which was opposed by the teachers’ union. CUNY and SUNY also get additional aid, and more students will benefit from expansion of the tuition assistance program.

The New York United Teachers union has endorsed her.

  • Expands funding for free child care by $7 billion over 4 years, a boon for lower- and working-class families who can’t otherwise afford it.
  • Nearly $1 billion is set aside for relief to tenants, landlords and homeowners battered by the pandemic and $250 million for residents struggling to pay skyrocketing utility bills.
  • A $450 million comeback plan for the pandemic-battered hotel and tourism industries, which includes $2,750 one-time payments to hotel workers.

Hotel union and hospitality trade groups have endorsed her campaign.

Lt. Governor Brian Benjamin
Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin is seen leaving the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse on April 12.
Alec Tabak
  • Accelerates the licensing for up to three commercial casinos in the New York City region. The state could collect $500 million to $1 billion per casino license.

Mets owner Steve Cohen is reportedly is looking at opening a gambling parlor near property he owns near Citifield in Willet’s Point while racino operators at Aqueduct and Yonkers race track slots parlors will apply for a full casino license to offer table games.

  • Issuing retail cannabis licenses by the fall, with sales of recreational marijuana and edibles occurring in neighborhood stores by year’s end.

Others analysts warn, however, that the big-spending budget may lead to a hangover..

The party won’t last forever, warned Bill Hammond, a health analyst with the Empire Center for Public Policy.

“She is effectively campaigning on a program of dramatically increasing state spending while showing a very modest level of restraint. She presided over this big increase and that’s become part of her brand,” Hammond said of Hochul.

“The federal money is definitely going to run out — that is a one-time source of the money they’re using,” he said, referring to coronavirus pandemic relief. “The revenue bump that we got was a byproduct of a hot stock market, and stock markets don’t stay hot forever.”

Hammond did acknowledge that Hochul also squirreled away billions of dollars into the state’s rainy day fund, but added that “she may not have socked enough away to keep the party going forever.”



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