The State Budget Explained; Vaccine Rollout Expanding

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Local News

  • COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped below 8,000 in New York State for the first time since December. A day after mocking advocates who demanded that restaurant workers be included in Phase 1B of the vaccine rollout, Cuomo allowed local jurisdictions to include restaurant workers, taxi drivers, and people in facilities for those with developmental disabilities in the current vaccine rollout.
  • A broad alliance of advocates, unionists, and legislators have proposed the New Deal for CUNY, a $1.47 billion program that would increase faculty staffing levels and pay, add mental health counselors, make CUNY free for state residents, and more.
  • New York Daily News writers formed a union with the NewsGuild of New York 25 years after their previous union was broken by the paper’s former owner.
  • Supertall luxury condos like 432 Park are facing serious maintenance challenges in their first decade of use, calling the high value of their units further into question.
  • Assembly Members Zohran Mamdani (District 36, Astoria) and Ron Kim (District 40, Flushing) are exploring legislation that would compel New York State to divest from companies whose CEOs bankroll dark-money political groups.


  • The New York Times questioned the political viability of the Defund the Police movement in the mayoral race, suggesting that many mayoral candidates are hedging their messaging and platforms around the issue.
  • While mayoral candidates have been attending forums for several months, the first formal debate took place last week, hosted by Errol Louis and the Kings County Democratic Party. Prior to the debate, a Brooklyn district leader who made racist comments resigned after many candidates threatened to boycott the debate in response to the Party’s refusal to discipline her.
  • Ross Barkan highlighted the current state of the mayoral race for the Village Voice.
  • Politico reports that Senator Chuck Schumer is concerned about a primary challenge from the left in 2022, and is working to head off a run by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14, the Bronx and Queens).
  • Eric Adams’s mayoral campaign has not yet received the support of the City’s most prominent Black politicians, in part because of his past as a police officer and a Republican.
  • Many competing mayoral and city council candidates are demanding an end to in-person petitioning, citing COVID-19 concerns.
  • Former Council Member James Gennaro appeared likely to win a commanding victory in the District 24 special election in Queens.

In-Depth: Navigating Albany’s Undemocratic Budget Process as Comrades (to Tax the Rich): Part I

In New York State’s executive budgeting process, the governor draws up the roughly $175 billion state budget following the submission of recommended agency needs from commissioners. The legislature responds to the governor’s budget proposal with one-house resolutions that signal to the public the priorities of the Assembly and the Senate. The Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader, along with their chiefs of staff and budget directors, meet with the governor and his senior aides throughout the month of March to settle the differences and give each house of the state legislature time to deliberate.

On the  surface, this budget process may appear fair or well thought-out. In reality, it has largely been dominated by the governor. At a time when activists across our state are organizing to tax the rich to stave off potential cuts to our social safety net, we must inform ourselves of the critical moments in the budget process to reach victory.

In 2019, Albany lawmakers—including the six legislators who won seats formerly held by members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) and self-identifying socialist Julia Salazar (District 18, northern Brooklyn)—helped to pass a budget that increased Foundation Aid (the main source of state funding for public schools) by $618 million, allocated an additional $150 million to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), and extended the millionaires’ tax for five years.

These fiscal measures constituted only incomplete wins for socialists and working-class New Yorkers. NYCHA’s capital funding needs were $32 billion at the time (and have since ballooned to $40 billion), yet Albany has allocated a mere $500 million to NYCHA since Governor Cuomo first took office in 2011. Likewise, New York State owed our public schools at least $4 billion to compensate for the unjust levels of funding determined by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. Beyond these fiscal changes, the budget passed in 2019 also included substantive bail reform, banned single-use plastic bags, and established congestion pricing.

Unfortunately, the budget’s legislators are tasked with voting on are mixed bags. They include some progressive measures, some diluted progressive measures, and some poison pills. For example, the 2019 budget created a public campaign financing commission opposed to the gold-standard public campaign financing system progressives desired. The public campaign financing system progressives sought would have allowed legislators to enact it at any time and would not have increased the qualifying threshold for third parties like the Working Families Party. That budget also made changes to the Public Authorities Control Board to make it harder to kill future economic development projects, like the terminated Amazon HQ2 deal.

New York’s 2020 budget included cuts to Medicaid and to the City’s public hospital system (Health + Hospitals). It also allowed Governor Cuomo to adjust the budget quarterly based on any incoming revenue shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Assembly and the Senate did not vote on one-house budget resolutions. However, through negotiation with Cuomo, the legislature was able to prevent $550 million of cuts to Medicaid and a total of just over $63 million in other areas of our healthcare system (including providers of ambulatory and psychiatric care and services and Medicaid transportation costs). Additionally, the budget established the changes to public campaign financing law recommended by the Commission in 2019. And it rolled back some of the bail and discovery reforms that had been passed in the previous budget.

Based on New York State’s 2019 and 2020 budgets, one may ask, “How could our state’s budget include so many changes to policy or substantive law that diverge from strictly budgetary or financial matters?” Essentially, the governor has an undefined and unwieldy constitutional authority to legislate and pass any law (not just those tied to the State’s budget and finances). This power derives from the 2001 Court of Appeals case Silver v. Pataki. This year socialists and like-minded allies are working to fundamentally alter the governor’s authority by passing a bill that amends the constitution to allow for more checks and balances among the executive and legislative branches within the budget process.

Until then, the essential question is, how do we achieve bold policy goals for New York—including raising the tax burden on the wealthy in order to invest in our precious public resources—under this undemocratic budget process? How can we win now under this framework?

Stay tuned for Part II next week on how socialists can influence the current budget process.

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