Remains optimistic about business climate post-Amazon
BY BENJAMIN FANG
The $175 billion state budget lays out a bold agenda of policies to help New Yorkers, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said in a briefing with the Queens Chamber of Commerce.
Last Thursday, Hochul visited the chamber’s headquarters in East Elmhurst to tout the 20 agenda items accomplished, including $150 billion in infrastructure spending, congestion pricing and criminal justice reforms.
“I believe the epicenter of infrastructure is in Queens,” she said. “We’re making great progress.”
The lieutenant governor highlighted the two biggest projects in the state, the redevelopment of LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports, as well as the opening of the TWA Hotel. She said all of these projects will wrap up in the next three years.
“It’s exciting for me to see the transformations right before my eyes,” she said.
On congestion pricing, Hochul said it may be a controversial issue, but lawmakers recognized the need for a dedicated funding stream for the MTA. She credited the governor for not kicking the can “down the road,” and making the necessary investments now.
“He is very engaged in this,” she said. “This is something that consumes him every day.”
Congestion pricing is expected to raise $15 billion, while the mansion tax will raise $5 billion. The budget also eliminated the Internet tax advantage, earmarking another $5 billion for the MTA.
The state budget also contained a number of policies, including bail, speedy trial and discovery reforms in the criminal justice system.
Ending cash bail will mean 90 percent of the people charged will remain out of jail and start their rehabilitation, Hochul said. She hopes this will also act as a deterrent for first-time offenders.
The lieutenant governor said the current bail system for non-violent offenders is based on whether or not they can afford their freedom.
“The only reason someone lands in Rikers is because they don’t have enough money in their bank account to post bail,” she said.” For someone who does post bail, that person is back in school, back in their job and their lives are not ruined.”
Other policy items in the budget include $27 million for the Jose Peralta DREAM Act, which gives financial aid to undocumented students, the Child Victim’s Act, which extends statutes of limitations for those who were abused and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which extends protections to transgender communities and the Reproductive Health Act, which codifies abortion protections in Roe v. Wade.
On education, New York will allocate $27.9 billion in school aid, which is up $1 billion from last year. In addition to increased spending, Hochul said the state will also prioritize funding for poorer schools.
The state also passed its own version of the Green New Deal, which will provide benchmarks to invest in carbon-free electricity by 2040, Hochul said. New York also notably banned single-use plastic bags.
“That is the boldest in the country, but also achievable,” she said.
Lawmakers also passed a series of election reforms this year. According to the lieutenant governor, New York is 38th in the nation in voter participation, which is a challenge that “needs to be overcome.”
New York will implement early voting, pre-registration when teenagers go to the DMV, and combine state and federal primary dates.
While the budget does not include a plan for public financing of elections, legislators agreed to a commission that will examine the issue and make recommendations for implementation.
“This will level the playing field so we have more people engaged in the process,” she said.
Hochul noted that the budget was passed on-time for the ninth consecutive year. It also stuck to Cuomo’s 2 percent spending cap.
While the budget dealt with many legislative issues, there is still work to be done in Albany for the rest of the session. One item is the legalization of marijuana, which Hochul said was “more complicated” than they thought.
They are still working out the details on the impact on communities of color and regulations, including use while driving.
“Regardless of what your feelings are on this, it’s hard for us to put someone in jail for something that’s completely legal in 12 other states,” she said. “You have to evolve and realize it’s fundamentally unfair.”
The other big debate will be over the reform of several rent laws, which are up for renewal this year.
The lieutenant governor ended her presentation with remarks about the departure of Amazon. Tom Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber, noted that while Queens is still smarting from the company’s decision, he remains optimistic about the borough.
“All the things that were in place to get Amazon to come in the first place are still here,” he said.
Hochul agreed with that assessment. She predicted an “explosion in this community” as more interest from business comes.
“Amazon could’ve gone anywhere in the country, here must be a lot of good reasons they went to Queens,” she said. “There are still many reasons, and those reasons are still there.
“We will not take defeat,” Hochul added. “We are open to business and we want you to come.”