Legislators begin voting on late New York state budget

New York State Capitol (Enterprise photo — Andy Flynn)

ALBANY — Legislators at the New York State Capitol have begun voting on bills for the late state budget and expect that a fiscal plan may be finalized by Saturday, April 20.

Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, said shortly before 9 a.m. Friday that the Assembly had passed four of nine budget bills, and voting should be complete by Saturday morning.

“That’s if everything goes according to plan,” he added. “There was a lot to be worked out.”

On Monday, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that she and legislative leaders had worked out a “conceptual agreement” on key priorities for the Fiscal Year 2025 state budget, which was estimated at $237 billion at the time.

“I promised to fight the right fights for New Yorkers, deliver common sense solutions, and tackle the thorny issues that others might ignore, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Hochul said in a statement. “We’re delivering on a common-sense agenda: fighting crime, fixing our mental health system, and building more housing so people can finally afford to live in New York.”

The announcement sounded as though a budget — which was supposed to be signed by April 1, the beginning of the state’s fiscal year — was a done deal. But it wasn’t. The governor’s press release on the “conceptual agreement” added, “legislative houses are expected to pass bills that will enact these priorities.”

“I guess it depends on how you define ‘conceptual agreement,'” Jones said. “Certainly we weren’t done with the process.”

State legislators began passing parts of the budget on Thursday, including a measure that authorized the closure of up to five state prisons within 90 days, according to a report by New York State Capitol Correspondent Karen DeWitt, of the New York Public News Network. The list of state prisons that could be closed has not been released.

Local officials in the Tri-Lakes recently sent a letter to the governor asking that the Adirondack Correctional Facility in Ray Brook be kept off the closure list. The letter was co-signed by North Elba town Supervisor Derek Doty, St. Armand town Supervisor Davina Thurston, Harrietstown town Supervisor Jordanna Mallach and Saranac Lake village Mayor Jimmy Williams.

“I have not received any indication that Adirondack Correctional Facility is closing, but I continue to fight to keep our North Country prisons open,” Jones said in a statement Monday.

On Thursday, Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, voted against the Public Protection and General Government Bill (S.8305-C) state budget bill and a measure in it that authorized the closure of up to five correctional facilities in New York. During debate on the bill, Stec said he “brought a hostile amendment to the Senate floor” that would eliminate the closure provision, but the amendment was defeated by Democrats.

“Ever since language authorizing the closure of up-to five correctional facilities appeared in the governor’s original Executive Budget presentation, I’ve repeatedly spoken out about the dangerousness of this idea,” Stec said in a statement. “Data from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has shown a consistent increase in assaults on incarcerated individuals, officers and civilian staff. Between this and the declining number of correction officers, closing facilities would only exacerbate this current climate and make existing sites even less safe.”

Stec also called the state’s record on closing prisons “an unmitigated disaster” and said many of the dormant buildings “are turning into blight on their home communities, with no tangible plans presented to put these sites back in use and make them economic drivers in their respective regions.”

Camp Gabriels, for example, has been empty since the former minimum security correctional facility closed in 2009.

“These are among the many reasons I voted against this portion of the state budget, and it’s why I stood up on the Senate floor and sponsored a hostile amendment to eliminate this closure provision,” Stec said in a statement. “I’m proud to fight on behalf of our correction officers, civilian staff and their home communities. It’s unconscionable that Senate Democrats refuse to accept the need to keep correctional facilities open, and instead continue to push an agenda that only furthers criminal behavior.”

New York has closed 24 state correctional facilities since 2011, including eight in the North Country.

Asked about whether he feels the state budget process is dysfunctional this year, Jones said, “I thought last year was pretty dysfunctional.” The FY2024 budget spending plan was more than a month late; Hochul signed the $229 billion spending plan on May 3 last year.

“This year has been frustrating, challenging,” Jones said, adding that there is a sense of urgency to get a budget passed, as local school districts need their state aid numbers to finalized their own budgets. May 21 is the annual budget vote for school districts in New York.

Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-Horicon, issued a statement Thursday saying that the lack of transparency in the state’s budget process “is an insult to our democratic process.”

“Deals are being struck behind closed doors,” he said. “We’re voting on bills with no fiscal plan, leaving taxpayers in the dark about how their money will be spent. Worse still, I am concerned that expediting prison closures undermines current state law requiring a year’s notice before closure. Closures are blamed on staff levels yet the budget fails to prioritize correction officer (CO) safety. This budget neglects our COs, there are no retention incentives, no pension reform, no effort to bolster CO numbers or morale are included — this is an insult to those who risk their safety every day.”

Thursday’s votes, according to DeWitt, were aimed at cracking down on crimes — hate crimes, retail theft and illegal cannabis shops.


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