A state budget in sight

Last updated on April 18, 2024

With help from Shawn Ness

New from New York

Happening now:

  • The budget end is nearing, but probably not until the weekend.
  • The Indian Point owner is suing over being blocked from dumping into the Hudson River. 
  • Arrests were made after people jumped the stage at a Mayor Eric Adams event.
  • A breakdown of energy measures that made the state budget.

DAYS THE BUDGET IS LATE: 18

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told reporters today that a budget deal is at the ready.

END OF THE BUDGET TUNNEL: And now, the end is near, and so we face the final curtain.

Bills are being printed without a hitch (despite cyberattacks), the low-hanging budget items are passing one by one, and lawmakers are ready to celebrate as they put the finishing touches on the housing, labor and education areas of the budget.

“We’re at a point now where the cake is baked, the icing has been put on the cake and the candles are lit,” Albany-area Assemblymember John McDonald said. “We have a choice: to blow out the candles and call it a party, or do we blow it up?”

McDonald says he doesn’t think the cake will blow up.

While lawmakers were passing the budget beginnings of a spending plan today as the budget turns 18 days late, Gov. Kathy Hochul was in New York, New York. And she was telling everyone how she did it her way.

“I know a lot of people, a lot of pundits, a lot of critics, said we couldn’t get it done, that we’d fall short,” Hochul said. “I’m here to say we got it done exactly the way we had hoped for.”

In the final days of the budget process, the governor is blowing out candles too.

She’s delivered on the key priorities of her budget proposal. A long-sought housing deal is almost certain; all of Mayor Eric Adams key Albany priorities — like mayoral control, illicit weed shops and more migrant funding — have been dealt with; and she even got the Legislature to set the stage for politically-perilous changes to the school aid formula in the next year’s budget.

And when it comes to crime, she’s blown past Assembly Carl Heastie by increasing penalties for assaults on retail workers (the crime will be a felony instead of a misdemeanor), despite Heastie’s opposition to the matter.

“It’s simply something I would not budge on,” she said today.

She also is adding $40 million to create retail theft teams within district attorneys’ offices, local police departments and the State Police, which will also see the addition of a new 100-person “smash and grab unit.”

Now the budget just needs to pass so she can sign it. The sides will likely be here into the weekend.

“We’re in the homestretch,” McDonald said. — Jason Beeferman

Holtec, the owner of the Indian Point nuclear plant, is suing the state after they ruled that the plant can't dump radioactive water into the Hudson River.

HOLTEC SUES: The owner of the shuttered Indian Point nuclear power plant is suing New York over a law blocking them from dumping water with a radioactive isotope of hydrogen into the Hudson River.

Holtec filed the lawsuit in federal court in the Southern District. The ban, which Hochul signed in August, is invalid under federal law, the lawsuit argues.

“The State has taken it upon itself to regulate in a sphere reserved exclusively for the federal government, violating the doctrine of federal preemption,” the lawsuit states.

Holtec acquired the Indian Point plant in 2021. The nuclear plant was shut down under a deal backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who fought to close it for years. Holtec’s decommissioning plan included dumping millions of gallons of tritiated water into the Hudson River. The nuclear plant made much larger discharges of the same type when it was operating.

Environmental advocates and lawmakers raised concerns about the public perception of the discharges. The final bill included a reference to potential economic impacts rather than any health concerns.

“The State attempted to hide its efforts to regulate radiological health and safety under the guise of economic concerns,” the lawsuit states. “This false pretense does not change the fact that the State is attempting to regulate matters with a direct effect on radiological safety.” — Marie J. French

The protesters who stormed the stage during Mayor Eric Adams' speech on Tuesday have been arrested and charged with forgery, among other crimes.

HOT TICKET: The climate activists who stormed the stage while Adams spoke at a power breakfast Tuesday were charged with forgery, as well as trespassing and disorderly conduct, for printing up fake ABNY name tags to get access to the event.

The protesters, organized by the group Planet over Profit, complain they were overcharged just because they targeted Adams. New School grad students Roni Zahavi-Brunner and Teddy Ogborn told Playbook they and two others were arrested and held in custody overnight for about 26 hours, while protesters are typically released with just a desk appearance ticket.

“Calling this ‘forgery’ expands that crime into areas where it has never been applied,” their attorney Ron Kuby said in a statement. “My clients did not obtain any pecuniary gain and are wildly overcharged by a thin-skinned mayor and an embarrassed security detail.”

Ogborn was charged with 22 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument because he had 21 other fake ABNY badges in his backpack. The others just faced one count each.

Adams spokesperson Fabien Levy denied any influence on the arrests and charges. Adams himself downplayed the threat, saying his security detail knows he can handle himself.

A spokesperson for Bragg said the mayor’s office didn’t push anything: “The office makes its charging decisions based on the evidence and the law, not the wishes of any other party.”

The Association for a Better New York didn’t respond to Playbook’s request for comment.

The protesters said they didn’t even have to fake anything, they just walked confidently through the doors of the Upper East side venue and up to the stage.

Adams “continues to prioritize police as somehow the cure-all for everything happening in New York,” Ogborn said. “We’re trying to make it clear that he is burning NYC, in the figurative sense.” — Jeff Coltin

Empire State Plaza, among other historic sites and landmarks across the state will be illuminated in green and gold to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the State Council of Parks.

NEW YORK’S PARKS: Twenty-one landmarks across the state will be illuminated in green and gold to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the State Council of Parks.

“The system we have today started with visionary leadership, and it has grown over the decades to encompass more than 250 properties covering 360,000 acres of land,” Hochul said in a statement.

The Empire State Plaza, Niagara Falls, One World Trade Center and Jones Beach State Park will be among those that will be illuminated in the parks’ green and centennial gold, as the governor called it.

A special centennial flag will also be raised at state parks and historic locations across the state. — Shawn Ness

CASINOS SITING APPROVED: The City Council approved a zoning proposal today to make way for casinos in the five boroughs, amidst a fiercely-competitive contest to operate gaming facilities in and around the city.

The plan, which passed 35-15, will legalize casino uses in certain commercial and manufacturing areas — but the change would only apply to facilities that have obtained one of three state-issued gaming licenses.

At least nine casino bids are expected in New York City, and all of those proposals would need buy-in from local politicians to advance in the process.

Local zoning approvals are required to be considered for a license, and the citywide change is intended to reduce the burden of individual applications on city government and ensure New York City bidders are not at a disadvantage compared to those in surrounding counties.

“As one of the handful of members who actually has a potential application, it’s just a way to level the playing field,” said Council Member Justin Brannan, whose district includes a casino bid at Coney Island.

“I think the [community advisory committee] process is going to be robust and rigorous but in order to get to that process and for the community to actually have input, whether they want it or not, we need this text amendment.”

But the proposal still drew pushback from some Council members.

“I cannot support anything that removes local zoning control from current Council members and our community boards,” said Council Member Kristy Marmorato, who has a casino proposal in her Bronx district.

Meanwhile, Council Member Kalman Yeger called the change “bad policy” and said “no amount of revenue is worth destroying neighborhoods in this city.” — Janaki Chadha

HOUSING: New York’s housing inventory hit a record low in March, according to a new report from the New York Association of REALTORS. Inventory now sits at 14.7 percent, equivalent to 5,000 homes across the state.

And while inventory is at record lows, the median sale price of homes has increased nearly eight percent.

Wayne County saw the largest increase in cost, jumping from an average home cost of nearly $135,000 to $210,000, a 56 percent increase.

On average, homes are on the market for less time as well, 63 days to be exact, signaling that whatever homes are on the market are still being bought up regardless of price increase. — Shawn Ness

ENERGY TIDBITS: Lawmakers and Hochul have agreed to a sweeping change to how transmission lines are approved, with hopes from policymakers that it will speed up approval of projects essential to the state’s investments in renewable energy.

The package also moves the Office of Renewable Energy Siting into the Department of Public Service.

The deal sets a yearlong timeline for the state to craft standard regulations for transmission line projects to minimize environmental impacts and avoid building on farmland. That’s likely a tight timeline — the regulations for siting renewable projects took much longer and Hochul’s budget proposed 18 months.

The agreement on siting earned some praise from renewable energy developers.

“It is clear that improvements to the permitting process are needed,” said the Alliance for Clean Energy New York’s interim executive director Deb Peck Kelleher. “With only six construction seasons left until 2030, time is of the essence, and we cannot afford any delays.”

Storage was not included in the purview of the siting office, but the deal expands NYSERDA’s “Build Ready” program to include energy storage projects.

The program, which aims to have NYSERDA identify and do pre-development activities for difficult-to-use sites for renewables, has also been extended to 2030. It was established in the budget in April 2020 and so far hasn’t been very active: The first auction of a 12 MW solar project site on an old mine closed last month. NYSERDA is evaluating bids and expects to notify a winner next year.

Labor unions also got some wins, with prevailing wage and project labor agreement requirements expanded to cover thermal energy network projects, transmission lines and offshore wind supply chain investments.

Storage projects getting subsidies through state programs were not included in the expansion, however. “For us it was most important that there were labor standards attached,” said Vinny Albanese, executive director of the state Laborers’ Political Action Fund. He was also supportive of the transmission siting changes.

The budget will also include a sales tax exemption for residential storage projects, a requirement for NYSERDA to study the need for fast charging along highways and freight corridors and increased fees for air permits and pollutant emissions. — Marie J. French

— Drink up: The state budget includes allowing all movie theaters to sell alcohol. (POLITICO Pro)

— President Joe Biden is paying the Empire State a visit next week as Micron gets some funding. (Syracuse.com)

— Mayoral control will be in the state budget. Here’s the latest changes (POLITICO Pro)