As crucial House elections near, New York governor outlines agenda

As crucial House elections near, New York governor outlines agenda

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ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul outlined her agenda for 2024 in a State of the State address on Tuesday, with the Democrat focusing on public safety and housing ahead of a pivotal election season in a state whose races could determine control of Congress.

Among the proposals announced were policies aimed at curbing retail theft and improving mental health treatment, as well as funding and incentives to increase the housing supply.

The annual address in Albany came as both Republicans and Democrats have placed increased attention on New York as a potential battleground state for the U.S. House in November, adding a level of national importance to the governor’s agenda this year.

For Hochul, the dynamic could prove challenging as she moves to compromise with progressive statehouse Democrats while not exposing her party’s congressional candidates to attacks from conservatives.

One of the biggest priorities for the governor this year is to reach a deal with progressives to create more housing in the state, a politically vexing problem that has previously proven elusive but remains a tenet of her agenda.

The governor last year pushed hard on a housing plan that eventually failed after it was panned in the city’s suburbs for provisions that would have set growth targets and sometimes let the state override local zoning decisions. This year, with the suburbs emerging as must-win areas for congressional Democrats, Hochul is taking a different approach.

She is proposing a $500 million fund to support the construction of housing on state-owned land and wants to reestablish a program that previously gave developers tax breaks if they agreed to create so-called affordable housing in buildings in New York City.

In addition, Hochul is pushing for certain state funding programs to require that local governments prioritize housing growth. The governor’s plans also include a tax break for developers who turn office buildings into residential units if they agree to include below-market rate housing.

“The only thing that would solve this problem is building hundreds and hundreds of thousands of homes,” she said of the state’s notoriously high rental costs.

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has told reporters that Senate Democrats were pushing for a housing agreement that focuses on tenant protections. In the past, those have included measures to prevent landlords from evicting residents without a so-called good cause, such as failure to pay rent.

Hochul is also moving to get ahead of Republican criticisms about crime that hurt Democrats during the 2022 congressional elections.

She is proposing a law enforcement task force on retail theft and the creation of a state police team focused on organized retail theft rings, along with more state funding for such programs. The governor said she plans to establish a tax credit for small business owners to help offset the cost of certain store security measures.

“These attacks are nothing more than a breakdown of the social order. I say no more. The chaos must end,” Hochul said of retail theft.

Assembly Republican Minority Leader Will Barclay said he’s happy about the governor’s plans on retail theft but added she will have to expend “real political capital” to get her fellow Democrats to allow changes to the state’s criminal justice system.

Also part of Hochul’s public safety platform was an expansion of mental health care services in New York, with proposals to add 200 new inpatient psychiatric beds and better equip law enforcement to handle people with mental health problems.

Hochul has spent the past week debuting other pillars of her agenda, calling for an overhaul of literacy education and paid medical leave during pregnancy, among other things. Most of the governor’s proposals require approval from the Legislature before becoming law.

In her speech, the governor notably chose not to address how the state would continue to handle a large influx of migrants who have mostly landed in New York City, straining the city’s homeless shelters and financial resources. She said she would expand on her plans next week during a budget proposal.

This year’s legislative session will include a contentious congressional redistricting process that could impact which party controls the House.

A bipartisan redistricting commission will submit a proposed map to lawmakers at the end of February which can then be accepted or altered by Democrats who control the Legislature. Democrats are widely expected to try to give their party an advantage in crucial districts ahead of the fall elections.

Democrats have dedicated major financial and campaign resources toward their goal of retaking a handful of congressional districts in New York in November. Republicans are aiming to hold onto the seats.

The first bellwether could come soon: A special election of a successor to George Santos, the New York Republican who was expelled from the House, will be held Feb. 13.

Among the reactions to Hochul’s address:

Greater Rochester Chamber President and CEO Rob Duffy said: “As the voice of business for the Finger Lakes Region, we appreciate Governor Hochul’s continued commitment to Upstate New York. In the session ahead, we look forward to strongly supporting her efforts to make New York safer and more affordable, to reduce barriers to economic growth and expansion, and to entice and keep businesses in Greater Rochester. Working with Governor Hochul and our partners in the Legislature, Greater Rochester Chamber will relentlessly advocate to ensure the voice of our members is heard and considered as decisions are being made.”

Assembly Minority Leader Robert Ortt said, in part: “What we heard today was typical of most State of the State Addresses — heavy on soundbites but light on substance. Gov. Hochul has been offering glimpses of her policy priorities for more than a week. Generally speaking, I agree with some of those ideas. But what we’re still waiting for is a plan that facilitates a dramatic course correction on affordability, quality of life and outmigration. … What we didn’t hear today is what should alarm New Yorkers. With a $4 billion budget gap, there was no commitment to keep state spending in check. Illegal migrants are crossing the southern border in droves, but New York has yet to figure out how to properly handle the ongoing influx. Despite New York owning the nation’s worst outmigration numbers, there is no concrete plan to ease financial pressures on families and businesses. And after years of pro-criminal policies that undermine public safety, there is still no interest in increasing accountability or fixing glaring problems in the state’s criminal justice system.”

Assemblyman Steve Hawley stated: ““Gov. Hochul has once again shown she is in lockstep with the radical majority in Albany. As if giving criminals a free pass and taking control away from local governments wasn’t enough, this administration seems hellbent on chipping away at Western New York’s way of life by doing nothing to lower the cost of living and allowing migrants to flood into upstate communities. Time and time again we have been let down and left out by big-city politicians. It’s time for our leadership to step away from these radical policies and start working for everyday New Yorkers.”

Assemblyman Harry Bronson stated, in part: “As newly appointed Chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Labor, I was encouraged to hear Governor Hochul highlight the need to support our hardworking New Yorkers to ensure we provide enhanced worker protections and develop a more affordable and inclusive economy. Governor Hochul’s address illustrated an understanding of the challenges our hardworking families experience as they balance the demands of parenting, employment and a fluctuating economy. By increasing maximum benefits for paid leave for families and those on medical or disability leave, promoting education reforms, and developing health and safety measures, including for mental health, more New Yorkers will have the opportunity to succeed.”