The New York state Assembly Chamber during a legislative session...

The New York state Assembly Chamber during a legislative session after Gov. Kathy Hochul had presented her 2024-25 budget in January. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — New York lawmakers put a flurry of finishing touches on a state budget Saturday, adding measures to boost college grants, expand child tax credits, rescue distressed hospitals and crack down on highway and bridge toll evasion.

There's even a new lease on life for a 300-year-old windmill in Southampton.

But they omitted two climate change proposals supporters say would help the state transition away from fossil fuels.

The $237 billion budget wound up including many of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s high-profile initiatives to create new housing incentives, curb illegal cannabis shops and combat retail theft rings. It also doesn’t raise personal income taxes, another Hochul priority.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • State lawmakers added measures to boost college grants, expand child tax credits, rescue distressed hospitals and crack down on toll evasion to the state budget.
  • The $237 billion spending plan includes initiatives to create new housing incentives, curb illegal cannabis shops and combat retail theft rings.
  • They omitted two climate change proposals some say would help the transition from fossil fuels.

While creating immediate political wins for the Democratic governor, it will take time before New Yorkers can evaluate the long-term effectiveness of any the new initiatives.

The state Senate and Assembly plowed through an unusual Saturday session, finishing just before 4:30 p.m. to adopt a spending plan for the 2024-25 fiscal year. The budget was due April 1.

Some key details to emerge in the final bills included:

  • $800 million for “financially distressed and safety net hospitals,” such as Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow. This is an expansion of the fund, one that NUMC has applied for previously. Separately, NUMC is seeking $83 million in emergency state aid, although the state health commissioner has called the center’s fiscal turnaround plan “insufficient.” Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown) said: “NUMC is the only safety net hospital in Nassau County and serves a vulnerable population. It is imperative the hospital gets all the helps it needs.”
  • More money for college students through the state’s Tuition Assistance Program. The family income cap for eligibility will increase from $80,000 to $125,000 for dependent students and from $10,000 to $30,000 for independent students with no dependents. The minimum grant increases from $500 to $1,000.
  • Measures to curb toll evasion, including a ban on tinted license plate covers or any covers that block electronic readers from scanning a plate, and suspension of vehicle registrations for trying to obscure a license plate.
  • A small, one-time tax credit for low- and moderate-income parents or guardians. It’s based on a sliding scale and qualification for federal child tax credits and could mean hundreds of dollars of savings for individual families.
  • New grants for abortion providers and nonprofits that provide or facilitate abortion services to women with inadequate or no insurance. The grants could be spent on recruitment, hiring and retention of staff.
  • An additional $100 million for prekindergarten to allow school districts across the state to try to serve at least 90% of eligible  4 year olds. Also, a study would look at providing after-school day care at schools statewide.
  • Tax credits for independently owned community newspapers and broadcast news organizations to subsidize full-time journalists' salaries. The cap for any company is $300,000.
  • Authorization for Stony Brook University to enter into a lease that will allow the Town of Southampton to use community preservation funds to repair a historic windmill, built in 1714. The windmill sits on Stony Brook’s Southampton campus. For decades, it was a symbol on memorabilia associated with the former Southampton College. Assemb. Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor) said town use of community preservation funds means the $2 million project won’t cost the state money. The windmill was recently condemned because of termite damage, Thiele said. “It’s not an academic building, so it was difficult to find funding” through state programs, Thiele said.

Climate bills falter

Two bills omitted from the budget addressed climate change.

The “Climate Change Superfund Act” would have required energy companies that profited from fossil fuel use to pay for millions of dollars in storm damage and resiliency measures related to climate change.

The “HEAT Act” would have required energy companies to pay for much of the cost of transition to a low-emissions economy, using tax credits and other benefits to subsidize the increase in utility bills.

Critics said it could add hundreds or thousands of dollars to annual utility bills for middle-class and wealthier families that already pay some of the highest energy bills in the nation.

Part of the HEAT Act would have ended the 43-year-old “100-foot rule” under which natural gas companies benefit through automatic hookups of new buildings to gas lines within 100 feet of new construction. The new gas customer doesn’t pay for the hookup; instead all ratepayers shoulder the estimated cost of more than $200 million a year.

The climate bills were the subject of furious lobbying by energy companies, unions and environmental groups. The measures still could get a vote in the post-budget legislative session scheduled to end in June, although they face long odds.

With Keshia Clukey

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