ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul and lawmakers closed in on a budget deal Thursday that would cover most of the high-profile issues of the 2022 legislative session, officials say: Changes to the bail law, a partial suspension of the gasoline tax, acceleration of the siting of downstate casinos, a $4.2 billion environmental bond act and a green light for a new Buffalo Bills stadium.

Even though New York enjoys the unusual circumstance of being flush with cash, the budget is already a week late because of stalemates over almost all of those key issues. But after weeks of wrangling, lawmakers settled Thursday on a $220 billion plan.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said she expects voting to end Friday and said all the bills will pass. She said there is no obstacle to passing the budget.

“We’ve come to a conceptual agreement,” Hochul said at a late afternoon news conference at the State Capitol.

WHAT TO KNOW

Gov. Kathy Hochul and the State Legislature have reached agreement on a number of key issues as part of the state budget. They include:

  • Making changes to the bail law to give judges more authority to set bail on repeat offenders and those accused of gun crimes.
  • Suspending part of the state gasoline tax (16 cents per gallon) through the end of the year and give counties authority to also forgo local sales taxes.
  • Opening the process to site downstate casinos this year instead of waiting till 2023.
  • Giving voters a referendum on an environmental bond act.
  • Legalizing sales of "alcohol to go" by restaurants and taverns. Sales of full bottles of wine or liquor wouldn't be allowed.

Hochul said the plan would earmark $31.5 billion in school aid for K-12 districts, a $2.1 billion or 7% increase over the current year. She said it would accelerate a middle-income tax cut and a tax rebate for 6 million homeowners.

"This budget will put more money back in people's pockets," the governor said.

The budget would include provisions to give judges more authority to set bail on repeat offenders and those accused of gun crimes; suspend part of the state gasoline tax (16 cents per gallon) through the end of the year and give counties authority to also forgo local sales taxes; open the process to site downstate casinos this year instead of waiting till 2023; give voters a referendum on an environmental bond act, and junk a much-maligned Cuomo-era ethics panel for one with Hochul’s stamp.

It would give the go-ahead for $850 million in taxpayer money to help fund a new NFL stadium for the Bills. However, the money wouldn't be sent up front but spent over a number of years, sources said. 

The budget also would legalize sales of "alcohol to go" by restaurants and taverns, a temporary initiative launched at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It proved popular enough that lawmakers are authorizing it again for a three-year window. Sales of full bottles of wine or liquor wouldn't be allowed and customers would have to order "a substantial food item" with their alcohol-to-go. That doesn't require an entree, but would include items such as chicken wings.

For Long Island, the budget would allot $300 million for capital projects to be determined at a later date. Also tucked in the budget is approval for a study of a fully public Long Island Power Authority — but it doesn't include a separate provision to study the possible sale of LIPA to a private utility, as some Island business groups had advocated.

Further, a previously undisclosed provision calls for state audits of several Nassau County entities: Nassau University Medical Center, the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency and Nassau Off-Track Betting Corp.

Among the proposals omitted in the deal: A mandate for new construction under seven stories to incorporate all-electric heating and other power uses by January 2024, permission for the New York Racing Association to borrow $450 million to upgrade Belmont Park and a revamp of a controversial tax incentive for housing developers, called 421-A.

For Hochul, who became governor Aug. 25, the deal would show she landed many of the priorities of her first state budget. But it also generated fodder for her critics and her campaign rivals in an election year.

Critics on the political left and right blasted the use of state money for the Bills' stadium. Many lawmakers wanted a full repeal of state gasoline taxes — 33.5 cents per gallon — rather than 16 cents a gallon.

On bail, Republicans wanted a full repeal of the 2019 bail overhaul, which ended bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, because they say it contributed to a crime spike. Progressive Democrats wanted no changes at all, saying Hochul's proposals would lead to mass incarceration of people who were too poor to make bail.

The budget agreement includes thousands of lower profile but important measures, such as one from Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford) to allow volunteer fire companies to charge individuals for service calls made by their ambulances. Volunteer fire companies have long sought this ability to charge for their ambulance service, part of which is usually covered by health insurance.

The deal also would create a new ethics board to replace the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, created by former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo a decade ago. The governor and legislative leaders from both parties would still make appointments. But, in a wrinkle to try to give the board some independence, those choices would have to be approved by a panel of law school professors. The comptroller and attorney general would gain appointments.

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