While Gov. Kathy Hochul's $227 billion budget proposal includes many noteworthy promises and programs, it also features measures that show a lack of understanding of and attention to Long Island.
It's a first step. To get this right, she'll have to listen to advocates and local officials while making changes to meet her goals. And there are many worthy ones in the budget to make the state more affordable and livable, such as increasing the state's housing stock and shoring up Metropolitan Transportation Authority finances.
The executive budget ticks off many boxes in attempting to meet state and regional needs. Increased funding for mental health and supportive housing is critical. Adding judicial discretion to state bail reform is key to better balancing necessary criminal justice system changes with public safety. Efforts to simplify and improve eligibility for child care assistance are welcome. Hochul's commitment to allow the New York Racing Association to borrow $455 million to remake Belmont Park is an enormous opportunity.
Also necessary: the promise that the state will shore up and expand its monetary reserves without raising personal income taxes.
But Hochul's proposal to increase the MTA payroll mobility tax is not the answer to filling the transit system's fiscal hole. The tax, controversial in its early incarnations more than a decade ago, remains confusing and detrimental; increasing it will hurt suburban businesses and commuters. And her plan to commit the vast majority of downstate gaming licensing and tax revenue to the MTA, when those dollars were intended for education, addiction, jobs and local municipalities, is questionable. This concoction is not the answer to out-of-control operating costs and overruns on major projects; the problem requires innovative solutions.
Advocates also express concern that Hochul's budget would shift Enhanced Federal Medicaid Assistance Program dollars to state coffers. While it seems the state is assuming localities' costs this year, the local impact requires clarification and analysis.
Then there's housing. Hochul's plan hasn't evolved much. The most significant change is a four-tier system for rezoning areas within a half-mile of train stations. It mandates that for stations within 15 miles of New York City's boundaries — most of Nassau County — zoning must permit an aggregate of 50 units per acre, double what she said last month. That density decreases at further distances. A tiered system makes more sense than a single number. But even this is too intensive for some neighborhoods and still represents a one-size-fits-all method. A more nuanced, incentivized approach is warranted.
Hochul said Wednesday her housing plans are "all about liberating Long Island to be the best it can be," but the governor shouldn't be trying to "liberate" Long Island. We are under siege only by those making irrational demands to change suburban life. She should instead be willing to work with Long Island leaders to find solutions to the housing crisis that will help the region, without doing unintended harm.
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