N.Y. Dems unveil spending priorities, likely to pass legal pot bill ahead of budget

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Denis Slattery, New York Daily News
·4 min read
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ALBANY — Democrats in the state Legislature put forth their budget wish lists Monday, countering some of Gov. Cuomo’s fiscal plans and indicating legal weed could become a reality soon than expected in the Empire State.

The one-house resolutions, which include billions in new taxes on the wealthy as well as mobile sports betting measures and increases in health care and school spending, will kick fiscal negotiations into high gear with less than three weeks to go until the April 1 deadline and the governor remains embroiled in multiple scandals.

Legislative leaders focused on post-pandemic economic recovery as Cuomo faces an impeachment investigation and a federal probe following calls to resign over sexual harassment allegations and accusations that state officials hid the true toll of COVID in nursing homes.

“This budget process is a major opportunity to help lead New York through the ongoing dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic and lay the foundation to grow stronger in the future,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said. “The proposals in this resolution put forth fairness, fiscal responsibility, and smart investments to ensure economic stability and the delivering of services so many of our neighbors depend on.”

Both chambers are eyeing a 1% tax on income from capital gains and want to increase the top income tax rate from 8.82% to 9.85% for single filers who earn more than $1 million and couples who file jointly earning more than $2 million as well as adding additional tax brackets for higher earners. In total, the proposals could bring in as much as $7 billion a year.

Both the Senate and Assembly plans also propose greater increases in spending on schools, health care and other support services that would be reduced under Cuomo’s initial fiscal blueprint.

The state was already facing a ballooning budget gap before the pandemic wreaked havoc on revenue, but $12.5 billion in federal COVID relief will help make up some of the losses.

Cuomo’s budget included mobile sports betting as well as a proposal to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis.

A pot plan was absent from both the Senate and Assembly measures, increasing the likelihood that Dems will pass legal weed as a stand-alone bill.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said he expects budget negotiations to continue as “normal” in the coming weeks despite his chamber’s impeachment inquiry into sexual harassment allegations made against the governor.

“People still elected us to do our jobs,” he said, adding that the “biggest thing” at the moment is reaching a budget deal by April 1.

“It still has to be done no matter what is occurring here in the Capitol,” he said.

E.J. McMahon of the fiscally conservative watchdog group Empire Center said the wealth taxes and other issues could set up a showdown between the Legislature and the administration.

Specifically, McMahon noted that both houses rejected a Cuomo proposal designed to perpetuate an expansion of the governor’s ability to reduce or withhold spending in case of revenue shortfalls.

“Cuomo retains the ability to veto line item spending additions to his budget appropriations as well as any revenue bill passed by the Legislature, subject to an override by two-thirds of the members in each house,” McMahon said, adding that the Dem supermajority that could override a veto sets the stage for potentially contentious negotiations.

Cuomo, during a tour of a mass vaccination site in Nassau County on Monday, said any tax increases must be well-thought out as he again warned that the rich could relocate out-of-state.

“Raising revenue can actually cost you revenue, if you’re not careful,” he said. “The way you do, it you may, actually lose money for the state because businesses and residents will make changes.”

The governor again voiced support for legalizing weed, but noted that lawmakers he and lawmakers have failed to get on the same page in the past.

“Passing marijuana reform and legalizing recreational marijuana — we’ve tried to do that for the past three years, we have to do that this year,” he said. “There’s been too many young lives ruined because of past marijuana laws. We’re very close to marijuana, but truth is we’ve been very close before.”