On commissions and task forces, Hochul again issues dozens of vetoes

The governor said 32 proposed bills to study everything from Black youth suicide to climate expenditures would cost the state millions. A proposal to create a reparations task force was not vetoed.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has until the end of the year to sign or veto bills from last session.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has until the end of the year to sign or veto bills from last session. Susan Watts/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

For a second year in a row, Gov. Kathy Hochul has issued a blanket veto of many bills that would create various commissions, task forces and offices, and require certain studies and reports from various state agencies. Once again, she cited fiscal reasons, stating that the bills she vetoed would collectively cost tens of millions of dollars in unbudgeted expenses, and therefore should be addressed within the budget. But the blanket veto from the governor and a lack of fiscal impact statements from the Legislature make it impossible to gauge how much any one individual bill may have cost the state. 

Hochul has until the end of the year (basically) to sign or veto bills from last session. Earlier this month, said the 32 bills she rejected would have collectively cost the state $35 million. She said that sum was not included as part of the state’s financial plan, and therefore lawmakers should address the bills as part of the budget process, despite her support for many of them. “I share a strong interest in addressing the problems and issues identified in this legislation, and I commend the Legislature for seeking to address such a broad array of problems,” Hochul wrote in a joint veto message for all 32 bills, before noting their collective cost. “Without appropriate funding, these unbudgeted costs would create significant staffing and other programmatic burdens on State agencies,” she continued. 

According to Patrick Orecki, director of state studies with the Citizens Budget Commission, vetoing legislation with an unbudgeted fiscal implication is understandable. “I think it's not only valid, but it's common, and a good reason for the governor to veto bills mid-year that have a financial plan impact,” Orecki said. “It's the responsibility of the executive to really protect the condition of the financial plan throughout the year, and adding costs mid-year can open gaps. It can impact your bottom line.” New York is expected to face a sizable budget gap it will need to close next year, and Hochul has already alerted agencies to institute a spending freeze ahead of the next budget proposal. 

The bills varied greatly: One would have created a task force on Black youth suicide prevention, for example, while another would have required the state Department of Environmental Conservation to submit an annual agency climate expenditure report in coordination with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Yet another would have created an Office of Native American Affairs within the executive branch. “I am directing state agencies that have ongoing efforts or future plans to address the issues described in these bills to continue their efforts and to review and incorporate the goals in the legislation to the extent practicable,” Hochul wrote in her veto memo, though without specifying which bills she is referring to. “Where this is not the case, I am directing my office to work with State agencies to assess what components of the legislation can be implemented using resources already in their financial plans.”

Absent from Hochul’s batch of vetoes is a high-profile bill that would create a commission to study reparations in New York. It does not have a fiscal impact statement, with the bill memo stating it will have an “undetermined” cost if enacted. A spokesperson for the governor did answer a question about why the bill was not included in the batch of vetoes from this month.

Hochul’s joint veto offered no information about how much each separate bill cost beyond the $35 million sum total. Orecki argued that at least one bill out of the batch that the Citizens Budget Commission supported, which would have required the state Department of Health to publish information it already gathers about the use of home care services on its public website, had no new cost. “I think, arguably, some of these things, including the bill we support, should be able to be done within existing operations, it shouldn't be a net new cost, because it's data that's available, it's just a matter of publishing it in the way prescribed in the bill,” Orecki said. 

Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas, who sponsored the home care service data bill, called Hochul’s veto disappointing. “In order for the government and legislators to best respond to the urgent needs of the home health care industry and the New Yorkers who rely on it, and to address the issues related to accessibility, affordability and quality of care, we need to collect real-time data and make that data available to the public,” González-Rojas said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the governor declined to sign into law legislation that promotes accountability and transparency, both of which the administration has highlighted as priorities.” A spokesperson added that González-Rojas is already in discussions to amend the legislation and reintroduce it next year. 

Assembly Member Harvey Epstein sponsored the climate expenditure reporting bill and told City & State that he doesn’t believe that his legislation belonged in the batch of vetoes related to commissions, studies and task forces because it was intended to help the state meet climate benchmarks laid out in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. “It seemed really odd that – it has nothing to do with a study or writing a report, it’s to help us with a roadmap in compliance with the law,” Epstein said. “It was a very confusing veto.” He said that he plans to reintroduce the legislation next year, but didn’t say whether he thought it would be included as part of the budget.

Complicating matters is the fact that bills often don’t include fiscal impact statements. Many of the bills Hochul vetoed only say “to be determined,” “TBD” or “undetermined” under the memo section dedicated to the legislation’s cost to state and local governments. Others assert no or minimal cost. “I think that's kind of, in many cases, unrealistic or incomplete,” Orecki said. “So I think some of the responsibility for putting the price tag on a bill and thinking through the fiscal impacts of legislation does also reside with the Legislature as they're advancing those bills.” It’s one reason the Citizens Budget Commission supports the creation of an Independent Budget Office at the state level, and has put out recommendations that the Legislature be more rigorous in applying fiscal impact statements. 

Hochul also wrote in her memo that lawmakers should pursue the commissions and task forces as part of the budget, although a spokesperson only referred back to the veto memo when asked whether she herself would include any of the bills in her own budget proposal next year. The spokesperson did, however, point to an Asian American and Pacific Islanders commission bill she signed this month that already had designated funding. “Creating a commission, study or task force is a process best suited for the budget process, due to the fiscal costs of these entities,” Hochul wrote in an approval memo for that legislation. “As the Legislature set aside funding in the FY24 Enacted Budget, I fully support empaneling this Commission through legislation.”

Last year, at least two vetoed commission bills from 2022 to create a “special joint legislative commission on affordable housing” and another for a study on museums in the state made it into both the state Senate’s and Assembly’s one-house budget proposals earlier this year. The museum study made it into the final budget, but the affordable housing commission did not. Spokespeople for the Senate and Assembly majorities did not return requests for comment.