Albany Agenda

Hochul wants to protect Taylor Swift and drink at home

The governor’s 30-day budget amendments were somewhat minimal, targeting harmful AI and continuing to permit to-go cocktails. She also restored a fund for legal representation for low-income people.

To-go cocktails are here to stay if the governor gets her way.

To-go cocktails are here to stay if the governor gets her way. Cindy Ord/Getty Images

It’s mid-February, which means the time has come for Gov. Kathy Hochul to roll out tweaks to her executive budget proposal. But despite criticism from both sides of the aisle over her education funding and a request from New York City Mayor Eric Adams to provide more migrant aid, the most significant changes the governor made to her budget was to make to-go drinks permanent and propose new criminal penalties for deceptive artificial intelligence.

Hochul kept her amendments low-key, aligning with the vibes of her budget overall and her agenda for the year. Most of her amendments fell under the “technical” and “clarifying” categories with no major changes to any of her biggest agenda items. 

Before officially posting the language, Hochul touted two specific additions to her budget as amendments. The first was a lengthy new policy meant to crack down on deceptive AI practices by updating the law to include artificial intelligence, and imposing new criminal penalties for using digitally reproduced images or audio of a person. The proposal came on the heels of federal legislation introduced for similar purposes after Taylor Swift decried the use of AI to spread fake explicit images of her. It also comes after reporting that a profanity-filled fake recording of Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright circulated among politicos in Harlem. The proposal would also require the disclosure of any political communications created with AI to be released within 60 days of an election.

Hochul also touted the inclusion of a provision to make to-go drinks from bars permanent. The pandemic-era regulations that permitted the practice were set to expire, and the governor proposed removing the sunset date to allow bars to continue offering cocktails to go indefinitely. 

Under state law, the governor has the ability to issue amendments to her executive budget up to 30 days after releasing it, the last changes she can make to the language of the budget bills before negotiations start in earnest with the Legislature. They often include fairly minor technical fixes, but have also been used to introduce entirely new proposals or make significant changes to policy they already pitched. Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for example, used his 30-day budget amendments in 2021 to make several changes to his plan to legalize pot in the face of criticism following its rollout. 

Although Hochul did not include too many major changes, the amendments did include some clarity about the state’s plan for the fiscally strapped SUNY Downstate Medical Center. Her amendments to the Capital Projects bill included authorization to use $300 million for the facilities transformation plan outlined in the budget. Another amendment also gave the state comptroller authority to transfer $100 million from the state general fund to various other accounts for the purpose of enacting the transformation plan.

The governor also reversed a controversial plan to transfer $100 million from a fund meant to help low-income New Yorkers get legal representation to the state’s general fund.

With the amendments out and legislative budget hearings concluded, both chambers of the state Legislature are expected to release in the next few weeks their one-house rebuttals to Hochul’s budget proposal that will lay out their own demands. The release of those documents marks the start of three-way negotiations happening in earnest.