The pandemic is still raging in New York, and across the country, and more contagious variants are now responsible for the majority of new infections. But there’s good news: all adults over 16 in the state are now eligible for the vaccine. So if you’ve been patiently waiting to get a vaccine, now’s the time to set up notifications from TurboVax so you know when new appointments become available. Maybe with all these vaccines going out, the governor will start to allow press back at his press conferences soon. Keep reading for the rest of this week’s news.
The state finally has a budget
It came seven days late, but New York approved a new state budget. The spending agreement totals $212 billion, larger than both the governor’s plan and proposals by the state Legislature. It includes $29.5 billion in school aid that for the first time fully funds Foundation Aid with a $1.4 billion increase in funding. The bump in spending resolves the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that found some schools in the state were getting shortchanged. The budget also includes $2.4 billion for rent relief for those struggling during the pandemic and a $2.1 billion fund for undocumented workers who had been ineligible for unemployment and federal COVID-19 relief. The fund was one of the most contentious parts of the budget that was vehemently opposed by Republicans and was met with concern by some Democrats. Another one of the sticking points was the legalization of mobile sports betting, which made it into the final budget. In addition to everything else, the budget included new taxes on the wealthy, including new tax rates for high-earners, that will raise $4.3 billion annually. Although it falls short of the $7 billion the Legislature had proposed, it still represented a victory for progressives and legislative Democrats. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had long opposed tax hikes of any kind. Although the progressive left did not get everything they wanted, the budget deal was still a win for the Legislature against a governor weakened by multiple scandals. Both chambers have Democratic supermajorities this year and they seemed willing to flex their influence in ways not seen in recent memory during the budget.
New details on Cuomo groping allegations
The aide who accused Cuomo of groping her provided additional details about the incident for the first time since the allegation came to light about a month ago. Although her name is still not public to protect her identity, the current Cuomo staffer detailed this and other experiences with the governor. The woman said that Cuomo had been grooming her for two years through increasingly inappropriate behavior that started with tight hugs and kisses on the cheek. In a newly detailed incident, the staffer described a time when the governor asked to take a selfie, and then began to rub her butt when they got close for the picture. After the alleged groping took place, and after ex-staffer Lindsey Boylan first made her allegations of sexual harassment in December, the woman said Cuomo told her she can’t talk about anything he tells her, or “anything else.” The aide said she took this as a threat to keep quiet about the groping.
Republican gubernatorial challengers emerge
In the wake of budget negotiations that showcased a weakened governor amid multiple scandals, one Republican announced his intention to challenge him in 2022, while another suggested he might run. Rep. Lee Zeldin from Long Island, who had recently been rumored to seek the governor’s mansion, officially said that he would be running. The staunch Trump supporter rose to prominence for his defense of the then-president. Zeldin enters the race already with the support of both of the chairs of the Nassau and Suffolk County Republican parties. Meanwhile, Andrew Giuliani – son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani – said that he’s “heavily considering” running against Cuomo. The younger Giuliani has no experience as an elected official, but did serve as an official in the Trump administration.
New York City loosens school COVID-19 rules
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced new rules for when public schools will close due to COVID-19. Now, it will take the detection of four cases in different classrooms within a week that are traced to a source within the school. Under the old rules, schools would close after two unrelated cases were discovered regardless of their origin. The change comes after months of sudden school closures under the previous rule that left many parents and teachers frustrated. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which de Blasio has no control over, is still keeping subways closed overnight for deep cleanings, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that the risk of getting COVID-19 by touching a surface is incredibly low.
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