News & Politics

Budget, Bills and bail

Rounding up the week’s political news.

Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls waiting for votes to be counted at the Staten Island Amazon warehouse.

Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls waiting for votes to be counted at the Staten Island Amazon warehouse. Ed JONES /AFP/Getty Images

Ever had one of those weeks where life just came at ya fast? This was one of those weeks, with little time to take a breather. Hard to believe it started with news that Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin had received federal subpoenas over grants awarded when he was in the state Senate as well as unscrupulous campaign fundraising tactics during his run for New York City comptroller. If you forgot about that, you’d be forgiven considering the amount of news that has buried it in the past week. Keep reading for a refresher.

Do you know where your budget is?

The April 1 deadline for lawmakers and the governor to reach a deal on a new state budget has come and gone with no fiscal plan in sight. In fact, legislative leaders sent members home for the weekend without taking a vote, with the expectation that when they returned for session on Monday, they would be ready to approve a budget. When lawmakers left town, state leaders had few if any details pinned down, with changes to the 2019 bail law at the center of discussions. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s introduction of a 10-point criminal justice plan that included further rollbacks to bail reform upended negotiations late in the game, and little has budged as state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie continue to resist significant changes to bail. Talks around other contentious issues, like expanding health care for undocumented immigrants and funding for child care, and even less controversial things, have stalled as bail dominates the conversation. Still, there has been some apparent movement on a handful of issues, which of course could change in an instant. The state Senate and Hochul reportedly had come to a tentative agreement about the structure of a new state ethics agency, while a new tax break for developers pushed by the governor appeared unlikely to make it into the final budget

Bills, bills, Bill(s)

Hochul announced a deal to build a new Buffalo Bills stadium that put the state on the hook for $600 million, yet another wrench in the budget talks. The state-subsidized stadium was met with backlash fairly quickly from lawmakers, editorial boards, government watchdog groups and other organizations for both the rollout of the deal as well as the amount of taxpayer dollars the state would give to the billionaire owners of the Bills. Some also questioned the governor’s involvement in the negotiations given that her husband, Bill, works as counsel to the company that operates most of the concessions in the existing stadium. Hochul, however, celebrated it as a victory for the state and Western New York since it would ensure the football team would remain in New York for decades to come, generating economic benefits for the region. She also said that very few tax dollars would go to the stadium because long-overdue casino revenues from the Seneca Nation would cover most of the bill. Days before announcing the deal, Hochul used a hardball tactic to settle years of dispute with the Seneca Nation, getting a court to freeze the nation’s bank accounts until they paid the nearly $565 million in revenues that state said it owed. The move and the decision to spend the cash on a new Bills stadium was condemned by Seneca Nation leaders.

Adams targets homeless encampments

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has begun making good on his promise to rid city streets of homeless encampments, sending municipal workers to break up the makeshift living arrangements. In the first week of sweeps, the city broke up well over 200 such encampments, largely in Manhattan, with the purpose of directing those living there to shelters or other services to get them off the street. In that time, only five people took city workers up on the offer to relocate to a shelter. Despite that low number, Adams expressed optimism that more people would accept offers of shelter as the efforts continued, citing the 300 homeless people the city has gotten into a shelter from the subway system since efforts to address homelessness in the tunnels began in February. Still, advocates for the unhoused, as well as those on the streets, have not reacted well to Adams’ strategy, citing unsafe and unsanitary conditions in shelters. They pointed to city workers who would throw out the belongings of homeless New Yorkers and argued that the mayor is not showing the compassion he is touting as the reason for removing the encampments. 

Redistricting, revisited

A state judge has ruled that the legislative maps created and approved by Democratic lawmakers are unconstitutional and has given the Legislature two weeks to create new ones. The decision comes at the close of a legal challenge by Republicans seeking to overturn the new lines that they argued disproportionately helped Democrats while hurting Republicans. In the end, the judge agreed with their argument, adding a twist to an already busy week and just days before petitioning closes for the Democratic and GOP primaries in June. Democrats in the Legislature have already filed an appeal to overturn the decision and expressed confidence that the districts they created will get upheld.

Amazon union coming to Staten Island

History was made on Staten Island when Amazon workers at the warehouse there voted to create the company’s first union. The victory came after several failed organizing attempts in other parts of the country amid the company’s staunch anti-union positions. Workers on Staten Island are asking for a $30 minimum wage, twice the existing pay, as well as things like more break time and additional sick days. Contract negotiations will affect the 6,000 people who work at the Staten Island warehouse.