New York lawmakers pass $237 billion budget addressing housing construction and migrants


ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York lawmakers passed a $237 billion state budget Saturday that includes plans to spur housing construction and combat unlicensed marijuana stores.

The package also includes a raft of other measures ranging from expediting the closure of some state prisons, addressing the recent influx of migrants, and continuing the pandemic-era policy of allowing people to buy takeout cocktails.

The state Senate and Assembly finished working through the state’s several budget bills on Saturday after hours of debate. The spending plan now moves to Gov. Kathy Hochul to be signed into law, which she is expected to do.

The negotiations, which were conducted in private between the governor and top legislative leaders, largely hinged on a sweeping proposal to jumpstart the state’s housing market.

The plan gives a tax break for developers who agree to offer a portion of apartments in new buildings for prices that are below market price and includes a wage standard for laborers on those projects.

The state had a similar tax break, but it expired in 2022. Hochul and other supporters have long argued such an incentive is a vital lure for development, though critics have argued it is too costly and favorable to developers.

As part of the housing deal, progressives also got long sought-after legislation that would provide some tenants with protections against unreasonable rent increases and evictions, though it was not as comprehensive as many advocates had wanted.

Some housing advocates complained about the tax break offered for developers.

“Governor Hochul did not solve the housing crisis – instead she pushed through a housing deal written by the real estate industry to ensure they keep getting richer off the backs of hardworking tenants,” Cea Weaver, the coalition director for Housing Justice for All, said in a statement.

Lawmakers also moved to address the explosion of unlicensed cannabis storefronts in New York City. Bureaucratic hurdles have made it difficult for the state to shut down the shops, which have become ubiquitous in the Big Apple.

To help solve the problem, the budget includes policies that would allow local law enforcement to more easily shutter stores accused of selling marijuana illicitly while their cases play out. Previously, most enforcement could only be done by the state, and such stores were able to stay open while a lengthy appeals process played out.

State officials also earmarked $2.4 billion to care for an influx of international migrants who have overwhelmed New York City’s homeless shelters. The money will go toward housing, legal services and health care for the migrant population.

State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt criticized that measure during floor debates, saying it would encourage more migrants to come to New York.

“We made a lot of tough decisions in this budget,” Ortt said. “But 2.4 billion goes a long way, and I just wonder what that could have done in other parts of the budget for legal New Yorkers.”

Additionally, New York will expedite the closure of up to five state prisons in an effort to save money amid the state’s declining prison population. The governor has until next March to choose which prisons will close. The state has shuttered two dozen correctional facilities since 2011 because of vacant beds, saving about $442 million annually, according to the state corrections department.

The budget also contained measures that would offer paid time off during pregnancies, enable New York City to lower its speed limits and expand access to booze, with proposals to extend the pandemic-era sale of to-go alcoholic drinks and allow movie theaters to sell hard liquor.

The budget was finalized about three weeks after its original April 1 due date and came after a cyberattack hampered the state office that drafts bills for the Legislature.