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New York lawmakers urged to reject Hochuls power grab

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(The Center Square) — A coalition of good government groups calls on New York lawmakers to reject Gov. Kathy Hochul’s budget proposals that would expand her control of state spending.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and House Speaker Carl Heastie, the coalition urged legislative budget writers to reject several provisions in the budget they said would give the governor’s office “broad, unilateral spending and borrowing authorities that are unnecessary and fiscally risky.”

Most of the oversight policies were enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, they wrote, when broad spending, budget management, and borrowing authorities “gave the governor the needed authority and flexibility to manage a historic public health emergency and dire fiscal situation.”

“Nearly four years later, the situation is vastly different,” they wrote. “These controls are no longer necessary. Enacting them would give the Governor unchecked authority to transfer, spend, or issue debt backed by public dollars.”

Specifically, the groups called on lawmakers to reject the governor’s permanent authority to issue up to $4 billion in short-term revenue anticipation notes, a $1 billion transfer from the General Fund to the “Health Care Transformation Account” unless its uses are more clearly defined in appropriations and provisions added to individual appropriations that remove competitive bidding requirements, among other demands.

The coalition, including the Citizens Budget Commission, Common Cause New York, the Empire Center for Public Policy and the New York Public Interest Research Group, also called on legislative leaders to reject a proposal limiting the state Comptroller’s ability to review bond transactions.

“Back-loading principal payments can lead to ballooning future debt service costs and violate the principle of intergenerational fiscal equity; that is why State law requires a level or declining debt service schedule for some state debts,” they wrote. “It is important that the comptroller retains the authority to evaluate all state-supported bond sales on all essential and mandated criteria, such as this.”

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli raised similar concerns about Hochul’s budget proposal, issuing a report saying the policy changes would “significantly curtail” his office’s oversight of bond transactions and expand the executive’s “extraordinary” powers.

DiNapoli said the changes “would inevitably lead to bond structuring decisions that will increase costs to state taxpayers over the long run.”

Hochul filed her preliminary $223 billion budget in January, which included more money for migrant costs, education, health care and criminal justice in addition to expanding the authority of her office over financial matters.

Legislative budget writers are expected to release their version of the spending plan. The deadline for adopting a state budget is April 1.