‘Grandma’ Hochul brings carrots (and checks) to LI

With help from Shawn Ness

She’s taking her (budget) show on the road.

Gov. Kathy Hochul went deep into Long Island today to tout her $233 billion budget plan, trying to drum up support in the politically vital suburbs.

Speaking from Kings Park in Suffolk County, the governor defended her proposal to scrap the hold harmless policy that protects schools from state aid cuts. She also boasted about her plan to spend $40.2 million toward combating retail theft.

And, among a whole host of other initiatives, she extolled the virtues of a $650 million housing incentives plan, which she said demonstrates her fearlessness in dealing with the hot-button issue of suburban housing development.

“As a new grandma, I’m going to say this,” Hochul said. “A lot of young people grow up in great communities and they think, ‘Someday when I have a family, I’m going to raise the kids near grandma and grandpa because they can babysit.’”

“But now those kids can’t afford to live in the town they grew up in. That is heartbreaking,” she said.

Hochul then talked of carrots and sticks. She said her varied attempts to develop suburban housing throughout her governorship showed her willingness to try different approaches on the issue.

Last year, Hochul found out her sticks had barely the impact of twigs.

Her attempt to push a politically radioactive proposal to mandate more housing in New York City suburbs — a region perhaps more resistant to state-mandated zoning changes than anywhere else in the country — was ultimately abandoned.

And the year before, she tried to legalize apartments on single-family lots.

That plan, too, was set aside.

“Last year, we started the conversation and it was weaponized,” Hochul said of her previous housing proposal. “It was a modest request… I was told, give us some more carrots.”

To access the $650 million in funds, communities will first have to receive a “pro-housing” certification from the state, a sort of gold star given to communities receptive to housing development.

She also came with other checks. Hochul announced Smithtown-Kings Park as one of the winners of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, one of the programs whose funds can be accessed from the $650 million pot. Brookhaven-North Bellport and Mineola also received $4.5 million each through the NY Forward program.

Outside the high school Hochul was speaking at, however, a small throng of protestors gathered.

“No housing development!” one of the protestors’ signs said. — Jason Beeferman

SCHOOL AID CUTS: If you think House races aren’t, in part, centered on what goes on in Albany, think again.

Case in point: School aid funding cuts that could hit some districts as part of Hochul’s plan to trim the growth in spending.

Long Island GOP Reps. Nick LaLota, Andrew Garbarino and Anthony D’Esposito — all up for reelection this year in competitive races — sent out a joint statement criticizing Hochul’s budget for proposed cuts to local schools and for adding $2.4 billion to help with the migrant crisis.

“It is shameful for Governor Hochul to propose a state budget with draconian cuts to over 40 Long Island school districts while providing billions to pay for the ongoing migrant crisis,” LaLota said in a statement.

The statement goes on to describe the spending cuts as a “slap in the face” to New York taxpayers: “Long Island students should not have to pay the price for our state’s failures. If the governor wants to put our students last, then Albany must act immediately to right this injustice.”

Hochul is arguing that 7 percent increases in school aid each year is unsustainable and that enrollment trends should be a larger factor in how the $35 billion pot — per capita the largest in the nation — is divided among the nearly 700 districts.

“As much as we may want to, we are not going to be able to replicate the massive increases of the last two years,” she warned in her budget address Tuesday. — Shawn Ness

COUNTRIES OF ORIGIN: A plurality of migrants in New York City’s care are from Venezuela, according to new City Hall data obtained Thursday by Playbook.

Newcomers of Venezuelan origin account for 41 percent of the population living in city shelters as of Dec. 28. Those from Ecuador account for 18 percent; Colombians represent 9 percent; and migrants from Senegal make up 6 percent, the data shows.

The numbers reveal that people have also arrived recently to New York City come from Guinea, Peru and Mauritania.

More than 68,000 migrants, including asylum-seekers, are being sheltered and supported by New York City.

Venezuelans who have been continuously residing in the United States since July 31 are eligible to apply for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, and city, state and federal workers have been collaborating to help them get their paperwork submitted. — Emily Ngo

EDUCATION: Schools Chancellor David Banks is looking to improve facilities in historically-underserved districts across New York City.

During the 2022-23 school year, the Department of Education started the campus revival project as a pilot in District 23 in Brooklyn, which serves Ocean Hill, Brownsville and parts of East New York. The department made a pledge to invest more than $10 million into 168 projects across the district over two years. Banks said 117 were completed in the first year and the remainder will be done by the end of the year.

The city is also planning to expand the initiative to three additional districts: District 5 in Harlem, District 7 in the South Bronx and District 29 in southeast Queens. Officials are in the process of identifying district priorities and initial work on those projects will begin soon.

Banks said maintained school communities, as well as elected officials, community-based organizations and faith leaders, are driving the process.

“These districts have been traditionally underserved,” Banks said during a press conference at PS 137 The Rachel Jean Mitchell School. “We must change this narrative moving forward. So we will work to address facility concerns in a coordinated and very targeted way.” — Madina Touré

CONGESTION PRICING GETS MORE LAWSUITS: The New York City Council Common Sense Caucus filed a lawsuit targeting the city’s plan for congestion pricing. The lawsuit aims to have an environmental impact study before the plan moves forward.

The tolls would be in place for everything south of 60th St. in Manhattan and designed to ease traffic, as well as help people make the jump from driving to public transportation. City Councilmember Robert Holden (D-Queens) called the tax a scam that does nothing but hit hardworking New Yorkers.

“It’s a cover for the MTA’s relentless squandering of our tax dollars. It’s time the MTA tackled fare evasion and rooted out rampant waste and abuse within the agency, rather than penalizing our residents,” Holden said in a statement.

Riders Alliance criticized the latest lawsuit. New Jersey sued last year over the policy.

“Today, a handful of cynics with second homes filed yet another frivolous lawsuit in a parade of privileged objections to a fairer New York with modern, reliable, accessible public transit and cleaner air,” Danny Pearlstein, the group’s spokesperson, said. — Shawn Ness

ENERGY DISPATCH: The Public Service Commission today approved costs for a Con Ed project that will be paid for by customers.

The commission signed off on $1.2 billion for a new substation in Idlewild and other components to support growing electricity demand in Queens, including from MTA bus depots and the JFK airport. The company petitioned for approval of the project in August, saying action was needed quickly because electrification would increase demand beyond the capacity of the existing Jamaica network by 2026.

“Con Edison will be making infrastructure investments that are designed to promote the transition to a clean-energy economy while ensuring the reliability of the electric grid overall,” said PSC Chair Rory Christian in a statement. “Our action today is a win-win for the company’s customers and the environment.”

Some clean energy developers urged the commission to require Con Ed to instead examine non-wires alternatives, like battery storage or demand response, to avoid the expensive infrastructure project. New York City also argued the plan does not comprehensively address growing demand and is not a cost-effective solution.

Commissioner Diane Burman voted against the commission order. She said such investments should be scrutinized as part of the regular rate case process for utilities.

Burman also questioned whether all ratepayers should have to bear the cost of the upgrades, which she said are primarily driven by electrification projects and demand from the MTA and JFK airport.

“I do not think it is sustainable as we do more electrification.. that the ratepayers bear the bulk of this,” she said.

The MTA has committed to electrifying its entire bus fleet by 2040, and the authority supports the Con Ed project. — Marie J. French

BELMONT STAKES JOBS: The New York Racing Association is hosting a job fair on Feb. 21 in a “first in a series of events to support the historic Belmont Stakes Racing Festival at Saratoga Race Course.”

NYRA is looking for people to work the 156th Belmont Stakes Festival June 6-8 that will be held at the Saratoga track amid renovations at Belmont on Long Island. The job fair will be from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m in the first floor of the 1863 Club at the track.

“The 2024 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival will be an economic engine for Upstate New York,” said NYRA president Dave O’Rourke. “Much of that impact will be the creation of hundreds of temporary jobs to support a Triple Crown event at Saratoga Race Course this June.” — Shawn Ness

PUBLIC SAFETY: New York legislators joined human rights and social justice advocates to launch the Justice Roadmap. The plan is designed to address harms caused by the criminal justice and immigration systems and develop a safer community.

The effort seeks to stop the criminalization of those with mental health issues, drug users, street vendors and sex workers.

It also aims to “protect the dignity of incarcerated New Yorkers, while still expanding the opportunity for growth, to reform sentencing laws and promote pathways for safe and fair release from prison; and to end wealth extraction and instead invest in historically underserved communities,” according to a statement from the Immigration Defense Project. — Shawn Ness

— Adams requested a local leading business group to develop a six person panel to advise the city on fiscal issues. (Crain’s)

Caleb Slater, a political activist, is throwing his hat in the ring for the 48th State Senate district seat currently held by Sen. Rachel May. (State of Politics)

— Melissa DeRosa in a new profile says she would consider running for office one day, possibly mayor of New York. (Bustle)

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