By Sabina Mollot
In the latest “Big Ugly,” the state budget released on Saturday morning yanked $4.5 million from tenant protections by completely de-funding the housing agency’s Tenant Protection Unit.
State Senator Brad Hoylman, who voted no against that measure and numerous others included in the budget, blamed his own chamber for the move. However, he said he’s been assured the TPU will continue to be able to operate through emergency funding set aside by the governor, which was also done last year. Still, said Hoylman, “What kind of message does that send to New Yorkers? The budget is a real statement of our values.”
Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled chamber saw fit to spend $3 million of taxpayer funds on an upstate golf tournament because, they said, it would create jobs and spur economic growth in the area.
In arguments that are now online on YouTube, Hoylman responded, “Four and half million dollars was cut from the budget. I’d like to see the Dick’s Sporting Goods money put into the Tenant Protection Unit.”
Asked at one point during his testimony to “yield” the floor, Hoylman declined, adding that he was handed a budget with little to no explanation on how millions of dollars were being spent.
Later, he told Town & Village how certain items were thrown into the budget “at the eleventh hour” following numerous “phony meetings where supposedly targets are set for negotiation and then there are many hearings and then we see the Senate version of the budget and it’s not tethered to reality. The process is very opaque and last minute. There were items inserted that we had no previous knowledge of.”
One of those items asserts the state’s right to develop an area of midtown Manhattan surrounding Penn Station. Previously, said Hoylman this had been a rumored addition, but not officially proposed.
“I voted no on the Penn Station land grab,” he added.
He added, “If I was more cynical I would say the Senate is intentionally trying to wear us down and push this through at the last minute when you’re bleary-eyed and your staff is exhausted.”
The budget was finalized shortly after midnight on Saturday, with Hoylman not getting home until 3 a.m., missing a seder with his family by more than a few hours.
Other disappointments for the Democrat senator were the lack of tenant protections, ethics reforms, closure of the LLC Loophole, no Reproductive Health Act, no early voting, no criminal justice reforms, no congestion pricing, no school speed cameras and no Dream Act. There were also no gun laws, though one was passed as a standalone bill rather than included in the budget itself. But, said Hoylman, “There was no banning of bump stocks (his bill), no extreme risk protection orders (another one of his bills).”
As for his Child Victims Act, which had recently picked up steam due to a couple of celebrity endorsements, this too was excluded.
“It was deliberately killed,” Hoylman said, blaming insurance companies whose clients include youth groups and houses of worship. “They don’t want to pay up.” However, because the governor and Assembly support the bill, Hoylman said he still had hope for some movement this legislative session.
A turning point may (or may not) come on April 24, with the special elections including two vacant Senate seats that are expected to be won by Democrats. This would give Democrats a numerical majority, though that number includes the Republican-leaning Democrat Simcha Felder and the breakaway Democrats of the Independent Democratic Conference.
Still, the fact that it’s an election year made the budget more of a mess than the usual, according to Hoylman. “The political dynamics are more difficult than ever. It was not a pretty budget.”
A spokesperson for the governor’s office did not respond to T&V’s questions about the funding for the TPU, the lack of ethics reforms and the failure to close the LLC Loophole, things Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he is for.
Critics of the governor, however, were quick to blast him for the results of the budget.
Mike McKee, treasurer and spokesperson of TenantsPAC, said, “He’s all talk and no action. Look at how much money he’s getting from LLCs. There was no campaign finance reform, no improvements to tenant protections and they’re taking $4.5 million of money (from tenants.)”
Cynthia Nixon, who’s running against Cuomo, blasted the budget as a “series of back-room deals.”