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Kathy Hochul finally finds courage in NY budget fight

You’ve heard the expression, “Cat got your tongue?” Maybe, just maybe, the Kat in Albany is finally finding her tongue — and her courage.

Gov. Hochul’s threat to hold up the state budget if the Legislature doesn’t fix broken bail laws is a welcome sign she’s tired of being treated like a doormat.

Hochul’s willingness to play hardball over the crime epidemic comes not a moment too soon for public safety and her own credibility.

“I would like an on-time budget — I’m not planning on one that’s not,” she told reporters Monday.

“But I also know that I’m here to do the work of the people of New York State, and they expect me to not leave town until the job’s done.”

Well said, but it will take more than words to win this battle, which also includes her push to increase the number of available charter school licenses in the city.

In a sane world, neither issue would be controversial, but that the Legislature adamantly opposes both reflects how far left it has turned.

Indeed, the Senate, in its version of a new budget released Tuesday, completely ignored Hochul’s demands and the Assembly almost certainly will do the same in its budget.

Doormat takes a stand

So now the bargaining begins in earnest, with the new fiscal year starting April 1.

For Hochul, the stakes are far larger than any single item or two. 

Just months after being sworn into her own term, she’s in danger of becoming roadkill. 

Despite supposedly being the most powerful official in Albany, no governor in recent times has had so little impact in shaping the state’s agenda.

Gov. Hochul has threatened to hold up the state budget if the Legislature doesn’t fix broken bail laws.
AP/Hans Pennink

The Legislature is controlled by fellow Democrats, but on some crucial issues, they’re in the same party as her in name only.

Lawmakers made history last month when they rejected the governor’s nominee to be chief judge of the Court of Appeals. 

Judge Hector LaSalle was more than qualified, but radical opponents distorted his record and smeared his reputation on the way to defeating him in both the committee and full Senate floor votes.

Then, just last week, a lone Dem state senator supported Hochul’s proposal to amend the bail law so judges would have more discretion about whether to hold or release criminal suspects before trial.

But the single dissenter, Jeremy Cooney of Rochester, quickly backtracked, proof that legislative leaders exert total control and are not even interested in fair and open debates.

New Yorkers saw earlier evidence of that attitude when Albany County District Attorney David Soares was abruptly disinvited from a hearing where he planned to lay out in compelling detail the disastrous impact of the 2019 criminal justice changes.

Soares, who is black, was prepared to show that black and Latino New Yorkers are being hurt most by soaring crime rates, which he said were caused in part by the too-lenient legislative changes.

Senate Majority Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins gives her remarks in the Senate Chamber.
Hans Pennink

By refusing even to consider changes that prosecutors, Mayor Adams and police officials say are necessary, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie are effectively saying increased crime and the suffering it brings to innocent New Yorkers, some of them in their own districts, are fine with them. 

They offer no real defense or any changes that might make a difference. The bloody status quo is good enough.

This is outrageous but in a big way, Hochul has only herself to blame for being boxed out.

Her instincts are center-left, but in her first year, she repeatedly drifted to the far left to pacify the always-angry, never-satisfied progressives. 

She apparently believed they would engage in a give-and-take, but in return, she’s gotten zero except a stiff election challenge from Republican Lee Zeldin that almost cost her job.

In the closest gubernatorial race in more than two decades, she won by just six points despite her party enjoying a better than 2-1 registration advantage over GOP voters. 

The results showed many Dems, especially Asians and Latinos, either staying home or voting for Zeldin because they see Albany going too far left. 

Hochul ran a tight race against Lee Zeldin for governor.
Paul Martinka

Crime consistently rates as a top issue across the state, along with taxes and failing schools.

Hochul has conceded the impact, noting that New York leads the nation in losing residents. 

“We’re already seeing signs of out-migration that we cannot ignore,” she said in January. “The good news is: It doesn’t have to be this way.”

Unfortunately, she’s failed to make changes or even proposals that would make a defining difference.

Additionally, some of her ideas, including tax hikes and a potential takeover of local zoning and land use laws, would make the state even less attractive to high-income earners and middle-class families, if that’s possible. 

Blame will fall on her

The upshot is that Hochul lacks an overarching vision of where she wants to lead the state and a strategy on how to get there.

Too often she acts as if she’s just Andrew Cuomo’s temporary substitute and is looking for ways to avoid conflict rather than calculating how to lead and win.

Having displayed consistent weakness, she has almost no wiggle room.

If the state continues to decline, and there’s no reason to think it won’t without a major course correction, she’ll get the lion’s share of blame, be regarded as a failed governor and face almost certain defeat in 2026. 

Hochul addresses the media during a press conference in response to the Signature Bank’s closure in New York.
AP/Yuki Iwamura

Her only option is to draw red lines and get the public on her side.

That means getting out of Albany and barnstorming the state until enough Dem lawmakers feel the heat from their constituents and join with the slim GOP minority to make major changes.

On the other hand, if Hochul folds again, and if taxes go up and crime stays high, she will have issued an invitation for another wave of New Yorkers to leave and sealed her own political fate.

Should she need a reminder about what’s at stake in the competition with other states, she ought to talk with Jamie Dimon, CEO and chairman of JPMorgan Chase.

Dimon recently told Bloomberg News that Florida and Texas are states that “like business, they want you to come.”

“We now have more employees in Texas than in New York state,” Dimon added. “It shouldn’t have been that way but Texas loves you being there.”

Nobody in business says New York loves you being there. Nobody

You ‘woke’ it …

“Go woke, go broke” apparently comes as news to the newsroom union at The New York Times.

In endless contract talks with management, union negotiators demand the usual fare of more money, but also that “at least 3 candidates from under-represented groups should reach interview stage for senior editorial decision-making roles.” 

And this: “Digital archives will be updated to include trans employees’ bylines.”

No wonder the paper feels like it’s being written by a cult.

Career advice for gangsters

Reader Jon Pepper, responding to my report that the mayor of Syracuse wants to pay gang members to stay out of trouble, writes that “There’s already a program that pays people who stay out of trouble. It’s called a job.”

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