Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday used her second State of the State address to unveil a wide-ranging agenda for 2023, vowing to tie New York’s minimum wage to the rate of inflation, create hundreds of thousands of new housing units and push for further changes to the state’s oft-debated bail laws.
Hochul, a Democrat, began addressing the state Legislature at 1 p.m. from the ornate Assembly chamber in the Capitol in Albany. But she laid out dozens of proposals for the coming year in a 277-page policy book delivered to lawmakers earlier in the day.
Among those proposals is a plan to overhaul the state’s current system for increasing the minimum wage, taking it out of lawmakers’ hands. Instead, the wage — currently $15 in New York City, Westchester County and Long Island — would automatically increase to match year-over-year changes in the price of consumer goods.
Hochul’s public safety plan, meanwhile, calls for a new round of changes to the state’s bail system, which is likely to draw opposition from progressive Democrats in the Legislature who continue to stand behind the 2019 reforms that have drawn extensive criticism from New York City Mayor Eric Adams and others.
She also laid out a $1 billion plan to bolster the state’s mental health system, in part by reopening more than 800 inpatient psychiatric beds and creating more supportive housing units.
Here are five takeaways from Hochul’s State of the State plan, as laid out in the book delivered to lawmakers:
1. Automatic minimum wage increases
If Hochul has her way, New York’s minimum wage would no longer be subject to the whims of governors and state lawmakers.
Hochul’s proposal would link the wage to the Consumer Price Index for the Northeast region. If the index goes up 3% from one year to the next, so would the minimum wage.
That’s a big change from how things are currently done, with lawmakers setting the wage in state law. The last time it was changed was 2016, when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers approved a three-tiered, multiyear increase that saw the hourly rate rise to its current $15 in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County.
In the rest of the state, the minimum wage is currently $14.20 an hour, with the state Budget Division able to unilaterally increase it in future years until it hits $15.
Some Democrats have already suggested they support increasing the minimum wage, but that was before Hochul unveiled her indexing proposal.
“We cannot afford for wages to remain stagnant,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said Monday during a speech on his chamber’s floor. “As we look to the future, we will continue to monitor wages and ensure they keep pace with the cost of living.”
2. Changes to NY’s bail laws (again)
Last year, the New York governor’s race was painted in large part by questions over public safety, thanks in no small part to Republican Lee Zeldin making it the central theme of his campaign.
On Tuesday, Hochul made it a major theme of her State of the State proposals.
Specifically, the governor wants to make another round of changes to the state’s bail laws, which prevent judges from imposing bail on a defendant before trial in most misdemeanor and nonviolent felony cases.
In cases that remain eligible for bail, Hochul says she wants to remove a clause that still requires judges to implement the “least restrictive” measures to ensure a defendant returns to court. That clause, she says, has led to confusion among judges who have released defendants that they otherwise may have been able to keep jailed before trial.
“This results in finger-pointing and confusion when defendants commit additional crimes of violence,” Hochul’s State of the State policy book reads.
Hochul says she would keep the “least restrictive” clause for cases that are not eligible for bail.
3. Housing plan calls for municipal goals, 421-a replacement
With New York facing a housing crisis, Hochul had previously pledged to create 800,000 new units over the next decade. On Tuesday, she detailed how she plans to do it.
Among other things, Hochul intends to create a “New York Housing Compact.” As part of it, every town, city and village in the state would receive a target number of new homes to create over a three-year period — 3% for those within the MTA service area, and 1% for those outside it.
If a municipality doesn’t meet its goal, the state would step in to fast-track the approval process for certain multifamily developments, provided they meet certain criteria, including a minimum number of affordable units.
Hochul’s housing plan also relies on some major assumptions. For one, it calls for a replacement of the expired tax incentive known as 421-a, which provided significant property tax breaks to New York City developers who build housing with a certain percentage of affordable units. A number of Democratic lawmakers allowed the program to expire last year, likening it to a handout to developers.
It also assumes about 400,000 units will come from “organic” growth — meaning they are units that would have likely been built regardless of government action.
4. Support for the MTA, but no details on revenue
Hochul’s State of the State book pledges to “secure the MTA’s future,” as the transit authority faces a $600 million budget shortfall caused in large part by ridership levels that haven’t recovered from the pandemic.
But exactly how the governor will do that remains to be seen.
Hochul’s book acknowledged the need for a new revenue stream for the MTA that isn’t so reliant on fares. She did not, however, provide specifics, suggesting that they may come when she lays out her state budget proposal later this month.
“Gov. Hochul is committed to working with MTA leadership, legislative partners, the city of New York, the federal government, and other critical stakeholders on a comprehensive set of solutions to the structural challenges facing the MTA in order to put the Authority on sound fiscal footing for many years to come,” the book reads.
Hochul did, however, include other transit-related proposals. Among them was allowing New York City to lower its speed limits.
The pitch — laid out in the governor’s State of the State speech — would alter current state law that prevents the city Department of Transportation from setting speed limits below 25 mph in most of the city, and 15 mph in school zones
The proposal is similar to legislation dubbed “Sammy’s Law” introduced in 2020 by state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) in 2020, which would permit the city to lower its speed limits.
5. Measures to protect access to abortion, contraception
Hochul has made abortion and contraception access a major priority in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
On Tuesday, Hochul unveiled her latest proposals related to reproductive health.
The governor would allow pharmacists to prescribe hormonal contraception, essentially allowing for over-the-counter access.
She also pledged to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for reproductive health providers, and well as bolster access to medication abortions on SUNY and CUNY campuses across the state.
Includes reporting by Clayton Guse.