Audio and Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul is a Guest on Spectrum News’ Capital on April 16, 2024

Government and Politics

April 16, 2024

From: New York Governor Kathy Hochul

Governor Hochul: “Whatever I could do as Governor – number one priority has to be and always will be keeping people in the state safe. So, we focused on gun violence intensely over the last couple of years, and I'm really proud that all across New York we've driven down homicides and gun crimes down by about 30 percent.”

Hochul: “New York City has benefited from a plan that gives incentives to developers to make them want to build affordable housing in addition to market rate – same building, 25 percent market rate. We're exporting that to make an option for the rest of the State. So, localities all over can take advantage of what has really driven the growth in affordable housing… We also have money to help struggling families be able to stay in their homes if they're having trouble making their rent.”

Earlier on April 16th, Governor Hochul was a guest on Spectrum News’ “Capital Tonight” to discuss a conceptual agreement with legislative leaders on the Fiscal Year 2025 Budget that will address New York’s housing crisis, enhance public safety for all New Yorkers and make our state more affordable, livable and safer.

AUDIO of the Governor's remarks is available here.

A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:

Marisa Jacques, Spectrum: Governor, first of all, thank you for joining us. Yesterday you announced the parameters of conceptual agreement on the budget with the legislature. Spokespeople for the Senate and Assembly are saying, wait a second, there is no budget deal in place yet. What's your response to that?

Governor Hochul: As I've done for the last two budgets and it has happened before, we have the final meeting with the two leaders. It's the Speaker and the Majority Leader, which we did the night before. We technically have our handshake. We agree that this is the conceptual agreement. It's always called that. And we have gone out every year and spoken about what that is. And then it goes to legislature and they're actually printing the bills right now. So, that's moving along the process. And we're just on the verge of wrapping it up. So, this is good. It's how it has always been done. Nothing unusual. Nothing to see here.

Marisa Jacques, Spectrum: You mentioned both leaders in your speech. Why weren't they there next to you while you were delivering them?

Governor Hochul: No, they never have. If you look at – this is my third budget now. They still have to go back to their conferences. They were aware that we were doing our press meetings. We said that the night before. I don't think that's what New Yorkers are concerned about. They want to see a budget that delivers for them. And we certainly have a lot that they'll be proud of. And taking care of issues related to – it’s about crime, public safety, and education and more housing being built. So, that's really, I think that's really inside baseball. And what the public cares about is what I'd like to talk about today.

Marisa Jacques, Spectrum: Absolutely. And I'm glad that you brought that up because I think crime is top of mind for a lot of people. We can talk about statistics and things fluctuating going up and down. You address three issues out of the gate, retail theft was one of them. Talk a little bit more about that because I know Speaker Heastie had some concerns there, but obviously you both worked that out. What are we going to get in terms of that retail theft? Because places like Albany, cities like Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, here in Upstate New York, they're all dealing with this in a big way.

Governor Hochul: It's prevalent all over the state. We have these individuals who are so brazen. They go into stores, and whether it's in New York City or Buffalo, Albany, it's happening everywhere, and they're literally sweeping products off the shelves and then selling them online. So, we're going to have, number one more penalties for the online sale of these products, which were not in place before. That'll be a deterrent there. If people get caught, they're going to have severe consequences.

Secondly, we have our retail workers. They are really essential workers when you think about – they're on the front lines, they showed up during the pandemic. They sold us our baby food and milk and everything from the groceries, from the pharmacies as well. So, we needed to protect them because they're literally exposed and very vulnerable.

So, what we were able to secure in this budget was the decision to have assault charges, enhanced assault charges brought against an individual if they harm an individual who's a retail worker. So, that was a big accomplishment. Again, it's a deterrent, just to say, “You do this, you cross the line, there's severe consequences.”

Also, security measures for stores to help them, for the smaller ones, be able to have security cameras in other areas where you can have deterrents. So, we put together a whole package, and yeah, these conversations are tough. And that's the nature of the budget process and we worked through it and now we're able to do exactly what I set out to do in January.

Marisa Jacques, Spectrum: Two of the other areas that you focused on with regard to crime were the illegal cannabis sales and the other one was toll evaders. All of those three things combined are costing New York taxpayers a lot of money and you have to address that. But then there are people who are wondering about violent crime and addressing violent crime, not only in New York City, but across New York State in general. What is being done and what can be done with regard to this budget to help make people here in New York State feel safer?

Governor Hochul: That's a very good question. That's what keeps me up at night. Whatever I could do as Governor – number one priority has to be and always will be keeping people in the state safe. So, we focused on gun violence intensely over the last couple of years, and I'm really proud that all across New York we've driven down homicides and gun crimes down by about 30 percent.

That's extraordinary. That's because a couple of years ago, we put $350 million into enforcement and helping localities and bringing everything from drones to be able to track people. And there's a lot involved in this, and my state police has been ramped up to provide assistance. We're doing that same amount of money again and we're going to continue seeing those results, but we're not taking our foot off the pedal. I'm not declaring success in violent crime just because in this budget, we're looking at specific areas. The focus always continues on violent crimes, in particular.

But cannabis shops – people are getting sick and tired of seeing the proliferation of illegal cannabis shops. They're just showing up. I can't get over the fact that they know they're illegal, they set up, they're selling to kids, they have unlicensed products that can be contaminated with drugs that are even more harmful. So, we're giving local authorities the power to shut them down, to padlock them. And that was important to me as well.

Marisa Jacques, Spectrum: And I want to stay on that topic, OGS Commissioner Jeanette Moy is working with the Office of Cannabis Management to find opportunities for improvement. What has she found so far, if anything?

Governor Hochul: It just takes too long to get approvals for the legal industry. And I'm frustrated. I've called this out for a long time. I had to deal with the law that was written in the past. This is what I inherited. And now we're just struggling with trying to get legal systems stood up. Now, every state that has embraced this, gone before us, they have the same problem. So, I know in a matter of time it'll all be worked out, but I want to make sure we speed up the process for those who've been waiting. It affects our farmers; our Upstate farmers have been taking it on the chin over this. We're trying to help them, but also those who've been waiting for a long time.

Part of it is taking down their illegal competitors so they can be approved. The approval process is a lot faster. We have approved a significant number just since Jeanette Moy has been involved. And things are starting to get better.

Marisa Jacques, Spectrum: Let's move on now to talk about education, because that is such a top priority for so many New Yorkers and so many New York families. We talked a lot about the change that you want in the school aid formula, and it would now be – take a look at the enrollment in schools, and that would play a role. Is that acceptable to you? Do you think that any school in New York State actually has enough funding currently to be able to give the children the education that they deserve in New York State?

Governor Hochul: I can tell you one of the proudest things I’ve done as Governor for the last two and a half years is unlocking and finding $5 billion more for our schools. So, if you look at the rate of state resources going to our school districts, it was flatline for a long time. Look at the last two years, a $5 billion increase. That's extraordinary.

And what that did was it gave our school districts all across the New York not just the money they need, they have so much that we have literally billions in reserves. In fact, there's a statutory limit, a law that says you cannot have reserves higher than a certain amount. We have over a billion dollars sitting in our school districts now.

My view is, we've funded them at historically high levels. We're continuing to have historically high levels of money even this year. They've not been cut. But we also have to look at this in a commonsense way, the way average New Yorkers would look at this. We're funding empty seats. Why is that? They're basing it on a funding formula that's based on population from 2008. Think about the shifts in population. There has been at least a 10 percent overall loss in school age population – some districts are at 38 percent down.

Now should they get the same money they got before when they have that many fewer students? The taxpayers are paying for this. Your property taxes are paying for this. I'm concerned about New York State taxpayers. We look at that. We look at the fact that a school that has lost population – a school that is sitting on reserves. And part of the state law says that we're required to fund every school district at the same level they've always had, or higher, and can never go down in pay. And so, I'm doing things differently. I challenge the status quo. I'm not afraid to shake things up and say, why? And so next year at this time, after I have a convening of the Rockefeller Institute for Government – going to study this – we'll have a different formula, and it'll be better for our kids.

Marisa Jacques, Spectrum: I want to ask you about the Rockefeller Institute. How did you choose them to do this study?

Governor Hochul: They have a lot of credibility. They're here in Albany, and we know a lot of the individuals. I trust them with having the depth of knowledge and getting the outside support they would need to do this and do it quickly. When we put this out here this year, it was viewed as rather dramatic. So, I said it won't affect schools this year. We understand how sensitive this is – but this is how I operate – throw out the bold concepts, like housing last year – we got it done this year. Bail the year before – we got it done the next year. This year I'm talking about education – getting more people to realize, you know what, why are we doing it this way, and next year we'll make the change.

Marisa Jacques, Spectrum: Will the State Education Department play a role in all this?

Governor Hochul: Of course. Of course. Yeah, the law says that.

Marisa Jacques, Spectrum: Okay. How can you get some of those school districts – you talked about school districts – you talked about the money that they have that they're almost sitting on illegally at this point. How do you force them to turn around and spend that because we see so many school districts, especially in inner cities right now, that are struggling and that are suffering. So, how do we get some of that money back into where it needs to be going to our children's education?

Governor Hochul: That's why we're going to shift the formulas. There are some very well-funded districts. They have a higher property tax base. They probably have more expensive homes. And that's why the whole system of basing our education funding on property taxes doesn’t really work in my opinion, but that's another day's challenge. I'll tell you that. But, the wealthier suburbs, for example, they tax more – they have more resources coming in from the local government. They don't need as much help.

Our cities are struggling. And they're the ones I want to shift the formula around so we can take care of everybody – the suburban schools, make sure they're in good stead. But also, this new formula, make sure we're focusing on the young people who need it. That's why when I changed the law or changed the amount of funding over the last two years, that really helped our urban schools – that $5 billion.

Marisa Jacques, Spectrum: Governor Hochul, housing has been a big push for you. We can't not talk about that. Tenant protections have been a big focal point. Both sides are saying it goes too far, it doesn't go far enough. What is still on the table with regard to housing here? And then my second part of that question is, a lot of this is really focused on New York City, where millions of tenants here in Upstate New York say, “We can be left out.”

Governor Hochul: No, they're not left out. I'm an Upstater. I'm the first upstate Governor in 100 years. So, I will always understand the needs of Upstate, having been a local official up here for 13 years. So, what we're doing for Upstate, New York City has benefited from a plan that gives incentives to developers to make them want to build affordable housing in addition to market rate – same building, 25 percent market rate. We're exporting that to make an option for the rest of the State. So, localities all over can take advantage of what has really driven the growth in affordable housing in New York City. Also, the tenant protections, yes, they're very controversial. That's why we made them, not as some really wanted to do, which is make it mandatory for the whole State. I said, “No, let's defer to local decision making.” You can opt into it if your local government wants it, and if they don't, you opt out.

We also have money to help struggling families be able to stay in their homes if they're having trouble making their rent. I think that's going to be – that's targeted towards Upstate New York, so we have a whole host of ideas in our housing package that will get signed off on – we're literally shutting down the Budget now as we speak.

Marisa Jacques, Spectrum: Governor, I think you said something that's music to everybody's ears and that was no more raising of income tax. There is a little bit of a discrepancy in terms of the spending. How are you going to make that happen? Do you think that's realistic?

Governor Hochul: Yes. I said, “Despite the pressures here, New Yorkers have taken it on the chin long enough, they pay enough on taxes — especially property taxes — but State taxes, I want to freeze them where they are. No increases despite pressure.” And the reason we can do this is because we've managed our finances very well. We have extremely healthy reserves, 15 percent in reserves — which very few States would have — and we had better than expected revenues coming in. So that means New York is healthy.

Marisa Jacques, Spectrum: Last question for me. We had two law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty Sunday here in upstate New York, in the Syracuse area. What do you want to see done to support our law enforcement? Four now have been intentionally killed in New York State in this year alone.

Governor Hochul: That is sickening to me. When you get a call like that and these are people who stepped up, they could have had any careers, they know they're taking a risk, but my God, where would we be without them protecting us? I spoke to the sheriff in Onondaga County today. I tried to reach the Mayor, I said, “I want to know what’s going on with the services. How are we going to support the family?”

And he said the last time they had patrol officers who were killed was in 2003. So, it's not a regular occurrence, but when it does happen, it really hits you right here. So, I just want them to know that we support them. We're going to continue bringing resources to our local law enforcement agencies.

But we support funding the police. We honor them. We praise them for being able to do it. Very few people are willing to do it. And this is a statewide tragedy, and our hearts are broken.

Marisa Jacques, Spectrum: Governor Kathy Hochul, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

Governor Hochul: Thank you.