Hochul and education group gearing up for funding fight

With help from Shawn Ness

Gov. Kathy Hochul says she's ready to fight any legal opposition to her school aid proposal.

Gov. Kathy Hochul is ready to fight any legal opposition to her school aid proposal that would result in cuts to more than half of the state’s school districts.

On Monday evening, Campaign for Fiscal Equity counsel Michael Rebell said he is poised to challenge Hochul’s proposal in court — if it makes its way into the final budget — and called for a new “equitable” foundation aid formula. Hochul, in turn, told reporters today that she is set on finding a path that accounts for high-needs districts and a declining population.

“If there’s a lawsuit, there’s a lawsuit,” Hochul said, arguing “I’ve done more than anybody in our entire history to support education and education funding.”

Rebell was lead counsel for the landmark case CFE v. State of New York from 2003. The Court of Appeals ruled that the state has an obligation to determine the amount necessary to provide an education through an equitable formula. Rebell is threatening to initiate new litigation if Hochul does not work with the Legislature to develop a new formula, instead of the changes she is proposing.

“A new formula that is responsive to current educational needs is absolutely necessary,” Rebell said. “Without it, the Court of Appeals’ CFE order will be defied, students’ constitutional rights will be ignored, and the state will revert to the kinds of unconstitutional political manipulations that were the practice before the Court of Appeals mandated a rational, needs-based approach to school funding.”

Hochul delivered on fully funding the foundation aid formula last year, but her changes to the inflationary factor reduced anticipated school aid increases by more than $300 million. Additionally the elimination of “hold harmless” — a policy that prevents foundation aid cuts — resulted in $167 million worth of cuts to 337 districts statewide.

On Tuesday Hochul defended her proposal, noting declining enrollments and said some districts have extra money in their reserve funds. She reiterated that the state was not expected to annually increase school aid at historic levels as was done over the past three years.

“I don’t mind shaking things up and asking the hard questions, like, why are we still following a formula that’s been in place since 2008,” Hochul said.

“You would have thought that I was making them sell their firstborn,” she said of school leaders pushing back on her proposals. “I’m just trying to be rational about this, and asking for people who want to solve this with me to work together and roll up our sleeves.”

With budget negotiations underway, Hochul said she has been having “very productive” conversations with legislative leaders but cautioned a deal on the funding formula may not happen right away, lamenting “I’m not getting satisfactory answers on why the status quo is here.” — Katelyn Cordero

Over 1,000 New Yorkers descended on the Capitol to advocate for tenant protections.

TENANT PROTECTIONS: Over 1,000 tenants and homeless New Yorkers rallied at the Capitol to push for housing priorities including good cause eviction legislation, a state-funded rental voucher program and preserving the rent stabilization system.

Many electeds were doing crowd control of the event, leading the protesters from the Legislative Office Building to the Capitol. The halls were filled with chants of “Fight fight fight, housing is a human right!” and “What do we want? Housing! When do we want it? Now!”

Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, a Black woman representing Brooklyn, said “We’re talking about people, we’re talking about life and livelihoods. It’s not an either/or, fighting for homeowners, especially those that look like me, and for tenants across the state.”

In New York City, 69 percent of residents are renters, and the city’s rents have hit record highs. The average rent in Manhattan is $4,230. Syracuse is the second-most rent-burdened city in the country, the rental price of a one-bedroom has increased 22 percent over a one-year period.

Proponents of the good cause legislation, which would effectively limit rent hikes on market-rate apartments, say it would protect an estimated 1.6 million New Yorkers from an unjust eviction or rent increase. The real estate lobby, meanwhile, holds that the bill would make it all but impossible to properly maintain buildings while stymieing new construction.

“We need a compromise on a housing deal, but we will not compromise on tenant protections. We need good cause,” Assemblymember Tony Simone said at the rally. “There is no housing deal without tenant protections.”

Simone said he is cautiously optimistic that a deal will be reached, and that the momentum the movement has is helpful for those negotiations. In Hochul, housing activists are confronting a pro-growth governor who is unlikely to back a deal on tenant protections that doesn’t include significant steps to boost construction. She and the state Legislature are negotiating whether to reinstate a lapsed property tax break for developers. — Shawn Ness

BIRTH CONTROL ACCESS: State Health Commissioner James McDonald signed a standing order today authorizing pharmacists to dispense oral contraceptives, hormonal vaginal rings and birth control patches without a prescription. Pharmacists who choose to participate will be able to give out up to a 12-month supply.

“Starting a family is a deeply personal decision and New York State will always be a place where people can access safe and effective contraceptives,” Hochul, who joined McDonald at an Albany pharmacy for the signing, said in a statement.

To participate, pharmacists must self-attest to a set of competencies developed by the state Education Department. Maya Kaufman

SENATE ADVANCES MTA NOMINEES: Three state Senate committees approved the nominations of five potential MTA board members today, and the full Senate is expected to approve the group later this week.

The batch includes New York City Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi, who was picked by Mayor Eric Adams, City Planning Commission Chair Dan Garodnick (another Adams pick) and Long Island Contractors’ Association executive director Marc Herbst (who was chosen by Suffolk County and Hochul).

The hearings were mostly amicable, with multiple members asking incoming members to address transit deserts in their districts. State Sen. Leroy Comrie urged every nominee to support upgrades to let different lines share platforms at places like Penn Station: “It’s an embarrassment for the most important city in the world” that this hasn’t been addressed yet, Comrie said.

The most vocal opposition came from Sen. James Skoufis who grilled every nominee about their support for congestion pricing. In his Orange County district, “the last two trains each day [depart at] 3:57 p.m. and then 10:30 p.m.,” he said. “My constituents, if they want to get into the city … they have to drive.” — Bill Mahoney

Mayor Eric Adams said at a press conference today that he never sought sexual favors from a former colleague. It was the first time he commented about the situation since a case was filed in the Manhattan Supreme Court yesterday.

ASSAULT CASE: The mayor insisted at a press briefing today he never sought sexual favors from a colleague in the Transit Police Department in exchange for giving her career advice. The comments marked Adams’ first time addressing the detailed complaint filed in Manhattan Supreme Court yesterday that contained graphic details of an alleged encounter in 1993.

“This did not happen,” Adams said of the incident. “I don’t ever recall meeting this person during my time in the police department.”

The mayor’s strong denial was part of a larger campaign from City Hall that sought to discredit the allegations.

“I feel with the exact same passion that just as no woman and no girl should ever be the subject of sexual violence, no man and no boy should ever be the subject of false accusations,” the mayor’s chief counsel, Lisa Zornberg, said at the press conference.

Over the course of two days, the administration also released statements from allies and validators who framed the lawsuit as frivolous, a smear campaign and called into question the integrity of the accuser. — Joe Anuta

THE OTHER ADAMS: City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams matched the mayor’s plea for state funding for migrants Tuesday.

“We have not been fairly treated when it comes to funding, we all know that,” she said at a wide-ranging press conference. “So it behooves all of us for our state partners to do their part in helping us with appropriate funding for migrants.”

Hochul included $2.4 billion for migrant aid in her proposed budget, and the Legislature seems to be on board. The mayor’s half-hearted ask for even more appears unlikely to succeed.

The speaker has presented herself as a pro-housing leader — and said that was her top priority in the state budget.

“We are hoping that a successful revisit on the housing stuff gets pushed to the front of negotiation,” Adams said, adding there was a “need for our state partners to be fully invested in housing for all New Yorkers.”

She said she didn’t have any plans to travel to the capitol before the budget is passed, but “things could change tomorrow.” Jeff Coltin

Members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian legislative caucus are advocating for a three-bill package to protect Black and brown New York families.

FAMILY CIVIL RIGHTS: The Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian legislative caucus is calling for the passage of three bills: the “Family Miranda Rights Act,” “Confidential Reporting Act,” and the “Informed Consent Act.”

“The reason we are here today is that the US has a racist history rooted in slavery of breaking apart Black families. That tradition continues today,” state Sen. Jabari Brisport, the sponsor of the “Confidential Reporting Act,” said at a news conference in the Capitol earlier today. “What we are doing today with the caucus is promoting a family civil rights package to uplift black families and by extension, all families because when you put up and lift up black people, everybody wins.”

The “Family Miranda Rights Act” would require those under the age of 18 and in police custody to talk with an attorney before talking with the police. The “Confidential Reporting Act” would get rid of the option for anonymity when reporting child abuse or mistreatment to weed out false reports. The “Informed Consent Act” would prohibit drug or alcohol testing of pregnant people without their consent.

“If you are a human being and you do believe in the democratic process, then you know that everyone has civil rights that cannot be taken away. That’s what we fight for. We fight to make sure that our children are taken care of and their parents are taken care of,” state Sen. Robert Jackson said. — Shawn Ness

BLAME GAME FEARS: McDonald, the health commissioner, is at odds with Democrats in the Legislature over creating a panel to probe the governmental response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Are you trying to learn something or are you trying to blame someone?” he told reporters today during an unrelated news conference in Albany. “I’m open to new ideas, but I’m not trying to blame someone.”

State Sen. Julia Salazar, one of the sponsors of the bill creating the commission, told Playbook McDonald’s fears are unfounded.

“It’s possible the commissioner is a little bit self-conscious about that,” she said. “I can understand if they feel that’s the motivation. But for my part that definitely isn’t the intent.”

Salazar added that there’s “less interest in blaming individuals and more on what we can do to learn from mistakes that were made potentially and adapt to more adequately respond in the future.” Nick Reisman

FIGHT FOR PRESCHOOL CONTINUES: Mayor Eric Adams is not committing to restoring funding for the city’s preschool program just yet — even as his schools chancellor insists good news is coming for families who rely on the program.

“He didn’t go too far, he stated that he’s going to do all he can, he’s going to fight as much as possible to hold back these cuts,” Adams told reporters during an off-topic Q&A at City Hall. “I want my team to be authentic in their emotions but at the end of the day, if we’re unable to identify the money, he’s going to carry out the directions that’s coming from the entire team.”

Adams’ chief adviser Ingrid-Lewis Martin added: “He’s not fighting alone. We at City Hall are fighting as a team. We’re looking at all of these cuts. We don’t want to implement any cuts. But again, we have no choice.”

The mayor signaled he believes pre-K and 3K are important. But he sounded the alarm on looming fiscal challenges despite his administration’s recent cancellation of a third round of reductions. He pointed to the city’s spending on asylum-seekers as well as sunsetting federal Covid-19 stimulus money.

“All of us are traumatized by what we have to do, to lean into our life work and find more inexpensive ways to do [it],” Adams added. “It’s an emotional time for all of us and I think the chancellor has a right to display that emotion. But at the end of the day, he’s going to do what’s best for the city of New York.”

Banks on Monday surprised observers when he revealed to city lawmakers he’s “fighting like heck” to reverse the cuts. It comes as Adams faces political blowback over that decision. — Madina Touré

A state Supreme Court judge determined that a lawsuit against social media platforms regarding the mass shooting in Buffalo can move forward. (State of Politics)

One of the people accused of dismembering body parts around Long Island has been arrested again, but for stealing beauty products. (Newsday)

— Columbia University started offering medication abortion services on campus, becoming one of the first private universities in the country to do so. (Columbia Daily Spectator)

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