Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told Capital Tonight that while the state has a $15 billion budget gap, that may be a drop in the bucket when it comes to the needs of New Yorkers who have been through the worst of the pandemic.
"I want to make sure that supply meets demand. Even though we’re looking at closing, in the governor's mind, and in his estimation, a $15 billion budget hole, remember…we still have needs beyond just closing the budget deficit."
A few of the needs that Heastie mentioned included $3 billion in rental arrears, money for undocumented families which didn’t receive federal aid, and transit funding.
Asked for an estimate of how much the state’s needs might add up to, the speaker responded, "I would just say in the multiples of billions."
That’s multiples of billions above and beyond the money needed to close the budget gap.
Like his counterpart in the state Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Speaker Heastie is ready to raise revenue. It is, he said, "absolutely on the table."
"Cuts during deep economic times is not helpful. I think when you have a recession the last thing you need to do is to cut. What gets you out of a recession is spending. That’s why it would be great for the federal government to give us a big fat check that takes care of all of our needs."
The speaker also mentioned that the state needs forgiveness from the federal government for unemployment insurance borrowing.
"With small business, we don’t want the unemployment insurance to go up. A lot of money that the states had to put forward for unemployment insurance we had to borrow from the federal government," Heastie explained.
Timing is an issue. The governor and legislative leaders need to come to an agreement on a budget by April 1. With Congress wrapped up in a second impeachment of President Trump, as well as security questions surrounding the presidential inauguration, it’s not clear when New York State will know how much it’s getting in any federal relief package.
When asked if he was prepared to raise taxes without the governor’s blessing, the speaker demurred.
"Remember, a one-house bill is a just a one-house bill, so we will continue to talk with our partners in the Senate and also include the governor in this discussion," Speaker Heastie said, adding, "he (Governor Cuomo) has the right to his opinion."
Governor Cuomo’s opinion, shared on Monday during the first installment of his State of the State address, is that this is not the time to hike taxes in New York. It’s unclear whether that’s a stance he’s taking to elicit more money from the federal government, or if he is truly against raising any taxes from New York’s wealthiest citizens.