By Bob Confer
Being able to predict what our state government will do is increasingly difficult.
Covid and responses to it have really upended what the expectations for government are – by it and the people. Also, the one-party rule that came to be in the November 2018 elections has loosened the reins for the Democrat Party allowing advancement of ideas once thought dead on arrival.
Then, there’s the wild card – Kathy Hochul. Since becoming Governor in August she hasn’t had to do the politicking side of public policy, so we don’t know what to expect when she presents her budget and works with the Legislature to develop her and their vision of the future.
If I had to take a stab at what could happen in Albany in the upcoming legislative session, amidst all this uncertainty, I’d bet on these five…
Bereavement leave: In 2018, the Legislature voted overwhelmingly (61-1 in the Senate, 111-32 in the Assembly) to add a bereavement leave benefit to the state’s relatively new paid leave program. Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed the bill that would have allowed up to 12 weeks of paid leave, at two-thirds salary, for someone who lost a family member. Cuomo was against it because it would have been too burdensome on employees (it’s worker-funded through premiums) and employers (12 weeks was considered an exorbitant amount of time). I wouldn’t be surprised if they go back to the drawing board and pass a leave package in the 4 to 6 week range.
Child care: There was a time when Hochul left the workforce due to child care, so she brings a perspective that Alpha Male Cuomo never understood or had been willing to understand. Child care has also become one of the hot topics of the day, especially with the ongoing labor shortage and many claiming it’s a result of the lack of access to affordable care. So, expect many such bills to come to the floor. The one that will likely get the most consideration was recently introduced by Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Sarah Clark. The Early Learning Child Care Act would provide free child care to families that earn up to four times the federal poverty level while also providing a sliding scale of aid based on income up to ten times the designation. This benefit would be funded by taxes of one-half to one percent levied against businesses with payrolls in excess of $2.5 million.
Auto mileage taxes: While a bill might not be passed in 2022, real conversations will and must be had about taxing electric vehicles for miles traveled, a revenue that would otherwise be gleaned from gasoline taxes other drivers pay. While electric cars represent just a small portion (88,000) of the 4.4 million personal and commercial vehicles registered in New York State, their number has grown almost fourfold since 2016 and they are our future: In September, Hochul signed into law a goal for all new passenger cars and light-duty trucks to be zero-emission by 2035. Thirteen years is the blink of an eye, and the state needs to ready itself immediately for the road to that goal.
Significant changes in benefit eligibility: Between the state raising the minimum wage to $15 on Long Island and $13.20 in upstate this Friday, and the incredible growth in wages in defiance of the labor shortage that has for all intents and purposes driven the de facto minimum wage dollars above those rates, New Yorkers from all sectors and regions are earning much more than they were a year ago. Once the dust settles from 2021, lawmakers will be taken aback by how high wages have gone and how that will, under current income thresholds, make many families ineligible for dozens of social welfare and support programs. The government can’t have that – it wants and needs people to be beholden to it and there are too many people in government earning an income or gleaning power from administering such programs. So, expect deep debates about making wholesale changes to the thresholds and raising them dramatically, especially since, one, they are big drivers of the budget and, two, inflation may have redefined what a living wage is.
Covid vaccines for kids: Multiple times this month, whether on television talk shows or at public addresses, Hochul touched on a topic that’s one of the more divisive and controversial in public health – that is, mandating Covid vaccines for schoolkids. She made it known that she favors a mandate for children, but it’s not something she can do through executive order, especially since she’s stripped of the nearly-limitless powers Cuomo had. Such rules are at the behest of the Legislature. Given the number of bills already proposed for such an endeavor, and the support for such a thing from, especially, downstate lawmakers, expect this to become law beginning with the 2022-2023 school year.
2022 will be “interesting”, for sure. For the first time since January of 2011, there’s a new Governor in town, and that in itself will add to the reams of possibilities, never mind that we’re still trying to navigate a vast number of socioeconomic crises. Brace yourselves for the good, the bad, and the ugly.