Hochul Vows to Lift Economy, Lure Health Workers and Add a Transit Link

Hospitals coping with a surge in Covid-19 patients. An economy battered by shutdowns. A housing crisis driving people to homelessness.

New York State is confronted with a host of problems as the pandemic continues to inflict an enormous economic and social toll.

As part of her first State of the State address on Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul outlined a sweeping set of policies to try to respond to the challenges.

In a 237-page document, Ms. Hochul, a Democrat from Buffalo, presented dozens of initiatives — including the hiring of more police officers, tax breaks for small businesses and the financing of thousands of affordable homes — that seek to hasten the state’s recovery from the pandemic and build a more equitable future.

Though her party controls both chambers of the State Legislature, achieving her plans may prove difficult: She will have to balance the priorities of progressives with centrists and with Republicans seeking to make electoral inroads this year.

Still, the plan represents one of the most significant moments of Ms. Hochul’s career and highlights the values that the governor, who took office following the abrupt resignation of former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, is trying to promote as she prepares to run for a full term.

Here is a look at some key points of Ms. Hochul’s agenda.

A tax cut to help jump-start the economy

The governor said she would accelerate by two years the full implementation of a $1.2 billion tax cut for middle-class earners that was not supposed to go into full effect until 2025. The tax cut will permanently lower the personal income tax rates for some workers.

Ms. Hochul also proposed raising the amounts that people on public assistance can earn and save without losing eligibility.

She said she would create a new department, the Office of Workforce and Economic Development, which, in partnership with state universities and local companies, would identify urgent and long-term employment needs and help train workers for those fields.

Ms. Hochul also focused on helping small businesses, which account for 98 percent of businesses statewide, according to the governor’s briefing.

Venture-backed start-ups would be given financial incentives to stay in or relocate to New York State as part of what the governor described as a “nearly billion-dollar” initiative for small businesses.

New York has seen explosive growth in tech start-ups in recent years, but business leaders have raised concerns that in the booming sector of life sciences in particular, start-ups often leave New York as they mature.

Ms. Hochul also proposed $100 million in tax relief for nearly 200,000 small businesses and a tax credit for businesses that took on coronavirus-related expenses like outdoor dining setups.

In a major win for the hospitality industry, the governor announced that she would seek to legalize the sale of to-go drinks for bars and restaurants, making permanent a program that had been temporarily allowed during the pandemic but was suspended in June.

Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said to-go alcohol provided “critically important revenue streams to struggling restaurants and bars and is extraordinarily popular with the public.”

The New York State Liquor Store Association had opposed the change, arguing that it would cut into business for liquor stores.

By Matthew Haag and Nicole Hong

A plan to add tens of thousands of affordable homes

Ms. Hochul said the state would pursue a $25 billion plan to build or preserve 100,000 affordable homes, including 10,000 homes that would include services for people at risk of homelessness.

Ms. Hochul also wants to allow bigger apartment buildings and more density around transit lines like the Long Island Rail Road. That could be significant in many New York City suburbs, which have long been seen as having some of the most onerous restrictions on development in the nation.

Her plan calls for legalizing many basement and garage homes, replacing a popular tax incentive that encourages developers to build affordable housing with one that targets lower-income residents, making it easier to convert hotels and offices to housing and preventing landlords from rejecting tenants because of their criminal background.

The plans met with mixed reaction. “Gov. Hochul’s vision is a great first step in fighting our housing crisis,” said Rachel Fee, executive director of the New York Housing Conference, a nonprofit group.

But Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator for Housing Justice for All, called the plan an “unconscionable abdication of responsibility,” in part because it did not include stronger barriers to eviction and eliminate tax breaks for developers.

Ms. Hochul announced several measures to help people who cycle in and out of homelessness.

She promised 7,000 new units of supportive housing, which includes services for people with mental illness and addiction, and the preservation of 3,000 others, expanding a Cuomo-era plan. “It’s going to make a real impact on homelessness,” said Laura Mascuch, executive director of the Supportive Housing Network of New York.

The governor plans to beef up outreach to people living in streets and subways. But homeless people and their advocates say that outreach cannot succeed unless people are offered alternatives to widely reviled homeless shelters. “There has to be a place for people to go,” said Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director for policy with the Coalition for the Homeless.

By Andy Newman and Mihir Zaveri

Higher wages and bonuses to attract health deva workers

Ms. Hochul’s priorities include rebuilding a health deva work force that has been exhausted and depleted by the pandemic.

Her proposals did not directly address the short-term crisis at hospitals caused by the Omicron wave sweeping the state, but instead focused on long-term suggestions to improve health deva.

She proposed spending more than $4 billion to support wages and bonuses to increase the number of health deva workers in the state by 20 percent over the next five years. That would include up to $3,000 in bonuses for all full-time health deva workers who remain in their positions for a year, and $2 billion in spending on health deva capital infrastructure and improved lab capacity.

The governor also wants to offer free tuition to students who are preparing to work in high-demand health occupations and to provide stipends to make up for lost income while they are in school. Doctors could receive loan forgiveness up to $120,000 if they work in underserved areas for three years. She also wants to start a “Nurses Across N.Y.” program to place nurses in underserved areas.

To help close gaps that have resulted in roughly one million people in the state without health deva, she wants to eliminate a $9-per-child monthly premium to participate in the state’s children’s health insurance program, which was causing some families to drop out.

By Sharon Otterman

A new transit link between Queens and Brooklyn

At a time when New York’s subway, buses and commuter rails have struggled to lure back riders — and the revenue they bring — Ms. Hochul reaffirmed her commitment to carrying out major infrastructure upgrades and improvements to the region’s transit network.

Her biggest proposal was for the development of a new “interborough express” transit project that would link Brooklyn and Queens either by rail or dedicated 24-hour bus lanes. The populations of both boroughs have swelled, but traveling between them generally requires lengthy subway detours through Manhattan or journeys on traffic-choked bus routes.

Transit advocates praised the proposal. “The interborough express is a game changer for Brooklyn and Queens riders who make up a majority of riders in the city,” said Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group.

Ms. Hochul also reiterated her commitment to projects that were championed by her predecessor, including the expansion of the Second Avenue Subway to East Harlem and linking the Metro-North Railroad to Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, a project that includes constructing four new stations in the Bronx.

But even as Ms. Hochul focused on the transit network’s expansion, she did not address one of its chief challenges. With ridership still significantly below prepandemic levels, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the city’s subway, buses and two commuter rail lines, is facing future shortfalls in its operating budget.

Federal aid has allowed the M.T.A. to balance its budget this year, but it is still staring at huge future deficits, said Rachael Fauss, a senior research analyst at Reinvent Albany, a good-government group.

Without a dedicated source of funding, the transportation authority could struggle to fulfill the vision the governor outlined.

“You want the expansion projects to build back ridership, to encourage people to ride and to hisse for themselves,” Ms. Fauss said. “But these are long-term propositions, and you have a more immediate issue of how to keep the lights on.”

By Michael Gold and Ana Ley

A plan to invest $500 million in the offshore wind industry

Ms. Hochul promised to press ahead with the state’s ambitious climate goals, laid out in a 2019 law. They include generating 70 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources and reducing 40 percent of its greenhouse gases by 2030.

The governor announced a new $500 million investment in the state’s offshore wind industry, including developing and expanding its manufacturing and supply chain infrastructure.

In addition, Ms. Hochul pledged to phase out some of the most polluting power plants, promote clean energy storage and create more green jobs, including thousands of jobs from the new offshore wind investment. She said she would work to accelerate efforts to convert more fossil-fuel-burning buildings to electricity and move to all-electric school bus fleets around the state by 2035.

“There are some promising commitments from the governor,” said Eddie Bautista, the executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, an advocacy group.

However, Mr. Bautista added, the governor has not yet fully explained how the state plans to hisse for these critical but costly climate investments.

By Winnie Hu

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