The 2020 Legislative Session

Posted by NYPIRG on January 6, 2020 at 8:31 am
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The 2020 legislative session gets underway this week with the governor’s “State of the State” address.  The big issue casting a shadow over the session will be the state’s looming budget deficit.  The budget shortfall has been projected to exceed $6 billion and how it gets addressed will drive the policies for the budget and, most likely, the remainder of the session.

Reining in health care in the state’s $175 billion spending budget will be a top issue for the session.  The governor has already pledged to reduce the state’s reimbursement for most Medicaid payments to health-care providers by 1 percent, which should save hundreds of millions of dollars.

But that move alone will not solve the problem and how to make health-care delivery more efficient will likely be a top action item at the Capitol.  A recent report showed that New York’s hospitals perform poorly when it comes to delivering top notch health care; experts note that good health care is less expensive, since patients who are cared for properly are less likely to need additional costly medical attention.

Other health care topics like reducing the use of electronic cigarettes (and tobacco products too), limiting the cost of prescription drugs, and determining whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana will likely get thrown into the mix.  Legalizing pot sales could result in increased tax revenues for the state, as could a hike in taxes on vaping and tobacco products.  But there likely are start-up costs for pot legalization, meaning state coffers might not benefit in the next fiscal year.

Other revenue increases will matter too, since the governor and lawmakers will not close the deficit with cuts alone – particularly in an election year.  There will be a plan to raise the personal income tax rates, which is supported by the Assembly Speaker, but has been coolly received by the governor and the Senate Majority Leader. 

Closing wasteful corporate tax loopholes, particularly for the oil, gas and coal industries, could emerge as other revenue sources.  Those big polluters are responsible for the growing climate crisis and should pay for dealing with it.  They are also among the state’s biggest polluters of water supplies and plans to ensure that drinking water is protected will be a top issue, too.

Beyond the budget debate other issues that were not addressed last year could emerge again.

On the last day of the 2019 session, a plan to automatically register to vote eligible New Yorkers who interact with government agencies collapsed on technicalities.  Both houses said they would move on a new plan in early 2020. 

Last November was the first year that New York allowed early voting.  Expect action on ways to improve on that experience for the 2020 elections.

The state’s campaign finance reform commission issued its plan in December.  The new law has been roundly criticized as inadequate, so it’s expected there will be debate on plans to improve it.  The state’s ethics watchdog, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, has been wracked by controversies and calls for its elimination.  There will likely be legislative action in that area too.

The costs of higher education will also be in the spotlight.  The Cuomo Administration has been the architect of annual public college tuition hikes and has essentially frozen financial aid programs – with the notable exception being the Excelsior Scholarship, which benefits a small percentage of college students.  With national Democrats calling for massive changes in the way that higher education is funded, it is likely that state Democrats will want to be in sync with the national agenda.  The state Senate has held hearings to set the stage for that.

Lastly, it is expected that there will be a debate over the specifics of a multi-billion-dollar transportation package to decide spending on various roads and public transportation projects.

Keep in mind that in Albany, it takes three to tango:  The Senate, Assembly and governor all must be on the same page for the budget and legislative proposals to become law.  And this year state government will be acting on a compressed timetable in a pivotal state and federal election year.  For the first time in decades, the Legislature is planning to wrap up its work by early June.  The reason is last year lawmakers moved up the state’s election primary date from mid-September to the end of June (the 23rd).  As a result, lawmakers are going to want to hit the campaign trail and to do so they want to be freed up from responsibilities in the state capital.

Of course, no one really knows how this will all play out.  But given the stakes, all New Yorkers should pay keen attention to the state Capitol.