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Budget, Gaming License Among Issues Raised During Lobby Day

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The Business Council of Westchester’s annual Lobby Day gave members valuable access to state legislators and policy analysts on April 30. Individual sessions were held, one with the Senate and one with the Assembly.

The virtual event kicked off with a welcome from Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul and then a presentation by EJ McMahon of the Empire Center. Hochul said that New York’s main barrier to a full reopening is the state’s vaccination rate. She said businesses will play an important role in helping the state reach herd immunity. “You are influencers of the people in your workplace and environment, and I need you to be our voice because I want to be able to get to the point where we declare it’s over. We won,” said Hochul.

McMahon noted that instead of adopting a conservative budget that maintained spending at the previous year’s level, the budget rose to $212 billion—the largest in state history and the second-largest state budget in the country. “This is a remarkable thing and it’s dangerous,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins kicked off a panel with Westchester’s other state senators by defending the legislature’s spending decisions. “This had to be a people-centered budget,” she said. Assembly member Amy Paulin also defended the 11% increase in education spending, noting that state aid shortchanged Westchester school districts, especially the ones that have many children living in poverty.

Regarding a full gaming license for Empire City Casino, Assemblyman Gary Pretlow said that the enhanced-state-revenues argument for giving Empire City a full gaming license are less persuasive now that New York has adopted a new budget. Conversations about Empire City’s future will continue.

An individual session was held with Assemblyman Harry Bronson, who is Chair of the Assembly’s Standing Committee on Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry. Bronson said legislators’ challenge this year was to devise a budget that helps business and society recover from the pandemic. To help businesses, he noted the state Legislature approved an $800 million Covid-19 Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program.

The Lobby Day concluded with a conversation with Robert Mujica, the state budget director. “Our revenues have recovered from where they were, largely from the financial sector,” he said. BCW Executive Vice President and COO John Ravitz asked Mujica and the state legislators earlier in the day about unintended burdens from the New York Hero Act, which requires businesses to protect workers from airborne diseases. “We support the concept and intent of bill, but we’re concerned there are so many holes in it,” Ravitz said. Mujica agreed that the Hero Act needs revision.

In addition to hearing from top lawmakers, members also heard from Casey Stieler, Editor and Chief of the Albany Times Union who reported on what his staff is working on regarding legislative and political issues.

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