Hochul Emerges From Budget Talks Unbowed, but Not Unscathed

ALBANY, N.Y. — When Kathy Hochul unexpectedly became governor of New York eight months ago, she espoused her centrist Democrat views, pledged a new era of collegiality in the State Capitol and touted her get-it-done philosophy to governing.

Those vows were put to their most serious test during negotiations of the state’s $220 billion budget, a weekslong process of obscure deal-making that revealed Ms. Hochul’s negotiating skills with a Democratic-led statehouse that leans farther left than she does.

Ms. Hochul emerged from the negotiations largely victorious, securing policy measures she has portrayed as pragmatic and focused on concerns that polls show are top of mind for New Yorkers: public safety, rising prices and affordable child care.

Those policy wins could be consequential in her run for a full term as she traverses a primary in June and, potentially, a general election.

“We’re going to start hitting the road,” Ms. Hochul said on Thursday when she announced the budget deal. “I cannot wait to start celebrating the achievements that address so many people and their needs and their stresses.”

But Ms. Hochul did not walk away unscathed from the negotiations.

A moderate Democrat from Buffalo, Ms. Hochul seemed to make a number of missteps in unveiling major policy proposals by blindsiding lawmakers and delaying the negotiations. Most legislators learned about her plan to change the state’s bail laws through published news accounts; her announcement of an $850 million taxpayer subsidy for the Buffalo Bills came just days before the budget was due, sparking fierce backlash.

Ms. Hochul had set out to establish more cordial ties with the Legislature than her predecessor, former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who was famously combative. The negotiations, lawmakers generally agreed, were more genial than those with Mr. Cuomo, but they nonetheless strained their relationship with the governor: The Democratic legislative leaders were conspicuously absent from the governor’s announcement of a deal on Thursday.

“Suffice to say, the honeymoon for Hochul is over,” said State Senator John C. Liu, a Democrat from Queens.

Democratic lawmakers were forced to reach bitter compromises with Ms. Hochul that alienated some from the party’s vocal left wing. Many spoke out forcefully not only against the bail changes and the N.F.L. subsidy, but the exclusion of undocumented immigrants from certain state programs and what they saw as too-modest wage increases for home care workers.

The emerging budget deal led many left-wing Democrats to draw parallels between Ms. Hochul and Mr. Cuomo, with Michael Gianaris, the deputy majority leader in the Senate, likening them “in terms of looking out for corporate interests and her ideological positioning.”

Legislative Democrats nonetheless secured policy priorities of their own, moving Ms. Hochul to the left on some issues and convincing her to spend $4 billion more than she had initially proposed. And the budget deal was as much a fiscal plan as a political document, filled with potentially voter-friendly measures that Ms. Hochul, as well as many Democratic lawmakers, will rally behind on the campaign trail.

Bruce Gyory, a Democratic political consultant, said that despite the criticism, the budget included a balance of policies that could help Democrats statewide in November, saying that Ms. Hochul “had adapted what one might call a vital center strategy.”

“There’s always a rugby scrum going into the budget,” he said. “But then, once the budget is passed, everybody who voted for it joins the parade in terms of trying to get the message out that it was a good budget.”

Lawmakers were still voting on the budget on Friday, but under the deal, the state will make a series of targeted alterations and expansions to the existing bail laws, and impose harsher rules for repeat offenders. Despite Ms. Hochul’s push, it will not create a new standard allowing judges to assess the danger that a defendant poses to others when setting bail.

State Senator Diane J. Savino, a moderate Democrat from Staten Island, said that Senate Democrats ultimately agreed to bail changes because of the number of lawmakers, especially upstate and suburban members, who were feeling “pressure” from their constituents.

“You have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to hear from your constituents that they don’t feel safe,” she said. “It’s not a figment of our imagination. It’s not political, you know, ‘Republican right-wing talking points.’ People don’t feel safe.”

A Siena College survey in March found that 70 percent of voters supported a gas tax suspension, and most approved of an environmental bond act to finance projects to mitigate climate change. Both were policies that Democrats touted as major priorities in the budget deal.

Ms. Hochul’s deal to help pay for the construction of a Buffalo Bills stadium is bound to satisfy voters in Western New York, even if it has drawn fire from political rivals who have denounced it as corporate welfare. Representative Thomas R. Suozzi, a Democrat from Long Island running against Ms. Hochul, said she had “sold out the taxpayers in return for the biggest giveaway in N.F.L. history.”

Legalizing to-go drinks was seen by many as a crowd-pleaser, while the acceleration of tax cuts for the middle class would translate into rebate checks for thousands of families come November.

There was also plenty of spending to go around for the unions that have thrown their institutional support behind Ms. Hochul in the governor’s race or are considering doing so, as a result of an influx of federal funds and strong tax revenues.

The state’s powerful health care union, 1199 S.E.I.U., celebrated the raises for home care workers and funding for safety-net hospitals. An acceleration of granting three casino licenses downstate is expected to create thousands of service jobs, a top priority of the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council. And the Building & Construction Trades Council secured a prevailing wage for projects that would be funded through the $4.2 billion environmental bond act.

The lack of new taxes was also seen as a win by the business community.

“She’s managed to make everybody happy on something,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, an influential business group. “We’ve had budgets that were very skewed toward one interest group or another over the years, and I think this is the most balanced budget I’ve seen in decades.”

But Jumaane Williams, the New York City public advocate, who is running to Ms. Hochul’s left in the Democratic primary, described the budget as emblematic of the “Albany of old,” saying it did little to address the root causes of poverty, such as affordable housing.

Credit…Cindy Schultz for The New York Times

“We celebrated this money that we had and we put forth a budget that harms working and struggling families in this state,” he said. “We did that so that we can support millionaires and billionaires, most of the folks who donate to the current governor.”

Some lawmakers of color said that Ms. Hochul’s single-minded pursuit of stricter bail laws, absent critical investments in their communities, left them feeling betrayed.

“The minute that it looked like it was no longer politically advantageous, we were left on the side,” said Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz of Queens, who endorsed Ms. Hochul. “It felt like we had been hoodwinked.”

Jerrel Harvey, a spokesman for Ms. Hochul’s campaign, said the budget “delivers on the issues that matter to everyday New Yorkers, with a focus on creating safer communities, cutting taxes and lowering costs for middle class families, and investing in public education.”

Ms. Hochul also defended the negotiations, calling them a “phenomenally collaborative process,” while stressing that “that is why you didn’t see the games played out in the press, the one-upmanship, the scoring points to get the upper hand.”

But Republicans, as well as good-government groups, denounced the governor for avoiding questions from reporters on contentious policy issues and for the cloud of secrecy that shrouded the negotiations. The back-room negotiations were not atypical to the State Capitol, but they stood in stark contrast to Ms. Hochul’s pledge to increase transparency in Albany, a central theme in her pitch to voters.

“The sluggish, opaque nature of this year’s budget process should be a warning sign to all New Yorkers that one-party rule isn’t doing us any favors,” said Assemblyman Edward Ra, a Republican from Nassau County.

In the end, however, Ms. Hochul appeared to bet that most voters would not be as concerned with the insider politics of how the state budget was crafted, or that it will technically be one week late. New Yorkers, she has insisted before, “are most interested in results.”

Ms. Savino, who is not running for re-election this year, suggested that the success of the state budget as a campaign tool for Democrats would largely hinge on effective messaging.

“If we lead with, ‘We’re giving you relief at the pump, addressing public safety, record investment in child care and middle class tax cuts,’ then good plan,” she said. “I was joking with someone yesterday that if we’re not careful, the story is going to be, ‘Bail fail, Buffalo boondoggle and booze to-go.”

She added: “Depends on how you spin it, right?”

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