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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Hochul’s Plans for the Empire State


Governor Kathy Hochul (D) delivered her first ‘State of the State’ address as the newly-elected Governor of New York on Tuesday, January 10. She secured a full term in November after having first ascended to the position in August 2021.

The address was praised by the progressive left but widely panned by conservatives, as well as some centrists. Major topics of the address included the state’s housing crisis, mental health care, public safety initiatives, raising the minimum wage and, most notably, the cap-and-invest program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

According to a World Population Review report for 2020-2021, New York saw a net decrease of 1.58% of its population, the highest of any state on the list. The report also outlined that expensive, highly-populated and highly-regulated areas were the leaders in population loss, while rural, cheap and loosely-regulated states gained the most, especially those that lack an income tax.

The Hill found that, for 2022, New York continued to top the list with a nearly 1% net population loss.

How does this relate to Hochul’s State of the State address?

If you live and work in New York, you probably know the answer.

Critics of Governor Hochul’s proposals, like local Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Holbrook), say her plans not only spend too much, but would cede the authority of local governments to Albany. “New York is a ‘home rule state,’ which vests broad power to regulate the quality of life in communities and to provide direct services to people in our county, city, town and village governments,” Assemblyman Smith said in a statement provided to The Messenger. “I stand with our local governments in opposition to Governor Kathy Hochul’s plan to upend hundreds of years of legal precedent and tradition in New York by granting the state government the ability to override local zoning and planning laws.”

The main focus on Tuesday night was undoubtedly the cap-and-invest program looking to financially incentivize green energy among businesses, and the EmPower Plus Program, which would allow for rebates directed to low-income families to retrofit their homes.

Under the cap-and-invest program, large-scale greenhouse gas emitters and heavy distributors of transportation fuels will have to purchase allowances for the emissions they create from their business. The plan is supposed to encourage businesses, and even consumers, to consider and transition to lower-emission alternatives.

The revenues from the program will be steered to support the state’s investments in energy efficiency, clean transportation, and climate mitigation.

The EmPower Plus Program will allow low-income families to retrofit their homes by adding insulation, updating their appliances, and transitioning from fossil fuels to electric appliances and heating systems. This is incentivized with the “guarantee” that if homeowners fit these standards, they will not pay a penny over 6% of their income on electricity.

“We will be providing at least $165 million in relief for almost 800,000 New Yorkers,” said the Governor.

The Governor demands all new construction to be zero-emission for small buildings by 2025, large new buildings to be emission-free by 2028, the sale of fossil fuel heating equipment prohibited by 2030, and the same for large buildings by 2035.

Now, most people are not against clean, renewable energy practices, and certain financial incentives have always been earmarks of a good transition program, even if it does result in a politician getting exactly what they want.

A problem many critics raise is that none of these scales of time are large, by any stretch of the imagination. Many on both sides of the issue are skeptical of the 10-year time table.

Critics accuse Hochul of making these demands and codifying these requirements of putting the cart before the horse— especially since green energy is an industry that’s still in its formative years.

Solar and wind are heralded as the new forms of energy in the 21st Century, but have proven unreliable alone in dire circumstances, most notably in the Texas freeze in 2021, and even the latest cold front that brought double-digit sub zero wind chills to most of the Midwest.

Later in her speech, Hochul declares housing a “human right” and that climate change is the “greatest threat to our planet.” The problem with declaring anything as a “right” effectively gives the governing power to see those “rights” fulfilled by any means necessary. It never looks good to leave goods or services designated as “rights” unfulfilled, so it makes sense that government entities, even outside New York, will work to keep them fulfilled.

This leads to Hochul’s next plan: creating affordable housing. Hochul has decided that the areas immediately outside NYC are areas for prime real estate development. Long Island is expected to become a haven for about the majority of 800,000 units of affordable housing for the entire state, increasing the housing stock by 3% each over three years, compared to just 1% concurrently for most locales in the state.

Senator Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) who just won a competitive race for the Fourth Senate District responded to a direct request from The Messenger. While Senator Martinez agrees with some of Governor Hochul’s proposals, she expresses that local control is critical to these successful implementations, as well as avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach.

When asked if she has any reservations on the Governor’s plans, Martinez responded: “The need for affordable housing on Long Island is important, but striking a balance between this need and the preservation of community resources and services is vital…A one-size-fits all approach is unlikely to be successful…As Chair of Local Government in the Senate, I am holding a series of meetings with stakeholders, particularly county, town, and village officials to gather their input and add to the Governor’s proposal.”

Some residents are still worried the latest push to populate Long Island even further means creating congestion and decreasing the quality of life, concerns expressed by Huntington’s Supervisor, Ed Smith (R). Hochul’s investment in increasing capacities for mental health patients, many across the political divide, agree is a valiant effort and a worthy cause. The plan seeks to add 3,500 housing units for individuals with mental illnesses, and increase capacity for inpatient psychiatric treatment by 1,000 beds.

Hochul has cited continuing the annual increase in the minimum wage annually, citing it will help address the cost of living that has been spiraling out of control in New York for years. Despite perennial increases, the cost of living has only gotten worse. This is something that has been tried in many ways in different states, and even at the federal level, that has not been effectively proven as a practice that can lower the cost of living.

Hochul stood by the often-criticized “bail reform,” ceding there is room for improvement.

Overall, the Governor’s address cements Hochul’s goals of her first elected term charting course quite different than that of her predecessor.

Matt Meduri
Matt Meduri
Matt Meduri serves as the Editor in Chief of the Messenger Papers and writer of America the Beautiful and This Week Today columns. As a graduate of St. Joseph's University, Matt has been working in the political journalism field for over 5 years. He is a multi-instrumentalist, enjoys cooking and writing his own recipes, and traveling throughout the United States including Guam.