SYRACUSE — Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is pleased with the progress central New York has made over the last eight years. She thinks the recently adopted 2019-20 state budget will help the region grow.
Hochul shared highlights from the state budget during a presentation at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse Friday. The $175.5 billion spending plan includes $7 billion for central New York.
A portion of that multi-billion dollar allocation is economic development funding. Central New York has won more than $700 million over an 8-year period in the annual state regional economic development council competition. This year's budget includes $750 million for the councils.
An additional $100 million will allow the state to fund another round of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative. The program aims to bolster downtown areas and supports projects developed by local officials.
In central New York, past winners of the downtown contest include Auburn, Cortland and Oswego.
"When you get $10 million all in one shot to execute the vision that you and your community put forward ... these downtowns are transformed forever," Hochul said. "There's a sense of optimism that wasn't there before."
There are several statewide programs that Hochul believes will benefit central New York. More than $59 million has been appropriated for the state's tourism campaign and $6.5 million will support the expansion of Taste NY, an initiative that markets New York-made beverages and food products.
Central New York will receive $4 million to address the opioid crisis. The funding will support 16 residential and nine outpatient programs, along with a state-operated addiction treatment center.
Hochul is encouraged by a reduction in the amount of people "doctor shopping" to obtain opioid prescriptions, and the number of opioids being prescribed has declined. But she acknowledged that more must be done to combat the problem.
"We have to continue to be creative," she added.
Hochul's presentation featured many of the top policy items in the budget, including making the property tax cap permanent, codifying provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act into state law, increased infrastructure invements, $500 million more for clean water projects and over $1 billion more for public schools.
She also sought to correct what she views are false statements about another legislative achievement.
On criminal justice reform, Hochul has heard criticism of the decision to eliminate cash bail for nonviolent felonies and most misdemeanor offenses. She referred to the story of Kalief Browder, who was falsely accused of stealing a backpack and spent three years in Rikers, a notorious New York City jail, because he couldn't post bail.
Browder was eventually released, but family and friends said he struggled with depression. He committed suicide in 2015.
"This is why we do this," Hochul said of eliminating cash bail. "This is why we have to start fresh."
There are some outstanding issues that weren't address in the budget. Rent regulation reforms are needed, Hochul said. Legalizing marijuana is another priority.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders initially hoped to include the adult use of marijuana in the budget, but it was too complex. They opted to delay negotiations until after the budget.
Hochul said the state wants to "get it right."
A recurring theme throughout Hochul's presentation was the positive developments in upstate New York. She recalled a time when upstate "was in a downward spiral." As one of six children, she is the only one of her siblings who stayed in upstate.
While challenges remain, she is optimistic about the region's direction.
"This area is back, and it's back with a vengeance," she said.