With help from Shawn Ness
From pristine beaches to awe-inspiring waterfalls, New York’s parks have been getting major love — and they’re now in store for some green from Gov. Kathy Hochul.
This past year saw more visits to New York’s parks than in any other year.
In total, there were 84.1 million visits to state parks in 2023 — 4.7 million than the previous attendance record set in 2022, Hochul’s office said this morning. Niagara Falls, the state’s most visited park last year, saw about 9.5 million visitors — almost one million more than second-place Jones Beach on Long Island.
But the successful attendance numbers for New York’s park system was just part of the good news for coming out of Albany this morning.
The outgoing commissioner of parks, Erik Kulleseid, is stepping aside with praise from Democratic lawmakers who applauded recent major proposed investments, including $100 million for Jones Beach.
“They were happy because of the amount of money,” Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, who chairs the committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development, said of the rousing applause from Assembly Democrats at today’s budget hearing.
Hochul’s proposed budget includes a total $450 million in capital funding for state parks, $250 million more than last year. That includes $150 million for swimming investments.
Kulleseid testified at the hearing that those funds would be doled out in the form of grants to local governments who develop more public pools. The money isn’t for pools on state parkland.
“There’s a real commitment to making sure those are in underserved communities,” Kulleseid said. He said they’re currently taking input informally on how to structure the grant program.
The parks department is also working to re-open a key swimming destination for New York City area residents at Lake Sebago in Harriman State Park in the Hudson Valley. The beach there has been closed since the impacts of Hurricane Irene in 2011. Improvements to the beach, re-opening a concession stand and a wastewater treatment plant are part of the $80 million project, Kulleseid said.
The Jones Beach project involves re-opening the historic East Bathhouse, converting an abandoned pool into a spray park with opportunities for inexperienced swimmers to learn how to swim. But there won’t be solar canopies on the parking lots at Jones Beach.
“We want to be cautious about where we place them,” Kulleseid said in response to a lawmaker’s question, explaining that the configuration of the grid in the area made siting solar challenging.
Several lawmakers also had questions about safety. Kulleseid highlighted efforts to increase the park police force and higher pay for those stationed downstate.
He said the department is also working to get a new chief of the state parks police.
Assemblymember Carrie Woerner, a Democrat from Round Lake, questioned whether a 25-year timeline for a pension instead of a 20-year one was a deterrent for retaining park police. “Most of our officers would say that the parks job is one of the best law enforcement jobs out there,” Kulleseid responded.
CARROTS NOT STICKS: Hochul today awarded 20 localities across the state with a “pro-housing” certification — a designation that gives them priority consideration from up to $650 million in discretionary funds.
Getting first dibs on that funding is intended to incentivize localities to grow their housing stock — after Hochul’s proposed production mandates failed to make it through the state Legislature last year.
Localities that received the certification include White Plains in Westchester County; Kingston and Newburgh in the Hudson Valley and Mineola on Long Island, where opposition to Hochul’s plan was particularly fierce last year. Another 61 localities have started their applications, Hochul said.
State legislators argued last year Hochul should use carrots rather than sticks to get towns and cities to boost housing growth.
So Hochul went with the message: At a Red Room event with local leaders to celebrate the certifications Hochul held up an actual bunch of carrots.
“I’m told this is what you’re willing to eat to build more housing,” the governor joked. — Janaki Chadha
TRYING AGAIN: The twice-vetoed proposal to expand New York’s wrongful death law is back.
State lawmakers this week introduced a new version of the bill with the same premise: Making it easier for people to file wrongful death claims based on emotional anguish.
The current wrongful death law, sponsor Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal argues, is not sufficient.
“The law, in essence, says that the attributes of our family members that we most value--emotional support, love, companionship, advice and guidance--count for nothing,” the bill’s memo states.
But opponents have not been convinced. The Lawsuit Reform Alliance, an advocacy organization, remains opposed.
“The bill sponsors continue to ignore the school districts, public hospitals, transit authorities, cities, towns and counties who are deeply concerned about this legislation and its impact on taxpayers and local government budgets,” Tom Stebbins, the group’s executive director, said.
“Despite the oceans of data, lawmakers absurdly claim the fiscal impact to state and local governments will be ‘none.’ That’s not possible.”
Lawmakers will still have to convince Hochul, who has vetoed two versions of the bill. Her budget office has pointed to the costs, including the potential insurance premiums skyrocketing as a result. — Nick Reisman
SPLIT DECISION: Hochul dismissed the idea of covering half of New York City’s migrant costs, making her the second Albany leader to dash Mayor Eric Adams’ hopes.
“We are already making substantial contributions to deal with the problem,” Hochul said during an unrelated press briefing when asked about the mayor’s plea.
Her remarks came a day after Adams traveled to the capital to make his request — along with several others — before a panel of Senate and Assembly lawmakers.
“New Yorkers are already carrying most of the asylum-seeker costs. It is wrong to ask them to do more, and it puts our city in a precarious position,” the mayor testified. “Today, we are asking the state to increase its commitment and cover at least 50 percent of our costs.”
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins was the first to offer a chilly response soon after his testimony.
Hochul said today that Adams did not make the request to her at all during a closed-door meeting following Adams’ nearly three-hour appearance. He did, however, thank her profusely for the aid the state has already given, she said.
Hochul proposed $2.4 billion for migrant costs in her state budget, up from less than $2 billion. City Hall said that is still $400 million short of what they have budgeted for, based on the state, city and federal government splitting the costs equally.
While Adams has asked the state to up its cost share to half in light of federal inaction, officials could not provide a dollar figure to POLITICO they would like to see in the state budget. — Joe Anuta
CLOCK STARTS FOR NEW YORK’S OTHER CONGRESSIONAL SPECIAL: Rep. Brian Higgins’ formal resignation last week set off the calendar for the special election to replace him.
Hochul will need to pick a date, but at this point, the rules governing timing mean it will be on either April 23 or April 30 if she wants to hold it on a Tuesday. April 30 might be more likely, as April 23 is the first full day of Passover.
“I would assume it plays into the timing,” state Sen. Tim Kennedy said today.
Kennedy will be the Democratic nominee in the special for the Democratic-friendly seat, having won the backing of the Erie and Niagara county parties last month. “I’m excited about the opportunity to go serve Western New York,” he said.
Republicans have yet to pick a candidate: “We’re keeping our eyes and ears open, but until the special’s called, I think there’s a lot still to be determined,” Kennedy added. — Bill Mahoney
PATROL FOR PILIP: The union for border patrol agents came to the Nassau-Queens border today to endorse Republican Mazi Pilip in the congressional special election.
“I get to recommend to my fellow U.S. citizens a great individual,” National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd said at a press conference outside the migrant shelter at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Bellerose.
Both Democrat Tom Suozzi and the union have supported the border security deal in Congress, while Pilip called it “an absolute non-starter.” But Judd said they’re backing her anyway because Pilip “was able to build bridges” despite disagreements.
Suozzi brushed it off at a virtual presser this afternoon as “not surprising at all” since the union is close to Donald Trump, who opposes the bill. The endorsement was “obviously a deal with the Trumpers and the right wing despite the best interests of the border patrol agents,” he said.
Judd said he hopes a border deal can be separated from an international aid package in Congress. — Jeff Coltin
MIGRANTS ATTACK ON NYPD OFFICERS: At a bipartisan press conference at the Capitol today, state senators and Assembly members called for additional action because they claim Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg did not take enough action against the migrants attacks on NYPD officers last week in Times Square.
“How long will we be the benefactors of lawlessness,” Assemblymember Jaime Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat, said. “Today we stand in solidarity to support the two NYPD offices that was assaulted by a group of migrants. I say that the entire issue was mishandled by DA Bragg… he has allowed politics to cloud his judgment.”
Bragg has only indicted one out of 10 of the accused attackers involved in the incident.
Assembymember Sam Pirozzollo, a Republican, made it clear that everyone’s comments were really only directed at three people: Hochul, Adams and Bragg.
“We have pretty much given the [migrants] everything… And what do we get in return? We get an assault on New York City police officers, that neither the governor, the mayor and — forget Alvin Bragg — have responded properly to.” — Shawn Ness
EDUCATION: Schools Chancellor David Banks today expressed concerns about education budget cuts impacting Adams’ efforts to persuade state lawmakers he should retain control of the New York City public school system.
He sounded the alarm on soon-to-be-expired federal stimulus money that has funded popular education programs like 3K — and Banks warned of “difficult choices” the city will have to make “with a finite set of dollars.”
“It could, but I certainly hope that it does not,” Banks told PIX 11 on whether it will impact legislators’ vote on whether to extend mayoral control during the ongoing legislative session. “I think that this administration has really earned the right to an extension… of mayoral control.”
He emphasized achievements like improvements in city students’ state test scores and a decrease in chronic absenteeism in schools.
“A lot of people are saying, ‘We should get rid of mayoral control’…but there are very few people that are actually offering up a real alternative.” — Madina Touré
SCHOOL SAFETY: The city Department of Education is looking to put more metal detectors in schools amid an uptick in weapons recovered at institutions.
“We’re looking at that,” David Banks told PIX 11. “Those are also multimillion dollar investments that have to be made, even during some tough fiscal times…There’s nothing more important than keeping all of our kids safe.”
This comes after two students were stabbed at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens. Metal detectors were placed at the school in the aftermath of the incident.
At the same time, education officials have been working with companies who have systems that detect dangerous weapons without subjecting students to a “dehumanizing process” that entails emptying their pockets,” he said.
“Some of these companies are still developing that technology,” Banks added. — Madina Touré
MAKING THE ROUNDS: Hochul has announced two new rounds of education funding for various programs throughout the state.
The Educator Career Development Ambassador Program, which is a summer training session for aspiring teachers, librarians and counselors in six through 12 grade levels. Her initiative also included another round of funding for the Empire State Teacher Residency Program, which now gets $12.4 million a year.
Both proposals are designed to bolster the state’s teaching workforce.
“Our kids deserve the best possible education, and that starts with investing in our teachers… We are reinforcing our commitment to our public servants and to preparing young people for the robust opportunities that await them,” Hochul said in a statement. — Shawn Ness
RENEWABLE RISKS: New York has long pushed to rely on 70 percent renewable electricity by 2030. It’s clear now the state is no longer on track — derailed by growing costs, canceled projects and regulators’ refusal to provide more ratepayer-funded subsidies.
Part of the problem is there are simply not enough existing, awarded and contracted projects in the pipeline to hit the 2030 target.
The biggest blow: Two offshore wind contracts with the state’s energy authority were terminated last week, taking a bite out of the state’s inventory of investments set to be operational before the statutory deadline to reach 70 percent renewable electricity.
State officials have recognized the challenges and highlighted the efforts to still achieve the targets in New York’s historic 2019 climate law, which also included a zero-emission electricity system by 2040 and an 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. — Marie J. French
— Child care advocates are calling for better pay for child care workers making less than $36,000 per year. (State of Politics)
— The Corrections Academy Class was postponed because only 40 new recruits signed up. (Daily News)
— Out-of-state gun owners filed a lawsuit saying a state ban on concealed carry weapons violates their 2nd Amendment rights. (Times Union)