What’s Your Favorite Budget Item & Why Did You Vote to Legalize Marijuana?
Greenline asked Senators Brian Kavanagh and Julia Salazar and Assembly Members Maritza Davila and Emily Gallagher, our four most local elected state officials, to pick the most impactful budget item and also explain the decision to legalize recreational marijuana.
Senator Brian Kavanaugh on the budget:
Senator Brian Kavanaugh said there were several positive things in this year’s budget. He mentioned the $2.1 billion Excluded Worker Fund, which provides one-time unemployment benefits to workers who lost employment or income during the COVID-19 pandemic but were ineligible for Unemployment Insurance or other federal benefits such as stimulus payments. He also acknowledged the $3B authorization for the Environmental Bond Act, which among other environmental protections extends the tax credit for brownfield redevelopment projects subject to COVID-19 delays for two years. However as he chairs the Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development, his favorite item in the budget is tied to boosting tenant and homeowner relief.
Under this item the 2021-2022 State Budget includes: $2.4 billion in COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program with 12 months’ arrears for rent and utilities, three prospective months of rent, a year of eviction protection, and eligibility of up to 120% AMI, regardless of immigration status. $600 million in homeowner assistance, including $20 million a year for HOPP for the next 3 years. $100 million to convert hotel and vacant property into affordable housing. $25 million for blighted home rejuvenation. $200 million for NYCHA and $125 million for public housing across New York State. This covers pandemic economic harm experienced by those in any housing status. Home owners can get help with their mortgages, renters can get help paying back rent, and the conversion of hotels to affordable housing and new rent subsidies will help homeless individuals and families.
Senator Brian Kavanaugh on the marijuana question:
Sen. Kavanagh answered the marijuana question by conveying he saw its legalization as being long overdue. Although he observed that the time was well spent as the legislature worked out the best way to enact the law. He feels this law has a very good approach and benefited by learning from states who passed similar legislation earlier. Kavanagh remarked there was an equity issue in the enforcement of marijuana as an illegal substance. In its legal state the law can regulate its commerce and it will be taxed.
Senator Julia Salazar on the budget:
This year’s budget didn’t include everything that we wanted to see, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. The 2021-2022 budget is filled with funding for public agencies, and increased taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers. One of the most important items in this year’s budget is the fund that was created for Excluded Workers in NYS. This fund is for services and expenses for workers who are not eligible for state or federal unemployment benefits, and have not received any aid since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This fund will help many immigrant families in particular who may have lost income or employment amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but aren’t eligible for any government assistance.
Senator Julia Salazar on the legalization of recreational marijuana:
The passage of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act was a monumental legislative victory for our communities. This bill which is now law, will implement the restorative justice that our communities deserve and mark an important step toward achieving racial justice. The criminalization of marijuana has disproportionately harmed Black and brown New Yorkers and perpetuated inequality. I voted for legalization, because it gives us an opportunity to right these wrongs and invest in our communities that have long been targeted by criminalization.
Assembly Member Maritza Davila on the budget:
“This year we passed one of the most robust budgets in recent history. There are many items that were important to our communities; but I believe the $3 billion Rental Assistance Program which will cover thousands of people who owe a year worth of rent, will bring much needed relief to those most needed families. We are trying to bring some normalcy to New York State and this is where it starts keeping people housed.”
Assembly Member Maritza Davila on the marijuana question:
“The reason why I voted in favor for the legalization of recreational marijuana is that for too long these laws have disproportionately impacted communities of color. Besides the legalization of this law will allow an expungement process for low level Marijuana arrests which can give individuals a second chance at life. I truly believe that people do deserve a second chance.”
Assembly Member Emily Gallagher on the budget:
“There are two most important items in this state budget and both deserve special recognition. The first is our historic investment in public education, totaling $29.5 billion in aid to local schools, a record and an 11% increase over last year. For the first time since the Campaign for Fiscal Equity won its landmark lawsuit challenging unequal funding of New York’s schools, the state has met our Foundation Aid obligations. The investments will be transformational. The second is the $2.1 billion Fund for Excluded Workers to provide something akin to unemployment insurance for folks who were left out of federal aid because of their immigration status. Undocumented families are a valued part of our community and this fund recognizes the dignity of their labor.”
Assembly Member Emily Gallagher on the marijuana question:
“I voted to legalize recreational cannabis because prohibition has failed. Even if you believe marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol, making it illegal hasn’t done anything to reduce consumption. Instead, it’s criminalized people of color for doing something white people have long been basically allowed to enjoy out in the open. I’m particularly proud that this legislation tries to address the intergenerational harms caused by the War on Drugs by setting aside retail licenses and tax revenue for those communities most impacted. We need to make sure that the legal marijuana industry isn’t dominated by a few large corporations and this legislation gives us important tools to use in that fight.”