Assemblymember Sarahana Shrestha on the Shortcomings of Governor Hochul’s Broad Policy Vision

ALBANY, NY — Governor Hochul laid out her broad policy agenda in her State of the State speech yesterday. Below is Assemblymember Shrestha’s statement on some of the policies:

“I welcome the Governor’s prioritization of investment in mental health, including bringing 850 inpatient psychiatric beds at hospitals back online, as a step in the right direction. I also look forward to learning more details about pegging the minimum wage to inflation, which will bring much-needed relief to underpaid workers as costs rise. 

However, to truly address our crises at the scale that is needed, New York must be willing to tax large corporations that continue to rake in profits and engage in price-gouging, and the ultra-rich who continue to get richer even as the rest of us grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic and an affordability crisis. 

Years of budget cuts have already left New York’s economy and social infrastructure hanging by a thread, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated wealth inequality: 1% of New Yorkers account for nearly 45% of all income. If we don’t commit to generating revenues from the wealthiest for the solutions we need, it will be the most vulnerable, such as seniors on fixed incomes, the sick and the disabled, care workers, and working families, who will be subjected to austerity measures while corporations and the ultra-rich thrive. We already see this happening as energy corporations and their CEOs amass profits while the average New Yorker struggles to pay bills.

On soaring utility costs, the Governor says she will provide at least $165 million in relief to more than 800,000 utility customers. At a time when arrears are over 2 billion across the state, this is a slap in the face. Importantly, we need the relief to come from the shareholder’s pockets, not ours. And we need a permanent solution to stop corporations like Central Hudson from continuously seeking to increase rates, all the while engaging in gross negligence that has led to billing errors of unacceptable magnitude. The Governor must support existing and new legislation that will democratize our energy system.

On housing, the Governor focuses solely on increasing the affordable housing stock but does not address the fact that tenants and low-income homeowners need protections now. They cannot wait until 800,000 new units materialize. We need tenant protections against unjust evictions and rent hikes so that families can continue to afford living where they live, which will help to stabilize the housing market overall. We also need to pass legislation that will give tenants an opportunity to collectively purchase their building when it goes for sale.

We simply cannot expect to build our way out of the housing crisis, especially when it involves relying on large handouts to private developers. It is reckless to continue believing that the private housing market, which has rapidly converted homes into profit-making short-term rentals, driven up rents and property values, and failed to deliver affordable units at the scale and speed needed, should be the primary vehicle for solving this crisis. We need a serious investment in social housing so that we are building homes, not properties. And we need to ensure that our buildout includes strong labor provisions, such as prevailing wage and project labor agreements, because corporate developers aren’t just getting rich off the backs of tenants, they’re also exploiting workers who build.

To effectively tackle the affordability crisis and ensure a dignified life for New Yorkers, we must stop hemorrhaging money into band-aid measures, especially those that enrich the same private interests who are responsible for creating our crises in the first place. Our commitment must be for New York State to be a model government, and that means a government with a clear vision of investing directly in people.”