State lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul in the next six months will be deciding how to spend billions of dollars, impacting schools and health care along the way for more than 19 million New Yorkers.
The legislative session is set to begin in Albany as Gov. Kathy Hochul delivers her first State of the State address, outlining an agenda for yet another year of the uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and as a statewide election looms.
Redistricting will reshape representation at the state and federal levels. Economic struggles continue for many New Yorkers whose lives have been upended by the last two years; schools are struggling with returning to normal.
Here are five issues facing New York State:
Can school be normal again?
Hochul has insisted in recent weeks she wants to keep kids in classrooms, with rapid testing and test-to-stay policies in place for students who are exposed. But that problem is made all the more complicated by districts that close for in-classroom instruction due to staff shortages, like a lack of bus drivers.
Remote learning has been largely deemed a failure, especially for students who struggled with having the proper technology as well as for their families with parents who were balancing jobs on top of it all.
It's not yet clear if the ramp up in testing by the state and federal governments will be enough to keep schools open as the omicron variant surges. Longer term, how will schools move forward with filling staff vacancies? Districts are expected to once again receive a boost in aid this year from Albany, an agreement that was part of last year's budget and one the new governor has signaled she intends to keep.
Public safety and criminal justice
Advocates for overhauling how New York's criminal justice system functions have netted a series of victories in the last several years. Defendants under the age of 18 are treated as minors for many criminal offenses. Cash bail requirements have been pared back. The state's prison population has dropped to its lowest number of people behind bars since the 1980s.
They want to go further this year: Make it easier for people in prison to gain parole, especially for those who are older. There is also yet another push for a bill that would seal criminal records for many people, a measure that is seen as a way of helping those once incarcerated to gain employment.
But public safety advocates, as well as crime victims families, have been pushing back, pointing to a rise in violent crime during the pandemic. Law enforcement organizations have seized on the cash bail changes as one of the primary problems; a point supporters have vehemently sought to refute.
Either way, the politics of criminal justice and public safety remain thorny issues for lawmakers and Hochul heading into an election season.
As The City reported Monday night, a moratorium on evictions set to expire on Jan. 15 is expected to lapse. What happens next? Likely a push to provide assistance for people who continue to struggle financially due to the pandemic.
Landlord organizations have long argued the moratorium suspensions have hurt them during the pandemic and accessing aid to make them whole has been a scattershot process.
It's not clear if structural statewide changes will be made this year. A "good cause" eviction measure has been called for, essentially making it difficult for landlords to increase rents and remove tenants, and similar measures have been put in place on the municipal level.
Hochul has vowed to change the culture in Albany in the wake of the resignation of her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo. This could translate to major changes to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the maligned watchdog agency that critics have contended was controlled by the former governor following its inception in 2011.
Scrapping the commission is an option. A constitutional amendment would put members of the judiciary onto a new ethics and anti-corruption regulatory board, but that is a lengthy, multi-year process and subject to voter approval.
Hochul has already announced she wants term limits all statewide elected officials, seemingly a rebuke of the power the former governor amassed.
One of the first issues Hochul was handed within her initial days in office was the flash flooding in the New York City area brought on by the remnants of a hurricane.
It's another example of extreme weather causing disruption and fatalities, with calls for efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change coming shortly after. Regulations for basement-level apartments below water lines have discussed as a way of protecting vulnerable people.
More broadly, Hochul and lawmakers will likely move forward with talks over further implementation of the state's shift to renewable and cleaner energies as required in the coming decades.