BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — “The streaming tax. Is that in there? The Amazon delivery tax, is that in there? I don’t know that for sure.”
State Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt said details remained slim from the state’s conceptual 2024 Budget. We caught up with Ortt Saturday morning for his take on the tentative $229 billion agreement.
Ortt said he is pleased to see over $1 billion going toward mental health needs. It includes the addition of 1,000 in-patient psychiatric beds statewide. Governor Kathy Hochul said it will also prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage for critical mental health services.
“Too many people can’t get the care they need and too long we’ve under invested in mental health,” said Hochul.
The state will spend a record $34.5 billion on education. $134 million is being allocated for free meals for low-income populations regardless of family income. Ortt said it’s still unclear whether all districts will receive the funding or how districts will be chosen. He worries rural districts, like the Lockport City School District, for example, may get left out. “They’re not a poor district but they’re certainly not a wealthy district,” said Ortt. “So, do they fall in that gap?”
It also remains to be seen how Western New York districts fared. School aid runs haven’t yet been released.
The budget also includes a first in the nation statewide ban on natural gas in new construction beginning in 2025. The proposal would not apply to existing homes.
“I’m very concerned about what it means long term if we’re going to move in that direction,” Ortt said. “What does that mean for reliability? What does that mean for people’s home energy bills? What does it mean for the cost of new homes being built?”
The budget still needs final approval from the legislature. A vote is a formality of sorts since both the Assembly and the Senate are controlled by democrats. The vote is expected next week.
Ali Touhey is an anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2023. View more of her work here.