State mulls changing what construction is considered “essential”

Cuomo and de Blasio say they are figuring out what the rule should be, amid mounting criticism over the lack of a distinction

Governor Andrew Cuomo (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
Governor Andrew Cuomo (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

New York is considering limiting the types of construction that qualify as “essential.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated that he is open to changing his executive order of last week that exempted all construction from a ban on employees of non-essential businesses reporting to work. Construction has continued throughout the city, even as criticism has mounted over the lack of distinction between emergency work and high-rise luxury towers.

“I think some construction is essential,” Cuomo said when asked at a Thursday press briefing why all construction workers were exempt. “It is something we’re looking at.”

In a video posted on Twitter Thursday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he hoped the city and state would figure out what the rule should be in the “next 24 hours or so.”

Some city officials have been calling for a restriction on the types of construction that are considered essential, saying such a distinction should be reserved for building healthcare facilities, infrastructure and emergency construction. Some sites have temporarily shut down, including major infrastructure projects, due to workers who tested positive for Covid-19.

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The Real Estate Board of New York and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York released guidelines this week on how construction managers and developers should respond to the pandemic, urging social distancing where possible and barring workers from being penalized for avoiding unsafe or unsanitary sites.

Cuomo also announced that the state’s budget will need to be adjusted throughout the year, to reflect actual revenue. The state is expected to lose between $10 and $15 billion in revenue, he said.

“Everybody will have to accept the reality,” he said.

He said the decision to have a fluid budget was a direct response to the $2 trillion federal relief package approved by the U.S. Senate Wednesday night, and which the House of Representatives was expected to pass on Friday. Cuomo called the bill “irresponsible” and “reckless.” While he commended the measure for helping small businesses and unemployment insurance, he railed against the fact that the $5 billion in funding provided to the state is “earmarked only for COVID virus expenses. Which means it does absolutely nothing for us in terms of lost revenue.”

The governor also acknowledged that legislation surrounding “issues that you really need to talk through,” such as classification of gig economy workers, will likely be left out of the budget.

Write to Kathryn Brenzel at