State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal as a continued plan for fiscal restraint, but warned that the governor also wants to use the budget to grab power and reduce public oversight and accountability in the spending of billions of taxpayer dollars.
The state’s top fiscal officer said today his analysis of the proposal now being negotiated with the Legislature would cut future deficits in half, to $7.4 billion through the 2015-16 fiscal year. That’s far smaller than recent deficits. A year ago, Cuomo and the Legislature closed a $10 billion gap, much of it caused by federal stimulus aid.
But DiNapoli also said Cuomo’s plan for 2012-13 would reduce transparency in how the public’s money is spent and consolidate more power under the governor. DiNapoli said his fellow Democrat wants to exempt agency contracts from the comptroller’s review, limiting a standard practice that provides better oversight and public disclosure.
Cuomo’s budget also would “dramatically increase” the governor’s power to move funds from one agency to another with less scrutiny and without regard for the original and publicly stated intent behind spending the money, DiNapoli said.
Cuomo didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment today. He has said his agency measures are a move toward greater efficiency that would cut costs while improving public service.
DiNapoli said Cuomo also would put $12.9 billion of his proposed $15 billion New York Works infrastructure program “off budget.” Off budget means borrowing and spending wouldn’t be subject to as much public disclosure or input by the Legislature.
“The passage of an on-time budget through an open, observable process is important,” according to the report released today. “But this progress should be accomplished without abandoning meaningful oversight, appropriate checks and balances, and adequate protection of public dollars.”
Cuomo missed deadlines in December under the 2007 budget reform act, saying he needed more time to gather updated fiscal data. The reforms were enacted to end the secretive process involving the governor, the Senate majority leader and the Assembly speaker controlling spending that amounts to about $135 billion a year, a tradition in Albany not found in most states. Cuomo already plans to miss the deadline for his amendments to the budget proposal. Instead of the 21-day deadline after his budget submission to allow more public review and debate of the spending plan, Cuomo plans to release his amendments at the old 30-day mark.
DiNapoli also warned Cuomo’s budget is depending on billions of dollars over several years from the federal government that aren’t certain as Washington debates its own spending cuts. He said the governor’s New York Works infrastructure repair project is heavily dependent on federal funds that might not exist after federal budget cutting.
In all, DiNapoli says Cuomo’s budget assumes $1.7 billion in federal funds for his highways and bridge repair proposal. Another $5 billion for state and local governments over nine years also is uncertain.
DiNapoli also said the state’s bottom line has been helped by the income tax increase for millionaires enacted in December. He said that will bring in $385 million now, during the final quarter of the 2011-12 fiscal year, and $1.9 million in the fiscal year beginning April 1.
He says the current fiscal year still has a $2 billion gap that Cuomo and the Legislature must close by April 1, but notes that’s far smaller than in past years because of recent actions.
But hard times are apparent. Without the December tax increase, DiNapoli says tax collections would have been $702 million less than originally projected. That’s a result of the slowing economic recovery in the last half of 2011.
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