Wasn’t one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s selling points supposed to be his fiscal conservatism?
For years, he’s made a point of holding state spending growth to 2 percent. He’s touted his property-tax cap, made permanent last year.
His first budget, in 2011, cut the state’s overall year-to-year spending for the first time in over a decade, imposed no major new taxes and, according to the New York Times, began “a long-term overhaul of New York State’s bloated Medicaid programs.”
Flash forward to the present day and, my, how things have changed.
New York faces its worst budget shortfall since the Great Recession.
State leaders such as Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie are talking about the need to raise revenue while experts attribute the state’s fiscal woes to exploding Medicaid costs.
What makes this mess all the more remarkable is that it comes at a time when the economy is strong. Throw a recession or cuts in federal aid into the mix, and the situation will turn into a full-blown disaster.
It’s quite a turn of events for a governor who prides himself on his stewardship of the New York’s finances.
And it suggests that a man known for his tight grip on state government has lost control of state spending.
How else to explain the state’s looming budget gap, estimated to be between $4 billion and $6 billion in 2020?
Perhaps the state’s budget crisis was inevitable.
Perhaps New York’s culture of spending first and asking questions later is so deeply entrenched that even Cuomo was doomed to succumb to it. In his first year in office, the state cut school aid by $1.2 billion. This year, school aid rose by $1 billion.
Unfortunately, the governor has offered few clues as to how he plans to address the budget shortfall.
But it seems likely that New Yorkers will suffer the consequences of the state’s lack of restraint.
This ugly fiscal reality should make for an especially contentious legislative session.
Among the things we’re likely to see: new proposals to tax the wealthy and renewed efforts to legalize marijuana and online sports gambling.
I’d also recommend finding ways to cut spending — something Heastie has indicated he’s loathe to do.
One target: The state’s costly and wasteful economic development programs, which have under-performed, with promised jobs failing to materialize.
There’s no excuse for the state’s budget crisis, which could have, and should have, been prevented.
And while there’s plenty of blame to go around, the person who bears the most responsibility for it is the governor who vowed to change how things get done in Albany.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]