Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a winning bet.
He bet big on Joe Biden winning the presidential election, in the hopes that a new administration, headed by an old friend, would deliver much-needed federal aid to his state.
And he wasn’t alone.
Public officials in Albany, Amsterdam and Schenectady made similar bets, crafting budgets for the upcoming fiscal year that rely heavily on stimulus money that has yet to be approved by Congress.
The election is over, but it remains to be seen whether going all-in on a Biden victory was a good strategy.
Control of the U.S. Senate is still very much up in the air, with Georgia’s Senate seats headed to a runoff election on Jan. 5.
Democrats will take control of the Senate if they win both seats, which strikes me as something of a long shot, though one never knows. Should Republicans retain control of the chamber, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will remain majority leader.
That’s bad news for those pinning their budgetary hopes and dreams on the prospect of generous federal aid.
McConnell is about as likely to sign off on a stimulus plan that rains gobs of money down on New York as Cuomo is to speak candidly about the New York’s nursing home death toll. In the spring, the senate majority leader sneered at the idea of “blue state bailouts,” and suggested states in dire fiscal straits might declare bankruptcy.
I can understand betting on Biden to help New York.
But McConnell and a Republican-led Senate?
That’s not a bet I’d take.
A Biden victory should be good for New York, but Cuomo and other officials would do well to temper their expectations.
There’s a strong chance the Senate remains in Republican control – which makes it far less likely that a slew of federal aid is going to arrive in early 2021 and solve all the state’s problems.
For months, Cuomo, who serves as chair of the National Governors Association, has been pushing for $500 billion in direct aid to state and local governments throughout the country. With McConnell in charge, that level of generosity is wishful thinking.
Even if Congressional leaders do reach an agreement on a new aid bill – and McConnell hinted after the election that it’s a possibility – it will probably be a far more modest package than Cuomo and others are hoping for.
If the governor doesn’t have a back-up plan, now might be a good time to develop one.
“History tells us even when there is a large federal aid package it does not solve for the whole fiscal problem,” Maria Doulis, vice president of the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission, told USA Today’s New York State Team.
I’m in favor of more federal stimulus for states and local governments hit hard by COVID-19, and New York certainly qualifies.
But I’d also like to see Cuomo do more to figure out how to get the state’s deficit – $8 billion for the current fiscal year, and nearly $17 billion!!! for the next – under control.
It’s worth remembering that not all of the state’s budgetary problems are due to COVID.
Before the pandemic hit, New York was facing a big budget shortfall, and we shouldn’t rewrite history by pretending everything was rosy until the coronavirus came to town. Circumstances demand that state and local governments take a more austere approach to the upcoming fiscal year.
The election did little to clarify how much federal aid is coming to New York.
But it’s not going to be as much as the state needs, or wants, or expects.
I hope I’m wrong, but that’s the bet I’m making.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.