Gov. Andrew Cuomo expects a lot from the Biden administration.
His $193 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year assumes New York will receive at least $6 billion in aid from the federal government, which might sound like a lot of money.
But the governor is angling for more — a lot more.
He called on the federal government to give New York a whopping $15 billion as part of a sweeping pandemic relief package, and threatened to sue the federal government if it doesn’t come through.
Fifteen billion isn’t a random figure, plucked from the sky — it’s the same amount as the state’s two-year budget deficit.
“The new government didn’t cause the damage,” Cuomo said, during his annual budget briefing. “But they are legally, ethically and morally responsible for correcting it.”
Cuomo couldn’t have asked for a more receptive audience for his message.
He has a friend in the White House in President Joe Biden. The new Senate majority leader is New York’s own Charles Schumer. Democrats control Congress and are much more likely to approve a generous package of aid to states hard-hit by the pandemic than their Republican colleagues.
In other words, there’s no better time to look to the federal government to solve New York’s fiscal problems.
But should it?
That’s another question entirely.
It’s easy to forget, but New York was facing a sizable budget shortfall before COVID-19 devastated the state’s finances.
Blaming all of the state’s fiscal woes on the pandemic rewrites this history, and sidesteps a budgetary reckoning that’s as sorely needed as it is overdue.
I’m not opposed to generous aid to states, but Cuomo expects too much from the federal government.
Meeting his $15 billion demand would be a mistake, enabling the state to avoid making the hard choices necessary to get its fiscal house in order.
Aid from the federal government helps in the short-term, but it doesn’t address the underlying problems, such as the rapidly escalating Medicaid costs that caused New York to run a budget deficit in the first place.
I expect New York to receive a lot of help from Washington, D.C., in the coming months and years, and I suspect that Cuomo’s threat to sue the federal government is little more than a tactical maneuver, aimed at getting as much aid as possible from the new administration.
That aid is welcome.
But it doesn’t absolve the state of responsibility for its own fiscal missteps and profligate ways.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.