When Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his State of the State message earlier this month, we compared it to a child’s Christmas list.
Today, the governor is the parent telling us how he plans to pay for it all.
This is perhaps the most challenging state budget in a decade, complicated by the fact that New York faces a $6.1 billion budget deficit that’s expected to top $8.5 billion in three years if it’s not brought under control.
Worse for the state’s financial condition, and for taxpayers who’ll have to pay for it, is that the budget gap wasn’t precipitated by any calamitous national economic downturn that could be blamed for the reversal of fortunes. No, the blame falls largely on the state government itself and its penchant for spending above taxpayers’ ability to pay.
Among the issues the governor will have to address today is the Medicaid spending — how to rein in its $70 billion budget and control spiraling costs for long-term managed care and other programs.
Other than trying to pry more help from the federal government, the governor may try to get local governments to pay a greater share of the cost. That might help the state close its budget gap, but it will merely shift the tax burden onto local taxpayers.
The governor also will have to consider demands for increases in school aid. New Yorkers pay more per capita for K-12 education than any other state in the country. Yet many districts, particularly poorer districts, clearly don’t have enough funding to support the programs they need. Rather than boost school spending, let’s see if the governor supports some kind of reallocation of existing resources to where they’re the most needed.
Potential revenue sources include expanding casinos, legalizing recreational marijuana and raising taxes on the wealthy, a prospect that risks driving more wealthy residents out of the state. The
Legislature also tends to nickel-and-time taxpayers with increased fees and taxes to pay for its spending, another thing to watch for today.
This problem wasn’t created just by Gov. Cuomo, and it isn’t only Gov. Cuomo’s problem to solve. Legislative leaders negotiate the budget, and the Legislature approves it.
Taxpayers must hold all of them accountable for fixing the state’s fiscal mess.
But it’s the governor who is going to set the agenda with his budget today. That spending plan needs to include realistic, politically achievable, excuse-free measures — free of gimmicks, one-shot revenues and budgetary sleight of hand .
This is our children’s education we’re talking about. It’s about supporting our poor and aging population. It’s about helping attract new business and helping existing businesses thrive. It’s about making sure our roads and bridges are safe and in good repair.
And it’s about funding it all in a way that doesn’t further overburden taxpayers and drive more people out of the state.
The plan the governor lays out today will have serious, long-term consequences for all New Yorkers and the state itself. Let’s hope he’s got the answers we’re looking for.