ALBANY — As the 37,258th New Yorker was confirmed infected with COVID-19 Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave a preview of how he plans to make up tax revenue lost because of the pandemic.
Answer: He doesn’t because he can’t.
So he proposes to cut spending.
The COVID-19 crisis is having two direct impacts, he noted: medical (people getting sick and dying) and economic (shutting down major segments of the economy to keep more people from getting sick and dying).
The federal government is poised to give the state money to cover what it spends on the medical impact but not to cover the economic impact of lost tax revenue, Cuomo said.
As a result, he said, he wants his budget division to create a rolling spending plan for the 2020-2021 budget year, which begins April 1. Budget items would start off lower, and if needed will be revised further downward in each subsequent quarter if tax revenue is lower than expected. It would be a formula-based plan that would likely exclude the Legislature, he said.
So those who rely on state money are in for a very turbulent ride in the next 12 months, above and beyond whatever heartbreak and hardship directly results from COVID-19.
In other points during his briefing Thursday, Cuomo said:
- There have been 37,258 confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide from March 1 through Thursday morning; 5,327 people are now hospitalized, 1,290 of those in intensive care units; 1,517 have been hospitalized and then discharged; 385 New Yorkers had died as of Thursday morning, 100 of them in the preceding 24 hours.
- He does not support the idea of quarantining New York City residents in New York City. He shares the opinion of state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, who said Wednesday that everyone should keep 6 feet apart wherever they are, but needn’t stay in the Big Apple.
- Asked about upstate counties anxious over the wave of downstate residents coming upstate to ride out the crisis with their relatives or in their vacation homes, he said counties can bring him any plan they want for a quarantine but he’s not inclined to approve one. “I don’t have mandating any travel ban on my agenda.”
- The state is scouting additional sites to create temporary overflow hospitals in case of a patient surge — mainly downstate, where the pandemic has hit hardest. It is working to create collaborations by which downstate patients would be moved upstate if the overflow hospitals downstate were not enough. But, he added: “I’m not eager to distribute people from downstate to upstate. There’s just practical consequences, that’s the primary consideration.”
- The state has approved a modification that lets two patients use a respirator normally used for one patient if there isn’t a second respirator available, and is looking at modifications to certain anesthesia equipment that would allow it to function as a respirator.
- There is enough personal protective equipment (gloves, masks, faceshields) on hand for the short term.
- He said the decision to rate construction work as essential — and exempt from shutdown — is being re-examined, as construction workers can’t always maintain social distancing.
- Asked when public schools for grade kindergarten through 12 might reopen, he said there’s an ongoing review.
HIGH AND DRY
The state was already facing a significant imbalance of revenue vs. expenses for the budget year starting April 1, and the pandemic may stretch the gap as much as $15 billion more, Cuomo said.
One can imagine how unhappy he was Thursday about the stimulus package approved the night before by the Senate and headed to a vote Friday in the House, with little money for his budget.
“The congressional action, in my opinion, simply failed to address the governmental need … I find it irresponsible. I find it reckless,” he said Thursday morning. However, he added: “Emotion is a luxury and we don't have the luxury at this time of being emotional about what they did.”
Asked by a reporter how cities, school districts and other recipients of state aid are supposed to cope with aid packages that are not only reduced but may change repeatedly through the year, Cuomo said it’s simply the reality foisted upon them by circumstance and then not rectified by the federal government.
“No one can say, ‘Well, I don’t accept this reality of a revenue loss.’ It is a reality for everyone, and everyone has to adjust to it. I’m sure there’ll be some people who’ll say, ‘Well, I shouldn’t have to adjust to it, I should be held harmless from reality.’ No one’s held harmless from reality. Go tell any family out there that reality doesn’t count.”
In other COVID-19 developments Thursday:
- Albany County had 171 confirmed cases as of early Thursday afternoon, with patient ages ranging from 2 months to 90 years. That is second-highest in upstate New York after Dutchess County, with 190 cases. Elsewhere in the Capital Region, Fulton County had one confirmed case, Montgomery County five, Rensselaer County 32, Saratoga County 73, Schenectady County 62 and Schoharie County two.
- The University at Albany postposed its May commencement ceremonies and will mail diplomas to graduates. University officials said possible alternatives to the ceremonies are being reviewed.
- New York Oncology Hematology will temporarily vacate its office at Albany Medical Center to free up more space there, should Albany Med need to treat a surge of COVID-19 patients. Starting April 6, NYOH patients typically seen at the Albany Med office will be rescheduled to the Patroon Creek office.
- The Cooperstown-based Bassett Healthcare Network continued to ramp up its MyBassett patient portal for telemedicine, which is valued because it limits in-person interaction between sick and healthy people. Bassett said that its patients had completed over 1,000 telemedicine visits in the previous five days and that by next week, nearly all of its practitioners in its eight-county service area will be able to complete most appointments via voice or video link.
- New York state Attorney General Letitia James looked to the larger picture: She called on federal and state governments to be sure women’s access to safe, legal abortions is not curtailed as a result of the pandemic; ordered several companies to stop selling bogus coronavirus-killing devices; and announced she’d lead a multistate coalition fighting for emergency relief for federal student loan borrowers during the crisis.