Cuomo Revises Approach to Budget

Governor Andrew Cuomo is set to release his state budget Tuesday, and it is likely to contain some deep spending cuts. But now Cuomo says the budgeting is more complicated than he’d thought.

On the eve of the expected bad news, the governor was revising his estimate of the state deficit down, saying he has discovered it’s closer to $2 billion dollars than the $10 billion dollar figure he had previously believed.

Since Cuomo became governor one month ago, he’s stuck to a simple story about the state’s budget woes: New York has a $10 billion dollar deficit, the state spends too much and he’s going to do something about it.

“The rate of spending is unsustainable,” Cuomo has said repeatedly.

Cuomo has promised to close the deficit without raising taxes or borrowing money, which leaves deep spending cuts as the most likely alternative.

But the day before the governor is required by the state’s constitution to present his spending plan, Cuomo said the budgeting is more complicated than he’d thought.

He wrote an op-ed article, saying he’s “shocked” to discover, that the $10 billion dollar figure is actually a deceptive “sham” because most of those billions of dollars consist of a 13 percent increase in funding to schools and Medicaid providers that was written into previous budget law. By simply eliminating those built-in 13 percent increases, Cuomo said, the $10 billion dollar deficit becomes close to a $2 billion dollar deficit.

Secretary to the Governor, Steve Cohen, said the increases are all “driven by formulas that are baked into the state law” and are not tied to any economic trends or the state’s current dismal fiscal condition.

Cuomo’s revelation comes as no surprise to those who have long been involved in the state’s budget process, including the president of New York State unite Teachers, Dick Ianuzzi. Ianuzzi said teachers and administrators anticipated that the cuts would come from revoking the 13 percent increases in funding.

“That’s what we’ve expected that all along,” said Ianuzzi.

And Ianuzzi said the teacher’s union would still consider eliminating the projected increases a cut to schools.

Larry Levy, former political columnist for Newsday who now runs Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies, wonders why Cuomo has decided to “change the narrative”.  He said perhaps the governor has “lost his appetitive” for taking the heat for all of the expected steep budget cuts. Polls show New Yorkers don’t want direct cuts to schools or health care.

“It’s either disingenuous or he really suddenly discovered that the world is round,” said Levy, “and I’m not sure which one is scarier.”

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican who has been closely allied with the governor’s fiscal philosophy, said he would not characterize the built-in increases to school aid and Medicaid as a “sham.” And he said he hopes the focus of the governor’s budget will be on real spending cuts.

“I want to see the specifics,” Skelos said.

Cuomo said he’s not being naïve or manipulative. He said he knows that automatic spending increases for schools and health care have been built into the budget since the days when his father, Mario Cuomo, was governor.  But he said the “automatic pilot” yearly increases have to end.

“Close the gap, balance the budget and then stop the madness,” Cuomo said.