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Cuomo's On-Time Budget Could Have Long-Term Repercussions

Monday, April 04, 2011

Governor Andrew Cuomo scored a major victory when he convinced the state legislature to approve a budget that closed a $10 billion dollar gap through cuts to health care and school aid. But some think the spending plan could have negative repercussions for the governor later on.

Not everyone was happy that the state budget passed on time for the first time in five years, relying primarily on cuts and without any major new taxes.

Hundreds of New Yorkers openly expressed their discontentment with Cuomo's school aide cuts, and with the budget's rejection of a millionaire's tax. The demonstrators, organized by the teacher's union and other pro-education funding groups, chanted noisily while the budget was voted on the Assembly and Senate floors.

Public opinion polls show that New York voters approve of the governor's taking charge and getting the spending plan done on time, after years of dysfunction and late budgets.

But a recent Siena College survey finds that most don't agree with some of the content of the budget, and are closer in their opinions to the protesters. Siena’s Steve Greenberg said most New Yorkers, for example, think a continuation of the temporary income tax surcharge on millionaires — backed only by Assembly Democrats — makes a lot of sense.

"By an overwhelming margin, 71 percent to 27 percent support a millionaire's tax," said Greenberg, who noted the tax has board support, even among Republicans and Conservatives.

He added: "But the governor didn't want to do it."

Greenberg said the poll found the majority of New Yorkers also are against cutting school aid. The final budget slices $1.2 billion dollars from school districts. The legislature restored $272 million out of the governor's original $1.5 billion dollar cut.

"From the voter's perspective, this budget fails on two key items," said Greenberg.

Meanwhile, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said so far the budget appears to be balanced, mostly through spending cuts.

DiNapoli said one advantage of an on-time budget is that local governments, schools, hospitals and all others dependent on government money will be able to plan their own financial futures — even if they'll have to manage with significantly fewer funds.

"Even if it's tough numbers, better we know what we have to deal with," said DiNapoli.

A spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association agrees that now it will be easier for schools to plan for the future. But, he said, with $1.2 billion dollars in cuts to school aid, "that's where the good news ends."

School boards spokesman David Albert said school districts have told his association that come September, there will be larger classes, less music, art and advanced placement classes, and fewer teachers.

"We're just not going to be able to avoid widespread lay offs," said Albert.

Albert said schools that have reserve funds will spend down, and some may achieve greater efficiencies, but that won't be enough. And he said there may be a rise in school property taxes, reversing a trend in the past couple of years of smaller tax increases.

He said school boards will likely make the link to their communities between the hardships and Cuomo’s and the legislature's budget when they go to the polls on May 17.

"I think there'll be a discussion," said Albert. "I don't know that it’s going to be a blame game per se, I think it’s just going to be factual."

Albert said the state budget is just one factor, though a big one, in rising costs for local schools — another reason is growing pension and health care costs for employees.

On that front, the governor and legislature may be able to help the schools. The governor has said that post-budget, he's seeking both a 2 percent per year property tax cap and mandate relief, which could come in the form of some union benefit givebacks.

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