Top New York State officials are preparing for another difficult budget year. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already told state agencies to keep spending flat, while those that depend on state programs are not counting on big increases.
While the budget plan isn’t due until January, state agencies were told not to add any additional spending as they work out the proposals they’ll give to the state budget office. Budget Director Robert Megna says the extremely slow economic recovery means another year of austerity.
“It’s going to be another difficult budget year,” Megna said.
Megna, under Governor Cuomo’s direction, worked with the Legislature to cut $10 billion two years ago. This year won’t require anything as drastic, but the budget director says Cuomo is seeking to keep the total state spending increase, which includes health care and education, at fewer than 2 percent.
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli agrees that 2013 won’t be easy.
“It’s going to be another tough year,” DiNapoli said.
DiNapoli says revenues are coming in slightly below projections, but he says things have at least stabilized from the recent past, when the state lurched from multi-billion dollar crisis to crisis.
But the comptroller warns that if there are more years of austerity, public services will suffer.
“Year after year of having to do more with less, after a certain point you probably end up doing less with less,” said DiNapoli. “But I don’t think we have a choice. The money is not there.”
Stephen Acquario, with the New York Association of Counties, says counties are already there.
“We’re doing less with less now,” said Acquario.
Acquario appeared with budget director Megna at a forum on the rising costs of unfunded state mandates for local governments, sponsored by SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute. He says without changes in rules regarding pension payouts, union contracts and other issues, counties face a $4.2 billion budget deficit by 2020.
“Eventually the math overwhelms any budget,” he said.
Governor Cuomo has appointed a commission to study which mandates can be eliminated, it has not yet issued a final report. And Budget Director Megna also noted the Cuomo administration has already enacted a new pension tier for future public workers and curbed the spiraling growth in Medicaid spending. He says local governments should expect only “incremental progress” in the immediate future.
Megna says numerous paper reports that are now required could be eliminated, for instance. Acquario, with the counties, says in the long run, though, local governments are going to need more state aid, or he predicts, counties will be “socially bankrupt” due to drastic cuts in services.