ALBANY — After Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised the possibility of deep cuts to state spending if the federal government doesn’t cough up $11 billion more dollars in aid, Albany Republicans say “passing the buck” won’t help New Yorkers.
Cuomo presented two vastly different budget scenarios this week: one if Congress provides New York with $6 billion and another if New York receives $15 billion. The state is facing a dramatic loss in sales and income tax revenue in the wake of sweeping COVID-19 restrictions that jettisoned last February's budget projections.
The governor blamed President Donald Trump's administration for allowing COVID-19 to hit New York and the rest of the nation by failing to ban travel from Europe until mid-March. New York has now recorded nearly 42,000 deaths of people with COVID-19, according to data compiled by John Hopkins University.
“What happened to New York was no fault of New Yorkers,” Cuomo said in his annual budget address, which was delivered virtually. “It was because the federal government lost track of coronavirus, literally.”
He said Washington is “legally, ethically and politically responsible” for providing New York with the aid he's demanding as President-elect Joe Biden takes office and Democrats take over the Senate.
Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, wasn’t buying it.
“What the governor offered today was not a budget presentation,” said Barclay, entering his second year as GOP Assembly boss. “It was more regurgitated rhetoric that we’ve heard over and over, punctuated by a desperate plea to the federal government for a $15 billion bailout. For all the talk of ‘leadership’ that comes from this administration, most of the morning was spent passing the buck on to Washington D.C.”
The governor’s budget address is typically a chance for the executive to lay out his or her agenda for the coming 12 months. Last year, Cuomo touted New York’s aggressive steps towards equity in criminal justice, housing and education as well as a transformative climate and environmental package. While Albany interests are never-ceasing, the focus in 2021 is narrow if not stark.
Cuomo’s $103 billion, one-year budget proposal relies on New York receiving $3 billion in additional federal aid, and the governor said the state would set aside the other $3 billion from Congress for the next year's budget. The Democratic-led Legislature faces an April 1 deadline to pass a budget.
His budget would allow up to $8 billion in short-term borrowing and authorize a $3 billion line of credit, along with raising taxes on high earners, a one-year delay of a middle class tax cut, $1.5 billion in across-the-board spending reductions and a freeze on contractual salary increases.
Cuomo raised eyebrows when he said he would pursue legal action if Congress doesn't send the $15 billion in aid — but he didn’t specify who or what the state would sue. Barclay doesn’t think throwing down the gauntlet for lawsuits qualifies as “responsible budgeting.”
“With the challenges in front of us, tough decisions will have to be made. Federal help is necessary, and I have advocated for it,” Barclay said. “But threatening court action unless those resources are provided is hardly a reliable strategy. The economic devastation caused by COVID-19 and ensuing lockdown orders put New York’s budget into a state of disarray. Unfortunately, as the state faces so much uncertainty, two major items were sorely missing today – definitive answers and accountability.”