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Cuomo says uncertain economy may lead to quarterly cuts in state budget

Mar 26, 2020

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks Thursday at a coronavirus briefing in the Red Room at the State Capitol in Albany.
Credit Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, facing a state budget deadline in less than a week, is out with a new proposal to try to cope as the state faces a multibillion-dollar budget gap and much uncertainty, with the economy shut down due to coronavirus.

Cuomo said he wants to try something that’s never been done before. He wants to pass the budget by April 1 and then update the state spending plan quarterly. He would revise the amounts paid out to school districts, local governments, health care providers and all others who depend on state funding, based on how much money the state actually has collected from revenues.

The governor said he does not expect the idea to be popular, but said it’s necessary.

“It is a reality for everyone, and everyone has to adjust to it,” Cuomo said. “No one is held harmless from reality. Go tell any family out there.”

Cuomo said he had hoped the federal bailout package approved by Congress this week would give New York more money to close the deficit. He said while there is funding for additional unemployment insurance and help to small businesses, he’s “shocked” that New York will receive proportionately less aid to run its government than states like South Dakota and Wyoming.

“They just did nothing on the revenue loss. They know we have to fund education,” Cuomo said.

The governor said he does not want to make the quarterly revisions in conjunction with the Legislature, adding that it might not even be feasible.

“I don’t believe the Legislature is going to want to come up here every quarter and go through numbers,” said Cuomo. “At this rate, with the spread of the virus, I don’t even know that it would be responsible to ask for a convening of the Legislature periodically.”

The governor’s budget director, Robert Mujica, said his office will be transparent with the numbers.

“The goal is to be transparent up front, so that school districts can see ‘this is what would happen if we don’t reach the revenue forecast,’ ” Mujica said. “So they would know what would happen each quarter.”

Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins appeared on the public radio program WCNY's  "The Capitol Pressroom." She said lawmakers remain resistant to granting the governor more powers in the budget.

“We are a coequal branch of government,” said Stewart-Cousins, who added that she understands the need to be “nimble” given the fiscal uncertainties. But she said she would “never be in favor of giving wide latitude without the involvement of the Legislature” in most of the decisions.

Stewart-Cousins said so far, there’s no agreement between the Senate, Assembly, and the governor on any major budget issue.

“I would like to say that a lot of the big, big issues are resolved,” she said. “But that’s not the case just yet.”

Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, said in a statement that “The state is faced with an unprecedented public health and economic crisis that will require leadership and tough decision making. We are exploring ways to give the governor the flexibility he may need without sacrificing transparency and legislative authority.”

 

Cuomo said he still wants to include additional unrelated items into the budget, like making some changes to the state’s bail reform laws that ended most forms of cash bail on Jan. 1, and legalizing recreational marijuana for adults. He said the budget may be “it,” and after early April, the Legislature may not convene again this year.

The governor confirmed, though, that a measure to help gig economy workers is off the table for now because there’s not enough time left to work out all the details.