Governor Andrew Cuomo just delivered an hour-long state budget presentation, and while it wasn’t nearly as much fun as his State of the State speech earlier this month — no slides of a cartoon Shelly Silver paddling a canoe — it did include plenty of intrigue to go with the big numbers.
Cuomo’s remarkable success in delivering two on-time budgets and in closing huge gaps makes this year’s proposal seem less dramatic, but the state’s anemic economy still leaves him with major challenges.
Cuomo wants to fill a $1.3 billion hole mostly by reducing aid to local governments; trimming state bureaucracy; streamlining the Workers' Compensation system; and deploying that old favorite, better collection of existing taxes. There are no “new” taxes, but there are extensions of limits on charitable tax deductions for the wealthy and of assessments on utilities. All of that would allow the governor to dole out some goodies, particularly a 4 percent boost in education spending — which isn’t a massive increase, but it came across as a bit odd after Cuomo opened his remarks by decrying the split between ever-escalating education spending and flat test results. He also obliquely acknowledged the pain his property tax cap has caused upstate cities by offering to rejigger state pension costs; it will be interesting to see if the state comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, raises objections.
Two contentious possible moneymakers got very different treatment. Cuomo teased a projected $150 million in new annual state revenue from casinos; that money wouldn’t start flowing until at least 2016, but the jockeying for which cities and regions become gambling sites is well under way, giving the governor a bargaining chip as he pushes for things like a higher minimum wage and equal pay for women. Fracking, though, was again the Voldemort of issues. Not a word from the governor, because the politics of that decision remain volatile.
Many hundreds of words were devoted to how the state will spend $30 billion in federal Hurricane Sandy reconstruction aid. Coupled with an ambitious $1 billion plan to create subsidized housing and a previously announced replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge, the state could see a construction boom in the next two years. That’s the kind of thing every politician loves, and as Cuomo closed with a pledge to “build this state back to a level it’s never reached before … safer and stronger and richer than the state of New York we inherited,” you could practically see the campaign ads of a hard-hatted governor proudly striding through Rockaway as it rises from the deluge. “All the cynics, all the naysayers said the state was doomed, government couldn’t work,” Cuomo said. “We showed them they were wrong, in an incredibly profound way. We now set national precedents.” Not that he’s taking his eye off the local ball, of course.