Editorial: Cuomo appears to be staying the course with new budget

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We may already be seeing the consequences of November’s election when Republicans lost control of the state Senate.

In the past, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried to portray himself as a moderate who was at least trying to give upstate a seat at the table. He at least pretended to care.

But after Cuomo’s State of the State address on Tuesday, The New York Times described it as a “veritable all-you-can-pass progressive buffet.”

That probably won’t sit well with many local residents, and we don’t have much recourse but to sit back and defer to the majority. That is the politics.

After all, 16 million of the state’s 19.5 million residents live in New York City or Long Island and they pay nearly 70 percent of the income tax collected.

Perhaps the better news is the description from the Empire Center, a fiscally conservative think tank in Albany that described Cuomo’s budget as a “stay-the-course” affair.

That doesn’t do anything to address the state’s reputation as one of the highest taxed and least friendly for business, but hopefully it won’t get much worse.

The governor is proposing a 2 percent increase in spending, which the Empire Center says is closer to 3 percent, but still fairly modest considering the Democrats’ reputation for spending.

The good news for upstate is Cuomo’s push to make the 2 percent property tax cap — first passed in 2011 — permanent. While the Democratic leadership in the Senate has endorsed a permanent tax cap, the Assembly leadership has not committed. We expect the governor will work it out.

We do believe the governor should rethink his cuts to the state’s aid and incentives for municipalities program. On paper, the cuts appear modest — just $59 million statewide — but considering that most towns and villages have already adopted budgets for this year, that is simply not fair.

Considering how tight budgets are for most towns — we’re seeing a lot of this lately — even a few thousand dollars is a hardship.

We could go on and on about unfunded state mandates local municipalities have been asked to pay for years, but at this juncture, it is clear Albany does not have ears.

Gov. Cuomo did add an extra $1 billion in education funding to the budget over last year, and if history is any guide, that number will probably grow. It probably will still not be enough.

Gov. Cuomo did have challenges this year because of the cap on state and local taxes from the new federal tax cut. The state reduced its projected tax receipts for 2020 by $1.6 billion.

The governor plans on keeping the millionaire’s tax — an extra tax on anyone making $1 million or more — in place, and we are OK with that, especially after we found out the state reaps $4.6 billion from this tax. Maybe we’ll feel differently when we start making more than $1 million.

Unfortunately, the Empire Center identified what it called a “yellow flag” with personal income tax receipts late in the year and it is expected that receipts might fall as much as $500 million over mid-year projections because of the volatility in the stock market. If that trend continues, New York could see its revenues falling short this year. The state might want to tighten its fiscal belt.

We do believe that New York has been proactive in several ways.

While the federal government has no plan for infrastructure, Gov. Cuomo proposes investing another $150 billion in infrastructure this coming year.

And while we rarely pay much attention to New York City’s mass transit problems, we believe the governor’s proposal to put in place a fee for anyone driving in the busiest parts of Manhattan is a good idea.

The plan could generate as much as $15 billion to put toward subway system repairs over 10 years. It’s one way for New York City to fund the growing mass transit tab without impacting the rest of us.

We also like the governor’s proposal of a “Green New Deal,” which would make New York’s electricity 100 percent carbon-neutral by 2040. Even that may be too late to stave off significant environmental damage, but it is a step in the right direction and more than most states are doing.

We’re not expecting the legalization of marijuana to go very far this coming year — we’re still urging caution — but even if it does, the state is only projecting a revenue stream of up to $300 million by 2024.

Will New York be significantly better off a year from now?

Probably not, but we don’t think it will be a lot worse either.

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