Over the weekend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York’s Legislature agreed on a $168.3 billion budget for the 2019 fiscal year. Before Albany moves on to the next thing – which could be nothing in an election year – let’s revisit what it just did and what it means.

We won’t mince words about the budget process itself. It’s a joke.

The governor, Assembly and Senate propose their own budgets. Hearings are held. Lobbyists lobby. Ralliers rally. It’s all for show. The real decisions on spending come down to last-minute horse-trading among the “four men in a room” – Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeffrey Klein.

The deal they made last week closed a $4.4 billion deficit without a tax increase. The Legislature rejected most of the $1 billion in new taxes and fees proposed by the governor, except for a $100 million “assessment” (don’t call it a tax!) on opioid painkillers to fund drug treatment programs in the state. To fill the budget hole, they relied on some one-time revenues: $2 billion from the sale of nonprofit Fidelis Care sale to for-profit Centene Corp., an unexpected surplus in tax receipts ($750 million), settlement money and trims to the health bureaucracy.

Hold your congratulations. Yes, New Yorkers dodged new taxes. But lawmakers and the governor did nothing to address the long-term, structural deficits the state will face until they break their spending addiction. Stop kicking the can down the road. Make the hard choices. Voters sent you to Albany to look after their interests, not yours.

Cuomo, Heastie, Flanagan and Klein had no qualms about pouring another $475 million into a $2 billion slush fund called the State and Municipal Facilities Program. SAM, as it’s known, is a source of pork-barrel spending by legislators and the governor. SAM is just part of $11.7 billion in nonspecific spending in the budget for vague purposes such as “economic development” and “infrastructure.” There is no transparency, no criteria for deciding who gets the money and no accountability for how (or even whether) it is spent. It’s an absolute outrage. Fix it now.

The Legislature also approved $600 million for economic development without any new demands for transparency or accountability, even after the Joe Percoco corruption trial showed how lobbyists and developers game the system. We join the Citizens Budget Commission and other watchdogs who clamor for a “database of deals” showing all recipients of state money; for more scrutiny of contracts by the state Comptroller; and for requiring developers to put more of their own money at risk before taxpayers are asked to kick in.

These open-ended appropriations are just an open invitation to corruption. Stop doing it this way.

The budget also raised school spending by $914 million, to a record $26.7 billion.

The increase was more than Cuomo proposed ($769 million) but less than what the Assembly wanted ($1.5 billion). So-called Foundation Aid – directed to the poorest urban districts under a court decision – amounted to $619 million, half of the $1.25 billion the state Board of Regents wanted.

New York spends more per pupil than any other state, with no better results, yet wide disparities remain in the distribution of aid among wealthy and poor districts. The governor and the Legislature must overhaul the complicated, antiquated school aid formula to sort out this inequity.

On the policy front, the governor and Legislature preserved the (rotten) status quo on ethics and voting. They punted on campaign finance reform and closing the “LLC loophole.” They did not take up a push for measures making it easier for New Yorkers to vote, including early voting. Did these elected officials forget who elected them? Get to work on these pro-democracy, anti-corruption measures.

Legislators did manage to create a commission to explore a pay raise for themselves. Give us a break. This should be the lowest priority.

Meanwhile, Cuomo and legislative leaders pushed most policy issues aside in their haste to get out of Albany for Passover and Easter.

Shame on them for not passing the Child Victims Act, which would extend the statute of limitations to allow sexual abuse survivors to sue as adults. Legislators must take it up when the session resumes.

Lawmakers did change sexual harassment laws in the wake of Hollywood scandals. Among the changes: barring most non-disclosure agreements to silence victims, declaring that sex between police officers and people in their custody can never be consensual, and granting protections for workers in the “gig economy.”

In a small victory for the little guy, they also created a state-sponsored retirement savings plan, like the 529 college savings plan, that will allow private-sector workers to sock away money at little or no cost to employers. That is, if they have anything left after paying their taxes.

You may also like

Policy analyst: Cuomo wrong to write-off nursing home criticism as political conspiracy

“The importance of discussing this and getting the true facts out is to understand what did and didn’t happen so we can learn from it in case this happens again,” Hammond said. Read More

Pandemic, recession don’t bring down school budgets

Stephen T. Watson This year's school elections were delayed and then shifted entirely to voting by mail thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, which also shut down schools here and across the country. District officials worried this new method of Read More

The good, the bad and the ugly in Cuomo’s budget

“We are at the early stages of what shapes up as the biggest state and city fiscal crisis since the Great Depression,” said E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center. “Borrowing and short-term cuts aside, the budget doesn’t chart any clear path out of it.” Read More

Medicaid cuts make the state budget, with some tweaks

Bill Hammond, director of health policy at the conservative-leaning think tank the Empire Center, suggested this is because the proposed cuts are meant to slow the otherwise rapid growth in Medicaid spending, which means an increase is still possible.  Read More

Editorial: Cuomo’s problematic Medicaid maneuvers

“It’s everything that’s wrong with Albany in one ugly deal,” Bill Hammond, a health policy expert at the fiscally conservative Empire Center, told The Times. Read More

Gov. Cuomo’s Lawsuit on Pres. Trump’s Tax Cuts Dismissed

But according to the Empire Center, a non-profit group based in Albany, the overall impact of the Trump tax cuts actually benefited most state residents. Read More

NYS Healthcare Costs Rise Amid Report Of Pay-To-Play Allegations

Earlier this year, another fiscal watchdog group,  The Empire Center, found that  Cuomo’s budget office had delayed a $1.7 billion Medicaid payment from the previous fiscal year into the current fiscal year. Because of the delay, the governor was able to keep within a self imposed 2% yearly spending cap. Read More

After Hospitals’ Donation to New York Democrats, a $140 Million Payout

“It’s everything that’s wrong with Albany in one ugly deal,” said Bill Hammond, a health policy expert at the nonpartisan Empire Center who first noticed the budgetary trick. “The governor was able to unilaterally direct a billion dollars to a major interest group while secretly accepting its campaign cash and papering over a massive deficit in the Medicaid program.” Read More

Subscribe

Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100

General Inquiries: Info@EmpireCenter.org

Press Inquiries: Press@EmpireCenter.org

About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.

Empire Center Logo Enjoying our work? Sign up for email alerts on our latest news and research.
Together, we can make New York a better place to live and work!