Friday, March 27, 2020

Cuomo Proposes ‘Adjustable’ Budget as New York Projected to Lose $10-15 Billion in Tax Revenue
MAR 26, 2020 | 4:57 PM

In this April 4, 2018 file photo, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference in New York with Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers.(Frank Franklin II / AP)

ALBANY — Economic uncertainty sparked by the coronavirus pandemic and a potential $15 billion loss in revenue has Gov. Cuomo looking for some leeway when it comes to state spending.

The governor floated the idea of a flexible fiscal plan on Thursday that would allow his administration to adjust the state budget throughout the year based on the amount of revenue the state is actually bringing in.

“We know the revenues are down. We don’t know how much, we don’t know when the economy comes back. We don’t know the rate at which the economy comes back,” Cuomo said. “So, you don’t know, you don’t know, you don’t know and you don’t know. But you have to do a budget with all those unknowns.”

The governor — who estimated New York could be out $10-15 billion in revenue as a result of the pandemic — called the deadly COVID-19 disease a “double whammy," saying state and local governments are spending more than projected to fight the virus while grappling with an unprecedented loss in revenue from taxes as businesses remain shuttered and the stock market nosedives.

Cuomo budget director Robert Mujica promised transparency would be a key component as the state re-calculates on a quarterly basis, ensuring local governments and schools are prepared for all economic scenarios.

“We’ll adjust spending according to how the revenues come in,” Mujica said. “Everyone will see those. Everyone will see those, the comptroller will see those, and the goal is to be transparent upfront so that school districts see ‘this is what would happen if we don’t reach the revenue forecast.'”

Both Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said Thursday that they believe talks are on track to pass a budget before the end of the fiscal year next week.

It remains unclear when lawmakers will return to Albany ahead of the approaching April 1 deadline and how they will sort out the logistics of discussing policy proposals and the budget bill and vote on the measures.

Stewart-Cousins said she’s OK with granting the executive a little wiggle room given the severity of the situation, but she doesn’t believe the governor’s power should go unchecked.

“We understand the need to have the nimbleness to react when if something has to happen but I would never be in favor of giving wide latitude without the involvement of the Legislature,” Stewart-Cousins told WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom.

David Friedfel, with the fiscal watchdog group Citizens Budget Commission, said lawmakers can best retain their co-equal status by passing a bare-bones budget and coming back at a later date if necessary.

“The Legislature should be directly involved, not give that authority to the governor to implement,” Friedfel said. “That being said, this is a historic event and, not making light of the revenue shortfalls, but the state has closed massive gaps before and it can do it again.”

Cuomo, Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) are also hoping to see more help come from the federal government as the response to the coronavirus crisis stretches the state’s coffers.

The state is receiving $5 billion as part of the $2 trillion federal stimulus, which is earmarked only for coronavirus response.

“We don’t know what Washington may do to address the situation in the future, if anything,” Cuomo said.

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