The seemingly slapdash nature of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $2 billion education bond was reinforced during Tuesday’s budget address when the gambit got a makeover.
Unveiled by the governor two weeks ago during the State of the State address as an initiative to provide “the technology of tomorrow today,” the bond will be stretched further with an undetermined portion now repurposed for the construction of new prekindergarten classrooms. This latest twist appears to be driven by Cuomo’s push for full-day pre-k across the state, which (as he acknowledged) will cause an influx of students that some school districts can’t currently accommodate.
The last update to New York State’s financial plan, issued in early November, projected state operating funds budget gaps as far as the eye could see. Nothing new there: out-year projected shortfalls have been a feature of state budgets in New York since the current accounting system was enacted 30 years ago, and Governor Cuomo could accurately argue the gaps have gotten smaller on his watch.
But starting a few months ago, the governor began making a much bolder claim. The state, he said, would have a $2 billion budget surplus within the next budget window. He would accomplish this, he said, by holding spending growth to 2 percent a year.
In the broadest terms, the math of that promise added up. If you took the financial plan table from November, and allowed projected spending to grow by only 2 percent a year, and kept projected receipts the same, you’d have a surplus of better than $2 billion by the end of the period.
However, leading up to today’s budget presentation, the question was: how would he actually achieve this? With 40 percent of state operating funds expenditures tied up in school aid and Medicaid, and thus presumably off limits to reduction, and with the attrited-down state workforce now entering a contractual phase in which base pay raises are due after a three-year freeze, and with other hunks of spending in tough-to-reduce categories like pensions and debt service, where would the governor choose to find additional savings necessary to turn a projected 2017 budget gap of nearly $3 billion into a “surplus of $2 billion?
The answer: he hasn’t. Not really.
When Gov. Cuomo won passage of what he described as a “historic” and “transformational” budget early in his tenure, one of the key details he touted was the enactment of a permanent state law capping annual increases in school aid to the rate of growth in personal income.
“This action will help reduce the state’s large out-year gap between spending and revenues,” the governor’s March 2011 press release explained.
Now, after agreeing to boost state school aid above the cap in this year’s budget, the governor is all but promising to do the same in 2014-15.
Eight days past the statutory deadline, Governor Cuomo’s Division of the Budget (DOB) has finally released a required mid-year update to the state financial plan.
The report is not only late for a third consecutive year; at first glance, in what’s becoming a Cuomo administration tradition, it features minimal new information. For example, the 2014-15 budget gap is still projected at $1.7 billion, even though data from state Comptroller DiNapoli’s office suggest it will be much smaller. More analysis to follow in this space.
Meanwhile, and probably not by coincidence, DiNapoli was the only player in the state budget development process who met Wednesday’s deadline for issuing revenue estimates in advance of next Friday’s statutory deadline for a Quick Start consensus forecast. The Senate Finance and Assembly Ways & Means Committee staffs, on both the majority and minority sides, are overdue in preparing their revenue estimates, presumably awaiting the Mid-Year report and DOB’s 2013 Economic, Spending and Revenue Methodologies report, also released today .
For a third consecutive year, Governor Andrew Cuomo is late in issuing a mid-year update to New York State’s financial plan.
The governor is thus once again in violation of Section 23 of the State Finance Law, which requires him to update the financial plan “within 30 days of the close of a quarter to which it pertains.” That would have been last Wednesday.
Reportedly, the terms of a tentative agreement between the teachers’ union and board of education in Westchester’s Bedford Central School District would do away with step increases for newly hired teachers.
For years, school boards (and mayors and other local government officials, for that matter) have been clamoring for repeal of the Triborough Amendment – which allows for automatic “step” pay increases even after collectively-bargained contracts expire — as a way to help reign in spending. Under Triborough, employers are at a distinct disadvantage in the bargaining process as there’s no impetus for employee groups to accept anything less than what the law guarantees in step increases. (more…)
Governor Andrew Cuomo has little hope of closing the state’s projected budget gaps over the next few years if he doesn’t continue to clamp a tight lid on state operations costs — and to that end, he’s pushing for the closure and consolidation of more state prisons and institutions for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.
Monterey "shock" grads marching
The latest shoe to drop is the closure of four more correctional facilities, which is expected to generate a savings of $30 million a year. The move was announced last Friday, ensuring it received limited attention in weekend news media coverage. From a budgetary standpoint, however, Cuomo deserves more attention and credit for his institutional downsizing moves—even though he isn’t promoting them with anything approaching the hype he reserves for, say, token “tax cuts” in a budget that actually raised overall taxes.
Twenty-seven* school districts were seeking to override the state’s property tax cap in yesterday’s school budget votes. Twenty of these districts — or 74 percent — failed to collect the needed 60 percent supermajority to pass, according to news accounts. The closest result was in the Cornwall School District in Orange County, which fell two votes short of an override supermajority.
Noting that New Yorkers had been treated last week to “almost daily political perp walks” involving “a parade of office-holders,” an editorial in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal pointed out: “The bigger scandal in the Empire State continues to be what the politicians do that’s legal.”
Defending the new state budget’s three-year “millionaire’s tax” extension in a Newsday op-ed today, Governor Cuomo writes: “The extension doesn’t take place until 2015, the year our financial projections show a $5-billion budget gap. By extending this tax, which generates $2 billion, the state addresses the future gap.”
Huh? Where did that “$5 billion budget gap” come from?