State officials predict tight budget

Oct 3, 2012

Top state officials say it is going to be another difficult year for the state budget. Governor Andrew Cuomo has already told state agencies to keep spending flat, and those that depend on state programs are not counting on big increases.

While the budget plan is not due until January, Cuomo has already told state agencies not to add any additional spending as they work out the proposals they will give to his budget office.

Budget Director Robert Megna says the extremely slow economic recovery means another year of austerity. “It’s going to be another difficult budget year,” said Megna.  

Megna, under the governor direction, worked with the legislature to cut $10 billion two years ago. This year spending plan will not require anything as drastic, but the budget director says Cuomo is seeking to keep the total state spending increase, which includes health care and education, at under two percent.   

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli agrees that 2013 won’t be easy. "It’s going to be another tough year,” DiNapoli said.

DiNapoli says revenues are coming in slightly below projections, but he says things have at least stabilized from the recent past, when the state lurched from multi-billion dollar crisis to crisis.

But the comptroller warns that if there are too many more years of austerity, public services will suffer.

“Year after year of having to do more with less, after a certain point you probably end up doing less with less,” said DiNapoli. “But I don’t think we have a choice. The money is not there.”

Stephen Acquario, with the New York Association of Counties, says counties are already there. “We’re  doing less with less now,” he said.

Acquario appeared with stat Budget Director Megna at a forum on the rising costs of unfunded state mandates for local governments, sponsored by SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute.  Acquario says without changes in rules regarding pension payouts, union contracts and other issues, counties face a  $4.2 billion budget deficit by 2020.

“Eventually the  math overwhelms any budget,” he said.  

Cuomo has appointed a commission to study which mandates can be eliminated, it has not yet issued a final report. Megna, at the forum, says the administration has already enacted a new pension tier for future public workers and curbed the spiraling growth in Medicaid spending. He says local governments should expect only “incremental progress” in the immediate future.

Megna says numerous paper reports that are now required could be eliminated, for instance. Acquario, with the counties, says in the long run, though, local governments are going to need more state aid, or he predicts, counties will be “socially bankrupt” due to drastic cuts in services.