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Blair Horner: Washington Takes A Giant Step Toward Wrapping Up NY's State Budget

The swirling controversies and prognostications about the future of embattled Governor Cuomo have dominated New York headlines.  One of the big questions has been, “How will the governor and state lawmakers work together to hammer out a new state budget due by the end of this month?”

While that question remains in the minds of many, the Congress has quietly stepped in and helped pave the way for a state budget agreement.

The U.S. Senate has approved a federal stimulus package that tracks the one that the House approved.  It is expected that the President will sign off on the deal later this week.  The top-line issues of that deal have been that the vast majority of Americans will soon be receiving payments from the federal government.  The legislation provides a direct payment of $1,400 for a single taxpayer, or $2,800 for a married couple that files jointly, plus $1,400 per dependent.  Individuals earning up to $75,000 would get the full amount, as would married couples with incomes up to $150,000.  The size of the check would shrink for those making slightly more, with a hard cut-off at $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for married couples.

The stimulus package extends unemployment benefits from the federal government through September 6th at $300 a week on top of state benefits.  There are other provisions that provide help for health coverage, fund public health and vaccination programs, and financial support to businesses suffering from pandemic lockdowns.

Less widely discussed is that the agreement sends $350 billion to state, local and tribal governments for costs incurred up until the end of 2024.  That money is apportioned to each of the states based on their unemployment rate.

Assuming all goes well this week, New York will receive $23.5 billion through the end of 2024.  The assistance is supposed to be split between state and local governments.  Thus, it is expected that New York will receive over $12.5 billion going toward direct state aid and the rest of the funds allocated for education, transit, local governments, and other programs.  New York City will receive $6 billion.  Nearly $4 billion will go to the state’s counties and $825 million for its small cities, towns, and villages.  New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority gets $6 billion.  Schools K-12 will receive $9 billion. 

Moreover, New York’s colleges and universities will get $2.6 billion.  New York’s educational system – particularly its community colleges and small liberal arts colleges – have been taking a financial beating due to the pandemic and this support is desperately needed.

The massive aid package should go a long way toward helping Governor Cuomo and the legislative leaders to come to an agreement.

The federal stimulus – which has not yet been approved and the details of which are still being sorted out – is the only good news state lawmakers have received in recent weeks.

Allegations about the Cuomo Administration’s handling of information about COVID deaths in nursing homes, as well as the governor’s personal behavior toward legislators and female members of his staff have impacted the legislative process.  More and more, lawmakers and editorial pages are urging the governor to resign; he has pledged not to do so.

Time will tell how that all plays out.  But the governor and state lawmakers are sent to Albany to do a job and getting the budget in place for the new fiscal year is at the top of the list.  The controversies as well as the state’s pandemic-driven desperate financial picture had made the prospects for an agreement very dim.

But it looks like the Biden Administration and the Congress have shown up just in time.  If the stimulus legislation is approved by the President by the end of the week, state lawmakers will have two weeks to re-engineer a state budget that offsets potential cuts in important programs while providing real support to New Yorkers in need.

Hopefully, the governor and the Legislature can make it happen despite all the turmoil surrounding state government.

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors.They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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