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Cuomo's Budget Plan Draws Mixed Reviews From Watchdog

A budget watchdog group is giving New York Governor Andrew Cuomo a mixed grade on his budget proposals, saying he’s done a good job reigning in spending, but is making a mistake by shifting some significant costs to New York City.

The Citizens Budget Commission analyzed Governor Cuomo’s budget plan, and gives him high marks for controlling spending, says the group’s Tammy Gamerman.

“We gave the governor the best grade in fiscal discipline because this would be the sixth year that total spending was held at 2 percent growth,” said Gamerman “That is a remarkable achievement for New York.”

She says past governors, both Democrats and Republicans often approved budgets that raised spending in the double digits.

The proposed spending limit comes as New York once again has been named the highest taxed state in the nation by the Tax Foundation. Gamerman says, in fairness, though, that ranking is based on 2012 data.

“But it is true that we have been  slowing rate of growth in our spending, though not reducing it year to year,” she said. “So it will take some time for New York’s total tax burden to come down and to see any difference in our ranking compared to other states.”

The group has some criticisms of the governor’s spending plan. They say it doesn’t make sense to freeze Thruway tolls for four years, using money from the multi billion dollar bank settlements, as Cuomo has proposed. Gamerman says the governor has not yet fully revealed how he will fund the massive rebuilding of the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River, which is in mid construction.

“That essentially takes away a key funding source that you could be using for the bridge,” Gamerman said.

But Gamerman says the governor responsibly spends the rest of the settlement surplus on one time expenses.

Cuomo  gets some knocks for not spelling out more clearly his $100 billion worth of infrastructure plans, including rebuilding Penn Station and expanding the Long Island Railroad.  And Citizens Budget Commission says it’s not proven that the over one billion dollars in new economic development funds provide a clear pay off of new jobs and economic stimulus.

The group reserves its worst grade for the governor’s plan to shift significant costs to New York City by reversing a policy to help the City pick up Medicaid cost increases, and by slashing the City University’s budget. The governor has since backtracked on that proposal, saying that he merely wants to cut bureaucratic inefficiencies. He spoke on Time Warner Cable’s New York 1.

“At the end of the day what you’ll see is, it won’t cost New York City a penny ,” Cuomo said on the station on January 14th.

Gamerman says the governor has been revising his intentions, but his spending plan still clearly spells out reductions to the City.

“As it is proposed in the budget, it would be a significant impact on New York City’s financial plan,” Gamerman said.

New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio has said he intends to fight the cuts. The Mayor is due to testify at a legislative budget hearing on January 26th.

The governor’s budget will be revised before the year end deadline of March 31, as he negotiates with the Senate and the Assembly.

Legislators say they want to add more money for schools. Gamerman says if lawmakers want to keep the governor’s self imposed cap on spending, then they will have to find other things to cut.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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