gap year

What You Need to Know to Decode Gov. Cuomo’s $175 Billion-Plus State Budget Speech

Governor Andrew Cuomo is set to deliver his budget proposal Tuesday.
Governor Andrew Cuomo is set to deliver his budget proposal Tuesday. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will present his executive budget proposal, a $175 billion-plus fiscal path for the state. Then, leading up to an April 1 deadline, lawmakers in Albany will haggle over not only the money but major proposals the governor yokes to the spending plan.

Among the measures to expect from Cuomo are frameworks for legalizing marijuana and e-bikes and scooters.

Another thing to expect from the governor: Some sobering warnings about a looming $6.1 billion budget gap, widened by expanding Medicaid costs. The forecast already has influenced the no-frills city budget Mayor Bill de Blasio presented last week.

New Yorkers have a say in the process via their Assembly and Senate representatives. Here’s how the state budget works, how it could affect you and how you can get involved:

So why all this budget talk now?

It’s January!

The governor is required to propose a budget — New York’s annual financial plan — shortly after lawmakers convene the legislative session. The budget spells out how much money the state has and how that cash will be spent.

Cuomo is expected to present a record $175 billion-plus plan.

Is that it?

Nope. The Legislature reviews the governor’s budget, holding public hearings on topics that include transportation, education and health. It’s an all-or-nothing package, in which lawmakers will vote on the bills that make up the state budget.

“All-or-nothing” sounds ominous…

That’s not the only quirk of New York’s budget process: In 2004, the state’s top court granted governors leeway to pack their spending plans with policy proposals — and Cuomo has taken full advantage to pass such big-ticket items as a minimum wage hike.

Post-budget, Cuomo routinely vetoes bills that would cost state taxpayers money — arguing that such measures need to be discussed when the state is doing its financial planning.

Not to sound selfish, but why should I care about all this Albany wrangling?

The budget affects everything from how much money school districts get to how health care is administered to subway funding. Pretty much any service New Yorkers need involves state funds or taxing and spending authority.

The New York State Capitol Building in Albany
The New York State Capitol Building in Albany Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Anything different this time around?

Budget deficits are nothing new in New York — oscillating between $3 billion and $4 billion in recent years, and patched up via spending restraints and new programs to raise money.

But this year presents a $6.1 billion hole that needs plugging, the largest in nearly a decade. The gap is projected by the Cuomo-controlled state budget office to balloon to $8.5 billion in the next few years.

Wow — what’s causing the increase?

It’s largely attributed to rising spending on Medicaid, the insurance for low-income people, according to the Cuomo administration. While Medicaid is a federal program, the state (and localities) pick up a large share of the costs.

Enrollment in Medicaid is up because people are living longer and requiring more care, the administration says — adding that rising wages and receding federal funding play a part in boosting spending.

On New Year’s Eve, Cuomo announced a 1% cut to Medicaid payments to health care providers. On Tuesday, Cuomo is expected to reveal more cost-saving proposals.

How does the deficit affect NYC?

Again, Medicaid looms large. During his State of the State address earlier this month, Cuomo singled out the city and other localities’ Medicaid tabs, which the state has picked up in exchange for a property tax cap he secured six years ago for localities outside the city.

The state is paying $2 billion this year to cover the local cost of Medicaid in New York City — a sore point for Cuomo.

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks with State Senator Mike Gianaris (D-Queens) during the 2020 State of the State address in Albany, Jan. 8, 2020.
Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks with State Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Queens) during the 2020 State of the State address in Albany, Jan. 8, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

While Cuomo didn’t directly say he’ll ask the city to fork over $2 billion, the insinuation was enough to rattle de Blasio.

Cuts to Medicaid could endanger the city’s public hospital system, where 70% of inpatient stays include people who have Medicaid or are uninsured, de Blasio said during his budgetary address.

Any major local impact beyond health?

The governor also renewed his call to change the way school districts get funding — without offering details. De Blasio is already taking precautionary measures.

Do my state reps have any power here?

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and their members gain certain advantages in crafting an all-or-nothing budget package that includes big and small changes to state laws.

Lawmakers get political cover to vote on measures that would otherwise be risky political moves — such as congestion pricing, which passed as part of last year’s budget plan.

New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester).
New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester). Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Bundled together with items that a legislator asked for or otherwise supports  — like money to rebuild the gym at their local high school — makes the package an easier pill to swallow.

Legislative leaders can also haggle significant changes to the governor’s proposals — as seen in criminal justice reforms that passed as part of last year’s budget.

Bottom line: It’s difficult to vote against keeping New York running.

Who else has a say?

Mayors — including de Blasio — and representatives from all over the state, as well as organizations and interest groups, will descend on Albany to make their case for more money or to stave off various proposals.

There’s no love lost, of course, between de Blaiso and Cuomo. But it’s worth noting that last year de Blasio got a significantly warmer welcome from the Democratic-controlled Legislature than when Republicans held the Senate in previous years.

But really, who decides in the end?

After a month of public hearings, it’s all one giant negotiation — entirely conducted behind closed doors.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo embraces Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie after delivering his 2020 State of the State address in Albany, Jan. 8, 2020.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo embraces Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie after delivering his 2020 State of the State address in Albany, Jan. 8, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

There’s horse-trading among the governor’s office, and the leaders of the State Senate and Assembly, all Democrats. You can count on a mad, opaque scramble leading up to the April 1 deadline.

Then suddenly, an agreement emerges — seemingly from the ether.

That doesn’t sound healthy. Is there anything I can do?

Call or write your local elected officials — let them know what your priorities are and if you disagree with their stances.

Don’t know who they are or how to contact them?

You can find your Assembly member here and your State Senator here. You can also follow their social media or the reporters who cover the state Capitol.

And check out THE CITY — we’ll be following the budget to April 1 and beyond.

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