If budgets are statements of values, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo clearly values the fight he is waging against a federal tax bill he views as both onerous and directed at states like New York.
Cuomo opened and closed his annual budget address Tuesday by citing the reduced deductibility of state and local taxes, along with large health care cuts, as the biggest drivers in constructing his 2018-19 budget. The numbers, indeed, are big. The uncertainty they create is real.
When you put it all together — tenuous economic times, an election year and an increasingly restive State Legislature — it’s hard to know how realistic Cuomo’s $168 billion spending plan is.
A plan to fight Manhattan traffic
It’s loaded with good proposals, and others not quite so good. Some pitches were notable for their absence. Primary among them was the meat on the bones of Cuomo’s plan to restructure New York’s tax code to shield residents from the loss of some federal tax deductions. His two main ideas — to shift from an income tax paid by workers to a payroll tax paid by employers, and to let municipalities set up charitable funds to which taxpayers would make deductible donations in lieu of taxes — are intriguing. But Cuomo said some details will be revealed Wednesday. Similarly, a plan to reduce traffic in New York City while raising revenue for public transit is due later this week, though Cuomo did say it would use cashless tolling to charge drivers who enter a certain zone in Manhattan. In determining the mix of hours, fees and kinds of vehicles charged, Cuomo should prioritize the needs of the city.
His support for a 2.5 percent budget increase for the judicial branch in exchange for judges certifying that their courtrooms are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to reduce backlogs would force more accountability in a branch of government that has little. And while we always have objected to his practice of stuffing policy items into the budget, it’s good to know that by including them in his budget Cuomo will fight for criminal justice, voting, ethics and sexual harassment reforms.
Smaller raise for schools will bring fight
Some of his $1 billion in revenue-raising ideas are worth pursuing, like charging a surcharge on opioids. His requirement that taxes on internet sales be uniformly collected also would help counties get 50 percent of the revenue. Whether his proposals are enough to offset a $4 billion deficit and $2 billion loss from federal health care cuts remains to be seen. Cuomo’s plan to fund a study on the impacts of legalizing recreational marijuana could eventually result in more dollars; legalization has been a revenue boost in states that have done that.
While his proposed smaller-than-anticipated 3 percent increase in state aid for education will spark a food fight, we hope it’s part of a larger conversation about how New York funds K-12 education. But his plan to reduce the state’s already insufficient contribution to community colleges by $18 million (2.4 percent) clearly is not wise.
Cuomo finished by telling lawmakers they’ll fight together for New York’s future, hoping to turn their frequently fractious relationship into an alliance against their federal foe. It’s just one more uncertainty in a year overflowing with doubt.