Yesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his budget proposal for New York. In it, he calls for a $136.4 billion in state spending with an additional infusion of over $6 billion in federal assistance for Hurricane Sandy repairs, bringing the total to $142.6 billion.
In the budget, the governor asked for increased funding of schools, especially in central New York, by $889 million or 4% from last year.
Also funded is $35.9 million to implement the state’s new gun control law. $32.7 million is set to be spent on creating a state-wide database for gun license holders. An additional $3.2 million will cover staffing needs to run gun buyers through New York’s new supplemental database in addition to the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check system.
The budget also calls for the closing of Beacon and Bayview Correctional Facilities. The governor assured the 273 workers who stand to lose their current jobs that they would be absorbed into the current system.
The budget does not call for any new taxes. Instead, it is relying on additional fees and cracking down on traffic infractions. The legislation outlined would disallow violators of the traffic law to plea down to lesser charges. The governor stated, "This practice threatens public safety and leads to a loss of $58 million annually… To curb the practice of pleading down speeding tickets, the Executive Budget advances legislation which will restrict plea bargaining, except in limited circumstances documented by the court."
The state plans to raise money from three new casinos set to be built in the coming years, but cannot count on fees and tax revenues for this fiscal year.
In 2011, in the governor’s first year in office, he took a hard-line stance on the budget. Complaining that the ‘budget cuts’ were not cuts at all, but merely decreases in spending in the future that never materialized, the newly elected Governor Cuomo put a freeze on most of the state’s expenditures. Riding a wave of popularity, Cuomo got the first on-time budget passed in several years with little opposition.
In 2011 and 2012, the state’s budget was kept under $133 billion. Now, the state’s expenditures will increase to $136.4 billion if the governor has his way. This comes as tax revenues have fallen and the state’s population has grown at a slower rate than other states as residents move out of state. Upping the fees on speeding tickets will amount to a projected gain of $58 million annually, according to the governor.
Every year, the revenues coming into the state fall short of expectations and budget gaps remain. Governments on all levels continue to increase spending while fighting tax increases. Instead they rely on fees and penalties to make up the difference which rarely satisfies their fiscal needs, but succeeds in infuriating those on the giving end of the fee or penalty.
A reliance on fines and fees creates a demand for penalties on drivers. This makes the state allocate funds to things like red-light cameras which have shown correlations to increased auto-mobile accidents because drivers are either blinded or distracted by the flash of the camera or slam on their brakes at yellow lights, leading to rear-end collisions.
Pensions are also being recalibrated to ease the burden on local municipalities who are stuck with larger parts of the bill for teachers and school administrators. The state’s teachers unions have been highly critical of the plan that calls for teachers to contribute more to their pension plan over 25 years or more, calling it "outrageous" and a "bait and switch."
New York was driven to economic despair under Governor Patterson and Spitzer because of a budget plan to borrow and spend more than the state was taking in, building up spending over time, refusing to implement real and immediate cuts to current spending and cutting jobs in areas like Beacon that rely on the state’s correctional facilities to stimulate their local economies, while spending $35.9 million on things like creating a state database for legal gun owners while the federal government already has such a database.
It may be because Cuomo was in the spotlight following the immediate crisis of 2008 and a newly-reinstated Republican majority in the Senate that kept Cuomo fiscally conservative. Now that this is an election year and can likely garner support from the Independent Democratic Caucus in the Senate to swing the vote, he is looking more like his father and previous two predecessors when it comes to New York's finances.