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Albany faces tough finances, tougher policy in budget talks

Cuomo’s $168.2 billion budget proposal contends with a $4.4 billion deficit and the threat of billions of dollars more lost in federal Medicaid aid.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is facing his toughest

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is facing his toughest budget since 2011. Photo Credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Albany - Legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo facing their toughest budget since 2011 will spend the next 13 days negotiating an election-year spending plan that will breach the state’s 2 percent cap on spending growth and boost school spending by more than percent, according to their budget proposals.

Cuomo’s $168.2 billion budget proposal contends with a $4.4 billion deficit and the threat of billions of dollars more lost in federal Medicaid aid. Those fiscal pressures are pitted against the political imperatives of delivering election-year largesse and confronting burning issues, including gun control and what could be landmark sexual harassment legislation.

The independent Citizens Budget Commission already warns that Cuomo’s budget proposal to the Legislature doesn’t adequately contain spending and relies too much on new revenue, some of which “may be speculative,” including $750 million in projected revenue from conversion of a nonprofit insurance firm to a for-profit company.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli warns of rising debt, forecasts of future deficits and murky economic revenues that taxpayers may have to pay for in post-election budgets.

Here are five of the biggest flashpoints in the budget due by April 1:

Spending

Cuomo would increase overall spending by 2.3 percent over the current $163 billion spending plan, according to the state comptroller’s analysis. That would breach the state cap of 2 percent growth Cuomo had set in first term, although the governor insists his numbers show spending growth is within the cap. The Senate’s Republican majority would hold the overall spending increase to 2 percent. The Assembly would increase spending by 9.3 percent.

School aid

Cuomo proposes to increase school aid by 3 percent, or $768 million. The Senate would increase school aid statewide by 3.8 percent. The Assembly would increase school aid statewide by 5.6 percent. Cuomo and the Senate also propose increasing aid for publicly funded but privately operated charter schools. That proposal is opposed by the Assembly.

Taxes

Cuomo proposes no increase to broad-based taxes. However, he wants more than $750 million in narrowly focused taxes such as a tax on opioid prescriptions to help fund anti-addition programs, taxation of all internet sales, and new motor vehicle fees such as a new $8 surcharge for a pre-licensing course to obtain a driver’s license. The Senate rejects all of taxes and fees. The Assembly supports Cuomo’s taxes and fees and proposes a new income surcharge for top earners. 

Sexual harassment

Cuomo, the Assembly and Senate agree in concept to prohibit settlements of sexual harassment cases involving government from being paid by taxpayers and to strengthen laws to define and prove sexual harassment in the public and private sectors. The Assembly also would void company policies that prohibit employees from taking sexual harassment cases to court. All leaders said they want to act on this issue that has seared the national consciousness following scandals in Hollywood. But Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) said the Senate Republican proposal doesn’t go far enough to protect victims. She wants independent counsels to handle sexual harassment cases in state government, rather than Cuomo’s proposal that investigations be done by a new office in the Joint Commission on Public Ethics headed by appointees of Cuomo and legislative leaders.

Gun control

Cuomo wants to build on his 2013 SAFE Act measure by forcing assailants in domestic violence cases to surrender any firearms. He also seeks to ban “bump stocks” that can make a semi-automatic rifle fire like an illegal automatic rifle. The Senate Republicans’ gun package would focus on school safety rather than reducing the availability of firearms. It would provide state funding for retired police officers to be armed school “resource officers” in schools, and assigning police to New York City schools. The Assembly’s focus is on gun control: Banning “bump stocks;” creating a 10-day waiting period instead of the current three-day period before a gun can be obtained; and, like Cuomo, preventing abusers in domestic violence cases from buying guns.

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