Press Mention State Budget

CBC: Cuomo uses 'gimmicks' to low-ball spending growth

February 14, 2017

The Citizens Budget Commission has a word for the tweaks in spending and revenue that Gov. Andrew Cuomo used to hold the operating spending increase in his executive budget under 2 percent: “gimmicks.”

The commission, a non-partisan, business-backed watchdog that has been commenting on state and city finances since 1932, on Tuesday released its analysis of the Democratic governor’s spending plan, and concluded that operating spending is on track to increase by 3.2 percent.

This contradicts one of Cuomo’s key fiscal talking points: that he has held growth in operations spending beneath a 2 percent cap for each of his years in office, a feat not matched by any recent predecessor of either party.

“In its intent, the cap is financially prudent,” the CBC wrote. “But it has fostered the use of fiscal gimmicks that make the state’s budget more complicated to understand and undermine transparency.”

The report closely tracks a budget analysis released Friday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who also said Cuomo’s budget was growing by more than he lets on. DiNapoli pointed to the pre-payment of debt, paying some personnel costs with capital funds and changes to the STAR tax relief program as ways of re-classifying spending without actually creating savings.

The CBC seized on the STAR changes and the personnel shifts, but also pointed to $500 million in unspecified cuts that state agencies are expected to achieve under the budget and a Cuomo proposal to delay payments to the New York Power Authority. The CBC analysis was first reported Monday by the Buffalo News.

Morris Peters, a spokesman for Cuomo’s Division of the Budget, said the proposed personnel shifts were in line with existing budget spending and that STAR changes classify it in line with other tax relief programs. He wrote in an email that the NYPA delay was a routine gap-closing acting and that the agency savings were similar to a program in New York City that the CBC praised.

In a statement, Peters questioned the CBC.

“This is the seventh budget to hold spending growth to 2 percent — a record of restraint that is unmatched,” he said. “One might think a self-appointed fiscal watchdog group would recognize and celebrate such fiscal responsibility, but their relevancy is based on their critiques.”

By Jimmy Vielkind