CBC report finds Cuomo budget grew by 3.7 percent
By Jimmy Vielkind
ALBANY — A common boast of the Cuomo administration — that state operating funds have grown less than two percent per year — is artificially propped up by a series of fiscal tricks, the Citizens Budget Commission said in a report issued on Tuesday morning.
In its second such report in several months, the nonpartisan, business-backed group said the actual growth in state operating spending between this year’s budget and last years is 3.7 percent.
The group tallied $219 million in debt that was pre-paid in the last fiscal year, and said another $490 million is planned for this fiscal year — which runs through March 31. The state is also delaying a $193 million planned payment to the New York Power Authority.
The CBC also notes that some spending has been re-classified in a way that budgeters can exclude it from the specifically defined “expenditures” of the state. Cuomo has been doing this for several years, including by slowly converting the STAR tax relief program from a rebate check (an expenditure) to an income tax credit (an offset on revenue) but keeping its benefits the same.
The STAR changes account for more than half of the $1.38 billion in such re-classifications that the CBC found. David Friedfel, the organization’s director of state studies, lauded Cuomo’s fiscal management in the early years of his administration.
“However, when describing the State’s financial choices, the fairest portrayal of spending growth should be utilized by adjusting for payment timing differences and accounting changes,” he wrote. “The governor should not undermine transparency in order to make his significant accomplishments fit an artificial spending growth cap.”
A Budget Division spokesman, Morris Peters, lauded the pre-payment of debt as sound fiscal management.
“As the report itself says, Governor Cuomo has been rigorous and effective in constraining state spending growth, achieving more fiscally responsible results than those of his predecessors," Peters said. "The enacted budget holds spending growth to historically low levels for the seventh consecutive year while balancing the budget and lowering taxes for all New Yorkers.”