ALBANY — With a deadline looming to finish work on a complicated state budget amid a plunge in revenue, Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned Sunday he is prepared to impose "drastic cuts" in spending.
Corresponding to the new reality of interacting while maintaining social distance, lawmakers were planning to return to the statehouse today to authorize acting on legislation through the use of digital technology rather than physically convening in the Senate and Assembly chambers.
A balanced budget, by law, must be in place by Wednesday, the beginning of the next state fiscal year.
Meanwhile, lawmakers and Cuomo were getting barraged with messages from both fiscal hawks and advocates for more spending for health care and education.
Cuomo has been unwavering in his insistence that New York should refrain from trying to tax its way out of the deepening fiscal crisis triggered by an abrupt slide in tax revenue.
Arguing the new federal stimulus legislation failed to deliver what the state needs, Cuomo said, “The help we were waiting for from Washington never came."
Then he added: "We have to make drastic cuts to the budget like you have never seen.”
A watchdog group, Citizens Budget Commission, called on state leaders to hold off action on policy initiatives now stitched into the state budget and take them up later in the legislative session.
Among measures that should be delayed, the commission suggested, are those that would expand the governor's powers and broaden prevailing wage requirements for publicly subsidized construction projects.
"They would be better off doing a bare bones budget, with minimal policy changes," said David Friedfel, the commission's director of state studies. "You're not going to get a full and open debate right now because people are so distracted" by pandemic-related concerns.
But several progressive Democrats in the Legislature and advocates for health care and education funding urged Cuomo to deal with the crisis through higher income taxes on wealthy New Yorkers.
“Every time the governor gets up from that table, after he talks about not attaching a dollar figure to peoples lives, he goes into a back room to negotiate with the Legislature and says he wants to continue his mission to cut Medicaid,” said Sen. Gustav Rivera, D-the Bronx, chairman of the Senate Health Committee.
Proposed changes to the Medicaid program would result in cuts to funding used in the recruitment and retention of workers who assist home-bound people with disabilities, said Bryan O'Malley, director of the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association.
"Not one dollar should be cut from our budget," said O'Malley. "State leaders must step up to raise taxes on multi-millionaires and billionaires."
Maintaining the $2 trillion federal stimulus legislation falls far short of meeting New York's needs, Cuomo directly criticized Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, the Senate minority leader who contends New Yorkers will benefit from the package.
"It would be nice if he passed a piece of legislation that actually helped the state of New York," the governor said.
Schumer said the federal legislation delivers a total of $112 billion to New York, including $25 billion for hospitals, $33 billion for small businesses and $1 billion for schools.
The senator also suggested New York, the epicenter for the contagion, will get more federal assistance. "There is much more to be done in order to vanquish and recover from this horrible virus," he said.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com.