Governor Andrew Cuomo; AP Photo
By Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau
ALBANY -- New York's budget negotiations will officially kick off Tuesday, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo will lay out a plan he says will fund new state-backed programs without raising taxes or fees.
Cuomo's budget address marks the start of a three-month negotiating window with state lawmakers, with a final spending plan due March 31.
A budget in place by April would give the state its third-straight on-time spending plan. The state hasn't had more than two in a row since at least 1975, according to Cuomo's budget office.
For his part, Cuomo last week said his budget would contain no surprises. He said Thursday he would use the budget proposal to advance his ideals as he balances the state's books.
"I'm going to take it more as an opportunity for what can we be doing affirmatively, but there's not going to be any major problems revealed," he said on 1300-AM (WGDJ) in Albany.
Cuomo's speech could serve as a balancing act among seemingly opposing political viewpoints.
He laid out a number of state-funded proposals in his State of the State address Jan. 9 that have been praised by his Democratic base. Among them were a full-day pre-kindergarten program, tax-free "hot spots" for burgeoning industries and a $1 billion "Green Bank" to invest in clean energy, among others.
Fiscal conservatives, meanwhile, have latched on to Cuomo's pledge not to raise taxes or fees.
Lawmakers and advocacy groups from across the political spectrum will be closely watching how Cuomo will seek to pay for the new programs without new revenue streams -- all while closing a budget gap expected to be in excess of $1 billion.
"I think it absolutely is possible. What we need to focus on is efficiency and rightsizing government," said Sen. David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown, Rockland County. "I think what the governor has shown through his leadership is that he's committed to doing that, and there's ways that we can do that."
Others disagree. Michael Long, chairman of the state Conservative Party, said Cuomo's State of the State promises were based on "fuzzy math."
"I think with what he said in the State of the State, he talked about enlarging government with a lot of new programs and expanded programs," Long said. "I don't see how you can advocate increased spending on programs and at the same time not raise taxes and fees."
If Cuomo is to deliver a third on-time budget, he'll have to gain some level of support from a new coalition in the state Senate.
Republicans and the breakaway, five-member Independent Democratic Conference now control the chamber as part of a power-sharing agreement. Cuomo's previous budgets were passed with an exclusive GOP majority in the Senate.
"I think what we're going to do is all sides will have a seat at the table in talking about what the priorities are in coming to a consensus so we can get the budget done on time and make sure we have a stable budget," said Carlucci, a member of the IDC.
Some business groups, meanwhile, said they look forward to hearing Cuomo's plan to reform the state's system for worker's compensation, which businesses have long criticized as being expensive for employers. In his State of the State, Cuomo signaled he would introduce a legislative package aimed at reshaping the state's current laws providing wage payments for those hurt in the line of work.
"I am anxiously looking forward to how the governor is going to address what I think should be necessary reforms to unemployment insurance and worker's comp," said Michael Durant, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.
Liberal-leaning groups said they will look to Cuomo to tighten the state's corporate-tax structure. In the past, the groups have called for changes to certain interest exemptions and the state's alternative-minimum tax structure.
"Large, profitable businesses have their own special tax breaks that most people don't even know about," said Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party. "We should eliminate those loopholes, and instead reduce property taxes for working families with a circuit breaker."
Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action New York, said Cuomo could boost funding for his education proposals by making changes to the state's corporate taxes.
"Without adding any new taxes, if we just close the loopholes that would add significant revenue to pay for badly needed educational programs," she said.
Cuomo is expected to offer more specifics on how he will address unfunded state mandates in the budget. Local governments have warned that state-mandated costs in their budgets are leading to major fiscal troubles, especially after a property-tax cap last year limited their revenue.
Joe Mareane, administrator for Tompkins County, said the tax cap was supposed to be coupled in 2011 with mandate reforms. But he said there's hasn't been enough to help municipalities.
"I think there is now a realization after a couple of years that just isn't happening," Mareane said. "I'm hoping the Legislature carries that sentiment into the session, so by the time we are all done, we're in a better place."