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Editorial: In the face of a state budget deficit, where are the cuts?

In presenting a $168 billion spending plan on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo eschewed the usual bells and whistles and just used the whistle to signal trouble ahead, much of it, in his estimation, brought on by Washington.

He’s not wrong. But he needs to make sure that he is not adding to the problem by raising $1 billion in the coming year in tax increases, “shifts” or as reported in The News, “closing loopholes.”

It’s a slippery slope. Where are the budget cuts? Surely, in the face of a $4.4 billion deficit, not everything is sacrosanct.

The Republican-led tax overhaul plan in Washington seemed designed to persuade many New Yorkers to buy a ticket to lower-taxed states, as the governor said, to Florida or North Carolina, where they don’t have to shovel snow.

So Cuomo has come up with a budget to restructure the tax code to avoid the “negative consequences of the federal tax cut plan” where “83 percent of the benefits go to the top 1 percent.”

The good news in the plan is that Cuomo proposes to maintain a previously enacted middle-class income tax cut, which would lower the rate to record levels. The state also has a property tax relief program the governor wants to continue. He wants to continue the STAR rebate program for school taxes.

But he also wants an increase in education and health care spending. Under his proposal, school aid would rise 3 percent. Everyone supports the increase, according to Cuomo. Except those who don’t.

School advocates want more. More reasoned voices want to know what the state is getting in return. Educational outcomes do not come close to matching the money being poured in. Yes, “community” schools, after-school programs in high need districts and other initiatives cost money but Albany should make sure that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth in higher student graduation rates and test scores.

The increase in health care, Cuomo said, was necessary because “we just took a $2 billion cut from the federal government with more to come.”

The governor claims the state is starting with a $4 billion deficit (the middle-class tax cut costs that amount, he said). Add the proposed increased in education and health spending and the state has a revenue problem. Cuomo says he is averse to raising taxes, citing a record of “lowest spending increases in modern history,” under 2 percent “and I’ve been cutting taxes.”

But he does seek to increase revenues. His plan predominantly involves applying a surcharge to opioid manufacturers. It punishes those he says are killing people. The surcharge would also provide incentive to doctors and hospitals to stop prescribing opioids.

Cuomo’s budget proposal also targets health care insurers who he said, “just got a 40 percent Christmas gift from President Trump.” They were not expecting it, so why not share? Cuomo wants to take part of the windfall as a one-time revenue raiser.

Only one person is governor, and he has a monumental task in devising a budget that takes care of all the state’s needs — and wants.

But, as Cuomo has previously recognized, New York is an over-governed state. It is weighted down by generous employee benefits aided by generous union contracts. It has the some of the nation’s highest per-student spending on education, and for results that are no better than average.

Cuomo is believed to have presidential aspirations. He should return to the formula that brought him into power and work across party lines. Fight the bloat. Do it in an election year for governor and the Legislature. Show the country how it can be done.

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