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Editorial: Cuomo right to proceed cautiously as economic turbulence threatens

For those who thought that Democratic control of both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office guaranteed smooth sailing, we give you the state budget.

More precisely, we offer up the dispute between the two branches of government over how much money is available to spend as the April 1 budget deadline approaches. (Not that any law requires budgeters to spend all the money they can, but that’s another subject.)

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is the cautious one, eyeing what may be a weakening economy and state revenues that have fallen because of the misbegotten federal tax overhaul that sliced into the deduction for state and federal taxes. He is predicting a $2.3 billion shortfall on the budget proposal he issued in January. The Legislature doesn’t buy it. Especially in the Senate, leaders think there is more to spend.

That’s hardly surprising. Take just one example: However much any governor proposes to spend on aid to education, the Legislature always wants to increase it, usually substantially. That’s just the way they do business in the state Capitol. Lacking agreement by Tuesday, the matter may be referred to State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, who would issue a binding revenue estimate that would guide budgeting decisions. An independently elected state official, DiNapoli has established a reputation for objectivity. There is little reason to doubt he would issue a realistic estimate.

Nevertheless, under the circumstances, it’s wise to side with Cuomo. Signs of a slowing economy are evident, and revenues to the state are down. Those may not always be harbingers of serious trouble, but it’s foolish not to prepare. When doubts arise, its better to move ahead conservatively. That’s true in any state, but especially so in one that has shown little appetite for controlling its spending.

Cuomo, more than any governor in memory, has focused on the interests of taxpayers. He implemented a property tax cap and is pushing to make it permanent. He has reduced state income tax rates. And, as a spokesman pointedly noted, “We have never had to do a midyear budget correction, and we are not about to start now.”

The governor is willing to break his salutary record of on-time, or nearly on-time, budgets over this issue. We hope it doesn’t come to that, but Cuomo is right to take this seriously. A fully Democratic Legislature doesn’t know how to respond to the threat of declining revenues. New Yorkers are better off placing their budgetary bets on Cuomo.

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