The state’s projected $6.2 billion operating deficit was the elephant in the room – pun intended – when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivered his State of the State address on Wednesday.
Republicans and other fiscal watchdogs will point out, rightly, that the governor needs to put forth his administration’s solutions for closing that Empire State-sized gap. Cuomo deferred answers to that question to later in the month, when he introduces his 2020 state budget proposal.
The governor did make a passing reference to the deficit that is driven by Medicaid costs. He noted that the state restructured Medicaid before, “and we’re going to have to do it again this year, and we will.”
With hard choices to be made, this year’s budget presentation should be a compelling one.
The governor mostly hewed to programs and proposals that do not carry high price tags, yet did not retreat an inch from his emphasis on progressive policies.
“New York at her best is the progressive capital of the nation,” he declared.
Cuomo did propose a big-ticket item in his package of $300 million to “reimagine the Erie Canal.” But the plan would be funded by the State Power Authority, not the state’s general fund, and is spread over five years.
Then there is $3 billion in proposed borrowing for the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, which voters must approve. It would address a range of environmental concerns, from wildlife habitation rebuilding to flood mitigation efforts to improving fish hatcheries.
“New York is out of balance,” he said of the environment, and we owe it to future generations “to leave our planet cleaner and greener.”
Doing away with plastic foam containers, a previously announced initiative, is another part of his environmental agenda.
At the end of 2020, New Yorkers could be smoking more cannabis and doing less vaping.
A deal to legalize marijuana ran aground in the State Senate last year, and the governor vows to try again. Having recreational marijuana made available everywhere is not high on our list of priorities.
Cuomo’s efforts to restrict flavored nicotine products for vaping is a good one. Too many young people are already hooked.
One plan of the governor’s that gives us pause is mandating that employers whose companies employ between five and 99 workers give five days of paid sick time each year. Cuomo does propose a sweetener: a cut in the corporate franchise tax for some small businesses. Few companies will turn down a tax cut, but the allocation of sick time is better left to employers and employees to work out, without government stepping in.
The governor set ambitious goals for the legislative year that began Wednesday. We look forward to hearing how he plans to address our ticking fiscal time bomb.