NEW YORK — No state budgetary decision can prevent an economic downturn, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday, before asserting the federal government is responsible for New York’s estimated two-year $50 billion deficit due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The governor, his top aides and lawmakers have weighed how to close the state’s widening multi-billion-dollar budget gap, or raise revenue and make cuts at the same time.
The looming statewide deficit stands at an estimated $50 billion over two years, with a $30 billion state shortfall, a $12 billion hole for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and projected $9 billion in New York City.
“Our deficit is so large that whatever the state [does] would have a negative effect on the economy,” Cuomo said Monday during a conference call with reporters.
Officials anticipate broad 20% budget cuts as they negotiate revenue-raising measures, such as increasing taxes on millionaires and billionaires, or borrowing. The governor has repeatedly spoken out against long-term borrowing — especially in a sluggish economic climate.
“Rule No. 1 on borrowing: Don’t borrow today that which you can’t pay for tomorrow,” Cuomo said on the subject. “Borrowing is always the easiest answer [and] it’s always the most dangerous. ... Long-term borrowing is a high-risk venture right now, because what do you think is going to change in a year?”
Approving long-term borrowing for any state jurisdiction is reckless without a financial control board in place, Cuomo said.
“You’d have to do all of the above: Raise taxes and borrow. It’s an impossible number,” he added. “If we have to close this deficit without Washington, there’s not going to be any constructive way to do it. It will be tremendously negative if New York state was forced, unjustly, to do this.”
Cuomo opposes increasing taxes on the state’s wealthy, as New York City already boasts the nation’s second-highest income tax at more than 12%.
“We would have to raise taxes, which will get you several billion depending on how you do it ... but you would have to raise revenue and cut and borrow,” Cuomo said. “That can’t be positive with the economy before you cut off your nose to spite your face.”
Representatives of the state Budget Division said they expected to release a spending reduction plan at the end of September, or before the start of the fourth quarter. No plan is released to date as officials wait on the Congressional stalemate to provide federal coronavirus aid to U.S. state and local governments.
“We have been very clear that while we are fighting for the federal assistance New Yorkers deserve, we are preparing for a failure of the federal government to act,” according to a statement from Freeman Klopott, spokesman for the state Budget Division. “The depth of permanent spending reductions, in the absence of federal funding, will be severe for schools, hospitals, police and fire departments, along with other services that support our most vulnerable New Yorkers, and it makes no sense to make those reductions permanent until there is clarity from Washington.
“In the meantime, we will continue to manage the state’s finances using the tools enacted by the state Legislature in a way that maintains a balanced budget while funding critical services.”
Budget officials reduced state spending by 4%, or $4 billion, with a hiring freeze, new contracts and pay raises, according to Klopott, as well as withholding $2.5 billion in payments to help the state’s projected $30 billion pandemic-driven revenue loss over the next two years.
The state spent more than $2.2 billion battling COVID-19 in the first quarter. Representatives did not have an updated number as the third quarter drew to a close.
The federal government is legally responsible for the state’s financial troubles, Cuomo argued, caused by unexpected spending to combat COVID-19.
“We’re not liable for this — Washington is liable,” Cuomo said. “It was their negligence that caused our loss.
“I am not bargaining against myself and I am not giving up the first point of liability,” Cuomo said on the same subject Thursday. “If we were not in this governmental structure, I would sue the federal government for gross negligence for causing the COVID ambush of New York, and I would win.”
The governor compared the nation’s coronavirus deaths and response to other developed countries around the globe, saying President Donald Trump has attempted to fool Americans with false advertising about his success.
“The president is a marketing man — he marketed himself as a successful businessman for many years,” Cuomo said. “He now markets himself as a successful, effective president. If you look at the specifics, he’s a business failure. He’s one of the worst global country leaders on a national scale. Reality at one point catches up with perception and that’s what’s happening to the president.”
The United States reported the second-greatest number of COVID-19 daily deaths on the globe with 737 confirmed virus-related fatalities Saturday, with India in the lead at 1,124 deaths in a 24-hour period. Italy, once the global epicenter of the disease last March, reported 17 deaths Saturday, while 34 people in the United Kingdom and 39 French citizens died from the virus.
Sweden reported zero COVID-19 fatalities for several days, and again Saturday.
“How do you justify that?” Cuomo said. “All those other countries had it first. They had it worse than we had it. How do you justify it? That’s why the American people don’t trust this federal government on COVID.”
COVID-19 is on the rise in Israel, France, Spain and other countries in the European Union, and continues to surge in dozens of U.S. states including Wisconsin, Iowa, Utah and Missouri. The states reported coronavirus positivity rates Monday of 18.5%, 16.4%, 12.9% and 12.3%, respectively.
“We are the anomaly to what is going on across the country,” Cuomo said. “We should be sealed from the rest of the nation. We have to remain vigilant. We won’t be out of this until we are all out of this — it’s just a collective reality.”
Cuomo reminded New Yorkers to remain vigilant in wearing masks or face coverings and remaining socially distanced, or 6 feet apart, each time he holds a briefing. The state’s data show health care workers and first responders had lower COVID-19 infection rates because of proper PPE use.
“If you don’t wear a mask at this point, it’s just dumb,” Cuomo said. “We’ve been through hell and back. Let’s learn the lessons. Not to wear a mask is dumb. It’s dumb for yourself and it’s dumb for everyone else.
“Please look at the data. I asked you to do it as a good citizen. I ask because the CDC recommends it.”