ALBANY — New Yorkers should anticipate significant tax increases to help raise state revenue and offset a crippling budget deficit caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday, after detailing how many doses the state’s 10 regions will receive of initial COVID-19 vaccine shipments.
The governor spoke definitively about an upcoming tax increase for the state during a coronavirus briefing in the state Capitol in Albany as the state’s multi-billion-dollar deficit mounts from economic setbacks and unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic spending.
The state estimates a $14.9 billion revenue shortfall this year and over $30 billion over two years, mounting to nearly $63 billion over four years.
“If there’s no federal aid and we have to do the budget, you’re going to have to do tremendous tax increases,” Cuomo said. “You’ll probably see tax increases in any event, pardon my skepticism about Washington. You could see dramatic tax increases that would hurt families and hurt the economy.”
The governor will hold coronavirus briefings at 11:30 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays until further notice. Wednesday was his first in-person briefing in the Capitol’s Red Room with the press outside the room, fielding hand-picked queries on a Zoom call.
Cuomo did not specify a sum or a proposed percentage increase, but posed the question Wednesday.
“How much? ...How much on whom and how much do you need?” he said. “A tax increase is not a political statement. It’s a policy statement and it’s a revenue device. That’s why it has to be done in the budget.
“We need federal aid — period,” the governor added. “I believe there will be a lot of cuts, but that has to happen within all the context of decision in a budget,” he added. “I believe a lot of tough decisions will need to be made.”
Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers; and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx; and multiple labor activist groups sent a letter to the state’s Congressional delegation Wednesday urging lawmakers to provide adequate funding for states and localities in the pending stimulus bill to avoid devastating cuts.
Cuomo and leading officials have sent numerous letters to various federal departments and executives this year requesting additional COVID-19 relief for states and localities.
“There is no tax increase that can make up for the lost revenue from Washington,” Cuomo said. “I am telling you, we cannot close this financial gap without federal aid, and that’s what the letter to Congress says.”
Last week, U.S. Democrats House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., threw support behind a $908 billion compromised federal coronavirus relief package. Democrats see the measure as a down payment for additional funding they plan to legislate after President-elect Joe Biden’s administration takes office Jan. 20.
Lawmakers continue to finalize the assistance plan.
“I don’t want to give up on Washington yet, because if you assume there’s no aid from Washington, balancing this budget is going to be detrimental to the state, the city and every family in this state,” Cuomo said. “I’m skeptical that Washington ever provides all the funding that they should provide.”
Conservative and liberal economists agree targeted federal aid is critical for states and localities to help kickstart the economy, said Cuomo, who added aid should be distributed to states based on need and the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I’m not willing to say Washington shouldn’t do what is fair and right and just help us with this financial crisis — especially since it’s in the nation’s best interest to get the economy going and if you starve every state, you’re going to hurt the nation,” the governor said.
Top state officials anticipate 20% widespread cuts to health care, education and local governments without additional federal assistance, which would lay off thousands of health care workers, teachers, government and other essential workers.
The funds have been largely withheld from school districts, hospitals and a multitude of essential state programs this year while the federal government’s next COVID-19 relief bill remains in limbo.
“You’re going to have to do massive layoffs, you’re going to have to do massive borrowing — you’re going to have to do all of the above,” Cuomo said. “There’s no reason why New Yorkers should bear more pain.”
The governor also detailed Wednesday how the state’s initial shipments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine will be allocated across New York’s 10 regions.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration is expected to approve Manhattan-based drugmaker Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Thursday following a hearing. The state’s independent vaccine review panel, which includes national health experts and scientists, has been in contact with the FDA and is slated to immediately begin assessment of vaccine safety following federal approval.
Cuomo has said the state’s separate vaccine review will not delay inoculations.
After approval, about 6 million dosages will be available nationwide, allocated to states based on population.
The state is expected to receive 85,000, or half, of an initial shipment of 170,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of the weekend. The next half of the shipment will arrive in another 21 days, or when the first patients who received an injection can get their second required dose.
“We have the vaccine — that is the weapon that will win the war if people take it,” Cuomo said.
The state set up 90 regional distribution centers capable of the ultra-cold refrigeration required to house the COVID-19 vaccine.
“This is a different definition of cold storage — this is like really, really cold storage,” the governor said. “Not every facility can do it, not every hospital can do it.”
Vaccines will be prioritized for all nursing home residents and staff and high-risk essential workers.
The Capital Region will receive 7,850 doses of the first vaccine shipment, with 6,400 doses in Central New York, 14,500 in Western New York and 3,700 doses to the North Country.
New York City will receive 72,000 dosages of the initial batch, and 26,500 doses will be sent to Long Island.
Between 75% and 85% of a population must be vaccinated for an immunization to be effective in a community.
Amendments and additions to the state’s COVID-19 winter response plan will be announced Friday, Cuomo said.
State officials virtually met with all hospital administrators Wednesday to discuss the surge and flex initiative, or plan to balance patient caseloads, among individual health systems as cases continue to increase across the state and nation.
New York’s COVID-19 infection rate increased to 4.86% Wednesday without microcluster hot spots, or 5.44% including the focus areas. The state’s average positivity rate hovered around 4% last week.
Statewide virus hospitalizations continued to increase to 4,993 patients, up 158 people overnight.
Ninety-five New Yorkers died Tuesday from COVID-19 complications — another daily record of fatalities since June.