Spin Cycle

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Sleight of hand in Cuomo budget?

The $137.2 billion state budget proposed this Tuesday,

The $137.2 billion state budget proposed this Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo includes what some analysts see as a sleight of hand. (Credit: iStock)

The $137.2 billion state budget proposed this election year by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo includes what some financial analysts see as a bit of sleight of hand, while advocates for the poor say it could worsen New York’s “income inequality.”

“We have turned the state around,” Cuomo said in his budget address. He said keeping spending growth under 2 percent a year has allowed him to propose a $2 billion tax cut plan this election year. On Tuesday, he promised his budget process will be  “relatively simple and straight forward.”

A day later, however, the plan raised many questions.

One of the most glaring elements of Cuomo’s executive budget proposal released Tuesday was what it didn’t include. State budgets traditionally include a line about projected deficits or surpluses in the financial plan, which is a key for analyzing the long-term impact of a budget proposal.

Instead, Cuomo replaced the dollar figures with a line that said a $2.7 billion in 2017 “could be expected to occur under the spending and resource assumptions,” according to a footnote in his budget document.

“It’s a new twist,” said E.J. McMahon, of the fiscally conservative Empire Center for New York State Policy. “It’s packed with many more loose ends that usual.”

Calculating the revenues and spending figures, McMahon figured that instead of the $2 billion surplus Cuomo says will appear in 2017, the budget plan should reflect a $2 billion deficit in two years.

Those assumptions are based on Cuomo being re-elected in November, and the Legislature agreeing to his plans now and in coming years.

“What’s going to get us to that surplus?” asked Elizabeth Lynam, of the independent Citizens Budget Commission.

 For advocates of the working poor riding a liberal wave in Democratic politics led by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the first state surplus since before the crushing recession is misdirected.

“There is no mention of income inequality,” said Ron Deutsch, of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness. “There is no mention of poverty . . . how can you not talk about that while giving well over $1 billion of a surplus to some of the richest people in New York?”

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