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McKinstry: Gov. Cuomo's goals collide with tax cap hardships

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during his State of

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during his State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany. (Jan. 9, 2013) (Credit: AP)

Ask any county executive or school superintendent how they’d spell relief and the letters would surely look like this: M-A-N-D-A-T-E-S.

All across New York, political leaders, notably Republicans, want to know how Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will deal with those crushing expenses like pensions, Medicaid or any number of school programs that are growing at a far greater pace than the state’s cap on property tax increases will allow.

They're expecting some answers today when the governor releases his proposed budget, which reportedly will be around $132 billion, won’t raise taxes and won’t increase spending by more than 2 percent -– all while closing a $1-billion budget gap.

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For sure Cuomo’s greatest challenge will be to bridge his big, bold, progressive agenda – including ideas like expanding the school day, all-day prekindergarten for poorer school districts, campaign finance reform and a number a sizable economic development ideas for “green jobs,” technology hubs and upstate New York -- with his more fiscally conservative side.

How exactly will he pay for these ideas? Will he ignore mandate relief? Will there be big bucks to repair the state’s aging infrastructure or for its biggest project, replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge? Will the state add to its $63-billion debt? How will Cuomo balance these interests while plugging a $1-billion hole in the annual budget?

Will the governor help cities on the brink of fiscal collapse, notably Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo and Yonkers?

There are so many questions, you have to wonder, Can they all be answered in one budget? Probably not.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican who is considered a potential gubernatorial candidate in some circles (although he probably won’t run against Cuomo), has repeatedly called the tax cap a “sham,” a sort of charade if it isn’t wedded to real relief from spending on programs or expenses mandated by the state.

In Westchester, state requirements gobble up more than 85 cents out of every dollar of the county’s $548-million tax levy. Across the Hudson River in Rockland County, which is in the midst of its own fiscal crisis, they make up more than 100 percent.

The narrative is similar all across the state.

Cuomo strives to show that New York State government is working. And he's advocated for progressive ideas with budgeting based in reality. What he proposes today will surely put his beliefs to the test.

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