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DiNapoli says state finances improved, but challenges remain

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Credit: Steve Pfost

ALBANY — State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Wednesday that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s reliance on “extraordinary one-time windfalls” in his budget proposal creates a concern for the near future as tax revenues are expected to slow.

DiNapoli said in a budget analysis, however, that the state’s current fiscal position has improved under Cuomo, through his fiscal restraints, which include holding annual spending growth to 2 percent, and through billions of dollars in recent enforcement settlements by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

“Yet structural budget challenges remain, and we cannot count on extraordinary one-time windfalls to pay our bills down the road,” said DiNapoli, a Great Neck Plaza Democrat. “The executive budget reflects better times and proposes new investments in key areas such as infrastructure, but greater clarity is needed on how the state will pay for it all.”

DiNapoli said Cuomo’s budget uses more than $1 billion of the one-time settlements in his 2016-17 budget proposal to the State Legislature.

“The comptroller’s report is certainly correct that the state’s fiscal position is much improved, but it ignores key facts,” said Cuomo budget spokesman Morris Peters. “Most notably, that state debt has declined for four consecutive years for the first time in more than 50 years and our debt affordability ratio is at its lowest level since the 1960s.”

Peters noted that all three national credit ratings agencies have given the state its highest credit rating since 1972. He said the state under Cuomo now has the second-highest grade, which can reduce the cost of borrowing.

DiNapoli said Cuomo also plans to continue to rely heavily on debt. The comptroller said the proposed budget will increase taxpayer-backed debt by nearly $10 billion. He said that would be an increase of nearly 20 percent over five years to $60.8 billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Cuomo’s budget office rejects several assertions by DiNapoli, including the $10 billion figure. For example, Cuomo’s budget office said a total of $2.3 billion in settlement funds from enforcement actions will be used in the proposed budget, but most of it will be used for long-term projects including roads, bridges, environmental protection, economic development to retain and create jobs, and construction.

Peters also said Cuomo has reduced state debt for four straight years and that state debt is $2.9 billion less than when he took office in 2011.

Cuomo will soon begin negotiating a budget with legislative leaders on a 2016-17 budget, which is due by the April 1 start of the fiscal year.

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