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Comptroller DiNapoli sets revenue total for $190M higher 

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli delivers his

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli delivers his address after taking the oath of office on Ellis Island in New York Harbor on Jan. 1. Credit: AP/Richard Drew

ALBANY — State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on Tuesday set revenues at a conservative $190 million more than Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed over the next two years, but far less than the legislature projected.

“Our economic model is based on the latest available data and projects slightly higher employment and wages numbers than the governor,” said Jennifer Freeman, spokeswoman for DiNapoli.

The $175.2 billion budget Cuomo proposed Jan. 15 is due April 1. Cuomo had projected revenue at $168.2 billion over the next two years; DiNapoli set the total at $190 million more.

The Senate majority had projected there would be $900 million more to spend than under Cuomo’s proposal. The Assembly Democrats had projected $926 million more. The comptroller’s decision, required by law when no agreement is reached by the governor and legislature, means less money is available for the legislature’s priorities and foreshadows what may be more difficult negotiations.

In talks over the weekend, the difference between Cuomo's projection and that of the legislative leaders was whittled down to about $500 million, but there was no agreement.

Now, with a revenue projection set, Cuomo and the leaders will negotiate how to spend the 2019-20 budget. Traditionally, the legislature increases spending over governors’ budget by 1 percent or more. But the tight revenue projected amid declining state tax collections — $2 billion less in state income tax revenue in December alone — means funding constraints. That will likely mean less of an increase in funding for education and health care, the two largest spending items in the budget.

Cuomo’s budget director, Robert Mujica, said the $190 million will be placed in reserves pending further negotiations with the legislature. The independent Citizens Budget Commission had criticized the governor’s budget for having too little reserves in the event of a potential economic downturn.

But resorting to the comptroller to set the revenue projection shows a continued conflict between Cuomo, the new Senate Democratic majority and the Assembly’s Democratic majority.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said Cuomo “walked away early from revenue forecasting negotiations and no governor has done that before.”

“That's not true,” said Cuomo senior adviser Rich Azzopardi. “The budget process is in law and it sets a deadline for a consensus forecast to be set or it goes to the comptroller. That legal deadline lapsed. Period.”

“We are realistically two weeks away from needing a budget deal to get bills done on time and we have made no meaningful progress on any substantive matter,” Azzopardi said.

That raises the prospect of another late budget. Cuomo has made passing an on-time budget a goal every year, although recent budgets have been late by a few hours or a few days, thanks in part to an agreement with the legislature to suspend the constitutional requirement of three days’ public review before any measure can be voted on.

Cuomo, under state law, has extraordinary power to impose his proposals if he and the legislature fail to agree on a budget by the April 1 deadline. But this year Cuomo has another hammer: If the budget is late, legislators could lose their $10,000 raises scheduled for 2020, under provisions set by a pay raise commission that still angers legislators, who argue they don’t have final control over passing a budget.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans who lost their majority in the November elections are fueling the Democratic tensions.

“Rather than work toward passage of a responsible budget, they want to spend money the state doesn’t have,” said Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport). “Their intransigence has already knocked state budget negotiations off schedule.”

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