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OpinionEditorial

Tough decisions for Albany

The New York State Capitol Building in Albany,

The New York State Capitol Building in Albany, New York as seen on June 22, 2018. Credit: Getty Images/wellesenterprises

The enormous economic crisis that is emerging as the coronavirus pandemic spreads will have massive repercussions. It's impossible to really calculate the toll, or to know just how bad it will get.

The first sign of how the impact has filtered down to individual pocketbooks came Thursday, when the Department of Labor reported last week's unemployment claims had soared to a record 3.3 million. That will only get worse in the weeks to come.

Amid all of that, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the State Legislature will have to come to a deal on a budget in the next several days. Their April 1 deadline comes as the pandemic has exacerbated the state's revenue shortfall, which state officials estimate at $10 billion to $15 billion. The disaster-relief bill that is expected to be approved by the House on Friday provides specific funding for New York, but doesn't address the punishing revenue loss.

Cuomo made clear Thursday that rolling budgetary cuts are likely. That's necessary, but all projections and proposals must be fully disclosed, with legislative consultation, and the detrimental impact on local school districts must be mitigated as much as possible.

Even now, every decision by lawmakers will have ripple effects, and as the state's stressed health care system and its troubled economy are in precarious positions, those ripple effects could become a tsunami.

To arrive at a budget for these stressed times, Cuomo and the legislature must curtail spending and avoid pet project add-ons. This isn't a time to throw in every lawmaker's desired bag of goodies, or potentially dangerous policy shifts. 

Among the significant issues is a provision that could require prevailing wage — higher salaries negotiated in collective bargaining — to be paid on construction projects outside of New York City that receive public funding. With Long Island on the precipice of a severe economic fallout, it's not time for legislation that could make development more expensive.

It's unlikely, too, that some major policy proposals, like the legalization of marijuana and sports gambling, will move forward, and that's probably wise. But lawmakers may have to make changes to the state's bail reform laws, and allow the $3 billion environmental bond act to be put on the ballot in November, as long as there's flexibility in place. By next fall, state officials can decide whether to keep the act on the ballot, and voters can decide whether to approve the bonding.

Also important: funding the state's supplemental food programs, now even more critical. 

Officials also want to move forward with proposals to slash the state's Medicaid program by about $2 billion. There are good reasons for reforms, but much has changed, including a $6 billion temporary federal increase in Medicaid funding that, as written, bans cuts in the program. New York needs both the federal money and the Medicaid reforms, so federal lawmakers must remove that bar to funding in the next round of federal legislation. Without such a fix, education funding and so much more would be jeopardized. 

There will be other tough decisions to come. For now, the key is to do no further harm.

— The editorial board

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