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OpinionEditorial

Cuomo right on budget caution

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivers his State of

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivers his State of the State address virtually from the War Room at the state Capitol in Albany on Monday. Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

Kicking off his 11th rendition of the annual state-of-the-state speech Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the people of New York have "a spirit of optimism grounded in experience."

His speech described a state at war against COVID-19, but poised for victory and confident in its resources, perseverance and allies.

And he’s counting on those allies, soon to control Congress and the White House, to help him avoid draconian spending cuts favored by many Republicans and perilous tax increases touted by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Both legislative leaders are wrong to emphasize that solution, but Heastie, in his opening speech to the session, was right to decry the high rate of COVID-19 and attendant fatalities in Black and Hispanic communities, and to fight for better health care for those communities.

Sufficient help from Washington would be a beneficial change from President Donald Trump and the Republican U.S. Senate, who have repeatedly thrown the state to the wolves. Before COVID-19, there were the 2017 federal tax-code changes that included a cap on the deduction for state and local taxes costing New York taxpayers $30 billion in three years.

The federal government not only mishandled the COVID crisis, it has done far less than needed to prop up the state and its devastated municipalities, businesses and people. Now Cuomo forecasts a $15 billion state deficit, and is looking to Washington to backfill most of it. Other potential sources are revenue from recreational marijuana and sports gambling. The governor wants few, if any tax increases.

He's right.

Money for state and local governments will be in the stimulus plan President-elect Joe Biden sends to Congress. The more guidance he can give, soon, on how much is coming and how it will be distributed, the more damage can be prevented.

Legalized marijuana is past due in New York. This year the cash crunch will finally lend enough urgency to move past the squabbling over who gets a cut.

Expanding legalized sports gambling makes sense, too. Cuomo thinks he can bring in as much as $500 million a year on sports gambling if the state owns the franchise. That’s worth exploring, but carefully: Our last government-owned gambling invention, off-track betting authorities, became patronage pits, and directly profiting off the vices of taxpayers is a tricky business that must be handled responsibly.

As to increased taxes and decreased spending, Cuomo said both would bring little help. Even a school funding cut of 20% would only account for $5.2 billion and raising the state’s income taxes on people who earn more than $1 million, making New York the highest-taxing state in the nation, would garner only $1.5 billion.

There are more Cuomo grand plans coming this week. He made it clear Monday his ambitions for New York — for improved health care and clean energy and fairer policing and world-class infrastructure — extend far beyond exiting this crisis.

But in a war it must be first things first, and right now that means prioritizing COVID, and cash.

— The editorial board

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