In a welcome break with tradition, state legislative leaders have agreed on a budget before, rather than months after, the start of the new fiscal year, on April 1. What’s more, the budget they accepted actually cuts overall state spending. Do you believe in miracles?
The budget cuts will not be painless. Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the agreement an “outrage” because, he argued, the state’s cutbacks will have a disproportionate impact on the city. For example, while the city hoped Albany would provide some $600 million in restored aid through pension reform, additional school spending and more revenue sharing, the state wound up kicking in just $200 million. That could lead to additional teacher layoffs and other personnel cuts, City Hall warns.
Of course, mayors are expected to grumble about the state’s spending priorities, so it’s hard to know how much of Mr. Bloomberg’s unhappiness is genuine and how much of it is designed for effect. It may be that the city is being penalized for its competency. Mr. Bloomberg’s ability to weather the financial storms of the past decade may have led lawmakers and Governor Cuomo to conclude that City Hall will find a way to make up for the shortfall without inflicting too much pain on residents.
Mr. Bloomberg’s angry comments suggest that this is something beyond the usual give-and-take between Albany and City Hall. The mayor felt obliged to point out the obvious, that the city is the economic engine that drives the state economy. It is unlikely that Governor Cuomo took the mayor’s remarks in good humor.
There ought to be a better way for the city and state to work together. But for the moment, City Hall’s concerns should not overshadow Albany’s genuine accomplishments. Mr. Cuomo made good on his promise to close a $10 billion deficit without imposing any major new tax hikes. Just as significant was the governor’s leadership in achieving genuine reform in Medicaid spending with the cooperation of health care workers and hospitals.
The new budget is not the end of reform. But, imperfect though it is, it is a good first step.