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Cuomo and his aides warn of a deeper budget crunch

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Pictured: Alphonso David, Melissa DeRosa, and Robert Mujica
Karen DeWitt

With just a little over two weeks to go before the state budget is due, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s top budget officials say they have to revise their spending proposal, now that President Donald Trump has released a budget plan that they say could  devastate New York’s health care system. And they are pressuring the legislature to rein in their spending proposals, as well.

Cuomo’s budget director Robert Mujica, in a briefing with reporters, says his staff stayed up all night crunching the numbers from the President’s budget proposal. They conclude that, if approved in Congress, the spending plan would cut federal health care funding for New York by 20%, or $11.5 billion dollars over the next ten years.

Because of that, Mujica says, the governor has decided to restore around $500 million dollars in cuts he recommended to the state’s Medicaid and other health care programs for hospitals and nursing homes.

“If any of these cuts take effect we have to now relook at our entire budget,” Mujica said. “We have to now work to shore up the hospitals and nursing homes and the health care side of the budget.”  

Mujica says his staff is combing through the spending plan to identify other areas for potential reductions.  

“In light of this, that is the number one priority,” Mujica said. “And it should be for the legislature as well.”

The announcement comes as both houses of the legislature are approving their own budget plans, in preparation for negotiations on a final budget. The legislative budgets also restore the $500 million dollars in health care cuts.

The Democratic-led Senate and Assembly plan also include around $600 million more dollars for school aid than the governor put in his spending plan, and other increases, including more aid for college students, and more funding for carrying out the census in 2020.

The governor’s chief of staff Melissa DeRosa, who also attended the briefing, says this year, with warnings of a recession on the horizon, the Legislature’s proposals are not realistic, and raise spending by as much as $2 and a half billion dollars.

“We need to move the conversation from fantasyland to reality,” DeRosa said.

The governor’s aides say they believe that the Democratic-led US House of Representatives WILL push back against the President’s proposed cuts, but they say if even if a fraction of the reductions goes through, they will be damaging.

David Friedfel, with the watchdog group Citizens Budget Commission, says there’s a reason to be concerned over the President’s proposed cuts. But he says the likelihood of Congress actually approving all the changes are “pretty minimal”.

“They’re certainly not totally wrong on the fact that the state should be concerned about what’s going to happen in the state’s economy and what impact that will have on the state’s revenues,” Friedfel said.

The Senate and Assembly budgets are often viewed as “wish lists” for members eager to claim credit for projects popular with their constituents. But Friedfel says the proposals are a serious indication of the legislature’s priorities.

“Frequently, this is a blueprint for what they are going to be pushing for,” he said.

He says in past years, the governor has given in and agreed to compromise and include more spending in the final budget.