If Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's recent State of the State address had him pivot to the liberal faction of his Democratic Party, today's unveiling of his 2013 state budget plan gives him the opportunity to, as he likes to say, show his "fiscally responsible" side.
It won't be easy to fit some of his State of the State ideas -- from longer school days to early voting to aiding business and job seekers -- into a tight budget. It may well take some creative financing to make it all work.
But since Cuomo already is vowing not to raise taxes, and the state is facing a $1 billion deficit, some entities, notably state agencies that provide an array of services, are bracing for cutbacks to help the governor fund some of his ideas.
The economy is still not healthy enough for Cuomo to rely on new income and sales tax receipts to pay for his spending ideas. Instead, he will likely turn to others for help in raising funds -- from the federal government, localities and the private sector.
With a limited pot of money for the more than $130 billion budget, Cuomo, if he is follows the lead of his predecessors, will turn to a hodgepodge of funding solutions.
In addition to getting others besides Albany to pay, there is the "spread out" option, such as his plan to spend $150 million on solar energy over the next 10 years or $1 billion on new low-income housing over five years.
Then there are the "off-budget" ideas, such as his plan for various major improvements to the state's energy infrastructure -- such as the aging power transmission lines throughout the state. That improvement, which experts say is needed, potentially could cost utility companies billions of dollars over the years -- money that will be passed on in some form to ratepayers.
Another "off-budget" approach will be his plan for public financing of political campaigns, an idea that could cost $100 million to $400 million. Cuomo's plan, in his written message to lawmakers, calls for "sources beyond general revenue from taxpayers" to pay for it. That would mean some sort of special revenue fund beyond the state's general fund, but how Cuomo will fill that pot is a question that could be answered today.
Then there is the "limit approach." Governors for years have proposed headline-grabbing ideas. Cuomo's example this year is his plan for longer school years or school days to improve student achievement. In addition to needing to renegotiate union contracts for teachers, principals, janitors and others in the state's 700 school districts, the plan could cost billions of dollars in added personnel expenses.
To get around that, Cuomo will seek to make the program voluntary and to limit costs through a competitive grant process.
The same is true for his idea to expand prekindergarten offerings, which now amount to about 2.5 hours a day on average. Cuomo wants to make it an all-day program, or at least offer it five hours a day. To limit the cost to both the state and local school districts, his proposal for this year limits the offering to districts in the poorest communities.
Western New York will be looking for further evidence of how he will fulfill his promise to provide $1 billion in special aid over five years for job-creation efforts. Additionally, developers want to see if he proposes his own tax credit program for historic property rehabilitations -- a measure he vetoed last month but said he supports if done in the budget.
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