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Budget experts say not all of Cuomo's numbers add up

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, seen here in 2014, have had a long-running feud.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been touting a massive infrastructure plan, but budget experts say much of the funding for the projects, estimated to cost $100 billion,  remains unresolved, even with the release of Cuomo’s new budget plan. They also question what they say is a cost-shift from the state to New York City.

Cuomo has been so focused on a massive state infrastructure upgrade that even the slogan for the Governor’s 2016 agenda is called “Built to Lead.”

“It’s a development initiative that would make Gov. Rockefeller jealous,” Cuomo said at his State of the State speech.

But his budget proposal does not clearly outline how he will pay for everything from adding a third track to the Long Island Railroad,  revamping Penn Station, and spending $22 billion on road and bridge repairs upstate.

“You do have to take this capital plan with a grain of salt,” says E.J. McMahon, with the fiscally conservative Empire Center, who predicts the projects “will happen in a different way and on a different schedule than the governor may have implied.”

A large portion of the money, including for upgrades of the JFK and LaGuardia airports, and Penn Station, will come from private money and capital funds from the Port Authority, which the legislature does not have to sign off on. A new tunnel under the Hudson to connect New York and New Jersey transit would be funded by the federal government, according to Cuomo’s budget figures. And though the governor has pledged $8.3 billion in the MTA’s mass transit plan, only $1 billion is actually appropriated in the new state budget.  The rest of the state’s promised share might have to be borrowed through the authority. 

Tammy Gamerman, with the budget watchdog group Citizens Budget Commission, has also analyzed the budget plans.

“Most of the money for these projects is not contained within the state budget,” Gamerman said.

And she says the spending plan leave many questions unanswered. She says the $22 billion for fixing upstate roads and bridges does seem to be in the budget, though, within the state Department of Transportation. The money for additional housing and water infrastructure also is accounted for, she says.

Cuomo also pledged to rein in spending for the sixth year in a row, saying he’s holding spending to just 1.7 percent more than last year.

But those spending restrictions seem to come at the expense of New York City, where the governor has had a long running feud with its Mayor, Bill de Blasio.

Cuomo wants to reverse a policy where the state pays for increased Medicaid costs, which go up every year, and give those cost increases back to the city to pay for. He also proposes increasing the city’s share to pay for City University of New York’s budget. The changes could cost the city a billion dollars.

The left leaning Working Families Party, which has had it’s battles with Cuomo called the cuts drastic and Mayor de Blasio has vowed to fight them.   

Gamerman says analysts at Citizens Budget Commission were also shocked when they saw the details.

“It’s an unfunded mandate on New York City,” Gamerman said  

McMahon says the cuts can’t be explained in any other way than as part of a political fight.

“It really does seem to be like kicking sand in his face,” McMahon said.

The proposed cuts have generated negative news stories, and editorials. Cuomo made two impromptu appearances, on public radio and the cable news channel NY1, to defend them and do some damage control.

“They want to look at what they call cuts to New York City,” Cuomo said. “Frankly, they don’t want to look at the positive.”

The governor the spending reductions are aimed at streamlining what he calls the bureaucracy at the health departments and university systems. And he says the cuts will be off set from all of the infrastructure projects he’s planned, as well as a $20 billion plan to house the homeless.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.