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Cuomo and his aides warn of a deeper budget crunch

Karen DeWitt
From left: Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s counsel Alphonso David, Chief of Staff Melissa DeRosa and Budget Director Robert Mujica.";

With just a little over two weeks to go before the state budget is due, Gov. 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.

They’re pressuring the Legislature to rein in their spending proposals as well.

In a briefing with reporters, Cuomo’s budget director, Robert Mujica, said his staff stayed up all night crunching the numbers from the president’s budget proposal. They concluded that if Congress approves the spending plan, it would cut federal health care funding for New York by 20 percent, or $11.5 billion, over the next 10 years.

Because of that, Mujica said, the governor has decided to restore around $500 million 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 said his staff is combing through the spending plan to identify other areas for potential reductions.  

"In light of this, that is the No. 1 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 in health care cuts.  

The Democratic-led Senate and Assembly plans also include around $600 million more for school aid than the governor put in his spending plan. They also have 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, also attended the briefing. She said this year, with warnings of a recession on the horizon, the Legislature’s proposals are not realistic and could raise spending by as much as $2.5 billion.

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

The governor’s aides said they believe that the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives will push back against the president’s proposed cuts, but they said if even if a fraction of the reductions go through, they will be damaging.

David Friedfel with the watchdog group Citizens Budget Commission said there’s reason to be concerned over the president’s proposed cuts. But he said the likelihood of Congress actually approving all the changes is "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 said 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 said in past years, the governor has given in and agreed to compromise to include more spending in the final budget.

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.