By Michael Gormley
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday backed up the progressive agenda he cheered about in his State of the State speech a week ago with an apparently balanced financial plan that he detailed in the measured tones of a CEO.
Cuomo presented a $137 billion budget that balloons to over $143 billion and a 5 percent spending increase when federal aid for recovery from Superstorm Sandy is included.
Traditional spending without Sandy relief is held to about a 2 percent increase, without tax increases or layoffs. But New Yorkers will face several new and increased fees.
The current state budget is $134 billion, although state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli warns tax revenues are failing to meet expectations in a slow economic recovery with high unemployment.
Cuomo proposed increasing school aid 4.4 percent and funding for longer school days, while closing a projected $1.3 billion budget deficit.
Richard Brodsky of the Wagner School at New York University said Cuomo's proposal appears to include a lot of borrowing as the state nears its debt limit. Cuomo Budget Director Robert Megna said he sees no significant increase in borrowing and it will remain under the limit.
Cuomo also wants to fund marketing programs, "duty free" shops for New York products, as well as jobs programs aimed at economically struggling upstate communities.
Cuomo included ways to use a total of $30 billion in anticipated federal funding — spread over several years — to restore communities in New York City and on Long Island following the devastation from Superstorm Sandy. In a plea to salve a traditional upstate-downstate rift, he plans to use some aid for upstate communities still recovering from tropical storms Irene and Lee in 2011.
Cuomo's speech described the state far differently than in his rousing State of the State pep talk. On Tuesday, he said the state has dug itself out of fiscal and political crisis, only to face another one after Sandy hit amid a slow economic recovery.
"The bad news is we have a lot of work to do," Cuomo said Tuesday in Albany. "The good news is we have shown in the past two years an amazing ability to do what they said we couldn't do."
Cuomo's numbers add up, said Elizabeth Lynam of the independent Citizens Budget Commission.
"He's funded a number of initiatives in a pretty responsible framework and spending isn't going up by too much," Lynam said.
Cuomo's proposal now goes the Legislature for hearings. Cuomo and legislative leaders will soon meet behind closed doors to negotiate a final plan by the April 1 start of the fiscal year. In most years, the Legislature alters a governor's budget by less than 1 percent, although it often involves critical areas including education, taxes and health care.
"I think the fact of no new taxes is great," said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Long Island. He hopes to add tax breaks for employers into the final budget. "I don't see anything that's a huge stumbling block right now."
Skelos shares majority control of the Senate with the Independent Democratic Conference for the first time. Any budget deal with the Senate will require agreement by Republican and IDC leaders.
"Once again the governor has shown we can't spend money that we don't have," Sen. Jeffrey Klein, a Bronx-Westchester Democrat who leads the IDC. He strongly supports Cuomo's proposal to raise the minimum wage to $8.75 an hour, from $7.25.
"It's very refreshing to see another budget without raising taxes," Klein added.
It was Cuomo's third straight pledge against raising taxes. He and Senate Republicans broke that promise in December 2011 by enacting $1.9 billion in income taxes aimed at millionaires which continues to help balance the state budget.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the proposal would "close the state's fiscal gap in a prudent manner." He was pleased Cuomo included the minimum wage hike.
Cuomo's budget would fund longer school days and school years for school districts that choose to increase instruction time by at least 25 percent.
State aid to municipalities outside New York City wouldn't increase at a time when many counties and smaller local governments worry about insolvency amid rising costs and shrinking tax bases. But Cuomo is offering a special task force to provide advice to local officials and a borrowing plan to help municipalities survive without further burdening taxpayers. Cuomo would allow local governments to borrow against future savings under the less cost pension plan adopted a year ago for new hires.
The massive budget will touch New Yorkers in many smaller ways.
Cuomo proposes suspending the driver's license of people with big, overdue tax bills. He also would make it harder to plea down some speeding charges to avoid bigger fines and insurance premium hikes — a process he says costs $58 million a year and makes roads unsafe.
He includes $60 million to keep the Buffalo Bills from moving and, "for $60 million the Bills better win this year."
But his revenue and spending plan didn't include mention the potentially lucrative drilling for natural gas using the contentious process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Cuomo has said he won't indicate if he will support the process that is opposed by environmentalists until a state health study is completed.
Cuomo proposed $35.9 million to implement key components of the nation's toughest gun control measure adopted last week, which was fueled by the Newtown, Conn., shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It includes registration of assault weapons, re-registering of pistol permits, new databases to keep track of guns, and defensive and safety measures at schools, including at entrances.
AP writers Michael Virtanen and Michael Hill contributed to this report from Albany.