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Comptroller: "Tough decisions" ahead for NY budget

The state’s comptroller is siding with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over concerns that federal health care cuts will damage New York’s budget, but he said the governor’s budget experts should have saved more money in rainy day funds.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said Cuomo is right to draw attention to over a billion dollars in potential health care cuts to the state, now that Congress and President Donald Trump have postponed acting on a new federal budget.

Congress failed to renew funding for the Disproportionate Share Hospital fund, which will impact public hospitals that serve the uninsured. It also did not renew the Child Health Plus program, which provides health care for about 330,000 children in the state.

“I think the governor is right to sound the alarm,” DiNapoli said. “We have a tremendous amount of risk to our budget and our financial standing if action is not taken at the federal level.”

Both Cuomo and DiNapoli said the state also is facing a $4 billion budget gap next year. The comptroller predicted that the state will “have to make some tough budget decisions.”

The governor said he may call for a special session of the state Legislature to deal with the funding loss.

Cuomo recently added another reason for the Legislature to return. He’s asked lawmakers to add $35 million in a potential special session to help victims of flooding earlier this year along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

The comptroller said some of the potential budget gap could have been avoided if Cuomo’s budget department had been “more aggressive” in putting more money in reserve funds to provide for unforeseen future events. And he said the state still faces billions in excess debt, which has not yet been paid off.

“It tends not to be as interesting a press announcement if you’re putting more money in the reserve versus spending money on a program that people might desire or is very popular,” DiNapoli said. “We do need to be positioned to the reality that there are cycles and we will be subject to those cycles.”

Morris Peters, a spokesman for Cuomo’s budget division, disputed DiNapoli’s charges. He said in a statement that the state ran a surplus for each of the past four years and made an effort to put some of that money aside.

“General fund reserves are now at $2.5 billion, up from $1 billion 10 years ago, including $500 million for debt management,” Peters said.

DiNapoli said there’s still a chance that Democrats in Congress, including U.S. Sen. and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, may restore the federal health care money before the end of the year, filling the potential new hole in the state budget. But he said if it’s not resolved within the next few weeks, then it “might be appropriate to hold a session.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.