ALBANY – The state’s chief fiscal watchdog believes Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s rosy fiscal assumptions for the coming years may be a bit too rosy.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, in a report issued Monday, suggested red ink, not surpluses as Cuomo predicts, may be in store for Albany over the next few years as a result of spending in programs that governors and lawmakers have long found difficult – politically or otherwise – to control.
Cuomo has said the state will achieve surpluses if he and lawmakers contain state spending to growth levels of 2 percent or less. But that’s a big if, DiNapoli warned, in part because Cuomo’s plan does not identify specifically where savings are going to come from to make up for spending hikes in expensive programs like school aid and Medicaid.
Noting Cuomo’s plan that envisions baseline spending growth levels being reduced starting next year by $2.5 billion, DiNapoli said the deficits actually could total $7.1 billion between the 2015 and 2017 fiscal years. Of the governor’s spending restraint claims for the future, the comptroller said, “Achieving such restraint represents a significant challenge.’’ Both officials are Democrats.
“Expenditures for programs totaling more than half of state operating funds spending are projected by [Cuomo’s budget office] to increase at well above 2 percent, and may be difficult to adjust,’’ the comptroller’s report notes. Debt service alone, he said, is projected to soar at an average annual increase of 7 percent in coming years, he warned.
If Cuomo is to get his surpluses while programs like school aid and Medicaid see spending hikes above 2 percent each year, the comptroller said other programs – from transportation and higher education to mental hygiene – “may be expected to bear a disproportionate share of future spending restraint.’’