Home Diet State would be wise to embark on diet plan

State would be wise to embark on diet plan

8 min read

Counties across the state are rolling out their 2018 budgets.

Leaders in Clinton, Essex and Warren counties have endeavored to keep spending flat. Each of their tentative spending plans have been delivered under the state-mandated tax cap.

Essex County, in particular, deserves praise for sticking to their guns and seeing their five-year plan through to completion despite numerous roadblocks.

As of Monday, Essex County’s tentative 2018 spending plan contains a modest 5 cent increase to the tax rate, and a 2.23 percent in the tax levy.

County officials have taken heat over the past half-decade, dodging missiles from the general public and lawmakers who have attempted to chip away at programming and dip into their savings in last-ditch efforts to keep the tax rate flat. 

So kudos to budget officers tasked with keeping the county on a starvation diet while ensuring programming is met and the fund balance replenished.

Other localities should now follow the county’s example of making hard choices — including the state. 

New York is facing the most troubling fiscal climate since Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office in 2011.

The state faces a “triple threat” of lagging sales tax revenues, projected budget gaps and cuts in federal aid, warned state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in a report last month. 

The comptroller predicts a $4.1 billion budget deficit, a number that could be doubled within the next two years.

While tax reform at the federal level remains a dangling question mark, among the most troubling items contained within the bill passed by the U.S. Senate last week is the partial repeal of deductions on state and local income taxes.

Repeal of the so-called SALT deduction would hurt high-tax states like New York the most.

While middle-class upstate homeowners would still be able to write off up to $10,000 annually, passage may mean higher-income residents might opt to vote with their feet and leave the state altogether, which would increase the burden for the rest of us. 

Local governments may also be pressed to cut spending or lower taxes as a result. 

We all know there’s nothing left to cut in the North Country, a measure cast into even sharper relief by this year’s inane state-mandated shared service panels. 

Cuomo has spent the past year fulminating against federal proposals, and has used nothing short of apocalyptic language to deride the bills and the lawmakers supporting them. 

But unlike the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, passage of tax reform is within sight, and Cuomo must now do more than use his bully pulpit and threaten lawmakers.

He should put the state on a crash diet. 

The governor typically proposes his budget in January. While he has indicated he will keep state spending growth capped at 2 percent, we can think of a few additional ways to seriously curb spending. 

The first should be to reign in the state’s economic development programs. 

While we’re largely supportive of the Regional Economic Development Council initiative, which allocates some $8 billion to development projects across the state, many of projects being funded are little more than vanity projects with dubious benefit to the community.

The state should curb refundable tax credits for the film industry, and seriously examine other economic development programs, many of which operate seemingly without proper oversight. 

Albany should also seriously explore curtailing waste in Medicaid spending.

One in four state residents are program beneficiaries, costing the state some $60 billion annually, more than any state in the nation. 

The governor is fond of big ideas, and his tenure has been lined with an impressive litany of bold-faced policy proposals.

But now that we’re at a decision point, we should also scale back some of these sweeping and bold ideas, particularly those that will carry an impact for local taxpayers ill-equipped to shoulder them.

What the state should not do, however, is entertain drastic cuts to public education and aid to local governments, two areas that always seem to appear on the chopping block.

If local governments are being put on a diet, then the state needs to swallow that same bitter pill.

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