The federal pandemic relief package moving through Congress would go a long way toward filling New York’s multibillion-dollar budget deficit, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature would still need to plug a smaller gap.
Getting there could be tricky, with Cuomo embroiled in two scandals, the Democratic leader of the state Senate calling for the governor’s resignation, and Republicans pushing for impeachment.
If the relief package is approved, New York state would receive about $12.5 billion to help fill what Cuomo said is a $15 billion budget gap for this year and the next fiscal year. More than half of that deficit was caused by revenue declines and additional spending because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the state hard last spring.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said New York City would receive $6 billion to help in its economic recovery from the pandemic. Other local governments around the state would get $4.9 billion, and $9 billion would go to schools.
Cuomo, speaking in a conference call with reporters on Sunday, said there are still “tremendous needs” created by the pandemic, like assistance in paying for rent and day care, and additional unemployment benefits. He said new taxes will still have to be part of the discussion.
“What are the smartest and best ways to raise revenue?” Cuomo asked. “You can raise revenue in ways that actually cost the state revenue.”
Cuomo’s plan would add a new, higher income tax bracket for New Yorkers making over $5 million a year. The wealthy would have the option of prepaying their taxes for the next two years at the 2020 rates.
But the governor has said he worries that raising taxes on the wealthy would cause millionaires and billionaires to move to another state.
More than 100 Democrats in the State Legislature want a more expansive plan that includes additional, higher income tax brackets. Others back a higher inheritance tax, reinstating the stock transfer tax, and imposing a pied-a-terre tax on second home luxury apartments in New York City. They argue that the federal relief package is a one-time infusion of cash, and more money will be needed to balance future budgets when the bailout funds run out.
The relief money could make it easier for Cuomo and the Legislature to come up with a new budget by the March 31 deadline, but negotiations could be hampered because relations between the governor and the legislature are at an all-time low. State Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is calling on Cuomo to resign and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is urging the governor to seriously think about stepping down.
Cuomo is embroiled in two scandals, one involving five women who have come forward with accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, and another over his administration’s withholding of the true number of New Yorkers who died of COVID-19 in nursing homes. The state’s attorney general is investigating the sexual harassment charges, and there’s a federal investigation into the nursing home controversy.
Also, the Albany Times Union reported that Cuomo’s signature bridge building project over the Hudson River might have serious structural problems that were covered up. The Mario M. Cuomo Bridge replaced the former Tappan Zee Bridge.
But Cuomo, in the conference call, said that there’s “no way” that he will resign.
On Monday, he tried to show that he was carrying on with business as usual, with a visit to a state vaccination site at the Javits Center on the west side of Manhattan, where he held an event with African American leaders to promote the vaccines.
“There is a hesitancy problem in the Black community,” Cuomo said. “Now, they call it hesitancy. I don’t like that word ‘hesitancy.’ Because it’s a baloney word. … Call it what it is. It’s a lack of trust.”
The event was closed to the news media, and the governor did not take any questions afterward.
Meanwhile, Republicans, who are in the minority in the Legislature, announced plans to circulate an impeachment resolution among members. Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said it’s the first step in holding impeachment proceedings in his house.
A few Democrats have expressed support, but the Democratic leadership in each house so far has not. Barclay said it would be in Democrats’ interest to back the impeachment resolution. He said otherwise, with all of the tensions over the scandals, it’s going to be tough for them to work productively with Cuomo.
“This really has to be a bipartisan effort. Are they going to continue to deal with that amount of members in both houses calling for his resignation, some calling for his impeachment?” Barclay said. “How are they going to govern?”
The governor has asked lawmakers and the public to wait until the results of the attorney general’s investigation into the allegations are known. But Barclay and others said waiting is a luxury that the state can no longer afford.