Governor Has Blurred Together FY 2021 and FY 2022 Budgets
Reinvent Albany believes the Governor’s FY 2021-2022 Budget proposes transferring yet more budget power to the executive branch and would further reduce the ability of the State Legislature to function as a co-equal partner under the State Constitution. Furthermore, the budget is abnormally secretive and does not reveal to the public or Legislature how much funding the Governor has withheld, cut, diverted or did not deliver to specific state agencies, authorities and vendors. (In total, the Governor reports withholding at least $3.1 billion.)
Division of the Budget (DOB) documents show that the MTA will get that $1 billion less from state-created dedicated taxes and funding than was planned for in the current adopted FY 2021 budget. Yet, DOB does not explain if the MTA’s missing billion dollars is because of lower tax revenue, or diversions of dedicated fund revenue to the general fund. Nor does DOB show how much MTA funding has been temporarily or permanently “withheld.”
Governor Has Moved the Budget Goal-Posts: Proposed Budget is Compared With Current Year’s Adjusted Budget — Not Budget Originally Adopted in April 2020
Budget numbers have also been “rebaselined,” showing DOB updated revenue tallies for FY 2021, not what was originally in the adopted budget in April 2020. This “blurring” of the FY 2021 and FY 2022 budgets does not allow the public and Legislature to properly hold DOB accountable, as there is a lack of transparency about what is effectively a cut or delayed payment. State budget documents do not answer the basic question of whether state MTA operating aid reductions for this year are solely from tax receipt losses. Given the MTA’s financial woes, basic transparency of state funding levels remains urgent.
Governor Seeking Even More Budget Powers Via Withholdings
The Governor has proposed to continue the budget adjustment process for the FY 2022 in the Aid to Localities bill, this time without the ability of the Legislature to reject any cuts. This would give the Governor unilateral authority over withholdings if the federal government does not provide $6 billion to New York State by August 2021, or for any other “similar” reason.
State records FOILed by Reinvent Albany from the State Assembly show the DOB (part of the Governor’s office) has formally provided the Legislature documents showing $700 million in withholdings during calendar year 2020. This is far short of the total of at least $3.1 billion in withholdings identified in DOB’s Executive Budget financial plan (see page 191 of PDF). DOB’s list of withholdings continues to provide only ten broad categories of withholdings, not listing them by individual agency or program, such as the MTA. Instead, DOB has only provided the Legislature a list of “scheduled” payments that were withheld. This is a subset of all withholdings, and leaves the public and the legislature in the dark about exactly how much in state funding has been withheld, cut or not delivered to agencies and public authorities.
Twenty watchdogs including Reinvent Albany asked the DOB to provide a full list of withholdings in a December 2020 letter, and DOB stated that a full breakdown would be provided. To date, DOB has not provided a detailed list of all withholdings by agency.
A State Legislature That Believes It is a Co-Equal Branch of Government Must Reject Unilateral Budget Adjustments By Governor
Reinvent Albany believes that without information about the withholdings and advanced payments, the public and Legislature cannot know if reductions in state aid have been fair and sensible. The lack of detailed information keeps New Yorkers in the dark about how much the Governor has withheld from local governments, state vendors and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which is facing its own dire fiscal crisis and a deficit of more than $8 billion through 2024.
The Legislature should reject this new language granting the Governor unilateral authority to adjust the FY 2022 budget, and require there to be additional, detailed transparency of withholdings and repayments for the current year, and any mid-year changes for next year.
Reinvent Albany will provide additional analysis of the Governor’s Executive Budget in the coming days.