In one world, New York gets $15 billion in aid from the federal government to make up for the revenue that evaporated over the last year amid the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring.
In another world, New York only gets $6 billion from Washington, forcing spending reductions, tax increases, and more borrowing.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented a sliding doors style budget — one that considers the "best case scenario" of $15 billion that closes a budget gap and the worst, which does not get New York halfway there.
A lot is riding on whether incoming President Joe Biden, who is sworn into office on Wednesday, can win passage of a multi-trillion-dollar stimulus package in a Congress that is narrowly controlled by Democrats. Biden has proposed $350 billion for state and local governments.
"The question becomes, how do they distribute that $350 billion and how much goes to the New York state government," Cuomo said. "We don't know in short what level of aid we will get but the budget is dependent on that number."
Cuomo aired his continued grievances with the federal policy toward New York in the last four years culminating, he said, with the mishandling of the pandemic.
But if New York does not get the money, Cuomo raised the possibility of suing the federal government.
"New York paid a bill for COVID that no state in the nation paid for and it's not even close," he said.
Still, much of the speech, which traditionally provides nitty-gritty details of where policy and spending meet, has been given before Cuomo over much of the last year — underscoring the uncertainty surrounding the spending plan this year.
The governor is placing his faith in Biden, who has been allied with, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New Yorker.
Cuomo praised all three, but noted the federal government remains responsible.
Under the best case, New York is able to continue to phase a $400 million tax cut for middle-income earners and increase education spending by $3.8 billion. The state would also be able to create a $130 million COVID relief program for businesses, especially restaurants and theaters, that have been hit hard by the crisis.
Cuomo also proposed $350 million for legalizing cannabis for adult retail sale in the state, along with a $100 million "social equity fund" for communities affected by strict drug laws.
But the bigger question becomes what happens if New York does not get $15 billion. Cuomo said New York would face a mix of tax hikes, spending cuts and borrowing to cover the budget gap.
Progressives in the state Legislature are likely to push for tax increases no matter what, pointing to the widening income gap created by the pandemic.
But the clock is ticking. The budget is expected to pass by March 31; Congress may be able to pass a stimulus package by March.