ALBANY, N.Y. -- When asked if state lawmakers should reauthorize a tax surcharge on the wealthy, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the answer is, that depends.
"What does the budget look like? How much money do you need to make the budget work? And the fewer tax dollars you need to do government's job, the better," said Cuomo, D-New York.
The budget picture is starting to come into sharper focus and the state faces a potential shortfall of nearly $700 million. Whether Cuomo and state lawmakers will have to close a budget gap through keeping the tax in place depends on whether needed revenue comes through between now and the end of March.
"You have the receipts and you have a guesstimate on the receipts, but the big question is what the federal government is going to look like and you don't know what they're going to do with the billions of dollars in aid that comes to New York," Cuomo said.
Cuomo's non-committal answer on the tax is key considering that when he first took office he was steadfastly opposed to tax increases, even at one point comparing his position to the moral stance his father Mario Cuomo took on the death penalty. Cuomo has since relaxed his views on taxes.
"He said that throughout his first year as governor for 11 months and then in the 12th month, he changed his position and then linked it to a tax reform, which was really a set of temporary tax cuts," said EJ McMahon, Empire Center for Public Policy.
Fiscal watchdogs like McMahon question whether keeping the tax is necessary, especially if the state's revenue situation starts to improve.
"We've seen since the mid-year update is a surge in stock prices which will increase capital gains, so it's not even clear if there will be a $689 million budget gap," McMahon said.
Cuomo has also adhered to limiting yearly spending increases to 2 percent, but could also slow the growth of spending even further if necessary.
"If there is a $689 million budget gap, one way to not have any budget gap is to increase spending by only one point three percent, which happens to be the current inflation rate," said McMahon.
That surcharge on high income earners is set to expire at the end of the year.