No matter who is governor of New York next year, that person will have to tackle growing budget gaps estimated to be worth a combined $18 billion over the next three years.

“In our system, it all begins and ends with the governor for the most part. The governor is the key actor in the whole process,” said EJ McMahon, Empire Center president.

If spending is limited to two percent, the budget gaps will be relatively modest, reaching a high of $1.4 billion.

  • $780 million - 2019
  • $1.4 billion - 2020
  • $480 million - 2021

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Democratic primary opponent Cynthia Nixon has blasted the self-imposed spending limit, saying it has hurt low-income New Yorkers.

“That has been a disaster for New York State and that has caused our infrastructure, our human services and everything in every part of the state to be defunded,” Nixon (D) said.

Without a spending cap to balance out expected cost increases, the gaps become much larger, reaching $7 billion by 2021.

  • $4 billion - 2019
  • $6 billion - 2020
  • $7 billion – 2021

In a statement, Nixon spokeswoman Lauren Hitt noted the numbers remain early estimates, but any cuts would not be made to programs benefitting low and middle-income residents.

"She will look for cost savings in Governor Cuomo’s corrupt and failing economic development programs and she will consider any budget deficit in the context of her plan to raise taxes on millionaires, billionaires and large corporations,” she said.

On the Republican side, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro is planning a tax cut.

“Paying for the tax cuts we'll roll out. You do know I'm committed to a substantial property tax reduction plan, which will include both reduction in state imposed spending on local governments and the reduction of redundancy, fraud, waste and abuse and I'll get to that in the next couple of months,” he said.

Cuomo's campaign pointed to the $10 billion gap the governor closed when taking office and the $55 billion in combined shortfalls his budgets have closed.

Still, some gaps may be harder to close in the coming years.

As time goes on, it's going to get harder and harder to meet those numbers. I think there are some areas that would make it pretty easy to balance the budget in the short term, but in the long term, more tough decisions will have to be made,” said McMahon.