New York is facing one of its largest budget shortfalls in nearly a decade this year, and deficits in coming years will get larger and larger -- making life more challenging for lawmakers and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
"What that points to is we're not solving the problem," said Empire Center President EJ McMahon. "There's a structural budget gap despite the governor's efforts to restrain spending -- which, while they're not as effective as he claims, he's been pretty restrained by historical standards."
Cuomo has pushed for budgets that keep overall state spending under a 2 percent increase. His top budget advisor touts the voluntary spending cap as helping the state turn the corner fiscally.
"The bad old days of spending increases, of 7 percent, of 8 percent, are behind us, and New York has been controlling spending," said Division of Budget Director Robert Mujica.
But independent budget analysts take a dimmer view of the spending caps put in place, saying the effort hasn't gone far enough.
"The problem is he hasn't been restrained enough, or we wouldn't have these budget gaps," McMahon said.
They also charge Cuomo has also been using a variety of gimmicks to close deficits and make it appear spending is being restrained.
"The governor touts his 2 percent spending cap, but if you dig deeper into the numbers, you start to see some accounting shifts and some other things that show spending growth is really closer to 4 percent most years," said David Friedfel of the Citizens Budget Commission.
This year's budget proposal includes $1 billion in new tax and fee increases aimed at closing the deficit, but the structural gaps will remain. That could make it harder for the state to respond to future economic downturns.
"It certainly will, and with the changes at the federal level, those things can get even worse," Friedfel said.
The budget is scheduled to pass by March 29, several days before the end of the fiscal year.