Gov. Andrew M. Cuomos budget director, in a letter to commissioners last week, laid out the parameters of the next budget.
The message from Robert Megna is fairly clear:
n The governor has orchestrated three on-time budgets, and the next will not be an exception.
n Spending increases are capped at 2 percent, and agency heads are directed to submit budgets reflecting no growth.
n The only additional funding will be for education and Medicaid.
The atmosphere that greets the quadrennial re-election budget process is charged this year.
On the one hand, the states tax collections this fiscal year have been strong. Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli recently reported that the state had received $550 million in unexpected revenue.
Overall, the state cash collections are 10.3 percent ahead of last year or $5.1 billion. Income and sales tax are trending higher than projections.
State expenses are moderating. In August, Mr. DiNapoli for the first time since he has been comptroller announced a reduction in rates required to support the state pension system. And the overall projected budget gap is quite small in comparison to projected gaps in the past five years.
On the surface, it seems that there is more opportunity to deliver an on-time and politically palatable budget.
Despite the promises of increased state aid to education and additional support for Medicaid and a $2 billion projected gap, it appears that there may be adequate funds to finance a tax cut. Upon several occasions, including his remarks that opened the Waddington Bassmasters fishing tournament, Gov. Cuomo has hinted at proposals to reduce tax rates in the new budget.
Mr. Megnas letter should send a clear message that the state has learned a lesson and is prepared to keep operational spending under control. At the same time, the capital budget of the state remains focused on infrastructure and job creation projects.
Mr. Megna links next years requests to the approved plans for the current five-year capital budget fiscal plan. The Cuomo administration has reorganized the method through which state support for regional projects is determined, and the result has been a rational allocation of assets that respects broad regional interests.
The challenge for all New Yorkers is to ensure that the legislature and the selfish, narrow interests that the various political factions represent are held at bay. That member items do not reappear. That taxes are not increased. That growth in state aid to education is allocated in such a way that struggling rural districts have the resources to consolidate.
Simply spending more money on schools does not solve the challenges of rural districts. Local districts must be empowered to merge, share services and streamline administrative structures created when there were twice as many students in the system.
Tax relief combined with extra help to local school districts will be especially welcome upstate where New Yorkers continue to struggle with a patchy economic climate.