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A numbers game

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There is no doubt that New York state’s finances are in much better shape today than they were several years ago.

As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pointed out this week, the budget went from a $10 billion deficit to a $2 billion projected surplus. A lot of effort has gone in to regaining control of state spending, and the governor as well as some members of the New York State Legislature deserve credit for bringing expenses in line with revenues.

Gov. Cuomo delivered his 2014 Executive Budget Address in Albany on Tuesday. He is hopeful that, for the fourth consecutive time, the Legislature will approve the budget by the March 31 deadline.

According to a news release issued by the governor’s office, the budget holds spending increases below 2 percent for the fourth straight year; reduces taxes by more than $2 billion by 2016-17 by using surpluses generated each year; increases education aid by $807 million, almost 4 percent; proposes a $2 billion Smart Schools Bond Act to enhance technology in schools; and provides $1.2 billion in capital funding to help hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities restructure.

One of Gov. Cuomo’s goals is to put pressure on municipal entities to streamline their operations and eventually reduce spending. He said the primary burden on New York residents is the property tax, which is the result of far too many taxing bodies in the state.

His plan is to link property tax freezes to the ability of municipal entities to stay within spending limits, and even reduce spending, as well as consolidating operations and sharing services. This will provide more incentive for voters to light the fire under the feet of elected officials to trim their budgets.

Gov. Cuomo also called for $1.5 billion to be spent over a five-year period to fund a statewide universal, full-day pre-K program. This would be in addition to the $720 million to be spent over a five-year period to expand after-school activities.

The pre-K program is being viewed as a way for Gov. Cuomo to block the proposal of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to raise taxes on city residents earning more than $500,000 to fund his own universal pre-K program. Given that the wealthiest residents pay most of the taxes in New York City, opponents of Mayor de Blasio’s plan fear raising taxes would drive them out of state. And it wouldn’t necessarily take a large segment of the city’s richest population to make a dent in tax revenues if they left.

We’ve previously stated on this page that some of Gov. Cuomo’s tax plans need to be simplified. And we’ve also questioned how he intends to pay for the new programs he wants to finance through future surpluses, as these programs appear to exceed what surpluses the state may see. It is good to see school aid being increased, but the devil will be in the details of how exactly these funds can be used by districts.

But overall Gov. Cuomo has put forth another sensible budget that continues his goal of keeping spending under control. He is on the correct path in calling for government services to be streamlined and the number of taxing bodies to be reduced. State officials must focus on doing whatever is necessary to grow the economy, and this budget proposal is a reasonable step in that direction.

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