ALBANY — With revenues torpedoed by the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will seize control of the state budget for quarterly tweaks through an obscure clause quietly created last year.
“We know the revenues are down, [but] we don’t know how much, we don’t know when the economy comes back, we don’t know the rate at which the economy comes back and we don’t know what Washington may do to address this situation in the future, if anything,” Cuomo told reporters during a press conference at the state Capitol on Thursday.
“So, you don’t know, you don’t know, you don’t know and you don’t know,” he summarized. “But you have to do a budget with all those unknowns.”
The move comes as Cuomo’s office forecasts the coronavirus may cost the Empire State as much as $15 billion in revenues during its next budget, dramatically exacerbating the state’s precarious finances.
Cuomo is able to take the reins via the state Division of the Budget thanks to a clause baked into the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, allowing the DOB to take over in the event of dire financial straits.
“We’re going to adjust the budget through the years to reflect the actual revenue,” he said. “We’ll say on day one, ‘OK, we intended to give you $100. We don’t have $100, so we’re going to give you $95. But I can only give you $95 if I get $95. And I’ll let you know quarterly.’
“And that’s, frankly, the only way you can do this budget when you have so many unknowns.”
Cuomo said that the quarterly adjustments would be made based on pure numbers and without the hand of the state legislature, in order to save lawmakers a trip to Albany with the contagion still raging.
“What we’re thinking about is quarterly — or something like that — adjustments that are almost mathematical reflections of what the revenues are,” he said. “You know what the revenue projection is, and you know how much money you’ve made for that quarter. Whatever that deviation is would be automatic.
“It would be done by the Division of the Budget,” he continued. “I don’t believe the legislature is going to want to come up here every quarter and go through numbers. At this rate, with the spread of the virus, I don’t even know that it would be responsible to ask for a convening of the legislature.”
The Empire State has now been hit with 385 deaths from the disease, among 37,258 cases, with the worst still weeks away, officials project.