Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Republican rival, Marc Molinaro, argued about the condition of New York state’s finances during their only one-on-one debate of the campaign. Molinaro pushed back against Cuomo’s claim that he has increased spending by only 2 percent per year, lower than it has been in modern political history.
"Your budgets have increased spending at about an annual rate of 4 percent each year," Molinaro said. "So, despite the fact that you continue to suggest that you’ve been able to hold the two percent, you haven’t."
Since taxes and spending are a hot topic for New Yorkers, we decided to check Molinaro’s claim.
Cuomo has said that he would keep spending increases to 2 percent every year. This is a voluntary cap, and is not part of state law. In 2016, PolitiFact New York checked Cuomo’s claim that he had kept spending increases to 2 percent, and found his claim to be True.
But in the last two years, the rate of state spending has changed, according to experts.
The state Division of Budget and independent budget analysts have agreed that when evaluating Cuomo’s pledge to keep state spending growth at 2 percent, expenditures in the State Operating Funds should be considered. Those funds are for state operations, funded by state resources. They exclude federal funds, which the state does not control, and capital spending. Spending included in State Operating Funds go beyond the state’s General Fund, however, and also includes things such as state-funded special revenue funds and some debt service.
The independent Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization, analyzes state budgets and found that the 2018-19 budget, which began April 1, calls for increased spending of 4.5 percent. The commission found that, despite state leaders’ proclamations that spending growth had stayed at 2 percent, "after adjusting for shifts of certain types of spending out of state operating funds or across fiscal years, the budget actually increases 4.5 percent from fiscal year 2018."
A commission analysis of the 2017-18 budget found that spending would rise by 3.7 percent, despite the administration’s claim that it would rise by only 2 percent. The administration moved spending around to other funds or other years in order to maintain 2 percent growth, according to the commission.
The author of both of those reports, David Friedfel, spoke about the governor’s record on spending increases during a post-debate podcast from the commission and Gotham Gazette. For the first six years of his administration, Cuomo is right to say that he kept spending growth at 2 percent, said Friedfel, director of state studies at the commission. But in the last year and in the current year, that’s not the case, he said.
"The 2 percent certainly isn’t accurate, and to continue to push that is problematic, just from a transparency perspective," he said.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli had similar findings.
DiNapoli, who is independently elected and whose staff analyzes every budget, reports that increases in spending in the 2018-19 budget is more than double Cuomo’s state spending cap. DiNapoli’s budget analysis, released in July, stated that though the Cuomo administration had claimed that it stuck to a spending increase of 2 percent, when budget management actions are accounted for, such as taking $1.4 billion in spending for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority off-budget, "the Office of the State Comptroller estimates State Operating Funds spending growth at more than 5 percent."
For the 2017-18 budget, DiNapoli found that after adjusting for budget actions that allowed the administration to claim only a 2 percent increase, that spending was actually set to increase by "approximately 4 percent."
Molinaro said that state spending under Cuomo has increased beyond the 2 percent cap, despite Cuomo’s claims.
Cuomo has been in office since 2011. In the first six years, as PolitiFact New York and others have pointed out, Cuomo kept the growth in state spending to 2 percent.
But in the last two years, state spending has increased beyond 2 percent, though the Cuomo administration has shifted spending in the budget to make it appear as if the 2 percent cap has been honored, according to experts.
We rate Molinaro’s claim True.