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State officials: Budget deficit likely to double

ALBANY - If you thought 2009 was ugly in the state legislature, buckle up for 2010.

With a $3.2 billion shortfall looming and political battles erupting over the budget, 2009 was a troubled year for a financially strapped New York State. And if New Yorkers expect things to get any better when 2010 arrives, they should think again.

No doubt, there's trouble ahead.

State politics will ring in the New Year with a flurry of lawsuits from school districts and special interest groups who claim Gov. David Paterson broke the law when he unilaterally froze and slashed state aid payments in December.

Governor's spokesman Morgan Hook said this week that with the spring state budget season on the horizon, the non-stop strife that has racked the state isn't likely to end anytime soon.

He said that he expects formidable battles over state spending reductions, necessary to balance the budget, to continue well into 2010 and beyond.

"The bulk of the state's spending is in education and health care," Hook said. "We are going to have to make cuts and the bulk of those cuts are going to have to come from those areas."

Paterson is targeting the two largest state expenses, school aid and Medicaid, for cuts in an attempt to close a huge budget gap, Hook said. The state Office of the Budget expects the gap to be between $7 and $9 billion in 201-2011, he said. This is more than double the sum that nearly brought the state to its knees in 2009-2010.

Last fall, Paterson had called for nearly $500 million in mid-year school aid reductions, but couldn't get them enacted as state legislators considered the move political suicide.

State Budget Office spokesman Matt Anderson said Dec. 30 that the state will distribute $49.2 billion in Medicaid reimbursements and $21.9 billion in school aid in 2009 -2010. And without some form of fundamental change, these figures will only continue to skyrocket.

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