By Tom Precious
ALBANY – Alliances – and that’s probably too strong a word here -- can be so fleeting in Albany.
Just days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo called state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli “competent,’’ high praise for a fellow Democrat who he did not endorse in 2010, the governor’s budget director today spent 30 minutes describing how, well, incompetent the comptroller’s office is when it comes to interpreting Cuomo’s budget proposals.
The state’s chief fiscal watchdog today released a report raising a number of alarms about Cuomo’s 2013 fiscal plan, including a worrisome hike in the state’s debt level, potentially overly rosy economic assumptions that could end up blowing a hole in the budget if they are incorrect and reliance on one-shot revenue raisers and transfers from off-budget accounts to the general fund in maneuvers that, though he did not say it directly, sound an awful lot like budget gimmicks.
Indeed, DiNapoli went so far as to say part of Cuomo’s budget plan “pushes off some hard choices for another day.’’
Wrong, said Robert Megna, Cuomo’s budget director, who took to a telephone conference call with reporters to go point-by-point through DiNapoli’s analysis. The gist: DiNapoli, or more precisely, as Megna kept saying, his “staff,’’ don’t know what they’re talking about.“We believe the comptroller’s staff did him a disservice on some of the comments that were made in the report, which we think misrepresents or just totally gets wrong some of the things in the budget,’’ Megna said.
He especially took issue with DiNapoli’s debt level warnings, insisting the borrowing practice Cuomo is doing has been how bond programs have worked in Albany for generations. He said the comptroller is mischaracterizing federal aid for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts as the bad kind of budgetary one-shots when Cuomo knows the program is intended for this year only.
The comptroller said Cuomo is raiding off-budget authorities to the tune of $273 million “for budget relief and other state purposes.’’ Megna responded that he didn’t know where the comptroller was getting that number, but that it was highly inflated at best.
And on and on went the differences.
Interestingly, DiNapoli did not offer his assessment on one of Cuomo’s most controversial budget plans: to essentially let localities borrow against future employee pension obligations as a way to lower short-term expenses on the theory that Wall Street returns will improve enough in the years ahead to prevent corresponding big balloon payments to keep the pension fund whole. DiNapoli said his office is still studying that idea.
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