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With Federal Aid, Tax Hikes On The Rich Still On The Table, Cuomo Says

NEW YORK NOW - New York is expected to receive $12.5 billion from the federal government as part of the latest stimulus package, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday that tax hikes on the wealthy are still on the table to bridge the state’s budget gap.

Cuomo, who’s currently facing dual investigations over allegations of sexual harassment and his administration’s handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes, said the $12.5 billion isn’t enough.

For the past several months, Cuomo’s called on Congress to send $15 billion to New York state to supplement lost revenue during the COVID-19 crisis and the state’s direct cost of responding to the pandemic.

That money would be used to fill the state’s budget deficit, which Cuomo’s office has projected to be about $15 billion over two years. Economic analysts have pegged the gap lower, and state revenues have turned out to be higher than Cuomo’s budget office anticipated.

Still, Cuomo said Sunday that he would work with lawmakers on strategies to raise another $2.5 billion in revenue — including tax hikes on the wealthy.

“It’s the difference between $12.5 billion and $15 billion, and don’t get me wrong — $12.5 billion is very, very helpful,” Cuomo said. “We needed $15 billion, in my opinion, so we do have a gap there, and tax increases are on the table.”

A faction of Democrats in the state Legislature have been trying to garner support for higher taxes on the wealthy for the last several months, and have also proposed other ways to raise revenue — like collecting taxes on stock transactions, taxing capital gains, and more.

The package of bills, called the Invest in Our New York Act, hasn’t collected enough support from Democrats to move forward.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Westchester, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, have both said they’d support higher taxes on the wealthy, but it’s unclear where the majority of Democrats stand on the other measures in the package.

Cuomo and lawmakers have until the end of March to negotiate a final deal on the state budget, which the state Division of Budget has pegged at $192 billion dollars.

But dual scandals involving the three-term governor — allegations of inappropriate behavior from five women and criticism over his administration’s handling of nursing homes during COVID-19 — have derailed negotiations on the spending plan.

Cuomo has said he won’t resign amidst the scandals, signaling that he’ll remain in office despite a small, but growing, number of Democrats calling on him to step down.

On Sunday, he said he wouldn’t let the scandals “distract him,” and that his attention has now turned to negotiations on the state budget. Though it’s unclear how willing lawmakers are to negotiate with him directly, given the sexual harassment allegations.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is leading a special investigation into the sexual harassment claims. Her office is expected to hire a nonpolitical, independent law firm to lead the investigation, though a selection hasn’t been announced.

The timeline of that investigation is unclear, but Cuomo said he’ll wait to make any decisions about his political future until the probe is complete.

“When she finishes her job, we'll take that from there,” Cuomo said.