New York's Debt = $3,253 Per Person And Growing

5:16 PM, Jan 8, 2013   |    comments
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By Joseph Spector, Albany Bureau Chief

ALBANY -- New York is reaching its legal borrowing limit as the state's debt has hit $3,253 per resident, a report Monday from Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said.

DiNapoli said the state's growing debt load could impact its ability to fund road and bridge projects, as well as recovery from major storms in recent years.

New York has the second highest level of debt in the country, and its borrowing capacity is estimated to drop from $9.2 billion five years ago to $509 million next fiscal year, which starts April 1.

"New York's past borrowing is limiting our future options," DiNapoli said in a statement. "We spend billions each year to repay existing debt, so fewer resources are available for more pressing needs. This comes at a challenging time when our state needs to rebuild and repair critical infrastructure and has growing capital needs."

New York's per capita debt of $3,253 is nearly three times the national median, DiNapoli said. As of March 31, New York's debt was $63.3 billion, a 62 percent increase from a decade ago.

In 2000, the state Legislature established a Debt Reform Act, which limits state debt to 4 percent of the state's total personal income. In the 2013-14 fiscal year, the debt capacity would be $509 million, DiNapoli said.

DiNapoli recommended the state increase the cap to 5 percent of personal income and expand the definition of state debt. He said the state may have to revisit its debt limits if it were to exceed the cap.

DiNapoli said the state's debt problem is largely because of borrowing by the state's roughly 300 public authorities, which are off the books of the state's operating budget. Nearly 95 percent of the borrowing over the past decade has come through public authorities.

Debt has grown at an annual percent of 9.4 percent over the past decade, he said. As a comparison, education aid grew 5.3 percent over the decade.

DiNapoli said part of the problem is that the state isn't retiring enough debt to keep up with new borrowing. Over the past decade, the state issued $53 billion in debt but retired only $26 billion.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed to curb the state's spending. Since taking office in 2011, he closed a $10 billion budget gap in 2011 without increases in taxes and has limited the growth in state spending to less than 2 percent.

"Time and time again, he produced results on issues that had been intractable for decades," a report last month from Cuomo's office said. "He balanced the state's budget two years in a row and brought long-term stability to our state finances."

Still, DiNapoli estimates that state debt will continue to grow: from $63 billion to $69 billion in 2017.

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