ALBANY — New sales tax data released by the state shows New York counties are reaping far less revenue so far this year following the Cuomo administration's shutdown of many retail stores.
Aggregate sales tax collections so far in 2020, compared to the same period a year ago, show the important revenue source for municipalities is down about 26%, the New York State Association of Counties reported.
The latest data, said NYSAC President John F. Marren, shows "the bottom has fallen out from under local governments just as they’re beginning to gain ground against the coronavirus and making plans for reopening.”
The current statewide lockdown expires next Friday. But under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plans regions will need to demonstrate that the spread of the COVID-19 virus has slowed and there is sufficient hospital capacity available to deal with a wave of new infections
The slump in tax revenues comes as many counties find themselves facing higher costs due to the public health emergency and projected cuts in state reimbursements. Some communities within those counties are also coping with threats to their tax base amid slowdowns in business activity and soaring unemployment levels.
“Counties are reviewing all options, including hiring freezes, workforce furloughs and temporary layoffs, delaying infrastructure projects, halting new procurement and other essential and non-essential services and community improvements," said Stephen Acquario, NYSAC's director.
The state Department of Labor, an agency controlled by the governor, remains far behind in processing a surge of claims for jobless benefits, more than four weeks after Cuomo said his administration is working with tech giant Google to improve the system's ability to deal with the logjam.
"We haven't experienced anything like this. Period," Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, said at a briefing in Poughkeepsie.
The state Department of Labor reported $6.8 billion in jobless benefits has been paid to workers since the beginning of the pandemic, more than three times the sum the agency issued to unemployed people in 2019. More than 1.8 million New Yorkers have filed for unemployment over the past two months.
The worst outbreak of the contagion in the nation has been in New York, where the death toll was put at 21,044 Friday, an increase of 216 fatalities since a day earlier.
Cuomo also noted that what had been a steady rise in new hospitalizations has leveled off.
"We have shown that we can control the beast," he said. "We are finally ahead of this virus and we are in control of our destiny."
With courtroom activity strictly limited because of the health threat, the governor said he is extending the ability of victims of sex abuse during their childhoods to bring lawsuits against those who allegedly molested them for an additional five months.
The new "look back" window for such litigation will expire Jan. 14.
Cuomo said he remains concerned about reopening the economy too quickly, saying countries that have done that saw new infections "go right through the roof" and were left to explain: "Whoops. We made a mistake."
"I don’t want to have hundreds of more people go into the hospitals because of a whoops," Cuomo said. "I don’t want to have hundreds of more people possibly die because it was a whoops because I responded to politics."
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com