The state government’s debt has topped $63.3 billion, with New York on track to approach its borrowing limit in early 2014, the comptroller’s office reported Monday.
That debt burden, averaging $3,253 per resident, is almost three times the national median, according to the report. New York’s state-funded debt is second only to California’s $96.4 billion and 80 percent higher than New Jersey, which is third.
“New York’s past borrowing is limiting our future options,” DiNapoli said. “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.
“Taxpayers have little or no say in how much the state borrows, but they’re the ones who have to foot the bill. It is time to return to voter approval of borrowing,” continued the Comptroller. “I have called for comprehensive reforms to New York State’s capital planning process to ensure critical infrastructure needs are met in a responsible way. ”
New York paid $6.8 billion on its loans in 2011-2012, though borrowing has continued to outpace payoffs. The $63.3 billion debt as of last March 31 was $1.6 billion higher than a year earlier.
“At this point, 95 percent of the borrowing over the past 10 years has been without voter approval,” Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said. Most came from public authorities, avoiding the general prohibition in the state constitution against issuing debt without the approval of voters and the Legislature.
Those entities created by the state Legislature, like the Thruway Authority, develop and maintain infrastructure like roads, bridges and schools.
About $8.5 billion of the total was issued for operating and other expenses, instead of capital projects, the report said. It called for a constitutional amendment to prohibit non-capital debt, while raising the debt ceiling from 4 percent to 5 percent of personal income and counting $10.5 billion of state-funded debt that’s part of his calculation but currently left out of the statutory debt ceiling calculation.
State lawmakers in 2000 imposed the ceiling, and they could extend it. The report projected New York’s borrowing capacity falling to $509 million under the ceiling after the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
According to the report, the Cuomo administration and lawmakers took steps last year to improve capital planning through a task force to coordinate public works projects among state agencies and public authorities.