New York State Exposed: Following your money into the General Fund

Posted at: 01/23/2014 7:13 AM
Updated at: 01/23/2014 6:26 PM
By: Berkeley Brean

The next time you get a receipt at a restaurant or your pay stub at work, take a look at the state taxes that come out. Where do you think that money goes?

We know it's one of the biggest concerns you have -- your money and your taxes. So that's why we're doing our exclusive series -- New York State Exposed. 

The answer to the question is; the general fund. That's where your income tax goes, your sales tax goes and all those state fees you have to pay. 

Why are we doing this story?

Since we've been exposing the way New York State works we've asked: where does the money go? And time after time the answer we get is -- the general fund. So now we wanted to know this: how big is this state bank account? What money of yours ends up in there? 

The General Fund 

That's where most of your tax money goes. Every time you get paid, every time you go to a restaurant, your tax money ends up in the general fund. With so much of your money going into it, shouldn't we know more about it? 

The general fund is huge. It makes up almost half of then entire state budget. In 2014, the general fund tops $61 billion. The proposed state budget is $137 billion.  So what money goes into the general fund? The majority comes from your paycheck. Here's how the numbers break down. 

- $28 billion -- or 45 percent -- comes from state income taxes. 

- the sales tax and state fees you're charged -- like when you re-new your license or get your car inspected -- make up $6.5 billion. 

- businesses taxes make up another $6.5 billion.  

- the rest comes from a slew of other sources with complicated names like "personal income tax in excess of revenue bonds debt service."

Click here to see the state's 2014 "financial plan." 

So -- who's in charge of your money?

The governor uses the general fund to make up the budget and decides what money goes where. The state legislature amends the budget and passes it. 

Brean: when tax money goes into the general fund, where does it go from there? 

Assemblyman Joe Morelle, (D-Irondequoit) Majority Leader: well the general fund is essentially revenues we get from broad based taxes and then we use those for things like aid to education. Could be money for a lot of things, corrections, for a lot of state employees.

There are just under 300,000 state employees and the general fund helps pay their salaries. Some of the general fund helps pay for the state's share of medicaid and, again, public education. 

Click here to see where the state budget money comes from and where it goes. (Note: the total includes the general fund and what the state calls "dedicated funds." When you hear the state budget is $137 billion, that's what the state calls the "all funds." So, the general fund, the dedicated funds and the federal money for medicaid.)

Assemblyman Bob Oaks is from Wayne County and is the top ranking Republican on the Assembly's Ways and Means Committee, the committee that oversees the budget and how new york spends its money. 

Brean: in your estimation, in your experience, does the system work? > 

Assemblyman Bob Oaks, (R-Wayne County): well the system works I wish it was set up a bit differently. Are agencies paid? Is the state functioning? Yes. It would be nicer if it was a bit of a more open process and one that people could understand a bit more clearly.

Back to Assemblyman Morelle.

Brean: do you think the system works, the way it's set up?

Morelle: well I think what happens is, people get hung up on the accounting. But I think the bottom line for most citizens would be, is the state legislature and governor investing in the kinds of things that we think our priorities are? Are we spending enough to help the developmentally disabled? Are we spending enough on our hospital system and schools and universities? That's really what the debate is always about.