ALBANY - Only a few days in office, Gov. Mario Cuomo has proposed to cut state agencies by 20 percent, enact a state worker pay freeze, pursue ways to reduce costly state mandates on local government, and to redesign Medicaid, which now represents about half the cost of county government expenditures in New York State.
Cuomo's passionate State of the State speech delivered Wednesday - which included a bleak description of its problems - was interrupted often by applause as he outlined steps to lead New York out of its multi-billion-dollar budget gap.
The plan called for imposing a one-year salary freeze on a large portion of public employees, capping state taxes, and imposing a state spending cap at the rate of inflation.
Cuomo said he would establish a new Spending & Government Efficiency Commission to make state government more efficient, including reducing the number of agencies, authorities, and commissions by one-fifth. The commission must submit a right-sizing plan by May 1.
He also called for the creation of a new Medicaid Redesign Team to find ways to save money within the Medicaid program, based on the approach used in Wisconsin, where Medicaid costs were reduced by $625 million or about 10 percent. The team is to begin work by Jan. 7, and must submit its initial recommendations to Cuomo by March 1.
Cuomo also proposed to attack the quagmire of costly unfunded mandates that are imposed on local governments.
He said a Mandate Relief Redesign Team would be formed to identify reducing ineffective or unnecessary mandates that now present a burden on local taxpayers. The team will include representatives from private industry.
He also pledged to reward local governments that save money by downsizing or consolidation through the award of grants for mergers or dissolutions.
Observing that New York State ranks first in the nation in spending on education yet ranks 34th in results, Cuomo proposed reserving a portion of state aid for performance-based grants that reward districts for boosting pupil performance or for reductions in expenses.
Cuomo said $250 million would be awarded to schools that excel in boosting pupil achievement, and another $250 million would be granted to schools that slash administrative costs.
Citing that New Yorkers pay some of the highest taxes in the nation, Cuomo proposed a property tax cap that would limit annual increases in taxes to the lesser of two percent or the rate of inflation except by vote of the local citizens or extraordinary capital expenditures.
New York State Association of Counties Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario said for years, county officials have fought for such Medicaid reform and mandate relief.
"These mandates have contributed in large part to the exorbitant property taxes that are forcing families and businesses out of the state," he said. "NYSAC welcomes Gov. Cuomo's creation of a team to address the mandates that have overburdened taxpayers and local governments throughout New York, and looks forward to working toward real property tax relief."
State Sen. Betty Little said such reform as Cuomo imposed was overdue. Citing census figures that show population moving out-of-state, she said a cap must be imposed on runaway state government spending.
Lawmakers, she said, need to cut or eliminate least-effect programs and services - particularly in light of the state's $10 billion budget gap.
Little said that the legislature must work with a common goal to make those changes.
"The divisiveness of hyper-partisan politics has to end and be replaced with a constructive dialogue that leads to sensible policy decisions," she said.
However, lawmakers should avoid budget manipulation that only achieves illusory short-term gains.
"I'm hoping to see a greater emphasis on a long-term strategy to make New York a more affordable place to live and work five, 10 and 20 years from now," she said.