Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Cuomo noted on opening his annual budget speech that “budgets should not be traumatic” but closed with a different message.
“What we're talking about here are major shifts. Don't underestimate what we're trying to achieve. It's a paradigm shift,” he said
Under his plan, the state would take the burden of Medicaid increases off of counties' budgets, projected to save $1.2 billion over five years. Increases covered by counties are capped at 3 percent, but Cuomo wants to see all future increases absorbed by the state government.
He's also set on implementing a statewide teacher evaluation system that he said will not only improve the educational experience for students in one of the highest property-cost states but also preserve nearly $1 billion in federal funding that hinges on instituting such a system. He demanded that the union and state end their lawsuit to stop the evaluation system, saying the Legislature would create a system if those groups would not.
“That is a significant cost to the state, but we said we're serious about mandate relief,” said Cuomo.
The governor also plans to target pension relief, which should see a 185 percent increase from 2009 to 2015. For now, the proposal is to offer a new tier of enrollment for state pension programs that would save state and local governments 50 percent compared to currently offered options, though it would be a voluntary program.
In keeping with the New York Open for Business model, where the state awarded grants in a competitive system to projects that could achieve big results with small funding, the state would use $1.3 billion to spur $25 billion in private investment.
The budget would also boost Temporary Aid to Needy Families by 5 percent, an increase Cuomo said was appropriate in tough economic times.
One of the projects planned is an energy highway bringing the extra power production of upstate to the energy-hungry downstate metropolitan area.
“It will put people to work, that's what we need right now in New York,” said Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, who represents Hamilton and Warren counties, most of Essex County and part of Saratoga County.
The Medicaid relief is also planned to included a phased takeover of administrative costs by the state, according to Sayward, who said, “That will be significant for our counties.”
“He's putting this budget together with no new taxes, with is huge for small businesses throughout New York,” said Sayward.
Also big for small business should be the implementation of a federal program for medical insurance purchasers that will drop private buyers' costs by 66 percent and small-business buyers' costs by 22 percent.
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, who represents Clinton and Franklin counties plus St. Armand in Essex, said the Medicaid mandate relief will translate directly to relief for property owners.
“The counties would like to have the state pick up all the costs,” Duprey said, “but that's not going to happen.”
Duprey was happy to hear that no prisons would be closed.
“Everybody worries about it after last year when he closed seven,” she said.
The SUNY and CUNY schools will get their 2.2 percent increase, an important issue in the North Country with three community colleges (North Country, Clinton and Adirondack) and SUNY Plattsburgh.
“For the most part we're seeing our funding held fairly level. We're not seeing any drastic cuts,” she said. “Is that good? You betcha.”
State Sen. Betty Little, who represents northeast New York, had great praise for the new pension option.
“It's very important to young people, who are much more mobile than they were 20 years ago,” Little said.
Current state options require a decade of work before pensions become available. With the new pension tier, modeled after TIAA-CREF, a few years of work will yield a pension account that workers can take with them as their career shifts.
Little said more details on the budget will emerge as meetings convene in the coming weeks, and she'd know a lot more about the details then. She did point out that aid to localities will remain flat at $796 million.
Another problem Cuomo would like to see addressed is program overload. Programs keep getting made in state agencies but not undone, so programs that were relevant in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are still hanging around, bloating budgets. He noted that in New York, 13 agencies administer 91 job training programs, though most are pursuing the same goal. His administration will submit a plan to eliminate hundreds of redundant, obsolete programs to legislature.