On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a state budget of $132.5 billion for the coming year. In his address from Albany, he asked legislators and officials to reduce spending on service programs and merge various government programs.
After closing a $10 billion budget deficit, Cuomo's administration sought to find a workable and balanced budget. In his statement, he emphasized cutting spending without raising taxes on the middle class. Much of the state's budget is balanced through revisions in the tax code that create a higher bracket for the state's wealthiest individuals.
This is an honest and disciplined budget, said Cuomo in his statement. It is not a Cracker Jack's box. You are not going to find anything in the bottom.
One of the hot-button issues that he discussed was education reform in the state. Cuomo said he is set to continue with plans with the state teacher evaluation systems in order to keep federal aid money given that was given to the state under the promise of creating such a system. If school districts do not comply with creating teacher evaluations by Jan 13, 2013, they will lose federal funding. The United Federation of Teachers has vehemently rejected basing the federal and state aid on teacher evaluations. Cuomo also said that if the New York State Education Department and the teacher's unions cannot come to evaluation and contract agreements, his office and administration will.
We can't lose a billion dollars in federal aid from our education system, said Cuomo. If you are serious about improving education, this is what you have to do and this is what we have to do this year.
Beyond that, he outlined a plan to increase education spending by 4.1 percent to a total of $19.5 billion. About $800 million will be allocated to some of the poorest school districts.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed his support for Cuomo and the budget he proposed
Most urgently, the Governor has made it clear that he is determined to be a champion for our students--and that he will not allow the teachers' union to drag its feet any longer on implementing new teacher evaluation systems across the state, said Bloomberg in a statement. I hope the UFT will not recklessly jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars for our schools by insisting on endless obstacles to removing ineffective teachers from our classrooms.
Cuomo also said the proposed budget will limit retirement benefits of state, county, and municipal employees by offering them a pension option.
We need pension reform, said the Governor. We need it desperately. He said that the state cannot survive under the weight of pensions any longer unless there are major changes. Cuomo is offering public employees the option of taking a pension plan that is less than what the current system has in place. This proposal, the governor stated, would save nearly $79 billion over thirty years.
It never says anywhere that taxpayers must pay for benefits in the future and we can't afford it, he said.
Bloomberg also supported the idea of pension reform. The Governor's push for mandate relief and pension reform could save the City billions in the long term. New York City spends more than $8 billion annually--more than 12 percent of our budget--on pension costs, more than we spend on the operating budgets for the Police, Fire and Sanitation Departments combined, said the mayor. Without a new pension tier, which will not diminish the retirement benefits of a single current employee, taxpayers will continue to spend more and more on pension costs, leaving less and less for public education, public safety, job creation, affordable housing and other critical services.
However, some public service employees and their unions may not be so quick to accept this new proposal. This pension benefit has existed for a hundred years. It recognizes the difficult and dangerous job New York City police officers perform each day, said PBA President Patrick J. Lynch in a statement. To alter that benefit would jeopardize the effective delivery of these critical services.
The size of the bureaucracy has gotten out of hand, said Cuomo. He is seeking to consolidate some state agencies and programs that are working inefficiently. Programs never go away and they get added one on top of the other on top of the other, he said.
Cuomo stressed that it is time to make serious changes. He wants to combine office space, limit hiring, and share information technology services. The governor did not say which agencies he had hoped to combine. We must reevaluate the functions across agencies, he noted.
On other points, Cuomo promised the MTA would be fully funded and plans to freeze spending on SUNY schools and state-run community colleges. Cuomo also wants to fully absorb Medicaid increases to local municipalities and counties by 2015 as the state takes on the administration costs of the program.
He also discussed a new philosophical approach to government that his administration has been working on for some time. He calls it, entrepreneurial government in which his administration will develop plans to coordinate state agencies and private-sector institutions that will make them more cost-effective. This current budget, he said, is hopefully the first step in better communication and coordination.
Cuomo's budget must be approved by the New York State Legislature by April 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year. However, he said that he is aware that there may be some legislative battles over some of his proposed measures, especially over education, pension reform and combining some agencies. However, he said he is confident this is what the people of New York state want and need.
I understand that we have a budget and a reform plan and the reform program is aggressive, he said. We are going to have support of the people of this state and that's what really counts.