Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gov. Cuomo’s first State of the State address, Metroland
presents an issue-by-issue examination of his plans for
transforming New York
Kathryn Geurin, David King and Shawn Stone
number one in spending but thirty-four in terms of results,
that has to change. The current education funding goes out
by formula grants, meaning there are no performance incentives
in the grant process. A school district gets their numerical
formula and that’s what they’re going to get, whether they
do a good job, a bad job, it doesn’t matter; they get the
same level of funding every year. . . . Our suggestion is
when it comes to education, have two competitive funds that
reward performance. One is a school performance fund . .
. [and] a second competition for administration efficiency.”
Cuomo also supports a consolidation bonus. All facets of
the plan, he says, are intended to “change the behavior
through the funding mechanism.”
York State’s system of education funding needs to be examined,
and the performance of our schools needs to improve. Cuomo
is serious about reforming the system, increasing efficiency
and raising expectations without increasing the tax burden.
model of performace-based school aid arguably exacerbates
the performance discrepencies between low-income and well-funded
school districts and their students. Cuomo’s plan will force
schools to compete for $500 million in state aid, and the
schools that need it the most may not make the grade. And
with no plans to extend the “milionare tax” surcharge on
housholds making more than $300,000 annually, deep, though
yet unspecified, cuts are still expected.
and education aid account for the majority of state spending,
so when facing a budget shortfall and cries for tax relief,
education aid is a tempting place to cut. But following
record cuts to state education aid in 2010—1.4 billion dollars,
bringing the total cuts to 9-percent over two years— many
New Yorkers are concerned that Cuomo’s austerity budget
and property tax cap will slash school funding too deeply.
The Alliance for Quality Education initiated an Internet
campaign this week in response to the State of the State,
calling on the public to e-mail the governor in opposition
to the proposed budget cuts. “His plan to set aside $250
million for school improvement is a step in the right direction,”
the statement reads, “but if he introduces a slash and burn
budget at the end of this month it will send our children
backpedaling away from on time graduation and college and
proposed a $100 million grant program that will go to local
private sector partnerships that come up with the best plans
to create green jobs, reduce pollution and further environmental
it was near the end of the speech, and was not given the
prominence of the other, seemingly more pressing economic
issues, the fact that the governor even mentioned the environment
in the State of the State is a plus.
The Albany-based organization Environmental Advocates issued
a hopeful-yet-neutral-sounding statement that they are interested
in learning more about the governor’s program, sharing the
hope that it will “bolster environmental protection while
creating jobs and revitalizing our cities.”
Aside from what the governor outlined in the State of the
State, Cuomo has made some moves to reassure green advocates.
Most notable is the fact that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the
Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter and Environmental Advocates
all applauded Cuomo’s pick for Department of Environmental
Conservation commissioner, Joe Martens.
was nothing in the speech about the contentious hydrofracking—hydraulic
fracturing for natural gas—issue, which Environmental Advocates
term the state’s “most urgent” environmental issue. There
was also no mention of regulating greenhouse gasses, and
the related issues of climate change and global warming.
with the budget crisis and ethics reform, it’s hard to imagine
environmental issues not taking a backseat—at least while
former Gov. David Paterson’s executive order curtailing
hydrofracking is still in effect.
will propose a clean up Albany plan with real reform. This
is not going to be a situation where the people of the state
will have suffered for years and lost trust and now we’re
going to give them a watered-down or half-baked ethics reform
bill. They’re going to have real ethics reform. We’re going
to end pay to play. We’re going to have full disclosure
of outside income. We’re going to have an independent monitor.”
insists that he will not settle for half-baked reform plans
that do not require legislators to disclose their clients
and conflicts of interest. He wants an independent watchdog
organization to police the Legislature and the executive
branch, and he even wants public financing of campaigns.
“This could be the year that reform finally comes to Albany,”
Blair Horner of New York Public Interest Research Group
said in a statement issued after the State of the State
address. “The governor’s State of the State address not
only offered a road map for the comprehensive overhaul of
the structure of state government, but also added a sweeping
prescription to cure the ethical ills plaguing Albany.”
proposals on ethics are hard to complain about. The only
major problem is that he hasn’t introduced the legislation
yet. He is probably holding off so as not to appear to be
Eliot “Steamroller” Spitzer and to give the Legislature
some time to negotiate.
hasn’t introduced a bill yet because he says he wants to
negotiate with the Legislature to get their input on a major
ethics overhaul. He told reporters earlier this week that
he wants to work with the Legislature “in a collegial way.”
But he insisted in the State of the State that this was
a simple black-and-white issue. If the legislators are negotiating,
it is quite likely, given their history, that they are negotiating
for weaker reforms. Cuomo has promised that he won’t wait
until after the budget process is done to introduce a reform
package. The budget process could be long—and very ugly—so
it is a very good thing that Cuomo thinks the Legislature
can handle ethics and the budget at once. Unfortunately,
given the Legislature’s history, his faith that they can
simultaneously walk and chew bubble gum is misplaced.
have juvenile justice facilities today where we have young
people who are incarcerated in these state programs who
are receiving help, assistance, program treatment that has
already been proven to be ineffective: recidivism rate in
the 90th percentile. The cost to the taxpayer is exorbitant.
For one child, over $200,000 per year. The reason we continue
to keep these children in these programs that aren’t serving
them but are bilking the taxpayers is that we don’t want
to lose the state jobs that we would lose if we closed the
facilities. I understand, I understand, the importance of
keeping jobs. I understand the importance of keeping jobs
especially in upstate New York. I also understand that that
does not justify the burden on the taxpayer and the violation
of civil rights of the young person who is in a program
that they don’t need where they’re not being treated hundreds
of miles from their home just to save state jobs. An incarceration
program is not an employment program. If people need jobs,
let’s get people jobs. Don’t put other people in prison
to give some people jobs. Don’t put other people in juvenile
justice facilities to give some people jobs. That’s not
what this state is all about, and that has to end this session.”
state’s juvenile justice system has been found to be violent
and dysfunctional in all sorts of studies, including one
by the federal Justice Department. In fact, the Justice
Department threatened to take over the system if improvements
weren’t made. So revamping the system and consolidating
it has to be considered a step in the right direction.
Cuomo admits, a lot of small towns where these facilities
are located will lose jobs. But thanks to decreasing inmate
populations, these jobs are largely do-nothing jobs and
a waste of taxpayer money.
are going to fight this tooth and nail. They insist that
the “safety” of our communities is at stake because violent
youths will now be out on the streets or under guarded.
Upstate legislators are likely to back the unions in an
effort to save jobs by shipping downstate youthful offenders
upstate and away from their families. This fight will not
believe in justice for all, then let’s pass marriage equality
this year once and for all.”
governor’s brief but clear statement on marriage equality
sustained the commitment he made throughout his campaign
to make marriage equality a priority in his first year.
Last year, Cuomo spoke at the Empire State Pride Agenda’s
fall dinner, saying, “I don’t want to be the governor who
just proposes marriage equality. I don’t want to be the
governor who lobbies for marriage equality. I don’t want
to be the governor who fights for marriage equality. I want
to be the governor who signs the law that makes equality
a reality in the state of New York.” His message on this
issue couldn’t be more clear.
may have articulated his support of marriage equality, but
his ability to get the necessary legislation passed waits
to be seen.
Spitzer and Paterson both supported the Marriage Equality
Bill (S. 4401, A. 7732), which passed in the Assembly in
both 2007 and 2009, but has been held up in the Senate,
where the bill has been repeatedly tabled or rejected.
Marriage-equality advocates had high hopes in 2009, while
the Senate was briefly under Democratic control, but the
issue landed at the crux of the Senate coup, as Sens. Ruben
Diaz (D-Bronx), Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) and Pedro Espada
(D-Bronx) leveraged their position in the slim majority
in part to prevent a vote on marriage equality.
Despite the facts that Republicans regained control of the
Senate, three pro-gay marriage Democrats lost to Republican
oponents, and same-sex marriage oponents including Diaz
and Krueger retained their seats following the November
elections, Empire State Pride Agenda executive director
Ross Levi made a statement to NY1 that “we are sitting here
today stronger, in stronger position, after the election
than we were before.”
January,” said Levi, “There will be 14 new faces in the
state Senate compared to a year ago, and advocates say they
now have two more “yes” votes than before.
wants to utilize a Medicaid Redesign Team similar to one
used in Wisconsin. The idea is to have the health-care industry
work with representatives of Cuomo’s office to meet Medicaid
spending targets in the governor’s budget. In other words,
they need to come to the table and make concessions on reimbursement
rates in order to meet the state’s needs.
Cuomo said, “this is not going to be a budget-cutting or
trimming exercise. We need to redesign the Medicaid program.
I can also tell you this. As the attorney general, I audited
the Medicaid program for four years. Even without this budget
problem, the Medicaid program needs a desperate overhaul.
It is dysfunctional on many levels, so this process has
to be done anyway. Our suggestion is to take a crisis management
approach and put together a Medicaid Redesign Team. The
Medicaid Redesign Team will start on Jan. 7. It will commit
to reinventing in time for the April 1st deadline, it will
assume the governor’s budget target for the Medicaid cut,
and the exercise will be to find alternative ways to reach
that cut. If we institute a cut in the normal budget process
it is basically through reducing the reimbursement rate.
Let’s see if we can’t actually find efficiencies in the
program so we actually provide a better service for less
York spends twice the national average on Medicaid per capita
and is second highest in spending per enrollee, and yet
the state ranks 21st for overall health-care quality. Reining
in Medicaid spending makes a lot of sense to a lot of people.
like the Commission on the Public’s Health System say that
Cuomo has named too many health-care-industry heavyweights
to the board—the same special interests that are looking
at their bottom lines—and not enough patient/consumer representatives
to serve on the Medicaid Redesign Team. “The governor was
very clear in talking about not allowing special interests
to dominate. But then he appointed a task force for Medicaid
with the top special interests controlling it,” Judy Wessler,
director of the Commission on the Public’s Health System,
told The Wall Street Journal. “This is why we’re
in this crisis, and he’s just repeating it.”
25-member Redesign Team has until April 1, the budget deadline,
to come up with recommendations. Observers doubt that major
compromises and concessions can be made in that time span.
When budget season hits, if agreements aren’t made and Cuomo
pushes for cuts, you can expect the fury of the health-care
industry to be unleashed: ads attacking Cuomo as they did
Paterson and Spitzer before him. Remember the commercial
featuring the wheelchair-bound blind man who asked, “Why
are you doing this to me?” of Paterson and his proposed
health-care cuts early last year? The spot was paid for
by Local 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and the
Greater New York Hospital Association. Cuomo has pledged
to wage a campaign of his own against special interests,
so you can expect to see this all play out during commercial
breaks if it goes south. If major Medicaid cuts do make
it into the budget, expect to see more job losses in the
health care industry.
costs of pensions are exploding, 1.3 billion in 1998-1999,
projected for 2013, 6.2 billion—a 476 percent increase and
it’s only getting worse.”
governor has proposed a freeze on state employee wages as
part of an emergency fiscal package. This, rather than layoffs,
seems like a reasonable place to begin the discussion. CSEA
president Danny Donohue, in his guarded response to the
State of the State, said Cuomo “offered many ideas which
we will consider carefully. We will agree with some and
disagree with others.”
governor offered no concrete proposals for pension reform.
There is much potential for mischief if wage freezes and
departmental consolidations morph into a discussion of widespread
layoffs. The effect on the state’s ability to deliver needed
services should always be first in everyone’s mind
has made it clear that if the state worker unions don’t
play ball, he will, as The New York Times reported
in October 2010, “mount a presidential-style permanent political
campaign” against them.
have the worst business tax climate in the nation, period.
Our taxes are 66 percent higher than the national average.
. . . The property taxes in New York are killing New Yorkers.
Thirteen of the 16 highest taxed counties are in New York
when assessed by home value.”
state’s tax system is in dire need of reform, and Andrew
Cuomo seems deadly serious about fixing it. Certainly the
horror in the story he related in the State of the State,
about how 81-year-old Monroe County resident Geraldine Sullivan
had to get a job as a school lunch monitor to supplement
her Social Security in order to stay in her home, is self-evident.
Cuomo has long been an advocate for consolidating the myriad
local governments that plague this state—tiny fiefdoms that
survive, arguably, to provide make-work jobs for politicos.
His plan to incentivize consolidation by offering local
governments consolidation bonus money—50 percent of which
could be redistributed as “direct property taxpayer relief”—is
a good starting point.
new governor seems intent on getting a property tax cap
enacted. The Business Council of New York immediately endorsed
the cap, deeming it part of a Cuomo-led “path to recovery.”
Not everyone is so enthusiastic. In an editorial published
a few days before Christmas, The New York Times argued
that a property tax cap is “a blunt instrument that ends
up punishing many of the taxpayers and communities in need
In addition, Cuomo is committed to letting the so-called
“millionaire’s tax” expire, adding to current and future
the Assembly leadership tried to use this cap as a bargaining
chip to get something they want, namely, the extension of
rent control in New York City. The tax-cap proposal should
be judged on its own merit.
is truly [in] an economic crisis. In real GDP, from 2001-2006,
upstate New York grew about 1.7 percent per year while the
average in the nation was 2.7 percent. . . . Two million
New Yorkers have left the state over the last decade.”
plan calls for the establishment of “economic regional councils”
that would partner with the State University of New York
and the private sector to create “jobs jobs jobs.”
the plan, there would also be competition for development
money—which might be as much as $200 million—among regions
and projects. How well this turns out will depend on how
the councils are set up.
economy upstate went off a cliff long before the Great Recession.
Nothing could happen. After all, Eliot Spitzer promised
a concerted effort to revitalize upstate, too.