On January 17, Governor Cuomo will present his Executive Budget for the 2012-2013 Fiscal Year. From my perspective, his budget should address several important issues which I have outlined below.
First -- Job creation and economic development. We must enact policies that reduce the cost of doing business and encourage private sector job creation. We should cut business taxes and eliminate bureaucratic “red tape,” including excessive regulations. Small businesses, manufacturers and the private sector in general are drowning in a sea of overbearing governmental regulations, unnecessary taxes and fees. Our region has been hit hard by the economic downturn, and job creation is vital to our long-term economic viability.
Second -- Mandate relief for local governments and school districts. We absolutely must provide a significant mandate relief package to assist local governments and school districts in addressing the rising costs of Medicaid, pensions, and other cost drivers which continue to force increases in local budgets and property taxes. Governor Cuomo promised mandate relief would follow the implementation of the new property tax cap. Now is the time to honor that promise. There are several bills and proposals, many of which I co-sponsor, that would help provide this needed mandate relief to ease the burden on local property taxpayers.
Third -- Education funding reform to help low- and average-wealth school districts. It is imperative that the governor’s budget proposal include reform of the state’s school aid formula to provide funding based on need to ensure our low- and average-wealth school districts, which are primarily our upstate, rural schools, do not get short-changed.
The governor wants to reward schools that perform with incentive-based funding. I support rewarding performance, however, when so many of our upstate, rural schools are challenged with teacher layoffs and students not having access to equal and needed opportunities that are provided to children in high-wealth schools, then we must reform the system to correct these inequities. We have to level the playing field so that children in our upstate, rural schools can compete and be afforded a good, quality education.
Finally -- Spending. We must maintain our fiscal discipline and control state spending. I believe we made progress last year as we cut state operations by 10 percent and actually spent $3 billion less than the previous year’s budget -- the first time that has happened in 15 years. We must continue to restructure and reform our state government while prioritizing our spending. There are three spending areas we can address to meet this goal:
- We must work together, along with the Medicaid Redesign Team, to continue our overhaul of the nation’s costliest Medicaid program. We made progress last year, but there is still plenty of room for more reform, particularly when it comes to waste, fraud and abuse. We can address these reforms without cutting essential services or reimbursements to hospitals, nursing homes and doctors. However, make no mistake about it, this growth in Medicaid spending is unsustainable for our state, counties and taxpayers;
- We must continue our work with the SAGE commission to restructure, consolidate and merge our many state agencies, commissions and authorities; and
- We should implement a state spending cap based on the average rate of inflation to ensure not just current but future governors and legislatures are required to live within their means and quell their thirst to spend taxpayers’ money. Here’s an interesting statistic: Over the past decade since 2000, state government grew by nearly 70 percent. If a state spending cap were in place during this 10-year period, spending would have been $30 billion less this year -- a real savings for taxpayers.
We have a lot of work to do, but I am committed to working with the governor and my legislative colleagues to address these goals so we can create a brighter future for our great state.