PLATTSBURGH — North Country officials liked much of what they heard from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday about his 2012-13 budget.
"I think it is very good. There are no new taxes or fees, and it looks like he really is trying to contain state government," State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) said.
Little said the state made some headway last year toward reducing a more than $10 billion deficit, but more needs to be done, and the governor's plans to streamline and merge some state agencies is a good approach.
"We still need to govern more efficiently, and there are many programs that are confusing and some that do seem like they do the same thing as another agency," she said.
'NOT FAR ENOUGH'
Cuomo's budget reform looks to drop the 3 percent Medicaid cap by one point annually to a flat zero cap for county governments over the next three years.
Essex County Manager Dan Palmer said the measure would shave $67,000 off of average increased costs next year.
"Normally, Medicaid goes up about $200,000 a year. So next year, it would go up $130,000 instead, with the 2 percent cap."
Medicaid costs Essex County $6.7 million per year, fully 44 percent of the tax levy.
"Right now, if the cost of Medicaid exceeds 3 percent, the state picks up the rest of it," Palmer explained the cap.
"This isn't going far enough, but it's better than a sharp stick in the eye, I guess. And it's a step in the right direction.
"Medicaid is not going to go away. If we get out 20 years and we're still paying $7 million, then it might look good. We (counties) wanted them to take over Medicaid altogether."
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) said the governor's Medicaid proposal would be a big help locally.
"That is great news for the counties. It will reduce their costs significantly over time," said Duprey, who served as Clinton County treasurer for 25 years before getting elected to the Assembly in 2006.
"That is something, as treasurer, I was hoping for all those years."
LACKING IN LONG-TERM
Duprey said she would have liked to have seen more mandate relief in the governor's plan but is hoping that will develop as the budget process moves along.
"We are still a long ways from getting anything significant, and as I've said before, that for every mandate there is someone supporting it, and it makes it hard to get rid of them," she said.
City of Plattsburgh Mayor Donald Kasprzak would also like to see more mandate relief coming from the governor's office.
"I appreciate and applaud Gov. Cuomo's efforts to remake our state government to become more efficient and accountable. His budget plan accomplishes this to a large degree," the mayor said.
"I am disappointed, however, in the lack of long-term support for mandate relief. Until pension, health-care and labor reforms are directly addressed, New York state costs will continue to be unsustainable.
"Gov. Cuomo and the legislature must address these issues immediately."
NEW PENSION TIER
Clinton County Administrator Michael Zurlo said the few mandate relief plans included in the governor's budget, among them the phased-in hard cap of the local Medicaid share and the creation of a new pension tier, are on the right track, but the details could be worrisome.
"Our job now is to analyze the details of the executive budget and to ensure that its overall effect on county government is positive, and that actions are not taken that further hamper our ability to carry out state initiatives with less state assistance," Zurlo said.
Palmer thinks the Tier VI voluntary retirement pension option is a great idea.
"That's the other big bear in the house — retirement cost. Anything that's going to level off the pension is a good step. Ultimately, we still have all of those people out there that we are contributing 20 percent for, and it will take time for the reforms to phase in and begin to work."
Flat funding state agencies may translate to higher local costs, Palmer warned.
"If we're expected to deliver the same exact service without additional funding from the state, we're going to pick up the difference.
"Until you tell me I don't have to deliver a service, there is no change."
Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward (R-Willsboro) said she is concerned about two areas of the budget plan: the Olympic Regional Development Authority taking over Bellayre Ski Center in the Catskills and the governor's intention to pay Department of Environmental Conservation officers out of the DEC's conservation fund instead of its general fund.
"I want to see if ORDA will have enough money in its budget to manage Bellayre and still continue to do all of the things they do, and I am not sure what moving the conservation officers out of the general fund will mean for sportsmen," she said.
"The devil is always in the details, and we don't have many details right now."
Sayward said she is hoping to find out more at budget meetings this week.
North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said the governor's plans to help the economy will hopefully provide a needed boost to all areas of the state.
"On the investment side, the commitment to infrastructure that supports the economy is very welcome, especially with the governor's plans to make these investments in a more coordinated, efficient way than in the past, and to finally leverage the power of public-private partnerships in New York," Douglas said.
Little said she believes the governor's plan should make its way through the legislature by the April 1 deadline.
"I think people really feel that the state is turning around and going in the right direction," she said.
"The work we did last year helped us this year."
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