Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year would cause pain and require hard choices, but local lawmakers seem willing to embrace the challenge.
“I think the governor has set a wise course,” said Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton, who endorsed the budget’s austerity measures that include a 2 percent cut in state aid for local municipalities.
In Schenectady, the reduction comes to $228,694, yet Stratton noted that the percent reduction was much less than the 10 percent decrease in money for state operations and acknowledged that the figure could be worse.
“It’s not something we budgeted for, but it is completely understandable,” he said. “I don’t like to get my state aid cut, but I’m a realist.”
Stratton was very supportive of one of the governor’s central cost-saving themes, which was consolidation. The budget anticipates $100 million in savings from proposals such as the merging of 11 separate state entities into four agencies, the creation of a commission to redesign government and a reduction of excess capacity in prisons and youth detention and mental health facilities.
The budget also included numerous economic incentives for various bureaucracies and municipalities to consolidate, which Stratton characterized as a step in the right direction.
“It’s exactly what we need to do,” he said.
Cuomo’s budget didn’t rely entirely on cuts and savings, though, with 3 percent of the budget deficit being closed by raising revenue. For example, the budget included a racing purse charge that Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, classified as a new tax. He said this move was a mistake.
The governor’s proposed budget counts on shedding $450 million through work force savings, which state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, said is indicative of the times. Everyone needs to be willing to give a little bit right now to survive this crisis, Farley said.
“There’s always way to negotiate and save money with the labor force,” he said, while expressing his objection to any layoffs.
State Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Albany, strenuously rejected the idea of laying off state workers as a cost-saving measure. Breslin said the state needs to seriously weigh the impact of the worst case scenario laid out by the governor, which would be 9,800 layoffs.
“Will work force reductions unintentionally lead to increased overtime and other expenses as staffing numbers decrease?” Breslin questioned.
He did echo the governor’s willingness to work together on the state’s fiscal issues, and Breslin credited Cuomo with offering steady leadership during his brief tenure thus far.
The view of Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, was cautiously optimistic.
“Our state is in dire need of spending restraints, and at first glance this budget seems like a fair start,” he said.
Amedore added that the focus of the budget needs to be job growth. This was in keeping with the message of Cuomo, as he stated that the long-term solution for the state is job creation.
“We are not going to be able to cut our way out of this long term,” said Cuomo. “We’re going to have to grow our way out.”
Stratton also stressed the importance of economic growth: “Everything is going to be about job creation and economic development.”
Farley said some tinkering to the budget will happen in the Legislature but he was confident the governor’s goals would remain intact through the Republican-controlled Senate. He and Tedisco were more worried about how the Democrat-controlled Assembly might compromise the hard decisions represented by Cuomo’s budget.