It's the $10 billion question: how do you bring back state government from the financial brink, return it to a place where it's helping to grow the economy and create jobs, and restore the people's faith and trust in it?
For Gov. Andrew Cuomo, tasked with all of the above and more, it will take tough decisions, require sacrifices, and likely the proposing an executive budget ripe with cuts in an effort to close a projected $10 billion gap in 2011-12. During his State of the State address on Wednesday, Albany's new boss said such measures are necessary if New York is to get back on the path to legitimacy and economic stability.
"This is a fundamental realignment for the state. You can't make up these kinds of savings over this long of period of time through a budget cutting or trimming exercise," Cuomo said of his soon-to-be-released executive budget proposal. "We are going to have to reinvent government. We are going to have to reorganize the agencies. We are going to redesign our approach because the old way wasn't working, anyway, let's be honest."
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, was invited by Cuomo to speak at the State of the State Address. Skelos expressed optimism that he and Cuomo appeared to be on the same page in terms of reducing taxes and cutting spending, and stressed that 2011 will be critical in determining whether Albany can recover.
"We simply cannot fail to achieve these goals because the future of our state and the economic security of every New Yorker depends on it," Skelos said. "It’s going to take a large measure of courage to make the tough decisions that have to be made. We can accomplish a great deal if everyone recognizes the seriousness of our budget problem and is ready to make sacrifices – instead of spreading fear and spoiling for a fight."
Assemblyman Brian Curran, R-Lynbrook, referenced Cuomo's point that New York, despite spending more than any state on education, Medicaid and economic development, still lags behind other states in terms of performance results. He also agreed with Cuomo's plan to make New York business-friendly and to alleviate the tax burden on residents.
"The bottom line is that we cannot have New York State continue down the same path that it has or we will lead it to fiscal ruin," said Curran, the former mayor of Lynbrook. "I look forward to the governor presenting his budget in the coming weeks so the principles that he spoke about in yesterdays speech hopefully starts to become reality and places our state back on the road to recovery.”
Effect on L.I.
Cuomo outlined several proposals that will undoubtedly be felt on Long Island, particularly in its school districts. The governor supports creating two $250 million state aid funds that all districts would have to compete for — with one awarding additional aid to districts that increase classroom performance, and the other for districts that find ways to save on administrative costs.
Cuomo mentioned a property tax cap only once in his speech, though many school officials are the most concerned about this because of the potential that districts would be hamstrung in the amount of money they could spend each year. A property tax cap would make it illegal for school districts to increase their property tax levies more than what the state allows unless a certain percentage of voters approved it.
Dr. William Johnson, superintendent of the Rockville Centre School District, said it is not necessarily a bad idea for districts to compete for additional funds, but that he would need to see more specific details to fully understand the plan. Johnson does, however, believe that a property tax cap would not be good for the schools.
"It would have a devastating effect on the school district," Johnson said. "Unless the state is willing to provide the school district with the loss of revenue that it needs to pay for many of the state-driven expenses over which I have no control."