Blame Game

Here’s Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver insisting the Legislature isn’t solely to blame for the state’s problems, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo seemed to suggest during today’s budget address.

According to the speaker, there’s more than enough blame to go around – including on the second floor of the state Capitol.

“It’s clear that we have to do ethics reform,” Silver said. (Recall that Cuomo asked lawmakers to pass just two bills this session: Ethics reform and the budget. “There’s no questionn about that, and we ought to do that. It’s about the government. Period.”

“…People are frustrated with the state of New York. It’s beyond the Legislature. It’s the executive branch. People want to know when they go to a department of the state they get a decision. They get action on things. That’s all about the frustration with the state of New York. It goes far beyond the Legislature.”

Silver said he doesn’t expect member items this year, noting there weren’t any last year, either. He refused to comment on whether his chamber would be able to swallow the deep education aid cuts, saying he needed to look more closely at the numbers.

Bloomberg: Cuomo Budget Unfair To NYC

Not surprisingly, Mayor Bloomberg is none too pleased about the fact that NYC is facing a $2 billion cut in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget, including $1.4 billion worth of education aid.

Bloomberg believes his city is bearing a disproportionate amount of the cuts in Cuomo’s budget, noting the governor has called for eliminating 100 percent of its revenue sharing aid – more than $300 million – while other municipalities are receiving a 2 percent cut in their funding.

“The residents of our five counties pay a disproportionate amount of State taxes, and they deserve the same level of support,” Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg expressed disappointment that Cuomo’s budget didn’t include mandate relief, particularly in the forme of pension reform, which he has made a primary focus of his Albany agenda this year.

“We can’t only look at one side of the equation,” the mayor said. “We need relief from unfunded State mandates, as well as changes in State law that would allow us to save money, particularly where we can find ways to save money that would not cost the State a dime.”

“Without those changes, we will be looking at thousands of layoffs in our schools and across City agencies. And because of the last-in, first-out law, we would be forced to layoff teachers based solely on how many years they’ve logged on the job, not on the quality of the job they’re doing.”

“This is just the beginning of the process. The Governor will have another opportunity within 30 days to propose cost savings that will save thousands of City jobs, and other reforms, and we look forward to working with him in the weeks ahead.”

The governor, has, of course, tapped a Mandate Relief Task Force and asked its members to come up with recommendations for alleviating the burden on municipalities by March 1.

Bloomberg, as you’ll recall, endorsed Cuomo in the 2010 election. The two have appeared to be on a collison course in this budget season, however, on the topic of control of teacher layoffs. The mayor had threatened mass layoffs if the administration cut deeply into the city’s education aid, but he has since backpedaled on that threat.

Skelos: Cuomo Budget ‘Realistic’

Following today’s budget presentation, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said he’s “delighted” Gov. Andrew Cuomo stuck by his pledge not to raise taxes and get spending under control.

Skelos was asked if he thought it the education cuts, in particular, would be a tough sell on Long Island, where this is a hopt topic and has been a top priority of the Senate Republicans for years – particularly now that they’re back in the majority and control every seat in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

“As long as Long Island is treated fairly like any other part of the state, I think people will understand,” the senator replied.

Of course, that was before Skelos had seen the school aid runs. They are now on-line here.

On prison closures, which is a big issue for upstate GOP senators, Skelos took a wait-and-see approach, saying: “We’ll work with him, but we’re not going to destroy an upstate economy.”

(Cuomo said he’ll create yet another task force to come up with prison closures, which isn’t scheduled to release its recommendations until after the April 1 budget deadline, so it’s yet unclear which facilities will get an axe).

Skelos called Cuomo’s budget a “broad outline, which is a “different approach” than governors adopted in the past.

You can listen to Skelos’ entire Q-and-A with reporters below.

Cuomo To Hold ‘Public Meeting’ In Westchester (Updated)

A reader forwarded this invite from the Westchester County Association, announcing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to hold a regional public meeting at Manhattanville College in Westchester THURSDAY morning.

The event starts at 10:30 a.m. and reservations are required. It’s unclear whether this will be a recap of the budget address he delivered today – much like the past State of the State effort Cuomo made to take his message on the road.

Also, I’m assuming this event is being held weather permitting. Westchester is Cuomo’s home county, however, so it’s not like he’ll have all that far to travel. And he does have a State Police-driven SUV.

UPDATE: Feb. 3 is Thursday, not Wednesday. Mea culpa.

UPDATE2: A reader reminds me that Cuomo’s counselor Drew Zambelli was a consultant for Manhattanville prior to joining the Cuomo administration.


1199/GNYHA Prepare For ‘Superhuman Feat’

Another health care heavyweight has released a statement in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for $5.9 billion worth of Medicaid cuts (when the federal share is factored in to the $2.85 billion worth of state funding).

SEIU/1199 and its industry partner, the Greater New York Hospital Association, both members of the Medicaid Redesign Task Force, say they’re anxious to find “sensible” ways to reduce Medicaid costs, but also believe it will take a “superhuman feat” to reach the target Cuomo has established.


AIM Breakdown

In budget-speak, AIM stands for “Aid to Municipalities.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for a two percent across-the-board cut for everyone BUT NYC, which is slated (again) to receive nothing.

During his introduction of the governor, LG Bob Duffy said anyone in the audience at the Hart Theater who might be upset about the two percent cut would be welcome to offer to trade places with the state agencies, who are facing a 10 percent across-the-board cut.


Sisto: Cuomo’s Medicaid Cuts Require Magic

Amid the myriad budget responses clogging my in-box at the moment is one from Daniel Sisto, president of the Healthcare Association of New York State, who is a member of the governor’s Medicaid Redesign Task Force, charged with determining how to reach his goal of slicing billions from the system.

According to Sisto, the cuts Cuomo has proposed add up to approximately $15 billion over the next two years after you factor in the commensurate loss of federal funds.

This is the largest cut to health care services in New York history, and, in Sisto’s eyes, the magnitude of the reduction is “extreme” – even within the context of the state’s fiscal crisis. He also doesn’t really believe it’s possible to achieve what Cuomo wants, saying:

“I am gravely concerned about the expectation that the Governor’s Medicaid Redesign Team can identify alternative reforms to substitute for this level of reduction. ”

“The Medicaid Team does not need more health experts. It will require alchemists, not policy wonks or providers, to transform cuts of this magnitude into gold.”

“It is also important to view this proposal in the context of past budget actions and pending federal Medicare cuts. No other sector of state spending has been more disproportionately impacted by repeated cuts than health care.”

“In just three years, health care providers have already been cut by a cumulative $5.3 billion in Medicaid. Our state is also slated for billions more in Medicare payment cuts under the new federal reform law.”

“If the proposed additional $15 billion in Medicaid reductions over the next two years becomes law, we will see a continuation of hospital and nursing closures, adding to the 30 hospitals and more than 50 nursing homes that have already been shuttered in the last decade.”

“We are committed to providing the best constructive recommendations for improving our health system through the Medicaid reform process. However, as an outgrowth of health reform and the recession, both New York State and the federal government will continue to expand Medicaid enrollment and therefore drive spending.”

“HANYS wants to be explicitly clear that hospitals and other providers in New York State cannot absorb these cuts, provide quality care to our citizens, and transform health care delivery all at the same time.”

About Those Talks…

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo got to the workforce reduction part of this budget address, he rather pointedly noted that he has had a “good relationship” with labor all his life and only considered layoffs (9,800 of them, to be exact) to be a “last resort.”

The governor said he has already started talking with CSEA President Danny Donohue and PEF President Ken Brynien, whose union contracts expire at the end of March. Cuomo is hoping the state workers agree to concessions that result in sufficient savings so layoffs can be avoided.

Even before Cuomo was finished speaking this afternoon, Brynien was out with a statement that wasn’t at all concilliatory in its tone. (The statement hit my in-box at 1:45 p.m. Cuomo wrapped up his address about ten minutes later).

“The State Executive Budget proposal would cripple public services without asking any sacrifice from businesses, corporations and the millionaires and billionaires responsible for the economic crisis,” Brynien said.

“This Executive Budget calls for funding cuts including as many as 9,800 layoffs and more than 1,600 in attrition to reduce the work force by more than 11,500 jobs.”

“This in addition to the more than 11,000 jobs already cut since the fiscal crisis began. This is supposed to be about shared sacrifice, yet this proposal provides for a tax cut of nearly 28 percent for the wealthiest New Yorkers at a time when we can least afford it.”

“Unfortunately when the governor says everyone must share in the pain, he means the workers who provide vital services and the state’s citizens who rely on them, rather than those responsible for the collapse of the state and national economy.”

“We will work with the governor to do our part to help during this fiscal crisis. We have solutions that will help close the budget gap without gutting state services.”

“We are willing to sacrifice, but we will not be sacrificed.”

Budget Liveblog

1:54 p.m. “I put out my hand in partnership to every member of the Legislature. Assembly. Senate. Majority. Minority. Anyone who will work with me, I will work with…We’re New Yorkers first….at the end of the day they elect us to lead. Let’s lead and let’s do it together.”

1:52 p.m. “You can do more good for this state in this session than has been done in decades. You can not just right the wrongs, you can take us to a place we haven’t been. You can pass two bills. I want more, but you really only have to pass two.”

1) Ethics reform. “Restore your integrity.” 2) The budget. “Pass it on time. Pass it like responsible elected leaders. Pass it without it getting ugly. Pass it even though it’s hard. Pass it even though the lobbyists are beating you up…and say to the people of this state: We stepped up.”

1:51 p.m. He’s talking to the state lawmakers now:

“You’re going to hear it…the lobbyists are going to be running around the hallways like their hair is on fire…They’re going to be all over you, and they’re going to be complaining. I understand that is hard to take. I also understand this: The people get it, and the people are with you. And at the end of the day, it’s about the people…the people who elected you. And they get this because they’re living it in their own lives.”

1:49 p.m. Cuomo channels his inner therapist, says he knows this is going to be hard…we need a lot of change…But what people mean when they say that, he says, is “you need to change.” Change is “shocking and anxiety-producing.” OK.

More >

With Us Or Against Us (Updated)

Executive agency and department heads were not briefed on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2011-2012 budget until mid-morning today, but there was no ambiguity about the message delivered during their get-together, according to a source who was in the room.

“The message was given loud and clear that you need to go home tonight, look youself in the mirror, and if you can’t support the governor’s budget 100 percent, let us know and we will replace you,” the source recalled.

After spending exactly one month in office, Cuomo has made a number of agency appointments, but he has not yet replaced all the holdovers from the previous administration(s) in the upper echelons of state government. (Some are still hanging on from the Spitzer days, and a select few – albeit not in the commissioner posts – are still around from Pataki’s tenure, I believe).

Interestingly, I’m told Budget Director Bob Megna, who is himself a holdover, delivered the briefing this morning. UPDATE: Correction! It was Director of State Operations Howard Glaser, not Megna, who delivered the “with us or against us” message, a reader says.

The governor has proposed consolidating a number of agencies, which will entail doing away with a number of management confidential positions as well as possibly laying off 9,800 civil service workers – unless, the governor says, the unions agree to concessions that result in significant savings.

The talking points that appear below have been distributed to members of the administration. Key point: This budget is not merely a “cutting exercise” but rather “a management exercise in redesigning and reinventing our state government.”

budget talking 2011-2012