Cuomo scores with budget
Gov. Cuomos budget deal with the Legislature is not quite the “transformation plan” he spoke of just two months ago. But its a welcome change after years of drift -- and in crucial respects a significant accomplishment.
Through shrewd use of his executive budget powers, Cuomo has forced a reluctant Legislature to bite the bullet. If the deal holds, a projected $10 billion gap for the fiscal year that begins Friday will be closed almost entirely with spending cuts and restraint, rather than (further) state tax hikes or borrowing.
To his credit, Cuomo has resisted pressure from his fellow Democrats to extend a temporary income-tax increase on high-income New Yorkers. And while he didnt win a permanent overall spending limit, he persuaded the Legislature to statuatorily cap Medicaid and school-aid growth, which is a start.
Assuming bills are passed by Friday, the budget will be settled on time -- and on something very close to the governors original terms.
Yet -- since the Legislature is giving Cuomo extraordinary leeway to determine precisely how to meet his spending targets -- the agreement leaves a veritable thicket of loose ends, which the governor will be responsible for tying up.
The biggest of those loose ends is Medicaid. Even before presenting his budget, Cuomo had neutralized much of the usual political opposition to cuts by creating a Medicaid Redesign Team, dominated by representatives of the health-care-workers union and major hospitals, to recommend ways of reducing projected Medicaid spending by $2.8 billion.
The final result -- a list of $2.3 billion in purported savings endorsed by the governor after the team released its report a month ago -- includes a modicum of real reform, combined with proposals that seem more likely to drive up Medicaid spending in the long term.
The buck ultimately stops with Cuomo: In the year ahead, he must do whatever it takes to ensure Medicaid spending actually stays within the cap, subject to whatever restrictions the Legislature is able to write into the final budget bills.
Meanwhile, the budget deal has erased one of the Redesign Teams key recommendations -- a cap on pain-and-suffering awards in medical-malpractice actions. The rejection of this reform alone will reduce Medicaid savings by $100 million or more. (As is the case with most important budget details, the precise amount is still unclear.)
The budget also assumes Cuomo will wring $450 million in concessions from unions representing state employees, whose contracts expire at midnight on Thursday. If no concessions are forthcoming, hell have to lay off nearly 10,000 workers. One way or another, something worth $450 million needs to materialize soon.
That workforce savings is apparently included in the $663 million savings that the budget assumes will come from a 10 percent across-the-board cut in state-agency operational spending. What (and who), precisely, will be cut? Some answers presumably will emerge from Cuomos newly authorized Spending and Government Efficiency Commission, which is supposed to reduce the number of state agencies by 20 percent. In this area, too, time is short and the target is ambitious.
While New York City and other localities are absorbing a reduction in state aid, Cuomo so far is denying them the tools they requested to manage with fewer resources. The governor sidetracked Mayor Bloombergs proposal to reform the “Last in, first out” rule for teacher layoffs, and he seems (so far) unwilling to entertain any change in the states collective-bargaining statutes, which now tilt the negotiating table in favor of public-employee unions.
Indeed, Cuomo has punted everything that smacks of local mandate relief -- including public-pension reform -- to yet another “redesign team,” whose first report was vague and inconclusive.
But he cant keep punting indefinitely. Nor can he indefinitely ignore other pressing problems that lie just beyond the next budget year, including under-funded capital plans for highways, bridges and mass-transit infrastructure.
Cuomos proposed cap on property taxes -- the central plank of his gubernatorial campaign platform -- would at least offer suburban and upstate New Yorkers some protection from the future ripple effects of local-aid cuts. The cap has been passed by the Senate, but now seems destined to be held hostage to an Assembly push for renewal and expansion of New York City rent regulations.
Breaking the property-tax cap impasse is Cuomos next key challenge. If he can deliver the cap he proposed, his first legislative session as governor may yet turn out to be truly transformational for New York taxpayers.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/welcome_change_ioydTGgTvowLDRLjrQ3IhJ