Cuomo says he’ll bolster education and close a budget gap with efficiency, doesn’t mention campaign finance

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Cuomo and the machinery of state government. ()
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled his budget for the next fiscal year this afternoon, promising to pay for some new items in his State of the State address with cost savings and greater efficiencies across state government.

Cuomo proposed closing the state's $1.3 billion state budget gap without raising taxes or tapping into potential revenue from hydrofracking.

Cuomo proposed a total budget, including aid for Hurricane Sandy and planning for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, of $142.6 billion dollars, an increase of 5.2 percent over last year's budget. The all-funds portion of the budget, which does not include the Sandy aid or health care spending, grew just 2 percent.

The governor joked about his ability to shrink the budget deficit from the dire projections when he took office, showing a slide that estimated this year's deficit at $13 billion before he slid the decimal over, like a "Price is Right" game, to the proper $1.3 billion gap.

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"Sorry they had the decimal point in the wrong place," he joked. 

"Dean, you can start breathing again now, Dean," he said to one of the State Senate's two majority leaders, Republican Dean Skelos. (Cuomo also recognized Independent Democratic Leader Jeff Klein as "majority leader." The state's fourth man-in-the-room, Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver, was attending a bris.)

Nearly half the $974 million in "state spending control" savings, in Cuomo's estimation, are going to come from found efficiencies--"ongoing state agency redesign and cost-controlled efforts." Most of the remainder comes from reduced state aid to localities, or "local assistance," in budget-speak, with local governments getting a 2.3 percent increase in funding, rather than the 3.1 percent they were expecting.

Tax enforcement and extending "existing revenue sources" will bring in $403 million, according to Cuomo's budget presentation. Cuomo also wants to cut down on motorists' ability to plead down traffic tickets, saying the current plea-deal model "threatens public safety and leads to a loss of $58 million annually in State revenue."

The State of the State contained several items that are likely to attract legislative support, only some of which would cost the state money directly.

A proposed increase in the minimum wage would raise the hourly wage from $7.25 to $8.75, a change that progressive groups and unions have long called for, but the proposed increase would not be indexed to inflation, as some advocates had hoped.

Cuomo's idea to expand the class time in public schools will start with competitive grants of $25 million to expand full-day pre-kindergarten, and $20 million to extend either the school day or the school year by 25 percent.

The total amount committed to grant programs recommended by the governor's education reform commission is $75 million, which the governor's budget director told reporters is money left over from last year.

Overall, school spending will increase four percent, or double the two percent increase for most of the "all-funds" portion of the budget, which includes state spending without the costs of Hurricane Sandy or the Affordable Care Act.

The budget also proposes $35.9 million to implement the gun control legislation passed by the legislature last week, including $3.2 million for school safety improvement teams, and $32.7 million to create a state gun database.

The governor's budget was also noticeable for what was not included.

Cuomo made no mention of campaign finance reform, and the 84-page summary provided to reporters did not include any proposed allocations for public funding for campaigns. Republicans have objected to the idea of public financing, though the governor has floated the vague possibility that non-tax dollars could be used for that purpose.

The governor's budget also did not include funding for the state's Dream Act, which would provide additional state money for immigrant students to attend college.

State Senator Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, sent out a statement saying there "is a lot to like" in the budget proposal, but added, "As with the State of the State Address, however, I would have liked to have heard the governor count the New York State Dream Act among his priorities for the year."

In order to provide mandate relief to local governments, Cuomo proposed allowing them to tap into future savings from the state's new, cheaper pension plan, Tier VI.

Cuomo also proposed changing a key provision of binding arbitration rules which he said left open to interpretation the concept of a government's "ability to pay." Cuomo proposed defining that term more specifically, with a formula. But, as Bill Hammond of the Daily News pointed out, the new rules won't apply to New York City, where every single public-employee contract has expired.