Legislators hear more budget details
YATES, SCHUYLER COUNTIES—Barbara Fiala, commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles in New York, says Gov. Andrew Cuomo expects the state budget to be finalized before the new fiscal year begins on April 1.
Fiala spoke about the upcoming fiscal year in Penn Yan and Watkins Glen, Friday, March 9. She outlined some of Cuomo’s plans for 2012-13. One issue Fiala touched on was mandated tax relief. She explained the governor is “committed” to establishing a cap on the increased costs for Medicaid reform. Since 2008, the state has had a three percent cap on added finances. Fiala discussed how beginning this year, Cuomo intends to begin a process that will lead to there being no extra Medicaid costs in three years. The plan is to drop the tax cap to two percent for 2013. It will be lowered to one percent by 2014 and by 2015, all additional Medicaid costs will be phased out.
With regards to rising costs, Fiala also mentioned the governor is aware contribution rates to the state’s pension fund has gone up too high. This year, those costs are anticipated to rise by as much as 18 percent. Acknowledging the state can no longer sustain the current pension system, Cuomo wants to adopt a new method where employees invest in the system after one year as opposed to 10. According to Fiala, the new plan will establish progressive contribution rates and end pension abuse by excluding overtime payments.
Infrastructure development was another subject Fiala discussed in her presentation. She indicated Cuomo’s proposed budget includes plans to improve over 100 bridges, repair 2,000 miles of roads, upgrade 90 municipal water systems, improve 48 state parks and repair 114 flood control projects. Fiala also made note of Cuomo’s plans to increase funding towards education by four percent. This would result in an extra $805 million being allocated towards the state’s school districts. She added the governor wants teachers to be held accountable for the classroom performance of students so he instilled a stronger evaluation system. To make sure districts complete these evaluations, schools will be required to submit them by Jan. 13, 2013 to be able to receive any part of that extra four percent.
One issue addressed to Fiala was how much attention Cuomo was devoting towards Yates County with his proposed budget. Finger Lakes Community Health Chief Executive Officer Mary Zelanzi said she was worried the governor is not doing enough to grow infrastructure in smaller counties such as Yates. Fiala responded by explaining the governor plans to continue allocating grants to the state’s 10 Regional Economic Development Councils. Yates is part of the Finger Lakes regional council which covers the greater Rochester area. Fiala noted Cuomo plans to set aside around $200 million for development projects among each of the regional tiers. She also pointed out the Finger Lakes region received around $68 million in grant money this past year. Yet, Zelanzi stated a good chunk of that funding went to initiatives in Rochester. Fiala stated the governor likes to keep this process competitive and will distribute more money to projects which he sees as more efficient. She continued by explaining if a certain community did not get as much money one year, it could be an incentive to work harder to make initiatives more sustainable in the future.
Highway Superintendent David Hartman said while “we are all thankful the governor recognizes infrastructure,” the state still has control of where exactly that money will go. Hartman stated Cuomo should give that money to counties in order to decide things such as which roads and bridges need improvement. He added Yates County “can create jobs faster than the state.” Fiala told Hartman she would bring his concern up with the governor.
According to Legislature Chair H. Taylor Fitch, establishing mandated tax relief is the top priority in Yates County. Fitch said he was not satisfied with Cuomo’s plan to phase out additional Medicaid spending in three years and additional costs should be eliminated now. He pointed out pension contribution should also be abolished and the state is looking for ways to take money from counties. “We (Yates legislature) think Medicaid should be frozen,” Fitch stated after the meeting. “Same with pension relief.”