The leader of the Senate Republicans, offering his first real criticism of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget, said the spending plan leaves too much unfinished and could result in a month-long delay in the process.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos told a gathering of county leaders from around the state that he knows local government leaders, as well as state lawmakers, have two major concerns this year.
“Everyone likes M&M’s unless it stands for Medicaid and mandates,” Skelos told county leaders. “This is going to be a critical discussion as we go through this budget process.”
Cuomo has said he wants to cut nearly $3 billion dollars from the projected increase in the Medicaid budget and is seeking serious mandate relief, but he’s left the details up to panels made up of stakeholders, such as hospitals for Medicaid, and county leaders for the mandate relief to come up with the details. The groups are to report back March 1, one month after the governor released his spending plan on February 1.
Skelos, a Republican who has so far been an ally of Democratic Cuomo’s budget agenda, said the “lack of specificity” is starting to present a problem.
“We don’t have the totality and that’s the challenge that we have right now,” said Skelos. “Essentially, we’re a month behind.”
Skelos said Cuomo may have a political reason to delay some of the details of the budget: it keeps interest groups at bay. Health care and other groups in the past have run negative TV ads against previous governors who attempted to control spending.
“They keep their powder dry for about a month,” said Skelos.
Cuomo, breaking a long-standing tradition, did not speak at the event, but his Budget Director, Robert Megna, presented charts and graphs showing that state spending is out of control. Megna had no comment on Senator Skelos’ remarks. The governor’s press office also chose not to respond.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he’s not bothered by the delay, and believes it’s a positive development that stakeholders get to have a say in how the cuts are distributed.
“The governor has done the appropriate thing,” Silver said. “He’s tried to put all the players together, and said, ‘Here’s what we need, you as an industry figure it out.’”
The Speaker said Cuomo announced the Medicaid redesign and mandate relief panels within a few days of taking office on January 1.
Silver was also scheduled to speak at the counties meeting, but later cancelled.
The executive director of the counties association, Steven Acquario, said he was encouraged by what he heard from Skelos and Budget Director Megna. He said they both realize that another “m” is equally important.
“There’s the third m: money,” said Acquario, who noted counties agree that current state spending is unsustainable.
Acquario said mandates for health care and pensions must be eased because those two items make up 75 percent of counties’ budgets. He said while counties’ support the two percent per year property tax cap proposed by Cuomo and approved in the Senate, they must also be freed from state rules and regulations that are driving up costs.