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January 24, 2013

Cuomo's budget proposal outlined in Oneonta

By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star

---- — RoAnn Destito, commissioner of the state Office of General Services, brought Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2013 budget to Otsego County on Tuesday with a presentation at the State University College at Oneonta.

Narrating a slideshow prepared by the governor’s office, Destito, a former assemblywoman from Utica, broadly outlined the administration’s plan to reform numerous state programs, such as workers’ compensation, while introducing a series of programs intended to boost the state’s economy by creating a better-educated workforce and promoting New York state products and tourism.

Among the areas targeted for reform are unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation, initiatives that Destito said were “strongly linked” to the governor’s plan to raise the state’s minimum wage to $8.75 an hour from $7.25.

“He wants the workers’ comp and unemployment reform to mitigate the cost” of the minimum-wage increase, she said after the formal presentation.

Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller, who attended Destito’s presentation, gave it a mixed review.

“First of all, it’s the executive budget, and it’s long way between the executive budget and the adopted budget,” he cautioned. “That said, there are a couple of things that jumped out on the positive side.”

For example, “any program that makes it possible for local governments to deal with the spiraling pension costs issue has got to be welcomed,” he said.

Miller was referring to the Stable Rate Pension Contribution Option under the Tier VI program that “would allow local governments and school districts to lock in long-term, stable-rate pension contributions for a period of years,” according to budget material the governor’s office released Tuesday.

On the other hand, “there was not one word about mandated relief,” the mayor said.

Cuomo’s “whole program of 2 percent property tax cap was to be tied to mandate relief,” Miller said. “He talked about it last year, and there was no mandate relief. But today there wasn’t even a mention of it.”

“The words never passed RoAnn lips, and they weren’t on any of her visuals,” he added.

Mandate relief for municipal governments and school districts is addressed in the documents released Tuesday.

Among the proposals it makes are allowing counties to renew their existing sales tax authority without legislative approval; eliminating local-government and school-district reporting requirements on April 1, 2014, unless a Mandate Relief Council approved continuing them; modifications to the Early Intervention Program; continuance of $715 million in unrestricted aid to municipalities, and the Stable Rate Pension Contribution Option.

Miller, however, had some reservations about describing the latter program as mandate relief.

“I don’t want to diminish the potential importance of that, but in virtually every interaction that almost all of us have had with the Legislature and with the governor, those two items are separate,” he said.

Destito pointed to a proposal that would allow school districts to request a waiver that would grant them flexibility in meeting state Special Education requirements. The proposal also would exempt districts with fewer than 1,000 students from maintaining an internal auditor.

She also said that Cuomo’s proposal for all-day preschool would be entirely state-funded for districts that opted into the plan.

Despite his criticism of some elements of the governor’s executive budget proposal, Miller said Cuomo deserves a fair amount of credit.

“He’s probably done more mandate relief than most governors,” the mayor said. “The fact is Tier VI is a huge mandate. Medicaid growth takeover is a huge relief to the counties … And he’s trying to help with the retirement system by allowing them to buy into a stable amount of dollars they will have to pay, while not jeopardizing the retirement fund.”

The budget includes as long list of business- and education-oriented proposals from “innovation hotspots” to “duty-free” stores, where New York-made items would be sold free of sales tax.