Cutting spending, capping property taxes, cutting unfunded mandates to local government, cutting the size of state government - overall, the North Country's legislators agreed with much of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's message in his first State of the State address Wednesday.
"In my 16 years of listening, I thought this was the best one I have heard," said state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury.
Little called the address "very factual," saying Cuomo clearly laid out the state's problems and how he would like to correct them.
Sen. Betty Little: “In my 16 years of listening, I thought this was the best one I have heard.”
(Enterprise file photo)
"I think it's probably the best State of the State address that I've heard since I've been in office," said Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro. "He talked about transforming the budget process, getting us back to where we are as the Empire State again truly. He talked about growing the private sector and not the public sector, which is something we've been hearing from our businesses all along."
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-Peru, called the speeches "inspirational." Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos spoke before Cuomo, a break from previous practice when only the governor spoke.
"Everybody was pretty much on the same page of cooperation and working together," Duprey said. "Today's the day of the rhetoric and hope. Tomorrow we start to get into the reality of it."
Duprey said she is seeing "cooperation we have not seen, particularly over the past three years."
Sayward said she thought Cuomo took "a really tough stance on partisanship. He kept talking about, 'This cannot be about politics. It cannot be about party politics anymore; it has to be about people.' That's what I'm hearing in my district."
Cuomo said he wants to create commissions to look at cutting Medicaid and unfunded mandates. These commissions would include "stakeholders" - health care workers and hospital representatives in the case of Medicaid, for example. Local government representatives will be included in the mandate discussions.
"He's looking at the problems from a different way, not just throwing more money at problems that we've had," Sayward said. "He's looking at fixing things, and that to me is very refreshing."
"I think he's looking at the big picture," Little said of the Medicaid commission. "Not how we get through this year, but changing New York so we don't get into this situation again."
Cuomo has also called for a cap on local property taxes, which the three legislators and local government officials have repeatedly said would be unworkable without mandate relief. State mandates - including Medicaid - are a big part of local government expenses, up to 90 percent of the tax levy in Essex and Franklin counties.
Duprey said she was encouraged by Cuomo's talk about reorganizing state agencies.
"It could be very good news for the state of New York," Duprey said. "We can't continue to spend more than we take in each year and watch these deficits grow."
Cuomo has said he would close the state's projected $10 billion budget deficit without borrowing money. Sayward said she didn't know how would that happen but would be interested to see.
Cuomo said he wants to establish 10 regional economic councils, headed by Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy. The councils would be public-private sector partnerships focused on creating jobs in their regions. They could compete against each other for job-creation grants, with the ideas coming from the council members on the ground rather than the state.
"You have different regions in this state with different assets and abilities, and these plans are going to have to come from the bottom up," Cuomo said.
Sayward said previous governors have tried a similar approach to economic development but that there are differences with Cuomo's plan.
"Instead of coming from the top down with economic development, he's talking about coming from the grassroots again," Sayward said. "Again, that's a different approach."
It isn't known yet where the councils would be located or how the state would be divided into regions. Duprey said she would push for one based in the Adirondacks or North Country.
Cuomo didn't go into much detail, and Duprey said she is "anxious to see the full plan." She did say, however, she was encouraged by his talk about creating private-public sector partnerships and encouraging private-sector development.
Cuomo also talked about ethics reform in Albany, including an independent commission to handle redistricting.
"If he can get that accomplished, it will be really great going forward," Duprey said.
Sayward said her district, which includes most of Essex County, all of Warren and Hamilton and part of Saratoga, makes sense, but that many are drawn in strange shapes for political reasons. She cited one that looks like a "shoestring" and includes parts of seven different counties, apparently referring to the 127th District, which includes all of Schoharie County, most of Greene and small portions of Columbia, Ulster, Delaware, Otsego and Chenango counties.
"I think (an independent commission) is what needs to be done," Sayward said. "I've supported that for a long time. Again, you have to take the politics out of redistricting."
Cuomo also said he supports public funding for campaigns. Little and Sayward both leaned against this, although they said they would wait to see the details of any proposal.
"I'm not sure that the taxpayers today want to start paying for people's campaigns to run for office," Little said. "I think there are other ways to limit huge amounts of money spent on campaigns. Also, wealthy individuals can use all the money they want, of their own money."
"Quite frankly, I want to be able to give my money to the candidate I want to win and not necessarily go in this big pot," Sayward said, suggesting limits on spending might work better. But, she said, "I'm open-minded enough; I'm going to listen to what he has to propose on that particular issue."
Contact Nathan Brown at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.