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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 and 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."
Governor 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 1st, one month after the governor released his spending plan on February 1st.
Senator Skelos a Republican who has so far been an ally of Democratic Governor Cuomo's budget agenda, says 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."
Senator Skelos says 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 says 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," said Silver. "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 says Cuomo announced the Medicaid redesign and mandate relief panels within a few days of taking office on January 1st. Silver was also scheduled to speak at the counties meeting, but later cancelled.
The executive director of the counties association, Steven Acquario, says he was encouraged by what he did hear from Senator Skelos and Budget Director Megna, he says they both realize that another "m" is equally important.
"There's the third m, money," said Acquario, who says counties agree that current state spending is unsustainable.
Acquario says mandates for health care and pensions must be eased, because those two items make up 75% of counties' budgets. He says while counties' support the 2% per year property tax cap proposed by Governor Cuomo and approved in the Senate, they must also be freed from state rules and regulations that are driving up costs.