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I think counties would probably love if the state would take over the whole costs for Medicaid. But this is a realistic approach.

NC reps reactions mostly positive on pensions, Medicaid costs and schools

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Gov. Cuomo now turns his spending plan over to the legislature. Some of Albany's most powerful interests are gearing up for a fight. During the address yesterday, Cuomo again took aim at what he calls the status quo in Albany, demonizing some of its most powerful labor unions.

Cuomo admitted the reforms he envisions will be wrenching, but he said the people will be supportive. He called it "the people's agenda."

North Country representatives were generally supportive yesterday. Martha Foley has reaction to Cuomo's proposals on pension reform, relief for county Medicaid costs, and education.

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Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to reform pensions for state and local government employees in New York.  His plan includes a new 401-K- type option. It would increase employee contributions, and raise the retirement age from 62 to 65, among other things.  Cuomo says the changes would cut pension costs in half for state and local governments. 

Ken Blankenbush is a Republican Assemblymen representing parts of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties. His job in the private sector was to write pensions.

He likes the governor’s plan. "I believe his approach is a good approach, understanding that we’re not going to be taking anything from someone who’s been in the system for years - they're safe in that retirement plan. But going forward we have to look at a new way of funding retirement plans," Blankenbush said. 

Blankenbush says employees who might want to switch jobs or locations will like the portability of Cuomo’s pension proposal.

Governor Cuomo offered some mandate relief to ailing county governments in his budget proposal. In his plan, the state would take over the increases in Medicaid costs over the next 3 years. 

One bill in the legislature proposes that the state take over the entire bill for Medicaid expenses in the next 8 years. State Senator Patty Ritchie represents the north country’s 48th district.   She says New York can’t afford a complete take over, so the Governor’s approach makes sense.

"I think counties would probably love if the state would take over the whole costs for Medicaid," Ritchie said. "But this is a realistic approach, taking over the additional costs, and something that will at least let the counties know what their costs are going to be from one year to the next, so I think it’s a great way to start." 

Ritchie says local governments have been limited by the 2% property tax cap this year and this is a way for the state to offer some relief.

The fight over teacher evaluations occupied much of Governor Cuomo’s education talk during his budget address. The governor wants to withhold state funding increases in districts that do not have teacher evaluation plans in place by next January.

He’s also demanding that the state Education Department and New York State United Teachers end a court battle over the new evaluation system for teachers and principals in the next 30 days. If the two sides have not resolved their differences, Cuomo said he would impose a new evaluation system. His plan targets high needs, poor districts for school aid.

North Country Assembly woman Addie Russell likes much of the governor’s proposal. But she’s concerned that Cuomo is steering $250 million into competitive grants. Russell says this could leave poor districts at a disadvantage. 

"You have to build in a certain amount of protection [so] that poorer school districts with less resources aren't going to be on the losing end of funding because they do not pay consultants and grant writers money that they don’t have in order to get a chance at winning this money," she said.

Russell says she’ll be watching the budget process to make sure poor districts are protected.

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