In the latest stop on his inaugural statewide budget tour, Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke before leading Long Islanders on Wednesday at Hofstra University where he reiterated his mantra that New York is at a “crossroads” as he discussed his proposed cuts to school aid, the high price of Medicaid and his goal to close a $10 billion deficit.
“Our state can no longer afford to continue spending beyond our means and lean harder and harder on the backs of our taxpayers to make up the difference,” Cuomo said to the crowd of public officials, business leaders and students. ”Long Islanders know this. They have felt the burden of rising taxes for far too long.”
The governor vowed not to raise taxes and said he is on a mission to reign in government spending, but to do that tough decisions have to be made. Cuomo proposed cutting about $1.5 billion—7.3 percent—from the state’s annual school aid of about $21 billion, among the highest per capita school aid in the nation. The state budget is due April 1.
His stop at the Hempstead-based college, the first since the gubernatorial debate in October, came the day after a state Education Department report revealed as many as 74 percent of school districts outside New York City appear to have enough funds in reserve to endure the cuts without having to layoff teachers or cut programs.
Education groups have disputed the findings and are critical of the proposed cuts.
Cuomo argued students can still receive high-quality education despite the cuts as long as school districts become more efficient in spending their money.
“We believe in education and we’ve been funding education…but we can’t afford those increases going forward,” Cuomo said. “We have to find efficiencies in managing the system and managing government better.”
He wants school districts to have to compete for funding rather than giving money to schools that don’t perform as well as others. “We spend more money than any state in the nation in education. We’re number 34 in terms of performance,” he said.
Part of his plan is to create two separate $250 million grants. One would be tied to student performance and the other would go to schools that reduce cost and become more efficient.
Although education issues were front and center at Hofstra, Cuomo also said he wants to make Medicaid more cost effective.
“We’re number one in spending in Medicaid,” he said. “We’re number 21 in performance.”
The governor has set up a Medicaid Redesign Team consisting of 27 members that include health care providers, consumers and industry experts to address the challenge of refocusing the health care system, in an effort to provide quality health care with lower costs.
The governor also discussed his plans for reducing the number of state prisons and juvenile justice reform.
The decline of adult prisoners shows that “we need fewer prison cells, and we can consolidate prisons to save money,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo then shifted his speech to the economy, saying that state needs to grow it’s way out of it’s current economic troubles.
“We need more jobs, we need more revenue, we need more people working, and paying taxes,” he said. “It’s about growth here on Long Island, and growth upstate, and growth in New York. So it’s a government that’s actually focused on bringing business into this city, into this state, into our counties, rather than putting up barriers that push them away,” Cuomo said to applause.
Richard Guardino, vice president for Business Development at Hofstra, said people in New York are “taxed out” and that’s why businesses have left the state in recent years.
“Businesses can’t afford [to stay.],” he said. “They leave New York, you erode your tax base and therefore you’re looking at raising taxes and that’s what they’ve done in the past.”
Cuomo closed by trying to rally the crowd to help create change that everybody in the state wants.
“It happened over a lot of years,” he said. “It happened because people got disappointed and because of complacency and because people allowed it to happen. It’ll stop when people force it to stop,” he said.
-With Associated Press