North Country lawmakers respond to Gov. Cuomo’s budget address

Local News

Two lawmakers from New York’s North Country say their concerns about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $178 billion state budget proposal include health care, education and corrections, among other areas. They and their colleagues will have a little more than two months to alleviate those concerns.

The governor unveiled his proposed 2021 budget Tuesday afternoon. It includes a multi-billion-dollar climate change initiative, nearly $6 billion for upstate roads and bridges and a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana use. “I believe (a marijuana law) is best done in the budget,” Gov. Cuomo said Tuesday afternoon. “I said that last year. I believe the budget is the opportunity, frankly, to make some tough decisions and work through tough issues that, without the budget, can often languish.”

The governor wants to increase state funding for K-through-12 schools to a record $28.5 billion while simultaneously changing the funding formula so that poorer schools benefit the most. However, a $6.1 billion deficit is looming. Much of the money to fill that budgetary hole would come from higher-than-expected tax revenue and from a proposal to restructure New York’s Medicaid program. “The Medicaid system has to be fiscally sustainable, and if it is not financially sustainable, we accomplish nothing,” Cuomo said.

Assemblyman Dan Stec of Queensbury is worried about some of what he heard from the governor, writing:

“The governor’s budget presentation today echoed his State of the State. While I was pleased to see him continue to pursue funding for cell service in rural areas of the state, including the North Country, I have major concerns with his talk of changing the school-aid and Medicaid formulas in New York. In the coming months it will be important to monitor what that will mean for schools and local governments in the North Country.

“When it comes to the governor’s comments on bail reform, I have to say I am alarmed at his lack of urgency to make changes. This legislation should never have passed as a work in progress. We need to act now, every day delayed is a day wasted. I remain a firm believer that the bail reform changes need to be repealed immediately.”

Because of a decreasing crime rate, New York’s prison population has declined by nearly 40% since 1999. (The governor’s written budget summary mentions this on page 106.) As a result, Cuomo wants a 5% budget cut for the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, as well as closures of several unidentified prisons.

Assemblyman Billy Jones of Chateaugay responded by writing:

“The governor’s budget proposal presents some clear concerns; his proposal to close more prisons across the state poses a safety threat to the hardworking men and women who work in these facilities. As a former correction officer, I know the serious impact this could have on the well-being of the employees and will do everything in my power to ensure our North Country prisons are not affected by this.

“The governor has also proposed making drastic changes to the Medicaid system. Let me be clear, while I strongly support the need to control the rising costs of these services, this cannot come at the cost of putting another unfunded mandate on our local governments. North Country families already have enough bills on their plate and shouldn’t be forced to bear even more of the state’s burden.”

The state Senate and Assembly both say they’ll begin their joint budget hearings next Monday, January 27, and continue them through February 13th. New York’s 2021 fiscal year begins on April 1.

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