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Two in a row

When perfect becomes the enemy of good, it can make a mess of things. Consciously or not, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers seemingly were guided by that wisdom during budget negotiations this year.
 
As a result, Albany appears to be delivering another good budget—and on time.
 
No, it’s not perfect. In January, the governor signaled his intent to go after pension and Medicaid costs—two big targets in terms of mandated spending. He proposed easing the burden on counties by taking over all Medicaid cost growth, phased in over three years. The approved budget pushes out the start until 2013-14. However, Mr. Cuomo did win approval of a new, less costly tier for state pensions. It had been a long-elusive goal and faced opposition this year from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
 
The new budget does not address the need for parity in state aid to upstate’s major cities. Rochester deserves a more equitable share—this newspaper is part of the AIM for Fairness coalition, which is pushing to keep this issue at the forefront—and it should be a priority item for the local delegation in the next cycle.
 
On the positive side of the ledger, let’s start with the fact that the $132.6 billion plan actually reduces total spending (including federal dollars) for the second year in a row—which hasn’t happened in three decades, the governor’s office says—and keeps the increase in state spending to slightly less than 2 percent.
 
Further, the plan closes a $3.5 billion gap without additional tax hikes or fees (made possible by the agreement in December to raise taxes on the wealthy).
 
The new budget also contains a significant amount of money for overdue infrastructure repairs and funds another round of regional economic development council projects.
 
Commenting on the spending plan, Unshackle Upstate executive director Brian Sampson said it is “another clear signal that it is not business as usual in Albany. There is a commitment to promoting private-sector job growth and unlocking New York State’s true economic potential.”
 
For too many years, the words “Albany” and “dysfunction” were synonymous. For the second year in a row, Mr. Cuomo and lawmakers have shown an ability and commitment to break with that past.

3/29/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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