THE GOVERNOR'S ADDRESS Promising to build on what he called the "historic successes" of 2011, Governor Cuomo delivered a State of the State address that stressed job creation and economic development. But, while the Governor devoted much of his hour-long speech to discussing economic growth projects, he did also say that a major prong of his 2012 agenda will be to streamline and simplify state government - a process that he formally called "Reimagining Government" in both his written and spoken remarks. Although Governor Cuomo departed from his written remarks a great deal during the personal delivery of the address before members of the Legislature and others at the Empire State Plaza convention center, much of his message was clear: The success of 2011-which he recounted and range from an on-time budget that closed a $10 billion deficit without significant revenue increases (and enacting spending caps for education and Medicaid) to the restructuring of the income tax code - will lead to further reforms in 2012, the Governor said. Although in his spoken remarks the Governor barely mentioned health care and Medicaid, the theme of this year's address was, again, a need to make New York government more efficient, which would help fuel economic growth. Cuomo said his general plan for 2012 has three elements: 1) A new phase in an economic blueprint for growth; 2) A reimagined government that can turn plans into reality; and 3) A vision for a progressive future. The economic blueprint includes major investments in several areas, most notably a specific plan to build the nation's largest convention center at the Aqueduct racetrack site in the borough of Queens, as well as a $1 billion investment in economic revival for Buffalo and western New York. As for streamlining government, the Governor was not at all specific. But his inclinations were made clear by some of his extemporaneous comments regarding state agencies. "The more I look [at state agency operations] the worse it gets," he said in his speech, adding that he felt a look at state agency bureaucracy and operations was one that showed "the wheels coming off . . .." Cuomo mentioned that his Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission studies thus far have shown that more efficiencies can be found. He did not address, however, the SAGE Commission's December 15 report findings specifically. Those findings included the suggestion of further consolidation of state agencies, noting as an example, the potential for savings if the Office of Mental Health and the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services were combined. Instead, he noted the successful combination this year of the former Insurance and Banking departments into a new Department of Financial Services. And he heralded there would be specific proposals for agency changes within a couple of weeks. "You will see more in the budget," the Governor said. His proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins April 1 is due to be released on Tuesday, January 17. NYSRA IMPRESSIONS While he spoke of mandate relief, the Governor did so in the areas of mandates on local governments and school districts. He did not specifically mention any plans regarding any possible state takeover of county Medicaid costs - something the counties may lobby hard to see occur. Even though he didn't speak in specifics, there is speculation that agencies involving Medicaid or health care generally may be seen as possible areas for streamlining. The 2011 plan to reform the state's Medicaid system is a two-year plan, with the first year's savings coming from an agreed-upon set of cuts, in last year's budget. Future savings are expected to come not from further cuts, but from the reorganization of the health care delivery system - such as the 1115 Medicaid managed care waiver for DD services due to get started in April and the move toward regionalized managed care service delivery by Behavioral Health Organizations in the areas of mental health and substance abuse. Moreover, since the Governor's remarks included absolutely no specifics about state agency changes - but only a promise to reveal more when his budget is presented - he has left all of his options open. Not mentioned in his remarks was an initiative, outlined briefly for NYSRA by his staff just prior to the speech, that will result in an "Olmstead implementation plan," which will be an overall effort to comply with the landmark Supreme Court case that calls for efforts to move people with special needs from institutional settings to the most-integrated settings appropriate. This may mean a reconfiguration of the Most Integrated Settings Coordinating Council (MISCC), though that is not confirmed. Governor Cuomo left little doubt in his speech that he envisions a nascent New York, one that is coming back from the dysfunction jokes and the political gridlock that has characterized Albany for many years. He heaped praise on the Legislature for the accomplishments of 2011 (the budget, ethics reform, marriage equality, 7 prison closures, tax code restructuring and more). And after praising them strongly and commending them highly for the non-partisan partnering of the Republican Senate and Democrat Assembly, he made it clear that he sees "no going back" to the ways of the past. It seemed a very effective move - his praise of the 2011 dynamics and his indignation about the past could make it difficult for the Legislature to resist some of his coming initiatives. It would also seem that the speech will be well received by the public, who for months has been giving the Governor extremely high approval ratings. That high level of popularity also will make it difficult for the Legislature to oppose the Governor's agenda. We will be sharing more thoughts on the speech and the dynamics in Albany as we go.
Jeff Wise, JD, President & CEO