OSWEGO, NY – A member of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet presented a condensed version of the governor’s State of the State address and then fielded questions from city and county elected officials Thursday.
Environmental Facilities Corp. head Matt Driscoll presented the overview to more than three dozen people in the Council Chamber at City Hall.
Following his presentation, he was peppered with questions regarding education, mandate relief and other state issues.
The lack of relief from mandates, such as Medicaid and sharply rising retiree pension contributions, “is destroying our county and city,” Driscoll heard from two county legislators, one a Republican and the other a Democrat.
The mandate relief group, which Gov. Cuomo appointed last year, is working on the problem, the former Syracuse mayor told the crowd.
“Mandate relief is not a panacea for county problems,” he cautioned. “The state cannot absorb everything right now.”
Legislator James Karasek said the governor has some pretty impressive things on his agenda.
“The mandate relief problems that we are having are crippling this county, crippling the cities” he told Driscoll. “They are taking away programs and people; we can no longer continue to function at the level that we need to do.”
Among the top mandates the county has to face are Pre-school, special education, assigned counsel, Medicaid and the retirement system, he said, adding they equal $42.7 million for Oswego County.
“Our property tax levy for this budget is $42.7 million,” he said. “So all the money that goes into our infrastructure, into our health, into our department of the aging – all of these programs, all of that has to come from other funding sources. And we cannot add this to the back of our property tax people. My constituents are outraged over this.”
Driscoll agreed with the legislator’s comments. The governor understands more about Upstate NY than many previous governors, he said, adding that Lt. Governor Robert Duffy, as the former mayor of Rochester, also understands the area’s plight very well. Duffy is also a member of the mandate relief group, he noted.
Karasek pressed the issue, specifically Medicaid.
“How can the state pass a new gun law in 48 hours … but they pass Medicaid reform that takes three years to get to an actual cap?” he said.
Oswego Councilor Mike Todd, Third Ward, said the governor’s plan to improve education should also include addressing the situation outside of the school room.
That is a partnership between services that will be explored, Driscoll said.
Legislator Jacob Mulcahey was concerned about the mandate issue. He also asked about improving the state’s energy highway and attracting and maintaining more jobs.
“Our infrastructure, with respect to the energy highway, is very old,” Driscoll said. “The energy highway system in the state is going to be rebuilt.”
Making sure the state has reliable energy is a big part of the governor’s plans, Driscoll said.
Oswego County Legislature Chairman Fred Beardsley applauded the governor for his attention to Upstate NY.
Getting back to mandate relief, he said he has heard from state officials that they don’t have the means to fix it.
“The message I’d like to send back to them is we don’t, either,” he said. “The bottom line is, we’re in a corner. We’re out of money; we’ve eroded our fund balances. We’ve cut virtually every non-essential program. We’re down to cutting essential programs, laying off people. We’re in a corner. There needs to be some common ground (between the state and county).”
“I think the governor would say the same thing,” Driscoll replied. “When I say the state doesn’t have the resources, I mean to absorb all the mandated costs. I’m just being straight with you. Over time, the governor is looking at how he can relieve some of that. It is a challenging issue (the governor) is well aware of it. The mandate relief team is still in place.”
Because of the way things have evolved, there is no longer any such thing as a county property tax levy; it is a New York State property tax levy, observed Phil Church, Oswego County Administrator.
“I’m skeptical about mandate relief,” he said. “No one is expecting the state to wholly take over the burden. Give those of us who are in the trenches a seat at the table and take it seriously.”
“You can rest assured, all of you, that I will be sharing your concerns,” Driscoll said.
All interested parties need to be at the table at the same time, he agreed.
The governor’s proposed state budget that will be released shortly and that will give local and county officials a better view of what’s going on at the state level, he added.
Recently, Driscoll came to Fulton as part of the Governor’s annual outreach effort.
Cabinet members have fanned out across the state showing a compressed version of the State of the State.
The meeting in Fulton was very lightly attended.
In Oswego, Mayor Tom Gillen was joined by several department heads and councilors Todd, Mike Myers and Eric VanBuren as well as the contingent from the county. A small handful of taxpayers was also on hand.
A member of Gov. Cuomo’s staff sat in the audience, taking notes on the comments of the local officials.
Driscoll laid out the Governor’s message, which he called “the blueprint for this year and is really is an aggressive plan.”
He stepped through Cuomo’s plans on jobs, education, fiscal discipline and progressive social changes.
The core elements of Cuomo’s vision include: attract good jobs and economic growth; create a world-class education system that prepares the next generation for the future; establish fiscal integrity and discipline; and restore New York as the progressive capital of the nation that fosters a caring and supportive community.