By Jocelyn Rhodes Cook, Contributing Writer
FULTON, NY – Dierdre “DeDe” Scozzafava, the New York Deputy Secretary of State for Local Government, presented the State of New York Executive Budget recently to a very small crowd at the SUNY Oswego Business Development Center in Fulton.
The speaking engagement was presented in part thanks to the Small Business Development Center of SUNY Oswego, with the help of business advisor Chena Tucker, who introduced Scozzafava just after 2 p.m. to the audience.
A small, impromptu conversation about sustainable development issues popped up while the speaker awaited more of a crowd, before Tucker introduced her and the presentation began.
“The 2012-2013 New New York Transformation Plan – The Next Step,” laid out a plan for the budget this year that Scozzafava, speaking on behalf of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said they hoped would, “get the message out to communities.”
There are 200 similar events planned throughout the state in order to connect through “civic engagement” with local governments and residents, she explained.
The five-point lecture offered with a thorough PowerPoint presentation by Scozzafava, covered key areas: Budget Plan, Economic Development, Re-Imagining Government, Mandate Relief, and Education Crisis, and she covered each section with ease.
The goal of such presentations and for the budget in general this year, she explained, was to, “bring honesty to the budget process through disciplined and reality-based budgeting.”
One major victory touched upon early on in the discussion was the $2 billion deficit in the budget laid out for this year, as opposed to the $10 billion deficit gap of last year.
Scozzafava and Cuomo, feel that this is “much more manageable.”
But, she noted that the “reform proposals will be more of a challenge.”
She then went on to explain some of the reforms to programs and spending in the budget, from creating, “more public and private sector partnerships that leverage state resources and assets to generate billions in economic growth,” to re-evaluating state programs as a whole.
“We must address the very foundation of government,” she said. “Governor Cuomo will submit a plan to eliminate hundreds of redundant and obsolete programs to the legislation this year.”
As one example, she explained that there are currently 13 agencies operating 91 job-training programs in the state; the Department of Labor alone runs 40 of them.
It’s those kinds of programs that they feel need to be re-evaluated and re-focused for a more efficient and affordable budget, she explained.
Scozzafava also covered “Mandate Relief” (“Everyone wants it in concept, except nobody wants to do it”) and the Education Crisis.
She explained that the state government can’t totally “pick up that big of a bite” when it comes to covering the $8 billion local Medicaid program, but that they are looking to help the number one mandate (Medicaid) and the second, pensions, to balance better.
On the education topic, Scozzafava explained that the state is 38th in graduation rates, but number one in spending per student.
The state was awarded $700 million in federal funding for education that could be taken away, she said, if the state doesn’t put in a teacher evaluation system soon.
It’s one of the actions necessary for the funding to be awarded and an action that she felt needed to be taken anyway.
“The governor is looking to listen,” Scozzafava said.
The goal of these smaller presentations was to reach as many communities and residents as possible, she explained, and to offer a chance to ask questions about the budget on a local level.
“There are so many projects that need to be done,” she stated.
Tucker asked whether this plan, “was modeled after what other states have done?”
Scozzafava was not sure, but did stress that “different types of solutions” were needed in order to encourage growth while still maintaining a reasonable budget here in the state.
Scozzafava closed the presentation saying it was “an honor and a privilege to work for this governor,” and stayed a few minutes more for photos and conversation with the few in attendance.
And in closing, she summed up the entire discussion with one remark, “We just want to get the message out there.”