N.Y. Governor Proposes Deep Spending Cuts

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With federal stimulus dollars gone, states are planning big spending cuts. How bad can it get? Let's take a look at New York state, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled his budget on Tuesday.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

It's going to be an ugly season for state budgets, with federal stimulus dollars gone, states are planning big spending cuts. How bad can it get? Well, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his budget this afternoon. It took him just under an hour to outline $10 billion worth of cuts.

As NPR's Robert Smith reports, it's going to take him a lot more time and a lot more energy to make those cuts a reality.

ROBERT SMITH: Andrew Cuomo was pumped up as he went before cameras this afternoon. You know how bodybuilders say you have to work through the pain? Cuomo was doing some heavy lifting.

Governor ANDREW CUOMO (Democrat, New York): During the weeks that we were doing the budget, I was also suffering from a root canal. So, periodically I would go to the dentist office for a dental procedure as a welcome relief from going through the budget.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Minutes later, there was not much to laugh at. For the first time in 17 years, the governor of New York has proposed spending less this year than the year before. Even during the darkest days of the recession, spending went up in New York. Like every other state, New York got a pile of federal stimulus money.

Gov. CUOMO: And we inhaled it and it is now gone. And we have a withdrawal from the federal stimulus money.

SMITH: Cuomo's now proposing the state go cold turkey on any state budget increases. That could mean 10,000 state layoffs. Up to 3,500 beds eliminated from prisons. One and a half billion dollars cut from education. Almost a billion dollars cut from Medicaid.

Gov. CUOMO: I can say on the Medicaid cut it's only two percent. Go talk to families, go talk to businesses across the state - 99 percent of them would make a deal with you today, just give me a two percent cut. But for the Medicaid companies, the two percent is going to be hard.

SMITH: It's also going to be hard on the governor and the legislature to pass this budget because even though Cuomo has a 70 percent favorability rating and cutting the budget is popular, when you ask New York voters what they think of cutting health care or education - they hate it - by 70 and 80 percent. Not coincidentally, health care and education are also the two most powerful unionized forces in the state.

They have the money to fight this budget and pollster Steve Greenberg with Siena College says they will.

Mr. STEVE GREENBERG (Pollster, Siena College): The governor comes out with a budget, it has things in it that special interests don't like and we see millions of dollars of radio and TV commercials attacking the governor's budget proposals.

SMITH: When the previous governor, David Patterson, tried big cuts to the state's health care system, ads went out making him look like a heartless monster.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Woman: Tell Governor Patterson painful health care cuts are not the answer. The fact is, New Yorkers can't take more pain.

SMITH: A coalition of unions has already bought ad time, encouraging the state to continue a tax on millionaires rather than cut the education or health care budget. But Cuomo seems prepared. He saved millions of dollars in his campaign fund for just such a fight. And Cuomo predicted the next few months will get ugly.

Governor CUOMO: This is going to inflame the (unintelligible) establishment.

SMITH: It's just not clear right now who's going to get burned.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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