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Cuomo pressing ahead with school district bashing

ALBANY –- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is continuing his scorched-earth policy against what he calls big-spending school districts, insisting they can handle his proposed $1.5 billion cut through efficiencies –- and not teacher layoffs or property tax hikes.

“The answer can’t always be more money, more money, more money,’’ Cuomo said on Long Island Wednesday on his tour of the state to talk up his 2011 budget plans.

Cuomo has said schools can dig into their reserve funds –- a number he puts at $1.2 billion statewide and $51 million in Erie County –- to help cope with his cuts. It is the same call former Gov. David Paterson made last year.

“No one is going to look at me and say these school systems can’t find any waste whatsoever and the only idea is more taxes. I don’t believe it," Cuomo said.

But Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said the $1.2 billion reserve fund number comes from last May, and is likely lower, in part, because schools had to find money when the state reduced payments to districts after their budgets were already adopted last year.

Lowry said districts are well-accustomed to tapping reserve funds to deal with swings in annual state aid payments. He said property taxes would have risen an extra 6 percent on average last year had districts not dipped into their reserve accounts to fund operations. The poorest 20 percent of districts were even more aggressive; double digit tax increases would have occurred, he said, without the reserve accounts.

Lowry also noted that the public has probably more information about the school district spending –- and performance, thanks to standardized test score results –- than any other public entity in the state. “You can’t find out about the performance of the town highway office," he said.

To put matters into perspective, Lowry said, the governor's school aid cut is larger than all the central administration spending by all 700 districts in the state -- which includes salaries of superintendents, assistant superintendents, business officials and other staff and their office expenses.

--Tom Precious

Review Doug Turner's chat on Lee resignation

News Washington Columnist Doug Turner chatted extensively about the resignation of Rep. Chris Lee on Wednesday. Review that chat below, and check back on the Politics Now blog at 11 a.m. Thursday when News Political Reporter Robert J. McCarthy will field questions.

Medicaid panel narrowing cut ideas

ALBANY – A panel looking to cut the costs of the state’s Medicaid program has gotten thousands of suggestions from the public and industry as it races toward a March 1 deadline for making its recommendations to the governor and Legislature.

While hardly the greatest cost-saver, the idea generating the single greatest volume: end Medicaid coverage for male infant circumcision procedures.

Jason Helgerson, the state’s Medicaid director, told his panel members in New York City this morning that the period for the public to give ideas to redesign the expensive health insurance program will end at the close of business this Friday.

After all the ideas received so far have been gone through, the Medicaid redesign team has narrowed them into a group of 274 different kinds of specific -- and some rather vague -- recommendations. Check them out here.

The ideas included a number of different calls to cut services to recipients -– including people who are poor, disabled or elderly -– that New York provides above and beyond what the federal government requires. Other ideas stretched from changing what providers get paid for services and expanding managed care programs for those on Medicaid to imposing a tax on sugar-based beverages as a way to raise money and cut obesity rates.

The task force team’s staff will be scoring the value of about 30 of the biggest impact items to present back to the panel by next week.

The panel’s work is being closely eyed because the governor did not provide a specific plan on how to cut health spending by about $3 billion this year. The deadline for the group’s work is March 1 -– just one month before the start of the fiscal year.

--Tom Precious

Gabryszak still interested in county exec bid

Just about all speculation about a Democratic candidate for county executive centers around County Clerk Kathy Hochul and Comptroller Mark Poloncarz.

But another name continues to enter the buzz -- Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak of Cheektowaga.

Albany sources say Gabryszak is ratcheting up his interest in the race, and is even talking to professional campaign types about the possibility of getting into the act.

Gabryszak could prove a potent force in a race for county executive, especially since he hails from the vote-rich Town of Cheektowaga, which could be lured back into the Democratic fold should its former supervisor opt for the race.

The assemblyman has expressed interest, but is not saying much beyond that at this point.

As the Democratic situation plays out, Gabryszak could become more and more of a focus of attention.

--Robert J. McCarthy

The News' Meyer on city comptroller opening

Brian Meyer, The News' City Hall reporter, talked about a potential "dogfight" to replace Albany-bound Andrew A. SanFilippo this morning as a guest of Eileen Buckley on WBFO-FM 88.7:

Download the audio and take it with you

Live chat with Assemblyman Sam Hoyt at 3 p.m.

Cuomo to New Yorkers: Join me

ALBANY –- It hasn’t gone viral, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s new video message today continues his bid to take his fiscal message directly to New Yorkers.

Knowing the fight his new budget plan faces in Albany, Cuomo has been ramping up new ways -- beyond the reach of reporters -- to try to woo voters to his side, including personal trips, such as a visit to the Buffalo area Friday, Internet messages and the collection of tens of thousands of e-mail addresses to blast his views to potential supporters.

In today’s five-minute video, shot over the weekend, Cuomo briefly outlines his budget plans and defends its cuts to education, health care and other popular programs. And he relaunched his oft-repeated attacks on special interests, lobbyists and lawmakers.

“It’s about lobbyists influencing politicians on both sides of the aisle," Cuomo says in the video.

How far Cuomo goes with this effort is uncertain. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer launched a living room tour into the districts of reluctant lawmakers who didn’t sign onto his agenda. It was a short-lived campaign.

“I need you to make your voice heard now," Cuomo implores viewers.

Most uncertain is whether New Yorkers will be moved by Cuomo. Polls released before Cuomo put out his budget Tuesday show they understand New York has fiscal problems and they don't want taxes raised. But they aren't too wild, either, about seeing things like state aid to their public schools get cut. 

--Tom Precious

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri |

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski |