New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo presents his 2011-12 proposed...

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo presents his 2011-12 proposed Executive Budget in Albany. (Feb. 1, 2011) Credit: AP

ALBANY - Saying his plan would "inflame the Albany establishment," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Tuesday proposed slashing state spending by $3.7 billion, with cuts to a wide array of areas, including aid to schools, higher education, medical care, prisons and the state workforce.

On Long Island, school districts would be hit with an 11 percent reduction. State aid to towns and villages would fall 2 percent ($550,000). The Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook would lose nearly $5 million and state subsidies for the teaching hospital at Stony Brook University would be eliminated.

Saying it was time for "hard choices," Cuomo's plan would drop the overall spending to $132.9 billion, an almost 3 percent reduction. Among the most significant cuts: $1.5 billion in aid to local schools statewide, or about 7 percent, $1 billion in Medicaid and 10 percent in assistance to the State University of New York and community colleges.

Change in finances, politicsBased on projected growth, New York faces a $10 billion deficit, but the Democratic first-year governor contends that in actual spending, the deficit is closer to $1 billion. The governor said his plan would transform not only the state's finances but also the politics that have surrounded New York's budget-making practices for decades.

"The lobbyists are going to be running around the hallways like their hair is on fire," Cuomo said.

He called for laying off as many as 9,800 state employees, eliminating about 3,500 beds in state prisons and youth-detention centers, and trimming state operations spending 10 percent. Cuomo would cut Medicaid about $1 billion this year, and he commissioned a Medicaid redesign team to come up with an additional $2.85 billion savings in projected growth.

If Cuomo succeeds at reducing overall spending, he would be the first governor to do so since George Pataki 15 years ago. In urging the State Legislature to back his plan, Cuomo sounded - with his cadence and appeals to the legislators' best instincts - like his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and fiscally like Pataki, the Republican who ousted the senior Cuomo.

Plan draws strong responsesThe targeted groups reacted with alarm. Unions said the proposals would "cripple public services." The Home Care Association said the governor was "cutting at the heart of New York's health care system." And a school advocate said it would mean "less teachers, less librarians, less guidance counselors, less arts, sports and music classes across the state."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), whose support is crucial to getting any legislation through the Democrat-controlled chamber, said Cuomo's speech was "terrific." But Silver was considerably cooler when asked about specifics. "There are children in schools, there are senior citizens, there are people in our hospitals, and I think what we need is an evaluation of this proposal," he said.

His counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said he supported Cuomo conceptually - especially on state spending reductions, growing private jobs and not relying on new taxes. "I think all levels of government have to understand they just can't keep spending," Skelos said.

Asked if he was "OK" with a cut to schools, he added: "Yeah. It's tough, but that is where the money is."

Advice to legislatorsPart browbeating, part pep talk, Cuomo's speech appealed to lawmakers to stand firm when schools, health-care activists and others pressure them to reject his proposed cuts.

"I know this is going to be hard," Cuomo said, his voice rising as he approached the end of his 43-minute speech. "The opportunity is you can change the trajectory of this state this year. You can do more good for this state in this session than has been done in decades. You can not only right the wrongs, you can take us to a place we've never been."

Cuomo told lawmakers that unions, school districts and lobbyists would "complain" about 2 percent cuts to Medicaid and 3 percent cuts to schools. But he said that "99 percent of [New York] families would make a deal with you today, [for] a 2 percent cut."

"They've adjusted their own lives and they're saying to government: adjust your lives," the governor said.

His plan avoided hiking college tuition or any broad-based taxes - as promised, he didn't call for renewing the "millionaire's tax." Instead, Cuomo relied on a small expansion of lottery games and gambling, targeted taxes such as a new surcharge on horse racing purses and a fee on cooperative insurance companies.

With Michael Amon

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