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Cuomo expected to tie aid to teacher evaluations

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivers his

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivers his second State of the State speech at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany. (Jan. 4, 2012) Credit: AP

ALBANY - Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is to unveil a spending plan Tuesday that is expected to call for increasing state aid for Medicaid, the MTA and schools -- likely tying hikes for education to a plan to toughen teacher evaluations.

Cuomo will outline his 2012-13 budget proposals Tuesday at the Empire State Plaza. With most of the heavy items already agreed on -- school aid, tax code, Medicaid -- this year might mark the rare occasion where the New York State budget is largely settled before it is even presented.

The Democrat, in his second year in office, has already committed to proposing a 4-percent spending increase in both school aid and Medicaid, a $250-million increase for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to fund buses and subways, and a $50-million package for upstate communities hit by last year's hurricanes.

Most of those increases will be covered by a tax hike on families making more than $2 million annually that Cuomo and lawmakers approved in a December special legislative session.

The boost in Medicaid and school funding will help counties and school districts to deal with the state's new property-tax cap, which limits annual tax-levy increases to 2 percent unless overridden with a 60 percent majority vote.

Additionally, the governor has said he'll revive his pitch to create a cheaper set of pension benefits for new government hires. And, as disclosed last fall, Cuomo told state agencies to expect about a 2.5 percent spending reduction.

Cuomo Monday ducked specific budget questions and wouldn't say whether he'd propose an overall spending reduction, as he did in his first year in office.

"These are all questions about what's going to be in the budget tomorrow and I don't want to reveal the budget until you see it in its totality," Cuomo said after speaking at a Martin Luther King Day celebration in Albany.

Cuomo is expected to propose increases in aid to local schools with a plan to upgrade teacher evaluations, sources said. Last year, the governor and lawmakers cut school spending by 6 percent, but agreed to hike it this year by 4 percent.

But the governor may now be seeking to put new conditions on the aid increase. He wants to link it to a new teacher evaluation system, according to legislative sources.

When asked, the governor said, "It's one of the issues we are considering for the budget and you'll see when we do the budget tomorrow."

It's not clear how such a proposal would play in the State Legislature. Its top Republican is reserving judgment, a spokesman said.

"Last year, Senate Republicans passed legislation that included a host of school accountability measures and we have always been at the forefront of efforts to ensure students receive the first-class education they deserve," said Scott Reif, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). "We look forward to reviewing the governor's budget when he releases it, and discussing the specific proposals with our entire conference."

Aides to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) didn't immediately return calls.

Cuomo said New York has been warned it could lose $700 million in federal aid if it doesn't implement a teacher evaluation process that is currently in litigation. Cuomo, who has called for changes and has decried school governance as "the most intractable" issue he faces, said the current process doesn't "put the students' interest first."

The state's largest teachers union, New York State United Teachers, has sharply disagreed with the governor's characterization. And it doesn't want state-aid hikes linked to the highly volatile issue.

"We don't think tying a funding increase to implementation [of the teacher evaluation system] is the right approach," said NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn.

Among the proposals that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will present in his 2012-2013 budget Tuesday:

A 4 percent spending increase in school aid.

A 4 percent spending increase in Medicaid.

A $250 million increase for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

A $50 million package for upstate communities hit by last year's hurricanes.

A pitch to create a cheaper set of pension benefits for new government hires.

A 2.5 percent spending reduction for state agencies.

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