There's still a lot of reading to do, but North Country lawmakers say they like Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed 2012-13 budget.
Cuomo presented his fiscal plan during a 45-minute press conference in Albany Tuesday afternoon. It increases state spending by 2 percent and eliminates a $2 billion budget gap. Overall, the total budget comes in about a fraction of a percent less than last year.
"I thought the presentation was very good," said state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury. "The governor is very direct, and certainly part of our success last year was because he clearly articulated his goals and lets you know where he stands. He's willing to work with us to achieve a result."
Last year, the state overcame a $10 billion budget gap. Little said that because the deficit is so much lower this year, Cuomo and lawmakers can now look at ways to fundamentally reform the way state government works. That could mean big changes for state agencies, Little said, including mergers and cuts to overlapping programs.
"We need to get them to work together better," she said. "You can have so many programs: a program in this agency, and a similar program in a different agency, yet the agencies are different. It confuses people. I think it would bring some clarity to state government, as well as some efficiencies."
Little said she was pleased to hear Cuomo will include state aid for schools to the tune of some $800 million. She said it's important that the formula for aid distribution favors high-need school districts.
Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, said the proposed budget takes steps to reduce the burden of state mandates on local governments. Like Little, Sayward said she looks forward to consolidating state agencies.
Sayward said she was disappointed that Cuomo reduced funding for the Farm Viability Institute, a nonprofit that provides educational outreach for small farms statewide. The proposed budget would cut the group's allocation from $1.2 million to $400,000.
"Other than that, what I see, I like," Sayward said. "He's talking about realigning agencies and getting rid of a lot of the programs that, over time, the Legislature has put together.
"Take the Department of Labor, for example. There are just hundreds of programs for training people for jobs, which is very inefficient, and it costs us a lot of money to administer all of those programs. He's going to try to bundle some of those and decrease the costs in each one of the departments."
Sayward also applauded an increase in municipal aid for local governments, something that she said hasn't happened in years.
Legislators passed an on-time budget last year, and Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-Peru, said she expects a similar result this time around.
"It looks like everybody is on the same page," she said, noting that lawmakers did a lot of the "heavy lifting" in 2011.