Cuomo downplays Medicaid cuts, cites progress on minimum wage, tax cuts

Office of the Governor

State officials have yet to reach a budget deal, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered evidence of progress on several contentious issues in the $150 billion-plus spending package.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with legislative leaders on Wednesday afternoon, Cuomo said a longer phase-in is being considered for upstate for his proposed $15 minimum wage. Cuomo’s original minimum wage proposal included a six-year phase-in for upstate and a three-year phase-in for downstate.

Cuomo also said there will be a study conducted in the third year of implementing the minimum wage to determine if the rollout should continue. Senate Republicans have been critical of the proposal to raise the minimum wage, warning of the impact on small businesses, agricultural companies and home care providers.

“In year three of the rollout, we call for a study and a determination to be made by (state) Division of Budget as to whether or not the minimum wage continues to increase,” Cuomo said. “So, we literally factor in a calibration mechanism that will make that determination. I feel very good about the minimum wage proposal.”

On Tuesday, the governor told reporters there was a “conceptual agreement” on raising the minimum wage across the state to $15 per hour and paid family leave, another top priority.

The governor said the main topic of conversation continues to be the minimum wage, but he dismissed reports that another major hold-up on the budget is the proposed $180 million cuts to Medicaid for New York City. Heastie has been pushing back against the proposed cuts.

“I spoke to the (New York City) mayor back in January, the mayor agreed that we would work together to find savings and that’s the resolution,” Cuomo said. “The city of New York said they would cooperate to find the savings and we can and we will and that’s the end of it. So, there’s no reason, no credible reason, why anyone would be concerned about that and that’s the not the issue we’ve been discussing.”

The $180 million in cuts is part of $250 million in Medicaid cuts statewide, which are still part of the governor’s budget proposal. In January, the governor insisted that the proposed Medicaid cuts would not cost New York City a penny. 

"The Governor said this would not cost New Yorkers one penny more," de Blasio spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said in an email to City & State on Wednesday. "We took him at his word and expect him to keep his word."

There is also a “framework” of a deal on a $1 billion income tax cut for the “middle class,” the governor said, which would be eligible to married couples filing jointly who make up to about $300,000 annually.

Additionally, Cuomo said he’s been discussing “some issues” about the paid family leave proposal and charter schools, and mentioned he thinks it is important to include a legislative package to combat terrorism. He called these “secondary issues” in negotiations.

As the April 1 budget deadline inches closer, Cuomo said he remained positive that a deal could be reached soon.

In a break from tradition, Cuomo and legislative leaders only began meeting at the state Capitol this week, instead communicating by phone or at the governors mansion. Tuesday was the first day he held a briefing with reporters, but his staff kept out photographers and video cameras.

In a potential sign that deliberations are nearing the finish line, Cuomo on Wednesday took questions from a gaggle of reporters in a hallway outside his conference room on the second floor of the state Capitol.

“We’ve had a series of good conversations this morning and the leaders have gone back to their respective conferences to talk to them about the framework of the budget that we have been discussing,” Cuomo told reporters gathered outside his office. “The conversations with the leaders are good. We’ll now see what the conferences say to them.”

State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will be conferencing with their members Tuesday afternoon before the day’s legislative session.

State Sen. Rich Funke said after meeting with his fellow Republicans that the proposed $15 minimum wage was still a major sticking point for the conference.

The three-day deadline for the budget bills to age passed Monday and now messages of necessity will have to be issued for any budget bills to be voted on Thursday. Cuomo said budget bills were currently being printed.

“Bills are being printed as we speak. Depending what happens in conference now, you’ll see an acceleration of bills being printed if there’s an actual resolution,” the governor said. “Obviously, if there’s not a resolution, you won’t see bills.”

Cuomo added that a late budget could affect whether or not lawmakers receive a pay raise in November. Last year, Cuomo created a commission to determine whether or not lawmakers should receive their first pay raise in 1999. Lawmakers currently make a base salary of $79,500.

“When you say, ‘I believe I deserve a raise,’ the basis should be your performance, and if you’re a legislator, you’re going to want to say ‘I passed ethics reform,’ not in the budget, before the end of session. You’re going to want to say, ‘We got the budget passed on time,’” Cuomo said. “So, they’re going to need to make that case to the pay commission and they’re going to need to make that case to the people of the state of New York when they seek election, so performance matters. If they don’t pass a budget on time, obviously that’s a failure of performance.”

-with reporting by Sarina Trangle