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New York plans to merge banking, insurance regulators

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to improve regulation of Wall Street with a smaller state government that would merge the Banking and Insurance departments, Cuomo told a radio station on Tuesday.

Cuomo, a Democrat who took office on Saturday, is expected to outline the new agency in his first State of the State address on Wednesday, the New York Post reported, citing an unidentified source familiar with the decision.

"In terms of a new agency to police Wall Street and protect consumers, yes," Cuomo told Talk 1300-AM radio when asked about the report.

Financial regulation typically is the responsibility of the state attorney general, a post Cuomo held for four years when he was the unofficial "Sheriff of Wall Street," a nickname given to his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer.

"I spent four years as you know as attorney general. We did a lot of work on Wall Street with the federal regulators, SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), et cetera, and also with the state regulators. And I think the state can do a better job, frankly, of regulating and protecting consumers and regulating Wall Street," he said.

Cuomo has promised to rein in state spending to close a $9 billion deficit on a $136 billion budget, seeking to freeze wages for state workers, cut his own salary 5 percent and reduce Medicaid spending, among other measures.

The merger of the Banking and Insurance departments would reduce staff but also produce a more efficient agency, the Post source said.

"The expression 'more with less' is exactly right. You have to do a better job in a lot of these areas. You have to be more effective on Wall Street and you have to save money at the same time, and that for me is the art form of government and it always has been," Cuomo said.

The governor is aiming to cut $2.1 billion out of the state's projected spending on Medicaid in the upcoming fiscal year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

New York spends about $1 billion a week on Medicaid, the combined state-federal health plan for the poor, disabled and elderly that is one of the nation's most costly and most generous.

The state cut, if enacted, would cost it more than $2 billion in matching federal funds, the Journal said.

New York would still see its Medicaid bill rise -- perhaps by $3 billion -- because of the end of the federal stimulus program.

A Cuomo spokesman had no immediate comment.

Governors for years have tried to curb New York's Medicaid program, attacking fraud and waste and requiring managed care in many instances.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Joan Gralla; Editing by Andrew Hay and Dan Grebler)

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