April 1st is the start of a new fiscal year in New York state and we knew this date was coming for a long time. The governor released his executive budget proposal on January 19, and the Assembly Minority Conference has been ready since then to convene conference committees and start open transparent budget negotiations. More importantly, my colleagues and I have suggested alternatives in order to avoid serious cuts and the need to borrow $2 billion to help cover the state’s $9 billion budget deficit.
The downstate Majorities of both the Assembly and the Senate hold the keys to every room in state government. Even with complete control of state government, they seem unable to deliver an on-time budget. It is inexcusable that, over the last several weeks as the budget deadline was fast approaching, the Majorities failed to schedule conference committees. Very little tangible progress has been made on the 2010-2011 State Budget, and neither the Assembly nor Senate were called into session by the leadership.
I have joined my Minority Conference colleagues in providing a comprehensive list of areas where spending could be reduced, and we have worked to find practical, realistic and sensible methods to reform state government in order to increase efficiency and effectiveness. Improving efficiency and effectiveness could certainly result in both long- and short-term financial savings.
Some of those recommendations include more agency consolidations. For example, the final report issued this week by my Conference's Task Force on Workforce Issues in the Correctional System, of which I am co-chairman, indicates that significant cost savings could be achieved by focusing on internal, and possibly duplicative, administrative positions within the state Department of Correctional Services.
Administrative, appointed and patronage positions within the hundreds of state agencies, offices and departments must be reviewed. These are the positions with the highest level of pay, and in some cases, functions of each position may be duplicative or unnecessary. I would agree that concessions must come from all levels of state government, but to continually target those employees who perform the critical “ground level” service makes no sense.
Medicaid reform and eliminating the fraud and abuse is critical to the financial future of New York state. Medicaid is a state- and federally-funded health insurance program that provides care to qualifying people who cannot pay for their own medical expenses. New York spends more on Medicaid than each of the next three, highest paying states in the nation combined and enrollment has skyrocketed within the last 10 years.
More than 20 percent of New York residents receive Medicaid. For the last several years, suggestions about controlling the costs of Medicaid have fallen on deaf ears of New York’s downstate leaders. Language contained in the 2009-10 State Budget eliminated “resource review” when determining eligibility for Medicaid enrollment. New York state must re-establish asset tests, resource tests, face-to-face interviews, and fingerprint checks for Medicaid enrollees that alone could save the state millions.
The governor has proposed cuts to critical services hoping that it would get the full attention of the Legislature. I do not believe that it is necessary to cut education funding, slash library funding for the 10th year in a row, and continue to cut reimbursement funding to local hospitals that provide direct patient care. Rather, alternative spending reductions should be explored. Mandate relief to local governments and local districts should be a priority, a state spending cap should be fully debated and real recurring financial savings may come to fruition.
Some of these alternatives could be successful in controlling the future growth of local taxes and government spending. Taxpayers should not be left with the tab yet again because the Majorities cannot do their job. These practices are unacceptable. The disorganization and secrecy is beyond the typical “three men in a room.” This situation is inexcusable; it is a fiscal crisis, and it should be treated as such.