As budget negotiations kick in to full swing, it is becoming more apparent that old habits are indeed difficult to break. Projections show the state will have a two to three billion dollar surplus, which should be used to pay down the state’s debt, revitalize the health care system, and lower property taxes.
Unfortunately, at present, there are no plans to address the aforementioned areas of need. Instead, businesses face tax increases, hospitals and nursing homes are threatened by closures and downsizing, and a less than ambitious Medicaid fraud recovery program is being called for.
My office has received many letters, phone calls, and e-mails from concerned citizens about the proposed funding cuts in health care. In his budget, Governor Eliot Spitzer cut nearly $1.3 billion from Medicaid and other health programs; $520 million of that sum is directed toward hospitals and nursing homes.
Like many of you, I am concerned about these proposed cuts because it affects the quality of care available to the people of Western New York and the 139th Assembly District. In a region that is predominantly rural, where a shortage of doctors and nurses already exists, we cannot afford to downsize any further.
To combat the issue, the Assembly Majority plans to restore $236 million of the proposed cuts. Clearly, this is not enough. As I have mentioned, the state is benefiting from a two to three billion dollar surplus, part of which should be used to make up the total cost of the governor’s reduction in spending for hospitals and nursing homes.
Furthermore, New York state loses $4.5 billion annually to Medicaid fraud, waste, and abuse; $4.5 billion in wasted tax dollars is not acceptable as that money must be recovered to fund hospitals and nursing homes, provide real property tax relief, and pay down the state’s debt. The governor has laid out a plan to recover a mere $100 million of that lost money or about 2%. That goal is far too low, and represents a general misunderstanding for a system that is so broken and corrupt that I am inclined to wonder if Medicaid fraud recovery is really a priority for the new governor.
I am asking for responsible money management, in the same way you and I handle our own finances. We cannot afford to allow the government to waste hard-earned taxpayer money while the chief executive looks the other way and at the same time proposes cuts that affect public health.
We have accomplished much in securing ethics, workers’ compensation, and budget reforms as well as a civil confinement law by putting the needs of New Yorkers first. I am hopeful that as the budget proceedings continue, we will continue to work in a bipartisan fashion to pass an on-time and responsible budget.