If the state’s budget were pregnant, a C-section would be necessary. Two months overdue, the budget remains unfinished, and hopefully not stillborn.
The scalpel, however, is being applied to the health care budget as state lawmakers, on Monday, approved $775 million in cuts and other savings proposed by Gov. David Paterson. He inserted the reductions into the emergency spending legislation in order to keep the state government from coming to a halt.
There was no direct word from the governor on the tactic, but an official close to his administration said he will not blink or step back from the move, which he has done nine times before. “Either [legislators] can make the tough decision or the governor is going to make those decisions for them,” the official said.
And this could be just the beginning of a trend that will certainly increase tension and drama in Albany when the governor moves to cut spending in education.
“It’s a desperate situation, and this is a desperate tactic,” said Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nominee. “However, I believe it may be an effective tactic.”
There is very little wiggle room for Paterson in getting the legislators to accede to his wishes.
Already there is grumbling in the ranks with a few party loyalists saying they will not go along with him anymore, which could shut down the government since Democrats have a slight 32-30 edge in the State Senate and all 32 votes are required to pass the measure.
Cuts in the health care budget are severe, but they could have been even more drastic. The immediate effects will be felt by the state’s hospitals and nursing homes, among other health-related programs. In a move to close the $9.2 billion deficit, the governor will probably increase the tax on cigarettes.
State Senate Republican Leader from Nassau County Dean Skelos was opposed to the plan, insisting that Republicans will not help the Democrats reach the necessary 32 votes. “Right now, our conference believes that piecemeal budgeting is not the way to do it, and if it means stopping things for a couple of days, then we’re prepared to do it,” he told the press on Tuesday.
On the other hand, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson are pressing forward to narrow the gap. They, according to the governor, “seem to be bringing some real reductions to the table.”
However, they will have to bring a lot more than the recent $1 billion in reductions to close the gap, and bring the budget baby to term.