Last updated: April 1, 2004

STATE BUDGET LATE AGAIN:

by Michael Kink and the Staff of Housing Works

BRUNO SAYS $3 BILLION FROM HIP CONVERSION COULD FILL GAPS THIS YEAR, INCLUDING EDUCATION COSTS; 2-HOUSE RECOMMENDATIONS ON MEDICAID, OTHER CUTS SEEN

For the twentieth straight year, New York's state budget won't be passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor in time to meet the constitutional deadline of today, April 1.

Budget talks in Albany have stalled in recent weeks, as Governor Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno have waited for school-funding cost estimates from a commission named by the Governor to recommend steps towards compliance with last year's court ruling that mandated improvements in New York City schools. The three leaders have also engaged in political battles over terrorism legislation, possible corruption in state agencies, and other issues that haven't provided the best context for friendly negotiations about money.

But it does appear that Senate and Assembly budget staffers are working on two-house recommendations on Medicaid and other key restorations prior to moving into final negotiations with the Governor's office. These ongoing discussions may presage another two-house budget like last year's, or they may be a smart tactic to gain a stronger negotiating position with the Governor on restorations.

Last week Senator Bruno made the alarming suggestion that up to $3 billion would be available this year to pay for school funding and closing budget gaps, most of it from the planned conversion of HIP, the big New York City HMO, into a for-profit provider. The HIP windfall is, under current state law, supposed to go towards public health and health care access programs. But the Empire Blue Cross debacle a few years ago apparently taught the leaders that there's no price to be paid for robbing public funds built up over decades to cover the cost of short-term political problems. Bruno's suggestion brought little criticism in the press or from advocates.

Housing Works clients and staff are continuing our weekly advocacy meetings with legislators and staff to press for restoration of cuts to HIV/AIDS programs, welfare and Medicaid benefits and other lifesaving services, as well as for increases in funding for existing and new HIV/AIDS programs and projects. Our top budget priorities can be found on our website, www.housingworks.org, in case you're interested in meeting with your legislators next week when they'll be back in their districts for the Easter-Passover break.