Governor’s Budget Still a Work in Progress

Sarah Laskow | February 7th, 2011

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

When he presented his budget last week, the governor promised that it would “enflame the Albany establishment,” that the capital’s lobbying corps would running around “like their hair is on fire.”

Certainly, anyone with any interest in the budget will have plenty to do for the next couple of months. The first of 13 legislative hearings on Andrew Cuomo’s budget began this morning in Albany. These hearings stretch on for the next four weeks: this first one is on local government; there are two on education (higher education and elementary and secondary education each get their own); the last one is on “Health/Medicaid.”

And some advocates are busy. For an organization like NYSUT, the state teacher’s union, the deep cuts mean that their team of lobbyists is working not only on explaining to legislators how the new budget will affect their district but on ginning up public support for their cause. Last week, for instance, Melinda Person, an in-house lobbyist for the union, was working at a sprint, explaining the implications of the governor’s proposed tax cap to legislators in the Capitol, meeting about coalition strategies, scripting public information campaigns, and helping plan rallies across the state.

Besides education, the governor’s other budget bete noir is health care, which really means Medicaid. Changing health care spending in the state is integral to Cuomo’s budget strategy. Federal stimulus dollars have been hiding the hole in the state’s Medicaid budget; this year, covering those costs falls to the state.

Although health care cuts are the key stone of the budget plan, it’s still not clear what exactly will be cut. The governor’s strategy — form a task force, let them make the hard decisions — has the added bonus of limiting the amount of time opponents have to push as hard as they can against his plan.

For instance, George Gresham, president of SEIU 1199, which represents the state’s health care workers and fought hard against former Governor Paterson’s proposed budget cuts, is on the governor’s Medicaid Redesign Team. The union released a statement that was critical of the level of cuts the governor proposed, but an 1199 spokesperson told me that it would be “premature” to talk about any other work the organization was doing on the budget right now. They’re working with the task force on costs.

So far there hasn’t been much information from the team about what recommendations they’re considering. The group is holding public hearings across the state and will hold a meeting this Wednesday in New York City.

But those are just the biggest chunks. There are plenty of tiny nips and tucks across the budget that will have their opponents. The state is scaling back its contribution to New York City’s shelters for the homeless. It’s cutting the bump that foster care programs would get to account for cost of living increases. It’s changing the way it reimburses local governments for juvenile detention costs. There’s plenty of places for push-back. And even if the budget passes on schedule, there’s plenty of time for it to grow.