State budget cuts may hurt hospitals, save jobs

Gov. David Paterson speaks about the state’s budget deficit in November. Photo courtesy of Paterson’s office
By Anna Gustafson

The $2.7 billion state legislators carved from the budget last week includes delays in aid to Queens hospitals, but saves jobs in the borough and avoids mid-year cuts to schools, according to area lawmakers.

State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said some HEAL NY funds will be temporarily delayed to hospitals in Queens as part of the plan approved by the Legislature in the early hours last Thursday.

The Department of Health could not confirm Tuesday which hospitals will be affected, but last week state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) said she expected to see the state hold on to funds promised to Flushing Hospital, Jamaica Hospital, Elmhurst Hospital, Mt. Sinai Hospital in Astoria and Forest Hills Hospital.

HEAL NY is a state program that encourages preventative care options to reduce the flow of patients in hospital emergency rooms.

Gov. David Paterson criticized the lawmakers’ $2.7 billion deficit reduction plan and said it does not go far enough to fill the approximate $3.2 billion budget gap the state faces, but Senate President Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) said the cuts put the state “back on sound fiscal footing.”

The approved package includes $26.2 million in cuts to the city, $53 million to CUNY, $140 million to the MTA and $26 million from the state Dormitory Authority.

Lancman agreed and said the governor’s request that lawmakers chop $3.2 billion from the budget would have triggered the loss of “thousands of jobs in Queens,” in part because of cuts to health care, and made mid-year cuts to schools.

“You go to any school in the borough, most of which are overcrowded, and mid-year cuts would have resulted in the loss of teachers and loss of after-school programs,” Lancman said. “Principals were not able to plan for mid-year cuts.”

For weeks Paterson had been pressuring lawmakers to reduce the budget, although legislators had hoped to stave off the cuts until January, when some lawmakers believed additional revenues would come in. Lancman said state lawmakers hope to see an increase in revenues from Wall Street, which would bring added tax money to Albany.

“While the deficit reduction legislation passed by the Legislature provides needed savings, it falls well short of what is necessary to put New York on the road to fiscal and economic recovery,” Paterson said. “It does not fully address our current year budget deficit. It does not solve our severe cash-flow crunch. It does not address our long-term structural imbalance.”

Sen. George Onorato (D-Astoria) said the $2.7 billion in cuts was “far superior to the original plan proposed by the governor.”

“I and other members of the Senate Democratic conference stood firm against mid-year cuts to schools and also rejected health care cuts that would have cost New York hundreds of millions of dollars in lost federal funds,” Onorato said. “The final plan does not impose any new taxes on New Yorkers, prevents the loss of thousands of jobs that would have been lost through service cuts and ensures that poor, elderly and disabled New Yorkers receiving Supplemental Security Income do not suffer a 10 percent cut in their benefits.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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