Defend your Medicaid and school-aid cuts, Gov. Hochul

POLITICS: Defend your Medicaid and school-aid cuts, Gov. Hochul

The central conflict in this year’s state budget negotiations is that Gov. Hochul wants to rein in the fastest-growing spending categories, while her fellow Democrats in the Legislature want to keep the party going.

Hochul, at root, aims to serve the taxpaying public, while the Assembly and state Senate majorities aim to please the tax-eating unions and other special interests.

Per state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Medicaid and school aid are the two largest General Fund spending categories — totaling 47% of spending in this fiscal year and on course to hit 52.4% in three years.

Medicaid outlays have climbed 40% the last three years; state school aid hasn’t risen as fast — but keeps rising even as total enrollment (including charter schools) keeps sinking, down 17% from its peak in 2000.

Hochul would actually up total school aid more than 4% — but refuses to “hold harmless” districts that have markedly fewer kids to teach, which is most districts in the state.

Lawmakers insist that’s somehow cruel.

On Medicaid, she wants to spend $1 billion less than last year (when spending soared 7.5%) via modest trims like reforming the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program.

Those outlays have soared from almost nothing to $6 billion a year because the program, which pays friends and family to do home care for the elderly and disabled, lacks any controls to prevent blatant abuse.

In lieu of cuts, the Legislature offers a complex scheme that amounts to gaming Medicaid’s rules to get an extra $4 billion in federal funding: legal thievery, basically, if it even works.

The real issue here: The teachers unions go ballistic at mention of any education cuts; health-workers union 1199 SEIU, at the thought of Medicaid savings.

And they’re supported by the hospitals and local school bureaucracies that also benefit from the “never cut anything” approach (1199’s alliance with the Greater New York Hospital Association makes for a particularly powerful, and utterly shameless, lobbying machine).

On education, New York spends more (by far) per student than any other state; it’s per-head Medicaid spending also “excels” — yet the Empire State’s results are mediocre in both categories; we get the least bang per buck.

Hochul’s entirely right to stand up for the public against the special interests, but she’ll have to convince the Legislature she means it, which likely requires a prolonged standoff and a budget that’ll be weeks late, if not months.

Count that as the easiest way to handicap this year’s budget battle: The sooner they cut a deal, the worse for the average New Yorker.

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