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NY Lawmakers Pass Emergency Spending Bill

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The New York State legislature has passed $385 million in health care cuts and millions more in savings as part of emergency spending measures to keep the government running.

Legislative leaders say they accepted Gov. David Paterson’s proposal to include the $775 million total in heath care cuts and savings as part of the emergency spending authorization. The bills, which keep government running, have been approved every week since the budget failed to pass back on April 1.

Members of the health care workers union, SEIU 1199, protested outside the Senate and Assembly chambers, chanting “just be fair, save health care”. Their union leaders and hospital executives called the cuts “outrageous,” and demanded more shared sacrifice from other sectors.

But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says lawmakers have no choice. They can’t shut down the government. “It’s unfortunate, but these are tough times,” said Silver. “I think everybody has to understand that.”

The cuts include reductions in the Medicaid reimbursement rate to hospitals and nursing homes. Funding for medical schools, and prescription drugs for seniors, would also be decreased, as well as health care for the mentally ill and those with HIV. The package also requires the state’s Medicaid investigators to root out over $300 million more in fraud.

Most of the reductions had already been agreed to by the Assembly and Senate Majority Party Democrats, and had been previously included in their one house budget plans, says Assembly Speaker Silver, who says his house “encouraged” the governor to act.

Lawmakers may see another advantage to including the cuts in the emergency extender bills. They can tell their constituents, as well as the powerful health care industry, that the governor forced them to make the cuts.

Paterson says now that he’s proposed the health care cuts, he may try to jam through other spending reductions, and even new taxes, that the legislature does not agree with, including deep cuts to school aid, and taxes on sugared soft drinks.

The prospect of including those unpalatable cuts and taxes in next week’s extenders may help spur the long stalled budget talks. Silver says things have already progressed.

“They are reaching fruition,” said Silver, who said the emergency extender bills with the health care cuts are a “perfect example” of how tentative agreements on the budget can be implemented.

Paterson is expected to prod lawmakers even further when he holds another public leaders meeting later in the week.