Thursday, February 01, 2007

Spitzer's big budget bet Lawmakers must follow his lead in making fundamental change

Newsday Editorial

Change and reform is in the air........Newsday is right..if the figures add up.....our elected lawmakers should embrace it and not find ways to fight it...otherwise New York is doomed.........andy

Gov. Eliot Spitzer's first budget is a breathtaking document, leaving no doubt about his intent to use his record mandate for massive - and needed - changes in how the state spends billions of dollars and cares for millions of people. Overall, his plan promotes a significant shift of wealth - much of it fair - from richer homeowners, hospitals and schools to their middle class and poorer counterparts. In striking ways, it would be a budget for the ages. Lawmakers should approach it with the same attitude that Spitzer has presented it: The old, incremental, you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours just won't do. It's time for fundamental changes in Albany.

That said, the $120-billion plan calls for so many far-reaching changes in so many crucial services - especially health care and education - that lawmakers must be certain that the pain and gain are spread equitably. They shouldn't just rubber-stamp the governor's plan. What they need to avoid, however, is focusing on parochial interests, such as rigidly maintaining regional "shares" or satisfying powerful lobbies that see themselves as big losers.For instance, Spitzer is selling the idea that Long Islanders should accept less of an increase in school aid than other regions because they would be receiving more of the property-tax relief he proposes. It's an intriguing concept - fiscally and politically - but lawmakers must make certain the numbers add up.

And regardless of whatever compromises might be negotiated, neither side should push to raise spending more than Spitzer has proposed. Despite slowing the rate of growth in general-fund expenditures, from 10 percent to 4.2 percent, Spitzer's proposed increases are well above inflation and perhaps risky, with deficits looming in future years.In the end, however, Spitzer shouldn't hesitate to fight for sweeping reforms in the troubled areas of Medicaid, school aid and property taxes. Tame the Medicaid beast. Spitzer's budget recognizes that New York spends far more on Medicaid than any other state but doesn't deliver better health care. He is proposing a "new paradigm" - distributing Medicaid funds to hospitals that treat the poor, instead of using the program as a general subsidy to all hospitals. Admirably, he puts more into preventive care, including coverage for every child. But he doesn't close costly loopholes that let relatively wealthy people get free care. And Long Island lawmakers should make sure hospitals and nursing homes here are treated equitably, even if some may lose funds. Distribute school aid based on need. Spitzer has proposed an enormous increase in school aid- $1.4 billion this coming year, $7 billion over four years - in exchange for greater accountability by school districts. That's a fair bargain. Although the bulk of the new aid will go to New York City, to settle a court ruling, Spitzer was wise to propose a simpler and fairer formula to distribute aid statewide based on a community's wealth. He also was lucky, with revenues soaring, to be able to guarantee even the richest districts at least 3 percent more.

Suburban lawmakers should be as open-minded as they will be vigilant in protecting their districts. Base property tax relief on ability to pay. Spitzer is asking for $1.5 billion this year to subsidize local real-estate levies, $6 billion over three years. What makes this an improvement over the popular STAR subsidies, which will remain in effect, is that the new money would be distributed based on income. Property taxes are killing suburbs and upstate areas, especially where incomes haven't kept up with the value of homes. That includes most Long Islanders, who would get greater relief. If the numbers add up, and stand the test of fairness, Spitzer's plan will deserve support. He certainly has challenged the status quo in bold and creative ways.

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