State Budget Crisis Leaves Local Lawmakers In Limbo
Published: June 11th, 2010
By: Melissa deCordova

NORWICH - Chenango County lawmakers are struggling to stay ahead of the additional health care cuts New York Governor David Paterson has threatened to include in his emergency spending bill Monday.

With the budget nearly 2 1/2 months late, a $9.2 billion deficit, and the familiar haggling and little compromising going on between legislators from both parties, nothing short of a government shut down appears likely to stop the cuts. Already, Paterson has packed more than $700 million in spending cuts into emergency bills, many of which will short hospitals and nursing homes.

“I’m terribly, terribly disappointed in what’s going on at the state,” said Chenango County Board Chairman Richard B. Decker. “I don’t even know if they know what they are doing. We can’t get an accurate answer on any specific cut. They are just passing everything off to local municipalities.”

Decker has asked Department of Social Services Commissioner Bette Osborne to look at the impacts on possible cuts to local children’s services and mental health programs, and what an administration takeover of Medicaid would look like at the local level.

If children’s services funding is held back, County Treasurer William B. Evans said the county is prepared with cash flow to cover the deficit in the short term. “Hopefully they’re committed to honoring their mandates in the long term,” he said.

Chenango County Community Mental Hygiene Services Director Ruth Roberts said New York has always relied on Medicaid “to pay for everything.” When addressing rumored cuts to community-based treatment programs, she said the department would have to prioritize the groups of individuals who are the most vulnerable.

“It will be increasingly more challenging for us. We need to know the rules, and as soon as we do, we will operate under them. But, do I feel that they are trying to set up and trick us? Some days I do,” Roberts said. “We need to stay on top of it to make sure these supports and services are there for people. We can push back on some of these things as they come down the pike.”

The county treasurer said he questions the state’s commitment to Medicaid and to reimbursements for all mandated programs across the board. For the past decade or so, he said the county had weathered a series of Medicaid crises that left lawmakers scrambling to close gaping holes in state funding.

Anywhere between $80 and $100 million flows through the Chenango County treasurer’s office every year, 46 percent of which is for Medicaid and associated social services programs. “Our founding fathers would never have dreamt that social services would be such a weight on real property taxes,” Evans said.

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