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From the Desk of Assemblyman Jim Conte

Building a Better Budget for Long Island

This week I hosted a public budget hearing at the Suffolk County Legislative Auditorium in Hauppauge. This forum was held to discuss the impacts that Governor Cuomo’s 2011-12 Executive Budget and the recent Medicaid Redesign and Mandate Relief task force proposals could have on Long Island taxpayers, schools, businesses, hospitals, and municipalities.

My message to our citizens and overburdened taxpayers was one of concern.

First, the governor’s proposed budget increases spending by three percent, which in comparison to the budgets proposed by the Spitzer and Paterson administrations seems fiscally prudent. However, during these difficult economic times, especially with the mandate that was given to this governor by New Yorkers, one hoped for real change – and in Albany, real change ought to mean spending cuts, not reductions in the growth of spending.

Worse, the governor’s task forces on Medicaid reform and unfunded-mandate relief simply do not propose the types of reforms necessary to fix New York’s $1 billion-a-week Medicaid program nor propose any substantial cost savings for local governments and school districts.

At the hearing, Steven L. Strongwater, M.D., Chief Executive Officer of Stony Brook University Medical Center joined with other local hospitals in voicing their concerns about the effectiveness of the proposal the governor’s Medicaid redesign team offered and urged lawmakers to maintain legislative oversight over the proposed Medicaid recommendations.

Furthermore, school districts, local governments, and the property taxpayers who support them also were shortchanged by the governor’s budget and Mandate Relief task force. Many testified about the need to eliminate or greatly reduce unfunded mandates in order to provide property-tax relief for homeowners and lower costs on school districts and local municipalities, and expressed their frustration with the governor’s Mandate relief task force for failing to deliver the cost-saving measures needed to reduce local property taxes and provide adequate relief to local governments.

Like many of today’s participants at the budget hearing, I believe the only way to change course here on Long Island and throughout the state is to change Albany’s spending habits. Higher taxes are not the solution to New York’s short-term or generational problems. As lawmakers continue to negotiate the state budget, it is important that the legislature deliver a finalized spending plan which places New York on sound financial footing and moves it in a new direction – a responsible direction of less spending.

As Long Island representatives, it is our job to advocate on behalf of Long Island taxpayers in Albany and ensure that Long Island receives its fair share in the confines of this year’s budget, a sentiment that reverberated throughout the budget hearing.