Governor David Paterson’s push for midyear budget cuts has unleashed a special-interests smackdown between the state teachers unions and the health-care industry. With spending on school aid and Medicaid eating up nearly half of the state’s budget, and a record $12.5 billion deficit, the governor wants lawmakers to make health care suffer to the tune of $571 million and have public schools do without $585 million. Now the two Albany heavyweights are turning on each other.
While New York spends almost twice per patient on Medicaid than the national average, officials at the Greater New York Hospital Association and the health-care workers union, SEIU 1199, argue that it’s not fair that they keep getting chopped even as school aid increased 10 percent in the last two years. “Twice already this year, health care has gotten whacked with hundreds of millions of real cuts. Only now do we hear anything about education—but instead of real cuts, Paterson is only looking to scale back the huge increases schools were promised,” said one health-care big. “This isn’t parity.” The hits could result in layoffs of nurses and the closure of hospitals, warns Kenneth Raske, president of the hospital association. “What do you think the consequences of that are? People will actually die.”
“Essential services in health care also need to be protected, but not at the cost of what’s essential to education,” says Richard Iannuzzi, the president of New York State United Teachers. Randi Weingarten, head of New York City’s public-school-teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers, says they have a two-year-old court ruling on their side, which mandated that the state increase funds to city schools by more than $2 billion over four years to meet its constitutional obligations.
“If you don’t understand what government’s obligation is, then somebody might look at it that way, but under the State Constitution, the state has an obligation to provide all of its children with a sound basic education,” says Weingarten.