By Jessica Bakeman, Albany Bureau
ALBANY, NY Education groups want more school aid. Local governments want money for local roads. Lawmakers want to pare back cuts to health services.
As the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo head into the final weeks of budget talks, the lobbying effort at the Capitol on Wednesday was in full swing. The budget is due by March 31, and lawmakers are expected to reach a deal before their spring break, which starts March 21.
The budget season means a variety of groups are making a final push to make changes to Cuomo's proposed $136 billion spending plan for the 2013-14 fiscal year. Usually, it means seeking more money for their interests.
"Today, we're here to stand together and speak with one voice, to say that we cannot allow the balancing of the budget to be on the backs of those with disabilities," said Sen. David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown, Rockland County, at a noon news conference.
Joined by advocacy groups and disabled people from around the state, Carlucci protested a proposed 6 percent cut to the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities. The $120 million cut to disability-service providers will result in the loss of another $120 million in federal matching dollars, health-care advocates said.
Cuomo announced the cut in the 30-day amendment to his budget proposal, which he originally presented Jan. 22. A Cuomo spokesman responded Wednesday that the cuts are necessary because the federal government argues it has been overpaying New York for Medicaid reimbursements.
The state and federal governments have been in negotiations over the reimbursement rate for New York's care for developmentally disabled in nine state-owned facilities.
"To resolve this longstanding issue for once and for all, the state is reconciling the rate to the level that the federal government believes is appropriate," spokesman Richard Azzopardi said in a statement. "While we're sensitive to the possible effects of less federal funding for these services, these actions are necessary so we can move forward and put this dispute in the past."
Shameka Andrews of Albany, who has spina bifida, said at the event that doctors had predicted she would reach only age 5. But state services she received helped to prolong her life and improve its quality. She recently celebrated her 35th birthday.
"I understand that budgets are tight and the need for saving money, but these services save people's lives," she said.
Cancer groups held a separate news conference Wednesday denouncing cuts to health programs in Cuomo's budget and that are the result of the federal sequestration budget cuts.
The American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network held a news conference Wednesday warning that cancer-fighting efforts stand to lose $6.6 million from the state and federal governments. Cuomo wants to move 89 state programs for health-care treatment and prevention into six programs.
"The governor proposed a budget which proposes to change drastically the way public-health programs are funded," said Blair Horner, vice president for advocacy for the American Cancer Society of NY and NJ. "It takes 89 programs and sticks them into six areas, and then he cuts all of the funding by 10 percent."
Azzopardi said the goal is to replace "an ineffective bureaucracy of 89 separate programs with a more streamlined process will result in better and more efficient services at less cost."
At another event, Democrats from both chambers joined the Alliance for Quality Education, a labor-backed policy group, calling for additional money for schools.
Legislators said that Cuomo's proposal to set up a pot of $203 million for fiscally distressed schools should simply be returned to the state's $21 billion fund for education and distributed as part of the existing aid formula. They also asked for an additional $350 million for schools.
The Democratic governor proposed a 4.4 percent increase in school aid, or $889 million more than the current fiscal year. Cuomo said it's a significant increase in fiscally difficult times. The state has a $1.3 billion budget gap.
Lawmakers said more aid is needed, particularly for rural districts.
"My poorest schools have cut 15 or 20 percent of their budget and more over the past couple of years," Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, said. "They're losing teachers. It's a bloodletting that's going on."
Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell, Broome County, said it is lawmakers' duty to be advocates for students.
"I appreciate the ask for $350 million. I'm not positive we're going to be able to come anywhere close to that," she said. "But, you've got to shoot for the moon."
A bi-partisan group of state lawmakers and local highway superintendents are pushing for more aid for local road projects, saying the aid has been flat since 2008.
Cuomo's budget proposal includes $363 million for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program. The lawmakers wrote to Cuomo telling him they want an increase of $100 million. They said it should come from part of $300 million in increased aid Cuomo is proposing for his New York Works economic-development initiative.
"We're not asking for more money above the proposal. We're asking to take $100 million of that and put it back into the CHIPS formula," said Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, R-Corning, at a news conference.
Hundreds of highway officials from towns and counties were wearing orange shirts with, "Local Roads Matter" written on them Wednesday at the Capitol. They expressed concern about the condition of local roads without additional funding.
"What we do is getting more and more difficult because there is less money to do more work," said Martin Roberts, the highway superintendent in Reading, Schuyler County, and vice president of the state Association of Town Superintendents of Highways. "And if we don't do it now, it's going to cost us more in the future."
Includes reporting by Albany Bureau Chief Joseph Spector and Staff Writer Haley Vicarro.