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Cuomo Amends His NY Budget For Medicaid, Schools

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday amended his proposed budget to incorporate Medicaid funding cuts and policy changes recommended by a task force that reviewed the program and to reflect some future economic optimism.

His revisions include a projection that school aid will increase a year from now, which would be the first increase since the 2009-10 budget. That's part of Cuomo's proposal to start budgeting education and health care -- the two biggest chunks of state spending -- on a two-year cycle.

He would tie growth to inflation in the health care sector and personal income growth for New Yorkers.

Fiscal analysts have said that can provide needed predictability to state budgets. But lawmakers have opposed similar attempts in the past saying that would tie the hands of a future Legislature, and that could be unconstitutional.

Reflecting rising revenues and some positive economic data, Cuomo says the 2012-13 school aid budget -- due almost a year from now -- could rise to $20.2 billion. That compares to current funding of almost $20.9 billion. For the budget due April 1, Cuomo proposes $19.4 billion be spent on school aid.

Overall, however, Cuomo's budget proposal for the 2011-12 due April 1 remains grim. The $132.9 billion plan addresses a $10 billion deficit, cuts spending by 2.7 percent, considers as many as 9,800 state layoffs and would cut school aid by 7.3 percent.

He calls for a 2-percent cut across the board in much of the Medicaid funding for hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers. He also would increase the copayment paid by patients for various Medicaid-funded medical services.

His proposal also empowers the health commissioner to order more Medicaid cuts if the measures proposed by his task force don't reach their objective. Some in the Legislature fear this will create more drastic cuts in health care for hospitals, nursing homes and patients than Cuomo has so far proposed because the task force recommendations will come up short of the goal in 2011-12.

Cuomo also included a restriction on payments in malpractice cases, a proposal aimed at lowering the cost of malpractice insurance for physicians that helps to drive up health care costs. His office did not immediately return a telephone message left Thursday night seeking further explanation of what types of payments would be affected.

State Bar Association President Stephen Younger called it a radical change.

"The changes would adversely affect the rights of victims who have suffered as result of medical negligence," Younger said in calling on the Legislature to strike the measure down.

One other aspect involved the findings of a separate task force charged with deciding what prisons to close. Cuomo's amendment would make the findings binding on the commissioner.

"New York taxpayers have said loudly and clearly that they want us to stem the tide of runaway spending," Cuomo said.

The state constitution allows the governor to amend his budget within 30 days of presenting it to lawmakers. He will negotiate his plan with legislative leaders and aim for an on-time budget April 1.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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