ALBANY –- As budget negotiators are being told to start putting down their pencils this afternoon, state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said there are still outstanding issues to be resolved over education and health care spending.
Ironic that those two areas would still be open since officials for months have said this year’s budget process would go much easier because an overall spending level for those two areas of the budget were already resolved in last year’s budget. Medicaid and aid to public schools is set to rise 4 percent apiece this year, all sides agree.
But, details are another matter. In an interview, Silver said the sides have not yet settled a rather key question over aid to 700 school districts. “How it gets distributed,’’ Silver said matter-of-factly, and without elaborating.
The Democratic leader said a “couple issues’’ still remain in the health care portions of the budget. One is over creation of a health exchange program in New York to abide by new health insurance mandates; the exchanges would be in charge of administering the federal program and getting insurance into the hands of uninsured New Yorkers.
But the state budget talks here come as President Obama’s health insurance program was being tested in oral arguments on Monday in Washington before the U.S. Supreme Court. Many Republicans are trying to overturn the law, and most states have yet to adopt their own health exchange programs.
“Health exchange is clearly an issue. We want to get federal money … So far, the Senate is resisting that,’’ Silver said. Asked if it was a political issue for the GOP, Silver said, “I have no idea why they’re doing it. You’ll have to ask them.’’
Silver said the slowly emerging 2012 budget, after having gone through legislative changes, will better take into account “the needs of the people’’ in a number of areas. The final budget, which lawmakers hope to adopt by Thursday night, will eventually drive more money than Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed to poorer school districts, as well as to a number of social programs, Silver said.
-- Tom Precious