Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Nonprofits Brace for State Cuts

July 5, 2010

After Paterson's vetoes, nonprofits brace for funding cuts

By Nick Reisman and Jon Campbell

ALBANY -- An Elmira medical clinic was looking forward to receiving $30,000 for dental supplies.

Broome County Office for Aging was earmarked for $13,000.

And a regional food bank in Orange County was planning to use $100,000 to distribute to soup kitchens and purchase low-cost foodstuffs.

But the checks aren't in the mail.

As Gov. David Paterson vetoes $193 million in legislative pork from the state budget, non-profit and community groups are facing major cuts to popular programs. In some cases, lawmakers fear the cuts could threaten an organization's survival.

Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook said the vetoes -- 6,709 of them -- were signed Friday afternoon and would be delivered to the Assembly and Senate this week so they could formally take effect.

The governor followed through with the vetoes after state lawmakers passed a series of spending bills last Monday, but failed to produce a contingency plan in case up to $1 billion in federal Medicaid funding isn't released to the state.

In addition to cutting $600 million in education aid and $90 million for community colleges and tuition assistance, the governor is vetoing the legislative earmarks -- known as "member items."

The money was already approved in a prior budget year, but was due to be doled out to the groups once the budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year was completed.

Gannett's Albany Bureau reported in May that despite New York's fiscal woes, more than $9.3 million had flowed to lawmakers' hometown pet projects since the fiscal year started April 1. At the time, the state defended the spending, saying the money was from prior years, but Paterson has since shut down the spending through the vetoes.

The budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year doesn't include any new member-item spending. The Legislature has traditionally been allocated $170 million a year to dole out in member items.

Although derided as a symbol of largesse, voters tend to have a contradictory relationship with member items, said Robert Ward, the deputy director of the Rockefeller Institute of Government.

"To the extent that people perceive high spending as a problem, they tend to not associate it with a particular legislator," Ward said.

But when it comes to securing money for a popular local program, lawmakers are all too happy to take the credit, he said. Member items can be designated only to non-profits and local governments.

"Certainly there will be many legislators pressing the leadership to negotiate for restoration of the member items," he said. "Historically that has been one of the most important concerns for the Legislature."

The governor said he has no plans to reverse course on the vetoes.

"We don't have the resources to accommodate these programs," Paterson said. "Admittedly, some of them are good."

The Food Bank of the Hudson Valley will lose out on a $100,000 member item from Assemblywoman Nancy Calhoun, R-Blooming Grove, Sullivan County.

The money would have been placed in an account so soup kitchens and other groups could purchase low-cost food from the bank's stock, Executive Director Jan Whitman said.

Whitman said her organization will now be left scrambling to find a new donor to provide money to provide food for some of the groups they work with.

"Agencies like ours who are really helping people who are most affected by these poor economic conditions, maybe I'm biased, but I think those are the last cuts that need to be made," Whitman said. "Agencies that are helping people to feed their kids and stay in their homes are really on the front lines of trying to fight these poor economic conditions."

Calhoun called losing the money "atrocious."

"To take food out of peoples' mouths is probably the worst thing that people could do and I just can't believe the governor would do that," she said.

In Elmira, a medical clinic would lose $30,000 for supplies used to sterilize dental equipment.

"We're a little concerned about that," said Melody Ponzi, the chief financial officer of Able2, formally known as the Cerebral Palsy & Handicapped Children's Association of Chemung County.

Overriding all of the vetoes would be difficult, if not impossible. Democrats in the Senate hold a narrow 32-30 advantage over Republicans.

Even if the Democrats were able to muster the needed two-thirds majority by convincing 10 GOP senators to vote with them, the Legislature would have to vote to override each of the 6,709 items.

Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson, D-Brooklyn, expressed confidence on Thursday he would be able to override some of the vetoes.

"We are definitely considering overrides of the governor's veto," he said.

In the Assembly, where Democrats greatly outnumber Republicans, lawmakers may try to override large items such as the education aid that was cut.

Lawmakers may return to Albany sometime in July to take up the Medicaid contingency plan. The Senate must also still vote on several measures to raise revenue and finish the budget, which was due on April 1.

"We'll take the most important ones up," said Assemblyman Mike Spano, D-Yonkers. "I think everyone realizes that this is a crisis and we're going to have make some very tough decisions."

Additional Facts

By the numbers
Some of the groups that will lose funding as part of Gov. Paterson's decision to veto member-item spending.

* Union-Endicott Central School District: $3,500
* Broome County Head Start: $5,000
* Boys and Girls Club of Western Broome Inc.: $4,000
* Broome County Council of Churches Inc.: $7,500
* Catholic Charities of Broome County Inc.: $7,500
* YWCA of Binghamton and Broome County: $5,000
* Tioga County Boys & Girls Club: $5,000
* Broome County Office for Aging: $13,000
* Tioga County Boys and Girls Club Inc.: $5,000
* NYSARC Inc. Otsego County Chapter: $15,000
* Chenango Memorial Hospital: $4,000

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