ALBANY — Governor Spitzer's health care budget came under attack yesterday from one of New York's most powerful politicians, Rep. Charles Rangel, who said the governor's plan to trim a $1 billion out of Medicaid growth would have a "disastrous" effect.
Speaking at a breakfast meeting with New York's congressional delegation, state lawmakers, and health care advocates, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman said Mr. Spitzer's Medicaid budget is "disastrous — and that, coupled with the federal budget cuts, puts us in a hell of a political mode," the Associated Press reported.
Mr. Rangel, a Harlem Democrat whose criticisms of the governor's plan have been amplified by a major attack ad campaign bankrolled by the hospital industry, urged Mr. Spitzer and state lawmakers to put aside their differences.
"We cannot deliver the resources in the middle of a food fight," said Mr. Rangel, who once famously mocked Mr. Spitzer by calling him "the world's smartest man."
The Republican leader of the state Senate, Joseph Bruno, whose embattled majority conference is relying on money and other support from the health care industry for political protection, said Mr. Spitzer was "seeing things through his rose-colored glasses."
In his first budget, Mr. Spitzer is proposing to increase the federal, state, and local Medicaid budget by $1.1 billion to $47.6 billion. In the final year of Governor Pataki's term, the budget went up by $2.5 billion over the prior fiscal year. Mr. Spitzer, who has criticized the hospital industry for providing substandard service at an exorbitant cost, said the state cannot afford such growth and is seeking to cut costs in part by freezing hospital and nursing home Medicaid reimbursement rates, as well as managed care premiums. He is also shifting more money to hospitals that serve a greater concentration of Medicaid patients.
A major hospital association and the state's largest health care employees union have fought back with a multimillion-dollar television advertising campaign that they hope will drive down the governor's popularity. Mr. Spitzer is likely to resolve the dispute by agreeing with lawmakers to add hundreds of millions of dollars to the budget by tapping into $575 million in surplus funds.
New York's comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, yesterday refused to join the chorus of criticism aimed at the governor.
The day after he released a budget analysis warning of "unsustainable" spending, the comptroller declined to take sides in the Medicaid battle. "You can do a lot of things with the dollars within" the budget, he said, "but it's for the governor and the Legislature to decide how to make those spending decisions. That's not the comptroller's responsibility."
Mr. DiNapoli's remarks came during a press conference announcing the formation of a transition committee that will be run by Mayor Koch — described by Mr. DiNapoli as "one of my rock stars" — and a famed troubleshooter, Frank Zarb, who helped steer Nassau County out of bankruptcy, advised Mr. Pataki in dealing with a major schools funding lawsuit, and took the reins of AIG while it was being investigated by Mr. Spitzer, who was then attorney general.
The reputation of the office of comptroller, which oversees the $145 billion pension fund and agency auditing, suffered after the chauffeur scandal that brought down Democrat Alan Hevesi, who resigned last year after pleading guilty to a felony.
Mr. DiNapoli, a Long Island Democrat who was voted into office last month by the Legislature over the objection of Mr. Spitzer, said one of his and the commission's goal was to restore the office's standing.