Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spitzer Flashback( from

Funding cut called political punishment
Tedisco claims Spitzer is penalizing Schenectady health clinic in GOP district

By RICK KARLIN, Capitol bureau
First published: Thursday, October 18, 2007

ALBANY -- A Schenectady health clinic for the poor may be the latest casualty in the escalating battle between Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Republican lawmakers.
Funding cuts have long been weapons of choice in the Capitol's partisan wars. But Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco said Spitzer has taken the art of political retaliation to a new level by cutting $100,000 from a health clinic for the poor in a Republican-held district in Schenectady.

"The governor has really stepped over the line," Tedisco said a day after learning that money he requested for the financially strapped Schenectady Free Health Clinic had been eliminated.

He said thousands of low-income Schenectady residents depend on the clinic's free care.

It is hardly the first time one of Albany's leaders has been accused of cutting funding for political reasons. Republican Gov. George Pataki infuriated Assembly Democrats in 1998 when he axed $1.6 billion of their spending and borrowing items. Over the past year, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno's office has pulled back local grants for two Long Island and Westchester districts where Democrats seized longtime Republican seats.

The cut in Schenectady was just outside Tedisco's district in an area represented by one of his Republican colleagues, George Amedore Jr., who won a special election this summer.

It also came amid a high-profile battle over Spitzer's plan to allow illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses. Tedisco has emerged as the opposition's point man, appearing on national TV shows blasting the plan and calling the governor "Illegal Eliot."

Spitzer's cut also comes just days after the Times Union reported that Tedisco was researching a legislative proposal, which, if passed, could allow for a recall of the governor.

The driver's license plan, enacted by Spitzer last month, is the latest flash point between the governor and Republicans in the Legislature.

"This is payback," said Tedisco. "And this is governance with a vengeance."

Spitzer spokesman Jeffrey Gordon countered that Tedisco and other lawmakers knew the governor was changing the way local grants, known as member items, were allocated and they could have asked for the funding during the budget process but instead waited until August.

"They had ample opportunity to secure funding for this and they did not attempt to do so," Gordon said.

In past years, the health clinic got money from a discretionary fund controlled by the state health commissioner. But as part of what he said was an effort to make spending more transparent, Spitzer, who took office in January, did away with these multimillion-dollar pots of money controlled by agency heads and put them in the state budget as line items.

The governor said he would use money left over from 2006 to fund some requests from local lawmakers, which is what Tedisco sought in August, after he realized the clinic's traditional funding source no longer existed.

Even though the request came late in the year, Tedisco said, he was led to believe he'd get the money. As proof, he released a Sept. 6 e-mail from the governor's office to Tedisco stating that "we're prepared to process this project along with the other items."

The other items included additional grants requested by Tedisco, including $90,000 for a bicentennial celebration in Ballston Spa; $10,000 to buy boats for the Scotia Glenville Rowing Association; and $50,000 toward an elevator at the Italian American Heritage Association. None of the items, totaling $482,548, was approved for funding.
When he asked what happened, Tedisco's chief of staff, Bill Sherman, said Spitzer's Budget Director Paul Francis told him "that was the decision of this administration."

The health clinic operates on an annual budget of about $700,000, said Executive Director Bill Spolyar. Local retired doctors donate their services, and most of the expenses are for medication and malpractice insurance.

He wasn't familiar with the combative budget politics but said the clinic is starting to solicit charitable donations and still hoping the state funding will come through.

"We're hopeful that's going to happen," he said. Karlin can be reached at 454-5758 or by e-mail at Capitol bureau reporter James M. Odato contributed to this story.

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