Consider local effects of cutting government

By Art Warner, Guest Columnist

Some years ago Brook Benton, a popular singer and composer, wrote a song that included these words: “I got what I wanted, but I lost what I had.” That phrase came to mind recently while considering some of the comments that are being made, both pro and con, regarding reducing, or eliminating, government spending.

While many people would welcome having a few more dollars in their pockets by cutting government programs, we must be prepared to say which spending should be cut, and which taxes should remain in place. We must also be willing to live with the results of our choices.

Consider the following example of a local large-scale employer, with 570 employees.

In its 2011 annual report, Unity Family Healthcare (which operates St. Gabriel’s Hospital, St. Camillus Place, Alverna Apartments and the Albany Medical Center) shows that it received $69.869 million in revenue, and that over half of that amount (56 percent) came from government sources. During that same year, the report shows expenses of $69.555 million, with over half of those expenses (55.3 percent) paid as salaries and benefits.

It is quite obvious that if we eliminate the government funding which provides over half of the income that is now going to Unity Family Healthcare (UFH), some of our local health care and housing facilities are going to close. It is equally obvious that a significant number of our relatives, friends and neighbors who work in those facilities will lose their jobs. What will those workers do to pay their bills? What impact will it have on local merchants, churches, civic groups  and our community in general to lose over $30 million in spending power?

The annual report also shows that St. Gabriel’s Hospital had: 1,419 patients admitted; 189 deliveries; 1,915 surgeries; and 9,921 emergency room visits. Who will provide those services if UFH and the doctors who treat those patients lose government funding? Who will operate St. Gabriel’s Home Care and Hospice, or St. Camillus Place, or Alverna Apartments or the Albany Medical Center? How far will people in this area have to travel to get comparable services and at what cost?

There is no doubt that there are ways to reduce or eliminate certain governmental expenses. However, the steps needed to make that happen must be taken only after reasonable discussion and consideration, including a detailed cost/benefit analysis.

If we fail to use a targeted method to examine and reduce spending, and simply use a “shoot from the hip” approach for cutting taxes, we may find ourselves singing, “I got what I wanted, but I lost what I had.”

Art Warner is a resident of Little Falls.