TO THE EDITOR:
Amid the celebratory flurry of press releases touting the “accomplishment” of Albany managing to pass an annual budget, it is nice to know that New York remains a state of corruption. Some things never change.
By now we all have heard about the $100,000 in tax money that is going to promote tourism in the Hamptons, and the $3,000,000 to promote the Dick’s Sporting Goods Golf Tournament. Less well known is the extortion of money from the Catholic Church.
The antipathy of Andrew Cuomo (and most of the Democrat Party) toward the Catholic Church stems from the Church’s 2000 year old stance on reproductive rights. In 2014, Mr. Cuomo stated that “right to life” supporters “have no place in the State of New York.” But words of hatred and division are one thing, theft is another.
The Catholic Church has ventured into politics both here in Croton and at the national level. The Church is a bit fuzzy on the physical existence of hell, but it has spoken with crystal clarity on proposed legislation in Croton and even filed a US Supreme Court amicus brief on the constitutionality of mandatory union dues for public sector employees. Go figure. So some might see the events of the past month as turnabout being fair play, and they would be wrong.
It is wrong for a faith organization to meddle in politics, and it is equally wrong for politicians to meddle in the charitable work of faith organizations.
As part of their fundamental mission to serve the poor, the Diocese of Brooklyn started a tiny health insurance plan in 1993. Although named “The New York State Catholic Health Plan” the non-profit served all in need regardless of faith. Serving people who had been ignored by traditional insurance companies, the company became the 1.6 million-member Fidelis Care.
The Catholic bishops recently agreed to sell Fidelis and put the proceeds of $3.75 billion into a charitable foundation to provide health care for the poor.
The bishops did a good thing, in keeping with a core mission of the Catholic Church going back two thousand years. But as Mr. Cuomo would tell you, Catholics have no place in the State of New York.
The Governor threatened to block the deal or else to pass legislation seizing the Fidelis reserve funds. Although there was no legal impediment to the sale, it could—and would—be blocked by the Dept. of Health and the Dept. of Financial Services unless Mr. Cuomo got his pieces of silver. And if he didn’t get it from a sale of Fidelis Care, he would seize it right out of Fidelis’ bank account.
Because of the Governor’s extortion, the deal was renegotiated and now the State of New York is getting $1.5 billion from Fidelis Care and $500 million from the purchaser of Fidelis. That is money that is not going to the poor. It is money that the State of New York took by threatening to pass a law specifically targeted at Fidelis Care: it is money taken by extortion.
Where is that $2 billion going? It depends on whether you believe Andrew Cuomo. Mr. Cuomo is the consummate NY politician. If you believe him, I have a bridge to sell you.
According to the Governor, the money is going to a “Health Care Shortfall Fund.” This is to protect us against the evil Trump administration which is going to kick Timmy Cratchit out on the street.
The combination of bashing both Mr. Trump and the Catholic Church while expanding government made the Governor’s extortion wildly popular in certain progressive quarters of our state. The Democrat legislators applauded and the Republican legislators were too scared of angering the Governor.
But as always, the reality is not the shiny object waved by politicians to distract the voters. Reality is worse, as it always is in New York politics.
When the budget was passed, buried deep on page 153 at Part FFF Subpart A of Assembly Bill A9509, the money became a “Health Care Transformation Fund” which among other things could be used for “debt retirement or restructuring, housing and other social determinants of health, or transitional operating support to health care providers.” The money can be moved out of the HCTF at the discretion of the Director of the Budget.
In other words, if you are a hospital or insurance company and play nice with the Governor, there is $2 billion that he can give away. Real estate developers must be salivating over the “housing” clause, and “other social determinants of health” means whatever the Governor wants it to mean. Hiking and meditating in the park benefit health--- by the logic of Part FFF Subpart A, Cuomo could give Croton a billion dollars for Gouveia renovations.
A pot of money disbursed at the whim of the Governor will not end well. As New Yorkers, we are accustomed to our crooked politicians funneling taxpayer money to powerful supporters. Using the power of government to extort money from a Catholic charity to fund a political slush fund is just another day at the office in Albany.
Surely a person must feel a bit ashamed at taking money from the Poor Box at church? Not if you are Andrew Cuomo.
--Paul Steinberg, Croton-on-Hudson