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New York State once again can become a land of economic opportunity if Gov. Pataki's proposed budget is passed, the governor's second-in-command said Monday.

Speaking to nearly 100 Amherst-area business people at a noontime luncheon, Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey told the enthusiastic crowd that, contrary to the host of television and radio advertisements now being broadcast, the Pataki budget will not destroy life in the Empire State as it is now known.

"The $1.27 billion in first-year savings would mean $715 million in mandate relief statewide -- $25.1 million in local property tax benefits in Erie County alone," Ms. McCaughey said.

"There is a tremendous amount of misinformation out there today, creating very worrisome concerns," Ms. McCaughey said. "I implore you to reach out and tell people what's really in the budget."

The lieutenant governor touched briefly on a few of the most heated battlefronts regarding the Pataki budget.

On the proposal to cut the personal income tax by 33 percent over four years, Ms. McCaughey said contrary to what's being bandied about, the state would not be cutting services due to the tax cut. About 400,000 low-income New York residents would be relieved of paying state taxes at the end of the four-year, tax-cutting period.

On welfare reform, Ms. McCaughey said residents want a failed system reformed, with people who are dependent on aid moved toward self-sufficiency.

On reforming Medicaid, Ms. McCaughey said that, in addition to trying to save $1.27 billion in the first year of proposed changes, the governor hopes to:

Improve the quality of care and the access to it.

Protect the health care industry as one of the state's largest employers.

Protect the ongoing medical research at centers such as Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

The lieutenant governor stressed that again, contrary to the current barrage of ads, the elderly who are unable to perform daily living chores will continue to receive personal in-home health care.

Health care providers, such as hospitals, are called on to provide 54 percent or $686 million, of the $1.27 billion in Medicaid savings, a circumstance Ms. McCaughey said is necessary.

"We couldn't balance the budget on the backs of the poor," the lieutenant governor said.

Ms. McCaughey's remarks were well received in Amherst, one of four Western New York stopovers she made Monday.

"Truly there is a breath of optimism in the business community, a feeling that these reforms will change this state's business climate," said James Allen, executive director of the Amherst Industrial Development Agency.

The Amherst IDA was one of four co-sponsors of the lieutenant governor's presentation. Others were the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, the Niagara Frontier Builders Association and the Greater Buffalo Association of Realtors.

Developer Paul Ciminelli pointed out that the governor's proposed budget cuts indeed were important, but that of even greater concern to businessmen are proposed fundamental changes in how government works.

"It's not just the tax cuts, it's the reinvention and re-engineering of how government operates in New York State -- that's the fundamental issue," said Ciminelli, president of Ciminelli Development Co.

Business people cautioned that, should the governor's reform efforts fail, businesses will not be so willing to continue to invest in the Empire State, and the economic decline will continue.

"If the governor's budget does not pass, the high spirits now abundant in the business community quickly will go away -- and may go even lower," Allen said.

In Jamestown, Ms. McCaughey spoke to mostly Republicans in the mayor's conference room at City Hall. Ironically, a former mayor was her predecessor in Albany, Stan Lundine, who was turned out of office by the successful Pataki-McCaughey ticket.

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