A leading health-care advocate in the state Senate said yesterday that he would not vote to approve a budget that tightens access to the state's FamilyCare program, and suggested several possible funding sources.

Last year, New Jersey expanded FamilyCare, the state program that offers free or low-cost health insurance to children in lower-income families, to include more parents. Health-care advocates argue that enrolling more parents ensures more children are covered.

But faced with a dire fiscal situation, Gov. Corzine has proposed restricting new adult enrollment in FamilyCare in the fiscal year that begins July 1, to save $9.7 million.

State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D., Middlesex), chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee and a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, yesterday offered three potential sources of money to restore funding:

Reduce or eliminate property-tax rebates for seniors earning between $100,000 and $150,000 in taxable income, meaning Social Security income, for example, would be excluded. (Senior citizens earning more than $150,000 do not receive property-tax rebates.)

Redirect $9 million from the $603 million scheduled to partially reimburse hospitals for care of the uninsured.

Apply for matching Medicaid funds for half of the $40 million that hospitals are assessed to pay for care of the uninsured at federal health clinics. The resulting $20 million could be used to restore the proposed cuts in enrollment to FamilyCare and to provide additional charity-care funding for hospitals.

"This, I think, is the right thing to do because I believe I've found options for restoring the funds without having to create a new tax structure," instead reprioritizing money the state already spends, Vitale said.

Vitale has long argued it is less expensive for the state to subsidize health insurance for low-income residents than it is to pay for their emergency care at hospitals.

He announced his proposals at a news conference surrounded by advocates for health care and low-income families. Besides FamilyCare funds, they are calling for funding to be restored for Medicaid and AIDS prescriptions.

"These are programs that mean the difference between life and death for those struggling to make ends meet in this difficult economy," Vitale said.

"Some programs are too important, and some convictions are too strong, to be on the budget chopping block," he continued.

Ray Castro, senior policy analyst for the left-leaning think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, said cuts to FamilyCare would hurt the state's economy because every $1 invested in FamilyCare yields $4.20 in business activity.

Castro also noted the cuts to FamilyCare were being proposed even as the state was receiving more than $2 billion in additional Medicaid funding and an additional $100 million in additional federal funds for FamilyCare.

"Virtually all those funds have gone to balance the state budget, but a small portion of them could have been used to prevent health cutbacks as Congress intended, which would have resulted in even more federal funds to New Jersey," Castro said.

On the Medicaid and AIDS prescription co-payments, Lowell Arye, executive director of the Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities, said co-payments would result in vulnerable citizens' "not seeking care, exacerbating their illnesses, and cost the state even more in hospitalizations and more emergency room visits."

Contact staff writer Adrienne Lu at 609-989-8990 or alu@phillynews.com.