Maybe the state should indeed be picking up a greater share of its Medicaid expenses from counties as a way to help lower local property taxes.
But that’s for the governor and the state Legislature and the counties to work out, not for the federal government to dictate.
As part of a last-ditch attempt to secure critical Republican votes for their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), Republican members of our own congressional delegation are using the ruse of local property tax relief to buy support for their expensive and harmful plan.
Republicans around the country are rightly worried about their re-election chances should they support the revised healthcare bill because it could force millions of people to go without health insurance and raise the costs of health coverage for those who have it.
In New York, the governor’s office has estimated that 1 million New Yorkers could lose their health coverage under the GOP plan and that it would increase costs to the state by $4.5 billion.
To help win over reluctant Republicans to support the healthcare revision plan, an amendment to the House bill would require that the state shift $2.3 billion in Medicaid costs from the counties to the state.
The amendment was proposed by Congressman John Faso, whose district covers part of our area, and Congressman Chris Collins, a Schenectady native who represents the Buffalo area.
By coming up with an amendment tying passage of the Republican health care plan to lower local property taxes, these congressmen are hoping voters will overlook the negative impact of the plan and won’t punish supporters at the polls next year.
There are two big problems with their effort.
Our first is that the federal government shouldn’t be telling the state how to distribute its tax burden.
The local share of Medicaid costs is a legitimate issue. Counties in New York share a greater burden of state Medicaid expenses than any other state, and local officials consider it an unfunded mandate from Albany.
They’ve argued that the state should assume more or all of the cost, which would help reduce local property taxes. They also hope that if Albany was paying the bill, it might force the state — which has the nation’s largest Medicaid system at $60 billion — to be more efficient and less generous in doling out Medicaid benefits.
It’s a perfectly legitimate discussion to be had, and one that should be taking place every day between local governments and their representatives at the state capitol.
It is not an issue that should be rammed down the state’s throat by federal representatives for purely political reasons.
That leads us to our other problem with the amendment: It won’t likely save taxpayers money anyway.
While local property taxes might be reduced by shifting county Medicaid costs to the state, lawmakers are going to have to plug the hole in the state budget somehow. That $2.3 billion isn’t going to appear out of thin air.
The state is still going to have to recover the money from taxpayers, either by raising state income taxes or perhaps by reducing the share of state sales tax revenue going to the counties.
The sales tax issue could have an effect locally. Counties like Saratoga and Warren, which don’t have much in the way of Medicaid expenses but rely heavily on sales tax from tourism and shopping, could actually see a decline in revenue.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders should be working on ways to reduce state Medicaid expenses and to alleviate the financial burden on all New York taxpayers.
Buy they also are right to fight this transparent attempt by Republicans to scrape up reluctant votes for this potentially harmful healthcare plan through the manipulation of state government and its citizens.