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Editorial: Cuomo tax threat might backfire

Editorial: Cuomo tax threat might backfire

Proposal to create new levy over health care legislation distracts from opposition
Editorial: Cuomo tax threat might backfire
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at City University of New York on May 23, 2017.
Photographer: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

When you’ve gained the upper hand in an argument, it’s usually best not to push your advantage.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo might want to consider that as he fights against the U.S. Senate’s new health care proposal.

The governor and other officials in New York state have been on the right side of the argument when focusing on the potentially devastating financial and human toll the legislation to repeal Obamacare could take on New York and its residents.

RELATED: CBO: Senate health bill would leave 22 million more uninsured

The governor’s office has estimated that 1 million New Yorkers could lose their health coverage under the federal overhaul, and that the bill could increase costs to the state by $4.5 billion and threaten essential programs.

One of the elements of the original House of Representatives health care bill that’s been carried over to the Senate version is an amendment proposed by area Congressman John Faso and Buffalo-area Rep. Chris Collins that would require New York state to absorb the $2.3 billion share of Medicaid spending it now forces counties to pay.

They pitched the amendment as a tax break. But it really was just a sordid attempt to sway reluctant members of the congressional delegation to support the House bill, since when it was all sorted out, it would only shift the tax burden from the counties to the state.

The governor responded that the amendment was an example of the feds unfairly imposing their will on New York and forcing its citizens to pay extra for federal cutbacks.

Cuomo has been a strong and articulate voice in opposition to the health care proposals. But now he’s in danger of losing momentum, and the upper hand, by angering the very taxpayers for whom he’s been advocating.

On Monday, the governor wrote a letter to the state’s congressional delegation articulating the evils of the new health care bill.

The letter included a proposal to offset the county-to-state shift in Medicaid expenses with the creation of a new tax that would be added to county property tax bills. To remind New Yorkers about the source of the new tax, the governor proposed identifying it on the tax bills as the “Faso-Collins Federal Tax.”

It’s quite possible the governor is just raising the creation of a new property tax to get people’s attention about the financial impact of the health care legislation on New York. 

But to some, it could look like the governor would prefer to increase taxes on already-overburdened New York property owners rather than make necessary cuts to absorb whatever losses the state must absorb.

That’s how top state Republicans are interpreting it. The new tax proposal is giving them a welcome and timely distraction from the governor’s message about the real negative impacts of the Obamacare repeal.

The $2.3 billion in question represents only about 1.5 percent of the state budget, a budget that New Yorkers all know is overloaded with unnecessary, wasteful and inefficient spending. And New York’s Medicaid program, at $60 billion a year, is the nation’s largest, leading some to question whether the state could save money simply by being less generous.

So it’s going to be a tough sell for Cuomo to argue that the state has no choice but to create a new tax — no matter who he blames for it.

With this new tax proposal, the governor is in danger of giving away the upper hand on an argument he was winning.

He might want to quit while he’s ahead.

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