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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"It's going to take newfound teamwork"
ALBANY, Aug. 11 -- In recently announcing a long-term call to arms to right the fiscal ship in Chemung County – which, like so many counties locally and statewide, faces deep-rooted challenges – County Executive Tom Santulli said, “We’re really in a full-blown crisis situation. We’re in the perfect storm right now. We’ve got declining sales tax. We’ve got declining room tax. Unemployment is an unacceptable number. We have to, as a community, come together and take this problem head-on. It’s not going to go away. It’s not going to get better with us just holding our breath. It’s going to take a redesign of local government.”
And, he might well have added, it’s going to take something better from state government too.
I’m not going to recount the details of what’s facing Chemung -- or Steuben, Schuyler, Tompkins or Yates counties across my own legislative district for that matter. The urgency – and it’s been long in the making – is well documented. A property tax burden that’s as tough as anywhere in the nation. A manufacturing base that’s crumbled -- and the good jobs and stable communities that have been lost because of it. The list goes on.
It’s not going to go away without, from the state perspective, a redoubling and refocusing of efforts to:
-- Create and protect upstate jobs. A comprehensive Senate plan I co-sponsor, “Blueprint for Jobs,” focuses on numerous far-reaching actions we could take to comprehensively rebuild the upstate economy and reenergize the manufacturing sector. We’ve taken some small steps in this direction, but not nearly enough. This overall effort must now include, I believe, a central consideration by the Cuomo administration, as it looks to consolidate state programs and services, of the impact of its decisions on local economies. Recently announced plans to eliminate inpatient services at the Elmira Psychiatric Center and shut down the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility pose significant consequences for our regional economy, and they deserve to be a top consideration in any decisions like these coming out of Albany. If the moves go forward, what’s the plan to offset the economic hit we’re going to take, one that we can ill afford?
-- Mandate relief. We simply have to get local governments out from under the weight of unfunded state mandates. It’s long, long overdue and as we move toward the start of the next legislative session, it’s important to keep sounding that alarm. Governor Cuomo’s promise back in 2011, when the state first enacted its 2% property tax cap, was that it would be followed by meaningful and significant relief for local governments from unfunded state mandates. That hasn’t happened. It has to. There are a number of legislative proposals on the table. One that I’m co-sponsoring, which was approved with strong bipartisan support in the Senate this year, would ban future unfunded state mandates.
I’ll also keep sponsoring or co-sponsoring measures targeting Medicaid costs, the single-largest mandated burden on counties and local property taxpayers. It’s simply a sad commentary to keep reading story after story that Medicaid fraud still costs taxpayers millions upon millions of dollars. We continue to have a mismanaged Medicaid system. The fraud goes on. Something needs to change, now. Huge amounts of upstate tax dollars go to support vast Medicaid spending statewide, especially in New York City, and we deserve better than to keep footing the bill for mismanagement, misspending, fraud and waste. One news report earlier this year, for example, revealed that New York City’s Medicaid fraud detection program costs taxpayers $4 million more than it has recovered in misspent funds.
Other reports throughout the past year continued to show that despite years of legislative efforts to root out abuse, fraud and waste in New York’s Medicaid system – efforts that included the creation of the Office of Medicaid Inspector General itself seven years ago – not enough is being done.
I’ll continue to co-sponsor legislation to initiate a full state takeover of Medicaid. Imagine what that would mean to the long-term plans in Chemung County and counties statewide? It would make a world of difference for local governments and property taxpayers. It’s the single move that would remake the state-local partnership, to say nothing of the message it would send that New York State is truly serious about long-term, meaningful economic and fiscal reform and responsibility, and common sense and security.
So mandate relief’s an issue – and a promise – that can’t be ignored.
Government at every level, including local government, is forced to recognize that overburdened taxpayers demand efficiency and cost effectiveness. At the same time in New York State, there’s an undeniable case to be made that the ability of local governments and school districts to undertake restructuring initiatives have run into a currently immovable roadblock of state mandates
County Executive Santulli’s right: it’s going to take newfound teamwork – state, local and federal teamwork – to find our way out of this struggle.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison
Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967
Doris L. Karius, 546-5544
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Christopher Friend --
Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869