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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"Smart investing"

ALBANY, Oct. 17 -- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was recently asked by a reporter at a Capitol press conference whether county governments (and, therefore, local property taxpayers) could be relieved of having to pay for Medicaid by having the state pick up the local share.

There are many rallying cries springing up around the state and the nation at the moment, but that question pinpointed the one that local leaders across our region and throughout New York have identified as priority No. 1 during the 2012 session of the State Legislature: a state takeover of local Medicaid costs.

The governor answered this way: “Do we have money to subsidize them (local governments)? No.” In very clear terms, he delivered an outright rejection of the idea. Ongoing state budget deficits prevent the thought from even being considered, the governor said.

So let me be equally clear in return: Governor Cuomo’s wrong on this one. A state takeover of counties’ Medicaid costs cannot be considered a subsidy – these costs are an unfunded state mandate.

It’s the first time that I’ve had any truly strong disagreement with the governor’s otherwise aggressive agenda of economic and fiscal reform. But that’s not what’s important here. In the end, what matters most is that we keep this year’s reform momentum moving full speed ahead. Which means, in my view, that the governor’s recent comments can’t be the end of the discussion over a possible Medicaid takeover.

Obviously I’m joined in this assessment by county leaders. The Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben county legislatures have already approved resolutions calling for a state takeover, for example. That’s not surprising. The cost of Medicaid represents the single largest state-mandated expense counties face – and beginning in 2012, they have to somehow deal with it under a new state-imposed cap on property tax levy increases. It’s unrealistic for the state to keep believing that local governments can find a way to handle escalating local Medicaid costs. It was reported late last week that we’re approaching the 5 million mark in New York – that is 5 million New Yorkers enrolled in Medicaid. According to the Wall Street Journal, the state’s Medicaid rolls grew by nearly 75% over the past decade.

New York can’t afford not to initiate a state takeover. It’s the reason why I recently joined a bipartisan group of state legislators co-sponsoring legislation (S.5889/A.8644) that would begin an eight-year phase-in of a complete state takeover of local Medicaid costs and save county taxpayers approximately $180 million next year. Governor Cuomo persuasively built the case for enacting the property tax cap by promising that it would be accompanied by meaningful mandate relief. The only way to get serious about mandate relief is to get counties out from under the
mandate of Medicaid costs. Now there’s a persuasive case to be made for the state to do just that -- establish a system of Medicaid where county governments never again have to raise property taxes in order to meet rising Medicaid costs.

State Health Department officials reported on October 5th that the Medicaid redesign reforms we initiated as part of this year’s state budget have already yielded nearly $600 million in savings. Further, in testimony before the Legislature’s fiscal committees earlier this year, the former head of the state Office of Medicaid Inspector General (OMIG) noted that the office, in 2009, delivered upwards of $1 billion in savings. There’s no reason to believe that this office, which the Legislature created several years ago to combat the notorious abuse, fraud, and waste that has long plagued Medicaid, won’t continue to generate at least hundreds of millions of dollars in additional savings. Shouldn’t state leaders consider reinvesting these savings into making the Medicaid system less of
a burden on local property taxpayers? Isn’t long-term property tax relief a goal that’s widely recognized as a key, maybe the singular key, to New York’s economic future?

No, we can’t just dismiss the idea of a Medicaid takeover. Instead, we need to find a way to get it done. Local property taxpayers remain at risk under a mountain of unfunded state mandates, and the heaviest unfunded mandate of all is Medicaid. We need to reinvent the system. The most
effective way to do that is to make it the state's responsibility. If it's the state’s responsibility, the state will have no choice but to act on the cost containment and efficiency reforms to make it possible. It’s the clearest path, and it needs to be part of the ongoing Medicaid reform debate.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara


Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison

Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

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
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Christopher Friend -- Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
Room 720, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-4538


© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869