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Want Tax Cuts: Cut County Share of Medicaid

Why is there so little support for state Senator Mark Grisanti’s property tax reduction plan—one that beats Governor Cuomo’s plan by a country mile? What are Southtown elected officials—and citizens—waiting for?

When it comes to taxes, we have a crisis of agreement. Everyone, from elected officials in the Southtowns to state legislators to Governor Andrew Cuomo, wants to cut property taxes for Southtowners. The only question is how to do so.

Recent Buffalo News articles tell us Governor Cuomo is actively promoting his tax reduction plan. If, he says, local Southtowns governments reduce spending on special districts by one to three percent through district mergers and shared service deals, then residents would be rewarded with tax rebate checks. Mr. Cuomo’s plan is less a tax reduction strategy than an attempt to improve government efficiency in the Southtowns. “I frankly want to pressure them [local governments] to cooperate with their neighboring local governments,” said Mr. Cuomo.

You recently received your town property tax bill for 2014. If your bill looks like mine, about 50 percent of the total amount due is the County Service Tax—most of which goes to pay Erie County’s state-mandated share of Medicaid costs—about $211 million in 2012.

Medicaid is, in my mind, a worthwhile federal healthcare program for low-income people. The question is not the program itself, but who pays for it. Citizens in all of the Southtowns receive Medicaid health services. According to an Erie County report, between 1,000 and 2,400 residents in the Town of Evans and Village of Angola area receive assistance. The same numbers apply to the Town of Concord and Village of Springville area. All other Southtowns have lower Medicaid enrollments.

If the goal is really to reduce property taxes in the Southtowns, why aren’t our elected officials putting pressure on the governor to cooperate with local governments and have Albany pick up the entire cost of Medicaid in Erie County? Doesn’t a tax cut in the neighborhood of 40 percent sound a lot better than a two percent tax cut?

A bill to remove the state-mandated Medicaid costs now borne by Erie County residents, Senate bill 1588 sponsored by Senator Mark Grisanti, has been hung up in the Senate Social Services Committee in Albany since January 2013. Why aren’t the Southtown elected officials putting pressure on state legislators to pass S-1588?

Erie County pays about 15 percent of the total costs of Medicaid services provided in the county. According to a 2011 New York’s Citizens Budget Commission report, “A Poor Way to Pay for Medicaid: Why New York Should Eliminate Local Funding for Medicaid,” New York alone places such a huge Medicaid cost burden on its local governments. In 22 states local governments pay nothing. In 19 other states the local funding requirement is less than one percent. In eight states local governments pay from 1.4 percent to 8.4 percent of Medicaid costs.

> Ronald Fraser, Colden

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