St. Lawrence County lawmakers unfazed by threats of new tax if federal healthcare bill forces state to pay Medicaid costs
Sunday, July 16, 2017 - 8:51 am

By JIMMY LAWTON

CANTON – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is threatening to impose a new county tax should the American Health Care Act pass, but St. Lawrence County Legislature Chairman Kevin Acres says the threat is likely empty.

As federal lawmakers continue to hash out a health care bill that would replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, Medicaid has become a sticking point.

In the vast majority of states, Medicaid is funded by state and federal taxes, but in New York and a handful of other states, counties are forced to contribute to Medicaid funding. The contribution is significant. Statewide it amounts to about $2.3 billion a year.

Locally it amounts to about $24 million, which is about half of the total St. Lawrence County’budget.

Included in the proposed federal health care reforms is the Property Tax Reduction Act, also called the Faso-Collins Amendment, which is named after its sponsors.

The amendment would force New York State to pay for its share of the Medicaid bill, rather than push half of that the cost onto the counties as it has until now. While the amendment has support from St. Lawrence County legislators due to the massive relief it would provide in property taxes, Cuomo has exploded over the possibility of the state picking up the Medicaid costs currently raised through property taxes.

“By including the reckless Faso-Collins amendment, this bill will force every resident of the state to pay a ‘Faso-Collins Federal Tax’ added onto local property taxes to make up for the $2.3 billion shortfall created by their proposal,” Cuomo said.

While Cuomo has mentioned this possible tax, no real details are available at this time.

While local legislators may not support the American Health Care Act, there is abundant local support for this amendment.

Acres says Cuomo’s call for a tax to make up that difference would be unlikely to pass the Assembly and Senate.

“It’s an idle threat. This is a meltdown by the governor because they would have to do what all other states have to do,” he said.

A recent memo issued by St. Lawrence County Attorney Stephen Button to the county executives and lawmakers urges them to call on the state to alleviate unfunded mandates, the largest of which would be Medicaid.

The memo was issued just days before Cuomo threatened a possible tax on counties to cover the gap that would be created by Property Tax Reduction Act.

According Button, “New York State ranks second highest in the nation in both Medicaid spending per year, to the tune of $60 billion, and spending per Medicaid beneficiary, at about 4 percent more than the national average.

“The outsized portion of the Medicaid burden counties are being forced to pay is creating a significant financial hardship,” Button wrote. “The almost $2.3 billion counties are forced to pay to fund this mandate out of Albany accounts for on average 44.3 percent of the county property tax levy in New York.”

In the memo Button says property taxes are crushing homeowners, seniors, and businesses and “acting as a major catalyst to a mass exodus in people and jobs from the Empire State.” 

“County governments can send a message that Albany must pay for its programs instead of passing on the costs in the form of expensive local mandates,” he says in the memo. “Simultaneously, county governments may push back against some of the inaccurate or misleading information that is being relayed publicly about this measure.”

Although the American Health Care Act has been stalled in the Senate for some time, there has previously been support for a stand-alone version of the bill.