Medicaid revamp seen as bright spot

Andrew Poole

Proposed alterations in the Medicaid and pension systems in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget brought sighs of support Tuesday, Jan. 10, even as some wished that relief measures went further.

Easing unfunded mandates has long been the rallying cry for local and state officials and gained momentum last year with the implementation of the state’s 2 percent property tax cap.

Cuomo’s proposal Tuesday would install a state takeover of Medicaid growth costs starting in 2013, with the state assuming full growth costs in 2015.

Local governments now pay 3 percent of growth costs, with the state paying for anything exceeding that figure.

State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R-C-I, Corning) lauded the Medicaid measure even though both said they would continue to push for a more immediate state assumption of growth costs.

“I don’t think he went far enough,” said O’Mara. “The phase-in of the annual increases doesn’t start until (2013). I would like to see the complete cap in this year’s budget. I think that’s feasible.”

Palmesano said he and O’Mara sponsored legislation in 2011 in which the state would have taken control of growth costs for Medicaid. The bill was defeated during an attempt to attach it to the tax cap legislation.

“It’s encouraging because (Cuomo’s) acknowledging that the issue needs to be addressed and the fact that he included it in the budget is a positive sign,” he said.

Steuben County Administrator Mark Alger was appreciative of the relief and that Cuomo recognized Medicaid costs are a major issue for counties. He also said he’d hoped the cap would go into effect sooner.

“If tax relief is important to the state, one way to do that is to assume responsibility for the state programs and paying for it out of state taxes rather than have us pay the bill at the local level,” said Alger.

Cuomo’s plan also addressed establishing a sixth tier to the pension system, an idea he floated during his state of the state address this month. The additional tier includes contribution rates between 4 and 6 percent for state workers, but applies to new employees.

Education aid saw an approximate 4 percent increase in aid, though officials aren’t sure whether the money will be distributed evenly.

Horst Graefe, district superintendent for Greater Southern Tier BOCES, said the money coming back to local districts hasn’t been determined yet, but that it won’t cover cuts made in previous years.

Even as aid was restored to districts, though, it came with a warning when Cuomo threatened to eliminate increases in state aid for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 if measures for teacher evaluations aren’t in place by January 2013.

The budget now moves to the state Legislature for its consideration.