Not to take the side of Congressman John Faso — Boo! Hiss! Impeach! — but I wonder why his proposal for the state taking over the local share of Medicaid hasn’t gotten more traction. The short answer could be politics.
What’s on the table is a huge number, currently almost $3.1 billion on the state level and guaranteed to go substantially higher. Relieved of this burden, Ulster County would save from $35 million to $40 million a year. In terms taxpayers might better appreciate, about half the $76.9 million to be collected in county property taxes this year will go toward Medicaid.
Responding to pleas for “mandate relief,” the state, while increasing benefits, has been easing back on Medicaid cost-sharing in recent years from a local share of 25 percent to almost half that. New York, with by far the most generous Medicaid benefits in the country, remains the only state that passes a percentage of those costs down to the localities.
Naturally, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has opposed the idea. Medicaid reform (on the federal level) comes from Trump and is being advanced by a pair of conservative upstate Republican congressmen. Boo! Hiss!
But I digress. Worse, the local relief they suggest would be coming out of Cuomo’s pocket, even if $3 billion on a $153 billion budget isn’t a hunk of change that might not in the long run be absorbed.
The counties are in a different position. Imagine what Ulster County could do with a $35 million windfall. Even with a 10 percent property tax cut (about $8 million), there’d still be plenty left over for roads and bridges, new rolling stock, an electric charging station on every corner, decent raises for county workers, expanded offices for the comptroller, a few more lawyers for the executive. Make your own list.
In recent years, the Hein administration, with the assent of the legislature, has been sharing some of the wealth with localities, picking up the cost of Safety Net, elections and so on. Though I’ve yet to hear a town supervisor thank the county for helping balance his or her budget, the cash-strapped towns would certainly welcome further assistance from a cash-rich big brother.
Given the toxic politics, the constant one-upmanship, the monstrous egos and the like, a dramatic shift in Medicaid policy is unlikely, absent a massive infusion of federal funding. And that’s not about to happen.
The answer, my friends …
Kingston officials are beginning to have second thoughts about what seemed a downright wonderful idea at the time: two June Bob Dylan concerts at a former brickyard on the Hudson. Tickets for the first sold out quickly, launching a second concert
Some officials are raising questions about access and egress along the narrow streets leading to the concert site, and crowd control and the like. No one can predict how many gawkers and crashers will show up to see a living legend live.
What exactly was allowed under the special permit originally authorized for the Smorgasburg food and crafts markets? The answer, my friends, is blowin’ in the wind.
If Kingston blows this opportunity to put itself on the map owing to a confusing, seat-of-the-pants-hindsight permitting process, it can pretty much kiss off further world-class events in the near future.
Here, the history buff in me raises a question: Did British invaders in 1777 file for a planning board permit after landing near the future concert site and marching up those same pathways (Delaware Avenue) to burn Kingston? I don’t think so.
One more committee
Generally overlooked in this year’s state budget was the legislature’s approval of the governor’s proposal to impose shared-services mandates on local government. It has long been the governor’s contention that New York has too much local government reaching into too many pockets — thus the exorbitant property taxes. Consolidation was his first approach.
When nobody saluted, he dangled grants in front of would-be partners — re: New Paltz village and town merger. There was lots of smoke, but few meetings of minds.
This is not Cuomo’s worst idea. How sparsely populated towns like Hardenburgh and Denning (combined population: 781) have continued to exist separately for centuries makes no sense. By comparison, the Town of Kingston (population: 889) looks overcrowded.
Relentless to a fault, Cuomo pushed through a new law that requires each county in the state outside New York City to produce a shared-services plan by next September. According to a report by Tom Cetrino, a former SUNY New Paltz political science professor, legislation requires the panel to include the county executive as chair, and the mayor and/or supervisor of every town, village and city in the county to participate. Already represented by the Mayors and Supervisors Association in Ulster County, this group would consist of 20 supervisors, four mayors and the county executive.
As if that weren’t enough, the legislation invites but doesn’t require school board, community and business leaders to climb on board. There’s more. The county legislature has to approve a “certified” (for savings) plan by August 1.
According to Cetrino, a member of the Benjamin Center’s advisory board, some $750 million in matching funds has been set aside by the state, just in case localities should satisfactorily meet Albany’s preposterous deadlines.
Say what you will about Andrew Cuomo, when this dog gets a bone in his jaws, he doesn’t let go.
U.S. Senator and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made another one of his periodic visits to complain about something this week. On Monday, Schumer, the man with the portable podium, staked himself near CSX tracks in Midtown Kingston to protest long delays. Posing next to him for the all-but-automatic photo op was County Executive Mike Hein. He doesn’t like trains, either.
What will come of this we don’t know. Probably nothing, given Schumer’s track record. He’s complained about these things before, to no avail. No doubt he’ll file a protest with federal officials responsible for rail oversight. He may issue a press release to that effect.
This is not to say we don’t welcome the senior senator’s input, only that he seems to get more from his periodic crusades — free media — than we do.
I will say this for the Chuckster. This Energizer Bunny seems to have cloned himself at least once. How anybody with the heavy duties Schumer faces in Washington can regularly pop up all over the state — he makes it a mission to visit all 62 counties every year at least once — is simply amazing.
Spring is sprung
Following the Ulster County GOP’s sold-out dinner on April 7 at The Chateau in Kingston, county Democrats will host their annual spring brunch at the Wiltwyck Country Club on Sunday, May 7 at 11:30 a.m. Believe it or not, the two parties will actually have something in common. The Chateau has taken over food services at Wiltwyck.
Capitol District Congressman Paul Tonko, described by brunch sponsors as “a fierce advocate for our progressive values,” is scheduled as guest speaker. Retired surrogate judge Mary Work is guest of honor. Ticket information is available at (845) 594-4512.