State capitol building

ITHACA, N.Y. — Local officials are continuing to push back against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to fill the state’s $2.5 billion Medicaid budget gap, which could cost Tompkins county upward of $1.5 million.

“It’s just gobsmacking,” Tompkins County Legislator Martha Robertson (D-Dryden) told the county legislature earlier this month. She’s been one of several legislators lobbying state lawmakers on the issue over the last few weeks.

According to estimates by Tompkins County, the governor’s proposal would cost the county $1.54 million. This alone would constitute about a 3% increase in the property tax levy, which, according to a law implemented last year, can’t increase more than that amount per year. This would mean expenses would have to be cut elsewhere on the county level. Figures provided by County Administrator Jason Molino estimate this would require cutting about 20 full-time positions. For perspective, that would theoretically equate to half of all sheriff’s deputies and almost a third of all public health department staff.

The Governor’s proposal would make three major changes to Medicaid, each potentially detrimental to counties that administer and pay for part of the program. The first would direct the state to intercept eFMAP funds, federally allocated dollars instituted in the Affordable Care Act meant to reimburse New York counties for their contribution of Medicaid. The other proposals would stop the state from covering program expense increases of greater than 3%. Cuomo has blamed these rising costs on counties, though officials contend they’re just following state mandates.

“There’s no evidence to support that we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing in terms of implementing the state program,” Molino told the Ithaca Voice in an interview earlier this week.

The New York State Association of Counties, the principle advocacy group for county governments in New York, has led efforts against the Medicaid proposal and has most recently encouraged federal lawmakers to get involved on behalf of the eFMAP issue.

“This attempt to intercept these funds is in direct opposition to the intent of Congress when they passed the Affordable Care Act and that is why counties are urging state lawmakers to reject this proposal from the budget, and the New York State congressional delegation to hold Albany accountable,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario in a release last week.

Molino said he planned on reaching out to Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) at the legislature meeting Tuesday.

“I love the idea of suing the state over the funding that’s supposed to be earmarked for the counties,” Robertson said, taking the idea a step further.

Next week, both houses of the legislature will put forward their respective proposed 2020-2021 budgets. According to Robertson and Molino, NYSAC seems confident that few, if any, legislators are happy with the Governor’s Medicaid proposal as it stands.

“I don’t really know what’s going to come of this other than that it doesn’t appear a lot of folks in Albany are in support of the Medicaid changes,” Molino said.

Neither Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) nor Senator Tom O’Mara (R-Big Flats) returned request for comment, though both have expressed their disagreement with the Governor’s Medicaid proposal.

Vaughn Golden is a freelance radio and print reporter covering politics around the southern tier and central New York. He authors the weekly "Capitol Watch" watchdog report on Ithaca's representatives...