Year after year, increasing property taxes drive thousands of New York families out of their homes and out of our state. Our homeowners endure the nation's second-highest combined state and local tax burden and, as if that weren't bad enough, nine of the ten highest property taxed counties in America - as a percentage of median home value - are located right here in upstate. Clearly, rising property taxes are a bad problem that is getting worse.
ALBANY PASSES THE BUCK ONTO LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
School districts and local governments provide essential services to their communities, but are often forced to raise taxes because of one thing they cannot control: unfunded mandates from Albany. In case you are wondering what exactly an "unfunded mandate" is, you are not alone. Basically, the term unfunded mandate is "Albany-speak" for whenever state government mandates (i.e., forces) that local governments do something - expand a program, offer a new service - but does not provide any funding for them to do so. This perpetual passing of the buck from Albany onto cities, counties, towns, villages and school districts has forced many to raise local property taxes to make up the shortfall.
MEDICAID: "THE GODZILLA" OF MANDATES
While a complete list of Albany mandates could easily fill several of my weekly columns, the "Godzilla" of all mandates is, without question, Medicaid. For readers old enough to remember the days of monster movies, the creature Godzilla was known as "King of the Monsters" (no offense to King Kong). That is why I refer to New York's Medicaid program as Godzilla, since it is "King of the Mandates."
Medicaid is a government program created in 1965 that helps provide health care coverage for low income and impoverished individuals. Not to be confused with Medicare - the federally administered health insurance program that helps senior citizens - Medicaid is a joint federal-state-local program that has regrettably developed into a real budget buster for New York.
MEDICAID COSTS HAVE SKYROCKETED
Medicaid's costs in New York have skyrocketed over the past decade and become one of the largest cost-drivers for state and local government budgets.
Just how steep of a financial toll does Medicaid impose? Try this on for size: New York's Medicaid spending per enrollee is America's second highest - a whopping 73 percent above average - and Medicaid costs alone account for more than half of the entire county tax levy. If those facts left you unconvinced, check out these additional statistics regarding Medicaid costs, provided by the independent, non-partisan Empire Center for New York State Policy based on the most recent data:
With 6.4 percent of the nation's population and 8.7 percent of all Medicaid enrollment, New York accounted for 14 percent of all Medicaid spending;
New York's $44 billion Medicaid program, including the local government share, was larger than the total budgets of 42 states;
New York spent 25 percent more than California, whose Medicaid program covered twice as many people; and
New York's federal, state and local Medicaid spending exceeded the Medicaid budgets of Florida, Texas and North Carolina - combined.
I believe it's time Albany stopped talking about controlling mandates like Medicaid and actually did something to solve the problem. Yes, we need to reduce Medicaid's cost to the taxpayer, but we also need to restructure, reform and redesign the program. Merely saying "cut, cut, cut" will not solve Medicaid's long-term structural imbalances - and neither will nibbling around the edges of reform. We need to fundamentally transform this program, which is why I pushed for removing a state mandate from local governments so they could decide which optional Medicaid services to provide. If enacted, this reform would have provided an estimated $1 billion in cost savings for taxpayers.
MEDICAID REDESIGN TEAM: IT'S ABOUT TIME!
I support Governor Cuomo making this issue a top priority, as he did during his recent State of the State Address. I was also pleased to recommend my colleague, Assemblyman Joe Giglio from Western New York, to serve on the newly formed "Medicaid Redesign Team." The Team has been charged with the responsibility of finding ways to save money within the Medicaid program for the upcoming 2011-12 State Budget and reverse years of overspending and waste that have occurred within the program. The Team will submit its first report with findings and recommendations to the Governor by March 1 for consideration as part of this year's budget process. I will be sure to share the Team's findings with you.
The announcement of the Medicaid Redesign Team was a good first step toward a much-needed - and long overdue - rightsizing of this budget-busting program that will help us tame the Medicaid monster. "Godzilla" - a.k.a., New York's Medicaid program - may be a fictional creature in the movies, but its financial impact on taxpayers and local governments has been all too real.
As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic, or any other state-related matter should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at email@example.com. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and informational updates regarding state government and our Assembly Minority Conference.