St. Lawrence County pushing for federal legislation that could save county $24 million annually
By JIMMY LAWTON
Rep. Elise Stefanik, Republican, is co-sponsoring a bill that could reduce St. Lawrence County’s property tax burden by $24 million.
The Property Tax Reduction Act would put extreme pressure on New York State to shift the Medicaid costs currently paid for by county property taxes to the state level.The legislation was included as an amendment in the American Health Care Act that failed to pass in March, but now a stand-alone bill is being proposed.
The bill was introduced by Rep. John Faso and is cosponsored Stefanik.
While the bill would not force the state to take over the full cost of Medicaid, it would withhold federal reimbursement for the share of Medicaid paid by counties in New York. That means if the state failed to assume the counties’ shares, it would not receive a substantial reimbursement from the federal government.
The federal government typically pays for about 50 percent of total Medicaid costs for states. A handful of states, New York included, push a share of the tax burden down to the county level. For St. Lawrence County that equates to about $24 million in funds that must be raised through property taxes. .
Statewide the counties’ Medicaid share is $7 billion. However, the legislation deals only with the 57 counties outside of NYC, which amounts to a total of $2.3 billion.
St. Lawrence County legislators passed the resolution offering support on the bill at a finance committee meeting recently. The resolution was proposed by Joe Timmerman.
St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators Chairman Kevin Acres said this bill could cut St. Lawrence County’s property taxes in half.
“It’s a tremendous burden for us and New York State is one of only two states that does this. Medicaid is half of our tax levy,” he said.
Acres says New York’s current system for funding Medicaid puts an unfair burden on areas with high poverty rates, which tend to have high Medicaid costs. While Gov. Andrew Cuomo often talks about the state’s high property tax burden, he usually points to the large number of municipalities and calls for dissolution or consolidation of government.
Acres however points out that most of the property taxes are raised to fund mandates issued by the state and Medicaid is the largest among them. Acres says that shifting the cost of Medicaid back to the state government would provide true property tax relief to St. Lawrence County.
Stefanik, R-Willsboro, agrees.
“I am pleased to join my colleagues on this important legislation to end the Medicaid mandate that crushes counties in our district and hurts taxpayers,” said Congresswoman Elise Stefanik. “New York State currently raises over $7 billion from its local governments to fund its $27 billion Medicaid liability, which is the largest amount in the nation,” she said in a prepared statement. “This crushing burden presents serious problems for county governments and is an issue I have heard about frequently from our local officials. By making New York State responsible for their own budgeting, we can provide needed relief at the county level and help reduce property taxes for hardworking families and businesses in our district. I thank John Faso for his dedicated work on this issue and I will continue to work in Congress to serve the needs of my district.”
While the bill has support locally and may find legs at the federal level where Republicans control congress and the presidency, Gov. Cuomo is adamantly against the legislation. He was outspoken against the amendment when it was added to the AHCA. Cuomo questioned how the state would fund the $2.3 billion gap if it was unable to charge the burden to property taxpayers.
Cuomo threatened legal action, hospital closures and state tax hikes.