Albany, N.Y., January 4— “We put down the foundation in 2011 for a long-term focus on property tax relief, less state spending and private-sector job growth. We’ve started remaking and rebuilding state government in fundamental ways. Now we need to keep building on this foundation of economic growth and fiscal responsibility in 2012,” State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) said today in response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s second State of the State message to the Legislature.
O’Mara, who’s in his first term representing New York’s 53rd Senate District, joined his Senate and Assembly colleagues in the Empire State Plaza’s Convention Center for Cuomo’s address – the official kickoff to the 2012 legislative session. Today’s event also marked only the second time since the 1920’s that the speech wasn’t delivered in the State Assembly Chamber, a move Cuomo first made last year to allow for greater public attendance.
O’Mara said that Cuomo was on target by focusing today’s speech on the need to keep building on last year’s governmental and political successes and the spirit of bipartisan cooperation that produced an on-time state budget, a state budget that contained no new or increased state taxes and fees, the first year-to-year state spending decrease in over a decade, and a revitalized commitment to encouraging an economic climate that attracts businesses and industries and produces jobs.
Last year’s state budget also imposed a 2-percent cap on local property tax levy increases, a move which O’Mara and many other lawmakers say pinpoint one of this session’s overriding priorities: mandate relief. While the governor briefly highlighted mandated relief in today’s speech and anticipated the recommendations of a Mandate Relief Council set to begin work later this month, O’Mara said that the governor’s remarks fell short in one key area: eliminating the local share of Medicaid costs.
“I like Governor Cuomo’s ongoing focus on jobs and creating a better business climate, because it’s long overdue. We especially need to keep doing better for upstate. I’m fully on board with revamping the state bureaucracy so that it’s less costly and more effective,” said O’Mara. “But we need a more aggressive and urgent commitment to changing Medicaid. It’s a state-mandated cost that county governments can’t and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be expected to handle anymore.”
Late last year, O’Mara joined a bipartisan group of state legislators to co-sponsor legislation (S.5889) that would begin an eight-year phase-in of a complete state takeover of local Medicaid costs and save county taxpayers approximately $180 million this year. He’s also introduced legislation (S.5787) with local Assemblymen Phil Palmesano (R-C-I, Corning) and Chris Friend (R-Big Flats) that would effectively freeze local Medicaid costs.
While the governor has previously dismissed the idea of a state takeover – and didn’t open the door to the change in his remarks today -- O’Mara and other lawmakers continue to believe it’s unrealistic for the state to keep requiring local governments to find a way to handle escalating local Medicaid costs in the face of the 2-percent property tax cap the state imposed as part of last year’s state budget.
"If we’re serious about meaningful mandate relief, the number one action that will make a difference is a state takeover of local Medicaid costs. It’s the largest state-mandated expense and it stands in the way of any hope for long-term property tax relief and economic strength,” said O’Mara. “I would have welcomed the governor’s call for an outright state takeover at the outset of this session, but we’re going to keep making the case.”
Area residents can currently share their views on a state takeover of local Medicaid costs through a new online poll.