County board backs Faso Medicaid bill

HUDSON–Over the protests of demonstrators and dissent within its ranks, the Columbia County Board of Supervisors declared its support last week for a bill now in the U.S. Congress to “bar federal reimbursement for state Medicaid funds raised from local government.”

Currently county property taxes contribute to funding Medicaid services in New York, but the bill, H.R. 1871 sponsored by Representative John Faso (R-19th), would end that. Medicaid costs are shared by the federal government and the states, and only Congress can change the way this state funds its share of Medicaid, which provides healthcare for extremely poor people and some people with disabilities. What the Board Supervisors adopted at its meeting Wednesday, April 12 under its weighted vote system was a resolution telling Congress the board supports the funding change.

Demonstrators attended the meeting, many with signs reading “Healthcare for All,” protesting the resolution. Seven board members, all of them Democrats, including all five supervisors from the City of Hudson, voted against the measure. Ten Republicans voted for it.

H.R. 1871 was introduced in the House Congressman John Faso (R-19th) and five co-sponsors from districts around New York state. Mr. Faso calls the bill the “Property Tax Reduction Act of 2017.”

Supervisor Matt Murell (R-Stockport), chairman of the county board, declared: “We need a break. We’ve been spending a lot of money [in property taxes] for a small group of people!”

If both Houses of Congress pass the bill and President Trump signs it, the state could make up the lost contribution from the counties by increasing statewide taxes, but that would mean that Congress would also need to increase the ceiling on federal Medicaid matching funds. “Because the state and federal governments… set the rules for [Medicaid], it is most appropriate that [they] also pay for [it],” William E. Cherry, president of the New York State Association of Counties, wrote in a March 30, 2017 letter addressed to “County Leaders.”

But the GOP majorities in both houses of Congress are still considering whether to try again to repeal and, possibly, replace the Affordable Care Act, and it’s not known whether that effort would affect ancillary bills like H.R. 1871.

That uncertainty did not reassure Democratic supervisors at the meeting last week. Supervisor William Hughes Jr. (D-Hudson, 4th Ward) tried to postpone voting on the resolution until a time when H.R. 1871’s effect on health services and state taxes can be estimated better.

“We don’t have enough information to vote on it,” he said. “We should have a tax officer to come and talk to us.”

Mr. Hughes added, “This hasn’t gone through any committee. In Washington, things are decided in closed door meetings. If we truly cared about health services in Columbia County, we would discuss this in open meetings before deciding to vote on it.”

Supervisor Don Moore (D-Hudson, 3rd Ward) said of the local resolution, “We’ve been asked to support a very small part of” the national health care policy currently being formed in Washington. He suggested waiting until the national policy is final.

From the audience at the back of the meeting room, several demonstrators clapped.

“There has been little public discourse and too little discussion within the supervisors,” said Supervisor Peter Cipkowski (D-Hillsdale). “This is too important to rush through.”

“In such a hard case, I don’t think 30 days will make a difference,” said Supervisor Edward Cross (D-Hudson, 2nd Ward). “It’s worth taking the time to do it right.”

But Supervisor Patrick Grattan (R-Kinderhook) said, “Taxpayers need relief now, not three months from now. In Columbia County, about 26 cents to the dollar goes to Medicaid. Medicaid is handled by each county, but there has been a movement for the state to take over it.” Besides, he added, “I don’t think [the law] will reduce health care.”

“I’m honored to give support to this resolution,” said Supervisor Ron Knott (R-Stuyvesant). “It’s 2% of the state budget but 25% of our budget. The intention is to pass 100% of the property tax reduction to the taxpayers. It’s something they’ve been fighting for 20 years.”

The board defeated a motion to postpone a vote on the resolution. But the six absent supervisors were counted as voting against the postponement. All Democratic supervisors present–Mr. Cipkowski, the five Hudson supervisors (Sara Sterling, 1st Ward;  Mr. Cross; Mr. Moore; Mr. Hughes; and Richard Scalera ) and Art Bassin (Ancram)–voted for postponing the vote.

That procedural vote cleared the way for the board to vote on the resolution.

In urging a negative vote, Mr. Hughes called, “Let’s have health care for all! I can’t believe the nerve of Faso to bring this resolution to us!”

At least one of the demonstrators’ signs criticized Mr. Faso directly.

On the resolution expressing support for Mr. Faso’s bill, all seven Democratic supervisors voted against it. At each negative vote, the group with signs clapped.

The supervisors who voted for it were Maria Lull (R-Chatham), Kippy Wiegelt (R-Claverack), Jeffrey Nayer (I-Copake), Joel Craig (R-Germantown), Mike Benvenuto (R-Ghent), Edward Nabozny (I-Greenport), Mr. Grattan, James Guzzi (R-Livingston), Mr. Murell and Mr. Knott.

When the resolution was declared adopted, demonstrators shouted: “Shame on all of you!”

In a statement released after the meeting the Columbia County Democratic Committee, which organized the demonstration, called the action of board a “rushed vote” and referred to a characterization of Mr. Faso’s bill as the “Buffalo Bribe.”

The release quoted a number of Democratic Supervisors including Mr. Bassin, who said, “We did not have the facts we needed to determine the impact of Faso’s bill, or time enough for an adequate public discussion of this issue and its implications.”

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