WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- State lawmakers, flanked by Westchester officials, unveiled a bill Monday that would hold New York accountable for financing the counties’ share of Medicaid contributions.
Approximately $211 million, or 40 percent, of Westchester’s annual tax levy goes toward the county’s mandated Medicaid payments, according to Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale). Paulin, one of the bill’s three co-sponsors, said the state would be able to handle the $211 million tab while minimizing Westchester homeowner’s property taxes.
“Westchester, as we all know, just recently achieved the great distinction of being the highest property taxed county in the United States,” said Paulin. “As a result, young families, seniors cannot afford to stay here an we need to immediately do something about it.”
The bill calls for an eight-year implementation plan with Westchester saving $7 million in the first year alone. The gradual shifting of financing responsibility would be complete by 2019.
New York will look to the state’s Medicaid Redesign Team to pinpoint savings and the federal affordable healthcare act to provide additional revenues for Medicaid financing.
“We wouldn’t have proposed something unless we knew that there was money left to back it up,” said Paulin. “The redesign team has already achieved $100 million in savings without most, if not all, of it’s main proposals being initiated.”
County Executive Robert Astorino, a Republican, said the bill was an “important first step” in relieving local governments from hiking up taxes to cover state mandates.
“Westchester has the highest property taxes in the nation and a state takeover of the county's portion of Medicaid costs would dramatically reduce the property tax burden. I hope that Albany is serious about enacting this legislation and it's not simply rhetoric,” Astorino said in a statement.
The county executive echoed Paulin in emphasizing that passing the bill was critical because a new law dictates local municipalities must cap property tax levy increases at two percent during the upcoming budget season.
“While I have supported implementing a property tax cap, I have made it clear that a cap can’t be successful unless it is combined with significant mandate relief. I had initial reservations in supporting the bill because it did not provide for an immediate freeze on annual increases,” Asotrino said in a press release. “However, I'm pleased that by working with NYSAC [the New York State Association of Counties] and my fellow county executives, the sponsors of the bill have amended it to address our concerns.”
State Sen. Roy McDonald (R-Saratoga), who co-sponsored the bill, said the state legislature intended to consider the proposed law when it's back in session this January.
“We’re not officially in session now, but when we are we’ll be addressing this first,” said McDonald. “Property taxes have now become so significant that the average man and woman, people who have lived in houses for decades in many cases, are worried about losing their house. They can no longer afford it. We have to do something about it.”