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Other counties may join boycott of Medicaid payment to NY

ALBANY - A revolt against the state may be in the offing from hard-pressed counties that haven't received millions of dollars in payments for services to the poor, disabled and law enforcement.

Oneida County has stopped sending Medicaid contributions to the capital until it receives $34 million in payments delayed since January. Other counties are mulling whether to join the boycott.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano "is researching the possibility of following in Oneida's footsteps," his spokesman Michael Martino said Tuesday.

Suffolk Executive Steve Levy ruled out withholding weekly Medicaid checks, but blasted Albany for hiking pension contributions by $50 million and requiring 150-plus prison guards be hired.

Gov. David A. Paterson's administration moved Tuesday to placate the counties by promising all delayed funds would be paid by Aug. 31. Budget Director Robert Megna, who met with county leaders, blamed the payment delays on the recession and the still-unfinished budget, which is 119 days late.

"We do plan to make the payments that are owed to the counties . . . we are working through the backlog," said Megna spokeswoman Jessica Bassett.

Oneida's refusal to fund Medicaid is illegal and it must pay interest on the withheld money.

About $500 million is owed to the 62 counties, including $40 million to Nassau and $200 million to Suffolk. The money covers the cost of welfare, probation, some pre-kindergarten and mental health services.

"The services were provided in a timely manner and so should the state reimbursement," said Stephen Acquario of the state Association of Counties. "Long Island and elsewhere is concerned about these payment delays. They are impacting counties' finances."

Oneida Executive Anthony Picente Jr. agreed, saying he stopped weekly Medicaid payments of $835,693 so he wouldn't have to borrow to maintain county services. "We pay our bills on time, why can't the state?"

Meanwhile Tuesday, it was unclear whether the State Senate would complete the $134.4-billion budget at Wednesday's special session.

The Democratic majority doesn't appear to have the 32 votes required for bill passage because at least one member is on vacation. All the Democrats must vote "yes" because the 29-member Republican minority opposes the $900-million revenue bill.

Senate Democratic chief John Sampson of Brooklyn described Wednesday's session as "about resolving the outstanding issues" but didn't commit to voting on bills.

Paterson, through a spokesman, expressed frustration. "We are confident there will be more than 32 senators in Albany . . . and that's more than enough to pass legislation," said aide Morgan Hook.

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