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Long IslandPoliticsSpin Cycle

Cuomo says Medicaid shift means tax hike; GOP rivals say trim spending

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks in

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks in Albany on March 1, 2017. Credit: AP

ALBANY — In an escalating political battle with Republicans, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo suggested Wednesday that state income taxes could rise by 10 percent or funding for hospitals and nursing homes could be slashed if Congress approves a provision to shift New York’s Medicaid costs from its counties to state government.

Republicans countered that the Democratic governor omitted another possible option: reducing state spending. They accused Cuomo of using scare tactics and presenting “false choices” to New Yorkers.

At issue is an amendment, crafted by two Republican congressmen (Chris Collins of Buffalo and John Faso of the Capital Region) that has been added to the proposed American Health Care Act, a bill championed by the GOP and President Donald Trump to replace “Obamacare.” The amendment would eliminate the counties’ share of Medicaid costs (13 percent or $2.3 billion) and grant them fiscal relief, while forcing state government to pick up the costs. New York forces its counties to pick up a bigger share of Medicaid costs than any other state.

Cuomo, a Democrat, said the GOP amendment, if adopted, presents state government with two “unacceptable choices.”

“Either, we could pass on the devastating cuts to our hospitals, nursing homes and the 40 percent of New Yorkers who currently receive Medicaid and [Obamacare] health benefits,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Or, we would be forced to raise state income taxes” to the tune of a 10 percent across-the-board hike or 26 percent if applied just to the middle class.

Later in the day, the Cuomo administration fired off a raft of press releases detailing the potential cuts to hospitals in districts represented by Republicans.

Collins (R-Buffalo) said Cuomo was deploying “doomsday predictions” while ignoring the proposed state budget has billions of dollars in discretionary spending.

“It’s absolutely disgusting the governor would threaten the middle class with a tax increase, while holding a $14 billion taxpayer funded slush fund in his back pocket,” Collins said in a statement. “As I have said before, if this governor can’t find 1.5% to save in his budget, I am more than willing to find it for him.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) accused Cuomo of “playing games” and “shamefully lying” about the impact of the amendment and the choices the state would have in dealing with it.

“It’s quite disappointing that Governor Cuomo has resorted to these disgusting and willfully untruthful tactics,” Zeldin said in a statement. “The Collins-Faso amendment doesn’t even include any cuts to hospitals whatsoever . . . It does not propose a $2.3 billion cut. Governor Cuomo is choosing, on his own, to react to the amendment by threatening a cut to scare people. Let’s call this for exactly what it is.”

Zeldin said Cuomo’s release about reductions to specific hospitals was intentionally wrong because it included cuts already on schedule through Obamacare. He said he detailed this in a “one on one,” 30-minute phone call with the governor Tuesday. As parting shot, Zeldin noted that New York spends more “more money on Medicaid costs than Florida spends on its entire state budget.”

The New York State Association of Counties, a lobby group, has been championing a state takeover of Medicaid costs for decades, saying the program is one of the biggest drivers of county budgets.

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