The Lonely Fight?

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Here’s what sharing has gotten us in the Rochester-Monroe County region: An acute awareness.

Because of sharing – specifically the sales tax money – leaders from the county government down to the smallest village will understand the pain of unbridled increases in Medicaid spending. That awareness could lead government leaders here to be a unified voice aimed at Albany

The problem, however, is that few other areas may join in any potential lobbying effort. That’s because the sharing you see in Monroe County doesn’t happen in most other places.

We have chronicled how a state legislative remedy called the sales tax intercept may be the escape hatch Monroe County leaders are looking for. The county is desperately trying to get away from the increases in Medicaid costs – and a provision in the state’s 2005 reform of Medicaid essentially allows the county to trade a big slice of sales tax proceeds for the responsibility of paying into Medicaid. Monroe County wants to do it. Some want it badly.

As we’ve also told you, Monroe County has a unique set of circumstances with sales taxes. It shares far more – far more – of the revenue with the city of Rochester, along with other municipalities and suburban schools within its borders. Predictably the leaders of local governments and school districts are up in arms over the prospect of losing sales tax revenue. As we will report on WXXI’s Need to Know program this Friday,  the president of the town supervisors association says the organization will take a stand opposing this.

But… and here’s the point… the president of that association said the towns should not just dig in their heels, cross their arms and look the other way.

Town Supervisor Association president, and Chili Supervisor Tracy Logel, believes that town and village leaders, the school district board members, all ought to lock their arms with County Executive Maggie Brooks, storm Albany and tell them to radically alter how the state spends on the Medicaid program. Logel ought to know. Before she became Chili’s supervisor, she was a Monroe County Legislator who passed budget after budget. She served as the legislature’s chair of the Human Service Committee, which oversaw Medicaid. She knows the bind the county is in.

This solidarity was something County Legislative President Wayne Zyra hoped for as a byproduct when he proposed the county opt into the "intercept" solution. Everyone screaming at Albany.

It’s amazing what it takes to galvanize a group. Just make sure the circumstance dips into a person’s  wallet. That’s what we have here in Monroe County. (And let me be clear – this still could spin out of control into bickering, rather than solidarity. Especially when it gets to alternatives – which the town supervisors association will admit they lack).

But should Rochester-Monroe County get some kind of lobbying voice – the region may be awfully lonely. Most of the counties who receive sales taxes share little of the money. There won’t be a political tug-of-war when the vast majority of county governments decide whether or not to accept the "intercept." No shared pain… no direct impact. No galvanizing force.

So the conversation on Medicaid spending that may start strong here could wane once it crosses the county line.

It’s a shame, really. It’s a conversation that everyone in New York ought to be having.