Just listen to County Executive Maggie Brooks talk like a government leader stuck between that rock and that hard place.
"The intercept – on its own – is divisive. It solves our problem, but at what cost," she said soon after Monroe County’s Legislative President Wayne Zyra introduced legislation to embrace the move.
But then Brooks added this: "The intercept can be part of the solution."
So she’s willing to talk. Brooks won’t do the "intercept" solution alone… but would go forward if it were paired up with something else that would make the other municipalities feel the bite less.
This means negotiation. And that means ruffling feathers. Because such a conversation will get under the skin of town supervisors, suburban school board members and village mayors.
The "intercept" is more divisive in Monroe County than it would be anywhere else in the state. That’s because of the way the sales tax money gets divvied up here. Most counties take a large share… if not all of the share… of the sales tax for localities.
Not Monroe County. Formulas dating back 20 years – including the now famous pact brokered by former County Executive Lucien Morin and former Mayor Tom Ryan – pushes out millions of dollars to government bank accounts large and small. Look at the breakdown using actual numbers from 2004:
**Monroe County – $117.4 million
**Rochester – $117.4 million
**The county’s 19 towns – $77.1 million
**The county’s 10 villages – $8.5 million
**The 24 suburban school districts in the county – $53.9 million.
(Go here for a fuller accounting)
These are big numbers. The kind of dollars that are essential to leaders in Gates and the Greece school district and East Rochester. To enact this "intercept" would mean a reduction in the tens of millions of dollars for local governments.
Brooks doesn’t want to sting the locals. But she can’t take the idea off the table. It’s the only solution that could eliminate the Medicaid burden, one that gets weightier as each year goes by.
Give Wayne Zyra credit for putting this out there now… and not springing the sales tax "intercept" on unsuspecting municipalities at the last minute. Give Brooks some as well for not dismissing it out of hand.
And over the next months (could be six, could be nine, could be twelve)… the political class of Monroe County get to relive the debating.. the politicking… the negotiating around the big dollars raised by taxes on purchases. In the past, those talks have sometimes lead to an amicable solution. And sometimes those talks have gotten ugly.
How will it be this time around?