Last week seven of your Allegany County Legislators attended the annual New York State Association of Counties (“NYSAC”) Conference in Albany. This conference provides us an opportunity to discuss issues, ideas, opportunities and problems with our counterparts from across the state. It also gives us a chance to talk with State officials and NYSAC staff about specific concerns facing our county. It involves a major time commitment, but is worth that investment.
Instead of listing all the committee meetings, luncheons, dinners, workshops, and various state officials who attended and spoke to us during the conference, I would like to focus on what we learned. The major emphasis was on the State Budget, and various proposals that will impact our County Budget over the next several years. For a variety of reasons there is a lot of change at the State level. Some of it is good, and some of it is bad. Whatever ends up being approved at the State level will have a “trickle down” effect upon us at the county level.
One of the most interesting workshops I attended involved New York’s efforts to implement the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more commonly referred to as “Obamacare.” Parts of that federal law have already gone into effect, though most of the provisions won’t start until 2013 or 2014. We learned that NYS has decided to take an aggressive approach towards establishing a health insurance exchange program. This will supposedly allow many more people to obtain health insurance at more affordable prices. We learned that the NYS approach will involve greatly expanding the existing Medicaid program. The State is also developing new plans that will be offered by private insurance companies. Although most of the provisions won’t go into operation for almost two years, the Health Insurance Exchange team is concerned that they won’t be ready to operate when the law kicks in. They identified the following changes that will impact county programs, employees, and citizens:
- Medicaid will expand and become much larger. Unless the current formula is changed this would generate huge increases for counties. To prevent this the Governor has proposed a phased in “hard cap” that will limit county contributions towards Medicaid. It is imperative that this “hard cap” be approved.
- The State is planning on taking over administration of this expanding Medicaid program. This means that many current county employees working with Medicaid will see their jobs transferred to the State. It is unclear whether those jobs will be physically moved, or just reassigned to the State Health Department. This will have implications for county retirement costs, health insurance costs, and space requirements.
- The Governor has proposed some major changes in the State Civil Service System. He wants to allow employees to move between public agencies, while retaining their job classifications and seniority status. Several speakers expressed concern about these proposed changes, and public employee unions are nervous about these proposed changes.
- The State is hoping that the federal government will pick up a major portion of our current and projected Medicaid costs under Obamacare. If the State saves money on Medicaid, it might pick up some of the county costs. (Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.)
Another major proposed change involves the State Pension System. The cost to fund the current pension system represents the largest single increase for most municipalities. In most cases the Pension System increase exceeds the 2% real property tax cap. Under the Governor’s proposal employee contributions for new employees would go up, while employer contributions would be capped. He has also proposed a “defined contribution plan” to replace the existing “defined benefit plan.” If approved these changes will help contain future increases, but won’t provide any immediate help.
It appears the Governor’s proposals are part of an overall cohesive plan. Most of the changes should help the county. I am cautiously optimistic about these proposals.