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Niagara County lawmakers call on Cuomo to break Assembly sales tax bill impasse


LOCKPORT -- With critical sales tax legislation impacting the budgets of 53 counties across the state being held hostage to a New York City fight by the Downstate-dominated leadership of the state Assembly, Niagara County lawmakers passed a last-minute resolution Tuesday imploring Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to convene a one-house special session to force the measures through.

Randy Bradt
That resolution, authored by Majority Leader Randy R. Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, urges Cuomo to immediately call the state Assembly back into session if it adjourns Wednesday without passing the tax measure. No further meeting days of the State Legislature's lower house are scheduled at this point.

Under current state law, every two years, the state government must enact legislation authorizing sales tax rates above 7 percent for 53 counties. The tax legislation—referred to as a sales tax extender, or, colloquially, as the "Medicaid Penny"—has proven critical to enabling counties to fund their state-mandated Medicaid programs without placing unsustainable burdens on local property owners.

In the case of Niagara County, the Medicaid Penny, which sets county sales taxes at 8 percent, generates an additional $31.5 million, according to figures provided by the Niagara County Treasurer's Office. To replace that revenue through property taxes and maintain the current level of services, county budget officials project the county would be forced to raise property taxes 41 percent, placing the burden of funding Medicaid's county portion entirely on property owners.

"We're watching this issue very closely, as the lack of a sales tax extender would have a devastating impact on our county's fiscal stability," Bradt said after his measure passed unanimously. "Even if, as we expect, this is ultimately passed, this is causing significant uncertainty while we're trying to assembly our county budgets for 2018. The lack of a sales tax extender bill means we are unable to project our revenues, and in the short run, it hurts efforts like economic development, where we can't provide certainty to prospective businesses looking to locate in our county."

The 53 county extenders, which are formally requested by individual county legislatures, have already been passed in the state Senate, including S.5656, which would extend Niagara County's Medicaid Penny. However, a fight over mayoral control of New York City schools has caused the Assembly's leadership—nearly all of whom hail from the Big Apple—to bring the legislation to a standstill.

Niagara County lawmakers urged Cuomo to immediately convene the special session if the Assembly adjourns without enacting the sales tax measures—something he has the power to do under the state constitution.

"I have been in close contact with our state Legislature delegation for several days about this issue, and they are all working to get this measure through, but right now, Downstate politicians seem to be in the driver's seat," Bradt said. "It's unfortunate that a parochial issue in New York City is adversely impacting the people of 53 counties."

Meanwhile, the New York State Association of Counties was sounding the alarm on the potential fallout from the issue as well, describing "a gaping $1.8 billion hole in local budgets" if the sales tax extenders aren't passed.

"In one fell swoop state leaders could undo everything that has been done in the past ten years to curtail property tax increases," said NYSAC President William E. Cherry, who is an elected official from Schoharie County. "We need lawmakers to act before the end of this week. If they do not, then program cuts, staff layoffs, and property tax increases are a direct result of their inaction."