Assembly Democrats from the Buffalo area committed themselves to a new spirit of cooperation when Erie County officials knuckled under Feb. 2 and agreed to share $12.5 million in sales tax income with cities, towns and villages in 2007.
In a letter Friday, County Executive Joel A. Giambra listed 13 ways that Assembly Majority Leader Paul A. Tokasz, D-Cheektowaga, and Sen. Dale M. Volker, R-Depew, can help.
Giambra seeks Albany's approval for the county to charge fees on inmates for medical services, on probationers for testing and electronic monitoring costs, and on those seeking pistol permits.
Among these kinds of requests, "there are not many things on the list we're not looking into," Tokasz said.
But a couple of Giambra's other requests are not likely to happen, Tokasz said. Giambra wants Albany to further contain the cost of Medicaid to counties. Right now, state government will pay each county's annual increase above 3.5 percent. Giambra asks that the county's Medicaid expenses be capped at the 2006 amount -- $193 million.
But with President Bush's new spending proposal, Albany faces the prospect of having to pick up about $600 million more in Medicaid costs from the federal government, Tokasz said.
"I'm not passing the buck here," Tokasz said, "but we have a national crisis in health care. When Joel talks about capping his cost, is he oblivious to the fact that New York State has to pick up more costs from the federal government? That's the frustration."
If Giambra wants to improve county finances, he would be better off proposing pilot projects that save on delivering Medicaid services, Tokasz said.
Giambra also wants Albany to free the county from having to provide about $16 million a year of sales tax income to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. The county provides the money because of an agreement that dates to 1990. Giambra in the past has proposed ending that arrangement, but without success.
His prospects don't look better now. "How are you going to replace that revenue so fares don't go up to $3?" Tokasz asked.
Other Giambra requests:
*Approve the county's request to impose a 30-cents-a-month charge on a cell phone bill to help finance the E-911 system.
*Let the county's probation department charge probationers for their supervision, drug testing and electronic monitoring.
*Let the county charge inmates for their incarceration based on their asset levels and charge inmates a co-pay for their medical care.
*Allow video arraignments of defendants to save on the cost of transporting them to a courtroom.
*Let the county clerk levy a $5 surcharge on various court fees and pistol permits to raise about $500,000 a year.
*Help Erie County create its own unit to combat Medicaid fraud and abuse.
*Fully reimburse the county for the approximately 180 inmates a day who should be in a state prison.
*Approve Gov. George E. Pataki's proposal to raise Erie County's highway aid from $6 million to $7 million.