The political fallout over a plan to relieve county taxpayers from having to fund an expensive new state health-care insurance program for the poor intensified Monday, with top Republicans sniping at each other.
Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Rensselaer County Republican, who proposed a new plan to force the state, not counties, to cover the health program's costs, found himself on the defensive after aides to Gov. George E. Pataki last week fired at least three people Bruno helped get jobs in state agencies.
With unusually harsh words for a fellow Republican he has helped repeatedly during the past five years, Bruno lashed out at the governor, insisting that Pataki is "not a king and Senate Republicans "are not to be dictated to.
The first retaliation came Monday, when Bruno refused to confirm a dozen or so people Pataki had nominated to various state agencies. The only one Bruno let pass was Dr. Russell Bessette, a Buffalo plastic surgeon, who will head a high-technology economic development agency that Bruno first proposed last year.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans were privately fuming that top aides to Pataki have been calling them to try to get them to break away from Bruno over Family Health Plus, a new program for uninsured adults that will cost counties about $350 million over the next three years. The governor, sources said, also called a number of county executives, including Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra, over the issue.
Bruce Fisher, Giambra's chief of staff, said a couple of aides to Pataki called him Thursday, the morning Giambra and two Republican state senators, Dale N. Volker of Depew and and Mary Lou Rath of Williamsville, held a news conference unveiling a bill to hold counties financial harmless from the health-care law that passed in December.
The new bill created a new insurance program called Family Health Plus, which called for counties to kick in one-fourth the costs, or nearly the amount they will receive from the historic 1998 tobacco settlement.
Fisher said the Pataki aides "were expressing their confusion about this gesture by the Senate in introducing the legislation.
"We certainly did not intend to choose sides in the debate between the legislative and executive branches, Fisher said.
Instead, he said, the county merely does not support taking on any further unfunded mandates from Albany.
In Albany, meanwhile, the Assembly Monday began moving on its own version of legislation to keep the counties from paying the costs of Family Health Plus. But the version does not match, as needed to become law, a Senate version on the subject, and aides to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said there are no plans yet to send the bill to the full floor for a vote.Intermediate string overflow
Bruno got one ally on his side Monday, when the New York Economic Development Council, a nonpartisan group of job-creating agencies across the state, including the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, backed his call for Albany to assume full funding of the health plus program.
The group warned that the new costs could further drive up property taxes.
The association also came out against a Pataki plan for tens of millions of dollars worth of tax incentives for businesses, including several programs designed to spur job growth upstate.
Instead, the council said the money from Pataki's plan should be applied to the quick elimination of the gross-receipts tax on energy costs. The governor would phase the tax out over seven years; the group says it could be done in two years by doing away with Pataki's targeted tax incentives.