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Buffalo Billion becomes political football in Medicaid debate

WASHINGTON – The Buffalo Billion became the latest political football Thursday in the Cuomo administration's battle with congressional Republicans over their proposal to shift county Medicaid costs to the state.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul lashed out at Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, over comments he made referencing the Buffalo Billion on a public radio show in New York City on Wednesday.

Faso and Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, sponsored an amendment to the GOP bill to replace Obamacare that would bar the state from collecting Medicaid money from counties outside of New York City.

And, in an interview with WNYC radio, Faso said that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had found a lot of money for other things in his budgets – including the Buffalo Billion – and therefore could find the $2.3 billion the state would need to make up for the loss of county funds devoted to Medicaid.

Faso referenced a comment Cuomo had made a day earlier, in which the governor said: "There is no fairy that's going to float down and hand over $2.3 billion to make up the shortfall that the counties left."

In response, Faso said: "It's very interesting because I've watched the Cuomo budget process for a number of years, and I do think he does have a few fairies that fund some of his projects. I mean, I've noticed the Buffalo Billion. Two weeks ago he announced a Brooklyn billion, and now a Bronx billion."

Collins, Hochul battle over Medicaid plan

Faso went on to mention several other examples of Cuomo administration spending, but it was his "Buffalo Billion" comment that angered Hochul.

"Yesterday while advocating for starving New York’s health care system of billions of dollars in funding, Rep. John Faso suggested the Governor defund the Buffalo Billion program," she said in a statement. "This after he did nothing to help Western New York during his 15 years in Albany. Rep. John Faso is telling Buffalo what President Ford said to New York City: Drop Dead."

The congressman from Kinderhook never specifically said that the Buffalo Billion should be used to replace some of the money that the counties now contribute to Medicaid.

But the Cuomo camp was adamant in insisting his comments were an attack on the Cuomo administration project that funded a new SolarCity plant and otherwise contributed to Buffalo's revival.

Collins' Medicaid proposal prompts battle with governor

In a telephone interview, Hochul – who lives in Buffalo – said: "We have transformed my hometown. And you have a congressman from across the state teaming up with a congressman from the very area that's benefited ... and they say we should undo that and take the money back to fund their ill-conceived plans to literally rob New York State of essential dollars needed for elderly in nursing homes and families and seniors and people in need of substance abuse treatment."

In a conference call with reporters, Cuomo likened Faso's comment to President Gerald Ford's refusal to aid New York City during its 1970s financial crisis.

"Cut the Buffalo Billion? Might‎ as well cut the region's jugular. It would be quicker," Cuomo said.

Faso's spokesperson, Courtney Weaver, did not respond to a request for comment.

But when told of the Cuomo administration's response to Faso's comments, Collins said: "He's grasping at straws."

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