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June 14, 2017 - 1:28pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, NY-27, news.

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) today released the following statement in response to today’s shooting in Alexandria, Va.:

“Today’s attack on Whip Steve Scalise, Members of Congress, the Capitol Police, and congressional aides is absolutely devastating. For those injured, we all send our prayers for a speedy recovery. If it weren’t for the brave men and women of the Capitol Police, this attack would have resulted in an even greater tragedy and I, along with my colleagues, are thankful for their service.

“While it is apparent that the shooter was a zealot with an intention to cause harm, it is important that we all be cognizant that our words have strong meaning. It’s time for all of us, including myself, to tone down our rhetoric and recognize that we are all of one country and all proud Americans.”

June 7, 2017 - 7:02pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, NY-27, healthcare.

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) today reacted to news of anticipated steep increases in the price of BlueCross BlueShield plans available to New Yorker’s through the New York State Insurance marketplace.

“Not only has Obamacare been a failure for most of America, it is now failing the people of Western New York by making basic healthcare completely unaffordable and inaccessible,” said Congressman Collins.  “I am absolutely appalled a BlueCross BlueShield plan in Western New York would increase by almost fifty percent in the marketplace.”

BlueCross BlueShield pointed to the failed Obamacare policies that have cost insurance companies millions of dollars, driving up costs for Americans.  Regulations put in place under Obamacare have made the insurance marketplace less competitive, thus increasing costs for consumers.

While President Obama promised that premiums under his plan would decrease during these last few years, a May 23, 2017 report from the Department of Health and Human Services showed that Obamacare increased premiums across the country by 105% between 2013 and 2017.

“Obamacare’s chief cheerleader in our state, Governor Andrew Cuomo, owes our community an apology,” added Congressman Collins.  “Cuomo is part and parcel to Obama’s promises that ‘you can keep your plan’ and premiums will be lower.  Those have turned out to be lies.”

Collins said there was help on the way.  The American Health Care Act (AHCA), which passed the House of Representatives on May 4, 2017, repeals and replaces Obamacare and removes more than $800 billion in onerous taxes and fees that have been stifling the economy and eliminating job growth.

“I am working with my colleagues in Congress to implement policies that allow the people of Western New York the opportunity to make their own choice when it comes to healthcare and provide lower premiums.  Americans deserve to be able to pick which plan works best for their family, and I’m urging the senate to take up the American Health Care Act so we can get ourselves out of this mess.”

The American Health Care Act:

·         Eliminates the individual and employer mandate, which forced millions of workers, families, and job creators into government mandated plans that did not work for their needs.

·         For Western New Yorkers, the bill also includes the largest property tax reduction ever to be enacted. The legislation includes an amendment Congressman Collins introduced that would bar federal reimbursements for New York State Medicaid funds raised from local governments.

·         Guarantees protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions by prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition, banning insurers from rescinding coverage based on a pre-existing condition, and preventing insurers from raising premiums on individuals with pre-existing conditions who maintain continuous coverage. Additionally, New York state law fully protects individuals with pre-existing conditions.

·         Modernizes and strengthens Medicaid by implementing a “per capita allotment” which provides more flexibility for states and results in the largest entitlement reform in decades.

·         Provides Americans access to affordable care that works for their needs by delivering monthly tax credits of $2,000-$14,000 a year, which individuals and families can use to purchase private insurance of their choice.

·         A provision within the American Health Care Act (AHCA), The Patient and State Stability Fund, would provide solutions to help lower costs and repair insurance markets damaged by Obamacare. CBO estimates this would significantly reduce premiums in the nongroup market and encourage participation by insurers.

The American Health Care Act is with the Senate where it will need to be approved before heading to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law.

 

May 23, 2017 - 7:16pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, NY-27, news.

Press release:

The Turn 27 Blue coalition is pleased to report that the coalition's process for identifying and assisting candidates who would like to run for Congress in 2018 against Chris Collins in New York's 27th district is exceeding expectations -- 10 candidates so far have submitted cover letters describing their intentions and resumes; it is anticipated more candidates will follow.

Democratic county chairs in the district along with several grassroots leaders held a meeting with seven of those candidates last Thursday in Batavia; a second session will be offered for candidates who were unable able to attend the first meeting. Each prospective nominee gave a brief presentation and answered questions from members of the coalition.

"This was a really exciting event for us," said Judith Hunter, Livingston County Democratic chair and Turn 27 Blue coordinator. "We heard from several people who weren't just plausible candidates but plausible members of Congress.

"Every single one of them was motivated by the desire to serve the district and its constituents, rather than by a desire to promote themselves or a party or an ideology."

"What a refreshing contrast to Representative Chris Collins, who is too busy running to cable televisions studios, fending off an ethics investigation for insider trading, and fundraising from pharmaceutical industry lobbyists to be bothered with actually meeting with his constituents to hear their concerns," said Michelle Johnston Schoeneman of Citizens Against Collins. "These candidates who met with us truly seemed to aspire to the ideal of public service."

Jeremy Zellner, Erie County Democratic chair, noted, "We're laying the groundwork here for success in November of 2018. Each of these prospective nominees has his or her own timeline for announcing, so we're going to respect that and keep their names confidential at this point. But they're serious people who are putting in the work, and we want to help them however we can." 

In addition to the ongoing advice the leaders are providing, they have also set up a NY-27 2018 nominee fund on ActBlue.com as a vehicle for those want to contribute today to defeating Chris Collins next year.

"There's just so much energy out there right now to accomplish this, and we're making sure ordinary voters in the district can do something constructive right now," said Cynthia Appleton, the Wyoming County Democratic chair.

Although the Turn 27 Blue leaders want to emphasize that they are open to hearing from more possible candidates, they would like to stress that getting started as soon as possible increases a campaign's chance of ultimate success. Those who are interested should email a cover letter and resume to Judith Hunter at [email protected].

Judith Hunter, Livingston County Democratic chair
Jeremy Zellner, Erie County Democratic chair
Nick Forster, Niagara County Democratic chair
Jeanne Crane, Orleans County Democratic chair
Michael Plitt, Genesee County Democratic chair
Cynthia Appleton, Wyoming County Democratic chair
Jamie Romeo, Monroe County Democratic chair
John Hurley, Ontario County Democratic chair
Michelle Johnston Shoeneman, Citizens Against Collins
Amber Hainey, GLOW Progressives
Dan Beagley, Indivisible NY 27
Tom White, Sister District of Western New York

May 17, 2017 - 3:12pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, NY-27, news.

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) today released the following statement to recognize National Police Week and to highlight his intention to vote in favor of six legislative items throughout the week in support of U.S. law enforcement.

The legislative items will include the Thin Blue Line Act (H.R. 115), the Honoring Hometown Heroes Act (H.R. 1892), the American Law Enforcement Heroes Act (H.R. 1428), the Probation Officer Protection Act (H.R. 1039), the Rapid DNA Act of 2017 (H.R. 510), and the Strengthening State and Local Cyber Crime Fighting Act (H.R. 1616).

“National Police Week is an opportunity for our country to come together to honor our men and women in blue for the service they provide to our communities,” Congressman Collins said. “On behalf of the towns, cities, and villages throughout New York’s 27th Congressional District, I want to thank our law enforcement officers for consistently putting their lives on the line to keep us safe.”

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy declared May 15th as Peace Officers’ Memorial Day. This week, the United States will honor our courageous law enforcement officers during National Police Week. Every year since 1982, members of the U.S. law enforcement community, their families and friends have gathered on Peace Officer’s Memorial Day in Washington, D.C., to mourn the fallen and remember their heroic acts.

“Our first responders are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice to uphold law and order within the communities they serve, but too often their heroic acts are repaid with undue criticism,” Congressman Collins said. “They deserve the full support of the federal government. I am confident the six pieces of legislation that will be voted on this week will provide U.S. law enforcement with the federal resources and support they need to continue keeping us safe.”

Thin Blue Line Act (H.R. 115)

  • Makes killing, or attempting to kill, a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or other first responder, an aggravating factor in death penalty determinations.

Honoring Hometown Heroes Act (H.R. 1892)

  • Authorizes the governor of a state to proclaim the American flag be flown at half-staff to honor a first responder who died in the line of duty.

American Law Enforcement Heroes Act of 2017 (H.R. 1428)

  • Authorizes COPS grantees to prioritize funds to hire veterans as law enforcement officers.

Probation Officer Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 1039)

  • Authorizes probation officers to arrest a person if there is probable cause to believe the person forcibly assaulted or obstructed a probation officer while they were conducting official duties.

Rapid DNA Act of 2017 (H.R. 510)

  • Establishes a system for integration of Rapid DNA instruments for use by law enforcement to combat violent crime and reduce the current DNA analysis backlog.

Strengthening State and Local Cyber Crime Fighting Act of 2017 (H.R. 1616)

  • Authorizes the National Computer Forensics Institute to disseminate homeland security information related to the investigation and prevention of cyber and electronic crime and related threats, and educate, train, and equip state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges.
May 13, 2017 - 3:39pm
posted by Billie Owens in news, Announcements, climate change, NY-27, climate lobby.

Press release:

The newly established NY-27 Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) is offering a Climate Advocate Training workshop from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 27, at Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia.

The session is free and open to all residents of NY’s 27th congressional district. It will teach citizens of NY-27 the nuts and bolts of building political (impetus) for a livable climate.

The workshop will mark the beginning of the first CCL chapter in NY’s 27th congressional district, which includes all of Genesee, Livingston, Orleans, and Wyoming counties, and parts of Erie, Monroe, Niagara, and Ontario counties.

James Hansen, Ph.D, former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says: "Most impressive is the work of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a relatively new, fast growing, nonpartisan, nonprofit group… If you want to join the fight to save the planet, to save creation for your grandchildren, there is no more effective step you could take than becoming an active member of this group.”

According to Nicholas Kristof in his April 13, 2017 OpEd in The New York Times: “Citizens’ Climate Lobby [has had] an [outsized] influence on policy."

Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) is completely nonpartisan and achieves change by building respectful relationships with lawmakers and focusing on specific market-based, consumer-friendly solutions that have received support from conservatives and progressives alike.

The May 27th workshop will include a mini-training on lobbying congress. Citizens’ Climate Lobby has an active and growing Conservative Caucus. We are interested in welcoming new conservative members who want to support the growth of clean energy infrastructure, and protect families and communities from the risks of the extreme manifestations of climate change.

“I’ve heard from many Citizens’ Climate Lobby members that joining the organization has made them into truly empowered citizens, and that they can see the results of their work on climate policy,” says Paige Dedrick, of East Aurora, who is taking on the role of group leader for the NY-27 Chapter.

“I am deeply concerned about climate change, and I’ve found CCL to be a great way to impact policy and work with strong, engaged citizens toward a healthy climate and economy. We are hoping to find other members of our community looking for that same kind of opportunity.”

In addition to meeting with our members of Congress, CCL offers many varied roles for volunteers. All are welcome to attend the workshop to learn more. Refreshments will be served at the May 27th meeting; please RSVP to Paige Dedrick, 716-863-3373.

May 5, 2017 - 6:09pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, NY-27, Health Care.

Yesterday, Rep. Chris Collins was quick to tout his support for legislation to change the nation's health care laws, but today, Collins was among a handful of Republican congressmen under fire after admitting they didn't read all of the language of the legislation before the rollcall vote.

"I will fully admit, Wolf, I did not," Collins told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "But I can also assure you my staff did. We have to rely on our staff."  

According to CNN, Collins said he had several meetings with staff to discuss the plan, known as the "repeal and replace" answer to the Affordable Care Act that could change health insurance coverage for millions of Americans. He said he is "very comfortable that we have a solution to the disaster called 'Obamacare.' "

Collins reportedly went on to say, "You know, I have to rely on my staff, and I could probably tell you that I read every word, and I wouldn't be telling you the truth, nor would any other member. We rely on our staff, and we rely on our committees, and I'm comfortable that I understand this bill in its entirety, Wolf, without poring through every word."

Thousands of residents of the 27th Congressional District receive subsidized health insurance under the ACA, including more than 5,000 in Genesee County.

The legislation passed by the House yesterday, known as the American Health Care Act, would replace the subsidies, currently paid directly to health insurance companies, with tax credits that some critics say will not provide the same level of financial assistance for ever-more-expensive health insurance.

Jerry Zremski, bureau chief for the Buffalo News, picked up on the remarks by Collins and asked him about one specific provision of the bill, an amendment that would cost the State of New York $3 billion by ending a provision called "The Essential Plan," an optional program under the ACA offered only to New York and Minnesota. It provides low-cost health insurance to low- and middle-income residents who don't qualify for Medicaid. 

According to Zremski's report, Collins was unaware of the bill's elimination of the funding. He quotes Collins as saying, "No. But it doesn't surprise me for you to tell me that there were two states in the nation that were taking advantage of some other waiver program and New York was one of the two states."

Collins was traveling today and couldn't be reached for comment, but his local staff provided the following statement drafted by Micheal McAdams, press secretary in the D.C. office of the congressman:

“Once again the Buffalo News is twisting a Republican’s words to fit its out of touch, liberal narrative. Congressman Collins has been intimately involved in the creation of this legislation from its inception. Over the past four years, he has participated in hundreds of hours of health care hearings, spent many hours marking up this legislation including a 26 hour mark-up in March, and spent hundreds of hours hearing from countless organizations that have a stake in the the health care debate. As a member of the Health Subcommittee, he participated in writing the text of the American Health Care Act.

“Just like Congressman Elijah Cummings who also said he didn’t read every word of this legislation, Congressman Collins has a complete understanding of this bill. He understands the impact it would have on Western New Yorkers. To infer Congressman Collins doesn’t understand the disastrous impact Obamacare has had on our region and our nation is absolutely shameful. The bottom line is the American Health Care Act provides the health care solutions Western New Yorkers need to increase choice and lower costs, as well as providing real property tax relief to every taxpayer in his district. 

"Congressman Collins is proud to have played a substantial role in the legislation’s creation and passage.”

The dustup over reading the bill is just the latest bit of negative publicity Collins has gotten from the national media. He's also been scrutinized for a financial investment that gives the appearance of an overlap with his legislative activity.

From The Daily Beast:

The Republican congressman purchased $2.2 million worth of stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics as part of its initial public offering in late 2013, according to a previously unreported document Collins filed with Australia’s securities authority. The IPO prospectus said Innate would seek FDA approval of its drug to treat multiple sclerosis. More than a year later, Collins wrote into a bill language to expedite the FDA’s approval process for such drugs. Four months before the bill was signed into law, Collins again purchased stock in Innate, this time as much as $1 million, according to congressional financial disclosure records.

According to the story, Collins, who owns $22 million of the stock, has been criticized by ethics experts for the transactions.

We also sought comments from Collins on the controversy and received the following statement drafted by McAdams:

“Despite the continued partisan attacks insinuating otherwise, Congressman Collins has followed all ethical guidelines related to his personal finances during his time in the House and will continue to do so.
 
“Congressman Collins’ relationship with Innate Immunotherapeutics dates back more than 15 years. Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis is one of the most debilitating diseases in the world and Congressman Collins saw its deadly impact first hand as it affected a close family member. As of now, it has no cure and no relief of symptoms. He is very proud of the progress the company has made over the years and hopeful it will develop a potentially life-saving treatment for the millions of individuals suffering from Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis.”

May 4, 2017 - 2:39pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, NY-27, healthcare, news.

Press release:

U.S. Representative Chris Collins (NY-27) today voted to repeal Obamacare and replace it with the American Health Care Act, which will improve access, reduce costs, and provide Americans with the health care system they deserve.

“This puts us even closer to ending the Obamacare nightmare that has plagued Americans for the last seven years,” Congressman Collins said. “The legislation passed today increases competition and gives people the power to make their own choices with their own health care. The American Health Care Act is a drastic improvement over the failing health care system Obamacare has left us with.”

For Western New Yorkers, the bill also includes the largest property tax reduction ever to be enacted. The legislation includes an amendment Congressman Collins introduced that would bar federal reimbursements for New York State Medicaid funds raised from local governments.

“My commonsense proposal will fix the finances of counties across New York for decades to come and most importantly keep money in the pockets of hardworking Western New Yorkers,” Congressman Collins said. “This puts a stop to this massive unfunded mandate coming out of Albany once and for all.”

For residents in New York’s 27th Congressional District, it would result in more than $470 million in property tax savings. The proposal would only apply to the $2.3 billion being raised from counties outside of New York City to pay for the state’s Medicaid share. New York State currently raises $7 billion from its local governments to fund its $27 billion Medicaid liability, which is the largest such mandate in the nation.

Beyond the property tax savings for New Yorkers, the legislation improves access and affordability, and removes more than $800 billion in onerous taxes and fees that have been stifling the economy and eliminating job growth.

Congressman Collins indicated these improvements are absolutely necessary because the current health care system has completely failed. In 2017, 33 percent of counties nationwide only have one insurer on their exchange, and many counties are being left without any insurance providers.

He also noted that Obamacare has unsustainably raised insurance premiums by nearly 40 percent in the last three years. Recently, thousands of New Yorkers experienced the pain of Obamacare when they were kicked off their insurance plans because their provider, Health Republic, collapsed.

The American Health Care Act:

  • Eliminates the individual and employer mandate, which forced millions of workers, families, and job creators into government-mandated plans that did not work for their needs;
  • Guarantees protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions by prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition, banning insurers from rescinding coverage based on a pre-existing condition, and preventing insurers from raising premiums on individuals with pre-existing conditions who maintain continuous coverage. Additionally, New York state law fully protects individuals with pre-existing conditions;
  • Modernizes and strengthens Medicaid by implementing a “per capita allotment,” which provides more flexibility for states and results in the largest entitlement reform in decades;
  • Provides Americans access to affordable care that works for their needs by delivering monthly tax credits of $2,000-$14,000 a year, which individuals and families can use to purchase private insurance of their choice.

The American Health Care Act now heads to the Senate where it will need to be approved before heading to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law.

May 3, 2017 - 11:54am
posted by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, NY-27, news.

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins has received the “Award for Conservative Achievement” from the American Conservative Union Foundation. Congressman Collins was given the highest rating of any member in the New York Delegation for the 114th Congress.

“I am honored to receive this recognition from the American Conservative Union Foundation,” Congressman Collins said. “When I first ran for Congress I promised to bring a commonsense, conservative voice to Washington, and this award is recognition of my commitment to those principles. I share the ACUF’s philosophy of smaller government and personal responsibility and will continue to support policies that achieve that vision.”

“The 2016 ACUF Award for Conservative Achievement is given to those Members of Congress who receive an 80 percent or above score in our annual ACU Ratings,” said ACUF Chairman Matt Schlapp. “We applaud Congressman Collins for his continued support of conservative values, and working to achieve commonsense conservative solutions for the people of New York.”

The “Award for Conservative Achievement” is based on 25 key votes that demonstrate an adherence to conservative principles. More information on the award is available here.

May 2, 2017 - 10:05am
posted by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, NY-27, batavia, news.

Press release:

U.S. Representatives Chris Collins (NY-27) and Eric Swalwell (CA-15) kicked off Small Business Week today by reintroducing the Main Street Revival Act of 2017. This legislation will expedite local small business development in underserved areas.

“For America to achieve a high rate of economic growth, government must do a better job creating an atmosphere for small businesses to thrive,” Congressman Collins said. “Small businesses are the engines that drive our economy, and here in Western New York we must do everything we can to ensure they have the tools to succeed. I am glad to partner with my colleague, Congressman Swalwell, as we work to generate tangible economic development and job growth in our communities.”

“Small businesses are at the heart of our communities and economy – we must do what we can to help them grow and succeed,” Congressman Swalwell said. “The Main Street Revival Act helps new small business owners build a strong foundation for future success. Encouraging entrepreneurship nationwide, especially in struggling areas, will help create an economy that can work for everyone, everywhere.”

The Main Street Revival Act allows qualifying small businesses to elect to defer paying payroll taxes during their first year in operation. The deferred taxes would then be paid in installments over the subsequent four years. The option is limited to businesses expecting to hire no more than 25 people in their first year, and that are located in Historically Underutilized Business Zones, known as HUBZones.

The areas in NY-27 that would be eligible for this benefit include: Tonawanda Reservation, along with portions of Batavia, Lockport, Medina, and York. The HUBZone map can be seen here.

Full text of the legislation can be read here.

April 26, 2017 - 2:24pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, dairy, NY-27, business.

Press release:

Representative Chris Collins (NY-27) today led a bipartisan letter sent to President Trump applauding the president’s acknowledgements of Canada’s protectionist trade policies related to dairy products and advocating for swift action to ensure Canada upholds its trade agreements.

“President Trump campaigned on putting America first, and protecting American jobs,” Collins said. “Today’s letter highlights how vital the U.S. dairy industry is to Western New York and dairy producing regions across the country. The U.S. dairy industry supports billions of dollars in exports and hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs.

"Unfortunately, due to unfair competitive practices by Canada, we must take action to ensure our dairy products will be able to compete on a level playing field. I am glad President Trump has recognized how important this issue is to hundreds of thousands of hardworking Americans, and I will continue working with my colleagues to protect the U.S. dairy industry.”

The letter which 68 lawmakers signed on to was also co-led by Representatives Elise Stefanik (NY-21), Ron Kind (WI-03), Sean Duffy (WI-07), Suzan DelBene (WA-01), and Peter Welch (VT-AL).

The letter details Canadian trade practices that “may violate Canada’s existing trade commitments to the United States by effectively discouraging U.S. dairy exports to Canada.” It also reinforces that “our districts and states rely on the jobs the dairy industry provides and cannot afford further protectionist policies from our northern neighbor.”

Full text of the letter along with signatories can be seen here and full text can be read below.

April 22, 2017 - 11:32am
posted by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, NY-27, town hall, alexander, news.

ny27townhallapril212017.jpg

The event last night was billed as a "town hall," a chance for all constituents in New York's 27th Congressional District to come to the Alexander Fire Hall and voice their issues, raise their concerns and ask questions of Rep. Chris Collins.

If Collins bothered to show up.

Of course, he didn't.

In his place on the dais was an empty chair.

If he had filled that chair, he would have found himself on a panel of people billed as experts in various topic areas who, rather than represent the range of political ideology in the 27th District, seemed to largely hold liberal and progressive viewpoints.

The more than 400 people who attended were all given 8 1/2 x 11 colored pieces of paper -- raise green when you agreed with a speaker's point and red when you disagreed. Rather than showcase a diversity of opinions, green cards tended to go up in unison for points favored by the audience and red cards raised altogether when audience members wished to jeer a negative point made about Collins or the current presidential administration.

This, though Michelle Schoeneman in her opening remarks, suggested the audience might represent a range of political views and party affiliations.

"Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, whether you are conservative or liberal, whether you voted for Collins or not, you are all here because you care enough about democracy to take time out of your busy lives to make your voices heard," Schoeneman said.

The town hall took on the feel of a partisan political rally when Schoeneman concluded her remarks and said Collins might have a rough go of it in the next election.

"Mr. Collins, if you’re watching this right now, I’m here to tell you that this is your last term," Schoeneman said. "Come 2018, we will have a new representative. It may be a Republican. It may be a Democrat, but it will not be you. We will vote into office a person who does not consider it unreasonable to want to talk with you. We will listen and weigh every decision that is made."

That was the loudest applause line of her opening remarks and the room was filled with green cards held high.

The expert panel included a 22-year-old organic farmer from East Aurora who runs a 24-member CSA (Community Supported Agriculture group) and an educator who runs I Am Syria and is the founder of the Summer Institute for Human Rights and Genocide, even though a couple of the nation's top experts on agriculture and immigration live right in Genesee County.

Dean Norton, former president of the New York Farm Bureau who helped draft comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 (it didn't pass, though Collins supported the bill), said he got an invitation through Instant Messanger that he didn't see until after the event was over, though he didn't specify if the invite was to speak or just attend.

Maureen Torrey, who runs with her family one of the largest produce farms in the region, and has been to Washington, D.C., and traveled the nation in support of immigration reform, said she was invited to attend but was not invited to be on the panel.

Even though economics and trade, as well as foreign policy and criminal justice, were all big topics in the recent presidential campaign, there were no experts on the panel in those subject areas, even though in the county and in the region there are available experts.

Comprising the expert panel were:

  • Healthcare: Gary A. Giovino, professor, and chair, Department of Community Health and Health Behavior at UB;
  • Great Lakes and Rivers: Barry Boyer, who taught environmental law and administrative law at UB;
  • Small business: Ginine Capozzi, owner of KnowledgeForce Consulting LLC in East Amherst;
  • Local environment, fish, and wildlife: Dick Thomas, retired from a 33-year career with NY Department of Environmental Conservation;
  • Education: Chris Cerrone, cofounder of WNY for Public Education;
  • Diversity and social justice: Jeremy Besch, head of Upper School at the Park School in Buffalo;
  • Immigration: Andrew Beiter, director of I Am Syria and is founder of the Summer Institute for Human Rights and Genocide;
  • Climate change: Sandra Chelnov, who is "deeply concerned" about climate change and has attended several conferences;
  • Laura Colligan, owner of Dirt Rich Farm in East Aurora.

The town hall was sponsored by several progressive organizations: GLOW Progressives, WNY Peace Center, Buffalo Resists, Sister District of WNY, Invisible NY 27th, Turning Emotion into Action, ACTion Buffalo, and Citizens Against Collins.

As part of each expert's introduction, the speakers were invited to say a word about why they were there. Some speakers gave just a brief introduction, others used the time to share stronger opinions.

Giovino said the current healthcare system is not designed to help you get well, rather it's designed to ensure you keep coming back.

"My concern about healthcare is that it’s for profit," Giovino said. "In every other country, every other rich country, it’s not for profit. I think capitalism is a great thing, but when it comes to health, we need a catalytic converter on that engine."

Thomas said the environment is his passion.

"I think it’s everybody’s passion whether we know it or not," Thomas said. "Elections are guided by politics and not so much guided by science. Environmental protection suffers from the ebb and flow of global leadership changes and at the same time, that environment is generally not working in many cases. Under our current federal government leadership, the divide between economic interests and the environment is wider than it ever has been."

Besch got a laugh with his introduction.

"I’m a white guy who does diversity work," Besch said.

He added later, "For a long time this country has had a political environment that has sort of secretly and quietly marginalized already-marginalized groups to drive a culture of fear to push its agenda. What I’ve seen in recent years is that action is no longer quiet and secret. Preservation of wealth and privilege is coming at the expense of those who don’t have either of them.

"If we don’t find ways stand up and stop that then a situation that is already pretty precarious and getting worse is going to get a heck of a lot worse and a heck of a lot more quickly than I think any of us care for."

Capozzi said she's tried to talk with Collins many times about a range of issues that affect small business owners, from healthcare to immigration to tax policy to education to workforce readiness and manufacturing.

"There isn’t a part of our communities that is not impacted by the small business community and he doesn’t have anything to say," Capozzi said. "Literally, nothing to say, since May of 2014. I’m really concerned about our opportunities, or lack thereof, to talk to the congressman across all spectrums and all areas of business and all the impacts that affect us."

Cerrone slammed support for school choice.

"Chris Collins supports the Trump-Betsy DeVos privatization schemes that will devastate our local, public schools," Cerrone said. "If this raised achievement, I would be all behind it, but studies show that school choice sounds good, but choice does not work. It does not raise achievement, which is our number one concern, but also it’s a boon to those who want to privatize and profit off our tax dollars with no accountability." (Fact Check: the studies are not as one-sided as Cerrone states, but decidedly more mixed.)

Beiter said he came to the event to talk about the refugee ban and the "war on immigrants." He was critical of the Trump Administration's position on immigration.

"His policies are wrong and xenophobic," Beiter said. "They also hurt the economy, our agricultural development and who we are as a people."

Walter Eckert, of Mendon, asked the first question and it was on immigration, so it went to Beiter.

"It's the businesses that employ illegal immigrants who are breaking the law," Eckert said. "Why do we not charge the employers of illegal immigrants?"

Beiter said that was a good question and he blamed greed.

He said agriculture in New York is a $3.5 billion industry and farmers fear with a clamp down in illegal immigration they will not be able to fill vital positions. He said in Niagara County, there are 1,200 migrant workers between May and November. He said these workers are exploited by farm owners.

"On one level this is a human tragedy," Beiter said. "It's slave labor that lowers the prices of our groceries, so the answer to this is comprehensive immigration reform. I think what you’re going to see as to why these businesses and corporations are not prosecuted is because they’re profiting from it." (Fact Check: The average migrant farm worker makes $12 an hour in the United States, with some earning as much as $15 an hour, and migrants are also provided housing at no cost on many New York farms.)

He said during the George W. Bush administration and the first part of Barack Obama's two terms, there were attempts at immigration reform, but that greed prevented these reforms.

"These issues tried to get on the table, but they were put down because corporate America makes too much money from our brown-skinned brothers and sisters who are here in our communities," he said.

Actually, there was comprehensive immigration reform bill considered in 2013. Dean Norton helped draft it and Collins supported it. It didn't pass.

Collins has said many times that never in his political career does he participate in town hall meetings because he doesn't find them productive. He would rather meet with small groups of people around specific topics. He has said he will talk with any constituents who ask for a meeting.

Maureen Torrey, for example, has said she and other farmers have had a productive relationship with Collins. 

"Since the election, Congressman Collins and his staff have been working with the agriculture community in his district with all the family farms and agribusinesses in his district weekly," Torrey said. "He has held bipartisan meetings on trade, immigration, and the economy of agriculture. He has been working hard to arrange meetings and educate people on what our needs are.

"He knows our issues and hasn't been afraid to speak them. He talked about our needs on national TV. He has opened doors for us. For the first time in many years, I feel we are making progress on issues."

There were also people at the event who let reporters know that they've requested meetings with Collins, but they haven't gotten a response.

The Batavian has been trying to arrange an in-person, hour-long, multi-topic interview with the congressman since late January. We've made at least a dozen requests and despite assurances that such an interview will take place -- and statements by Collins himself that he will sit down for an interview and that he enjoys being interviewed by The Batavian and would be happy to talk -- we have yet been able to secure a date for such an interview.

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION & DISCLOSURE: One of the organizers, Jane Cameron, has said I was invited to be a speaker at the town hall. I honestly didn't remember the invitation. I found the email from March 30 where she said she wanted to talk with me about "your possible participation in a Town Hall ..." I wasn't sure what she meant by this, but I said I would cover the event but that I don't participate in partisan politics. She also said there were two conservatives on the panel without specifying who those individuals are.

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Michelle Schoeneman

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Jeremy Besch

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Laura Colligan

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Andrew Beiter

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Walter Eckert, of Mendon

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April 18, 2017 - 5:03pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, trade, news, NY-27.

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) today released the following statement after President Trump signed an executive order to support American manufacturing and bolster America’s job growth.

“In implementing a ‘Buy American, Hire American’ federal initiative, President Trump has delivered on one of his most important promises to the American people. Voters here in Western New York supported President Trump because for too long, status quo politicians have put the economic interests of foreign nations ahead of our own and have left too many promises unfulfilled.

"If we want our community and our country to succeed, we need to put people back to work and get back to ‘Made in America.’ Today’s executive action is a significant step in accomplishing those goals. I commend President Trump for putting America first and working to bring our jobs home."

April 8, 2017 - 6:05pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, GCC, chris collins, NY-27, news.

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This is the winning picture in the NY-27 Congressional Art Competition, by Leah Buddenhagen, of Niagara Wheatfield Senior High School.

Buddenhagen couldn't be at the awards ceremony today at Genesee Community College because she was busy taking a college entrance exam.

Rep. Chris Collins was on hand for the awards ceremony and spent time touring the gallery and meeting individually with each of the students who were able to attend.

The were 71 pictures entered into the competition from high school students from throughout the NY-27.

The show was judged by Roz Steiner Art Gallery Director Mary Jo Whitman and GCC Associate Professor of Fine Arts Heather Jones.

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Runner-up, by Maya Lake, Medina High School.

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Madeline Keenan, of Batavia High School, in front of her picture, which received an honorable mention, with her family. The other honorable mention went to Zackary Dubel, Iroquois Central High School.

April 8, 2017 - 5:27pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, NY-27, batavia, news.

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It's almost like it's a misunderstanding that a little bit of communication might clear up.

Patricia Dieck, a resident of Batavia, is worried about maintaining health care coverage for her family, which is one reason she was participating in a protest on East Main Street this morning, across the street where Rep. Chris Collins was meeting with members of his "coffee club."

Asked later about Dieck's concerns, Collins said the issues she raised wouldn't affect her family as New York residents.

Dieck said she is worried Congress might still pass the so-called "repeal and replace" bill for the Affordable Care Act, known as the American Health Care Act, and though the bill seems to be dead, she thinks Collins should listen to her on the issue.

"I have serious concerns," Dieck said. "I have a child who is on Medicaid who depends on it. I also have a child who has a pre-existing condition. Where is he going to get health care if that goes through? He (Collins) needs to start walking in our shoes and stop thinking like a billionaire."

"None of that is true because in New York, and in every state, the commissioner of health decides on the essential benefits package," Collins said.

According to Collins, many of the objections people had to the AHCA were based on a misunderstanding about how much responsibility for deciding coverage packages still resides with the states. 

"I would say she totally misunderstands what’s going on, which is kind of a shame because in many cases, these protesters are deliberately misleading people into things that are just not so," Collins added.

It's even a misunderstanding, Collins said, that he won't listen to constituents who disagree with his positions on this and other issues.

He just won't do it in the "town hall" format protesters are asking for because he doesn't think these events are productive.

"What folks are advocating for is more of an organized protest," Collins said. "They’re not interested in a conversation of any kind. I would rather spend my time meeting with constituents one on one, have them come in the office, or speak with groups at lunches and so forth, and open it up to any kind of questions."

Dieck said she and the other protesters don't believe their opinions matter to Collins

"We just want to be heard," Dieck said. "We want a chance to have a civil conversation with Chris Collins. Many people here have sent letters, we have called him, and we get no response. We’ve asked him to do a town hall. We understand he never did town halls before, but everyone else is doing them. We want one. That’s what the constituency wants, so we’re asking him to do one."

Collins disputes that constituent communication is going unanswered or unheeded. All calls, letters, and emails are tracked, he said. Staff will cull specific letters for him to see or provide summaries of constituent communications on issues. 

"I do get individual letters that I look at," Collins said. "I do trust my staff, we’ll call them a filter of sorts, but I’m comfortable that they don’t keep things from me.

"We absolutely track what comes in over the telephone," Collins added. "We track what comes in the mail. Sometimes it’s a postcard campaign and you can get 5,000 postcards, and you just treat those as they are, but we track as best we can the mood of our constituents."

Some of the communications end up in staff scheduling meetings with Collins in his office, but he said he thinks some people misunderstand how little time he actually spends in the district. The past several weeks, for example, he's been in Washington, D.C. Now he has two weeks home to travel the district and meet with as many people as possible.

He had two events in Batavia today, among 10 events in the district this weekend, and the coffee club meeting was the only one that was a campaign fundraiser.

Asked if she or any of her fellow protesters had protested at other fundraisers elected officials might have, such as a $500 or $1,000 per plate dinner for Sen. Charles Schumer, Dieck said she felt this event was different.

"This is a $55 coffee club," Dieck said. "My husband is a Republican and he wasn’t invited. It’s an exclusive club. I don’t think he (Collins) should be doing it. I think it should be open to everybody."

Collins said it is open to everybody.

"We want as many people as we can," Collins said. "It’s what we would consider a lower dollar event at $55 and that’s a year’s membership and we do 10 or 12 of these a year and we do them all around the eight counties. This is a not small group of special invitees. If somebody wants to join our coffee club, they should. I had 50, 60 people there. They asked questions. I answered the questions. I told them what’s going on in Washington. There could be Democrats there. There can be, whatever, there."

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April 7, 2017 - 10:35am
posted by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, NY-27.

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) today released the following statement after the United States conducted military strikes against Syria.

“Bashar al-Assad’s barbaric actions against innocent children and civilians were tolerated for too long. President Trump promised Americans he would stand up to our enemies, and he delivered on that promise. Last night’s military actions demonstrated American strength and leadership. It reassured our allies and let our enemies know the status quo will no longer be tolerated.”

April 4, 2017 - 3:10pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, NY-27.

Press release:

On Saturday April 8th, Congressman Chris Collins of NY 27, will be hosting a coffee with Collins event at the Miss Batavia Diner in Batavia. The cost per ticket is $55.

Several local grassroots organizers have teamed up to speak out against this. Individuals from Citizens against Collins, GLOW Progressives, Le Roy Voices for Change, Metro Justice and Stronger Together WNY and citizens who are just frustrated will meet near the diner bright and early at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning to rally against the Congressman and his lack of interest to host an open Town Hall for his constituents.

Many of these individuals have been trying for months to meet with the Congressman to discuss numerous issues. To date, no one has had that opportunity. The lack of communication has even caused frustration from members of his own party. 

The individual organizers welcome everyone who wishes to join them in a peaceful display of agitation Saturday at 8 a.m.

CLARIFICATION: A local Democrat Party official wrote to say, "this event isn't organized by the Democratic Party." He felt the headline was misleading. The press release came from the same person who typically sends out press releases from Democrats, and while I don't think the original headline said, per se, the Party is behind the event, I decided to change the headline for this reason: It's long been our policy not to make an issue of partisan affiliation, to not define people by their partisan affiliation, and I did that with the headline and now feel I was being inconsistent with past practice. 

March 30, 2017 - 11:34am
posted by Howard B. Owens in politics, NY-27, news.

Press release:

The Democratic chairs from the eight counties which comprise New York's 27th Congressional District announce their new initiative "Turn 27 Blue": a joint effort with grassroots groups to identify and prepare candidates interested in running for Congress.

All people interested in becoming candidates for the Democratic nomination for this congressional seat in 2018 are invited to get in touch with them to learn more about the process and what is involved in running for Congress.

"There is just so much energy on the ground right now," said Genesee County Democratic Chair Michael Plitt, "so we want to make sure we can help people navigate all that's involved."

Because of unprecedented interest in next year's congressional election, the leaders of the Democratic party in the 27th District have decided to approach this election cycle differently from previous years.

"We are just getting inundated with people saying they want to run against Chris Collins," said Jeremy Zellner, the Erie County Democratic chair, who added, "We also want to work closely with the many different grassroots organizations that want to be involved in the 27th District."

Judith Hunter, the chair of the Livingston County Democratic Committee said, "We decided a systematic approach will help to make the process more accessible to all who might be interested and give our eventual nominee the greatest chance for success. Getting started now helps, too."

The county committees wish to include new groups that have sprung up organically since the November election, angered by Chris Collins' pattern of ignoring his constituents. Those groups have done a great deal of work already to educate voters about how little Collins has done to actually represent the people of NY 27, as opposed to his own bottom line or the interests of his party.

"From weekly rallies to protests to letter-writing efforts to billboard campaigns, ordinary people in this district are standing up and rejecting what Chris Collins has offered us. We're ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work to help those who are willing to stand up and become candidates. It's great to be part of this effort," said Michelle Johnston Schoeneman, of Citizens Against Collins.

Interested candidates are urged to send a resume and cover letter to [email protected], as Hunter will coordinate this effort on behalf of the larger group.

"I will take care of sharing all the materials with everyone, and we will decide, based on how many inquiries we get, whether it makes the most sense to meet with potential candidates individually or to hold larger workshops," she said. "Rep. Collins has just been so unresponsive to his constituents that everyone is eager to get started."

  • Judith Hunter, Livingston County Democratic Chair
  • Jeremy Zellner, Eric County Democratic Chair
  • Michael Plitt, Genesee County Democratic Chair
  • Jamie Romeo, Monroe County Democratic Chair
  • Cindy Appleton, Wyoming County Democratic Chair
  • Jeanne Crane, Orleans County Democratic Chair
  • John Hurley, Ontario County Democratic Chair
  • Nick Forster, Niagara County Democratic Chair
  • Michelle Johnston Schoeneman, Citizens Against Collins
  • Amber Hainey, GLOW Progressives
  • Renee Sutton, Indivisible NY 27th
  • Thomas White, Sister District for Western New York
March 24, 2017 - 5:26pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, NY-27, Health Care.

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) today released the following statement regarding the American Health Care Act.

“I am extremely disappointed with today’s result,” Congressman Collins said. “This bill, while not perfect, was a solution that would have ended the Obamacare nightmare that Western New Yorkers have had to endure for too long.

"By increasing competition and giving people the power to make their own choices with their own health care, the American Health Care Act would have been a drastic improvement over the healthcare system Obamacare has left us with.

“Despite today’s result, this process has provided the opportunity to push for reforms vital to Western New York, specifically my amendment to force Albany to end its unfunded mandate on New York’s counties once and for all.

"I will continue advocating for that critical measure going forward and will remain resolute in my commitment to the taxpayers in my district.”

March 23, 2017 - 12:10pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Health Care, chris collins, kathy hochul, NY-27.

It might be nice to think that some bit of magic could just make the county share of Medicaid expense disappear, but somebody has to pay one way or another, said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul during an interview with The Batavian yesterday about the Collins Amendment to the GOP's health care coverage reform bill.

"It’s not a free gift," Hochul said. "You can’t say, 'oh, this is going to be great,' and have it work out. They have not thought through the ramifications for this."

Rep. Chris Collins convinced the House GOP leadership to allow his amendment to the American Health Care Act, ostensibly a replacement for the Affordable Health Care Act pushed through Congress by the Obama Administration in 2010. The amendment affects only New York and blocks the state from taking county money to provide Medicaid coverage to residents.

County leaders have long complained that this unfunded mandate is crippling local budgets and forcing counties to cut other services.

"Year after year, Albany’s leadership relies on counties to foot the bill for New York State’s out-of-control Medicaid costs. Enough is enough," Collins said in a statement released when he announced the amendment. "This amendment will stop Albany from forcing its unfunded mandate down the throats of taxpayers, and help counties lower the property tax burden on hardworking families."

The cost shift won't lead to cuts in property taxes, Hochul predicted, but there would be other ramifications for New York's taxpayers. Those ramifications could include either the poor and middle-class families who rely on Medicaid having $2.3 billion in services cut or counties losing their share of sales tax collections.

"Here's what is going happen, and the counties need to be aware of this, there are going to be tough choices to compensate for the Collins scam and one of them is to re-examine the assistance we give to counties now," Hochul said.

According to Hochul, when Medicaid was created, the condition set up by the state was that counties would pay for 25 percent of Medicaid coverage and to compensate counties for the cost, counties could keep a portion of sales tax revenue.

County Manager Jay Gsell isn't sure that is exactly the history of sales tax in New York and said he's researching it. The threat to take money away from the counties if the amendment goes through is in line with Gsell's prediction in a story we published yesterday about the amendment.

"The state is not going to go quietly into the night," Gsell said.

We had trouble getting in touch with Hochul or staff members before yesterday's story, so yesterday Hochul had her staff reach out to The Batavian to arrange an interview so she could address local residents directly about her concerns with the Collins amendment.

"I want people to have a full perspective that if you take out the county’s share, there are still going to be consequences," Hochul said. "Either we cut services $2.3 billion or we raise taxes and it just comes from another pocket in the State of New York to the tune of $2.3 billion."

Hochul has long positioned herself as an advocate for local communities, and she said she is, but it's also her job as lieutenant governor now to look out for all the people of New York and the Collins Amendment, she said, will be devastating for the state.

"The governor and I are very much aware of this cost on counties and that’s why the governor cut that share down to 13 percent and so now NY state counties are paying less per person than they did back in the year 2000," Hochul said. "In addition, we did two more things: we capped the escalation of these costs, so the state is picking up any increases in the Medicaid costs. That has been in place the last five years and the governor also in 2011 created the Medicaid redesign team to squeeze out saving out of this program; $34 billion has been saved overall, and a large part of that was savings for the counties."

There is some dispute over the history of how we got in a position where county taxpayers are helping to foot the bill for a program that is billed as a "state and federal" benefit for people who can't otherwise afford healthcare. New York is one of only 16 states that pass some of the cost onto county taxpayers and New York's county share is the highest in the nation.

"What they’re proposing is the unraveling of a deal that was put in place in the 1960s when, at the time, counties were picking up 44 percent of their residents' health care costs," Hochul said. "Then when Medicaid and Medicare were in enacted in 1965 there was the thought we could reduce that down for the counties to 25 percent and also allow them -- again, allow them -- to collect some sales tax to offset that cost."

Gsell's version includes 1960 with the Kerr-Mills Act, which created a program called Medical Assistance for the Aged. It gave states the ability to create a medical coverage program and decide on the criteria for eligibility. The Federal government provided matching funds to cover the costs. The act was a precursor to Medicaid.

The prior 1950s program, Gsell said, provided matching funds for state payment to medical providers on behalf of people on public assistance.

"Nowhere did I find that NYS counties were voluntary partners in these pre-Medicaid funding programs," Gsell said. "The Hochul quote about counties paying pre-Medicaid, pre-1965, 44 percent of elderly indigent care, which NYS reduced our 'burden' to 25 percent, maybe 'accurate' in regards to then cost sharing, but this 1965 to 2017 Medicaid program is not the same in terms of benefits, entitlement, number of recipients, with counties having no say in size, eligibility and an open-ended entitlement as back 52-plus years ago."

The Cuomo Administration has been in full attack mode the past few days over the Collins Amendment. Yesterday, The Batavian received at least a half-dozen press releases from the governor's office about the amendment, plus statements funneled through the governor's press release database from hospitals in the region attacking the amendment.

"The radical conservative ideology in Washington has declared war on New York with legislation that will devastate hospitals across the state and hurt New Yorkers," Cuomo is quoted as saying in one press release. "These massive cuts will cripple our hospitals and ravage the health care services on which New Yorkers rely."

The other bit of history that came out in news reports yesterday over the Medicaid spat is that Andrew Cuomo's father, Mario, when he was governor pushed for years for the state to pick up the county's share of the Medicaid tab.

Both Andrew Cuomo and Hochul have accused Collins of political pandering to try and secure more Upstate congressional votes for the AHCA, which is far from guaranteed passage. The reform, pushed as part of President Donald Trump's promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, would scuttle direct subsidies to people who purchase insurance through health care exchanges, as well as end the individual mandate to buy health insurance, and replace it with a refundable tax credit for all qualifying Americans.

Critics contend the bill would drive up the cost of health insurance while conservatives argue the bill doesn't actually repeal Obamacare.

A poll commissioned by The Economist shows strong opposition to the AHCA in several rural Upstate districts, including the NY-24 (33 percent support / 51 percent oppose), NY-23 (38/45), NY-22 (38/45), NY-21 (37/45), as examples.

In the NY-19, the district of John Faso, the cosponsor of the Collins Amendment, 35 percent support and 48 percent oppose. The bill has a little stronger support in Collins' own district, the NY-27, with a split of 40/42.

"The reason that Representative Collins proposed this is to literally offer a bribe to on-the-fence Upstate Republicans who were starting to hear from constituents that decimating and destroying the Affordable Care Act, which benefits seven million New Yorkers now, is not something their constituents really want," Hochul said.

Cuomo has characterized the Collins Amendment as putting politics before people, and we asked Hochul about that statement, noting that really any decision about budgets, taxes, and spending is about people. For Genesee County, a cost savings of $9.4 million might not lead to much or any savings to taxpayers, but it could save critical programs.

This past year, the County Legislature went through a contentious budget debate that had some members of the Legislature even floating the idea of eliminating deputies from road patrols. The county will also likely be forced by the state to build a new jail in a few years, plus the county needs at least $15 million in road and bridge repairs. 

Meanwhile, New York's menu of Medicaid options is the most generous in the nation and the program leaves the perception of operating on an open checkbook. (Gsell provided this chart that shows county share of Medicaid expense across the nation and New York's is far and away the highest rate.)

"I disagree with your assessment that it’s an open checkbook," Hochul said. "The fact (is) that we shaved $34 billion off of it just in the last few years and the governor continues to have a Medicaid redesign team in place to make sure we’re cutting costs."

Hochul said if the ACA is repealed, it's just going to drive up costs for all New York taxpayers because the uninsured will be more likely to use emergency rooms for routine medical needs.

"They’re going to the ER and the cost is going to be dramatically higher," Hochul said. "Those costs are being picked up by taxpayers. People have to realize this is a united system and we’re going to continue as a state to cut those costs."

She said New York's costs are higher because we have a larger elderly, middle- and working-class population and our industrial past means we have higher rates of cancer. She recalled seeing as a child the pollution spewed by steel plants, for example, in Buffalo area.

"That is largely a way to explain why we have higher costs, not that we’re just throwing good money after bad," Hochul said. "We have a governor who is very tight-fisted with the state’s taxpayers' dollars. He’s very conscientious. That’s why we’ve cut middle-class taxes. We’ve cut business taxes. We continue to focus on creating jobs to put more money back into the local economy, more sales tax for the counties, more property tax revenue for house sales. It all works together. You can’t just pull out one piece of the puzzle and have that collapse and have the other part be picked up by everybody else."

She called the Collins amendment a betrayal of the people of New York.

"The number one rule for doctors is 'first do no harm,' " Hochul said. "I think that should also apply to members of Congress. What Chris Collins is proposing will inflict harm and pain on the people of the State of New York and we have to get pressure on him to take this back and put it on the sidelines and realize this is a horrible mistake."

Late yesterday, Collins, who won the NY-27 seat from Hochul three years ago, put out a press release that characterized the Cuomo Administration's response to his proposed amendment as "a complete meltdown."

“Governor Cuomo and his sidekick are using doomsday predictions to scare everyday New Yorkers into allowing Albany to continue taxing them to death," Collins said. "It’s absolutely disgusting the governor would threaten the middle class with a tax increase while holding a $14 billion taxpayer-funded slush fund in his back pocket. As I have said before, if this Governor can’t find 1.5 percent to save in his budget, I am more than willing to find it for him.”

March 21, 2017 - 7:39pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Medicaid, healthcare, chris collins, kathy hochul, NY-27, news.

A proposal to block New York from using county taxpayer money to pay for Medicaid sounds good on paper, but as always, the devil is in the details, says County Manager Jay Gsell.

Gsell's biggest fear is that even if the proposal is passed by Congress, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office would just find a way to shift other expenses to the counties.

"My sense of the reaction from the governor and the lieutenant governor over the last week is that it is very likely how they would respond," Gsell said. "They’re still putting a state budget together. Things could change on a dime."

The proposal comes from Rep. Chris Collins, who is having it added as an amendment to the House GOP's health care bill aimed at replacing the Affordable Healthcare Act.

From a Collins press release put out earlier today:

The Medicaid Local Share Limitation, which was proposed by Congressmen Chris Collins and John Faso, would bar federal reimbursements for New York State Medicaid funds raised from local governments. The proposal would only apply to the $2.3 billion being raised from counties outside of New York City. New York State currently raises $7 billion from its local governments to fund its $27 billion Medicaid liability, which is the largest amount in the nation.

“This is a huge win for our constituents,” Congressman Collins said. “I want to thank President Trump, House leadership, Congressman Faso, and the rest of my fellow New Yorkers for getting this key provision included. Year after year, Albany’s leadership relies on counties to foot the bill for New York State’s out-of-control Medicaid costs. Enough is enough.

"This amendment will stop Albany from forcing its unfunded mandate down the throats of taxpayers, and help counties lower the property tax burden on hardworking families. We understand the devastating impact New York’s reckless spending is having on everyday New Yorkers, and I’m proud to join with members of our delegation to bring vital tax relief to our constituents.”

In a tweet today, Collins said his amendment to the bill, called "Ryancare" by some, and "Trumpcare" by others, would save Genesee County taxpayers $9.4 million that the county currently pays as a local share of Medicaid expense.

Gsell said it's more than $9.6 million of an overall $68 million expense, with the Federal government and state government picking up the balance of the cost. 

The proposal from Collins has brought forth blistering attacks from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Last week, Hochul said in a statement:

"What’s worse, a New York Republican Congressman, Chris Collins, is offering an amendment that would wreak havoc on the state. While I understand that the Democrats in Washington are attacking Collins on ethics issues and are having a heated political fight, they shouldn’t be played out at the expense of everyday New Yorkers.

“Here are the facts: The overall Medicaid plan would cost the state billions of dollars of lost federal funds and jeopardize hospital stability."

She said the Collins proposal would amount to a $4.7 billion tax increase on the people of New York.

According to a report in the Democrat and Chronicle, Cuomo ripped the bill as a "death trap" that would devastate hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Upstate New York.

"My greatest fear from last year’s election has actually come true, which is you have a rabid, conservative ideology in Washington that would tell New York to drop dead, and that is exactly what is going on," Cuomo said.

At $60 billion per year, New York is topped only by California (at $85 billion) in total Medicaid spending. In New York, counties cover $7 billion of the state's share of the Medicaid expense, by far the highest share of any state in the union.

This for a program that is defined by the Feds as a "Federal and state" (not county) medical coverage benefit for people with limited income.

In her statement last week, Hochul offered up a history of how counties came to help pay for Medicaid, saying the counties agreed to take on this expense, but Gsell said that's not his understanding of the history.

Gsell said the counties got roped in against their will in the 1960s when Congress created a long-term care program and ordered states to help pay for it and New York turned around and told counties they would share in the expense. Then when Medicaid was created a few years later, New York told the counties they would pick up 25 percent of the tab, though at the time, the program was a lot less expensive than it is today.

"I saw some comments by Ms. Hochul last week that said, ‘oh, the counties have nothing to be grousing about -- they've been funding Medicaid forever,' " Gsell said. "She alluded to this one- or two-year-old piece of Federal legislation from the early '60s and says, ‘yeah, the counties volunteered to do it.’ No, even then, the state told the counties, 'you will fund this program.' "

New York's Medicaid bill is so high, Gsell said, because the state covers the full smorgasbord of coverage. Whereas the Federal government has only about 15 services that are mandated, New York offers the full slate of available options, more than 30 altogether.

At no time, Gsell said, have states been given any opportunity to have a say in who is covered, how they are covered or what is offered. Everything is mandated by the Federal government or the state.

When Gsell became county manager 23 years ago, the county share of coverage was about $4 million, but the expense started increasing at 5 to 10 percent per year until the county share was capped a few years ago.

The Collins amendment is designed, in part, to help secure support from New York's congressional delegation. That overt political maneuver prompted another statement from Hochul today:

"Mr. Collins has perpetuated a political scam on New York. As Mr. Trump’s bag man he has had to buy votes to pass the Affordable Care Act and did it by promising counties relief from their share of Medicaid. He now wants New York State to pay his $2.3 billion political IOU.

"The state cannot and should not. If Mr. Collins wants to buy votes let the federal government pick up the share rather that the people of New York. Local county taxes or state taxes New Yorkers still pay. One way or another, it is still coming out of New York taxpayers’ pockets. Let Mr. Collins help New York State and his district by having the federal government pay – that is why he is in Washington.

"He could easily help pay by reducing the $150 billion tax cut to the richest 1 percent of Americans or buying one less tank from Trump’s record defense budget. Why make the people of his district pay for his politics. We do know Mr. Collins is adept at corrupt financial schemes but this is the ultimate insider trading scam."

Ryancare/Trumpcare is by no means assured of passing. It will obviously receive Democratic opposition, but a number of House conservatives also oppose it. It will also face a tough fight in the Senate.

Still, if it does pass, Gsell is far from certain it will lift the burden from Genesee County for unfunded mandates. He believes, based on the stern opposition to the cost shift from Cuomo and Hochul, that Albany will just pull the purse strings tighter on other programs with county-state cost shares, such as indigent defense, Safety-Net, Pre-K early intervention and probation assistance. The state share of a total of nine state-mandated programs exceeds the potential $9.6 million in cost savings offered by Collins amendment.

"The money that the state has to start absorbing could turn on our budgets in these other areas with less state aid," Gsell said. "The state is not going to go quietly into the night."

Michael McAdams, a spokesman for Collins, rejected this contention outright.

"That's an unfounded hypothetical," McAdams said. "There's no basis for thinking that would actually occur."

The ironic piece of this fight between Collins and Hochul (who lost the congressional seat to Collins after one term) is Hochul has long been a strong proponent of local communities, making a point to shop local every holiday, for example, even stopping in Batavia stores.

Through the governor's press office and on Twitter, we reached out to Hochul to ask her to address the seeming contradiction of supporting local communities while backing an unfunded mandate, but we haven't received a response.

Gsell thinks Hochul's position may not be entirely her own.

"It struck me as she was being instructed," Gsell said. "This didn’t sound like a Kathy Hochul thing. It mirrored very much what the governor’s thing is, which is, ‘counties, shut up. You’ve got your Medicaid cap. We’ve given you pension reform with Tier 6. You’ve gotten enough. Go away. We’re not going to cost shift from counties to the state.' ’’

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