MAYVILLE – Several residents were on hand at the Chautauqua County Legislature meeting Wednesday night to speak out against a cut in President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget and its impact on the health and preservation of the Great Lakes. In addition, others also showed up to voice their opposition to a proposed motion in support of the Collins Amendment in the proposed American Health Care Act – which would remove the local cost of Medicaid from county governments.
The comments were the result of two motions the legisalture was scheduled to act on later in the meeting.
- MOTION 1: Support of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
- MOTION 2: Support of Chris Collins Amendment
CONCERN OVER GREAT LAKES FUNDING CUTS
Last week, President Trump released his proposed federal budget, which increases military spending while at the same time slashing or eliminating dozens of domestic programs and initiatives.
Trump proposes cutting the Environmental Protection Agency budget by 31 percent, from $8.3 billion in fiscal year 2017 to $5.7 billion in fiscal year 2018. As part of those EPA cuts, the Trump budget eliminates the $300 million in annual funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which finances environmental projects all over the region.
Among those who voiced concern for the possible Great Lakes funding cuts was Dr. Sherri Mason of SUNY Fredonia, who’s research on the impact of plastic microbeads on the great lakes ecosystem resulted in a local ban in Chautauqua County, and has received national attention.
“We are respectfully asking the legislature to pass a motion opposing the budget cuts, because of the impact that they will most definitely have on the Great Lakes,” Mason said. “Many of us remember that not too long ago, back in the 60s and 70s, when the rivers of the Great Lakes would regularly catch on fire, when the algal blooms were so bad, and when the Great Lakes were basically considered dead. Because of the things like the EPA, the Sea Grant agencies, the Clean Water Act, and various environmental initiatives that have taken place within the past 30 years that the Great Lakes have come back to this current state.”
COLLINS AMENDMENT RECEIVES PUBLIC CRITICISM
The legislature also considered a motion that would show support for the Collins Amendment, which is part of the American Health Care Act being considered by Congress and is named for its sponsor, Rep. Chris Collins (R-Clarence, NY 23). Collins amendment calls for the local cost of Medicaid to be eliminated, shifting it to the state level. While its an amendment to a federal bill, it would only impact counties in upstate New York and Long Island. According to state officials, the cost of such a shift would be $2.3 billion in lost Medicaid payments from local governments, if and when it takes effect in 2020, assuming of course the legislation passes both houses of Congress in its current form.
Speaking out against the Collins Amendment, both Bemus Point Resident Phyllis Caloren and Chautauqua resident John Brysacz explained to lawmakers that eliminating the local cost of Medicaid would have an adverse impact on local hospitals and nursing homes, as well as thousands of residents within the county. In addition, former Chautauqua County Mental Health Commissioner Ralph Walton also spoke to the legislature, explaining the negative impact the GOP-sponsored healthcare plan would have on drug addiction and other mental health services currently offered in the region.
Later in the meeting, the legislature unanimously approved the two motions of support.
Legislator George Borrello (R-Irving) offered comment prior to each vote, explaining that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has not only provided environmental benefits, but also infrastructure, commerce, and industrial benefits as well. He also explained the support for the Collins Amendment, saying New York State has the largest Medicaid spending of any state in the nation, and the amendment will go a long way in changing policy in Albany, in order to bring down that spending and making it more similar to what the rest of the nation is spending.