Wide-ranging reductions to benefit would take effect in January 2012
During Tuesday night's meeting of a key committee, members of the Niagara County Legislature's majority caucus announced a move to cut health benefits for lawmakers sworn in this coming January and require former lawmakers that received lifetime health care under old rules to pay a portion of their health care costs.
The Republican-led majority had already eliminated lifetime health care for county legislators who reached the 20-year mark in the legislative body, but this latest move will begin to recoup the costs associated with a few lawmakers who received the perk before it was abolished. The move was announced at a meeting of the Legislature's administration committee.
"The Republican caucus already eliminated lifetime health care benefits for all legislators first elected to office after Jan. 1, 2004," Administration Committee Chairman Wm. Keith McNall, R-Lockport, explained. "But this resolution ends lifetime health care benefits for all legislators sworn in to a new term after Jan. 1, 2012."
McNall said majority lawmakers wanted to end what they consider an egregious benefit for elected officials, and were applying that standard to themselves. For that reason, any lawmakers currently in office after Jan. 1, 2012, that elects to receive county health coverage will be required to pay 20 percent of the cost of his or her health care package.
McNall also vowed that the Majority would require legislators who, after 20 years in elected office or government employment had become eligible for lifetime health care benefits, would now be expected to provide a 20 percent contribution.
"This still must go through the legislative process and be voted in, but it's the right thing to do," McNall said. "And even more than asking our current lawmakers to pay a portion of their health care cost, it's right that we ask former lawmakers to do the same. Just because you held elective office during the Carter-era doesn't mean you should be receiving free health care for the rest of your life."
McNall said that, with skyrocketing health care costs and the majority's desire to protect taxpayers from the burden of that cost, the majority caucus felt it was wrong for former lawmakers to be shielded from realities impacting many of the people represented by the Legislature.
"Legacy costs are a significant burden," McNall said. "That's why we are demanding that all former legislators previously eligible for lifetime health care contribute to their health care premiums. We recognize the pressure placed on the county budget and on the taxpayers by health care legacy costs, and we're taking action to address that problem."
McNall said majority caucus lawmakers would introduce a formal resolution at the Oct. 18 Legislature meeting, where it would be fast-tracked for passage. With the Republican-led majority's numerical advantage and all opposition to the measure coming from the democratic minority caucus, passage is extremely likely.
"I expect swift passage of this resolution when it returns to the administration committee," McNall said. "And I am quite confident the votes are there in the Legislature to take this first important step toward reigning in the cost of government health care."