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Giambra Unveils "Scorched Earth" Budget

By Associated Press

Buffalo, NY – Erie County Executive Joel Giambra proposed a worst case, what-if budget Friday, detailing the destruction to jobs and services he said would occur without a penny increase to the sales tax.

"It means that life as we know it in Erie County comes to a halt," said Giambra, whose budget would close all branch libraries, end cultural funding, end sheriff's department road patrols and lay off 3,000 county workers and 3,000 others at outside agencies in upstate's largest county.

But the so-called "scorched earth" budget seemed to do little to sway the Democratic majority in the County Legislature, which has been cool to Giambra's request to raise the sales tax from 8.25 to 9.25 percent. The extra cent on every dollar would go strictly toward the county's share of the state's Medicaid program.

Giambra, like county executives across the state, says double-digit increases in mandated Medicaid costs are eating away at county finances and has called for the state to take over the costs now charged to counties. He blames the program for the county's projected $130 million deficit next year.

Short of Medicaid reform, Giambra said, the sales tax is necessary.

Democratic County Legislator Al DeBenedetti said there are other options that Giambra has been unwilling to consider. He floated the idea of a "compromise blend" that would include modest increases in both the sales and property taxes, and a sharing of the new revenue with municipalities.

"How does one negotiate with someone who won't compromise?" DeBenedetti said. "He's created this crisis and this doomsday budget out of his own stubbornness."

In submitting his bare-bones budget Friday, Giambra also presented a second version, the budget he said would be possible with the estimated $109 million in new revenues the additional sales tax would bring. That budget would largely maintain current funding levels.

Giambra needs 10 members of the 15-member County Legislature to support his sales tax plan before he can take it to the state Legislature, which must approve any increase. Democrats hold the majority in the county body by an 8-7 margin.

"I'm hoping that by actually seeing the budget on paper they will see the draconian implications of not being responsible," Giambra said.

Republican Legislator Charles Swanick said he would support the sales tax increase on the condition that state and county lawmakers worked toward reforming Medicaid.

"We don't want to throw more money at existing problems," he said.

The Legislature must adopt a version of the budget by Dec. 7 or Giambra's proposal becomes law.