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Still No Erie County Budget

Erie County Hall
Erie County Hall

By Joyce Kryszak and Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – There is still no Erie County budget. County lawmakers ended a marathon session Tuesday in recess. The expected midnight deadline came and went as lawmakers headed back into negotiations still trying to hammer out a deal before the drop dead deadline of 5pm Wednesday.

After marathon negotiations beginning Tuesday morning, Chairman George Holt called the last recess of the day after 10pm Tuesday night. Lawmakers had, so far, failed to pull together the elusive ten votes needed for an additional sales tax to avert a disastrous county budget.

Still, legislators on both sides of the aisle, as well as County Executive Joel Giambra, described the discussions as cooperative -- and the progress as hopeful. Democrat Al DeBenedetti says it's a complicated deal.

"Remember, these are all pieces that fit together," DeBenedetti said. "We can't finalize an agreement on sharing sales tax until we also finalize what kind of cuts we're going to have to counter-balance the sharing of revenue.

"So, they all fit together. We can't take one exclusive of the other, but we're making progress."

Some of the pieces still on the table include: how much revenue will be shared, what reforms will go with it and how politics factor into the deal. Under one proposal, as many as 400 to 500 county jobs would need to be cut to offset the $15 million in tax revenue that lawmakers want to give municipalities. Giambra says its an expensive trade-off.

"If we were ever able to afford a scenario where we were able to give cash, I was fearful that day would come and the floodgates would be opened, creating a hole that is bigger than we were able to fill," Giambra said. "That's exactly what happened here."

Still, others don't have a problem with sharing the tax. They just want their own say on how the puzzle gets put together. Democrats are looking for some Republicans to share in the political fallout of enacting a new tax. As of Tuesday night, only two had indicated they would. Others, including Republican Barry Weinstein, were still on the fence.

"My own personal criteria is a balanced budget with substantial cuts in county spending, so that we don't go through this again next year."

But even this budget could conceivably spill over into next year. Failing an agreement by 5pm Wednesday, the "red" budget would go into effect by default. And that would leave lawmakers only the option of returning on January 1st with amendments trying to fix it.

Wednesday morning, WBFO'S Eileen Buckley talked with Erie County Executive Joel Giambra about his efforts in the budget process. Click the "listen" icon above to hear the interview.