© 2024 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Commentary: All Elected Officials to Blame for County's Fiscal Woes

By Barbara Jezioro

Buffalo, NY – Right now, the majority of Erie County residents are breathing a sigh of relief. The Erie County budget crisis is over - or is it?

Contrary to what County Executive Giambra would have us believe, the county budget crisis didn't just suddenly occur, it was years in the making. In 1999, Giambra ran for County Executive on a platform of property tax cuts that he said would spur the local economy. He was supported by our "watchdog," Nancy Naples, who said "Without even thinking about it, we could cut taxes 15 percent, or approximately $33 million next year." Dennis Gorski warned that the kind of tax cuts Giambra wanted would result in "fiscal disaster," yet Giambra with the blessing of the county legislature, enacted cuts that resulted in approximately 70 million dollars a year in lost tax revenues.

Did the County Executive, the County Legislators, and watchdog Naples think that Medicaid would disappear? While Medicaid may be the main factor behind the budget deficit, it isn't the only one. County borrowing has more than doubled since Giambra took office. Meanwhile, county spending has grown by about 6% each year. Patronage is rampant. Earlier this year, when a grand jury investigating the Highway Department scandal cited the Giambra administration with accountability failures, political influence, and evasion of civil service laws, the County Executive dismissed the findings out of hand.

In what can only be termed politics as usual, the people of Erie County were held hostage, threatened with the loss of basic services until the last possible moment. Now, we will have the 2nd highest sales tax in the state. This regressive tax will hurt the poorest citizens the most and will damage the area's retail business climate. A thoughtful compromise would have included a rollback of property tax cuts, the elimination of patronage on all sides, and a reduction in day to day operating costs - and should have been reached weeks ago. Legislators, however, rather than showing any political courage, only showed concern for the own political futures, afraid that any property tax increase would cost them votes.

The current budget as it stands calls for the elimination of 400 County jobs, but retains some 200 suspected patronage jobs for Giambra and his buddies. The Legislature still has its ratio of six staff members for every lawmaker and pork to the tune of $150,000 for each legislator. It would be interesting if these budget decisions would be made in public instead of behind closed doors.

At this point, however, I suppose we should be glad that we have a budget with any services at all. With five Republican lawmakers holding out against any tax increases whatsoever, we're lucky we didn't find ourselves with the red budget. Of course, and unfortunately, there'll always next year.

Listener-Commentator Barbara Jezioro is an environmental engineering technician who lives in Buffalo.