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DeBenedetti Says Judge's Decision Opens the Door for Budget Changes

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – It's the first business day of the new year, and for Erie County, it's business as usual. All county employees were instructed to show up for work Monday. And even though a judge ruled the county's new budget, now in effect, is mostly valid, some uncertainty remains.

Late Friday, State Supreme Court Justice John Lane upheld much of the 2005 county budget, including the Legislature's passage of amendments as a single package. But Justice Lane did find violations in the way the Legislature amended the Board of Elections budget, including the termination of four Republican clerks. He ordered the County Executive to submit a "new budget" that fixes the defects and for the Legislature to approve it within 14 days.

For Buffalo Democrat Al Debenedetti, the words "new budget" mean just that.

"What that does in my mind is lay the whole budget open for reapproval and may entail some changes in amendments," DeBenedetti said. "It gives the Legislature the opportunity to once again review the 2005 budget and perhaps make some alterations like reducing some unnecessary expenses and jobs and perhaps decrease the cost of certain high-paying jobs."

Yet, it's likely others will argue that the Legislature need fix only those amendments related to the Board of Elections. DeBenedetti says his only demand is that the Legislature follows the law in approving the county budget.

"In all honesty, Justice Lane's decision didn't really clarify a lot of questions," DeBenedetti said. "If anything, it may have made the issue more confusing."

Whatever happens, Legislature Chairman George Holt admits the process will be a challenging one because of the "agendas" of certain legislators.