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Budget Director Wants Legislature to Approve Sales Tax Penny

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – Erie County Budget Director Joseph Passafiume is warning that the county could be thrown into financial chaos if the County Legislature fails to approve a penny increase in the sales tax.

When the County Legislature approved the 2005 budget on December 8th, ten lawmakers provided the necessary two-thirds vote to add a penny to the sales tax. But that was just the first step. A second vote needs to be held for the process to move forward and Budget Director Passafiume wants that to happen next week. He said action is needed as the county prepares to enter the credit market for its annual borrowing.

"To be able to go forward with a note sale may be difficult with the uncertainty over the status of the sales tax revenue in our 2005 budget," Passafiume said.

The problem is the necessary ten votes may no longer be available for the second vote. Buffalo Democrat Al DeBenedetti, who voted for the sales tax increase last month, is now reconsidering his support. And the Legislature's newest member, Timothy Kennedy, says he won't support the increase unless the Legislature passes a budget reform package he introduced this week. Passafiume warns drastic cuts are likely if the sales tax increase is not approved.

"We would have to modify the adopted budget by removing appropriations that were to be funded with the sales tax revenue," Passafiume said. "What will happen is vital services will not be funded. Plus, our overall county credit rating will be in jeopardy."

Also causing uncertainty is an ongoing court battle over the 2005 budget. State Supreme Court Justice John Lane is scheduled to rule next week on a suit filed by a West Seneca man objecting to the budget adoption process.