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Assembly Approves Extra Penny, County Workers Rally

By Mark Scott and Jillian Bannister

Buffalo, NY – A majority of the Western New York delegation to the State Assembly voted Wednesday against Erie County's request to raise the sales tax by a penny. But it still passed the Legislature's lower house by a vote of 86 to 54.

It was approved Tuesday by the State Senate.

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt was among those who voted no. Hoyt says the county has added two cents to the sales tax in the last 20 years.

"Combined, we're talking about a quarter of a billion dollars in revenues," Hoyt said. "The vast majority of that revenue goes exclusively to the county. The city of Buffalo gets next to nothing."

The county will share $12.5 million dollars of the ninth penny with municipalities, with Buffalo getting half.

Once Governor Pataki signs it, the tax hike returns to the County Legislature for final approval.

As many as 3,000 county employees spent recent weeks in limbo after receiving layoff notices as part of the budget crisis. Wednesday, members from more than 10 unions, armed with signs and megaphones, rallied in front of the Rath building in downtown Buffalo. They protested against patronage and county layoffs, in hopes that county officials in the building behind them would hear their pleas and vote in favor of the sales tax increase.

Regional CSEA President Flo Tripi said she hoped the rally would at least raise awareness.

"We are here today to make the public aware of what is happening and how these people have been treated, who have given significant amounts of their time and their life to serving this county," Tripi said.

Although the sales tax home rule message passed the county Legislature Tuesday, workers say they remain skeptical, knowing that the battle is not over until the final vote is cast.