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County Legislature Cancels Budget Cutting Session, Last Ditch Effort to Pass Sales Tax Fails

By Joyce Kryszak and Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – The Erie County Legislature has postponed a dreaded vote on how to cut more than $100 million from the budget. A special session scheduled for Wednesday was cancelled.

Last week, lawmakers were unable to garner enough votes to pass a sales tax increase. Now, they are at an impasse over where to slash thousands of county jobs to make up for the lost revenue.

Department heads were asked Tuesday to offer suggestions. They offered mostly anger. Republican Charles Swanick says nobody seems to have any idea how to get the job done.

"Anyone who looks at this County Legislature finds a dysfunctional legislature. And I don't think there are ten votes for anything. I don't think there are eight votes for anything," said Swanick. "Everybody is trying to become the hero on a disaster budget. And we don't need heroes. We need problem solvers."

Earlier this week, Judge Joseph Makowski ordered the Legislature to make whatever cuts are necessary to balance the budget. Then Wednesday, the Judge set next week as the deadline for them to get it done. He recommended the use of mediators.

Swanick agrees something needs to be done quickly. He says otherwise it will be a repeat of the 1984 crisis that took seven months and $50 million to fix.

"And I am not going to let that happen again this time. We need to deal with this problem now," said Swanick. "We have one choice, and that is to cut our workforce, and we need to move forward with that as quickly as possible. And it needs to be spread fairly across every area of county government, because otherwise it's a special interest plan and it will destroy this county, and destroy our ability to solve this problem before we run out of money."

Swanick says there are currently six different proposals being floated -- none of them with broad support. Another vote is tentatively set for Monday.

Meanwhile, it appears the County Legislature would have had some more time to approve an extra penny to the sales tax if a tenth lawmaker would have agreed to it.

State Senator Dale Volker says he received calls over the weekend from several prominent community leaders. He says they were attempting to secure that tenth vote. In Albany, Volker said the area's Western New York delegation was preparing to act.

"We were able to, in less than 12 hours, turn over legislation. And we were ready to pass a chapter amendment Wednesday which would have allowed the County Legislature to vote on Friday," Volker said.

But that effort fell apart when it became evident a tenth vote to add the penny would not be found in the County Legislature. Volker said the amendment was withdrawn with the State Senate and Assembly not scheduled to meet again for the rest of the week.

Click the "listen" icon above to hear University at Buffalo Management Professor Jerry Newman's assessment on how the budget crisis is being "managed."