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Erie County Legislature Approves Quarter-Cent Sales Tax Hike

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Erie County lawmakers Thursday ended the budget crisis -- at least temporarily -- voting ten to five to approve a quarter cent sales tax hike. After days of wavering, Republican Chuck Swanick decided to cast his vote as yes -- in exchange for a 75 percent cap on county spending this year. Democratic Majority Leader Lynn Marinelli says reaching agreement was not that difficult.

"It's easy to work with a colleague when you're coming at it from the same principles and not from opposing ends of the world," Marinelli said. "We spent some time (Wednesday) talking with the County Executive and talking again (Thursday) morning to make sure we could iron this out and find the language we're both comfortable with."

The compromise brought a sigh of relief from here to Albany, to Wall Street. The vote finalizes the sales tax hike expected to go into effect July first. That in turn secures the revenues needed to repay a $118 million deficit bond. And it also makes it easier for county officials to find an investor for an $80 million short term bond to keep county government running past July.

County Executive Joel Giambra met with reporters after the vote. He says this was the signal many were looking for.

"The action taken today by the Legislature will assure county residents that the Wall Street rating agencies will have no need to take further action lowering our credit standing, which would have cause tremendous hardship," Giambra said.

But there is still much work ahead. The incoming fiscal oversight board is requiring Giambra to submit a budget and a four year plan by October 1st so the Legislature can get started on next year's multi-million dollar deficit.