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County Legislature Delays Sales Tax Procedural Vote

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – The hand-wringing over the sales tax issue isn't over yet. Erie County lawmakers yesterday met to take the second of three procedural votes needed to enact the tax. But the session was recessed.

Fifteen lawmakers gathered Thursday intending to take the vote. Ten presumably were still prepared to vote yes. But the party was called off when the State Senate and Assembly failed to send the bill numbers that county lawmakers need. Lawmakers say they aren't concerned. And they're ready to reconvene and vote as soon as those numbers arrive. Chairman George Holt says there was no explanation from Albany.

"I don't know the problems they might be having in Albany in terms of the Assembly coming back from their recess," said Holt. "There are a lot of situations that this county and this local body can not control."

Holt didn't rule out interference from State Senator and Buffalo Mayor-elect Byron Brown. He's vowed a fight in Albany to make Erie County share the tax with the city. But Holt says it could be a simple scheduling problem. State lawmakers tell county officials they now will likely not meet until after the holidays to take their vote. That delay would push implementation of the tax to January 15th -- two weeks later than planned. And that would cost the county $2.5 million of lost tax revenues. But Democratic Majority Leader Lynn Marinelli says even that isn't definite.

"It's our understanding that they are working together in the state, the Governor's office, the State Assembly and the State Senate," said Marinelli. "And that they are working on bills, potentially, with an implementation date of January 15th. But I am hearing that through hearsay, through their representatives."

If the tax doesn't go into effect until January 15th, lawmakers say they would have to make budget cuts or adjustments to keep the budget in balance. Worst case, if the tax doesn't materialize, lawmakers say a default budget would kick in, with a 65 percent property tax hike to fill the hole.