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Erie County lawmakers cast unanimous vote for sales tax extension

Without debate or discussion Thursday, Erie County legislators recognized county fiscal realities and voted unanimously to ask Albany to extend much of the county's sales tax authority.

While the county charges the sales tax, it is on Albany's authority and the state collects the tax so that it can get its share.

Legislators asked for a two-year renewal of a one-percent tax and a three-quarters of a percent tax. The home rule request now goes to the State Legislature for a vote. State legislators routinely approve locally requested extensions.

Legal paperwork for the extension says the two parts of the sales tax bring in $273 million a year. Control Board Executive Director Ken Vetter said the county has to have the cash.

"We think it's good that unanimous vote, that this is happening," said Vetter. "There's just one more vote, at the State Legislature and approval by the governor. I mean, the sales tax is necessary for the county to balance its current year budget and the Four-year Plan going forward, so this is good news for the county."

Legislature Chairman John Mills said he was not happy about the approval.

"It's tough to swallow, but we can't devastate our budget process because we rely on those dollars," said Mills. "So we have to extend it every year and we do that because we hope that one day maybe that state government will help us with Medicaid."

Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo said the sales tax would not be as necessary if Albany took over more of the costs of Medicaid - which it has done in recent years - or eased the mandates imposed on the county that cost money on the local level.

"As I sat there, thinking about the vote before it came to me: if I vote no, I'm voting to decimate our budget and we rely way too much on sales tax and, quite frankly, as I've been saying for the past several months, we're spending too much," said Lorigo. "So, yeah, we had to extend it. It's a necessary evil at this point. If we could get our spending under control, maybe we could look to eliminate it at some point but that lies with the administration."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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