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12/07/12: Bee News - Difficult task of fixing County Legislature's unbalanced budget begins


MARK POLONCARZ
December 7, 2012

Last week, the Legislature voted to approve an amended 2013 Erie County Budget that is unbalanced and could trigger a ‘hard’ control board, all because Legislators Dixon, Hardwick, Lorigo, Loughran, Mills and Rath were unwilling to do what was right, though difficult, over what was easy and wrong. 

I was disappointed they did not agree that after closing more than $25 million of a $33 million gap—through across the board cuts and a responsible use of surplus funds—the County needed a small property tax increase rather than make steep cuts to the quality of life programs and services you expect to be provided.

I was equally disappointed that when it was clear they would not accept any property tax increase—no matter what—instead of proposing real cuts in discretionary spending to offset the loss of revenue, they chose gimmicks that look good on paper but do nothing to reduce our real costs.  These are the same types of bad decisions that were made in the years leading to the disastrous “Red-Green” fiscal crisis. 

Instead of showing the kind of leadership this community deserves, they chose to ‘have their cake and eat it too.’

The County Comptroller, control board and I have all issued written documents with compelling evidence questioning the reasonableness of the six Legislators’ amendments. 

We have proven their math simply did not add up and their refusal to actually address any of our concerns or present a single piece of data in support of their claims shows me they knew that as well. 

I can accept that we have different opinions on how to spend our finite resources.  But, what I cannot accept is their insistence on a completely different set of facts.

Despite their hardline stance, I earnestly kept the lines of communication open in hopes of reaching a compromise that ensures the fiscal stability of the County.  Unfortunately, none could be reached.   I even offered to meet them halfway and cut the proposed tax increase in half—to 1.7% or just 9 cents—along with about $4 million in difficult, yet real, cuts in discretionary spending; an offer rejected outright.  That’s not how I define compromise. 

What I am most disappointed in of all, though, is that instead of adopting a budget that builds upon the many great successes we have had this year, we now have a budget that takes a step backwards towards the fiscal crises of years past, making every decision today, tomorrow and in the future more difficult.

In the coming days and weeks, I will begin to do everything in my power—from initiating a hiring freeze to making cuts to highways, parks, cultural funding and more—to fix the structural issues they have created in order to rebalance the 2013 Budget.  Although these six Legislators wouldn’t stand up and do what was right last week, I hope that they will reconsider and join me in making these and other corrective measures for the good of Erie County.