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Difficult choices must be made during budget process


OFFICE HIGHLIGHTS

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Budgeting is all about making choices.  Last week the county legislature made some difficult ones.  During a marathon session I voted to restore funding to the public library system and several other agencies.  But because we could not find enough cuts elsewhere, I did not vote to restore the vast majority of positions slated for elimination in the county executive’s proposed budget.  Neither did any of the other legislators.  As a result, more than 400 county jobs will be eliminated next year. While a number of these positions are currently vacant, many are not.  Hence, about 200 people will be laid off come Jan. 1.

I do not know most of the people whose jobs are being eliminated.  But I am sure that the vast majority work hard and care as much about their work as I do about my full-time job at Canisius College.  Their jobs in the health department, the parks department and many other county agencies are important and they will truly be missed.  The fact that we had to cut their jobs is not a cause for celebration.  It is sad, but it is something we felt had to be done to hold the line on taxes.

Our area has a reputation as one of the highest taxed communities in the nation.  There is no doubt in my mind that this has driven businesses away from Erie County and has deterred others from locating here.  Even though most other counties in the state are raising their taxes, we cannot.  People want their libraries and their culturals.  But what they want most is a job.  Western New York is a great place to live and raise a family if you have a job.  If you don’t, little else matters.  That is why I decided early on in this budget process that my first priority was to avoid increasing taxes.

This year we were able to find a way to fund libraries without increasing taxes.  Each year, however, this will become more difficult.  Absent serious reforms in Albany regarding such items as skyrocketing Medicaid costs and public employee pensions, we will have much more difficult choices to make next year.  That is why we must continue to pressure our state legislators and new governor to keep their campaign promises and deliver the reforms we so desperately need.

Let me close with a final note on the current county budget process.  The county executive has until Dec. 13 to veto any additions the legislature made to his original proposal.  We can then override his vetoes with a two-thirds majority vote.  In anticipation of executive vetoes, a meeting of the full legislature has been scheduled for Dec. 14.  If you have any thoughts on the 2011 budget, please feel free to contact me at 858-8672 or by e-mail at kevin.hardwick@erie.gov.

(Printed December 8, 2010 in the Ken-Ton Bee Newspaper)