Running Government Like a Business

28 Nov

The Erie County Legislature – dominated as it is by those bad ol’ Democrats – has passed a budget that seems to be better than that proposed by County Executive Collins.

They got rid of his proposed tax increase by cutting elsewhere, including fringe benefits for county employees and raises that Collins had proposed for department heads. At first blush, it appears to be a more fiscally responsible, businesslike budget. Not only because it gets rid of absolutely needless spending and an equally needless tax hike, but because it also restores funding for critical projects such as the Cornell Cooperative Extension. Collins’ budget had cut all funding for that project, which would have effectively killed it locally – county funding is a prerequisite to its maintenance.

From the Buffalo News:

To strip out the tax rate increase, which would have added $18 to the tax bill on a $100,000 home, legislators had to cut more than $8 million in spending.

They targeted money set aside for employee fringe benefits, arguing that Collins had budgeted more than needed.

They took away raises for select department heads.

They removed new jobs.

And they assumed the government would save $2.8 million next year by holding vacant posts open longer, rather than the $1.7 million that Collins assumed.

“We heard the community clearly,” said Legislature Chairwoman Lynn M. Marinelli, D-Town of Tonawanda. “They don’t want the taxes to be raised.”

Legislators also propose cutting $2 million from the $5 million to be set aside for court judgments anticipated against the county next year — the “risk retention” fund.

Legislators expect to return $280,250 to the Cornell Cooperative Extension, which was to receive no money in the Collins budget. Legislators also want to return $161,500 to the Soil and Water Conservation District, which Collins had zeroed out.

They gave the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society another $34,500, which would bring its aid to $384,504 next year. The Hamburg Natural History Museum would again receive about $40,000. Several youth programs and cultural groups would receive bumps in county support.

While the annual battle royale over how to spend 10% of its own budget is starting to get old, I like that the Leg is challenging Collins on these issues, and on his priorities. So far, he seems to be for cutting everything except benefits and raises for his top deputies. That’s not change we can believe in.

17 Responses to “Running Government Like a Business”

  1. Russell November 28, 2008 at 8:35 am #

    Do you think the county’s budget would have looked anything like this if Collins didn’t submit his “businesslike” budget first. Collins never offered “change we can believe in” but fiscal responsibility by the Leg is a new thing and has only come about by trying to one-up Collins.

    That said, their budget isn’t very responsible. As The News note, many of their “cuts” were actually just extending assumptions Collins made further, stretching them to and maybe beyond their reasonable limits.

    Didn’t Poloncarz even point out that the Leg left some hefty spending off the budget in order to get the “cuts” they wanted?

  2. Mike In WNY November 28, 2008 at 1:19 pm #

    One Step Forward – eliminating the tax increase;

    Two Steps Back – assuming larger savings and restoring needless programs.

    That’s about the best you’ll see out of Marinelli.

  3. Wizard's cousin Mizard's cousin Gizard November 28, 2008 at 3:02 pm #

    First rule of Republican strategy….blame the Democrats!

  4. Eisenbart November 28, 2008 at 5:55 pm #

    If Collins suggested in his budget cutting new hires, canceling raises, and removing fringe benefits, etc how welcome that would that budget be? Would it even be possible for him to present a budget like that?

    Someone help me understand. =[

  5. Adam K. November 28, 2008 at 7:06 pm #

    Eisenbart –

    I’m almost positive that that’s exactly what people elected him to do and expected from him.

    There goes a Republican, making bogus promises to get elected and then either (a) Following through on them and collapsing the county (Giambra, Rutkowski) or (b) Completely ignoring them to be fiscally responsible, thereby proving he’s a liar who would say anything to get elected (Collins)

    Although, to his credit, I prefer option b to option a. I also preferred Jim Keane, but whose counting at this point.

  6. Adam K. November 28, 2008 at 7:07 pm #

    Mark Poloncarz for Erie County Dictator!

    There would be not one dime of waste, this I promise you. He might just be the most responsible and fiscally conservative Democrat to have ever lived, ever, on earth, of all time. Really.

  7. Starbuck November 29, 2008 at 12:46 pm #

    Adam, But didn’t Poloncarz just basically endorse the extra spending the legislature committee added back in? Hamburg Natural History Museum and all that?

    You promise there’d be not one dime of waste? True enough. Not one dime of it. Millions of dollars, sure, but not one dime.

    If he’s a great nonpartisan fiscal conservative, has Poloncarz yet publicly criticized the LESS conservative assumptions the legislature committee used to justify eliminating the tax hike? Has anyone explained how it’s fiscally conservative to reduce revenue while raising spending (restoring cuts) and making millions of dollars worth of happier assumptions?

    It might turn out to be good in the long run that they eliminated the tax hike because in mid year this might force more spending cuts. It also teaches Collins an important political lesson for the next 3 years to never propose a tax hike. Cut spending and let the legislature go first for raising taxes.

  8. Starbuck November 29, 2008 at 12:52 pm #

    The legislature committee’s changes don’t sound fiscally conservative according to how the Buffalo News editorial described them Saturday either:

    … The Legislature’s amendments restore some funding for the so-called “culturals”, reject pay raises for select department heads, eliminate some new jobs and accept the fee raises.

    But lawmakers kept their district offices, failed to follow control board recommendations for realistic overtime budgeting and for budget inclusion of Erie County Medical Center obligations.

    And by rejecting Collins’ 3.6 property tax hike, which the control board also saw as realistic, they raise questions about the revenue to pay for their actions. …

    All in all, it’s all pretty small potatoes though. It seems most of their changes are bad, but they left most of the budget as is. Collins also should’ve proposed cutting legislator district offices.

  9. Buffalo Mark November 30, 2008 at 8:39 pm #

    I have criticized the legislature’s proposal. I stated publicly while the elimination of raises and the tax increase was good, the failure to include the $5.3 million in Medicaid obligations for ECMCC and properly address overtime costs is troublesome.

    Neither Collins’ proposed budget nor the legislature’s balances on its face. They both work off the same dollar figure, just go about reaching that figure through different means. Unfortunately neither is probably balanced.

    My budget report identified many holes in the administration’s proposal (ironically, Joel Giambra’s last 2 budgets were MUCH better than the one proposed by Collins – not perfect but better). Most of those holes were not fixed by the legislature. A few were, but not most. Nobody has to listen to me, but no one can say I didn’t warn that this budget has flaws.

    Check tomorrow’s paper for a story on the budget. I was interviewed and noted a number of problems. If it isn’t in there its not because I didn’t talk about it.

  10. indabuff December 1, 2008 at 12:14 am #

    You know…the budget isn’t about us really…it is politics first and people second…the Repubs blame the Dems…the Dems blame the Republicans…in a perfect county world…both sides would quit the blame game and do what is right for the public and county…I applaud Buffalo Mark for telling us like it is or at least trying to…we need a clearer understanding of what the fiscal realities of the county are…what we get from the CE and CL is disappointing and shows lack of leadership…the type of leadership which is sorely needed in county hall.

  11. Starbuck December 1, 2008 at 7:40 am #

    Mark, I see that in Monday’s BN. That’s to your credit indeed, but when you say here that “They both work off the same dollar figure”, that’s not quite right it it? The dollar figure of the Collins budget had extra revenue from his proposed tax hike so it must have been probably less unbalanced, true?

    The quote in the BN sounds very close to what the evil Collins administration is saying about the legislature’s modified budget being out of balance.

    “The Legislature majority’s proposal simply shifts many of today’s problems into the future, so its members can make politically popular decisions,” he [Collins spokesman Grant Loomis] added. “… We are hopeful the Legislature does the right thing for the future of Erie County when it votes on the budget on Monday.”

    County Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz can’t say the budget will balance next year. He warns that a midyear deficit will leave lawmakers with little choice but to cut services.

    “I had said to several legislators that it would be very difficult to end up with a balanced budget if they cut the tax increase,” Poloncarz said. “We all want to see reduced taxes. My office’s obligation is to see that we have sufficient funds to pay our expenses. I would love to be able to say we will be able to do that. But I cannot say that at this point.”

    So now that even the comptroller from their own party says the budget is unbalanced, why again was it an improvement for the legislature to have added more spending on cultural organizations and their pet programs? Even if the increases aren’t huge, how can they be justified if the money in all likelihood just isn’t there?

    It’s fine that the Dems cut the tax rate which Collins shouldn’t have raised in the first place, but was it reponsible to do that if they’re unwilling to make real spending cuts of the same amount instead of depending on more optimistic assumptions?

    Indabuff’s comment makes sense to me in a way about the ECMC assumption. Both Collins and the legislature seem unrealistic about that. Time will tell if they or the comptroller are right about that. But for everything else, doesn’t it seem the legislature worsened what Collins proposed? They cut taxes while boosting spending on cultural organizations and Olmsted and Cornell 4-H and something called Operation Prime Time.

  12. George Fontana December 1, 2008 at 8:34 am #

    When he made some comments on the Legislature’s budget amendments complimenting them, I believe Poloncarz was commenting on the Legislature’s deletion of many new political appointee jobs and raises for political appointees. That’s all.

  13. Chris Smith December 1, 2008 at 12:16 pm #

    Abolish county government.

  14. Facts Plz December 1, 2008 at 12:24 pm #

    Agree with Chris Smith.


    It’s really just a jobs program anyway.

  15. Buffalo Mark December 1, 2008 at 3:58 pm #

    Starbuck: the legislature cut an amount out of the budget equal to the tax increase and the new additions. In the end the total amount of revenues and expenditures is the same. It balances on paper but probably isn’t enough to cover a number of known liabilities, and that doesn’t even take into consideration a possible reduction in state aid or sales tax.

    And here is a good one: the Collins administration is all set to say the legislature’s budget amendments make the budget unbalanced. As noted, the legislature just tries to balance the overall amount differently. If you are willing to say the amended budget is unbalanced then it means that the original proposed budget was not balanced as well. So Collins would be inferring that his original proposal was unbalanced as well, though he still says it was balanced.

    In other words, he would be confirming what I said in my budget report: his proposal was not balanced.

  16. Starbuck December 1, 2008 at 7:18 pm #

    Mark, Thanks for the explanation about the tax. Aren’t the more optimistic assumptions (Leg compared to CE) at least an argument that it’s less balanced? All balancing projections have some guesstimating involved, right?

    So if your assessment that the CE budget’s less optimistic assumptions didn’t result in balancing is now compared to the Leg budget’s more optimistic assumptions (and assuming the ECMC thing is equally bad for both and that the tax revenue was accounted for as you explain), then I still don’t quite see how the number are the same?

    Or is what you’re saying that the more “real” numbers are the same (expected spending and tax revenues), but the Leg budegt’s projections are more aggressive than the CE budget’s?


  1. In da Buff (Buffalo, New York) » Three Years after the Red & Green Erie County Budgets - December 1, 2008

    […] wrote this on Buffalo Pundit’s site earlier today… You know…the budget isn’t about us really…it is politics first and people second…the […]

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