Collins’ Choices, Deals, and Priorities

30 Sep

For almost three years, we at have been detailing how Chris Collins’ “governing” style alternates between dictatorial and transactional. The cynicism of the Collins administration (and Grassroots) was most vividly displayed in 2009, when Collins halted county management of federally funded social programs like WIC and health clinics, but directed $300,000 in cultural funding to an organization that claims County Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams’ husband on its board of directors.

Transactional, bullying politics is par for the course for Collins, and Grassroots will make political deals against the most basic interests of its mostly poor, urban constituency.

But now, Collins is proposing budget cuts that affect the white, the affluent, and the suburban. So, as you might expect, now there’s an outcry. Whereas in the past, the county’s outlay of funding for cultural organizations was set by a nonpartisan review board called ECRAB (cultural resources advisory board), controlling about $5 million in funding in 2010. It’s an imperfect, but fundamentally fair way to determine which culturals will receive public support, because there is no doubt that they add to the quality of life in WNY and if they lose that support and go out of business, no one really wins.

In 2011, the money will be reduced by about $500,000, and Chris Collins is bypassing the nonpartisan CRAB and instead unilaterally making the decision as to which organizations will stay in business and which ones won’t. According to Matt Spina, here are the winners:

10 cultural institutions in line for aid

Zoological Society of Buffalo : $1,465,000
Buffalo Museum of Science : $905,000
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra : $825,000
Albright-Knox Art Gallery : $535,000
Historical Society : $385,000
Darwin Martin House : $140,000
Burchfield Penney Art Center : $92,000
Hamburg Natural History Museum : $41,000
Graycliff : $32,000
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site : $21,000
Total : $4,441,000

Theaters especially have been completely cut out from the proposed funding, because Collins says he only wants to fund culturals that attract visitors from outside the area.  I find it hard to believe that the Hamburg Natural History Museum attracts Torontonians and Clevelanders, so that puts the lie to that explanation, and I wonder who it is who made the deal with Collins for that $41k.  But Shakespeare in the Park and Explore ‘n More, which mostly serve the very Erie County residents who provide this funding?  They lose.  If they have to shut down, so do we.

Because the chosen 10 supposedly attract outsiders, Collins is happy to provide the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors bureau – which he controls – with well over $7 million – that’s three million dollars’ worth more funding than the culturals that enrich the lives of people already living here. $7 million to attract tourists to see the above-listed 10 places.  I guess they can cross the bridge to the Shaw if they want to see theater productions. (7.7% of the Shaw Festival budget comes from government grants).

So, these cuts should come as no surprise, yet the hue and cry from supporters of cultural organizations will be swift and vicious.

But Chris Collins has decided that cultural tourists matter more to him than the people who live here and pay the taxes being allocated.  It’s a big win if an unsuspecting tourist comes here to spend money, because it’s a net export and a way to earn tax dollars without providing any real services.  Us freeloaders here who pay the highest property tax rates in the country can go pound stone, demanding things like “police”, “fire”, and other services in addition to our unreasonable demand for a “good quality of life” for our high taxes.

I don’t fundamentally disagree with the idea that not every cultural can qualify for funding all the time, but Chris Collins is the last person I want making those micromanaging funding decisions.  If he wants to reduce funding by a few hundred thousand dollars, that’s fine, but he should permit the advisory board to make the allocations.  Because the ECRAB hasn’t made any political deals with any of the recipients or their benefactors.

I’m not sure when the people in WNY will tire of Collins’ “like a business” BS schtick, but I presume it’s when the county is facing a big deficit and we’re back at a 2004-ish square one.  Because fundamentally, nothing has changed between the way in which the county is run when Giambra was around and today.

15 Responses to “Collins’ Choices, Deals, and Priorities”

  1. Bill Altreuter September 30, 2010 at 8:14 am #

    Giambra was a boob, but he was aware that the county’s cultural institutions were important, and he adhered to the ECRAB model. Collins is far worse– he is a thug, and he seems to have no respect for the constituencies which comprise Erie County except for the ones that he views as beeing politically important to him. It is hard to know why he has a hate on for theater, and if he is going to make tourist dollars a criteria it would have been fair to have said that before announcing what he’s cutting. I think a lot of people would be surprised if they knew which culturals attracted out-of-town money, and I’ll be that a lot of organizations are able to document their impact by that metric.

  2. Mike In WNY September 30, 2010 at 10:09 am #

    Funding culturals represents one facet of big government screwing the taxpayers by immorally spending our money. Government has no business deciding what is deemed worthwhile and what isn’t.

  3. Jaquandor September 30, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    I’ve said it before, but Collins really IS running the place “like a business”. I’ve seen lots of businesses run by executive fiat, where decisions are never explained and simply handed down like marching orders. I’ve always wondered why we’ve sanctified “business” in this country to the point where to be able to claim “I run a business” is seen as being able to say “I am so freakishly competent that I can do anything at all and my decision-making process is always correct.”

    Lots of people run successful businesses who aren’t fit to serve as the town dogcatcher, and despite all libertarian rhetoric to the contrary, running a successful business is not a measure of someone’s value, competence, or moral worth.

  4. lulu September 30, 2010 at 12:56 pm #

    As a fiscally conservative socially liberal citizen living in an highly taxed community, I favor the government spending less money. Period.

  5. lulu September 30, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    I also agree the crab should be consulted.

  6. Mike In WNY September 30, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    Jaquandor, running government like a business is not libertarian rhetoric, the government does not make a profit, it is a net consumer. Libertarians favor limited government that enables more opportunities for everyone and allows people to benefit from their work product.

  7. Mark September 30, 2010 at 2:14 pm #

    The government should spend as much money as necessary to provide things that the market cannot or will not provide efficiently or effectively, which means everything that is actually important. The market is good at providing toys and shiny things. It is bad at providing fire protection, policing, health care, national defense, justice, education, and any sort of physical infrastructure. The market can’t even produce toys and minor entertainments properly without the government constantly watching over it.

    As for the culturals, they are valuable and should be funded. If the market won’t take care of that, which it won’t, then the government has the responsibility to do it, and the responsibility to take whatever resources are necessary to provide the funding.

  8. STEEL September 30, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

    Charlotte ( Mecklenburg County ) NC a fast growing community has exactly ONE school district which I think is divided into two working sections. Erie County has 29 school districts . 29!!!!! That is were a businessman would save money. Cultural institutions are the value added to the product not the waste. This plan cuts the value and keeps the government waste. Sounds like fail to me.

  9. Kevin J. October 1, 2010 at 2:03 am #

    Residents of each school district in Erie County would have to vote to disband their district and/or merge with another district. The decision is not up to some political warrior who calls himself or herself a businessman, businesswoman or businessperson.

  10. Nate October 1, 2010 at 10:14 am #

    Hamburg has a historical museum? I;ve been in Erie county for 10 years and this is the first I’ve heard of it. Maybe they should put some of those kickbacks from Collins into advertising.

  11. STEEL October 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

    Then stop complaining about taxes being to high. Someone has to start the conversation and the Erie County executive is the one person who is perfectly positioned to do that. He can say for instance if you want you own school district then you get less money from the county. It is easy to complain about high taxes – something quite different to really mean it. Killing off economically valuable assets in order to fund the bloat of WNY government is pretty stupid. How can 29 school districts be justified in any way.

  12. Kevin J. October 1, 2010 at 6:16 pm #

    How do you tie school districts existence to county finding, when the county doesn’t fund school districts? Unconnected financial bribery is the responsibility of the political “non-political” county executive, or anyone else in that position?

    And point out where I complained about county or any other taxes being too high. I don’t justify the number of school districts in existence, but the residents of them have to act to dissolve and merge them.

    I know well of the problem: when I covered Cheektowaga as a journalist, eight school districts were partly or wholly in Cheektowaga: Cheektowaga Central, Cheektowaga-Sloan, Cleveland Hill, Maryvale, Depew, Lancaster, West Seneca and Williamsville, and things remain the same today. But I don’t trust Collins to solve this or much of any problem.

  13. DJ October 1, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    A little off topic, but I was going through the budget on the County website and noticed that about 4.5 million dollars is budgeted for Bills gameday expenses?

  14. Peter A Reese October 5, 2010 at 7:56 am #

    I’m not sure any culturals (or sports teams) should be funded with tax dollars, but one thing is clear: Collins is only funding groups which will further his personal political agenda.

    The reason we need 29 school districts is so that it is convenient for white folk to escape to the suburbs and avoid the poor and minorities warehoused in Buffalo. Unfortunately the warehouse walls have gotten to decrepit that it will soon be necessary to escape to Genesee and Wyoming Counties.


  1. Collins: A Government of One « - October 4, 2010

    […] Collins’ Choices, Deals, and Priorities ( […]

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