For almost three years, we at WNYMedia.net 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.