Later today, we’ll stream the Erie County Legislature session at which Democrats will beg Legislator Kevin Hardwick (R, Tonawanda) to vote with their majority to override the 154 vetoes of the 2011 County Budget sent down by County Executive Chris Collins yesterday.
154 vetoes? That’s a pretty stark rebuke of the County Legislature, eh? Collins didn’t just leave it at the vetoes and said at his press conference “I know what I’m doing, they (County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz and the Legislature Democrats) do not.”
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day transactional politics and the horrible pettiness of the budget process, but it pays to take a step back to see that this whole process is playing out just as Collins had hoped…in a political sense.
In 2011, Collins will face either Mark Poloncarz or Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul in the County Executive general election. Poloncarz and Hochul are very popular in the cities of the county and in certain suburbs. Hochul has an established base of support in the southtowns and in the inner ring suburbs. Poloncarz is strong in the same areas and has done very well in parts of the Northtowns in his two tough campaigns for Comptroller. Both potential candidates are significant threats to Collins’ re-election, especially if either can raise the money to compete with Collins’ million dollar campaign account.
Collins, being the politician that he is, saw an opportunity in this budget battle. An opportunity to separate himself further from his potential opponents in the eyes of suburbanites. He exploited the ever-growing city/suburb divide that exists in Erie County and worked to re-affirm to his base that he is a “no-nonsense” chief executive.
A homeowner in Getzville, Clarence, East Amherst, or Lancaster pays a hefty annual sum in property taxes. Most of those taxes are due to their local school and town/village taxes, but they certainly don’t want to give another red cent to any government, especially Erie County. Why? Because Erie County Government is the one that least benefits them.
An administration source told me, “The idea is to foment a feeling that Collins is the guy who fights to keep money in the pockets of suburbanites and away from the ‘city people’ while Hochul and Poloncarz are left to pander to the urban base. We want the anger and frustration of the urbanites, it creates an equal and opposite reaction from the suburbanites”
Well, that’s exactly the outcome, isn’t it? Collins has had six weeks of daily news stories in the newspaper and on TV showing how the “city people” and Democrats are demanding the county teat be milked for their benefit. His two-fisted urban programs while screaming from the mountaintops with radio ads and robocalls about big-spending liberals certainly benefits his re-election chances with the base.
After school programs for disadvantaged youth? The average suburban voter thinks those people should pay for their own daycare. Shakespeare in the Park or Irish Classical Theater? The average suburban voter thinks those places should charge more for tickets. After all, the suburban people don’t go to those shows! Which is why Collins originally proposed funding for cultural organizations which suburban people enjoy, places like the Buffalo Zoo, the Philharmonic, the Darwin Martin House…not places like the Ujima Theater Company, El Museo or African Cultural Center. Those are for the “other” people.
This is classic culture war stuff and the Democrats played into it, until yesterday. They took the financial approach to demonstrate – in writing – that their budget amendments don’t increase property taxes. This put Collins on the defensive and forced him to up the ante by declaring the entire amended budget null and void. His press conference was a study in temper tantrums, he insulted everyone but failed to show how his budget numbers differ from those of the legislature. A compliant media was there to not ask him any tough questions, they just like the theater of it all.
Now, we wait to see if Legislator Hardwick is swayed by numbers or promises. The County Executive has failed to “show his work” on the budget and his budget director is on vacation. I doubt that Collins will publicly provide the numbers to back up his assertion that the amended budget raises taxes. Why should he bother? Many suburban voters just want their roads paved, free Sheriff road patrols and the city people to stay right where they’re at…in the city.
Collins has framed the debate for the 2011 election. Are you with him as a self-proclaimed defender of suburban wallets or will you stand with Hochul and Poloncarz who will be portrayed as big spending Democrats?
I’m betting that Collins may have overplayed his hand on this one and given an opening to an underdog Democratic candidate in 2011.