Tag Archives: budget

The 2013 Erie County Budget: It's a Thing

4 Dec

It includes everything the voters said they wanted. It includes a minimal property tax increase – smaller than what Collins imposed when he came to office. It takes care of new, expensive mandates from the state. It is in balance, and the control board has signed off on it. “It” is County Executive Poloncarz’s proposed 2013 budget.

By contrast, the Republican minority, joined by Democrat Tom Loughran, are pushing an alternative budget with no tax increase, but one that the control board is unhappy with, and one which will be woefully out of balance.

James Sampson, chairman of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority, also told legislators that the control board has concerns over how the proposed cuts would impact the budget – including how jail overtime would be managed to stay within budget and how the county would meet additional projections for savings for vacant positions. The board last month found Poloncarz’s budget projections reasonable, but has identified potential “risk” factors in both Poloncarz’s proposed budget and the changes proposed by the legislators.

The stability authority operates currently in a “soft” advisory status, but its members could determine whether to remain advisory or increase its oversight to a “hard” control board if they find the budget is out of balance early next year.

“No one wants that latter option to happen,” Sampson said. “The county executive doesn’t. We don’t, and I’m sure the people and the Legislature don’t want to see the control board having to go hard again.”

Here, Poloncarz makes his final pitch for doing the fiscally right and responsible thing.

Republican Legislator Joseph Lorigo gets honorable mention for best demagoguery:

“Quite frankly, I’ve never seen people fight so hard to increase taxes.”

Well, he must not have been around when Chris Collins did so in 2008.

The 2013 Erie County Budget: It’s a Thing

4 Dec

It includes everything the voters said they wanted. It includes a minimal property tax increase – smaller than what Collins imposed when he came to office. It takes care of new, expensive mandates from the state. It is in balance, and the control board has signed off on it. “It” is County Executive Poloncarz’s proposed 2013 budget.

By contrast, the Republican minority, joined by Democrat Tom Loughran, are pushing an alternative budget with no tax increase, but one that the control board is unhappy with, and one which will be woefully out of balance.

James Sampson, chairman of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority, also told legislators that the control board has concerns over how the proposed cuts would impact the budget – including how jail overtime would be managed to stay within budget and how the county would meet additional projections for savings for vacant positions. The board last month found Poloncarz’s budget projections reasonable, but has identified potential “risk” factors in both Poloncarz’s proposed budget and the changes proposed by the legislators.

The stability authority operates currently in a “soft” advisory status, but its members could determine whether to remain advisory or increase its oversight to a “hard” control board if they find the budget is out of balance early next year.

“No one wants that latter option to happen,” Sampson said. “The county executive doesn’t. We don’t, and I’m sure the people and the Legislature don’t want to see the control board having to go hard again.”

Here, Poloncarz makes his final pitch for doing the fiscally right and responsible thing.

Republican Legislator Joseph Lorigo gets honorable mention for best demagoguery:

“Quite frankly, I’ve never seen people fight so hard to increase taxes.”

Well, he must not have been around when Chris Collins did so in 2008.

Rewind: A Collins Carol (2008)

28 Sep

‘Twas 2008, and the county was screwed
the people were not in a holiday mood.
The taxes, they said, were quite high, thanks, enough,
and people agreed that the times were quite tough.

On a floor called sixteen, a man crunched up some numbers
Six Sigma, he thought, would drag us out of our slumber.
Amid raises for managers, programs were cut.
The lawmakers’ charges, he’d always rebut.

In order to pay for his raises so steep,
the people’d fish money from pockets less deep.
Thanks to meltdowns and layoffs – economy dire,
taxpayers had little up there to admire.

But lawmakers thought they could do him one better
and changed his proposals – some letter by letter.
They cut all the raises, revived some dead funding,
and wondered, who died and made this guy the king?

On the floor of sixteen, Collins grew quite enraged,
and the comptroller soon had to become more engaged.
Explaining to Collins his budget was faulty,
but not using language one might think was too salty.

He told the lawmakers that they were wrong, too.
Their outlook was based on too blissful a view.
A budget like theirs, higher taxes required,
a result that really quite no one desired.

The leg passed its budget, some vetoes were used.
The leg overrode some, those cuts they refused.
Then from the Rath Building arose some weird chatter.
The People then wondered, “NOW, what was the matter?”

It seemed a dispute had arisen quite great,
as to which branch of power could set the tax rate.
The executive said, he’s the man with the pen,
while the leg thought that it could. It told him, and then…

To court they all went, led by Lynn Marinelli.
against Collins and Green, (I saw her on the telly).
Judge Feroleto granted Lynn an injunction,
who argued that Collins had usurped a leg function.

Then Judge Peradotto, the leg soon lamented,
ordered that Collins’ bills could be printed.
So from Springville to Amherst and then Lackawanna,
we’ll pay more for less stuff, sort of anti-nirvana.

When green and red budgets were part of existence,
we complained and cajoled, and put up some resistance.
the problems keep coming, they should all feel shame.
For now everything new can seem old again.

(Originally published December 27, 2008).

Wisconsin

18 Feb
The state capitol of Madison, Wisconsin

Image via Wikipedia

I posted this as my Facebook status last night, but thought I’d repeat it here, verbatim.  If you haven’t seen what’s been going on in Wisconsin, click here.

Conflicted about Wisconsin. OTOH, I don’t think state workers should be scapegoated & punished for a state’s entire fiscal crisis. OTOH, I am fundamentally opposed to the notion of state employee unions. I mean, if you’re the masses’ employee, why do you need protection from the masses? The point of unions is to protect workers against unfairness caused by capitalist greed. I guess Wisconsin is proving me wrong.

On Ending The Three-Tiered, Three-Ringed Circus

15 Dec
Joel Giambra, Erie County Executive

Remember Me?

I started writing about local politics on my blog in the midst of the 2004 – 05 red/green budget crisis.  I was still sort of new to town and to local politics, but I distinctly recall that prior to that meltdown, it was the city of Buffalo that was in a fiscal disaster so bad that there was talk of bankruptcy.  There was quite a clamor about the county just absorbing the city, since Giambra was running things so swimmingly.

Then all hell broke loose as Giambra’s one-shot budget fixes ran out.  Then, it was tobacco settlement money.  He gave people a stark choice – a red budget which would slash discretionary county services, or a green budget that maintained services but raised taxes.  Giambra had just won re-election about a year earlier, running on his record of having cut property taxes.  We were faced with a deficit in the tens of millions and the prospect of the highest sales tax in the state, if not the country, or no parks, no funding for culturals, no discretionary anything.  When we got together to maintain the Santa’s Park at Chestnut Ridge, we learned that union rules prohibited private people or groups from assuming the duties formerly performed by county employees – even if they were volunteering.  The whole system was rotten and backwards.

Yet what really got people’s dander up wasn’t just the penny sales tax, or the dysfunction.

People were really angry about Victor Getz.  They were furious that Giambra had hired friends and family to fill county jobs, especially with the prospect of thousands of crisis-prompted layoffs.  The anger over Getz was largely about symbolism, as well as cronyism.  There were calls to change the way the county does business. We amended the charter a couple of years later.

Those charter amendments passed overwhelmingly through referendum the year before Chris Collins was elected County Executive.  Among the many changes, the county Comptroller’s office took on new responsibilities so that there would be better monitoring and auditing of county finances.

In the end, both the county and city found themselves under the “adult supervision” of separate state control boards.

Yet nothing has changed.  This year’s budget is in litigation.  Chris Collins’ efforts to eliminate checks and balances on his power have merely shifted those responsibilities from the legislature and comptroller’s office to State Supreme Court, where Justice Glownia ruled that Collins has no right under the charter to declare legislative budget cuts “null and void”.  Six years ago, Justice Lane wrote of budget process litigation:

“[T]he courts cannot and will not intervene in the budget process if doing so requires them to substitute their judgment on matters of discretion” (id.). In considering the budget provisions of the Erie County Charter, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department has stated “[t]he charter imposes guidelines upon the Executive and the Legislature which must be maintained to prevent either branch of government from usurping the powers of the other. The check and balance system incorporated in the charter is basic to our traditional government policy (Swanick at 1037 citing Gallagher, 42 NY2d at 233-234)

The process is fundamentally broken, and has been for some time.  Yet no one has the desire to change it.  Every year we go through this same three-ring circus.  Every year the culturals come protesting for funding, every year there is a battle royal over who gets how much.  Every year we go through this same nonsense.  Is it beyond reformation at this point?

Yesterday, the culturals were de facto divided into three tiers: the libraries, the 10 Collins-approved culturals, and everyone else.  The Republicans fashioned a deal whereby $100,000 in stimulus funding would go to the Oshei Foundation, where Robert Gioia will decide how to dole out that money, plus $400,000 the foundation is putting up.  A “public/private partnership” along these lines is a great solution, and one that some Democratic legislators would have considered supporting had the Republicans bothered to present it to them as an option.  The libraries will get $3 million in stimulus funding, as well.  (Notice the renewed dependence on one-shot funding?)  This freed up the Republican caucus to vote against overriding all 154 Collins budget vetoes.  Each line item was defeated on a 9 – 6 party line vote which went well into last night.

Most distressing is the fact that the Republican legislators voted to gut the comptroller’s office, and effectively neuter its ability to do its charter-mandated oversight.  This is in direct contradiction to the will of the people as expressed in the 2006 charter revision referendum.

Perhaps Poloncarz could get his office to conduct audits through interpretive dance and compete for some of the Oshei Foundation’s county cultural funding for 2011.

The other problem with the cultural funding for 2011 is that it solves just enough of the problem to help Collins’ re-election bid next year.  You’ll notice that the budget process heats up well after election day, so this three-ring, tri-tiered circus will play out again in December 2011, and the Oshei resolution is a one-shot deal.

If the Republicans in general, and Collins in particular, are even remotely serious about reforming county government, they’d offer up long-term solutions that would prevent this sort of community battle every December.  Yet the only solutions that ever get ink have to do with reductions in the size of the legislature or term limits.  All well and good, but how about shutting down the annual circus?

The courts will decide the question of whether Collins has the right to declare things the legislature does “null and void” as regularly as he does. The Republicans will be appealing Glownia’s order. The forgotten third tier of culturals get a reprieve for a year. The approved second tier of culturals was noticeably silent about the budget battle, even though the Democratic amendments would have maintained their current funding.  Odd, that silence. The libraries will be funded even though no one has the resolve to discuss consolidation and other ways to fix that annual part of the circus.

We get all up in arms as a community over Victor Getz’s $70,000 driving gig, yet we yawn when the annual budget de-funds pregnancy prevention programs, after-school programs, cultural attractions, entire swaths of elected officials’ critical staff, and the medical examiner’s office.  As Chris points out, Collins wants to gut stuff his constituency doesn’t really care about.

Maybe everyone involved can agree that this is a horrible way to go about doing all of this and talk about lasting changes.

Le comté, c’est lui

13 Dec

There is no county government. Only Zuul.

Chris Collins has all but declared himself the sole sovereign and king of Erie County. Christopher du Lac Spaulding, as successor to King Joel the Fail, has unilaterally declared the Erie County Legislature to be a nullity.

The Six Sigma-dependent big spender has naturally relied upon dubiously correct hypertechnicalities to justify his lack of regard or respect for co-equal branches of government.

While Collins may be the chief budget officer, he is also the executive – the legislature is the board of directors and speaks for specific constituencies to whom they answer every two years.

It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with Collins or the Democratic legislative caucus – the issue has become whether you respect the rule of law and separation of powers. Collins du Lac clearly doesn’t. He claims that the Democratic budget amendments would raise people’s taxes up to $3.00 per year, but shows absolutely no math to back up that assertion. The legislative Democrats have provided proof – in writing – that their proposal does nothing to raise taxes, and has issued documentation of how it achieves balance.

Not Collins, though. Le comté, c’est lui.

Tomorrow, the legislature will take up Collins’ remarkable veto statement and attempt to override it. Many of the specific cultural line items were supported by 10/15 legislators, and the library funding was supported unanimously. According to majority leader Maria Whyte, Kevin Hardwick said he would override Collins’ vetoes on certain cultural line items if he had proof that no tax increase would result.

During today’s press conference, Betty Jean Grant said Collins’ claims that the Democratic budget amendments raised taxes were “fearmongering.” Lynn Marinelli said that Democrats were proud to show their math – Collins is for some reason afraid or unwilling to do the same. Addressing Collins’ media blitz and direct voter contact, Tom Mazur said Collins should be ashamed of himself stoking fear through robocalls. Tom Loughran said that Collins wasn’t elected “to destroy this community”. Barbara Miller-Williams lamented a “sad day” for Erie County and pleaded with Collins to work with the legislature.

Tomorrow we’ll see just how sad a day it is, and Collins will be forced to deal with a co-equal branch of government whether he’s bought it or not, whether he likes it or not.  Caution. Litigation ahead.

2011 County Budget: Getting Ready for More Rumbling

8 Dec

Chris Collins only wants a very select list of 10 cultural organizations to receive county funding, and slashed money for the libraries.  Over the past couple of weeks, the county legislature worked through a process whereby it restored funding to the culturals and the libraries one by one, oftentimes by veto-proof majorities. The library re-funding was unanimous.

In the process the Collins-friendly “reform coalition”, (three Democrats who for various reasons aligned themselves with Collins and the Republican minority on the legislature, thus forming a de facto Republican majority), seemingly broke down.  Tim Kennedy has no use for the coalition anymore, since it’s outlived its get-me-t0-the-Senate usefulness.  Next, West Seneca’s Christina Bove dissented leaving Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams alone, warning lawmakers to beware Collins’ veto pen and/or wrath.

Last week’s shenanigans lead to this week’s bickerfest, with Collins firing the opening salvo.  Although the Democrats were careful to balance the budget through its re-funding of culturals and libraries, Collins claims that all of this will lead to a tax hike. He pledges to veto $400,000 for youth programs and $1.2 million for culturals – money that goes to help fund our very way of life.

But when you reduce “life” to numbers on a balance sheet, as Collins does, those arguments will fail.

And while Collins can’t veto legislative reductions to his budget, made to help pay for the cultural re-funding, he’ll try to declare them “null and void”.  The Buffalo News reports:

When pressed by reporters Tuesday, Collins refused to specify the percentage of increase he saw as necessary. In total, the Legislature moved around $8 million of a more than $1 billion budget that relies on about $235 million in property tax income. Even if all $8 million was in dispute, which it’s not, that would require a property tax hike of around 3 percent, or $15 a year on a $100,000 home.

After Collins issues his “veto message,” the Legislature will meet at 2 p.m. Tuesday for its “veto override” session, which gives the Legislature a crack at mustering the two-thirds majority needed to override a county executive’s vetoes. The key will be the six-member Republican conference, which has been all over the board.

Democratic Majority Leader Maria Whyte points out, however, that the budget as-amended by the Democratic caucus spends $100,000 less than Collins’ proposed budget.

The “fun” continues Thursday.

Erie County Government Bucks Collins, Process Termed “Absurd”, “Insane”

1 Dec

The Erie County Legislature yesterday pushed through amendments to the 2011 county budget that would restore 2010-level funding to a broad range of cultural organizations that had been cut off by County Executive Chris Collins’ proposed budget.  Shockingly, the county library system’s funding was restored completely, and done so unanimously.  Because each amended line item was voted for separately, some may have the 10 votes necessary to override a Collins veto.

While yesterday I had predicted that “reform coalition” Democratic legislators Barbara Miller-Williams and Christina Bove would submit amendments that the Republicans, including Collins, would likely approve, that’s not what ended up happening.  Apparently, at some point over the last few days, Bove had a change of heart and joined in the Marinelli/Whyte package of amendments, which left Miller-Williams out to dry.

Query what happens to Collins’ “Reform Coalition” now that Bove has effectively left it and Tim Kennedy is moving on to the state senate.

We’ll have the complete list of culturals and the individual votes up later today, but also notable was a restoration of funding for the Comptroller’s auditing staff and reductions elsewhere to pay for it all.

As legislators left their chambers, County Executive Collins held a hastily assembled news conference where he pitched a fit,

The Erie County taxpayers were not well served today.  What we saw across the street was politics at its worst.

Collins also made allusions to the legislature being Santa Claus, money growing on trees, and fumbled a comparative, stating that he wouldn’t trust the legislators “to balance the county budget, much less their own checkbooks”.

During the session, Miller-Williams, who suddenly had no ally in that chamber, kept reminding legislators about the fact that Collins would veto a lot of this stuff, urging them instead to pass her Collins-approved version.  Instead, the legislature showed leadership and re-asserted its co-equal independence from Collins.  That sound and fury from the 16th floor of the Rath Building may very well be Collins’ anger that his carefully crafted de facto majority has crumbled – when it really counts.  His veto pen will fly, and he’ll have to defend his cuts – one by one – to the people in next year’s election.  He’s not the boss of the county – the people are.

But Democratic legislators noted that not one person who contacted them ever expressed any support for Collins’ cuts.  Their constituents want the county to continue to fund cultural organizations and the libraries.  Ultimately, that is whom the legislators serve.

But the most memorable moment of yesterday’s session, as far as what I was able to see, was an outburst by 4th District Legislator Ray Walter.  He very rightly assailed the entire budget process as a failure, saying that “fifteen people fighting over $6 million of a $1 billion budget each year is absurd”, and in a pointed shot at cultural proponents protesting in the legislative chambers added, “this is insane.  Want to protest something?  Protest Albany.  $267 million in property taxes (from one of the poorest counties in New York State) directly to fund Medicaid”.  He blasted unfunded Albany mandates as being the root of all county budget evils, that this is a “fundamentally dysfunctional way to run a state”, urging State Senator-elect Tim Kennedy to “do something about it” when he gets to Albany.  He concluded, “we need to fix the way this system works, or fix the way that we run this county.”

Ray Walter may have voted against the restoration of funding for just about everything yesterday, but he’s absolutely correct when it comes to the absurdity of this process and how harmfully Albany runs this state and its programs.  When he says we need to fix Albany, or fix the way the county is run, he’s absolutely correct.  To my mind, politics should be extracted from the system to the greatest degree possible.  A professional county manager to replace either the County Executive or his deputy would be a great start.

Collins’ vetoes come next, and the budget process concludes next week.

Excelsior.

4 Aug

The state legislature passed the budget last night. It was 125 days late – the second-latest-ever – and it lurches towards bridging a $9 billion shortfall by raising taxes and fees. Most notably for already recession-weary New Yorkers will be the abolition of the state sales tax exemption on clothing costing less than $110. You can do your clothes shopping in Pennsylvania, again.

Spending, naturally, will increase overall by 2.4%.

There was no debate on the floor of the State Senate.

There will be a billion dollars’ worth of savings through across-the-board spending cuts, and a measure was passed that would have long ago adversely affected Dale Volker. From now on, convicts serving time upstate will no longer be counted as part of the local upstate population. Instead, they will be counted as residents of the communities they lived in when arrested. Had this been in place previously, Volker’s district may have been abolished altogether, and this will have serious implications when districts are redrawn.

The SUNY autonomy plan was withdrawn, and UB 2020 holdout Bill Stachowski didn’t get his way, as usual. Although he relented on this issue, he claims that a “framework” or “outline” of some future agreement on SUNY was reached, but ideas aren’t bills, and bills aren’t law. The Assembly’s budget bill omitted SUNY, and the Assembly had left town, so the Senate never took up the issue in its final vote.

In the end, the “tough choices” that were made in Albany consist of panicky hole-filling. The interests of downstate and upstate New York have never diverged more, and never before has the downstate legislative leadership more starkly disregarded upstate’s needs. The reforms that are done are too infinitesimal to be granted the monicker “gradual”, and fundamental solutions to longstanding chronic problems with state governance are ignored.

New Yorkers – already taxed higher than most Americans – will be taxed even more now, and an already unattractive state for people and business will become even uglier. While downstate hits the occasional economic speedbump, upstate has been in an ever-widening sinkhole for two generations, and the current governmental structure ensures our perpetual influence-free status.

Excelsior.

New York State: Taxaholic, Spendaholic

30 Jun

I absolutely love this cartoon.

HT Marquil at EmpireWire.com