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Five Republicans and a Democrat Foil Mark Poloncarz

On Tuesday, Erie County Legislator Tom Loughran of Amherst joined the five Republican legislators to pass amendments to the budget submitted by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. The changes stripped out the small property tax increase ($18 per $100,000 in assessed value) that Poloncarz argued, and the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority affirmed, was prudent and necessary for a balanced budget.

To close the resulting gap, Loughran and the Republican caucus resorted to the kind of budgeting gimmickry that both parties decry when their rivals employ it: changing the estimated costs of overtime for sheriff’s department employees, for example, shaving the projected cost of employee benefits, etc. No drastic cuts; no difficult choices made. The Amherst Symphony Orchestra, in Loughran’s district, gets funded even as Poloncarz claims he must now find $8.5 million in cuts to the budget that passed in order to prevent the county from running short on money to pay for mandated jobs and services, an eventuality that would likely trigger the control board to return to “hard” status.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Poloncarz said,

Although I have earnestly kept the lines of communication open throughout this process in hopes of reaching a compromise that ensures the fiscally stability of the county and protects the programs and services demanded by the public, none could be reached.

In fact, earlier this afternoon, I proposed a package to Legislator [Kevin] Hardwick that would meet them half-way. It cut the proposed property tax in half—to about $4 million, or 9 cents per $1,000—along with a set of difficult, yet real, cuts in discretionary spending to make up the rest. I was told that it doesn’t go far enough to meet their definition of compromise.

On Wednesday, the only good news Poloncarz’s press team could come up with was that the county executive was getting a flu shot in his office that afternoon. But how will he inoculate himself against the betrayal of a fellow Democrat like Loughran? The $8.5 million shortfall he projects in the budget that passed is a serious matter, but it’s not a return to the financial crisis that Poloncarz rode into elected office in 2005: He and the sane legislators (among whom Kevin Hardwick should be counted, though perhaps not his Republican colleague, Joe Lorigo) will find solutions; the county will survive. The effort to prevent Polocarz’s mild tax hike had more to do with ideology (in the case of the Republicans) and political survival (in the case of Loughran) than it had to do with practical budgeting.

Our questions, instead, are these: Will Poloncarz punish Loughran by sponsoring a primary against him next year, risking the Democratic majority—such as it is—on the Legislature? Will the South Buffalo and Grassroots factions of the party that support State Senator Tim Kennedy primary Legislature Chair Betty Jean Grant to punish her for running a nail-biter of a primary this fall against Kennedy? Will the local Democratic Party ever get its house in order?

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