Artvoice: Buffalo's #1 Newsweekly
Home Blogs Web Features Calendar Listings Artvoice TV Real Estate Classifieds Contact
Previous story: Killing Us Softly
Next story: Scorecard: The Week's Winners and Losers

Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

From beyond the grave, rich Uncle Oishei rides to the rescue--but not for Collins.

County funding for culturals, libraries, remains unresolved:

Last week Democrats in the Erie County Legislature seemed well positioned to win their fight with County Executive Chris Collins over funding for cultural institutions, public libraries, and auditing staff in Comptroller Mark Poloncarz’s office. Republican legislators felt public pressure to restore at least some funding to all three budget lines. A judge ruled Collins was out of line in declaring the Democrats’ changes to his proposed budget “null and void.” All the Democrats needed was one Republican legislator to jump across the aisle and join them to overturn Collins’ vetoes of their additions.

But two deals offered Republicans cover to stand by Collins. First, the county executive agreed to restore $3 million of the $4 million he’d proposed cutting from the public library system, thus assuring suburban legislators that the branches in their districts would remain open and that taxpayers would not be denied access to the assets into which they have invested so much money for decades.

Then, Republicans convinced Collins to accept a deal he’d turned down flat two months earlier, whereby the Oishei Foundation would raise $400,000 for cultural institutions that Collins had zeroed out of the budget, if the county would chip in $100,000. That deal permitted Republicans to uphold Collins’ vetoes while claiming credit for providing a one-year lifeline to popular organizations like Shakespeare in the Park, which likely would have closed if Collins’ proposed budget had stood.

On Monday morning, the president of Oishei, Robert Gioia, met with the Legislature’s Community Enrichment Committee to discuss how the matching funding would work. The committee’s Democrats were less pleased than Gioia might have expected: They felts that Oishei’s offer had undercut their efforts to force Collins to restore full funding to libraries and arts organizations. (Additionally, Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams seemed offended that Gioia had approached Collins but not her with the proposal.) That evening, Gioia conferred with Oishei’s vice president, Paul Hogan, and they decided that the foundation would do better to remove itself from the political fray by withdrawing the offer.

Here’s how Gioia and Oishei’s chairman, Jim Wadsworth, explained the decision on Tuesday:

Because of the astounding amount of responses, misunderstanding, and apparent “unintended consequences” related to the Oishei Foundation’s offer to raise $400,000 to match a county contribution of $100,000, we have decided to revise our strategy and work directly with the cultural organizations through the Fund for the Arts. Whatever funds we are able to raise will be provided to them through the process established by the Fund for the Arts.

It is our strong hope that efforts to provide support to the critical ‘second-tier’ cultural organizations, as well as the Library, will continue in earnest by those legislators who believe in their importance. If the legislature or the executive wishes to participate in the Fund for the Arts with a financial contribution to the Fund, it will be welcome; however, it will only be accepted without any conditions beyond a requirement to report on how it was distributed.

The Fund for the Arts was begun in response to a similar legislative budgetary disaster in 2005, when many of the same organizations were similarly caught in a political struggle. Since it was begun, nine foundations – all with differing funding processes and philosophies – have managed to agree to distribute over $1 million in pooled funds to these groups for general operating support and for technical assistance and training programs. We will continue to work toward strengthening the arts and cultural sector.

The Oishei Foundation has been a major contributor to the Fund for the Arts, and in addition to that effort, has made major contributions to such organizations as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Roycroft Campus, Darwin Martin House, Buffalo Philharmonic, and many others. We will continue to do so. However, we have concluded that working with the leadership of the legislature and the administration of the county on this effort is doing more harm than good in a number of ways.

Essentially, Oishei has decided to use their $400,000, and possibly more, in concert with other private entities, to support the zeroed-out institutions as they see fit.

The Republicans of the Erie County Legislature responded with this statement:

The Republican Caucus was disappointed in learning that Robert Gioia and the Oishei Foundation have withdrawn its offer to support cultural organizations through a public-private partnership with Erie County. The announcement came one day after the Legislature’s Community Enrichment Committee met and criticized the foundation’s generous offer and how it was made. The Caucus thanks Mr. Gioia for his offer to help County cultural organizations and for his continued support for the region. This public-private partnership was an exemplary plan, one that the Republican Caucus strongly supported.

That’s somewhat disingenuous: The Oishei Foundation will continue to support cultural institutions in Erie County. They’ll bring as much, or more, money to the culturals as they promised to do. They apparently just don’t want to be party to the maneuvering of either party. Collins’ grudgingly given $100,000—two months after Gioia first suggested the deal—didn’t seem worth the hassle.

In part, the Republicans supported Gioia’s offer because it gave them political cover. That cover is gone now, and the ball is back in county government’s court: Will Republicans support any public funding to cultural organizations this year? Will Democrats find a way to force Collins to respect the Legislature’s will?

Losing Congressmen:

New York State’s population has risen 2.1 percent since 200, to 19.4 million people, according to the 2010 Census. But that’s the fourth-slowest rate of growth in the country. As a result, the state’s Congressional delegation will decrease from 29 members to 27—the least the state has had since 1823.

The redistricting will be determined by the State Legislature, and because it is split—Democrats control the Assembly and Republicans control the State Senate—most likely each party will sacrifice a seat. Western New York is among the regions of the state that are losing population, along with the Southern Tier and the center of the state. So it’s a safe bet that our local districts will be prime targets for consolidation, as they were after the 2000 Census.

What's next for Antoine Thompson:

We’re told that outgoing State Senator Antoine Thompson has renwed his advertising contract with the Buffalo Rocket for the coming year. Now what could he be up to?

geoff kelly

blog comments powered by Disqus