Erie County residents reject budget plans

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Residents here are shocked and angry with Erie County Executive Joel Giambra’s proposed 2005 “red” and “green” budgets.

In order to deal with a $130 million budget deficit for 2005, the red budget, also known as the “scorched earth budget,” would lay off 3,000 county employees, close all county libraries, parks and the zoo, end the school nurse program for Buffalo schools, and eliminate senior citizen programs, among other disastrous effects.

The “alternative” green budget has less drastic cuts but relies on raising the sales tax by one penny, bringing it to 9.25 percent.

At the second of four public hearings on the budget, a standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 people made it clear that neither budget was acceptable.

Phillip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, said that closing libraries “is the equivalent of burning books” and would have the most negative impact on poor children who depend on libraries for computers and other services. Cheryl Kimble, a school nurse, called the nurses the children’s “first responders.”

Craig Speers pointed out that the sales tax is a “huge burden on the middle and lower classes in our society” but not on “millionaires or large property owners.”

Amy Liberatore called for taxing those with incomes over $100,000 and someone dressed as Patrick Henry carried a “Tax the Rich” sign.

Giambra, a Republican, blames Medicaid for the budget crisis. However, many people say that Giambra squandered a $200 million budget surplus in addition to about $200 million in tobacco settlement money by slashing property taxes by 30 percent, and by going on a spending spree that awarded contracts and jobs to his family and friends.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.