A speedy passage of Erie County's budget for next year temporarily stalled Tuesday over $100,000 to help Visit Buffalo Niagara's efforts to legalize use of ride-sharing services, like Uber and Lyft, Upstate.
The money was only put into the budget last Thursday without much explanation. Democratic legislators learned Monday night of the plan. Legislator Patrick Burke was critical of the late-hour budget change.
"If you want to use something for a specific campaign, then you would make note of that," Burke said. "You wouldn't say, 'Well then, you should have asked.' Well, no. You should have been transparent. You should have told us. The idea of waiting the day of the budget to announce it is disconcerting. And you could say it's not a lobbying effort, but what are they doing with it? Where is this campaign going to be?"
Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo says ride-sharing would help tourism and highway safety.
"$100,000 invested into VBN for this type of development program will come back to us in spades," he said. "The taxes, the sales taxes it will generate from people who are now able to go out, who are probably nervous about going out and driving if they are going out to celebrate something or don't want to go out and drink and drive. It's good for them."
Lorigo said bringing Uber and Lyft Upstate has been stalled by Albany trial lawyers looking for more insurance coverage for the drivers for those ride-sharing services.
Legislator Ed Rath said ride-sharing is an economic development and public safety issue.
"It creates jobs. It also encourages commerce and the free flow of money around our community," he said. "It's also public safety. And this is an important point to highlight to my colleagues in the Legislature: the New York State Police Chiefs Association is on record calling for Uber and Lyft and ride sharing to be available Upstate because of the impact it will have in a positive way for public safety."
The remainder of the $1.7 billion budget was changed only slightly from that proposed by County Executive Mark Poloncarz before unanimous approval, including the Uber and Lyft money and more cash for cultural and community groups.
Poloncarz later issued a statement praising the unanimous passage. He noted that the Legislature "made amendments totaling only $2 million" and that the budget supports his "proposal to lower property taxes by two cents to $4.94 per $1,000 of assessed value.
On the ride-sharing issue, "It is important to note the decision to authorize ride-sharing in Erie County and Western New York resides with leaders in state government," he said.