With the election year heating up, so is the debate in Erie County government about how to spend an unexpectedly large budget surplus.
The surplus came in around $45 million, reflecting rising sales tax collections and cash flows between the county and Erie County Medical Center. That leaves around $15 million in free cash.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz wants to spend $5 million promised to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. That brought a blast from Legislature Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo.
"This time, we have a county executive who told us four months ago that a $10 million tax cut would blow a hole in his budget, that we wouldn't recover from for 20 years," Lorigo said. "Four months later, we have a $45 million surplus and he wants to give $5 million of that to Albright-Knox, which just received $52 million from one private donor."
Lorigo said the money should go for government purposes.
"Sheriff's helicopter, body cameras and initiatives for the poor. We have been talking in the Legislature for months about those types of things, those types of initiatives," he said, "and I thought up until two hours before today's session that we had agreement on both sides of the aisle that those are our priorities and we should be funding those, regardless of what the county executive thinks. But, lo and behold, the county executive wields a heavy stick and gets his legislators in line."
Lorigo said millions more could go into repairing the county's tattered roads and bridges, beyond election-year spending slated to hit $40 million.
During Thursday's County Legislature session, the spending stayed in committee while backroom bargaining continues on how to spend the cash.