Budgets in local government are tight. Appropriations are constantly monitored in order to squeeze out as much services as possible for residents. Taxpayers understandably have no appetite whatsoever for increases in taxes and/or fees. And with the 2 percent property tax cap now the law of the land in New York State, governments are forced to live within their means and do more with less.
In other words, local governments must utilize existing revenue and financial structures without asking taxpayers for additional funds for their operations.
So it was not surprising to see Town of Amherst Supervisor Barry Weinstein and Council Member Guy Marlette trying to finagle some kind of revenue enhancement last week in their resolution seeking Erie County bed tax revenue. Dr. Weinstein at first wanted Erie County to increase the bed tax by 1 percent and share those proceeds with local municipalities. Mr. Marlette instead felt that the County should merely "share" the existing bed tax instead of adding to it.
It’s important to note that while the resolution failed due to a tie on the Amherst town board with one member absent from the meeting, the matter is not over and could come up again, according to reports. But should it?
With Dr. Weinstein, haven’t we been down this road before? That is, with Erie County fiscal gimmickry when Dr. Weinstein was a member of the Erie County Legislature. Yes, the former legislator was all too eager to sign the “30 percent Property Tax Cut Pledge” with former County Executive Joel Giambra at his side. We all know the result of that County fiscal gimmick. Don’t we?
In a similar way, Mr. Marlette’s idea of sharing 1 percent of the bed tax is just another example of short sightedness and fiscal gimmickry, as his amendment to Dr. Weinstein’s resolution would essentially swipe a lot of money currently used for County tourism activities, thereby forcing cuts to those programs, or others, and could result in a tax increase due to cuts elsewhere in the County budget.
Indeed, the bed tax is slated to bring in $9.7 million in the 2015 Erie County budget, according to the Erie County budget office and online records. While those funds make their way into the general fund, the long-held policy calls for the funding of tourism-related functions from the bed tax, and that totals about $8 million for 2015.
Tourism funding is important and should not be messed with. Of the $9.7 million this year, about $1.7 million goes to the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. Three million is for debt service on convention center upgrades and capital improvements. About $3.3 million is appropriated to Visit Buffalo Niagara for their critical work. The Buffalo Niagara Film Commission gets $134,000 from the bed tax. Most people see this as money well spent and no one has made the case that these entities are not doing a great job for the community.
Heck, the Film Commission won praise for recruiting two weeks’ filming for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in Buffalo, which just finished shooting, resulting in a significant economic impact for the region.
One could ask: Which one of these economic drivers would Guy Marlette want to cut in order to implement his “sharing” of the bed tax to fund local government? How is this doing more with less and living within our means?
While Dr. Weinstein wanted to add to the bed tax, and thus avoid a property tax increase in Amherst, such a move would nonetheless be "increasing taxes." It would be interesting to hear from tourism officials as to the impact of that on future bookings and the like. Mr. Marlette’s fiscal gimmick in "sharing" is certainly fraught with peril and is reminiscent of Red/Green Budget day politics, while at a smaller scale, it still is troubling just the same.
These two Amherst politicians surely had to see the effects of fiscal gimmickry in Erie County finances when Mr. Giambra was in charge. Dr. Weinstein was part and parcel to that fiscal collapse and should know better.
Have Barry Weinstein and Guy Marlette learned anything from those dark and embarrassing days?