Who's the Boss? If He's Paid, Talks and Operates Like One... By Ralph Lorigo

Buffalo News political editor Bob McCarthy is absolutely right: The Erie County Conservative Party declined to endorse six county lawmakers who support bad fiscal policy. And if you're surprised Conservatives would stand up for our ideals, you haven't been paying attention.

A lot like this guy:

Zellner FB Post

But Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner needs to get his facts straight. He has criticized the Conservative Party for taking a policy position and refusing to endorse legislators who voted to allow Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) to borrow up to $120 million without ever providing a study to establish the need for the borrowing or any cost estimates.

Let's make this abundantly clear: Legislators knew they would lose our endorsement if they voted to borrow money to fill a budget gap created by profligate spending. They also knew they were voting to take tens of millions of dollars away from the hospital.

In a February 2017 statement, County Executive Mark Poloncarz admitted to an $18 million budget gap in 2017. This gap is the direct result of the County Executive budgeting $18 million less than the projected needs obligated to be paid by the County to ECMC.

To fill his deficit, the County Executive intended to borrowing $100 million for ECMC’s new Emergency Room upgrade and other hospital enhancements. The County Executive argued that because the County could borrow money less expensively than ECMC, the savings could be provided back to the County to pay the bills.

The clear fallacy of that argument is demonstrated by the fact that ECMC has never provided, and refused to provide, any study which necessitates the upgrade and, maybe more importantly, any estimate of costs for the upgrade. Those numbers have purposefully been kept from the public and from the Legislature to mask the additional borrowing that would be used to offset this year’s, and potentially future years, budget deficits.

While the County Executive himself argued that using the County’s fund balance would be wrong because it was a one-time shot for a recurring debt, this scheme is a one-time shot with interest attached . . . to fund a recurring deficit.

When the County Executive’s proposal failed at the Legislature because of a need for a super majority, the scheme was converted to the Erie County Fiscal Stabilities Board borrowing the money instead of the County of Erie. The difference being that the Legislature now only needed a simple majority to approve the borrowing, rather than the super majority.

All five Democratic Legislators, and the crossover vote by Republican Legislator Kevin Hardwick, allowed the borrowing. The Conservative Party declined to endorse all six of them - even the Republican.

This scheme is clear, the transparency totally lacking and these six Legislators siding with the County Executive have now allowed ECMC to borrow up to $120 million without any proof or justification to the Legislature or Erie County taxpayers of their actual need and how much money will simply be given to the County to offset its budget deficit.

The Buffalo News, in three editorials, condemned this procedure, writing on March 20, 2017: "So either the hospital is genuinely generous in its willingness to donate savings of up to $25 million to the County or it is under pressure to do so."

It looks worse when you know who's in on this deal. ECMC’s hospital administrator, Thomas Quatroche, was initially hired by the hospital in 2009 as a public relations executive earning $116,840. In 2012, after Poloncarz was elected County Executive, Quatroche salary spiked to $210,000. In 2015, Quatroche was made ECMC president and his salary was boosted to $725,000. Now, for 2017, after this scheme has been approved, he has received a pay raise and will be earning $762,085. 

And where did Quatroche come from? Democrat Party ranks, of course - he served on the Hamburg Town Board from 2004 until 2009, when he got his political plumb at ECMC. It's no surprise Quatroche is all in to bail out the County Executive after Poloncarz helped his salary grow sevenfold. 

For the record, Erie County Legislator Joe Lorigo has served as majority leader for four years. He has earned the respect of his caucus and is a strong, independent and fiscally conservative voice on the Legislature. Chairman Zellner only attacks him because he's my family. It's classless, but that's how a classic political boss talks: Nothing is too rude or offensive if it helps him maintain control.

In fact, Chairman Zellner controls the Democrat Party machine and serves as an Erie County Elections Commissioner for $130,000.00 of taxpayers’ money annually. There, he decides who gets to run for office in the party he operates. Controlling all levers of power for his machine, he criticizes the Conservative Party for taking a principled position on a fiscal issue. Meanwhile, he finds no fault with the clearly cynical manipulation orchestrated by County Executive Poloncarz and performed at his behest by his well-paid allies at ECMC. 

If Zellner is paid like a boss, talks like a boss and operates like a boss - he's the boss.

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