In a vote that split along party lines, the Erie County Legislature on Thursday narrowly allowed County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz to delay $8.6 million in pension payments as a means to help close a $29.2 million hole in his $1.39 billion budget proposal for 2014.
The six Democrats in the current Legislature majority all voted to approve Poloncarz’s request, while the three Republicans, one Conservative and one Independence Party member in the minority caucus turned thumbs down, likening the plan to “kicking the can down the road” on fiscal obligations.
“What I’d prefer to see is finding a way to make that $8.6 million payment with cash on hand, rather than kicking the can down the road,” said Legislator Joseph Lorigo of West Seneca, a Conservative who is set to become the Legislature’s new majority leader once the GOP-aligned faction assumes control of the Legislature for the first time in 36 years on Jan. 1.
The legislation passed Thursday authorizes the administration to take advantage of a state pension-stabilization program that will allow the county to pay only about $32 million of its estimated $40 million state pension bill next year. The county would get 10 years in which to pay the remainder.
In addition to expressing concerns about the legislation’s fiscal prudence, Lorigo questioned why action needed to be taken so swiftly when the Legislature’s hearings on Poloncarz’s budget are still ongoing and the public has yet to weigh in on the proposal.
“What if we have a vast majority of people come here on Monday night saying, ‘Don’t kick the can down the road on the pensions?’ I think it’s something we should take into consideration,” Lorigo said.
However, Poloncarz spokesman Mark Cornell insisted there was no reason to wait.
“We absolutely needed the pension stabilization vote before taking up the budget, or else there would have been an immediate $8.6 million hole in the budget,” Cornell said, when reached after Thursday’s vote.