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A BUDGET ANYONE CAN RUN ON

EVEN IF IT were not for the myriad press conferences, endorsement meetings and campaign activity, Buffalo residents still would have ample evidence that this is an election year -- all they would have to do is look at the 1989-90 city budget approved by the Common Council.

Taxes were not raised, pork-barrel allocations reached record heights and capital funding was included for some popular, high-visibility projects like Memorial Auditorium and Pilot Field.

What more could politicians ask for?

For starters, they might ask for adequate funding for public education. Mayor Griffin shares much of the blame for short-shrifting schools in the $580.6 million operating budget that he originally proposed and the Council refused to increase.

But the lawmakers, who can usually be counted on to at least partly remedy Griffin's chronic underfunding of education, this year regarded the schools as not worth sticking their necks out for, though they did find ways to add funding for other groups snubbed by the mayor.

Most school children don't vote, and evidently Council members feel parents don't either -- or at least not with the same degree of single-issue focus as supporters of community groups that were the beneficiaries of the legislators' pork-barrel largess.

And it's not as if the Council forgot about the schools. Titular Majority Leader James W. Pitts and de facto leader Eugene Fahey each expressed an interest in finding a way to channel more money into education. But neither the two leaders nor any of their colleagues took up the gauntlet when it came time to step up and be counted. Instead, they will leave it to school supporters to take the funding issue to court, an option only a lawyer could love.

Beyond that, the spending plan is disappointing in that it again includes money doled out to a host of community groups that found their way into the budget without meeting the demands of City Hall screening committees created to rein in this very process.

Griffin virtually ignored the citizen screening panels' recommendations for 85 grants totaling $2.7 million, coming in with only 28 grants totaling $1.29 million. The Council however, went the other way, awarding a record $3.17 million to 113 cultural and community organizations, some of which did not even meet the application deadline.

That this undisciplined bartering of support for favored organizations is an annual ritual does not make it tolerable, particularly now that screening committees for both the cultural and public benefit groups are in place. It is too bad the members of those panels donated their time only to have both the mayor and Council continue with business as usual.

On the other hand, the fact that the budget holds the line on property taxes can be considered good news, provided residents are satisfied with the condition of city facilities and services.

The three-year plan to bond for Hurd property tax refunds also is prudent in case the state does not come through with the aid Buffalo deserves. And there is little doubt that Memorial Auditorium needs renovating. The $39.6 million capital budget includes funds for both of those items, as well as $2 million to add 1,500 seats to Pilot Field.

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