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A group of Republican Erie County legislators today proposed a gradual rollback of the county's 8 percent sales tax, starting in 1991.

Minority Leader Mary Lou Rath proposed a plan that would see the so-called "extra 1 percent tax" reduced by an eighth of a percentage point each of the next eight years. Her goal is to trim back the tax to its original 7 percent level by 1999.

"We don't think this tax is necessary. Through a series of spending and policy reforms we can more than offset the revenue we'd lose by weaning ourselves off it," Mrs. Rath said.

The county is expecting to collect more than $86 million from the eighth penny of the local sales tax formula. If the tax were pared back by one-eighth of 1 percentage point per year, as proposed by Mrs. Rath, the county would lose approximately $11 million each year.

The county's 8 percent sales tax has been the focus of much debate in recent months, with Buffalo Mayor Griffin leading the charge for local governments and school districts across the county to share in its fruits.

Griffin and others argue the extra sales tax, which was put in place in 1985 to help the county ease it's way out of a multimillion-dollar deficit, is no longer needed to balance the county's books.

County Executive Gorski has dismissed those claims, saying cutbacks in state and federal aid to the county, coupled with the increased costs of running county government, make the tax a necessity for the foreseeable future.

Under the Republican plan, the County Legislature would ask the state for flexibility in imposing the additional 1 percentage point tax starting next year.

If state lawmakers agree to that, Mrs. Rath proposes holding a referendum to let county residents decide if they'd like the tax reduced and in what increments.

Republican lawmakers Frederick J. Marshall of East Aurora, Ralph M. Mohr of Lancaster and Michael J. Ranzenhofer of Amherst are co-sponsors of the tax reduction plan.

The Rath proposal could see action at Thursday's legislative session.

Buffalo Democrat David M. Manz blasted the Republican tax reduction effort as being "nothing more than a shell game."

"What they're calling for is a gradual shift to the already over-burdened shoulders of the county property taxpayer. How foolish," Manz said.

Manz predicted the plan will fail to attract the nine votes it needs for passage, with majority Democrats steering clear of the proposal.

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