County legislators are guaranteeing a tax cut of 6.1 percent -- more, if possible -- next year and at least 14 percent the following year. Ten Democrats and a Republican contend the money will be available without selling the county's anticipated $548 million share of the national tobacco settlement -- $548 million over 25 years -- for a lump sum payment estimated at $220 million.
"We are going to look long and hard to see if we can do more," said Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore.
The resolution they are expected to adopt Thursday supports a proposal made by County Executive Gorski in July. The wording repeatedly mentions Gorski, starting with his inheritance of a huge debt from his predecessor.
Minority Leader Frederick J. Marshall, R-East Aurora, said the plan comes as no surprise, since, he claimed, the Democrats squirreled away money for an election year tax cut that they could have enacted a year ago.
"The Republicans have known for the past several years that Mr. Gorski has hoarded enough money in the county budget to pay for double-digit tax decreases," Marshall said. "Last year, we proposed a 12 percent tax decrease, and clearly we could have done that. They enacted a 2 percent cut. It was clear the Democrats were saving it for an election year, which to my mind is an insult to the taxpayers of Erie County."
Swanick said the county tax, averaging 21 percent of the total local taxes paid by a resident, probably will decline to 15 percent.
The 11 legislators are co-sponsoring a resolution calling for a comprehensive analysis of selling the county's share of the tobacco settlement, expected to start arriving next year. Gorski proposes selling the revenue stream to erase debt and eliminate interest payments of $30 million a year.
But Swanick said the tax cuts still would be possible even if the county opts not to sell the settlement. Savings in Medicaid will cover the cut in next year's budget, Swanick said.
The initial, $20 million installment of the settlement, expected to arrive in June, would help to pay for a 14 percent tax cut in 2001, he said.
Marshall said that using a $20 million installment from the tobacco settlement would provide a tax cut of only 9 percent for 2001.
"The question I would have for Chuck Swanick is what about all the other double-digit surpluses that Mr. Gorski has accrued during this year," he said. Gorski led Democrats in calling for a three-year tax freeze in 1997 and in enacting a 2 percent reduction for this year, the second year of the scheduled freeze.
Democrats and Legislator William J. Pauly, R-Amherst, said they lean towards Gorski's proposal to use proceeds from selling the settlement -- if it is sold -- to pay off all debt.
The legislators took part of the credit for Erie County's early intervention in the tobacco case, proposed by County Attorney Kenneth Schoetz and approved by Gorski.
"If the County Legislature and Dennis Gorski hadn't authorized the county attorney to fully pursue litigation, we would not have it," Swanick said.
Legislator Edward J. Kuwik, D-Lackawanna, emphasized that a 20 percent tax cut over two years would not cut services such as the library, Erie Community College or road maintenance.
Pauly supported eliminating debt as a sure-fire way to attract business to the area.