Two Democratic county legislators want to summon Niagara County's four state legislators to the County Courthouse to explain why they passed a state budget that will cost the county an estimated $3 million in revenue per year.
But County Attorney Edward P. Perlman said the proposal to convene a Board of Inquiry is unlawful, and State Sen. George D. Maziarz said if county officials want to talk to him, "they can make an appointment." He denounced it as "an election year publicity stunt."
Legislators Bradley E. Erck of Lockport and Daniel L. Mocniak of Niagara Falls have introduced a resolution for Tuesday's meeting, calling for the Legislature to sit as a Board of Inquiry to investigate "negligence" by Maziarz, R-North Tonawanda; State Sen. Anthony R. Nanula, D-Buffalo; Assemblyman David E. Seaman, R-Lockport; and Assemblyman Robert A. Daly, R-Niagara Falls.
Erck said his message to the four state lawmakers is, "Come in and explain your position as to why you would do this to a municipality."
Majority Leader Shirley G. Urtel, R-Cambria, said, "I would like to look at the legalities of that. . . . I don't think a move like that is going to gain us very much."
The resolution claims the Legislature has authority to do so under a state statute called the County Law.
But Perlman said the section cited gives county legislatures the power to investigate only "matters within their jurisdiction" or actions of the county's employees.
It's the second resolution introduced into the Legislature denouncing the state budget. A proposal by Legislature Chairman Gerald E. Meal, R-Royalton, to give the county power to pursue criminal charges against state or federal officials who harm the county's finances was sent to committee and has not resurfaced.
Mrs. Urtel said this resolution and Meal's reflect a growing level of frustration with the state's budget process, which hasn't met its constitutional deadline in 15 years. But she said, "It takes a whole troop of people to make a budget. I don't think it's something those four individuals (Maziarz, Nanula, Seaman and Daly) can change."
Budget Director Sharon Sacco said the county will lose revenue because of five elements in the state budget.
They are the end of state reimbursement for housing criminals convicted of Class D and Class E felonies in county jails, the failure to re-enact a Medicaid cost-control measure, Medicaid and food stamp administration penalties imposed on the state by the federal government and passed on to the counties and the state's move to take over all mail-in driver's license and auto registration renewals.
Maziarz said the felon reimbursements and the Auto Bureau issues are matters of "legitimate concern" for the county. He said he anticipates action at the next session of the State Legislature to restore the felon payments.
As for the motor vehicle question, Maziarz admitted the state had taken 35 percent of the county Auto Bureau's revenue, but he said it had taken 35 percent of its work, too.
He also said the GOP-controlled Senate passed the Medicaid cost controls in January, but it never passed the Assembly, run by Democrats.
Maziarz said, "Bradley Erck should take his complaints to his buddy in the Assembly, Shelly (Speaker Sheldon) Silver."
Maziarz said the local state delegation should get some credit for helping to obtain a share of the tobacco lawsuit settlement for the county, bringing in $4.6 million a year for 20 years; obtaining state aid to help save Lockport Memorial Hospital from bankruptcy; and getting $19 million in assistance for Delphi Harrison Thermal Systems.