Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra racheted up his long-standing feud with state lawmakers Saturday when he called for the resignations of State Sen. Dale M. Volker and Assembly Majority Leader Paul A. Tokasz.
The State Legislature's failure to provide additional money to help Erie County out of its fiscal crisis while, at the same time, increasing money to help a private labor union and Buffalo Public Schools, Giambra said, was a slap in the face to county taxpayers.
He ridiculed state lawmakers for celebrating the passage of an on-time budget Thursday for the first time since 1984 that increases taxes and fees by $1.3 billion.
Tokasz, who intends to remain in office, said Giambra's comments "do not merit a response." The Cheektowaga Democrat did, however, dispute the claim that the state shortchanged county taxpayers.
Volker, R-Depew, is also not taking Giambra's demand to resign seriously.
"I feel bad for him and his family. We tried to help him. He's been the least cooperative county executive in my time," said Volker, who has served 33 years in the State Legislature.
Volker added that the Western New York delegation to the State Legislature is known in Albany as the "strongest advocates for reform of Medicaid."
Giambra, a Democrat turned Republican, returned to his frequent argument that state elected leaders are responsible for the county's fiscal problems. In the last five years, he said, Volker and Tokasz supported state Medicaid increases that have cost the county $82 million and pension benefit increases of $47 million.
"Myself and the County Legislature pleaded with them to find some additional money in this past state budget process and it was like talking to a wall," the executive said.
"They shut the door on the taxpayers in Erie County while they found $80 million to provide raises for Dennis Rivera and his union 1199. It is unconscionable that you would give $80 million to a private union and not provide any additional help to open our parks or restore sheriff's deputies," Giambra said of the massive layoffs in the 2005 county budget.
In the new state budget, lawmakers added hundreds of millions of dollars in health care spending, including $80 million that benefits Local 1199, Service Employees International Union, a politically powerful union headed by Rivera.
Giambra also criticized the state for coming up with an additional $21 million for city schools, saying it takes pressure off the Buffalo Teachers Federation to agree to a single health care provider, which would save the district $12 million next year.
"It takes Phil Rumore off the hook politically. For two years, myself, the control board and others have been trying to convince him to put all of the teachers into one health care plan, and for two years he's fought this effort," Giambra said of Rumore, the BTF's president.
Political contributions by the unions representing the health care workers and teachers respectively rank No. 1 and No. 2 when it comes to contributors to state lawmakers, Giambra said in making a case that state budget assistance was bought.
"It's obvious to me the concern was largely to take care of the special political interest groups than the taxpayers of Erie County," he said, adding that the State Legislature also gave money to downstate mass transit and ignored his request for providing assistance to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
Though Tokasz refused to respond to Giambra, the assemblyman said the state budget did provide $1.3 million in extra funds for Erie Community College, saved Erie County Medical Center $5 million in "sick tax" costs, and capped future Medicaid spending increases.