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Bush budget leaves out courthouse

President Bush's proposed 2007 budget includes no money to build a new federal courthouse in Buffalo, disappointing local leaders who see the building as a centerpiece of downtown development.

Advocates of the new courthouse had been hoping the federal spending plan released Monday would include $93.7 million for the project, which is planned to be built at Niagara Square and Delaware Avenue.

That money would allow construction to begin anytime after Oct. 1, the start of the 2007 fiscal year.

Now, unless Congress intervenes which is considered unlikely construction will be pushed back at least another year.

And that means one of Buffalo's prime pieces of real estate probably will remain undeveloped for the time being, even though the federal government has already acquired the four buildings at the site and scheduled them for demolition.

"Obviously I am very concerned," said Rep. Brian M. Higgins, D-Buffalo, whose district includes the site.

"Assuming there's no funding, it's a problem. This is not some obscure block. This is Niagara Square."

A spokesman at the General Services Administration, which builds new federal buildings, would not answer questions about the decision. The agency has scheduled a conference call with reporters today to explain its budget.

Richard Carelli, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said Bush's budget did not include funding for any new federal courthouses. The spending plan did, however, include some money for courthouse renovations.

The Buffalo project remains the top priority among courthouse projects nationwide, according to rankings posted by the Judicial Conference Committee of the U.S. Courts.

The committee essentially the board of directors of the federal court system will meet again in mid-March and will likely discuss the delayed courthouse projects.

"It's fair to say that it will not be seen as good news," Carelli said.

It wasn't good news, either, to U.S. District Court Judge William M. Skretny, who has been working on getting a new federal courthouse for Buffalo for nearly a decade.

Skretny met on Monday with David Winstead, commissioner of the GSA's Public Buildings Service, and other agency officials to discuss the upcoming demolition work at the site and other matters.

Skretny said the federal officials never mentioned that the Bush budget does not include construction funding for such projects, and they may not have known about it.

"It was a very positive meeting," he said.

"They were very optimistic that we would get the building built and get it done in a timely fashion."

The building is designed to be a new Buffalo landmark, with a sleek, semi-elliptical shape, accented by exterior glass panels.

First proposed in 2002, the $112 million project has been delayed twice before.

But now, Skretny said, money is in place for the demolition work, which will proceed.

Skretny said he and his colleagues will look to the Western New York congressional delegation to fight for construction funding.

But members of the delegation stopped well short of predicting victory on the issue.

Higgins and Sen. Charles E. Schumer vowed to fight for the funding as work on the 2007 budget proceeds through Congress.

"This is an outrageous omission in the administration's budget proposal," Schumer said. "But it's important to keep in mind this is just the administration's budget request.

"While this omission makes it harder to get the money, it is certainly not impossible."

An influential Republican member of the House, Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds of Clarence, also said he would continue to press for the funding.

But Reynolds cautioned that Congress rarely draws up its own funding plans for federal courthouses. "Usually they follow the executive branch proposals," Reynolds said.

Nevertheless, Skretny said he would continue pressing to get the money.

"I'm confident we're going to get it in short order," he said. "But we've got some work ahead of us."



>Budget highlights

Key points in President Bush's spending plan:

* No money for a federal courthouse in Niagara Square.

* Cut in growth rate of Medicare spending.

* $50 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan wars, compared to $125 billion last year for those wars and for hurricane relief at home.

* Tax package would cut more than $1.7 trillion from revenues over the next decade.

* Doubling airline security fees to collect an extra $1.3 billion.

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