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Collins gets funds for gas but ruffles a few feathers

The "obstructionists" Tuesday gave County Executive Chris Collins what he wanted, while mentioning they don't appreciate being called obstructionists.

"We've done nothing but work with this gentleman," said Erie County Legislator Dan Kozub, D-Hamburg, "and he comes back time and again crying politics."

At issue: Transferring $600,000 from one pocket of the Erie County budget to another so the government could continue fueling its vehicles this year.

The Legislature's Government Affairs Committee had not rubber-stamped the request because of problems with the paperwork: Collins' staff had not specified which account to draw the money from -- a necessary detail.

Collins believed the Legislature had the information it needed, and when the committee balked last week, he called a news conference to sound an October alarm. Imagine, he said, another storm like the one that hit in October 2006 but this time all the emergency vehicles are out of gas.

"It is unfathomable for me to understand how the Legislature majority can put politics before the people's best interests on an issue like this," he said to pressure the Democratic bloc. "It is frustrating to see the Legislature majority stepping in as obstructionists to our collective mission of serving the people of Erie County."

By Tuesday, the paperwork was shored up. It was clear the $600,000 would come from the cash collected from a lawsuit settled in the county's favor. And the cash had been parked in a special fund set up for the fuel purchase.

The Government Affairs Committee then unanimously approved the change. The full Legislature is expected to go along at a special session Friday. But the committee Democrats also wanted to respond to Collins' complaints about them.

"When the legislators are doing their jobs with checks and balances, which we are paid to do, we get painted as obstructionists," said Robert B. Reynolds, D-Hamburg. "Obstructionist is a tough word for me to swallow when I am supporting the administration 99 percent of the time."

"I would invite the administration not to take this issue so personally," said Majority Leader Maria R. Whyte, D-Buffalo. She said Collins should recognize the Legislature is part of the process and that the angry letter he sent "would not have been acceptable to Chris Collins the candidate."

Collins, a Republican, can usually count on support from the Legislature's three Republicans. But Republican Leader John J. Mills of Orchard Park said he wasn't going to argue with the Democrats. In Collins' defense, Mills said Collins had come from the business world and lacked a lot of government experience.

Collins spokesman Grant Loomis said the county executive is pleased the committee approved the transfer and said it's time to move on to more important matters, including the proposed 2009 budget.


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