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MASIELLO IN ALBANY TO LOBBY FOR MORE FUNDING

The fiscal news for Buffalo and other distressed upstate cities worsened Tuesday, when a joint state legislative panel agreed to an overall spending target for municipalities certain to fall far short of Mayor Masiello's budget request.

"They have to grow that pot of money. I don't care how they do it," said Masiello Tuesday afternoon after cutting short an economic development trip to Manhattan to come to Albany to lobby for more cash for the city.

The city, under pressure from binding arbitration rulings expected to drive up labor costs, has said it needs $16 million in additional state aid this year to avoid property-tax increases.

But Senate and Assembly members in the Capitol meeting to resolve state budget differences agreed to add $36 million to an account that will be divvied up among 61 cities and hundreds of towns and villages across the state. Final figures on how much each municipality will receive will be available later today.

But it is certain Buffalo will receive nowhere near the $16 million it wants from that fund.

But with budget talks proceeding at an increasingly stepped-up pace in the past 24 hours, lobbyists and lawmakers say the city will have to press quickly. Insiders also said the unusually high number of other Western New York spending requests -- from money already earmarked to renovate Rich Stadium to a host of economic projects -- is not helping the city's cause.

Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve, D-Buffalo, said the expected shortfall that the city will face will require Legislature leaders to dig into a so-called "unrestricted" funding pool to add more money for the distressed cities, including Buffalo.

Eve, co-chairman of the budget conference committee working on fiscal aid for municipalities, coaxed his fellow panel members on Tuesday to get more money for cities like Buffalo.

"The city is not in this predicament because they did not manage their funds. . . . They had no control over what they have to do," said Eve, referring to recent binding arbitration awards for police and firefighter unions that are expected to lead to more lucrative contracts for other city unions.

Masiello said he planned to spend Tuesday night and today meeting with legislators to make the city's case.

"We have to demonstrate we have helped ourselves and we're getting better . . . and that it would be counterproductive to raise property taxes now."

But one budget conference committee member, Sen. Mary Lou Rath, R-Williamsville, said she and other senators no longer will to give "blank checks" to cities. She said the Senate will insist that a process be set up that will require cities to show not only how the money is needed and will be spent, but also what cities are doing to rely less in the future on help from Albany.

Once again, the state failed to meet the April 1 deadline for enacting a state budget -- the 14th consecutive year that has happened.

Emergency bills will have to be passed to keep state government running without a budget.

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