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LOCAL CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATES HAVE DONE PRECIOUS LITTLE TO AID PRIVATE ENTERPRISE IN WNY

Is it fair to charge that actions of Congress and federal agencies are threatening to choke off what remains of private enterprise on the Niagara Frontier?

Judge for yourself.

Buffalo has become one of the most expensive places in the industrialized world for business flyers.

It will soon become one of the most expensive regions in the Northeast to ship raw materials into and manufactured goods out of by railroad.

And unless the Republican-controlled Congress reverses itself, it will become much more costly to export goods by truck across the Niagara River into Canada in a year or two.

Buffalo has been strangled by air, rail and truck thanks to laws the House and Senate have passed, and thanks to our delegation sleeping at the switch.

The truth is that the longer members have been in Congress, the greater the responsibility they bear for the mess that has been created.

Here's how it happened:

The unconscionable air fares squeezing the corporate life out of Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Rochester are the direct result of monopolistic practices of major airlines. These were sanctioned by Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and the Democratic-controlled Congresses, between 1977 and 1994.

Especially culpable are members of the public works and transportation committees of the House and Senate, the leaders of which are bought wholesale by the big airlines' campaign gifts.

Although this cancer on the ability of the Niagara Frontier to compete was growing for years, nobody in Congress blew the whistle on this situation until last year.

Even after The Buffalo News exposed declining air service and escalating fares in 1995, members of Erie County's House delegation declined, when asked, to propose any solutions.

It was only after Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater exposed the airline scam that members of Congress started hollering.

So legislation containing modest corrections is moving. However, Buffalo's airport is not covered by these bills intended to create more airline competition. This terrible flaw was not discovered by any local member of Congress, but by Rep. Charles Schumer, the Brooklyn Democrat who is running for Senate.

The railroad situation is a direct result of the way the Republican-controlled Congress and President Clinton deregulated the railroad industry in 1995 and 1996.

The public works and transportation committees created a new agency, the Surface Transportation Board, to "regulate" the railroads. Its mission is to ensure the profitability of the railroads, and protect them while they merge into bigger and bigger monopolies.

This year, the congressionally created cartel, Conrail, will be sold to two other railroads -- CSX and Norfolk Southern.

When the new board approved this deal, it blessed a deal that gives shippers in Detroit, Philadelphia, New York City and New Jersey the huge price advantage of competition between CSX and Norfolk Southern.

But it continues the Niagara Frontier as the captive of a railroad monopoly -- CSX.

Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., who is running for re-election, said he is discussing legislative solutions to this crisis with other members of the delegation. But he won't say what they are.

More than 40,000 industrial jobs are on the line on this issue alone.

Finally, there is the law requiring that on Oct. 1 the Immigration and Naturalization Service will begin demanding documents from Canadians attempting to return home from trips to the United States. Everyone agrees this will create massive bottlenecks at the border.

How could such a stupid law get on the books? The "Checkpoint Charlies" are part of a big immigration bill passed to satisfy the nativists in the Republican Party.

Thank President Clinton for signing it without reading it. Thank Sens. D'Amato and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., for letting it slip through the Senate without their raising an objection in 1996.

The House and Senate have just a month left to fix these problems before the members campaign for re-election. The delegation, while well-intended, is not well-established to attack these difficulties. The Erie-Niagara region's House delegation has been reduced from four to two, effectively -- Rep. Jack Quinn, R-Hamburg, and Rep. John LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda.

Rep. Bill Paxon, R-Amherst, fair to say, has been preoccupied with national policy questions and more lately, a career after he retires.

Rep. Amory Houghton, R-Corning, does not cooperate with the Western New York team the powerful way his predecessor, Democrat Stan Lundine of Jamestown, did. Houghton behaves as though his district running from Lake Erie to Elmira is on another economic planet.

Houghton asked for no funds for Route 219. He unsuccessfully resisted Moynihan's campaign to make Route 17 into an interstate highway. More to the point, Houghton walked out on Quinn and LaFalce when they were seeking railroad justice from the transportation board.

D'Amato, a three-term member of the Senate majority and the most powerful Republican in the state, has been strong on 11th-hour rhetoric on these crises.

But so far, the pothole senator has not produced any relief. So far -- and with a month left in the session -- he has been ineffective.

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