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A MESSAGE FOR ALBANY

The Buffalo Niagara Partnership's proposals for relief in Albany from oppressive state taxes and unfunded mandates are not so different from those of years past. And that's the problem.

The same proposals are necessary because past inaction in Albany perpetuates an economic climate that hinders economic development upstate.

Although, mercifully, Albany has begun under Gov. Pataki to ease the onerous tax burdens clamped on business and individuals, the job is not completed. Not nearly.

That's a message that should come in loud and clear for the Western New York delegation and others representing upstate. Across our region, economic development remains anemic in large part because of the high taxes and the unfunded state mandates that drive up local-government costs.

Take the state's Wicks Law. It requires separate bidding on different aspects of the same public-construction project, inflating the expenses paid by local taxpayers. Or Albany's binding-arbitration procedures for settling labor disputes involving police and fire departments. They should, but don't, take into account a community's ability to pay. New York's Medicaid program, a dollar-guzzling Cadillac that counties must help fund, should be trimmed to a more affordable size.

If those obstacles to progress aren't bad enough, just consider our outrageously high energy costs, a critical expense in doing business in New York.

With the coming of deregulation, they will begin to go down a bit, but not enough. Albany ought to speed up reductions in the gross receipts tax approved in 1997, now at 4 percent, and set a date for its complete repeal.

Buffalo-area lawmakers should be taking the lead in the effort to enact reforms. It is their constituents who have suffered because of misguided state policy. They should lead with specific ideas about which taxes to scale back and what spending to trim to offset the revenue losses, exempting only education programs that train workers and economic-development projects that add new jobs.

The Partnership -- and many others -- have provided solutions to our lingering economic problems. What they can't provide is the political courage that legislators will need to make the tough choices and say no to the special interests that funnel money and support into their campaigns.

It is time for the Legislature to pay more attention to the public's interest than to the special interests. It is time, too, for the public to hold upstate lawmakers accountable for what they achieve. And for what they don't.

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