Erie County is in fiscal crisis, but neither County Executive Joel Giambra, county legislators, nor state lawmakers are likely to win much popular support. This is because a long-unfulfilled promise has tarnished county government's moral standing and tainted them all.
I speak of the eighth percent of sales tax, requested by Erie County and approved by Albany in 1985 as a temporary tax for the sole purpose of retiring the Rutkowski-era deficit. Had it been applied solely for that purpose, the tax could have been retired after three or four years. Instead, it's been used for anything and everything. Every year, Erie County asks Albany to perpetuate it, and Albany obliges. Next year will be the 20th birthday of this "temporary" tax.
There's one thing that all the players need to recognize: A lot of us citizens never forgot that 1985 promise. We're still waiting for the eighth percent to be turned back. Until that is done, don't talk to us about a ninth percent.
If county leaders want to mobilize the people, they must fulfill their promise, no matter how painful it may be. To replace the revenue, let county leaders propose and state legislators approve a new, permanent tax that is honestly described as such from the beginning. Only after Erie County restores its honor can leaders hope to mobilize real popular commitment to tackle the current crisis.