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Control board move helps Buffalo needs fundamental changes and freedom from state aid crutch

Here's hoping Buffalo's control board foils history's attempt to repeat itself.

Board Chairman Brian J. Lipke is absolutely right in pointing out that structural reforms and operating efficiencies are the keys to real fiscal salvation, not the increased state handouts that city officials go panning for in Albany each year. That's what got the city into trouble in the first place.

State aid to urban areas with declining wealth and tax bases is absolutely essential, but cities must first and foremost help themselves. Buffalo's financial slide turned into a drop off a fiscal cliff when a recession sharpened by 9/1 1 terrorism triggered a state budget crisis that curtailed state aid. Simply restarting that painkilling addiction isn't the true path to health.

It's encouraging to see that this control board, which has done a far better job than Erie County's version, will stand firm and say that. The hopes raised by city officials that more state aid can thaw the wage freeze are premature. While control board officials have joined in the push for such an increase, they have rightly argued that the money should be used to solve some of the recurring structural issues.

Inevitably, that means dealing with the main cost center, personnel, and addressing provisions in union contracts that hinder productivity and efficiency -- for instance, the recent struggles over consolidating health insurance. While city unions see the broader picture of Buffalo's overall fiscal health as fundamental to the well-being of workers, they also can expect negotiations on some changes that may need state financial help. Mayor Byron W. Brown's push for a CitiStat system to improve efficiencies also is a prime target for state assistance. But such structural changes must take precedence over restarting wage hikes, which the city still can't afford.

Albany can provide a steadying hand. But the goal for Buffalo must be to stand on its own feet, without leaning as hard as it once did on a state crutch. The city's not there yet, and it needs to solve more problems before heading back toward business as usual.

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