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Moving Power Authority surplus into state budget draws GOP's ire

The Niagara County Legislature on Tuesday replicated Albany's partisan argument over whether it was a good idea for the New York Power Authority to surrender $750 million of its surplus funds to help close a state budget gap.

In Albany, the Democrats have the majority and won the passage of what Republicans call a "sweep" of funds into the general treasury. Democrats prefer to call it a loan.

In Niagara County, the Republicans are in control and were able to pass a resolution along straight party lines calling on the State Legislature to rescind its action.

"This will not accomplish anything, because it's a moot point," said Legislator Renae Kimble, D-Niagara Falls.

The vote came after plenty of partisan back-and-forth, with the leading gladiators being Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove and Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso.

Updegrove, R-Lockport, said the Power Authority could have used the surplus to help economic development projects.

"It could be used for low-cost power initiatives for businesses," he said. "And what about what we as consumers pay for power?"

Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said the Republicans never objected when former Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, raided state authorities for funds, but they're changing their tune with Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson in office.

"You guys are being hypocrites if you vote for this," Virtuoso charged.

On another topic, the Legislature approved the spending of $40,000 from Seneca Niagara Casino revenue to bolster the Niagara Military Affairs Council, which lobbies for improvements at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

"I'd like to challenge Erie County to match this," said Legislator Peter E. Smolinski, R-North Tonawanda. Nearly half of the air base work force is from Erie County.

Also approved was $5,000 of casino money to help revive the Youngstown Fire Company Field Days on Labor Day weekend.

The Legislature also approved its list of "shovel-ready" projects that could start within 90 days if funded by federal stimulus money to be doled out in Albany. Niagara County is suggesting 31 projects with a total price estimate of $41.1 million.

The Legislature agreed to borrow $18.4 million through bonds to pay for most of a $23.7 million Water District project to install a second water main along Lockport Road in Cambria and Wheatfield. That's $2.2 million less to be borrowed than in a previous package approved last year but later revised.

Proposals to spend casino money on a feasibility study of a second Lockport marina, a lobbying firm for county stimulus projects, various Lewiston festivals and a United Way center in Niagara Falls all were referred to committees. So was Kimble's proposal to direct the county manager to study merging the Youth Bureau into the Social Services Department.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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