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County lawmakers back downsizing veto Five legislators reverse votes for referendum on cutting two colleagues, lengthening terms

One by one, they changed their votes, abandoning their support for a smaller and longer-serving Erie County Legislature.

In the end, enough lawmakers jumped ship Thursday to sustain County Executive Chris Collins' veto of a downsizing bill that he called "sneaky."

The bill would have asked voters to reduce the size of the Legislature from 15 to 13 seats and at the same time expand its legislative terms from two to four years.

"The county executive is pleased the attempt by certain legislators to disguise an incumbency protection plan as reform has been defeated," Collins spokesman Grant Loomis said after the vote.

The county executive opposed the bill from Day One, suggesting that it unfairly combined two separate issues -- a smaller Legislature and longer terms for lawmakers.

And over time, several lawmakers joined him.

Of the 14 lawmakers who voted for the downsizing bill in July, five reversed themselves and voted against it Thursday, leaving the Legislature one vote short of the 10 needed to override Collins' veto.

One other, Democrat Daniel Kozub of Lackawanna, spoke at length about why the bill is bad and then voted for it when he realized he would not be the decisive 10th vote.

Of the two Democrats and three Republicans who changed their vote, only one acknowledged publicly that he was reversing himself.

"You shouldn't criticize legislators for having a change of heart," said Democrat Thomas Mazur of Cheektowaga.

Also changing their votes were Republicans Edward A. Rath III and Raymond W. Walter, both of Amherst, and John J. Mills of Orchard Park and Democrat Thomas A. Loughran of Amherst.

The bill's supporters wondered aloud how Collins and the five lawmakers who sided with him will explain to voters why they kept downsizing off the ballot.

And at least one colleague asked how they will explain their dramatic change in position since each of them voted for the bill in July.

"What changed from that vote to now?" asked Democrat Betty Jean Grant of Buffalo. "What changed in a month and a half?"

The bill grew out of a citizen task force that recommended four-year terms but cutting deeper into the Legislature's ranks by reducing it from 15 to 11 members.

When the Legislature compromised on 13, not 11, the expansion to four-year terms was still part of the deal.

After the initial vote, Collins said he was for downsizing but intended to veto the proposed law because voters should be given a chance to decide each change separately.

In other action, the Legislature:

Voted to extend, as expected, the 0.75 percent sales tax increase for another year.

Added Lancaster Democrat Diane M. Terranova to the Legislature to serve the remainder of Kathy Konst's term. Konst left to become the county's commissioner of environment and planning. Terranova was a top aide to Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz.

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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