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A bad mix Cutting Legislature, lengthening terms should be considered separately

The recent decision by five Erie County legislators to change their minds and sustain a veto of a downsizing bill made sense from the perspective of not packaging two issues into one and forcing a less-than-desirable outcome.

The bill that would have asked voters to reduce the size of the Legislature from 15 to 13 seats while also expanding its legislative terms from two to four years would have taken what amounts to a well-thought reduction plan and turned it into a political tenure football.

Should the Legislature be reduced? Yes, and probably down to fewer than 13. Should the bill encompass both size reduction and tenure? The answer is, no.

County Executive Chris Collins called the bill "sneaky" and deemed it an "incumbency protection plan." While the matter can be debated, this page has been in support of a legislative reduction but has had its own concerns about the length of the term.

Theoretically, extending the term of office for legislators from two to four years offers the chance to spend more time on policy than on the election cycle. The jury's still out on how effective that theory has shown itself on the Buffalo Common Council.

Splitting the two issues is a reasonable approach and, apparently, some lawmakers who previously supported the bill also came to a similar conclusion.

Fourteen lawmakers voted for the downsizing bill in July and five of them changed their minds and voted against the bill last week, meaning that the Legislature was one short of the 10 required to override the county executive's veto.

"You shouldn't criticize legislators for having a change of heart," Democrat Thomas Mazur of Cheektowaga said. And in this case that statement applies. So, a pass can be given to Democrat Thomas A. Loughran of Amherst and Republicans Edward A. Rath III and Raymond W. Walter, both of Amherst, and John J. Mills of Orchard Park.
The question now becomes, what will they do with a reconstructed bill that separates the issue and focuses on the downsizing issue?

Legislature Chairwoman Lynn Marinelli, D-Tonawanda, created a study commission and appointed her one-time political rival Martha Lamparelli to head the group. The 21st Century Commission on the Erie County Legislature set about its work in September and recommended reducing the size of the Legislature from 15 to 11 seats, and extending lawmakers' terms from two to four years.
With all due respect to a few commission members and others concerned about representing the diversity of community interests, reduction in the number of seats would better reflect population loss.

Compromise is also part and parcel of the legislative process and when that happened, a reduction to 13 and not 11 ensued, and expansion to four-year terms remained a part of the ill-fated package.

At this point, the Legislature would do well to return to the drawing board and consider clearly what are two, separate issues.

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