Anyone paying even the slightest attention to Erie County Executive Chris Collins' actions has seen the tough-as-nails businessman who knows how to get his way. Even a businessman, though, usually pays attention to judges.
In the latest incredulous move, Collins has made clear his intentions to collect roughly $7.9 million more in property taxes than he would if he complied with State Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Glownia's recent ruling and accepted the Legislature's cuts to the 2011 budget.
And Collins' objections are being made, coincidentally, just as tax bills are going out so they have been printed with a rate calculated as though Glownia never ruled, except for a $457,000 cut Collins is allowing to stand.
It's a game of brinkmanship. If the tax bills are held up, so are revenues, not only for Erie County but for virtually every municipality outside the city of Buffalo.
Collins' attorneys have asked Glownia to set aside his own ruling because they weren't allowed to fully argue the county executive's case and they have notified the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court of plans to appeal. Lawmakers are waiting for that to play out before deciding how to respond.
The timing couldn't be better for a county executive poised to run for re-election. If he's overturned, he can blame the Legislature for "losing" $7.9 million in potential revenue.
Consider the difficult situation that prompted the cuts. The county executive drained funding from the library and arts, while legislators did what they could to redirect money to support those efforts.
The result was cuts where Collins didn't want them and which, under the charter, he could do nothing about. Or so an observer might assume.
Not so, apparently. Collins has made clear that he believes the Legislature's cuts to be "null and void" because they would make him violate other laws. A judge disagreed, but the county executive has little patience for those who disagree with him, and now the judge has joined the Legislature in that group of people Collins is pleased to ignore.
Will the judge rule in Collins' favor? We hope not, but the fact that he's trying this maneuver is part and parcel of the manner in which he's run county government -- at the head of the boardroom table.