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Collins announces bid for 2nd term

Chris Collins says he wants to "run Erie County like a business" for four more years.

The county executive returned Saturday to the same Cheektowaga factory floor where in 2007 he launched his first political campaign to officially announce his bid for a second term.

"Today, taxpayers have a county government that is holding the line on taxes, paying down debt and keeping spending growth at practically zero," Collins said at Volland Electric to a crowd of about 100 supporters including his wife, Mary, and son, Cameron, who flanked him.

During his short speech at the company he partly owns, Collins reinforced many of the same business principles he embraced March 16 at his State of the County address including accountability, fiscal responsibility and an aversion to debt.

Joined by a handful of Republican allies in the county Legislature, Collins ran through a list of what he said were accomplishments promised at the beginning of his term.

"[The election] is really a referendum, I believe, on running Erie County like a business," he told reporters.

While Democrats have not yet announced a candidate, they are expected to mount a strong challenge in the November election. Erie County Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz and Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, have expressed interest.

Poloncarz issued a statement Friday saying Collins used "smoke and mirrors" to achieve a $23.8 million budget surplus. Without temporary federal stimulus funding and better-than-projected sales tax revenue, the county would actually be running a deficit, he warned.

Collins called that assertion "a political characterization."

The county used that funding -- a reduction in Medicaid expense -- to rebuild its balance sheet, pay down debt and pay cash for major projects, he said.

"There's no smoke and mirrors here," he said. "This is as transparent as it gets -- acknowledging those funds that came in."

But Poloncarz responded by questioning whether Collins banked the stimulus funding to coincide with an election year.

"If we didn't have that stimulus funding, [Collins] wouldn't be spending anything because there would be no surplus to spend it on," he said.

Collins is expected to hold an edge in fundraising over his opponent. Indeed, he held a fundraiser Tuesday featuring Republican heavy hitter Mary Matalin.

But he faces a disadvantage in the county's political party enrollment figures. There are 137,000 more Democrats than Republicans in Erie County, according to 2010 figures.

Nicholas A. Langworthy, chairman of the Erie County Republican Party, pointed to Collins' landslide win in 2007 as evidence the candidate can overcome the Democrats' enrollment advantage.

"I believe that he still has that strong support of people of all party affiliations," Langworthy said.

e-mail: jpopiolkowski@buffnews.com