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Hundreds protest proposed budget cuts

Rachel Casey said she is scared and disheartened by what is happening to working people -- and what could be in store if proposed budget cuts from Albany happen.

"I own a home and I pay taxes just like everybody else," said Casey, 27, a child support investigator for the Erie County Department of Social Services who believes public employee unions have been unfairly made the villain.

"Our pensions aren't the ones who bankrupted the country. That was Wall Street, not us," she said.

Casey was one of a few hundred union workers and supporters Tuesday at a rally at Lafayette Square to oppose steep state budget cuts and to call for the continuation of the so-called "millionaire's tax."

They also expressed solidarity with Wisconsin workers, whose right to collectively bargain was taken away earlier this month by Gov. Scott Walker and the State Legislature, although a Wisconsin judge Tuesday put the new law on hold.

Signs in the crowd included, "Bail Out the People, Not the Banks," "Stop the War on Workers" and "Main Street, Not Wall Street."

Allowing a surcharge to expire on people making $550,000 a year after deductions drew particular resentment from the crowd. The extension is opposed by the Republican-majority State Senate.

"If it sunsets this year, we lose $1.1 billion for the portion of this year we will not collect it for. Next year [the loss is] between $4 [billion] and $5 billion, and the year after that it's a loss of almost $5 billion," said Courtney Brunelle, the CSEA's political action coordinator. "Next year's projected deficit will be almost $5 billion. By keeping this tax in place exactly as it is right now, we could close next year's budget deficit."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, has proposed having the tax apply only to people making $1 million or more, which would still capture about 75 percent of the revenues.

William Travis, president of AFSCME Local 264, said working people should not bear the brunt of the layoffs and economic hardships when Wall Street is back to earning record profits and bonuses.

"We're looking at 10,000 state employees being laid off. We need jobs in New York State, we don't need layoffs," Travis said.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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