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A political budget surplus Collins made some wrong choices in his election-year spending cuts

Governing is about making choices and today, as a result of his choices, Erie County Executive Chris Collins is in the happy position of being able to devote $23 million in budget surplus to the kind of capital projects for which the county would typically borrow money.

Politics, on the other hand, is about how you make those choices. It is no coincidence, we would wager, that Republican Collins is revealing this plan as his campaign for a second term gathers steam.

Where governing and politics collide is in the way Collins produced some of this surplus:

* He has endangered the health of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System.

Because of Collins' choices, the library is considering establishing its own taxing district. Before it can do that, it has to safely overcome a funding chasm of $7 million next year. At this point, no one seems to know how -- or if -- that can be done.

We don't think a taxing district is a good idea and, indeed, are surprised that Collins, a conservative, would be pushing for a new tax. Wouldn't it have been better -- again, it's about choices -- to give the library time to deal with reduced funding before pulling the rug from underneath it? Maybe that would have been bad politics, but it would have been better government. Which is more important?

* Also endangered are the cultural organizations that were cut out of his budget. If it was necessary to cut them off at the knees, couldn't it have been handled with at least a little anesthesia?

Many of those defunded organization have won a reprieve via a gift from 11 area foundations that understood their significance to the fabric of Western New York. But what of the future? Good government looks ahead.

* He has gutted the office of his likeliest Democratic opponent, Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz.

It's not just the problem of trying to evade the critical oversight of the comptroller's office by cutting its funding, though that was a flat insult to the standards of democratic government and not worth the price. We borrow a little less or build a little more in exchange for weaker oversight of county spending. It's a bad deal.

Part of Collins' calculation, explicitly or implicitly, is that the price was worth it. Again, we don't think so.

The reality is that voters can only choose between the candidates presented to them. Collins has proven he knows how to produce a sizable surplus and evidently he believes it will help return him to office, especially since the Democrats don't seem to be putting up a candidate who can beat him.

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