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Erie County Legislature approves ECMC deal after a raucous debate

Erie County Medical Center will get its money for a new emergency department and other upgrades.

But supporters of the $100 million-plus borrowing deal first had to overcome a series of last-minute, head-spinning maneuvers and a flurry of amendments on the floor of the Erie County Legislature that tied up lawyers, required repeated intervention by the chairman, and prompted both majority and minority leaders to pop out of their seats like jack-in-the-boxes.

The Legislature voted 6-5 in favor of authorizing the borrowing deal enabling the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority to borrow up to $120 million for the hospital projects.

"At the end of the day, we moved this process forward," said Democratic Minority Leader Thomas Loughran, D-Amherst. "The best interests of the taxpayers were served."

Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo, C-West Seneca, rained a flurry of last-minute amendments on the Democrats in an attempt to forestall the Poloncarz administration from taking ECMC's savings from the deal to offset the county's contribution toward ECMC's care for the poor and underinsured.

"You can't have it both ways," Lorigo said. "You can't say we support the hospital, but we're going to take their money."

Lorigo was first and fast in submitting amendments. Loughran finally decided to remain standing throughout proceedings so he could offer his own amendments and not be overlooked by Chairman John Mills. At one point, Mills called on Loughran mistakenly thinking the legislator wanted to speak, but Loughran was simply anticipating his next chance to cut in front of Lorigo with his own amendment.

"Just getting ready to roll," Loughran said.

In the end, legislators officially voted on six amendments – others were tossed out. Mills announced three recesses to allow legislators enough time to process them all. Lorigo grew more agitated as his amendments went down to defeat, prompting complaints by other legislators. At one point, Lorigo flopped his head on his desk in frustration.

County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who may have been watching the proceedings on Facebook Live, managed to get a shot of that moment and sent a tweet accusing Lorigo of "sleeping on the job."

Lorigo was livid.

Several legislators on both sides of the aisle were swing votes, adding confusion during the meeting to how the final vote would come out.

Legislator Kevin Hardwick, R-City of Tonawanda, sided with the Democrats after being reassured that the county cannot unilaterally accept any money or "credits" from ECMC as part of the borrowing deal without Legislature approval.

"For me, the credits are still an open question," Hardwick said.

Hardwick said he neither supports nor opposes any credits from ECMC to the the county at this point, and until a more thorough analysis of Poloncarz's budget is done, it's prudent to leave everything on the table.

Barbara Miller-Williams, D-Buffalo, briefly considered siding with the Republican-supported legislators opposed to ECMC giving money back to the county. But she said Lorigo asked for too much too soon.

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