WASHINGTON – Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz came to Capitol Hill Wednesday to make his case for continued federal aid for localities – and against the Trump administration's annual effort to slash that funding.
Testifying before the House Budget Committee, Poloncarz said that federal money and tax breaks are essential contributors to the Buffalo area's comeback and that any effort to cut such efforts would be counterproductive.
"The county's economy is growing, but I can't imagine what our fiscal picture would be if some of the president's prior budget proposals have been enacted," Poloncarz told the panel.
For three years, Trump has proposed cuts in the federal programs Poloncarz praised, such as the Community Development Block Grant.
And during what was largely a philosophical discussion on the role of each level of government, Trump's fellow Republicans echoed the sort of arguments he had made in suggesting budget cuts.
"State and local governments, along with private-sector innovation, are best equipped to address domestic needs," said Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, the top Republican on the Budget Committee. "The federal government should focus on finding more opportunities to stay out of the way."
But Poloncarz said communities such as metro Buffalo need the extra boost that federal aid gives them. Proof comes both in the federal assistance Erie County has received – and in what it has not gotten, he said.
Communities across Erie County have used Community Development Block Grant funds and other federal aid programs to address needs that they could not have addressed on their own, he said.
"They can range from very large affordable housing projects in the City of Buffalo to clean water projects in a small, rural community," he said.
And while Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, a Republican, has blamed Poloncarz for neglecting county roads, the county executive noted that Congress has not passed a major infrastructure bill for years.
As a result, "We've been only able to complete a few large projects with the limited federal assistance we receive," Poloncarz said.
He said that's one reason why he supports legislation proposed by Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, which would boost federal infrastructure spending by more than $1 trillion over five years.
Higgins introduced Poloncarz at the hearing, praising him as an effective leader and asking him to explain the county's recent success at driving down the rate of opioid overdoses.
"What we found out is there's no one answer," Poloncarz replied. "It's about education. It's about treatment and ensuring you have more treatment availability. It's about changing prescriber guidelines. It's about getting to people when they're young because unfortunately a number of the individuals who are dying are teenagers."