Buffalo BEAST - Buffalo's New Best Fiend

Issue #70    Buffalo's New Best Fiend       March 9th - March 23, 2005
Tumors for Sale
by Allan Uthman
ABOUT WHAT'S ON PAGE 7 - I'm Not Sorry
by Matt Taibbi
About the Upcoming Death of the Pope
by Matt Taibbi
by Gabe Armstrong
SPOILER - AV Publisher Ruins Movie for WNY
MIDDLE AMERICA - Out of Step with Hollywood Values
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Buffalo in Briefs
Separated At Birth
Straight Dope w/ Dr. Rotten
Bardak & Eats
Kino Corner
Toons & Puzzles
[SIC] - Your Letters
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BEAST Merchandise
by Gabe Armstrong
Unless you have been living under a rock or slumped over the bar at your local dimly-lit corner pub, you are well aware that Erie County's tits are in a wringer. The budget is in red-mode, meaning our legislators chose to eliminate plenty of jobs and vital services from the county. They chose this instead of "temporarily" hiking the sales tax to a crushing 9.25%.
The blame has gone around faster than you can stealthily light a cigarette in that aforementioned corner bar, without being caught. The legislature's favorite target is county executive Joel Giambra, who sprung the wonderful red budget/green budget scenario upon us in the first place. Of course, Giambra being the "I'll scratch your ass if you scratch mine" sort of goomba, failed to cut much of his personal fat and patronage out of either budget scenario, essentially telling the residents to go to hell in a hand basket while people like his personal lackey Victor Getz could keep their cushy overpaid positions. As a matter of fact, Getz's job was to ferry Joel around for a whopping $84,000 a year-way more money than most of the teachers in Buffalo's crumbling schools will ever dream of making. When Getz's prime job placement started drawing heat, he was moved to another position, heading a nonexistent department. Now he's gone from there, too, but you can bet he'll show up again, at yet another taxpayer teat.

The legislature acted correctly in calling Giambra on his bullshit and denying him his pork-filled green budget the second time around. But many of the legislators' motivations were shallow, especially those with suburban constituencies who eat up any form of anti-tax rhetoric like candy. Although there are some suburbanites who truly care about the future of this city and region, in my experience most of them have the same narrow interests of seeing their taxes kept low as possible and keeping poor, colored kids out of their sheltered school districts.

A never-ending torrent of reader feedback to The Buffalo News shows that people are finally fuming over the way Erie County has been run into the ground. Judging by these letters, the two biggest grievances are the threat of higher taxes and the excessive pork and waste in the budget. Many think that firing as many county employees as possible and running government "like a business" is the key to fixing these problems.

The News has printed countless stories about the mudslinging and bickering, but really has yet to analyze the root causes of this whole mess (one might argue that the News actually benefits from the status quo in Buffalo, since they are making plenty of money and a more vibrant community might spawn another daily paper). In a nutshell, these are some of the underlying problems:

Flight: With the mass explosion of automobile use came a great sense of mobility. In other words, people with the most choice got the fuck out of Buffalo and headed for greener, warmer pastures. Manufacturing jobs, once the bread and butter of this region, also fled south where the labor was cheaper, then de-unionized, eventually fleeing to Mexico and overseas. Buffalo was left with a poor underclass including a strong minority element, left in a perpetual state of unemployment, wage slavery and hopelessness. Much of the middle class that remained fled to the suburbs to avoid those very people. This all, of course, had a negative effect on the county's tax base. Globalization has rendered cold, snowy dumps like Buffalo into sore losers in its grand scheme.

Health care: We have to admit that many of the fiscal crunches facing local government everywhere stem from a state and mostly federal problem. Local municipalities are left between a rock and a hard place, unable to control a problem far beyond their reach. The current American health care fiasco is probably the single largest crisis hammering away at local governments everywhere. The American population is getting sicker than ever, thanks to a contaminated food supply and the unchecked fast food and junk food industries turning us into a collection of apathetic fat slobs.

The mostly unregulated pharmaceutical industry charges whatever the hell they want for drugs while the federal government is too intoxicated with lobby cash to dare negotiating reasonable prices. So obviously, as people get sicker and older and drug prices jump, health care costs are skyrocketing. Federally mandated programs like Medicare and Medicaid have large parts of their bloated costs shuffled onto the backs of state and county government. That, coupled with retiree pensions, renders Erie County unable to support itself much longer without some radical change in plans.

On the other hand, caring for the old and infirm is a moral obligation of any civilized society. Giambra cut property taxes by 30% without making any adjustments to spending, thereby forcing a crisis and exploiting it to increase the sales tax. This is a Republican tactic known as "starving the beast," an effort to weaken social programs and move the tax burden to the poor and middle class. It parallels the Bush plan-and now Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan is proposing a national sales tax to pick up the slack from Bush's tax cuts, again burdening those who can least afford it.

Patronage: For years our city and county governments have been run by career politicians whose primary purpose on the job was to preserve their own political careers instead of bring progressive change to the bodies they govern. Many of these politicians, like Giambra and Masiello, have large rosters of well-connected political operatives and friends in the business community, often high-profile developers. Many civic jobs are given to their friends and family instead of qualified applicants. Patronage has always been an active element of any civil government throughout the ages, but is always worse in an area dominated by a faltering economy and lack of voter participation to hold elected officials accountable for their actions.

What do to?
As stated above, many of the problems Erie County is facing are out of their control due to federal mismanagement. Giambra is correct when he rails against the wrecked state of Medicaid, although he tends to overlook his own history of fiscal mismanagement.

Since local governments have little control, they must resort to outlandish actions if they want to see anything change.

Since the federal government is screwing us over, county politicians need to grow some balls and stop enforcing frivolous federal policies: Stop enforcing drug and prostitution laws. Take out a huge loan and start a single-payer healthcare plan available to all residents-watch how quick businesses will relocate to our region at the prospect of no longer having to pay costly benefit plans. On this single payer plan, we would import all prescription drugs from Canada until the pharmaceutical companies play fair and lower their prices.

Of course, the feds would retaliate and cut off our highway funds. But, if Buffalo/Erie County is really suffering at the hands of New York State and the federal government, we should really make some noise. As one of the USA's hardest-hit regions, failing as a result of uncaring free trade zealots and supply-side hacks, I'd rather see WNY become a pioneering squeaky wheel than simply drop dead like another canary in the rust belt coalmine.

Of course, no candidate from either major party will ever rock the boat to this degree. But maybe we've been through enough to realize that the answer lies beyond the political orthodoxy.

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