Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Buffalo Financial Control Board has its offices in our building, and today I happened upon a press conference being given in the lobby by the chairman. This stuff interests me: I even watch the hearings on public access, so I stuck around and listened. In a nutshell, the city will not be able to achieve financial stability by cutting, but serious cuts need to be made. Financial growth and development are necessary. After the jackals of the press were done, I went up and asked, "Aren't you really saying that structural legal reform is going to be necessary before we can get on track?" He acknowledged that this was true, but wouldn't say what the FCB had in mind, or what a timetable might be.

This is the nuts and bolts of government, and it is hard stuff-- in a way I understand why the media reports it so poorly, and why people try to avoid coming to grips with it. It is fine to say that contracts should be awarded on a particular basis, and that public employees should receive certain benefits, but the money has to come from somewhere. A great deal of the time this discussion turns into one about taxes, but that's really too simpleminded-- in New York municipalities (other than NYC) are not taxing authorities. As Howard Dean kept pointing out, the effect of the Bush tax cuts was to increase the amount that states and local entities (in New York the counties) are obliged to raise in tax revenues-- in most places resulting in a net increase in taxes to most people. The form that these taxes take tends to be more regressive as well-- sales and property taxes mostly. Buffalo is sort of stuck-- it cannot raise revenues through taxes, and has law imposed requirements on the things it has to spend for. It is a tough spot to be in, and not the sort of spot where popularly elected leadership is likely to do us much good.

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