Let it be known that Erie County Executive Chris Collins is a man of fierce political intelligence.
Yesterday, in his veto message to the Erie County Legislature, Collins declared the Democrats' entire budget amendment package "null and void." He suggested that he is prepared to back up that assertion in court. But just to make sure that the legislature does not defy any segment of his proposed budget, he made sure to tie his allocation of $3 million in library funding to a promise from Republicans not to override his vetos.
This way, Collins is wielding what many view as a credible threat -- that of legally ignoring the entirety of the budget amendment package, which would have restored $4 million to the libraries and $1.2 million to cultural organizations -- as a scare tactic to force legislature Republicans to uphold his will.
The whole situation is incredibly intricate and complex, and demonstrates Collins' formidable Machiavellian streak and his intuitive understanding of the way Erie County's political machine can be twisted and manipulated. The Legislature's Democrats are struggling to keep up with him.
All of this is a skillfully plotted and sinister tactic for Collins to assert a kind of dictatorial leadership over the county budget process, and one that Legislature Democrats are now trying to fight with a court-ordered delay to today's veto override session.
Last night, I spoke with Republican Legislator Kevin Hardwick, who attempted to explain the labyrinthine process and his thinking on potentially overriding Collins' vetos at today's Legislature session -- scheduled for 2 p.m. but perhaps to be delayed. Hardwick, who certainly sounds as if he has his heart in the right place, also sounds like he may be falling victim to Collins' full-court press of political fearmongering.
Here's what he had to say (it's a good listen, and it demonstrates how Collins consistently throws curve-balls to the Legislature and, in essence, attempts to intimidate and confuse them into voting his way):
"If the County Executive is right" about the Democrats' amendment not having been properly proposed, voted on and filed, "it is game, set and match," Hardwick said. The Dems -- and cultural supporters across the county -- say Collins is wrong, and they seem to have plenty of data to prove it.
It will be fascinating to see this whole process play out. Here's hoping it tilts in favor of reason, and away from fear.
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