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Shrinking the county Legislature

For this last week of August, I'm turning to five of my colleagues who have graciously agreed to provide guest posts on topics they've written on of late. We're starting off with Matt Spina, who covers Erie County government. I asked Matt to write about the prospects of a proposal to shrink the Erie County Legislature.

Spina The prospects for a nine-member Legislature are most uncertain.

A Democratic lawmaker, Thomas A. Loughran of Amherst, has placed the challenge before all 15 lawmakers. If a majority accept it, the proposal would go to voters in November 2009, when the lawmakers are seeking re-election.

Loughran says the proposal would be the year's foremost campaign issue. Among the 15, Loughran seemed most impressed by civic activist Kevin Gaughan's call for distressed Erie County to take the sickle to its overgrown thicket of local politicians.

As you might guess, Loughran's proposal makes some lawmakers nervous. As of right now, it has support from just three or four other legislators. It needs eight to pass. A proposal by Legislature Chairwoman Lynn M. Marinelli might derail it.

Marinelli is creating a study commission that will look at length of terms, powers of legislators and the number of legislators, among other things. It would be appointed solely by her and a few other lawmakers. And its findings would have to be accepted by the Legislature as a whole before being put to voters.

In other words the Legislature if it wished -- and this is a cynical view -- could cherry-pick the most self-serving changes recommended by the commission and put them before voters, then discard the rest.

Oh yes, there probably would not be a referendum until 2010, a non-election year for lawmakers.

Marinelli says the call for a smaller legislature should be evaluated holistically, against other reforms that have been broached over the years. That's why she does not want to rush to shrink the legislature.

Here are the lawmakers who, so far, have endorsed the creation of a study commission: Edward A. Rath III, R-Amherst; Robert B. Reynolds, D-Hamburg; Timothy M. Wroblewski, D-Cheektowaga. They are willing to wait while it does its work.

And the lawmakers who have endorsed a nine-member Legislature: John J. Mills, R-Orchard Park; Michael H. Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst; and Kathy Konst, D-Lancaster.

It will be up to Loughran and Gaughan to win more votes for their idea. Expect some bargaining. [If not nine, how about 11? 13?]

But Marinelli need not win any votes to create the commission. Her powers as Legislature chairwoman let her do it on her own.

Tomorrow: Vanessa Thomas writes about what what she finds most striking in the police blotter.

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Quizzing my colleagues
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