BUFFALO, N.Y. - Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz hinted on Monday that the county may need to raise taxes if Congress passes President Donald Trump's budget blueprint, which calls for deep cuts to several federal agencies that help support state and local governments.
President Trump's 53-page blueprint, which is only a preliminary overview of the executive budget proposal, outlines a plan to increase military spending by $54 billion. To offset those costs, the Trump administration identified spending cuts in places like the Environmental Protection Agency, which would lose more than a quarter of its budget, and the departments of State, Labor, Agriculture, Education, among many others.
The Trump administration has presented the budget plan as a reinforcement of the president's campaign promises. It bolsters defense, offers billions for a border wall and extra border agents and demands non-defense agencies to operate with "greater efficiency and to eliminate wasteful spending," a phrase aligning with conservative economic ideals.
However, County Executive Poloncarz, a Democrat, called President Trump's blueprint "heartless," arguing that it puts Erie County's most vulnerable and poorest citizens at risk of losing essential services.
"It's cruel," Poloncarz said, "and it will have a negative impact on the entire county."
In response to the president's blueprint, Poloncarz commissioned the "Report On the Impact of the Trump Administration's Proposed 2018 Federal Budget Blueprint on Erie County," which he unveiled at a news conference on Monday. The report includes a review from six county agencies, all outlining how the president's proposals would affect their specific departments.
The impacts include:
-- A loss of funding for cleanup of the Buffalo River, due to the president's proposed elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
-- A potential impact to the funding of the Meals on Wheels program for seniors, since the president's budget would call for a 17.9 percent reduction in Health and Human Services funding at the federal level
-- The complete elimination of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), which serves more than 225,000 people in Erie County
"They are going affect your life one way or another," Poloncarz said, "Because even if it doesn't affect you directly, if it requires the county to increase our expenditures in the Health and Human Services area, we're gonna have to raise taxes to pay for it. It's as simple as that."
Poloncarz does enjoy some support from Republicans in the Erie County Legislature. The Republican Caucus released a statement in support of funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, as well as Meals on Wheels and HEAP. In the blueprint document, the Trump administration argued that HEAP is a "low-impact" program that is "unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes."
John Mills, the Republican chairman of the Erie County Legislature, took issue with the Trump administration on all of these topics.
"The proposed cuts to these important programs need to be reviewed. Slashing funding for many of the programs mentioned would be a mistake," Mills said.
Poloncarz said he has discussed his concerns with Democratic Congressman Brian Higgins, but he has not yet had a personal conversation with Republican Congressman Chris Collins' office. Collins, however, has not offered full support for the president's budget proposal, despite the fact he was the first member of the House of Representatives to endorse him for president.
In a statement to 2 On Your Side, Collins said he had "several concerns about significant cuts to local programs, which I believe go too far." Collins said he also supports funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, as well as agriculture funding and the 21st Century Cures Initiative through the National Institutes of Health. In an appearance on CNN, Collins also specifically emphasized the need for protecting Meals on Wheels, although the exact funding impact through the Department of Health and Human Services is still unclear at this point.
County Executive Poloncarz did find one positive in the budget proposal: The Trump administration has pledged to commit $500 million in federal funding to fight the opioid epidemic.
Poloncarz said he'll send a copy of the county's report to each member of Congress representing Erie County, as they prepare to move through the federal budget process.
"The public needs to understand that these cuts do exist," Poloncarz said. "If you wait until after the budget is passed, it's too late."
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