Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Interview with Mark Poloncarz

Yesterday, Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz was generous enough to give us an interview about the bailout, important local issues, and prospects for Western New York's economic future. Here's what he had to say.


What do you think about Congress voting down the bailout yesterday?
Thankfully it didn’t have negative ramifications today. It had a huge impact yesterday. The markets leveled themselves out. Something has to be done. There has to be something due to the impact it will have. Banks are, unfortunately, failing. Two of the largest banks – Washington Mutual and Wachovia – are really no longer existing, investment banks no longer exist. Something needs to be done to protect the end consumer, the people who received loans that they can’t pay now, as well as to insure that our banking industry doesn’t fail or else we’ll be facing a much greater crisis. We’ll be seeing higher unemployment, higher inflation, as well as continued degradation of the markets. And this doesn’t change, so something has to be done now that the original bailout was rejected. They’re going to have to come back with other proposals. Unfortunately, no one’s going to get exactly what they want. Conservatives aren’t going to get everything they want, and progressives and liberals aren’t going to get everything they want. It’s going to have to reach some sort of compromise, and I don’t know if they know exactly what that is at this point.

What do you think about the job situation here in Western New York?
Well, we were never the hotbed of economic activity, though to tell you the truth, right now we’re in better shape than other parts of the country. We’ve not had the housing issues like other parts because we never had the boom, we don’t see the bust. Thankfully, we never had the many subprime mortgages in this area, so we’re not seeing the result of that. If the US economy takes a downturn, it’s going to hurt this area. We need new jobs; we need them from new industries. The old industries no longer exist in this area so we’ll have to rely on new industries. And anybody who thinks that the old industries are coming back are wrong. Whether they’re green types of industries or not, banking – certainly they’ll be less types of banks than there were before, so it’s going to be tough to get new banks to come to this area, but the financial services industry is still going to exist, so hopefully we can take a portion of that, and move on. We’re at least better situated to survive an economic downturn, especially compared to other parts of the country. No one’s invulnerable from this, but we’re in a little better situation.

Some Congressional candidates have suggested loosening restrictions on businesses. What kind of effect do you think that strategy might have on Western New York?
Well, I certainly would hate to see more deregulation. Unfortunately, deregulation is one of the reasons for the economic crisis today. Loosening restrictions on businesses is not the best way to go. Especially when we’re talking about the financial industry, we need to regulate a little bit more to ensure that the decisions that these banks make do not have the impact that we see today. I don’t think that deregulation – especially with what we’ve seen in the last few months, but more importantly in the last few years – is in this country’s or in this region’s best interest.

What’s the most frustrating issue you’re facing right now as County Comptroller?
We just finished a loan that thankfully we were able to get done by the end of today, otherwise we would have run out of money. Dealing with the Control Board and their refusal to allow my office to close loans on behalf of the County is frustrating. I could have easily done this weeks ago at a lower rate, but they refused to do it. They refused to let me do it, they said they were going to do it, and then when they tried to close the loan, they were incapable of doing it and had to turn to me anyway. It takes a lot of effort to argue who can do it, but it’s a lot easier to just do it. And so in this situation, I would just prefer that they allow me to do the borrowing.

Dealing with the County Executive is also another interesting issue. It’s often frustrating because we don’t always agree – on some things we do, but other things we don’t. So, I’ve always said that he shouldn’t take anything I say personally. It’s not a personal attack on him, it’s just a difference of opinion on the direction I think the County should go in compared to him. We have different roles, but that doesn’t mean that I can sit back and let him do whatever he wants.

What do you think is the biggest issue that Western New Yorkers should be concerned about right now?
The economy, certainly, is the number one issue on most people’s minds across the country. An economic slowdown in this country will hurt us all, regardless of where we live. We may be in a little better position than most parts of the country because we didn’t have the huge booms, so we don’t have the busts that they’re going through right now, but we have to be prepared for belt-tightening and tougher economic times. That is the number one issue, it has been for some time, and it will continue to be. I guess the best way to look at it is that New York State is going to be facing huge, multi-billion dollar budget shortfalls, and usually that gets passed on to the municipalities. When New York City catches a cold, Albany catches the flu, and usually Buffalo and Erie County gets pneumonia. But right now, New York City has the flu, Albany has pneumonia, which is not a good sign for Western New York. So, we have to just kind of tighten our belts and hope for the best. This economic issue is going to affect all of us for some time to come. We’ve not seen anywhere near the impact that we will see, especially as they resolve the issues in Albany with New York State’s government problems.

So, what do you think about the 26th Congressional race?
Well, the democrats have a candidate in Alice Kryzan, who is a strong candidate. I’ve known Alice for a number of years. This is a determination on the direction that people want to take the rest of this country. You look at the difference between Alice Kryzan and Chris Lee, and you usually note differences between their positions, but it’s also, “Where does this country want to go?” Do we want to continue more of the same, more of what you saw under George W. Bush, more of what you’d see under John McCain, more of what you saw in Tom Reynolds, which was a Congressman who rarely was in Western New York, who was doing what he needed to do for the national Republican party? And I think with Chris Lee, you’ll get more of the same. You’ll get a Congressman who, in all likelihood, would be in the minority, would have very little say, very little help and assistance for this area, and in all likelihood would not really do much for this area. Alice has been a strong advocate for her clients over the years, she’s a hard worker, she’s a fighter. And she is looking to move this country forward, especially this community when it deals with green industry. I think she’s a strong candidate, one that I’m hoping the people of the 26th Congressional district will vote in because if so, it will give this area another voice in the majority as we move forward to not only create a better country, but also a better Western New York.

Thank you so much!
You’re welcome. Thank you, ladies.


Thanks again to Comptroller Poloncarz for taking the time to speak with us.

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