As we alluded to in Monday's post, it appears Niagara County Legislator Sean O'Connor has found a loophole in a resolution that would have required any legislator with at least 20 years in office to pay 50% of his health insurance, while still retaining his seat in the Leg.
Unfortunately for both sides of the aisle, this issue has become quite a political hot potato. The Dems are contending that the resolution was designed to force O'Connor out of office, while the Reps state that the resolution will affect no less then eight members of their own caucus should they reach 20 years of service.
What's somewhat disconcerting is the amount of time and effort O'Connor has put into preserving his benefits. Over the past few years that we have followed the Leg, we've never seen any substantive activity from O'Connor. Rarely a resolution, or a proclamation or even some words on the floor of the Leg. Now, from what we have learned, he sent out press releases to GNN, the Buffalo News, as well as channels 2, 4 & 7 protesting his loss of benefits.
What is somewhat less clear is O'Connor's intent. Does he believe that by having this issue broadcast on the news that he will get public sympathy for his cause? Does he think that someone will start a fund to help him get through these difficult times, like when someone is struck with an illness so friends and family put together a fundraiser to help out?
Reading Tom Prohaska's Buffalo News story this morning, O'Connor just may get some contributions. Prohaska goes on about O'Connor finding a loophole and how he'll save $6,000 a year. But nowhere, and this is a fascinating omission, does Prohaska state that the health insurance loophole that O'Connor has found will cost the taxpayers $12,000 this year. Yes, he states that it will cost $12,000 a year, but never reinforces the fact we will foot that bill. Add another 15% or so per year for the rest of O'Connor's life to come up with the total cost.
That being said, this is not an indictment of Sean O'Connor. If I were in his position, I would be doing the same thing. Having served for 22 years, most of those years with the promise of lifetime benefits, O'Connor should fight for them. This is an indictment of the benefit itself. Lifetime health insurance is a benefit that should not be offered to any elected official. I wonder how many other elected or appointed officials across Niagara County enjoy the same benefit.
The Reps also have handled this issue poorly. While there are some who may legitimately be motivated by the fact that elimination of lifetime health will save the taxpayers millions of dollars, others may be motivated by politics.
Chairman-elect Bill Ross, when asked by WGRZ's Kristin Donnelly "Was this resolution politically motivated to get him out of office, or was it to save money?", responded with "I think as I said, it's a double-edged sword, it had a little of both." That's a pretty stunning admission by Ross.
Normally when we hear that an action is politically motivated, we have a tendency to automatically condemn it. But the the $64,000 question is this: Is politically motivated action acceptable when it leads to taxpayers saving money? Maybe more relevant, does it take political motivation to save the taxpayers money?
Personally, I don't care what it takes to reduce my taxes. Close Mt. View, cut services, reduce personnel, privatize any county service that can be privatized, whatever can be done. And if one part-time Legislator losing a $500,000 benefit keeps a half a million in the pockets of the taxpayers, so be it - politically motivated or not.