Pathway to prosperity includes some potholes

President's budget would affect Western New Yorkers in mixed ways

President Obama's proposed budget works to provide a road to middle class jobs and development projects in Western New York, while ignoring environmental concerns and the most needy members of the community.

The budget proposal, announced Tuesday, comes ahead of the mid-term elections in November. Though it stands no chance at congressional approval, it will be an effective political tool for Democrats looking to position themselves as pro-growth advocates and middle class defenders.

The budget itself - proposing more funds funneled to education and job programs on a national scale funded by cutting upper-class tax loop holes - is nothing beyond political posturing on the part of the president.

This fact speaks to the political dysfunction the country faces today. But Obama put forth a preemptive strike against the criticism, saying, "A budget is about choices, it's about our values."

And the president's values are clearly displayed in the budget, particularly in terms of its effect on Buffalo and the Western New York area.

Beyond a generally populist tone and the rhetoric of "strengthening the middle class," the budget's realities are a bit more complex and mixed.

The proposed $3.9 trillion budget does increase jobs in WNY. The plan would secure another 2,000 customs agent positions, expanding employment at the U.S.-Canada border. Additionally, the plan would increase funds for improving and repairing infrastructure in the area, providing construction jobs.

It is important to note, however, that while these jobs would be welcome in the Buffalo community, they are hardly anything to build an economy around. The region, and much of the nation, is still in need of a true economic engine with manufacturing continuing to relocate overseas.

The budget makes the New Market Tax Credit Program - originally introduced in 2000 to provide tax incentives to developers building in lower-income areas - permanent. The program has been lauded as a force to revitalize Buffalo's downtown.

The reality is a bit more controversial, though, as most of the developments it incentivized were luxury lofts. These tall lofts, restricted to use by those wealthy enough to afford them, overshadow the realities of poverty on the ground.

These boons to the Buffalo area, while themselves tepid benefits, are coming with serious costs.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides grants to help poor households pay for heating and cooling bills, was proposed to be cut by $625 million after being cut last year. The program is vital, particularly in Buffalo, where tens of thousands suffer from difficulties in paying high heating bills.

The budget also proposes a $25 million cut to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which works to improve and remediate polluted areas around the Great Lakes. In Buffalo, the project cleans up toxins, combats invasive species and restores wetlands.

In an age of austerity and a federal fiscal deficit (which has been rapidly falling in recent years), some cuts are expected and necessary to balance any budget, regardless of how unlikely it is to be passed. But as the president so cogently remarked, budgets reflect values.

Obama's budget, in the way it will impact WNY, ignores the poor and the environment, putting stock in temporary jobs and development projects with little proven success.

This path to prosperity is being built atop environmental concerns and miles away from those that need it the most.