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July 20, 2010

The Buffalo News

Lazio brings campaign to local bottling plant

Taxation and job security were the big concerns presented to Rick Lazio during his a brief campaign stop Monday afternoon at Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Buffalo in the Town of Tonawanda.

The Milens Road plant has about 150 employees. Lazio, the Republican candidate for governor, met with about a dozen of them and then took a tour of the facility.

A family-owned business, the company has not had any layoffs in 10 years. But laws like the “Bigger Better Bottle Bill” and the sugar tax proposal mean higher costs that are passed to consumers, job loss and putting companies out of business, said Peter Benzino, vice president and general manager of the company.

“What keeps us up at night is tax legislation,” Benzino told Lazio. “It’s just incredible. How much more can we tax people?”

The bottle bill requires a five-cent deposit on noncarbonated beverages like iced tea, sports drinks and bottled water. The sugar tax proposal would add an extra penny per ounce to soda and sugary drinks with less than 70 percent fruit juice.

“It’s safe to say as the state raises taxes, the options are layoffs and shutting down production,” Benzino said, adding that another choice is to raise prices to the consumer.

Flora Torina, a 22-year employee at the plant, worried about job security.

“I wonder if [my job] is going to be here tomorrow. I wonder will it be here for retirement,” she said.

Lazio said his three priorities for state government include getting the state’s fiscal house in order.

“We can’t continue to operate like this,” he said.

Secondly, benefits and pensions plans for state workers need to be revamped.

Thirdly, state legislators need to get their arms around health care spending, especially Medicaid.

“At a billion dollars a week, we have the most expensive Medicaid in the country,” he concluded. “We need to redesign Medicaid and also educate people about good health care.”

Among other objectives, Lazio said he is committed to equity across the state, as opposed to resources being streamlined downstate. The evidence, he said, is in the selection of his running mate, Chautauqua County Executive Gregory Edwards.

“I purposely picked him,” he said. “I think he’ll be a great go-to person for Western New York issues.”


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