Archive | May, 2009

Meta

29 May

Thanks to Peter Herr and Buffalo Stuff dot net for the very nice piece about me and the site. Check it.

If It’s Sunday, It’s Hardline with Dave Debo

29 May

This week on Hardline, join host Dave Debo for a look at the size of local government.

At 10am, regionalism advocate and “The Cost” proponent Kevin Gaughan will discuss downsizing votes in West Seneca and Evans. Also… Is the Erie County Legislature too big? Martha Lamparelli, the chair of the latest county commission recommending a cut in the number of lawmakers will be hear at 11am, along with Lynn Marinelli, the chair of the legislature.

That’s Hardline, WBEN’s in depth weekly look at WNY politics. This Sunday, from 10 to noon on Newsradio 930 WBEN.

No word yet on whether Dave will be running for county leg anytime soon. 😉

CrimeReport.com: Buffalo

29 May

The City of Buffalo is adding raw crime data to this Google Map mashup.

Disorganized Reform

29 May

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Perhaps it is a reflection of the massive dysfunction of state government that efforts to reform it are as disorganized and dysfunctional as the entity itself.  Take for instance, Leonard Roberto’s group, Primary Challenge.

What started as a grassroots effort to get fresh faces into government with a shared resource pool for candidates who sought to challenge incumbents in primary elections has changed drastically.  First it morphed into a support team for Len’s various efforts to get elected and has now become an effort to abolish New York State Government.  Earlier this month, Primary Challenge held a press conference to announce Project 2010.

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In the event you don’t want to watch the video, here’s the money quote:

As a part of Project 2010 Primary Challenge will sponsor and support a citizen referendum to abolish New York State’s government and institute a new government under a new constitution. The new constitution must include stronger and lasting safeguards of our liberty and prevent the centralization of power into the hands of a small and corrupt body.

Throughout the speech, we are treated with similar language used at the tea party protests in April.  Lots of liberty buzzwords, references to our forefathers and the Declaration of Independence.  Roberto dreams of having armed officers escort our current legislators from their chambers, never to return again.  Problem is, Len is going to need 4.7MM citizens to vote to abolish state government.  That’s a tall order.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown more cynical about politics and I’ve also become more of an absolutist than someone willing to wait for incremental change.  However, I know when an idea is dead on arrival, and this one is.  Why?  First of all, it’s buried in libertarian bullshit which turns me off from jump street and it just seems disorganized with a low likelihood of success.  It also seems to lack unity with the other “reform” groups.

Primary Challenge had some momentum when it was a mildly non-partisan group with designs on reforming government.  Over the course of one year, the group split into warring camps of Republicans and Libertarians who couldn’t seem to agree on an agenda.  Lots of egos and nonsense which put them on a train of 11AM appearances on Tom Bauerle’s radio show and general irrelevance.

We’ve now seen Rus Thompson start his own reform initiative with Carl Paladino called Tea New York which kicked off the reform season by calling for the head of State Senator Bill Stachowski on a silver platter.  Of course, there were no similar calls for the resignation of do-nothing career hacks like Dale Volker or George Maziarz.  I think most people will agree that Stachowski is a waste of legislative space, but at least be intellectually honest enough to call a spade a spade and ask for the resignations of people on the Republican side of the house as well.

You’ve got the ponderous Free New York with their constant libertarian drumbeat and links to Ludwig Von Mises and their steady request for money to study shit we all know is broken.  As usual, most people are cool with the idea of being a libertarian until they read the fucking platform and/or spend more than 30 seconds being scolded by one of the condescending adherents to the ideology.

Then you’ve got ReformNYS, a loose conflagration of unaffiliated quasi-libertarians and fringe Republicans who don’t have a website but have a rollicking mailing list.

So, with all of that as a backdrop, Len Roberto has less than 12 months to unite these disparate factions behind his cause and attract 4,699,850 additional people to sign on to his quest to abolish state government.  So, how’s that working out for him so far?  Yeah, not so good.

In the style of the American Revolution, a small group of people from all over Erie County got together Tuesday night in a City of Tonawanda bar to plan a coup.

The organizer’s goal: To oust New York state government and start over from scratch.

Leonard A. Roberto, founder of Primary Challenge, is hoping to get 4.7 million New York voters to cast a ballot next year to abolish state government. Before a crowd of 11 people in the back room of Gene’s Junkyard Bar and Grill, Roberto tried to make that goal look not only attainable, but essential.

Now, this post has been full of snark, but I applaud Len for trying to do something to fix state government.  However, I criticize because I care.  Your message is off and you’re ideas are too fringe to gain wide acceptance.  You need to drop the liberty speak, stop talking like a fresh graduate of the Cato Institute and get back to basics.  Talk to people, don’t scold them.  Build a big tent, listen to the concerns of the people and break down the issues into simple blocks of information that are divorced from ideology.  Once you do that, you might get people to work with you.  Until then, you’ll be yelling “fire” into an empty theater.  Good luck with all of that.

How Other States Attract Datacenter Projects

29 May

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Last week, the news broke that Yahoo! was in negotiations to build a large dataenter somewhere in Western New York.  While Yahoo! has not yet agreed to build the datacenter in New York, it sure as hell didn’t stop Governor Paterson and other state politicians from patting themselves on the back for getting NYPA to agree to a huge subsidy for the project.  Much was made of the deal in the political realm as it is a symbol for attracting more high technology companies to New York State.  I took issue with the plan as did Jim Heaney of The Buffalo News.

The New York Power Authority has offered hydropower discounts worth $809,940 in an effort to lure a Yahoo! data center to Western New York.

I’ve built a database that tracks allocations of low-cost hydropower the Power Authority has made since 2006. The value of the discounts has worked out to an average of $12,446 per job, per year.

The richest of the deals worked out to $32,733 per head.

Yahoo! would come in at $53,996.

Multiply that by the 15-year contract and you’re at $800,000 and change.

That is an astonishingly large subsidy that we would be giving Yahoo! in exchange for a datacenter they haven’t yet to agreed to build.  I’m not as focused on the size of the subsidy, I am more concerned with what our requirements are for Yahoo! in order to receive such a benefit.  Also, what’s the plan for building on that investment?

After thinking about it for a couple of days, I did a little research on how other states recruit technology companies and court datacenter projects.  Rather than looking to California or Massachusetts (which have a tremendous number of home-grown technology firms), I decided to look at two high growth states who are recruiting companies to set up shop within their borders; Virginia and North Carolina.

First we’ll look at a similar recruitment initiative to our courting of Yahoo! to see how it’s done elsewhere.

In North Carolina, the legislature and economic development authorities are courting Apple as a relocation target for a datacenter.  North Carolina does not have discounted hydropower incentives to throw around, so they approached the issue from a different angle, changing the laws to favor large scale technology investment.

At issue is the way North Carolina calculates income taxes for companies with operations in more than one state. The formula takes into account property, payroll and sales, with each receiving a different weight in the calculation.

The bill, as approved by the House Finance Committee, would consider only the sales portion of the formula for a qualified company, significantly cutting the tax bill for a business with a large investment in North Carolina but comparatively smaller sales.

To qualify for the perk, a company would have to invest at least $1 billion over nine years in one of North Carolina’s more distressed counties.

If the measure passes the legislature, North Carolina will miss out on $3 million in revenue per year in the early stages of the investment and about $12.5 million annually after the full $1 billion is spent, according to an analysis by the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division.

That’s a pretty large giveaway of tax revenue for what will amount to 50-100 jobs from Apple.  However, in a previous courtship of a Google Datacenter, state fiscal authorities estimated a project of this scope would generate $1 billion to the state’s gross economic product over 12 years, and produce a net state revenue benefit of more than $37 million.  A positive development.  The difference between the proposals to Apple and Google being made in North Carolina and the Yahoo! proposal in New York is that North Carolina is requiring a level of investment which would make it difficult for the Apple or Google to walk away without significant harm to the business.  The authorities demand a $1 billion investment in order to receive the tax breaks.  Not so in New York, nothing of the sort.

Virginia is also in the game for the Apple datacenter project.  They already have a favorable tax structure for technology companies and recently passed legislation which would provide tax incentives to datacenter business in the state.

The new measure offers an exemption from the Virginia Retail Sales and Use tax for computer equipment bought or leased between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2020 for use in a data center. The facility must be located in Virginia, generate capital investment of at least $150 million and create at least 50 new jobs that pay one and one half times the prevailing average wage in the locality.

Both states offer access to educated workforces and large university communities.  They also offer favorable tax structures for business and have shown a willingness to offer additional, targeted incentives when the project is right.  In New York State, we offer a similarly talented workforce, but we are home to one of the most unfriendly business climates in the country.  We can offer cheap power, but little else besides an intransigent legislative body which is more interested in turf battles than growth.

In states like North Carolina and Virgina, a common theme is a coordinated plan of attack and unified effort to recruit business to the state.

For instance, in 2003 Virginia launched the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative designed to offer low-cost broadband access throughout the state.  They carefully identified the locations of their broadband network nodes, identified greenfields and shovel-ready sites near those network nodes and began marketing a comprehensive suite of incentives to companies small and large to locate their technology business in counties around the state. With proper planning and coordination, they can achieve scale and generate spinoff enterprise, which is the purpose of luring large anchor corporations.  In North Carolina, there is a technology collaborative amongst different regions of the state which feature coordinated development, planning, recruitment and workforce investment.

In New York, we have an amalgam of agencies fighting one another for symbolic political victories rather than launching a coordinated plan to recruit technology business to the state.  If things are going to change in New York, we need to start planning for our future rather than throwing together ad hoc plans and incentive packages.  It’s not always taxes, taxes, taxes.  We can compete in New York and leverage our positive resources if, and only if, we demonstrate we have a coordinated vision for growth.

In Clarence, Wegmans Lobbies You

28 May

I came home yesterday to find a large envelope from Wegmans. In it was a very slick mailer with a business reply card informing me that Wegmans wants to close its existing Transit Road store in East Amherst and move it further north on Transit on the Clarence side of the street. The proposed new store will be 140k square feet and have all the fancy amenities that the mega Weggies in Hamburg and on Sheridan have. Yes, an expanded prepared foods section would be quite welcome, thx.

Wegmans plans to bring its proposal to the Town Board on June 10th, and this is the first I’ve heard of it. It’s an interesting way for the company to get its side of the story out preemptively to the community-at-large, and one I’ve never seen before in town.

Photos of the mailers are after the jump. Continue reading

Buffalo Niagara Partnership Messaging Failure

28 May

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The Buffalo Niagara Partnership is hosting an event next week to celebrate local companies which have been in business for more than fifty years in Buffalo and Western New York. They are calling it the “Endurance All-Stars“.  Let’s consult with Mr. Merriam and Mr. Webster to define what “endurance” means:

The ability to withstand hardship or adversity; especially the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity

or

The act or an instance of enduring or suffering <endurance of many hardships>

Well, if that isn’t a reaffirming message about the benefits of doing business in Buffalo and WNY, I don’t know what is!

What’s funny is that the Buffalo Niagara Partnership is using their Twitter account to unveil the “businesses” in Buffalo which have some how managed to endure 50 years in Buffalo.  Some of the celebrants:

Cradle Beach Camp

Catholic Charities of Buffalo

Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Cazenovia Park Baptist Church

I imagine the awards ceremony goes something like this:

The award for greatest ability to suffer through and endure 50 years of decline, misery and a horrible business climate in this shit hole of a region goes to…

I think it’s telling that the majority of the celebrants are non-profits, churches, colleges and government agencies.

So, the messaging of this event is that it’s a horrible struggle to stay in business locally and most of those who have been able to do it are not in the business of making a profit.  Let’s see how their sister organization, Buffalo Niagara Enterprise will decorate this pig with lipstick.

Kevin Gaughan On Regionalism and Consolidation

28 May

A few months back, civic activist Kevin Gaughan authored a guest post on this blog regarding his efforts to downsize government.  He has detailed his study and plans on his website, Let People Decide.

With the vote to downsize the West Seneca Town Board from five members to three coming up next week, I thought it would be helpful to revisit the issue.

The back and forth between the downsizing proponents and those in favor of the status quo has grown a little bit ugly as of late.

If you’re interested in what Kevin’s opponents have to say, you can check out their informational website, The True Cost.

Thanks very much for your discussion of my work, and more important, for the clear and fierce desire for a better future for our community that’s evident in everyone’s comments.

I’ve been ploughing the reform rows now for over a decade. And I’ve learned a great deal — traveling to successful regions and interviewing their citizens and politicians; visiting each of our 45 local governments; and most important, conducting my study on the cost of local government.

Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned is that what we have here in terms of man-made and God-given gifts is even greater than we think. And the degree to which our government system holds us back is even worse than we know.

Of course, the greatest challenge is posed by the inordinate number of governments in Erie County — 45. I take a measure of pride in leading the call for regional cooperation and consolidation over 8 years ago. But the harsh reality is that our public servants will not do it on their own.

Indeed, we’ve all known we have too much local government in WNY for over 40 years, and no one has been able to do anything about it. After giving it considerable thought, I realized that there’ a reason why we’ve failed for almost half a century, to achieve reform. And that is that there’s a missing step, a mezzanine if you will, that’s indispensable to reaching our goals.

And that missing step is, surprisingly enough, just making some change, any change, that will restore folk’s belief in our ability to change. (Western New Yorkers healthy and very American skepticism about government has, rightly so, risen to a level of cynicism. They’ve given up. In some all way, my work is less about reducing government and more about restoring a sense of possibility in people’s minds.)

So when I discovered a little-known law that permits citizens to force local board downsizing through the petition process, a little light went off in my head and I thought this is the answer. Witness our success in Depew, Lancaster, and soon, I hope, the Erie County legislature which is considering my proposal to reduce from 15 to 9 members, I think I’m on the right track.

My study showed that the 439 elected officials we have in Erie County is more than 10 times the number of politicians in any like-sized area of the nation. They are not only an unnecessary cost burden, but they stand as impediments to creating consensus for change necessary to accomplish any public effort — witness, peace bridge, waterfront, etc. (To the writer concerned with representation, it’s a valid thought. But kindly look at my study and you’ll see that we’ve overdone it beyond any sane level here in New York State.)

Please know as well, that the financial benefits to my plan that 45 municipalities eliminate 2 pols (90 pols in all) is not insignificant. Far beyond their compensation, the real cost of sustaining them is the life-long benefits they receive (my research revealed that over 75% of them stay long enough to qualify for benefits), which total tens of millions of dollars.

As perhaps you know, my plan also includes dissolving each of the 16 villages in Erie County. See, http://www.thecost.org/BuffaloNews_Gaughanwantsall16villagesinErieCountytomergewithtowns.pdf

I made this proposal last summer based on having attended over 175 town and village board meetings during the past two years. And the law I discovered permits citizens to accomplish village dissolution through the petition process as well.

So keep your ears open, Cap’n, as come the Spring, we’re going to start with two village dissolutions along with downsizing referenda in 3 towns.

I’m the luckiest guy in the world to be able to do this work. I believe in government. And I believe in an activist government assisting an aspirational people. But of all the adjectives you could use to describe our present system, progressive or effective is not among them.

All I’m trying to do is restore local government to a shape and size that will permit it to act as a boost and not a burden to our community.

With friendship and esteem,

Kevin Gaughan

Progress on Government Consolidation

28 May

Albany controls it all. Every municipal and county government is an integral subset of state government, and the latter doesn’t make it easier for the former to consolidate or reform in order to help keep expenses and taxes down.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is looking to change all that.

A bipartisan bill is moving through Albany that would (via Rochester D&C):

make it easier for county and town officials to abolish local special districts that serve single functions such as water, sewer and firefighting service.

The plan would give citizens the power to put on the ballot proposals to consolidate governments if they get the signatures of 10 percent of voters (or 5,000, whichever is less). But the Cuomo plan is voluntary.

There are over 10,500 entities in New York State imposing taxes and fees in this state, and this bill would enable voters to consolidate or eliminate them as they see fit.

Evidently, the bill has hit a temporary snag in the State Senate,

Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer, D-Mamaroneck, said she’s worried the bill might make it too easy to put the matter on the ballot- Cuomo’s bill would require just 10 percent of voters to sign a petition – and doesn’t require a detailed plan before the vote. She also said she doubts much money would be saved.

“This could cause some serious disruptions,’’ she said.

Sen. Tom Morahan, R-New City, voiced similar reservations.

“What are the savings? I’d like to see some numbers,’’ he said

Well, I don’t know how much money would be saved, but every penny counts and the reduction and consolidation of taxation entities can only help start the ball rolling towards other reforms to make New York less top-heavy, and leaner.

Gay Marriage, Prop 8 & Obama

28 May

Because I’m not from Gulli-fornia, I haven’t paid exquisite attention to the Prop 8 battle. In a nutshell, the California Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. Opponents put forth Prop 8, a ballot question to ban gay marriage, and it won by a narrow margin. There was a great deal of controversy over the fact that the Mormon Church was extremely active and raised a lot of money to pass Prop 8.

Naturally, a lawsuit was brought to overturn Prop 8. One of the attorneys representing proponents of gay marriage/opponents of Prop 8 is former Bush Solicitor General Ted Olson.

Here’s an explanation of why Olson is advocating for gay marriage (original from this article):

“I personally think it is time that we as a nation get past distinguishing people on the basis of sexual orientation and that a grave injustice is being done to people by making these distinctions,” Olson told me Tuesday night. “I thought their cause was just.”

I asked Olson about the objections of conservatives who will argue that he is asking a court to overturn the legitimately-expressed will of the people of California. “It is our position in this case that Proposition 8, as upheld by the California Supreme Court, denies federal constitutional rights under the equal protection and due process clauses of the constitution,” Olson said. “The constitution protects individuals’ basic rights that cannot be taken away by a vote. If the people of California had voted to ban interracial marriage, it would have been the responsibility of the courts to say that they cannot do that under the constitution. We believe that denying individuals in this category the right to lasting, loving relationships through marriage is a denial to them, on an impermissible basis, of the rights that the rest of us enjoy…I also personally believe that it is wrong for us to continue to deny rights to individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

That argument is as persuasive as it is reasonable. And if a referendum is passed that is contrary to the rights set forth in the Constitution, it must be stricken.

This is all interesting not only from a gay marriage standpoint, but it’s relevant in terms of what now passes for a debate over Sonia Sotomayor. You don’t think the court makes policy? Of course it does. It does so with every decision it makes, negatively or affirmatively. Everything the Court does is important from a Constitutional perspective, and when it affirms or overturns a statute or the result of a case, it is setting policy. Every. Single. Time.

It’s a co-equal branch of government, not some completely independent body that sits off on the sidelines deciding random cases. It is an integral part of our system of checks and balances. Like the other two co-equal branches of government, it sets policy. To say otherwise is silly.

With that said, when die-hard conservatives like Ted Olson can come to the conclusion that gay marriage is an equal protection issue protected by the Constitution, then there’s no reason why the Obama Administration or any Democrat should be reticent about supporting gay marriage. And if you don’t want to call it gay marriage, then we get into a semantic argument that serves no purpose. Call it Fred for all I care, so long as gay couples can have their relationships legally recognized, together with the rights that every other married couple enjoys.

The California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8, and now it’ll be hopefully on its way to the United States Supreme Court.