Tag Archives: Albany

Things to Ask the New York State Thruway Authority (Update: Ray Walter Asked Some)

31 Jan

(Assemblyman Ray Walter posted this to Facebook on Thursday…

Transportation Budget Hearing today. Tweet or FB me your questions for DOT and Thruway and I’ll try to get them in.#Budget2014

…Here are the questions I “Facebooked”): 

1. Why do we need a Thruway Authority? In other words, why can’t the State DOT assume the duty to maintain the roads over which the Thruway has jurisdiction? 

2. Assuming there is a satisfactory answer to #1, why can’t the Thruway Authority automate toll collection? This would save money for the Authority, and lost productivity and time for motorists. 

3. How much does the Thruway Authority cost to operate every year as a separate entity, and how much of that is paid through tolls? 

4. Similar to #2, but even if not fully automated, what reason exists to employ actual human beings to act as a middleman between a ticket dispensing machine and a motorist? Is there some magical forcefield that prevents motorists from taking a ticket themselves? 

5. The toll barriers in Williamsville, Lackawanna, and at the PA border are inadequate for the amount of traffic they get during peak times in the summer. Will the TA institute a process to let motorists through toll-free during bad back-ups to alleviate traffic, and to prevent the poisoning of the air for nearby residents? 

6. The TA operates the I-190, which handles most Canadian traffic. Why are the only tourism offices located at the Angola and Clarence plazas? Why is there no rest area / tourism office serving Canadians arriving on the Q-L, Rainbow, and Peace Bridges to spend money in WNY? 

7. Also related to #2, EZ-Pass has the capability to collect tolls while traffic moves at highway speeds. Why is there no “EZ-Pass only” lane that lets vehicles go by at highway speeds at the major barriers in WNY? 

8. It is my understanding that the tolls at Williamsville cannot be expanded due to lack of space. There has been a big push by certain towns (especially Vill of W’Ville) to move the barrier (if one needs to exist) back to somewhere between Clarence and the Pembroke exit. Why hasn’t this happened? What is the hold-up? 

9. EZ-Pass transponders are operating throughout Manhattan. Why?

10. Is there any other system that might be implemented for the collection of tolls on the NYS Thruway that the TA has looked into? For instance, payment by mobile phone, payment of an annual, daily, or weekly pass to use the road, etc? 

11. Will the TA raise the speed limit on the Thruway in rural areas between Albany – PA Line to 75 MPH? 

12. The numbering scheme for exits on the Thruway is counterintuitive – many exits have been added and instead of re-numbering the system to accommodate them, the TA has just slapped an “A” at the end of the exit. Other states have implemented a system whereby the exit numbers correspond with the mile markers. When I wrote to the TA 10 yrs ago about this, they claimed that they couldn’t make this change because the road actually follows the I-87 and then the I-90, but this makes no sense. After all, the exit numbering scheme sequential along these two roadways, and the mile markers begin at 0 at the Deegan/Yonkers line and ascend along the I-87, continuing to the I-90. The Transit Road exit in Depew should be 415. 

That’s all I’ve got for now.

UPDATE: Assemblyman Walter got to ask some of them. Here’s what the Thruway guy said:

Trump: An Exercise in Brand Destruction

18 Jan

Dear New York State ultra right-wing Republicans: 

Andrew Cuomo is right. 

The reason you’re so angry? You know he’s right. 

But I would say the state GOP is split into three distinct factions, not just two. 

In 2010, the Republican Party was divided between the wealthy, country clubby downstate moderate Republican hierarchy on the one hand, and a brash, obscene, bellicose, ultra right-winger who energized (and was energized by) the Palinist wing of the tea party.  The glibertarian Paulist wing of the tea party also backed Paladino, somewhat begrudgingly. What all this amounted to was a complete blow-out whereby Democrat Andrew Cuomo defeated Carl Paladino 61% – 34%. 

Paladino was largely self-funded, and could buy himself all the media attention he wanted. His only disadvantage was his own mouth. And the policies he espoused. New Yorkers rejected him convincingly. 

Now, the ultra-right Palinists are thisclose to recruiting Donald Trump to run for governor against Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo is, I’m sure, not relishing the fight because Trump has many advantages over Carl Paladino; for instance, Trump has an international brand; Trump is reasonably well-liked by people, regardless of his weird politics; Trump knows how to make headlines, and do so positively for himself; Trump has been vetted in the media for decades; people know Trump for fun things that have nothing to do with politics; he is a known quantity downstate;  and, Trump has the New York Post in his pocket. 

Trump has some negatives, too, though; for instance, he has no filter between his brain and his mouth; he can be not just exceedingly rude and hostile, but downright vicious when dealing with people who offer him even mild criticism; Trump has been scrutinized as a tabloid celebrity, but not as a serious candidate for elected office; Trump does not play well with others, and is used to getting exactly what he wants (or can buy); Trump is likely to mirror Paladino’s bellicose attitude and alienate many voters; Trump’s utterly bizarre and inexplicably vocal birtherism will make Obama voters (62.6% of New Yorkers voted for Obama vs. 36% for Romney) reject Trump outright; and Trump has never, ever before paid a stitch of care or attention to anything west of the Hudson and/or north of Saratoga when it comes to New York State. 

If Republicans think that Trump can win (if he runs), they may be right – he has a chance. But it won’t remotely be the cakewalk they’re thinking it’ll be.  Cuomo isn’t warm and fuzzy, either, but he is a centrist Democrat. 

New York State is overwhelmingly populated by Democrats. The vast majority of New York voters are located within the New York City metropolitan area and media market. These people know Trump, and while upstate flirts with this pretty TV celebrity, he’s old hat downstate. Many of them are likely to not take him at all seriously. 

All of these hypotheticals are naturally based on the assumption that he’ll run. He won’t if there’s a primary, he says, and the country clubbers that run the New York GOP aren’t warming to Trump yet. I’m not so sure he’ll run – this is already a huge publicity stunt for him, and running is secondary. What a wonderful branding exercise. 

But is it? Is Trump ready to sacrifice his brand further by wading into hyperpartisan politics? As an Obama supporter, I’ve already resolved to avoid anything with Trump’s name on it like the plague; I see his relentless birtherism as thinly veiled racist xenophobia, and I see his rejection of irrefutable evidence as a huge character flaw that disqualifies him for public office, and the money I earn. If Donald Trump thinks that the President is a foreign national who is ineligible for the Presidency in the face of a certified long-form Hawaiian birth certificate, that calls his judgment and credibility into question. Now expand that aggressive ignorance into state politics, and he’ll alienate Democrats and moderate Republicans even more. 

Oh, and here’s a tip, tea partiers: stop calling Andrew Cuomo “il Duce”. He was duly elected, and you maintain a right to hate and criticize him. He is, therefore, not a fascist totalitarian dictator. But he is Italian. Your defamation of Cuomo with this false, childish, base slur will not ingratiate you or your candidates to New Yorkers of Italian descent. This bigotry is vile and beneath you; you might as well call him a mob boss or depict him as an organ-grinder as soon as you’d depict Obama as an African chieftain or with a watermelon

Because for all the bleating about the NY SAFE Act, this race will be decided in Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties. The rural areas will go for the Republican, the urban areas will go for the Democrat, and these key suburban swing counties could go either way. Right-leaning upstate counties simply don’t have a lot of people. 60% or so of New Yorkers are registered Democrats. 30% or so of New Yorkers are registered Republicans. The Conservative and Independence Parties are now wholly owned subsidiaries of the Republican Party, so add another 5% on the Republican side. That’s the gap that Trump would have to win, and Cuomo made the point that he’s too extreme. 

Here’s what Cuomo had to say in remarks that enraged many New York right-wingers: 

You have a schism within the Republican Party. … They’re searching to define their soul, that’s what’s going on. Is the Republican party in this state a moderate party or is it an extreme conservative party? That’s what they’re trying to figure out. It’s a mirror of what’s going on in Washington. The gridlock in Washington is less about Democrats and Republicans. It’s more about extreme Republicans versus moderate Republicans.

… You’re seeing that play out in New York. … The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act — it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.

If they’re moderate Republicans like in the Senate right now, who control the Senate — moderate Republicans have a place in their state. George Pataki was governor of this state as a moderate Republican; but not what you’re hearing from them on the far right.”

Republicans can take umbrage to that, but it’s a fundamentally true declaration. New York Republicans may enjoy the extreme hatenouncements of pretty billionaires and petty millionaires, but your average New Yorker is pretty middle-of-the-road. Pataki won because he wasn’t an extremist. Cuomo won because he wasn’t an extremist. It’s about the center in New York, and Trump may have had appeal there before the birtherism, but now he’s just Paladino with a cleaner outbox, a TV endorsement, and more money in the bank. 

Oh, by the way, the New York State Attorney General is suing Trump for defrauding students through a now-defunct “Trump University” which took money in exchange for nothing.  

So, my initial prediction is that Trump won’t win because (a) there would likely be a primary; and/or (b) he doesn’t need the headache. If I’m wrong and he does run, then I think he outperforms Paladino, but doesn’t defeat Cuomo. The reason why? Trump is being backed and promoted by a small minority of a small minority political party – a fraction of 35% of the state population. 

You guys are great at buying your own BS, and because you only credit right-leaning media and reject any sort of critical thought or debate, you think that you “surround us”. The problem is that the numbers are not in your favor, and the ease with which you descend into crass, ugly rhetoric doesn’t help. This is before we get to the actual policies you espouse, most of which would never fly in a cosmopolitan blue state like New York. 

So, good luck with this, but you might want to consider ways in which centrists and liberals might be attracted to Trump, rather than alienating them right from the start. Have a great weekend!

Love, BP

Doctor’s Orders

9 Jan

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com

Dennis the Assemblyman

24 Dec


(Sung (more or less) to the tune of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

You know Cole and Fossella, Lopez, and Chris Lee,

Spitzer and Massa and Weiner – those three!

But can you believe,

the skeeziest claims come to be

 

Dennis

Dennis the Cheektowagan,

has a very cushy job.

He hires pretty women,

and jokes around about his knob. 

 

Dennis’ young accusers,

say that he’s a pre-da-tor.

One says his office camera,

stored photos that he took of whores!

 

He told one girl that he likes butts, 

and asked her to sleep over. 

Invited one for a “massage”,

as per the court disclosure.

 

All of the Cheektowagans

used to throw their votes to him.

Now they won’t vote for Dennis,

everything is pretty grim

 

Three twenty-somethings lawyered up,

their claims will make you groan.

One was sent a video 

showing Dennis getting blown!

 

Dennis the Cheektowagan, 

said to one girl, “may I please fuck you”? 

Now he’s a statewide story,

his Albany career is through!

Unfair Blame and Facile Hypocrisy

2 Jun

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, is widely attributed to Jimmy Carter’s Director of the Office of Budget and Management Bert Lance. He coined it to describe a simple way to save government money. 

It’s been a little over a week since Clarence voters overwhelmingly rejected a crisis budget for next year, which would have kept spending steady at 1%, but required a one-time above-cap school tax increase of approximately 9.8%. A week later, we learned how deeply the cuts would go – $2 million here, $2 million there, and pretty soon, something that wasn’t “broke” is teetering on the edge of educational insolvency. 30 people are losing their jobs. There is nothing to cheer about here. 

Insult has been added to injury, thanks to one outrageous column from Donn Esmonde, gloating from the millionaire anti-school faction, and a completely misguided editorial from the Buffalo News itself. 

It’s been a bad few weeks for anyone who expects – needs – excellence from the Clarence Schools. 

On Saturday, former union worker Donn Esmonde praised the bright ideas of Roger Showalter, one of the two “vote no” candidates who was elected to the school board this year (both of whom are related by marriage). 

Public records reveal that Showalter lives in a house on Strickler Road that has an assessed 2013 value of $247,000. Thanks to the state’s STAR program, only $217,000 of that is used to calculate school taxes.  In Saturday’s column, Esmonde writes that Showalter has five kids attending Clarence schools. This means that, had the proposed budget been passed, Showalter’s family would have incurred an additional $20 – 30/month in school taxes to ensure that his kids’ teachers and programs remained employed and intact, respectively; that’s $4 – 6 per pupil, per month. If you can afford a $250,000 house, is $20/month to keep teachers employed and programs intact that onerous a hardship? 

Why didn’t they just raise the levy 2% every year, some ask. Well, if they had, the rate would be higher now

In 1993, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) filed suit against the State of New York, alleging that schools in the New York City area were underfunded, and that this denied kids a quality education. The CFE won its final appeal in November 2006, which ordered the state to spend about $14 billion to improve the quality of New York City schools.  In the meantime, CFE helped enact the State Education Budget and Reform Act of 2007, which was to ensure proper funding of every school in the state. The law includes a “Foundation Aid Formula”, described thusly, 

to ensure adequacy and equity in state school funding by establishing a relationship between state aid, the needs of students and a district’s ability to raise revenue. It provided for a four-year phase-in of state aid to reach full funding of the formula. The legislation also introduced accountability provisions in its “contracts for excellence,” in order to ensure that the money provided was well spent.

In 2007 and 2008, Albany funded schools pursuant to its own formula, but froze aid in 2009. In 2010 and 2011, Albany cut aid by $2.7 billion through the “Gap Elimination Adjustment” (GEA). On top of this, the school tax cap results in chronic underfunding of certain districts, perpetuating existing inequities. 

In the 2012-2013 state budget, the difference between what the reform act of 2007 mandated and what Albany was actually funding exceeded $5.5 billion. If you add in accumulated cuts through GEA, schools have lost $7.7 billion in promised aid and classrooms throughout the state are in crisis. Under Governor Cuomo, class sizes are increasing, services for the most vulnerable students are disappearing, as are programs and teachers.  There is litigation pending to force the state to obey prior court orders and its own legislation.  Clarence has been denied money it was promised.

As with all problems plaguing western New York, the underfunding of our schools is a political one.

Turning back to Mr. Showalter, in March 2012 he wrote this letter to the Clarence Bee

As the parent of four children attending Clarence schools (plus one more to join them soon), I have good reason to want our schools to be “great.” But simply raising taxes and paying our teachers more does not accomplish that (see the Buffalo school system). The fact is that Clarence spends more than $13,000 per student — more than enough for a quality education.

Clarence schools are “great” mainly because of the quality of students we send there, and they will still be “great” after we make the necessary cuts to the school budget. My wife and I spend many nights tutoring our children through their homework because we believe their education is most important. And I believe that many other parents in Clarence do the same — that is why Clarence schools are “great.” That will not change, no matter what cuts are made.

Last year, we heard the same dire warnings from special-interest teacher groups that cuts in spending would “destroy” our schools — but in the end we didn’t notice any decline in the quality of education. I believe that cuts this year will likewise have no real effect on the quality of education provided. While it would be nice if we had no budget restraints on our schools and each of our kids could have individual tutoring, that is not the reality we live in.

It is now time to start living within our means. Doing so will ensure that Clarence schools will continue to be great, not just for next year but for the next 20 as well.

The tl;dr is: Clarence schools are good because of two-parent, white, affluent homes, and teachers are superfluous. 

That letter is shocking in its elitist condescension. The teachers are completely out of the equation, and it presumes that Clarence families are somehow superior to families in any other district.  Does this mean that Williamsville families are superior to Clarence’s? After all, Williamsville outperforms Clarence just about every year in Business First’s rankings. His reductive, ‘it’d be nice if we had 1:1 teacher:student ratio’ argument is childish .

Well, past cuts did affect the quality of education. Clarence lost its two marching bands in last year’s budget, and they were notably absent from this year’s Memorial Day Parade. We’ll have to import one for Labor Day. In 2011, the elementary schools lost most field trips, and $85,000 was cut from supply and equipment budgets across the district. In 2012, in addition to the marching bands, the schools reduced weekend security, fired its PR person, lost assistant coaches in JV and varsity sports, and negotiated deals to share transportation and maintenance with Akron schools. In 2012, Clarence lost the last vestige of its gifted and talented program, the Clarence Schoolwide Enrichment Program and BOCES training for the state’s “positive behavioral intervention and support” program. 

In 2012, the school district was forced to leave the brightest and the most vulnerable students behind. Anyone who thinks that wealth, or family structure immunizes kids from the pressures of contemporary adolescence is woefully misguided. 

On Friday, the Buffalo News’ editorial board lectured the Clarence school board

The tax cap was set up to help force districts to make difficult budget choices rather than automatically raising taxes. In calling for a 10 percent tax hike, the School Board didn’t do that. Credit School Board President Michael Lex for accepting responsibility “for the present board not meeting the needs of our core constituents.” He’s right. 

It’s unfortunate that the board didn’t anticipate the opposition the original budget would generate. The issue divided the community in an acrimonious debate, and now the community has to come together.

At a public meeting held Friday evening, Superintendent Geoffrey Hicks and Board President Lex revealed that during the four public budget hearing/workshops, the voices in favor of going over cap outnumbered the anti-tax speakers by at least a 3:1 ratio. The purpose of these hearings is to listen to the community – they did that. To suggest otherwise is insulting and untrue. 

Courtesy Chris Byrd

Donn Esmonde took a buyout from the Buffalo News in 2011. He’s been freelancing ever since; presumably the writer’s guild has no problem with a retiree taking column inches from a current employee. But during his tenure at the News, he was subject to the protections a union offers; collective bargaining, a good contract with a nice pay and benefits package. Esmonde’s wife, likewise, is a union employee, working as a special education instructor for the Buffalo school system. She’s a member of the Buffalo Teachers’ Federation, led by anti-reformer Phil Rumore. Esmonde’s entire adult existence has been eased and enhanced through union membership. 

But what’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander. Esmonde’s entire schtick for the past several years has been, at times, difficult to pigeonhole. On the one hand, he’s been a vocal anti-development preservationist. Tight with the Tielmans and Goldmans of Buffalo, he alternates between aging hippie who hates suburbs to aging, reactionary, resentful tea party hack. It was just recently that he wrote a column expressing disgust at the wholly natural activity of breastfeeding

In two of his last three columns, Esmonde has gone on a tirade in favor of starving the Clarence school district into a shell of its former self. Why might this be? What possible reason might cityphile, suburbophobe Esmonde have to do this? 

He has an animus towards people who move to the suburbs for the schools. 

You needn’t go far to figure it out. Look at this column where he lauds efforts to expand charter schools in Buffalo, 

I have no doubt about his charter-pushing motivation: to bring school choice to parents who cannot afford to send their kids to private schools or to move to the suburbs.

Which is a valid point for charters and even vouchers in failing districts – kids don’t have the luxury of time. They can’t sit and wait for politicians, taxpayers, and administrators to do what’s needed to provide educational excellence. But Clarence’s schools are already excellent.  What is the critical need for reform in Clarence, a district whose annual spending increases (if any) amount to about half the rate of inflation? 

Let’s examine Esmonde’s glowing profile of Mr. Showalter, the ‘we’re rich enough and stable enough that the teachers don’t matter’ guy. 

He sees himself not as a grim reaper, but as a savior. His mission is not to gut the quality of your kids’ education, but to save it.

If Roger Showalter succeeds, it will mark a new way of doing business not just in Clarence, but across the region.

Showalter is one of two anti-tax candidates who soon will join Clarence’s School Board. The district’s proposed 9.8 percent school-tax spike last month blew peoples’ gaskets even in this milk-and-honey suburb. The subsequent beat-down in a record turnout forced school officials to regroup with a 3.79 percent do-over that should prove digestible, but does typical quality-of-school damage: Teacher layoffs, cuts to sports and clubs and larger class sizes.

Showalter thinks it is time to flip the formula. His philosophy is rooted in practicality. The Clarence High School grad (Class of ’89) has five kids, ages 4 to 17. He needs the district’s schools to be good, and to stay good.

“My kids have good teachers,” Showalter told me Thursday in his Depew office. “But we can’t keep laying them off, year after year … That’s what we’re looking at, unless we change the way we do things.”

He is reed-thin, speaks at librarian-approved volume and looks you in the eye. As president of Niagara Refining, an offshoot of the family’s tungsten operation, he balances a parent’s concern with a businessman’s sensibility.

His bottom-line sense tells him the district’s business model is broken. Clarence and nearly every other suburban district suffers from the same affliction: Shrinking enrollments and rising costs, in a region that is bleeding population.

The historic “remedy” is to perpetually raise school taxes, cut newer teachers and deep-six programs. That solution depends on ever-fewer residents continually paying more to get less. Showalter doesn’t think that works for parents, for kids or – ultimately – for teachers.

“That’s why I ran for the board,” he said. “The cost structure has to change.”

There is a vicious cycle. High taxes repel business, so we lose jobs and people. That shrinks school enrollments and forces fewer people to pay more for schools that have failed to put a lid on their largest expense – personnel costs.

According to SeeThroughNY.net, more than 100 Clarence teachers or administrators make at least $90,000, in a district of about 4,600 kids. Showalter said teachers pay no more than 10 percent of health care costs, administrators less.

He wants to stop sacrificing school quality on the altar of ever-rising teacher/administrator salaries, with benefits that disappeared in corporate America with the two-martini lunch. Instead of fewer teachers and worse schools, Showalter’s push includes buyouts for veteran teachers, teachers/administrators paying more for health care, and hiring a professional contract negotiator. Sounds like a plan – for Clarence, and beyond.

As Esmonde should well know, teachers in New York State must have master’s degrees, must be certified and periodically re-certified, and consider what they do both a profession and a calling. It’s not easy teaching kids. A teacher isn’t just an instructor, but a social worker, mediator, negotiator, equipment supplier, counselor, and spends countless hours of their own time revising curricula, writing and grading tests, arranging music, helping kids, developing strategies, etc. Rather than being disposable worker-drones, teachers have the unique ability to inspire kids and touch their lives, every day. Because they’ve eschewed the potential risks and rewards available in the private sector, teachers enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining and laws that directly benefit them. It’s good enough for Esmonde’s family, evidently, but not good enough for the teachers in Clarence. Stark hypocrisy, that. 

There are no rising teacher or administrator salaries – in their last contract, administrators agreed to a pay freeze. Teachers gave up half of the incremental salary increase in 2012-13, and to freeze the step schedule for the life of the contract, with no additional money added to existing salary steps. These were unprecedented concessions, which restored all personnel cuts proposed that year. Instead of whining about how much teachers contribute towards their health care, ask yourself why you settle for less. In the end, the teachers now pay 8% towards their health care, going up to 10% next year. 

That’s likely more than Esmonde pays.

Esmonde complains about “two-martini lunch” era benefits, but if his own health insurance was through his wife’s employer, he enjoyed benefits rich enough to afford his family elective plastic surgery if they wanted it, and can choose from several different health insurance providers. If it was through the Buffalo News, there are 37 health insurance plans across the different bargaining groups. At the Buffalo News in 2011, Guild members contributed nothing towards their health insurance premiums. Hell, he even advocated for violating a student’s fundamental 1st Amendment rights

Esmonde thinks the benefits he and his family enjoy aren’t good enough for teachers in other districts. 

“For every four veteran teachers who retire,” he calculated, “we can, for the same cost, hire 10 new teachers. Nobody gets laid off, and we can keep the programs our kids need.”

Flickers of change are on the horizon. West Seneca recently enticed 132 teachers and staff to retire and closed a school. Two other districts will share a superintendent. Reality is the mother of reform.

Closing a school means larger class sizes. Buyouts – as Esmonde knows – aren’t targeted towards specific teachers but need to be offered more broadly, and teachers can’t be coerced into taking them. Buyouts also cost money which may – or may not – be recouped elsewhere. There is an undercurrent of dissent whereby people think that one can retain something called a “professional contract negotiator” and suddenly – magically – the Taylor Law will fall, the Triborough Amendment will be repealed, the current contract will be abrogated, and everything will be just fine. That’s not how it works, and a “professional contract negotiator” costs money the district can’t afford, I’m continuously told. 

Meanwhile, West Seneca spends $14,663 per pupil and is ranked 15th in Business First’s rankings. Clarence spends $13,410 and is ranked 2nd in WNY. What is it about Clarence that is spendthrift and wasteful? What needs fixing? 

The cost/benefits adjustment that hit corporate America years ago is, sooner or later, coming to a school district near you. Numbers don’t lie: Virtually every district is caught in the same slow, downward spiral of a shrinking region.

As a company president, Showalter sees how the dots connect. He last week hosted a delegation from another country looking to locate a business here. He showed them a few available sites.

“Then I told them that their taxes would be about $150,000 a year,” he said. “They were like, ‘Whoa, we can go to other states and pay $100,000 less.’”

I’d like to personally thank Mr. Showalter for scaring away potential businesses, if indeed that conversation ever happened. That’s the sort of bold leadership we need to help grow WNY? Perhaps the Clarence IDA would be happy to abate that business’ school taxes for it. Kids don’t need teachers, after all. 

Jobs, schools, taxes – they are part of the same equation. As a businessman, Showalter clearly sees it.

He has no illusions about anything changing tomorrow. There still is a pro-union majority on Clarence’s School Board. He is one man, one voice. But the less things change, the louder his words echo.

Basically, Esmonde’s and Showalter’s idea of reform places no blame whatsoever on broken Albany policies and underfunding of districts, but all of it on teachers. In their world, teachers are expendable – we might as well simply employ unqualified workers at minimum wage and fire them when they demand any benefits. After all, Clarence is wealthy and responsible – these kids will teach themselves! 

But that’s the thing – if Showalter’s kids’ lose a program here or there, they’re wealthy and stable enough to make it up privately. These cuts do the most harm to the kids in Clarence who aren’t well-to-do, and whose parents can’t afford alternatives. It’s a direct assault on the poor and middle-class who do, amazingly enough, exist in Clarence. 

We have this thing in our economy we call “inflation”. For the last 13 years, it’s been about 2.5%. That means the cost of things has increased, and it justifies rises in wages to keep up. Yet the Clarence school district’s budget has grown by about 1% each of the last five years. That’s a conservative’s dream. Or ought to be, if the conservative in question believed in a public school education.

Make no mistake – this is the first salvo in a coming effort to voucherize Clarence schools. Malignant astroturf group “Americans for Prosperity” has recently promoted what it calls “school choice”, which makes no sense in a district that produces cost-effective excellence. To voucherize Clarence, presumably families would get a piece of paper entitling them to a credit to use at any private, parochial, or public school that will take it. At a tax rate of about $15/1,000 of assessed value, a $150,000 household would likely have about $2,250 to spend. That doesn’t go very far at Nichols or Nardin.  

Finally, Donn Esmonde is sloppy and not even trying. Is his column being fact-checked or edited? He used “milk-and-honey” to describe Clarence in both columns – phoning it in on auto-dial. He wrote that Marlese Wacek, 

…was prompted last year by the town’s proposal for a new ice rink to join Clarence Tax Payers, a grass-roots anti-tax group. She went door-to-door in recent weeks, urging a “No” vote on the district budget from neighbors whose annual school taxes can bump up to $5,000.

If you’re paying $5,000 per year in Clarence school taxes, your house has an assessed post-STAR value of $350,000, and a total assessed value of $380,000. Cries of poverty are unpersuasive. 

There is a public hearing on June 10th to discuss the revote budget. The revote itself is June 18th. 

The State Assembly Reminds you that Albany Remains Dysfunctional

21 May

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com

And to this point, it’s high time the Democrats in the Assembly grow a pair and unite to overthrow Speaker Silver’s “bossism”. To that point, the Daily News’ Bill Hammond yesterday penned the most persuasive and succinct primer on how the Assembly works and why Silver wields the power he does. It is a must-read, and the only reason why the redundant, pointless State Senate is marginally more small-d democratic has to do with the tight electoral margins and breakaway factionalism. 

By the same token, I can’t name a single, solitary accomplishment – or attempted accomplishment – that my Assemblywoman Jane Corwin has undertaken since joining that body in 2009. Indeed, her website’s welcome page refers to herself as “newly elected”, yet she’s already been re-elected once. Collect a paycheck (even though you’re a Spaulding Lake millionaire), get your health insurance, and go home. 

Albany is broken and it’s set itself up in such a way that it’s exceedingly difficult for you to do anything about it. 

Prison Gangs of New York

7 May

Prison Gangs of New York

 

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com

Assemblyman Steve Katz on the Bills Stadium

13 Mar

The next time you get all parochial and upset about something that’s happening in some other part of the state, and think to yourself, “why should we pay for that?” consider this.

Assemblyman Steve Katz (R-Yorktown) represents the 94th Assembly District, and is a Republican representing extreme northern Westchester and part of Putnam Counties. (He happens to be my parents’ Assemblyman). When confronted with a bill to send $60 million in state funds to renovate Ralph Wilson stadium, he said,

Manhattan Democratic Assemblyman Herman Farrell, Jr., (D-Washington Heights) the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, brought up the examples of the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn and the Jets and Giants playing in New Jersey. A Democrat from Manhattan defending your hobby fandom against a Republican from the rural New York exurbs? Consider that, Buffalo.

 

How to Be Horrible at Government

14 Feb

A tipster directed me to the Facebook page for Assemblyman David DiPietro, to review this:

 

I realize that anti-toll activist, perennial candidate, and Paladino chauffeur/flunky Rus Thompson wrote the text shown above, ignoring as it does science and logic to suggest that first and second graders – 6 and 7 year olds – have some need for contraception, despite being half a decade out from puberty. But he gets other details wrong, too – it doesn’t allow under-17s to get the morning after pill over the counter.

When I took a look at the bill, I saw that it amended a current law to allow doctors, midwives, and nurse practitioners to prescribe Plan B – the “morning after pill” – to girls who are not their patients and are, in effect, victims of statutory rape and sexual abuse. In fact, if one’s aim is to reduce the number of abortions, this law would be ideal – because Plan B’s efficacy is dependent on the speed with which it is administered, girls under the age of consent who become pregnant through statutory rape and abuse need quick access to this high-dose contraceptive. Plan B is not an abortifacient, and the age of consent in New York is 17.

Why would Assemblyman DiPietro want to limit victims’ access to a drug that would avoid pregnancy and possible abortion?

Assemblyman David DiPietro (R,C-East Aurora) has come out against legislation, Assembly Bill 420, known as the Unintended Pregnancy Prevention Act. The legislation would allow minors, including those in elementary and middle school, to obtain morning after contraception in an effort to avoid pregnancy without consulting their parents or physicians. Instead, the assemblyman is pushing for adoption to be promoted instead of morning after contraceptives.

“A minor should not be making the life-altering decision of terminating the potential for human life, let alone be making that decision without parental or medical consultation. I find this piece of legislation to be without merit,” said DiPietro. “These children have to be made aware of their actions, their repercussions and the full spectrum of their options. Adoption is an underutilized service in New York State and the country in general.”

Statutory rape is a construct of the law, which deems that girls under a certain age are not capable of consent to sexual activity – just like you’re not capable of entering into a contract before the age of 18. If a girl under the age of consent gets pregnant due to a criminal act, discretion and compassion are of primary importance – worry about the 15 year-old child, not the possibly fertilized egg cell.

It’s never a good idea for middle-aged men to be legislating how girls and young women protect themselves from the physical and emotional after-effects of sex abuse.

He also opposes a law that would educate the children of “illegal immigrants” living in New York. Because, you know, ignorant and uneducated undocumented aliens are somehow better for the society than educated, productive ones.

If only “no” votes could be given catchy names, like the bills being voted on. DiPietro’s vote could be the “Statutory Rape and Sexual Abuse Pregnancy Protection Vote”.

Assemblyman Says Cuomo is like Hitler, Mussolini

6 Feb

Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin likens Governor Cuomo’s use of “messages of necessity” to Hitler and Mussolini.

Under Article III, Section 14 of the New York State Constitution, a bill must be printed and on members’ desks in final form at least three (3) legislative days before it can be voted on for passage, unless the governor issues what is called a “message of necessity”. To do so, the governor certifies that an immediate vote is necessary on the bill once it reaches members’ desks in final form. No amendments are allowed, and a vote is to take place immediately.

In 2011, McLaughlin voted 17 times in favor of bills sent up as messages of necessity. In 2012, he did so on four of the five messages sent up by Cuomo, including the Tier VI pension plan, redistricting and an expanded DNA database for criminals.

In 2011, Cuomo issued 29 messages of necessity and used it five times last year, according to NYPIRG—the fewest number of times in recent history.

Nothing about the message of necessity takes away the legislature’s right to act, to debate, or to vote as a representative, deliberative body on the bill. The Brennan Center has targeted unnecessary messages of necessity as being ripe for criticism, noting that between 1997 – 2001, almost 30% of bills received one.

However, criticizing an overused constitutional provision for the fact that legislators have inadequate time to review and amend bills is one thing. Likening that to the horrors of National Socialism and fascism is a completely different thing, altogether.

Watch this, and note WNY Assemblywoman Jane Corwin’s reaction.

How many messages of necessity did Hitler sign, anyway?

Perhaps not as dumb as he seems, McLaughlin apologized later in the day.