Tag Archives: Legislator Ray Walter

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:

Quick Thoughts

16 Mar

Do Not Be Alarmed - this most likely isn't going to happen (http://www.snopes.com/photos/technology/fallout.asp)

It’s time for another article of thoughts that haven’t yet seen enough yeast to grow into their own columns. The unifying thread? SuperFAIL:

1) President Obama has some unfortunate energy policy timing, advocating increased off-shore drilling prior to the massive Gulf oil spill, and nuclear energy before the continuing disaster in Japan. Not that he is to blame – we are short on energy solutions that are not destructive at normal levels, and catastrophic on the extremes. Irresponsible natural gas exploration is contaminating Pennsylvania, the Canadians are destroying Alberta to free oil from tar sands, and there is nothing practical available to replace them. Hard to move to renewables like wind when our local turbines sit idle far more than they spin. Investment is the only pragmatic strategy if we want an environmentally sustainable energy policy: lots of money to regulate current energy industries to follow existing environmental laws, scraping and reworking from scratch our subsidy system to stop picking winner and losers and instead peg commodities to their true total cost, and basic science investment in research and future technologies. Don’t expect to hear any of that in the near future.

2) The census is complete, so it’s redistricting time, in Erie County and at the state level. In Erie County, the commission to redraw legislative districts, consolidating from 15 to 11, met for the first time. As Artvoice reports, the main topic of conversation was how much to do before data on population counts are actually available. In Buffalo’s petty rice bowl politics, the underlying question is who wins and who loses. Geoff Kelly believes no one wins except Ray Walter. Which is another way of saying, we’re all winning.

On the New York State front, the debate in the GOP controlled Senate is whether to change the constitution to mandate impartial redistricting (a plan with an 11 year delay), do a legislative patch now, or both. So far, only the Republicans and Citizens Union, an independent reform lobby, have weighed in. The Democratic controlled Assembly still has a chance to weigh in with traditional partisan redistricting, and screw up this Good Government push. But if these are the only options presented, we’re winning here too. (And this is the only non-FAIL you will see in this column.) 

3) It’s about to be construction season, and WNYMedia’s own intrepid Andrew Kulyk is filling in well on development watch for Mark Brynes, on prolonged sabbatical. What to watch for in 2011?!?! Not much an Canalside, unless you count a little more decking and bike racks as construction. Work on anything requiring an excavator will wait til the Fall. Also watch for an again delayed Federal Courthouse, that not only bears no resemblance to its graphic sales pitch, but is now rotting from the inside. Speaking of rotting, the steel beams of the Casino are rusting away, and may need to come down, even if a permanent complex is eventually built. Finally, if you are looking for hope, don’t look at the Statler – based upon past divisions between Croce and the Mayor, expect summer fights over the $5 million promised to help rehab the lower levels in time for the Convention That Will Save Buffalo.

Erie County Government Bucks Collins, Process Termed “Absurd”, “Insane”

1 Dec

The Erie County Legislature yesterday pushed through amendments to the 2011 county budget that would restore 2010-level funding to a broad range of cultural organizations that had been cut off by County Executive Chris Collins’ proposed budget.  Shockingly, the county library system’s funding was restored completely, and done so unanimously.  Because each amended line item was voted for separately, some may have the 10 votes necessary to override a Collins veto.

While yesterday I had predicted that “reform coalition” Democratic legislators Barbara Miller-Williams and Christina Bove would submit amendments that the Republicans, including Collins, would likely approve, that’s not what ended up happening.  Apparently, at some point over the last few days, Bove had a change of heart and joined in the Marinelli/Whyte package of amendments, which left Miller-Williams out to dry.

Query what happens to Collins’ “Reform Coalition” now that Bove has effectively left it and Tim Kennedy is moving on to the state senate.

We’ll have the complete list of culturals and the individual votes up later today, but also notable was a restoration of funding for the Comptroller’s auditing staff and reductions elsewhere to pay for it all.

As legislators left their chambers, County Executive Collins held a hastily assembled news conference where he pitched a fit,

The Erie County taxpayers were not well served today.  What we saw across the street was politics at its worst.

Collins also made allusions to the legislature being Santa Claus, money growing on trees, and fumbled a comparative, stating that he wouldn’t trust the legislators “to balance the county budget, much less their own checkbooks”.

During the session, Miller-Williams, who suddenly had no ally in that chamber, kept reminding legislators about the fact that Collins would veto a lot of this stuff, urging them instead to pass her Collins-approved version.  Instead, the legislature showed leadership and re-asserted its co-equal independence from Collins.  That sound and fury from the 16th floor of the Rath Building may very well be Collins’ anger that his carefully crafted de facto majority has crumbled – when it really counts.  His veto pen will fly, and he’ll have to defend his cuts – one by one – to the people in next year’s election.  He’s not the boss of the county – the people are.

But Democratic legislators noted that not one person who contacted them ever expressed any support for Collins’ cuts.  Their constituents want the county to continue to fund cultural organizations and the libraries.  Ultimately, that is whom the legislators serve.

But the most memorable moment of yesterday’s session, as far as what I was able to see, was an outburst by 4th District Legislator Ray Walter.  He very rightly assailed the entire budget process as a failure, saying that “fifteen people fighting over $6 million of a $1 billion budget each year is absurd”, and in a pointed shot at cultural proponents protesting in the legislative chambers added, “this is insane.  Want to protest something?  Protest Albany.  $267 million in property taxes (from one of the poorest counties in New York State) directly to fund Medicaid”.  He blasted unfunded Albany mandates as being the root of all county budget evils, that this is a “fundamentally dysfunctional way to run a state”, urging State Senator-elect Tim Kennedy to “do something about it” when he gets to Albany.  He concluded, “we need to fix the way this system works, or fix the way that we run this county.”

Ray Walter may have voted against the restoration of funding for just about everything yesterday, but he’s absolutely correct when it comes to the absurdity of this process and how harmfully Albany runs this state and its programs.  When he says we need to fix Albany, or fix the way the county is run, he’s absolutely correct.  To my mind, politics should be extracted from the system to the greatest degree possible.  A professional county manager to replace either the County Executive or his deputy would be a great start.

Collins’ vetoes come next, and the budget process concludes next week.

Ray Walter Proposes New Funding For Culturals and Libraries

22 Nov

Last week, Erie County Legislator Ray Walter clocked into the Legislature record a letter he sent to Erie County Executive Chris Collins regarding a long term solution to the issue of funding for county libraries and cultural organizations.

Walter claims this is a means to implement a revenue sharing plan that would restore funding to the Buffalo and Erie Public Library System without raising taxes or increasing County spending in 2011.

In the letter, Legislator Walter outlines a plan to appropriate sales tax revenue toward funding for the libraries. According to the Agreement of Sales Tax Revenue Distribution, Erie County must share 64% of 3% of the sales tax revenue collected with municipalities and school districts.

Erie County Legislator Ray Walter (R, Clarence)

In a quote from his press release, Walter states that “For 2011, the amount shared with these groups for the 3% is projected to be $267,637,838. Utilizing 1.5% of the funds shared with the municipalities and school districts, and returning it to the libraries would result in $4,014,567 for the libraries, which more than covers the County’s spending reduction on the libraries.”

In addition, Legislator Walter proposes using 0.5%, which totals $1,338,189, for cultural funding. That figure would allow funding for cultural groups not included in the 2011 proposed budget.

That $5,352,756 total which would be carved out of the total sharing amount would be passed on to the municipalities and school districts across Erie County.

This move by Walter might be seen as a means to re-open the negotiation on how sales tax revenue is shared in order to get more revenue to the towns from the cities.  However, Walter says that isn’t his intent, “I am intentionally trying to avoid the prospect of renogotiating the sales tax agreement. I would like to see this proposal added on as an addendum or rider to the existing agreement.” The revenue sharing agreement is not a local law or a part of the County Charter, so it can be passed this year.

In order to solve the long-term funding problems for the libraries and cultural organizations of WNY, we need some creative thinking. Each year, funding cuts are proposed while activists clamor to maintain funding. Budget deficits in New York grow each year and new lines of funding will not appear out of thin air. Understanding that these quality of life institutions are crucial to a pleasant standard of living in this region requires we take a fresh look at the mechanisms for funding. Having us all bear a burden is probably the most creative approach taken to date.

It might not be the right solution, but it at least turns the conversation away from partisan politics towards different ideas.

The Erie County Legislature Redefines Dysfunction #ecleg (UPDATED)

23 Jul

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There’s dysfunction, and then there’s vaudevillian dysfunction.

The Erie County Legislature devolved into the latter during Thursday afternoon’s session.

Now, admittedly, I arrived late and left early, which means that I was the envy of everyone who had to be present. As I arrived, the legislature had just voted to send a bill to create a Community Corrections Advisory Board back to the Public Safety Committee, chaired by renegade Democrat Christina Bove.

But the real fun came when the legislature took up the issue of separation of powers.

When the 2010 budget was passed, the legislature made an appropriation of $15.6 million to Erie Community College. But that represented an increase of about $200,000 over the previous year’s budget. County Executive Chris Collins had vetoed that increase, and the legislature overrode that veto.

UPDATE: It isn’t even that cut & dry. Collins didn’t veto anything. While Republican legislators claim that the Democrats played shenanigans with the budget numbers and used that to create a phantom $200,000 out of whole cloth, (a) the ECFSA (control board) told them it was ok to do; (b) the Democrats admitted using what’s called the turnover account to fund some budget pieces, but they used it for the culturals – not ECC; and (c) part of the money used for culturals through the increase via the turnover account went for funding for the Colored Musicians’ Club, which is also known as the bribe that Chris Collins paid Barbara Miller-Williams to secure her obeisance in the leg on whatever Collins deems important.

End of story, right? Veto overidden, money goes to ECC.

Not so fast. This is Erie County.

Here, Chris Collins has refused to write a check for the $15.6 million the legislature appropriated. Collins has decided to disregard the legislature and the fact that it overrode his veto, and instead is simply refusing to pay more than he wants to pay. The legislature took up a resolution yesterday pledging to take whatever action is legally available to it to force Collins to do his duty under the county charter. Here’s how it appeared in the legislative agenda:

Pretty partisan, right? All Democrats, not one Republican. Not even the ones who are political science professors and teach kids about separation of powers and checks & balances all the time.

But what happened when this item was brought to the floor can only be described as chaos. It was like watching a pen of well-suited chickens with their heads cut off, appealing to the lawyers and parliamentarian on hand about the finer points of legislative procedure. There was vigorous debate, with most arguments centering around the dictatorial way in which Collins was behaving – that he was rendering the legislature useless and powerless. At one point, there was argument, disagreement, and confusion over whether a motion to recess had been approved. For real.

Although I’m as big a proponent of abolishing county government as exists, the existing rules and laws ought to be followed.

Legislator Betty Jean Grant argued that Collins doesn’t view the legislature as being a co-equal branch of government. Maria Whyte said that Collins was behaving like a dictator, and that his attitude was, “sue me if you don’t like it”.

But even more astonishing was the fact that two of the sponsors of the resolution – Christina Bove and Barbara Miller-Williams – voted against it. Right out of the Antoine Thompson school of bill advocacy, Bove said that mid-term budget review had shown a drop in sales tax revenue, so Collins’ thwarting of legislative will was justified. Barbara Miller-Williams said Collins had until August 31st to pay the entire appropriation, so the resolution was premature. A last-second effort by Maria Whyte to send the matter to committee was too late.

I was informed by at least a few people that Bove and Miller-Williams had met with or spoke with Collins earlier in the day and that something happened during that meeting to prompt them to vote against the resolution they had co-sponsored.

Ray Walter tweeted afterwards that a “few bad apples” were disrupting the sessions, and he lauded the defeat of the anti-Collins measure. But by letting Collins do whatever he wants, the legislature has set a precedent for itself to be rendered completely useless.

Abolishing the legislature is all well and good, but the selection of county executive as dictator needs to be done with that understanding. I hope the Republicans on the legislature don’t someday find themselves with a Democratic County Executive who decides to completely disregard what they pass.

But make no mistake – no matter what money was appropriated for infrastructure projects today (will Collins cut the check?) neither the words “good” nor “government” can fairly describe what the hell happened at the Legislature yesterday. It was an abomination – an embarrassment.

The leg is on hiatus now until September, but when they come back, make sure to follow #ecleg on Twitter.

The biggest regret was that there wasn’t a single reporter (Corr: Matt Spina was present for the Buffalo News.) or camera present in that chamber for that display. It was like watching grown men and women mimic a high school Model UN, and every country is a pariah state.

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Pigeon

3 May

The truth, they say, is subjective. One can promise to tell what they think to be the truth, but seldom is there only one, correct version of any story of any event.

Now watch this:

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I’m so used to being insulted by this person’s surrogates that it’s fascinating to watch the words come directly from his mouth. G. Steve Pigeon defends himself and takes a swipe at yours truly:

…whatever the bald guy is who likes calling people names and is just a rude and unsuccessful, jealous politician himself who ran for office and was completely, um, uh, no one would elect him to be a dog-catcher, you know he loves to call other people names.

Generally, it would be a privilege to be insulted by Pedro Espada’s patronage hire. Certainly I dish it out, and definitely I can take it. But Mr. Pigeon, you have it all wrong, sir.

Just like the “truth” isn’t defined by how you rebut what Sam Hoyt or Dennis Ward say, my life isn’t defined by any of the personal insults you hurl at me. On the other hand, when I call you a tinpot Machiavelli or a douche, these are categorically and objectively true tidbits of information. When we point out that some recent “reforms” you’ve championed have actually cost the taxpayers more, I am writing things that are objectively true and verifiable.

But back to the insults.

I won’t say never, because I’ve probably slipped here and there, but I cannot recall a single instance where I’ve ever attacked or criticized a political figure for their personal appearance. Not even Domagalski. In Steve Pigeon’s case, I can say I have never launched an attack on his person. This is because I don’t give a shit what he looks like – he could look like Adonis and still be a detestable political figure.

Like most adults, I’m concerned with merit (or lack thereof) – not a politician’s body habitus or characteristics. My distaste for Steve Pigeon stems from his actions – not his looks, so it’s quite telling that the first thing he goes for is to call me “bald”. There is no seriousness there, no substance there, no merit there – just a schoolyard bully who grew up to be an asshole of a political albatross. Unsubstantive, meritless non-seriousness is also how he conducts his politics.

Now, certainly I may be rude, as Mr. Pigeon suggests, especially towards political figures who have little or no objective merit as such. He is correct that I was an unsuccessful politician. Dreadfully so, in fact. So? I tried. I made Mike Ranzenhofer think and defend what amounted to an 18-year record of failure, stasis, and hypocrisy. I didn’t have the money, time, or resources to do it right, but I gave it a shot. But it’s also true that I have no aspirations to political office. So, no – I’m not “jealous” of anyone – especially not MIke Ranzenhofer or his successor, Ray Walter, and my failure as a politician is that, only.

And what would you say I’m jealous of? I’m jealous of people pulling down less than $50 large per year to keep Chris Collins in check and administer only 10% of the budget of the political unit for which they legislate? Maybe that’s how his mind works.

Dog-catcher? I would hope that no one would elect me dog-catcher, mostly because (1) I don’t like dogs; and (2) I am not qualified to be dog-catcher.

Just like Hormoz Mansouri and Jack O’Donnell aren’t qualified to help run the water authority.

So, I’d love the opportunity to interview Pigeon someday and invite him to make these charges to my face and we can have a back-and-forth about what really matters – not my hairline, but stuff like, for instance, “reforms” in the State Senate notwithstanding, we still have a three-men-in-a-room troika dictatorship. I’d like to hear Mr. Pigeon explain why he thinks we need a State Senate at all, if the aim is good government rather than personal political power. I’d like him to defend the growth of the Erie County legislative staff in the name of so-called “reform”.

I don’t care if Pigeon likes what I write about him or his political allies. What matters is that he – and they – read it and thinks it important and influential enough to discuss, and comment on so hatefully.

Walter vs. Miller-Williams – PolitiFAIL Tourney 2010

24 Mar

Stranger bedfellows there probably haven’t been in county government in quite some time, but here we have two members of the county legislature’s “reform coalition” of eager Republicans and opportunistic Democrats.

Ray Walter is the 6th seed in the county bracket, and was selected to replace Mike Ranzenhofer in the 4th LD upon his election to the state senate. Walter is a somewhat libertarian Republican who is pretty much the perfect legislator for a district that doesn’t really care about or have much use for county government. As a former member of the Charter Revision Commission, he was involved in many of the changes that swept through county government a few years back, but upon ascension to the legislature, he was one of three very lonely Republican legislators who didn’t do much else but complain and sigh. That is, when they weren’t busy mouthing Chris Collins’ words. With the creation of the reform coalition and after the 2009 election, Walter’s clout grew somewhat and while some legislators (un)affectionately call him “Rush”, he’s the guy in the leg who seems wicked annoyed by what everyone else is doing and saying. He’s only been in elected office for a term and a half, so his opportunity to FAIL and grow our FAIL has been limited.

Barbara Miller-Williams has no fewer than three jobs, none of which are in the private sector. A national guard volunteer, a cop, and a legislator, she will be set for life when she retires. It came to light that Miller-Williams must have been quite overworked last year, as she maximizes her overtime so as to inflate her lifetime state-tax-free pension. As the Chairwoman of the legislature, she gets a nice little stipend, Lynn Marinelli’s scorn, faint praise from her temporary Republican allies, all while stumbling and bumbling through procedure. She joins the prestigious ranks of other Democrat-pisser-offers like Joel Giambra, Chuck Swanick, and Chris Collins. Evidently, Collins bought her cooperation with a $300,000 county check payable to the Colored Musicians’ Club, where Miller-Williams’ husband is VP of the Board. Miller-Williams was also an appointee to the legislature, selected to serve out the remainder of convict George Holt’s term. While procedural nonsense may be going on in the Leg, most of Miller-Williams’ substantive votes have been with the remaining Democrats. Adding to the overall FAIL, when Miller-Williams ascended to the chairmanship, she jettisoned a group of dedicated Democratic leg staff so that Pigeon-friendly and Grassroots-friendly folks could waltz in, some of whom had no other qualification other than knowing someone powerful. The legislative payroll appears to have gone up significantly under Miller-Williams’ strange definition of “reform”. The FAIL is strong with this one.

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