Tag Archives: reform coalition

County Leg Reform? Costing You More

4 Mar

The Erie County Legislature’s reform coalition, which enabled the Republican minority to become a de facto majority, had pledged to be fiscally responsible and save the taxpayers money. They clamor for legislative downsizing, the closing of district offices, and other incremental baby-steps that might save literally tens of thousands of dollars.

Not the biggest chunk to take out of a $1.1 billion budget, but every little bit helps, right?

Not so fast.

A report from the Erie County Comptroller’s office finds that there has been reform, but not necessarily the kind everyone expected.

One would presume that a group of legislators whose drive to reduce their own numbers and to close district offices would ensure that the ranks of the staff would also be reduced, and that salaries would – at the very least – stay the same for those who remain.

The resolution that implemented these changes promised that they would “result in immediate [and future] savings to the taxpayers of Erie County”.

The 2010 budget enacted by the prior legislature allowed for 17 central staff positions and 20 district staff positions at a total cost of $1,219,464.

The reform coalition’s reform? 16 central staff positions and 17 district staff positions at a total cost of $1,262,305.

Factoring in the raises given to some staffers, the net increase to Erie County taxpayers is $42,841.

As political philosopher and chicken rotisserie salesman Ron Popeil would say, “but wait! There’s more!”

There are also two vacant legislative positions budgeted at almost $80,000 that still exist in the county’s employee database, and a new hire for the Republican minority will be eligible for a $2,672 raise in 2010 which is not budgeted for.

So, when all is said and done, the net impact on the county budget from the reform coalition’s alleged reforms is a net increase of $121,958 – a total of $1,341,422 to pay people to help serve a legislative body that exists almost exclusively to pay well-connected people $1,341,422 and rubber-stamp Albany mandates.

The Republican legislators have indeed closed their district offices, which may result in a savings of $60,000 per year in rent and utilities. They didn’t concomitantly omit funding for the staffers who manned those offices, however. They’ll just be moved downtown.

So, in quite literally its first act as a “reform” coalition, it bumped up the legislature’s budget by a net 5%. The savings derived from the closing of offices merely acts to halve the cost of new patronage hires, and raises for certain positions.

For a legislature that is fundamentally a useless exercise in ministerial futility, this is outrageous. Given the position we as Erie County taxpayers are in – living in a dysfunctional high-tax county in a dysfunctional high-tax state – it’s an insult. To me, it underscores the fact that no one in this political cesspool is serious about real reform, or cost savings.

At least one of the people in the cost-hike-coalition is running for higher office. Tim Kennedy ought to have to explain day in and day out on the campaign trail why it is that he voted to impose an extra $120k upon the taxpayers of Erie County so that connected friends and friends of connections could get jobs and raises.

It’s as disgusting as it is outrageous. Shame.

Lynn Marinelli Interview

25 Jan

As part of our ongoing interview series with Erie County Legislators, Marc and I turned our camera on Legislator Lynn Marinelli.  We spent about an hour with her and covered dozens of topics ranging from the “reform coalition” to the pending budget crisis in Erie County.

We’re asking each legislator the same basic set of questions and we hope through this interview series, you can juxtapose the responses from each and get a feeling for what’s important to them and get a perspective on their ideas for governance and politicking.

After we got through the basic set of questions about the “reform coalition”, reductions in urban-centric service programs, urban/suburban divide issues, regional planning/coordination, and general politics, we went with a few additional questions about the ECIDA, Collins for Governor and the upcoming decision to maintain or repeal the municipal share of the additional sales tax levied in 2005.

There was a lot of ground covered and it was pretty tough to edit the interview down to under 10 minutes, but I think we got most of the important topics covered.

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We’re scheduling an interview with Legislator Kozub later this week and we hope to hear back soon from Legislators Hardwick and Rath.  If you have questions you’d like us to look into, let us know in the comments section.

Erie County Legislator Maria Whyte

18 Jan

As Chris writes, we here at WNYMedia.net have started a series of interviews with Erie County Legislators, discussing small-picture issues such as the reform bona fides of the “reform coalition”, the involvement of Steve Pigeon in its creation, as well as big-picture issues such as regionalism, reform, spending priorities, and my personal favorite – the need for a county government at all.

I have come to the conclusion that 99% of the things that the legislature does is ministerial.  You could literally program a computer and tell it to fund various programs that the state or federal governments mandates, and you’re all done.

So I eagerly await each legislator’s discussion about why we need 15 people and staff to argue about things that generally wouldn’t and shouldn’t be argued about.

Firstly, Maria Whyte discusses why the Collins Coalition’s decision to change the income maximum for county-subsidized day care will result in more people unable to work, going back to straight welfare.

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Secondly, she discusses the fact that Chris Collins has deepened the rift between suburb and city more than any other countywide leader in history, why the idea that the Collins Coalition is one pushing “reform” is a joke, Pigeon’s promises, and the kicker – Whyte had sponsored a bill that would have professionalized the hiring process for legislative staff.  “Reform Coalition” member, and current legislative chair Barbara Miller-Williams strangled the bill to death in committee for two years.

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If you have specific questions you want asked of any particular legislators, let us know.

Interview With Maria Whyte

18 Jan

Last week, I sat down for a lengthy interview with Erie County Legislature Majority Leader Maria Whyte.  This is part of a new series in which we’ll interview each sitting legislator and ask about the reform coalition, policy, spending, the need for county government and several “big picture” issues like regionalism, publicly financed elections, regional planning, IDA consolidation, etc.

In the first part of the interview, Legislator Whyte takes Erie County Executive Chris Collins to task for his proposal to cut the day care subsidy for low income working families in Erie County.  This is a central pillar in the “welfare to work” programs popular in the last two decades with ideological roots running back to the Nixon Administration.  Until recently, the program provided subsidies to families at 200% of the federal poverty level.  With the state deficit reaching critical levels, Erie County currently spends nearly $10MM more than allocated to the county by New York State’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.  Under the new plan proposed by Collins, the income ceiling for eligibility is lowered to 125% of the federal poverty level, meaning a family of four earning $27,563.00 would be ineligible for the program.  This will result in an estimated 1500 children, 42% of current recipients, being removed from the program and their families no longer being able to work.  In most cases, those families would then transition back to the direct welfare program.

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In the second part of the interview, we delve into matters of politics.  Legislator Whyte takes on the idea of the “reform coalition”, the involvement of Steve Pigeon in the process, the hiring of a sitting party boss to the legislature staff, the hiring of a Pedro Espada staffer onto the legislature staff, her plan (buried in committee by Barbara Miller-Williams for two years) to professionalize the hiring process at the legislature, the urban/suburban divide in county politics and regional planning.

While Maria Whyte is the nominal Majority Leader of the Legislature, she is distinctly in the minority as three of her Democratic party members have built a majority coalition with the Republicans. She also reveals that Steve Pigeon had called each of her Democratic colleagues and offered them the position of majority leader if they were willing to join and legitimize the “reform coalition”.

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Reformy!

16 Jan

The Reform Coalition hires reform-minded reformers. The blame for this doesn’t just lay with one person. All nine members of the majority coalition voted for this.

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Geek on WECK

15 Jan

For those of you who are unawares, each Wednesday at 4PM I join the Brad Riter radio show on our radio partner, WECK1230.

WECK allows for longer segments, which allows for more in-depth discussion on issues. In our weekly hour, we tend to cover a lot of ground and I like to think it’s mildly entertaining. You can listen on the air at 1230AM or listen live at WECK1230.com. We also solicit questions via Facebook and Twitter during the show as opposed to call-ins, so let me know what you’re thinking via twitter, @buffalogeek

Segment 1: The race to replace Brian Davis on the Buffalo Common Council, The Erie County Legislature Pigeon Coalition, The Backroom Deals behind both of these political stories

[audio:https://s3.amazonaws.com/wnymedia-cdn/files/2010/01/GeekOnWeck1132010_Segment1.mp3|titles=GeekOnWeck1132010_Segment1]

Segment 2: Team Conan vs. Team Jay, Tim “Fredo Corleone” Kennedy, Senate District 58, Collins For Governor

[audio:https://s3.amazonaws.com/wnymedia-cdn/files/2010/01/GeekOnWeck11310_Segment2.mp3|titles=GeekOnWeck11310_Segment2]

Segment 3: David Paterson, Upstate State Of The State, Economic Development, Buffalo’s Back Office Future, Buffalo as Bangalore, Yahoo, BNP/BNE Fail,

[audio:https://s3.amazonaws.com/wnymedia-cdn/files/2010/01/GeekOnWeck11310_Segment3.mp3|titles=GeekOnWeck11310_Segment3]

Segment 4: Pedro Espada Staff Member Joins Erie County Legislature Staff, Reforminess, Buffalo ReUse, Extreme Makeover Home Edition

[audio:https://s3.amazonaws.com/wnymedia-cdn/files/2010/01/GeekOnWeck11310_Segment4.mp3|titles=GeekOnWeck11310_Segment4]

J-O-B

9 Jan

That’s what it was all about. All this talk of a coalition being built in order to bring about reform? It’s all about jobs. J-O-B-S JOBS. Who’s in and who’s out so far?

Out:

Kevin Hosey: Majority Communications Director: A person I consider to be one of the best and brightest people in local politics. I will sorely miss popping in his office from time to time to shoot the breeze, and I hope he lands somewhere good, lucrative, and quickly.
Jeremy Rosen: Former Bob Reynolds staffer: Senior Administrative Clerk
Rosemary Sullivan: Former Kathy Konst staffer: Senior Administrative Clerk
Michelle Novak: Senior Administrative Clerk
Cherrie Bagarozzo: Receptionist
Dorothy Furtney: Senior Policy Analyst
Don Pryzbl: P/T Budget Analyst
Patrick Sanders: P/T Budget Analyst

All of the above are Democrats. The sole departing Republican is Emily Trimper: Senior Administrative Clerk

Staying on:

Bobby Graber: Clerk of the Legislature. Gets to stay, but with a very significant pay cut.
John Calvin Davis: Chief of Staff: pay increase to $75,000 – he will make more than the Legislature’s Clerk, which is unprecedented. Associated with Grassroots.
Paul Henderson: Administrative Clerk, Grassroots member
James Gambino: Senior Administrative Clerk, Graber’s right-hand-man
Andy Kulyk: P/T Senior Administrative CLerk, hours reduced, not an ECDC sycophant

We don’t yet have the complete figures on how many Republican staffers are being added to the county payroll, but estimates are that four new jobs will be created, all around $40 – 75k, and the Republican Chief of Staff goes from the low $40k to almost $70k.

Brian Fiume will be that minority Chief of Staff, moving over from Collins’ office, where he served as the intergovernmental affairs officer. He gets a big raise in the move.

Scott Kroll stays on, getting a hefty raise to the mid-$50k range.

It’s also been reported that although the Republican legislators will be closing their useless and unused district offices, those offices’ staffers will stay on the county payroll, moving downtown.

The “Democrats” have added jobs as follows:

1. Sandy Rosenswie is the chairwoman of the Erie County Independence Party. She has Tony Orsini’s old job, and she had previously been on former Erie County Legislator Cindy Locklear’s payroll while Orsini was chair. This is the first time anyone knows of that a county party chair has also been on the county payroll. Rosenswie is, of course, a close family friend of Pigeon’s, as well as a political ally of his. Rosenswie was apparently brought in by Christina Bove.

2. Sheila Meegan is a West Seneca Councilmember who received unreported campaign funding from Steve Pigeon – donations that ultimately led to former A.D.A. Mark Sacha’s ouster because he made too much noise about it.

3. Rebecca Brooks was Barbara Miller-Williams’ district office staffer. She’s coming downtown full-time.

4. Diana Cihak was the local organizer of the Obama presidential campaign and headed up Citizen Action of NY’s local office. Was not on good terms with ECDC, so defected in 2009 to Maurice Garner’s Grassroots – Garner got Cihak this job.

No, I am not so naive as to believe that this is some sort of unprecedented turn of events – that good people lose their jobs and other people take them. What is glaring here is the fact that the incoming staffers are getting big bumps in pay over their predecessors’, and the ones “lucky” enough to hold over are, with a couple of exceptions, getting their pay and/or hours slashed. The idea that the county chair of the dirtiest piece of shit excuse for a political party gets a county job is mindbogglingly horrible. That is the very epitome of bad government, and anyone associated with this should be ashamed. The Independence Party, which is now controlled locally and statewide by Steve Pigeon’s maneuvering and Tom Golisano’s money, is a blight on politics in New York State. It is the same grouping of people that brings us such good-government luminaries as Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate – the downstate versions of Tim Kennedy, Barbara Miller-Williams, and Christina Bove.

So, I’ll let both Maria Whyte and Barbara Miller-Williams in on a new definition of “reform”, since they were both keen on defining that term on Thursday: reform in Erie County means finding jobs for your well-connected friends and giving them big-ass raises, and in some cases creating brand new jobs out of whole cloth.

I’m so happy that Chris Collins is also pleased to provide these people with their new, higher-paying positions, complete with dreaded legacy costs. Did Collins run on the raises-for-new-patronage-hires platform? If not, he should make that a centerpiece in his doomed-to-fail gubernatorial run, or maybe in his re-election bid to become County Executive again in 2011.

No one’s running county government like a business. Instead, Chris Collins and Steve Pigeon have taken to running county government like a feudal manor. And we’re the serfs whose labor helps pay for the high life the Lords and Vassals enjoy.