Schroeder’s analysis points to a return to a hard control board for Buffalo

Over many years, going back nearly 50, the finances of the City of Buffalo have had a whole lot of ups and downs. Years with major deficits, years with comfortable surpluses. Sometimes, though, years of surpluses can lull a municipal government into a sense of complacency.

In the most recent version of financial roller coastering, the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority, aka the Control Board, was created by the state in 2003 following budget difficulties magnified by the financial turmoil that followed the terrorist attacks on the country in 2001. The board was put in place in a “control” or “hard board” status right from the get-go, and immediately set about imposing serious budget controls on the City government as well as the Buffalo Board of Education, including a wage freeze that extended for several years.

The strong medicine worked. With the benefit of having the Control Board at their backs, the city administration, the Common Council and the Board of Education all in one form or another were able to take advantage of the wage freeze to control their budgets. Additional state aid that has often flowed to the City and to the school system over past decades also helped build surpluses and reserves.

Successive positive budgets led to improved credit ratings and the eventual change in the Control Board’s status to an advisory role. The City administration, the Council, the Comptroller and the Control Board all played a role in that success. But things have been changing.

City Comptroller Mark Schroeder early in May published a report on the mayor’s proposed $513.6 million 2018-19 budget, and the picture wasn’t pretty. The report documents a series of important budget revenues that he suggests are considerably overestimated. (Please note:  because of the size of the following table, which is taken from Schroeder’s report, and the value of including the information in order to understand the issue, the table is best viewed on a desktop, laptop, or tablet.)  The list includes:

 

Questionable Items included in the 2018-2019 Budget
 
2018-2019
Proposed Budget
 
Current FY Actual as of 4/30/2018
 
2016-2017
Actual
 
Responsible
Budgeting,  per Schroeder
 
Over
estimated
Revenue
Tribal Pact Casino Revenue
$17,000,000
$0
$3,439,330
$0
$17,000,000
Sale of City Owned Real Estate
8,000,000
240,693
1,060,836
1,000,000
7,000,000
Traffic Violations Revenue
6,000,000
2,009,690
3,993,940
3,000,000
3,000,000
Entertainment Ticket Fee
2,000,000
N/A
N/A
0
2,000,000
Gifts and Donations
2,000,000
15,933
51,097
150,000
1,850,000
Parking Tags and Fines
7,900,000
5,827,008
5,784,081
6,900,000
1,000,000
Grant Reimburse.
1,414,099
90,954
0
100,000
1,314,099
Total                                                          $33,164,099
 

 

Unassigned Fund Balance, which is used as a budget revenue item and is essentially the City’s savings account, had $41.6 million available in 2015-16. At the start of the current fiscal year only $6.5 million was left, and that, according to Schroeder, may be all gone by June 30th.

He also documents expenses that are substantially underestimated, including:

  • Overtime expenses. The actuals for 2016-17 were $29.4 million, and OT is projected for $29.8 million in the current year. The 2018-19 budget only provides $16 million.
  • Judgments and Claims expenses are budgeted at $2 million for 2018-19. The actual for the current year, through April 30th was $3.9 million, and the actual for 2016-17 was $8.1 million.

Add up all the possible overestimated revenues and underestimated expenses brings you to a total of perhaps $49 million, a number approaching 10 percent of the total annual city budget of $521 million. Assume Schroeder is only half right (I don’t think that) and you still have a budget gap of nearly $25 million. These numbers are not something that you make up by cutting office supplies and such during the fiscal year. The majority of city spending is in the personnel area, and looking to make up millions of dollars of shortfall could cost lots of people their jobs.

As a budget fanatic I reviewed Schroeder’s documentation carefully and I find it very convincing. The City budget exaggerations seem very similar to the Erie County budgets of the early 2000s, which followed the same inaccurate game plan. Those budgets led to the county’s financial meltdown in 2004 and 2005, which led to the creation of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority.

The City of Buffalo, of course, already has a control board in place, but it is operating in a dormant monitoring state at the moment. The state law that created the City’s control board sets out the reasons why the board can again revert to a “hard” board status. A board can take upon itself to go into control status if it determines that the city budget has crossed one or more red lines that require more than just monitoring, moving into direct control of the management of the City’s finances. One of those red lines requires structurally balanced budgets where operating expenses and operating revenues are in balance.

The budget presented by the mayor on May 1 required review and approval by the Common Council. It appears from a look at the Council’s budget actions that they just nibbled around the edges of the mayor’s plan.

The Council’s departmental amendments to the budget cut a net of $621,548 from the mayor’s proposed budget; that’s a cut of a little more than 0.01 percent. The cuts were spread over a number of departments. It wasn’t much.

The Council’s budget amendments also cut $1,000,000 from a proposed $1,500,000 appropriation for short term budget borrowing, known as a Revenue Anticipation Note (RAN). The Comptroller says that the City may need to borrow up to $100 million and he projects the interest charges at $1,000,000. The size of the note and the interest that it will cost remain to be determined, but the amount is pretty big – almost 20 percent of the City’s total annual budget. Schroeder suggests that the borrowing may have to occur in December 2018, just five months into the fiscal year. That should also be cause for alarm.

The City of Buffalo has had a pretty good ride financially for several years, but such things always come to an end at some point. The trick is, and it is a very difficult trick, to bring things in gradually for a soft landing so that recovery and rebuilding surpluses can be a planned out rather than be a panicky event.

It looks like panicky may be where things are heading. Maybe the State Comptroller should come in for a look. At the least the City Control Board needs to step up its act, because it appears that the current budget might breach the one percent of operating budget deficit that triggers a return to a hard control board; and/or, in the alternative, the 2018-19 budget could be determined to be structurally unbalanced, another trigger. The control board’s website doesn’t include an analysis of the 2018-19 city budget as yet, but perhaps that will be addressed at the Authority’s meeting on June 18th.

These things don’t cure themselves. Reality needs to be faced and a plan for filling in the gaps before things really hits the fan seems like a very good idea at this point in time.

Oh Canada!

People living in Western New York have a very unique opportunity. Some of us can, from our offices, actually see a foreign country – like Sarah Palin, only for real. We can drive in to work in the morning, take a quick glance to our right, and see another nation.

Some of us live in that foreign country for the summer. Many more of us drive over for lunch or dinner. Trips to see the Blue Jays play in Toronto or a theatre production are just a couple hours’ drive away. Or maybe it’s a trip to see a play or to have dinner in a picturesque little town a short distance across a river from a fort that that once defended America.

It is kind of neat to have this sort of situation with a foreign country, although I’ve never thought of Canada as a “foreign” country, just a neighboring area to visit, some place that we can get to in 20 or 30 minutes from home, even closer than Letchworth State Park or the Chautauqua Institute. There is more involved in getting across the border than there used to be, but it is still manageable.

But our country’s fearless leader now tells us that Canada is a “national security threat” to the United States. So what in the world does that mean? Will the border be closed? Can I still go to Niagara-on-the-Lake?

This, unfortunately, is just the latest example of life imitating art, which seems so appropriate since the president is a former made-for-TV-reality star. I’m thinking here about the 1990’s movie, Canadian Bacon. Timely and funny if you can track down a copy to watch.

The movie was not a box office hit but it had a passing interest for locals since the movie was set in Western New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario. The plot line was simple: an American president, whose popularity was waning, needed something to detract attention from his problems. Russia wasn’t interested in starting a war, so the president’s team suggested that a war with Canada would work.

As part of the agitation to drum up support for the war with Canada, the story line goes, anti-Canadian feelings are drummed up – think Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim agitation. A network newscaster, in the movie, reports “the Canadians. They walk among us. William Shatner. Michael J. Fox. Monty Hall. Mike Meyers. Alex Trebek. All of them Canadians. All of them here.”

Like in the movie, Trumpkins like Peter Navarro, Trump’s top trade adviser, contribute to the hysteria by denouncing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who dared to challenge Trump. “There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad-faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door.”

Trump’s TV economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, joined in. “POTUS is not going to let a Canadian prime minister push him around. He is not going to permit any show of weakness on the trip to negotiate with North Korea. … He really kind of stabbed us in the back … It’s a betrayal. It’s essentially double-crossing.”

President Snowflake must be served.

The movie ends with nuclear war being narrowly avoided and the American protagonists returning home victorious. Who knows how Trump’s war with Canada will end?

Facts, of course, never get in Trump’s way, so he lied about the United States’ balance of trade with Canada. We actually have a positive balance of trade with them.

Trump, of course, is the master of deception. Anything that distracts attention from the corruption of the administration is worth it to him, no matter how much damage his actions produce.

Through it all the Republican faithful, elected officials and party leaders have been looking the other way, so much that their necks must be permanently twisted. Where is the criticism, where is the outrage about a president and his appointees operating as if they are above the law? Why are people standing by and enabling this morally and ethically challenged president when he attacks our friends while cozying up to communist thugs?

While the attacks on American allies go on unabated by Trump and his minions, we this week have a new episode in the Trump Show starring Trump as president and North Korean murderer Kim Jong Un as the ring master. Kim has already won the meeting by bringing an American president to him. Tweedledum and Twiddledee are not going to bring peace to the world, however, no matter how much they spin their conversation.

All the while, with the war on Canada and Europe and the fraternization with North Korea, Vladimir Putin is undoubtedly sitting back and enjoying the show. He must be so proud of Donald.

Actually, rather than watching that comedy, Canadian Bacon, you might want to find a copy of a different and perhaps more appropriate movie to watch, The Manchurian Candidate. It’s aboot political intrigue, eh?

Sully and Bucky and Roseanne

If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound?

The Buffalo News recently began another round of cutbacks in staff, and this time, in its product. Since this a sensitive subject the News management is pretending that that fallen tree didn’t make much of a sound. But it did.

The sound was a bit muffled. Some coverage has been pieced together by Business First, The Public and the electronic media. Politics and Other Stuff noted the planned cutbacks. Elmer Ploetz’s article in The Public (he’s a former News reporter) is particularly insightful. But none of the articles have told a complete story.

And as so often is true, the backstory is more interesting and informative than the original one.

Ploetz notes the tweet from the now former sports columnist for the News, Jerry Sullivan:

I accepted a buyout today after the News took away my column.  They felt my voice  was becoming bad for business.  It’s been a privilege to cover Buffalo sports for 29 years.  I wrote for the readers, who deserved a fair, objective and passionate perspective, even when it stung.

Bucky Gleason, another News sports columnist, is also gone. His comments on Twitter were not as direct as Sullivan’s:

Whether you agreed with my opinions or not over the years, I always understood and embraced the fact that people cared. I must say, for a Buffalo kid who started with taking bowling scores to becoming a columnist at his hometown paper is a pretty cool story.

Like most Buffalo sports fans I have a lot of opinions about the teams, the players, the leagues, and the ownership. I’ve watched the depressing stories about the Bills and Sabres over the past couple decades, shaking my head about how badly they were led and performed.

Like most sports fans in Buffalo I looked on the day after the game (or more recently, the hour after the game, online) for an interpretation of what I saw. I rarely read the actual stories about the game; I just saw it myself. I want some analysis.

Sullivan and Gleason certainly offered that, as did Larry Felser in days gone by. I never agreed with everything they wrote, but most people who read columns of any sort, political, business, or in the sports world, read them to get a perspective on things and do a little chewing on it.

Ploetz’s article hints about the possible backstory about the terminations in the News’s sports department:

So why would the News push two of their most recognizable assets out the door? …Either the leadership at 1 News Plaza really is that stupid.  Or perhaps pressure was coming from someplace like One Buffalo, where they seem to be a bit twitchy about criticism. And if the News, which has been making an increasing amount of its income from printing, was to pick up, say, printing of Buffalo Sabres game programs or Buffalo Bills materials…well, that would be good for business, right?

The observation is interesting. But then if you are a News subscriber who looks at the sports section, think about this too. In recent weeks the newspaper has gone out of its way to do an extensive series of stories about the Bills’ first round draft choice, quarterback Josh Allen. The puff pieces appeared (I didn’t read past the first paragraph or two) to be designed to promote excitement about the kid. I hope he is the second coming of Jim Kelly, but nobody knows whether or not that will come true. Excitement about the draft choice might, of course, sell tickets at New Era Field.

And there was a second series of puff pieces about Pegula Sports and Entertainment co-owner, Kim Pegula, telling readers about all the wonderful things that she is doing. And, oh, by the way, what can we do about the football stadium, and the hockey arena which is old and falling apart?

And then Sully and Bucky, who have often criticized the Bills and the Sabres, were shown the door.

This all to some might seem like collusion, but alas, there is no local Robert Mueller available to look into that. It was the sort of thing that once happened in Buffalo, back when we were a competitive two newspaper city.

Roseanne

I was never much interested in the original Roseanne Barr television show when it ran in the 90’s. But with the high volume of attention the second coming of the show attracted with its potential Trumpified political slant, I decided to take a look. Heck, I occasionally watch a little Fox News to see how things are being presented there.

The fact is that the new Roseanne show was about more than Trump. In fact in its short life, the series made good notes about all the struggles that many American families endure as they try to balance their budgets while also trying to maintain their health with adequate medical coverage.

An episode or two highlighted things like splitting pills to make prescriptions last longer, or deferring needed knee surgery because deductibles and co-pays are very high. That isn’t comedic, but it is reality, the kind of reality that millions of Americans deal with every day.

The irony, of course, is that the TV show that burst on the scene as a celebration of Trump in fact highlighted the damage that Trump and company have done to the health care of millions of Americans. The Republicans were not successful in repealing Obamacare, but its replacement, Trumpcare, has, by regulations, promoted things like the high deductible, high co-pay insurance plans that are the next best things to not having medical insurance at all. It is probably the type of insurance that Dan and Roseanne Conner had.

So goodbye to Roseanne and all her racist twittering. You cost a hundred people their jobs and shot down a good demonstration of how Trumpcare is hurting people. Don’t let the screen door hit you on your way out.

With party conventions over and primary battles set, here is a look back at the 2014 state Democratic primary, and speculation about how things might play out in 2018

So we’re off to the races. The state party conventions are over and the line-ups are set.

The Republicans, Conservatives, Greens, and Reform parties have made their designations for governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general, although the Reform Party’s nomination of Preet Bharara for attorney general still awaits Bharara’s decision about whether he will run. It doesn’t appear that there will be any primaries in those parties.

The Working Families Party also looks set except for attorney general, where they have chosen a “placeholder” candidate for attorney general but have given Letitia James and Zephyr Teachout Wilson-Pikula permission to enter their primary for the office. Beware of the crafty Working Families Party and their placeholder games, which cost a Democrat her election to the State Supreme Court in the 8th Judicial District in 2016.

The real action between now and September 13th will be with the Democrats. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will go unchallenged, but there will be primaries for governor (Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon); lieutenant governor (Kathy Hochul and Jumaane Williams); and attorney general (Letitia James, Leecia Eve and Zephyr Teachout).

The party endorsed candidates (Cuomo, Hochul and James) start off with the advantages of party support without the need for petitioning to get on the ballot. And, oh yeah, Cuomo has $30+ million in his campaign treasury.

Cuomo is the marquee candidate. With incumbency comes many advantages including a built-in army of supporters and countless press opportunities. But eight year of incumbency also brings disadvantages such as unresolved public issues like the subways in New York City and an anemic upstate economy, despite the tons of money poured into the regions north of the Bronx.

And then there are the scandals related to some of that economic development activity that have already led to the conviction of Cuomo’s close associate, Joseph Percoco, and two other guilty pleas. Another trial related to these scandals will occur next month.

Nixon claims that she has already prodded Cuomo to the left on a variety of positions, and there is something to that as Cuomo responds to pressures real and perceived. But if you listen to Nixon (she appeared recently on Chris Hayes’ MSNBC program) she talks in generalities and platitudes. She avoids questions about the details of governing. It’s not clear that she has any real interest in upstate New York.

Jumaane Williams, a councilman from Brooklyn and Nixon’s Working Families Party running mate for lieutenant governor, doesn’t have Nixon celebrity going for him and nothing in particular that makes him attractive as a statewide candidate. Kathy Hochul could outrun Cuomo’s vote totals in the primary.

The Democratic primary for attorney general has the potential to be the most exciting of the three statewide contests on September 13th. It is fair to say that there aren’t a thousand people north of the City who know anything about City Advocate Leticia James. In her sprint to get appointed as interim attorney general (which she later backed off on), James seemed to feel that just rounding up the votes of New York City members of the state legislature was enough to clear the field and give her the office. Not so fast.

Leecia Eve has the opportunity to offer a serious challenge in the primary. Her resume is stellar and she is well-informed about the politics of New York State. Her challenge is in putting together a statewide campaign and raising money, but she has some very experienced political hands from the Clinton camp helping her.

Zephyr Teachout did very well upstate in her 2010 primary race against Cuomo but got trounced in New York City. She also has to piece together a campaign and raise money.

What the 2014 Democratic primary tells us

It has been frequently noted that in the 2014 primary for governor Teachout did remarkably well for a newcomer, receiving 33 percent of the total vote. She ran very well in upstate New York, carrying 26 counties. But try as we upstaters often do to ignore New York City and its suburbs, there’s a lot of people living there. In 2014 they voted overwhelmingly for Cuomo. Overall, the Cuomo victory, by nearly a two-to-one margin statewide, was quite a rout for him. Here is a breakdown of the 2014 primary for governor:

North of Westchester   NYC and Suburbs          State

Cuomo         114,455                       246,925                       361,380

Teachout     82,440                          109,770                       192,210

Credico        9,029                          11,731                         20,760

Hochul’s 2014 numbers were impressive:

   North of Westchester     NYC and Suburbs         State

Hochul      119,262                    209,827                      329,089

Wu             79,163                      138,451                      217,614

If we drill down a bit more, the 2014 primary results in the eight Western New York counties indicate that adding Hochul to his ticket that year benefited Cuomo. The turnout in Erie County that year was 18.2 percent, and Cuomo benefited from that, carrying the county by a much wider margin than in the rest of upstate. Cuomo’s 2014 margin of victory in upstate was totally supplied by Erie County.

Erie Co.   Remainder of WNY  Upstate      State Total

Cuomo vote      42,310            8,244                         114,455               361,380

Hochul vote      44,003            9,078                         119,262               329,089

And while we’re looking at numbers, here is more data from 2014 indicating both vote totals and percentages of turnout:

North of Westchester  NYC and Suburbs  State

205,924 (12%)                368,426 (8.9%)      574,350 (9.8%)

There are currently 6.2 million registered Democrats eligible to vote in this year’s primary.

There is not really much reason to think that the vote total in the 2018 state Democratic primary will be much higher than it was four years ago; it could be less.

So what might these numbers mean for 2018?

Probably that the results for governor and lieutenant governor will be about the same as they were in 2014.

It’s still too early to know for sure, but it’s very possible that Cynthia Nixon turns out to be no Zephyr Teachout. It is practical for the Nixon camp to focus on New York City for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks, because “that’s where the money is.” If Nixon really believes that hers is not just a protest vote and she is out to win, then she needs to win, or come very close to doing so, in New York City. That is not going to happen.

When the turnout is as low as it is likely to be, the party leadership in the City, all in Cuomo’s corner, will deliver him a healthy margin of victory. Upstate, Nixon’s city-centric effort will produce fewer votes than Teachout received.

Look for Kathy Hochul to again run strong upstate, and particularly in Erie County and Western New York. She will, as his running-mate, make life a little easier for Cuomo’s upstate effort.

In the attorney general race, things will come down to whether or not Leecia Eve or Zephyr Teachout can make any serious inroads in the vote in New York City. The same party leaders who will be pushing for Cuomo and Hochul will be out in the City for James. Eve and Teachout might split the upstate vote, with Eve doing better north of the Hudson while Teachout carries the Hudson Valley.

There really isn’t room for two candidates whose prime voter base is north of New York City to compete in the race for attorney general and stand a chance against party-boss favored James in NYC. Petitions hit the streets next week, but they won’t be filed until July 12. Between now and then it is not inconceivable that the race for AG might narrow down to either Eve or Teachout versus James.

At least there will be something interesting for us political junkies to watch.

On dreamers and food stamps, congressional confusion and the rule-of-law

Paul Ryan must be anxious to get back to Janesville, Wisconsin and to join all those well-paying corporate boards that await most former speakers of the House of Representatives. The job he has now certainly isn’t any fun.

Ryan became speaker mainly because no other Republican House member wanted the job after they saw what happened to John Boehner. (Is former Speaker Denny Hastert out of jail yet?) Boehner’s grand finale was to put a deal together that settled some budget and debt problems for a couple years. The Hastert rule about requiring a majority of the majority to sign off on legislation more or less went out the window as Boehner worked his magic.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy tried to get elected speaker when Boehner was leaving but the extreme-right Freedom Caucus did him in. Ryan had a good Republican resume, so he became the default candidate for the job.

But after a short honeymoon with his caucus, the roof started to cave in on Ryan. He got his tax cuts through but they aren’t selling as well as expected. Other than that, no significant legislation has been approved by the Congress that Republicans can brag about. Dozens of members, including many in leadership positions, are jumping ship. The party has won most of the special elections in the past year, but the seats were in heavily Republican districts; the victory margins were small; and the money spent was enormous. There are plenty more districts like the one Conor Lamb won in Pennsylvania. You can’t spend $10 million on every marginal seat.

Donald Trump’s erratic politics, peppered by contempt for the rule of law, always spill over to Congress, and the enablers running that branch of government are too timid to challenge him. Add to that Ryan’s premature announcement of his departure from Congress. Add to that some Republicans, even surprisingly Chris Collins, who feel some obligation to help the “dreamers” who came to the United States as children of illegal immigrants. Add to that an interest in cutting food stamps. Add to that a need to renew federal agricultural policies.

Those members of the Republican House caucus who want to resolve the dreamer issue started a “discharge petition” to get a vote scheduled on their preferred immigration legislation. By early this week twenty Republicans had signed on, with more apparently secretly preparing to do so, so only a handful more signatures are required to get a dreamer bill to the House floor.

But there are just enough members of the Freedom Caucus to wreak havoc to try to get their way. The current weapon of choice: the agricultural bill, loaded with crop subsidies and providing funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly referred to as food stamps.

The Freedom Caucus emphatically made their point. Last week the agricultural bill, something very important to the constituencies of Donald Trump and many Republican members of Congress, was defeated so that the Freedom Caucus could send a message: you, congressional leaders, promised immigration restrictions and we want you to deliver. We’ll hold up the farm bill until you give us a scheduled vote on the Freedom Caucus’ version of an immigration bill. And, BTW, we want your support for our bill.

There are a small number of Republicans who are concerned about food stamps, but most support for the program is on the Democratic side of the aisle.

So the Paul Ryan led House of Representatives doesn’t know which way to go. Push in one direction – lose a chunk of the caucus. Push another way and lose a different part of the caucus.

What Ryan and company are left with is what John Boehner was left with: something needs to get done and it isn’t going to be pretty. The despised Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic minority in the House will once again be the drivers of the solutions, on both the dreamers and the agricultural bills.

The odds of dreamer legislation, given the disruption of Ryan and company by the extreme right, are very low. The agricultural bill has only a slightly better chance of success.

If Democrats take control in November, Kevin McCarthy or Steve Scalise, or whoever becomes the new House Republican leader will be the minority leader, selected by only a majority of the minority, so small segments of the whole caucus will be powerless. Then the Freedom Caucus can wail and howl all they want, not having the ability to run the show.

Running the show in the next Congress won’t exactly be fun for anyone. If the Democrats are in charge they can pass one-House bills and drive Donald Trump crazy with investigations and subpoenas. Winning the Senate is a lot more problematic for the Democrats in 2018 (the opposite will be true in 2020), but in any case legislating in the next Congress will pretty much come down to approving names for post offices.

There will, of course, be opportunities to play out the political intrigue that will come out of the work of the special counsel. And then there will endless hearings about the other Trump administration scandals ranging from Ben Carson to Scott Pruitt to Ryan Zinke and all the others.

Talk of impeachment, with Trump-loving Republicans still in the Senate even if they should turn out to be in the minority, is not going to lead to anything productive. As long as the Democrats control at least one house, they can stymie Trump and let him twist in the wind until the 2020 election opportunity to remove him comes along.

Trump’s anti-rule-of-law attacks on the Justice Department and the FBI really are, as Chuck Schumer described it, something that a banana republic would do. Some Republicans, like Devin Nunes and Mark Meadows, are active co-conspirators in the attacks on our constitutional government. The rest of the Republicans, sitting on their hands, are equally but silently complicit.

The reality of what is likely to occur over the next two and a half years is not going to be pleasant, but hopefully it will be a wakeup call for a majority of the country that complacency about the political world leads to very bad results. Think of what needs to happen with the Trump administration as a colonoscopy for the country. Not pleasant, but occasionally necessary for the good of the body politic.

Some facts and heard-on-the-streets

A collection of recent observations:

  • It is so rare these days, and yet so welcoming, to see some bi-partisan action on anything. In that spirit it is noted here that Democratic Assemblyman Robin Schimminger and Republican Assemblyman Ray Walter held a joint press conference last week to chastise the bankrupt Bon-Ton store chain for its plan to void gift cards for customers who held those pieces of plastic when the chain announced its decision to close. I can’t recall the last time I was in a Bon-Ton store, but on behalf of all those current holders of Bon-Ton gift cards, I say thank you.
  • It should be noted for the record that Schimminger and Walter have also often sung from the same hymnal about issues concerning Governor Cuomo’s economic development activities.
  • And in the spirit of unity Governor Andrew Cuomo announced this week that he supports Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul’s continued presence on this year’s Democratic ticket. What took so long?
  • Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra is moving his way down on his quest for electoral re-incarnation – from being a candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination; to a candidate for the Reform Party designation for governor; to a candidate for the Republican nomination for state comptroller. Those checks he wrote to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats seem to bother people like Republican County Chairman Nick Langworthy and the state Conservative Party. That’s the problem with all that pesky information on the internet – it’s just hard these days to keep anything secret.
  • The editor of the Buffalo News reported recently about a shortage of newsprint, so maybe that’s been the problem, but the News hasn’t printed a word about Erie Community College’s proposed 2018-19 budget which the College’s Board of Trustees approved on April 26th and sent on to the County Executive. You would think that a budget that held the line on tuition and projected that enrollment is stabilizing would have at least deserved a paragraph or two on the news-in brief page. For that matter, why wasn’t the inauguration of the College’s new president reported?
  • Speaking of that ECC budget, inquiring minds might wonder how well the projection of constant enrollment and level tuition figures will hold up, as well as the projected benefit costs and some other expenses. And how much real revenue will ECC actually earn from having up to 65 of its students living in Canisius College dorms next academic year?
  • The News has reported on City Comptroller Mark Schroeder’s analysis of Mayor Brown’s proposed 2018-19 City budget. Schroeder’s report shows millions of dollars in likely overestimated revenues and millions more in underestimated expenses. The City’s once substantial fund balance is running low. The Mayor defends his budget and the Common Council still needs to weigh in on the Mayor’s plan, which also raises taxes and fees for the first time in many years. All this could well lead to the re-institution of the hard Control Board for the City.
  • State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli last week released an audit of the Erie County Water Authority, which you are reading about first here on the Politics and Other Stuff blog. The audit didn’t get into things like the redundant layers of senior management that the Authority operates with, focusing instead on the lesser topic of information technology management. The Comptroller’s office found that:
    • The Authority has 696 network user accounts that have not been used in the last six months, with 75 accounts last logon being over four years prior and 377 network user accounts that have never been used. [How could an organization with less than 250 employees have that many network user accounts?]
  • Five of 10 tested employees visited social media, shopping websites and personal email which could expose the network to virus attacks or compromise systems and data.
  • In addition, sensitive IT control weaknesses were communicated confidentially to Authority officials.

 

 

  • The Erie County Medical Center transmitted its 2017 annual report to state and county officials several weeks ago. Growth in business and activities has paid off handsomely for the corporation’s senior management. CEO Thomas Quatroche’s salary is listed at $847,596 (it was $762,085 in the previous year); part-time general counsel Anthony Colucci III’s salary was $565,590, compared with $527,825 in 2016; chief financial officer Stephen Gary was paid $499,039, compared with $449,039 in 2016; vice-president of communications & external affairs Peter Cutler earned $189,423 in 2017; and the chief operating officer Andrew Davis’s salary was $473,557.
  • Newly elected Assemblyman Erik Bohen is evidently in for another challenge from County Legislator Pat Burke in the September Democratic primary. Given the contested primaries for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, look for turnout to be substantially higher than what occurred in the April 24th Special Election, which should work to Burke’s advantage (I know, I wrote the same thing about the party advantage in the Special Election.) Bohen’s real disadvantage will be that he can’t count on Republican and Conservative votes to pull him through a Democratic primary. Incumbency, often an advantage, will mean basically nothing to Bohen, who will have less than five months under his belt as the Assemblyman prior to the primary, and is shunned by both Assembly Democrats and Assembly Republicans.
  • The Democratic primary for attorney general should turn out to be really interesting, particularly if Preet Bharara enters the race. That would probably scare away most of the other contenders for the office. As for the interim appointment that the Legislature may (or may not) make for the AG position, selecting Solicitor General Barbara Underwood would certainly make sense for many reasons. So why do I think that that will not happen?
  • The decision of Buffalo News management to skinny down the daily edition, cut sections and cut staff undoubtedly makes sense economically for the paper. Nonetheless it is a sad development, and it might not be the last of the cuts we will see at One News Plaza. Those of us who have been around town for a while remember well (but not always fondly) the days when the Buffalo Evening News and the Buffalo Courier-Express battled things out pretty much every day. When the News first started publishing a Sunday edition they ran television ads using the old Spanky and Our Gang song, “Sundays will never be the same…” That turned out to be so true. But this week’s decision means that Mondays through Saturdays will never be the same either.

WNY firms and organizations employing state lobbyists spent $4.58 million in 2017

This post is Trump-free. I cannot say that it is politics-free, but readers can make their own judgments about that.

One of the earliest posts on this blog reviewed the list of Western New York firms and organizations that employed lobbyists in 2014. You can find that post here. Here are the links for the lists in 2015 and 2016.

Lobbying is a big business in New York State. The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) annually publishes a list of lobbying activity. In 2017, according to JCOPE, a total of $240.1 million was spent on lobbying work in the state. This number was down about $2.6 million from the previous years. Continue reading