Special election wrap-up; ECC’s next budget; overdoing the Bills hype and underdoing Sabres failures

In case you didn’t notice, there was a special election for the State Assembly in the 142nd District yesterday. A total of 11,124 voters (out of 85,579 eligible) came out in West Seneca, Orchard Park, Lackawanna and parts of Buffalo to elect a new representative.

So thirteen percent of those eligible voted. The winning candidate, Erik Bohen, received about 5,831 votes. Less than seven percent of the eligible voters made him an Assemblyman.

This is still a free country, and among our freedoms is the right to elect our representatives – or not. Some people say that if you’re eligible to vote and you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about what government does. Well, of course, you do, under the First Amendment to the Constitution, but why should anyone care what you say if you have not exercised your voting right?

Bohen’s win maintains a seat that was technically Democratic, even though former Assemblyman Mickey Kearns is more of a Republican than a Democrat these days. The Assembly remains overwhelmingly Democratic.  Overall the party increased the size of their caucus with the results Tuesday night in nine Assembly special elections.

Bohen’s opponent, Pat Burke, ran a spirited race. He could run against Bohen again in a September Democratic Party primary.  There might be others contesting the primary or general election.  Or, as so often happens, maybe no one will challenge Bohen again this year and he will coast to a full two-year term victory in November.

The Republicans were previously successful in siding with an affiliated Democrat (Kearns) to gain some hold over a legislative seat that they wouldn’t be able to win with an affiliated Republican.  It worked again.  Burke’s defeat is a big loss for Democratic Headquarters, which had a registration margin of more than 22,000 voters over the Republicans in the Assembly District.  This will take a lot of explaining.

Erie Community College’s next budget

The Board of Trustees of Erie Community College will this week take the first steps in the direction charted out by their new College President, Dr. Dan Hocoy. The Board will review Hocoy’s proposed 2018-19 Budget, which can be found on pages 406-408 of the Board’s April 26th Agenda package, as posted on the Board’s website. The proposed total budget is $111.6 million, up $2 million or 1.8 percent over the 2017-18 budget.

The three page “draft budget,” as presented on the website, is substantially lacking in the kind of detail provided in past College budgets. What’s missing? Why is it missing?

The school has had substantial financial and administrative challenges, as spelled out in a State Comptroller audit and stories about declining enrollment and fund balance. Here are a few highlights from the proposed budget draft:

  • What is the enrollment now and where is it heading? The trend has been downward. Lower enrollment hurts an institution that is heavily dependent on tuition income. The “proposed budget” does not report on enrollment. It does say that they are “estimating flat tuition and fees and FTE from 18 to 19, holding T(uition) & F(ees) at 18 rates.” That would indicate that the school’s administration anticipates that enrollment for the 2018-19 academic year will remain the same as currently exists. And the current enrollment is …?
  • Is the College’s new $30 million STEM building on the North Campus assisting in student recruitment?
  • Since New York State assistance to community colleges is calculated based on enrollment, even when the state raises the per-student grant, declining enrollment generally results in less state aid. The draft budget, however, projects an increase of state aid of $303,812.
  • The draft budget indicates that the county government contribution to the College will increase by $500,000.
  • There is a new source of revenue projected in the budget: $812,500 for housing. The document reports 65 beds will be rented from Canisius College at a per-student rental charge of $12,500 which will include an “apartment bed, meal plan, access to student facilities” with “residential staff to manage.” The budget does not report what Canisius is charging for use of its facilities. Total proposed room and board charges for Canisius’ own students in 2018-19 range from $11,218 to $14,746 for two semesters.
  • The budget indicates the College only intends to use the school’s fund balance to continue payment of their new technology system, but not for other operating and maintenance expenses. The total fund balance is not indicated.
  • The draft budget provides no information on departmental staffing, so a reader is left wondering if the College is holding the line on the size of its staff or reducing it. Will there be new jobs? Will there be terminations? Will there be raises?
  • Does the new President have plans or observations for how the school can operate three campuses if enrollment continues to decline?

After the Board of Trustees approves its budget, it goes next to County Executive Mark Poloncarz and then to the County Legislature for their approval. There has been some criticism from Poloncarz and legislators about previous College budgets and administration. It’s hard to imagine that the Executive and the Legislature will accept a document with such limited detail.

The County’s annual subsidy to the College was raised by a small amount last year. Will that happen again? Are the Executive and the Legislature satisfied with how the College is now being run, or will they use their leverage during the budget process to redirect some of the school’s programs and activities?

Stay tuned. The College budget will be finalized in June.

The Bills and the Sabres in Pegulaville

By now the limited euphoria of the Bills finally making the playoffs after a eighteen year drought has worn off. The 2018 schedule has been announced and it seems hard to imagine how the team will be back in the playoffs again next January. The annual NFL player draft occurs this week. The non-stop reporting by the Buffalo News and other media outlets about what the team will do with all their early round draft picks has been maddening.

Over the past several years the Bills have consistently ended their seasons somewhere between 7 wins and 9 losses and 9 wins and 7 losses. Draft-wise, that means that a team picks somewhere in the middle of each round, not high enough to demonstrate the team’s prowess, not low enough to get a really good pick in the draft. Despite having two picks in the first round of the 2018 draft, the team is more or less in the same place they have occupied in recent years unless they were to trade the two first rounders to another team to move up in the draft pecking order.

The obsession with getting a “franchise” quarterback is understandable, given that the team hasn’t had one in over twenty years. The 2018 season doesn’t look to be any different.

Even if the Bills are able to select one of the most prominently reported college quarterbacks in this year’s draft, there is certainly no guarantee that that guy will become a superstar. The odds are against it. Or it could be someone who does well for a season and then flames out – think RGIII, Vince Young, Brady Quinn, Ryan Leaf or a host of other guys.

It seems to me that lacking a lower number in the draft, and staring at the crop of so-so quarterback options, the team should take a quarterback wherever convenient in the draft, and plan to live with AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman for 2018. Maybe they will blossom. Face it – 80 or 90 percent of the NFL teams are in the same situation. Use the multiple draft choices to fill all sorts of holes in the current roster.

The National Hockey League will hold its annual draft lottery drawing Saturday where the first choice in the upcoming draft will be determined. The worst team in the league has the best chance, but is not guaranteed the first choice. The Buffalo Sabres are the worst team. Will getting a good draft number help the team? Has that happened during the past several years?

And while I am asking questions, since I don’t follow hockey all that much, can someone explain to me why Vegas, a team that didn’t exist a year ago, finished among the best five teams in the league this year and just won the first round of the playoffs?

I did pay more attention when Buffalo had a NHL team in years back. Okay, I’m being sarcastic. But really? How nice of Terry Pegula to announce that there would be no increase in season ticket prices for 2018-19.

The Buffalo Bandits lacrosse team (also owned by Pegula) are in danger of finishing out of the playoffs this year, and the Buffalo Bisons (owned by the Rich family) are so-far only so-so.  How did we get into this mess?