Some facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets

As we (mostly) all move along taking appropriate personal and community safety precautions, there is still a great deal of politics in the air. So be careful out there.

The presidential campaign is sort of underway and there are some limited but important state and local political developments. Here are some facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets:

  • Doing his best to assist Joe Biden’s campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly continues to put his foot in his unmasked mouth. The Rose Garden press sessions are like a never ending blessing as they demonstrate Trump’s lack of knowledge, need for vengeance, contempt for science, and an unending effort, during the worst national crisis in the past eighty years, to divide the country.
  • Everyone wants the country to “re-open,” but no one knows what that really means and when or where it can occur. Polls show that the great majority of Americans want to go slowly.
  • The situation we find ourselves in leaves each and every one of us involved in deciding when it is safe for us and our families to go places or do things. In the immortal words of Senator John “Bluto” Blutarsky “nothing is over until we decide it is…”
  • Federal financial relief efforts appear poorly managed, much like the pharmaceutical advice coming from the White House.
  • Governor Andrew Cuomo has received much praise for his efforts during the crisis, along with criticism for the handling of nursing home issues. It’s a serious matter. His day-in-day-out attention to the overwhelming responsibilities that he has taken on will likely stand as a major part of his legacy.
  • The Republican primary race for Congress in NY27 is getting nasty. Beth Parlato’s IRS ad got shot down – use of the Service’s logo did seem to cross a line – but the commercial made a couple valuable points about Chris Jacobs’ record on taxes and on taking a large pay raise for his service in the Senate. I wonder if Parlato’s ad with Trump’s images in another one of her commercials had some sort of wink-and-nod approval from the Trump campaign.
  • The rush of Republican county chairs in defense of Jacobs seemed to be, well, defensive. Are they worried about something?
  • Missing in action in the congressional TV war so far is Republican Stefan Mychajliw and Jacobs’ special election opponent, Democrat Nate McMurray. The end of March campaign financials seemed to indicate that McMurray will at some point have the cash to get on the air. Mychajliw’s treasury was pretty paltry.
  • Two Assembly Democratic primaries (140th and 149th Districts) and another for State Senate (61st District) are on the ballot, but it’s awfully hard to get any traction during the current state of the state. We’ll see if Assembly candidate Kevin Stocker follows through with any campaign financial filing about his quasi-political law office ads.
  • The pre-primary financial reports are due at the State Board of Elections this Friday for state and local campaigns involved in a primary or special election. The congressional candidates’ next financial reports must be filed with the Federal Election Commission twelve days prior to the election, which for the special election and the Republican primary will be June 11.
  • Party Judicial Conventions will not be held until August but the ballot is more or less set with Democrat and current City Court Judge Amy Martoche facing off against Republican Gerald Greenan. Both have links to the Conservative Party, so who will the Conservatives endorse?
  • A consequence of the pandemic is that absentee voting will be much easier to do than in years past. All registered voters will get information about applying for a ballot by mail. You can also simply go to the Erie County Board of Elections website (www.elections.Erie.gov) to request a ballot, or you can complete the application online.
  • Republican Party leader Donald Trump rails against voting by mail, so what advice will Republican candidates and party leaders give their affiliated voters about voting absentee?
  • Early voting should also make it easier to do social distancing while voting.
  • The 2020-2021 City of Buffalo Budget presents City residents with an interesting situation. Mayor Byron Brown announced that everything was cool with the City’s new budget, with no need for layoffs or a tax increase. He is balancing his budget with $11 million of casino revenues that seem unlikely to arrive from the state anytime soon along with $65.08 million in new federal relief funding.
  • The House of Representatives last Friday enacted a new relief bill that, according to Congressman Brian Higgins, will provide Buffalo with more than $1 billion over the next two years; that’s twice the City’s total annual budget. You have to wonder how House folks came up with numbers like that.
  • Republicans in the House and Senate say that there is no way that they will go along with the House bill. They also do not seem to be in any hurry to vote on the next relief bill. So not only will City lose out on another Buffalo Billion, but the possibility of receiving the $65 million is far from certain. This is no way to prepare an accurate, balanced budget.
  • Brown said that the City’s sales tax and fines revenues are declining and that the City faces a $15 million deficit for the year ending June 30, with no fund balance available to fill the hole.
  • City Comptroller Barbara Miller-Williams begs to differ and suggests the 2019-2020 deficit will be much higher than $15 million. She has also noted a serious cash flow problem that complicates things like making payroll.
  • The Brown administration’s answer to the cash crunch is to tap into a cash reserve that the Buffalo City School System has available and he plans to repay that money when (if?) the city receives their next state aid payment in June. Or as Popeye’s friend Whimpey might say, “I’ll gladly repay you in June for the use of your cash in May.”
  • Update from Politico, May 19, 2020:  “NEW YORK’s state government is holding back more than $1 billion of planned spending as it grapples with the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic . The delayed payments are a response to a steep revenue shortfall, Budget Director Robert Mujica said Monday. They include aid to private colleges and revenue due to counties from the sale of medical marijuana. Another $370 million of grants to some of the state’s largest upstate cities that were scheduled to be made later this month and in June will be held up indefinitely, Mr. Mujica said. ‘We are actually slowing down spending everywhere,’ he said. 
  • The City does not pay interest to the School District for the loan of that money. They do not even regularly tell the District when they use the school funds, even though the State Education Law says “[i]t shall be unlawful for a city treasurer or other officer having the custody of such city funds to permit their use for any purpose other than that for which they are lawfully authorized; they shall be paid out only on audit of the board of education or as otherwise provided herein.” The money was provided by the state for the benefit of the students in Buffalo schools, not for the benefit of city administrators who find the School funds handy when they are short of cash.
  • The City’s budget allocation to the School District has been more or less frozen at about $70 million for many years while state aid has increased regularly and substantially.
  • Meanwhile the Common Council talks and the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority monitors.

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