In the craziness that is 2020, Western New York has at least caught a break with the weather. Temps in the 70s would be more welcomed than 40, but generally there has been no snow to be concerned about so life is a little easier for most of us than what we might expect in mid-December.
COVID-19, of course, still hovers over this region and most other parts of the country. The economy is severely strained. Our political institutions have been challenged by Donald Trump and his sycophants who desperately tried to cling onto power. Oh yeah, we are in the holiday season.
Here are some facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets:
- The counting of votes is done except for that pesky 22nd congressional district election in the middle of the state. The Trump “dream team” of lawyers, the Rudy and Jenna show, was sidelined. They were something like one for sixty in their lawsuits; my cousin Vinny would have been a better lawyer. The Electoral College has elected Joe Biden as president. Mitch McConnell has said that Biden is elected. The Trumplican
partycult coup d’état attempt is over.
- “The application for injunctive relief presented to Justice Alito and by him referred to the Court is denied.” United State Supreme Court Order, December 8, 2020. Amen!
- But the 2020 election is not yet over. The two run-off Senate elections in Georgia present a Democratic opportunity and a Republican challenge. Some Republican leaders there are recommending that theTrumplicans not vote in the run-offs. Sounds like a plan to me.
- The recent history of runoff senatorial elections in Georgia has shown a drop off of more than forty percent in turnout compared to the general election numbers. As was the case in November, it will once again all come down to TURNOUT.
- Now comes the hard part – governing. Something they used to do in Washington.
- Federal budget approval of some form and COVID relief legislation is coming together this week although the details remain fuzzy, with the issues of extended liability protection and state and local aid the main sticking points. The talk is all over the lot, but there is some possibility that both of those issues may be dropped from any legislation approved before the end of the year.
- The dollar amount of state and local aid that has been most recently discussed is in the range of $160 billion, which is a lot of money but nonetheless far short of what has been hoped for. The devil is in the details, like what governments will be eligible for the money and in what amounts? Might the money be assigned to states, which have their own substantial needs, for distribution?
- State budget action has been stalled by the Cuomo administration even though the state’s fiscal year is nearly three quarters complete. If the deficit is approximately $8 billion and the federal funding does not match that amount there is little time to make cuts or raise revenues to make up shortfalls, so borrowing is probably the fallback position.
- Among the problems created by the lack of state budget action is a twenty percent delayed payment of Tuition Assistance Plan (TAP) payments to the state’s colleges and universities for students who receive TAP financial aid. The state calls the action a delay, but it will really turn out to be a cut. The state budget folks, according to Newsday, expect the colleges to give eligible students the assistance and absorb the cuts, which the institutions undoubtedly are welcoming with open arms. It’s called passing the buck; well actually not passing the buck.
- Senate Trumplican leader Mitch McConnell has been resisting state and local assistance. This is more than ironic considering his home state has been drawing down much more in federal money ($30 billion-plus, annually) than they have returned to Washington in tax payments. Mitch needs to remember that.
- Counties, towns, and smaller cities in New York State have already done the hard work of approving realistic budgets for 2021 that factor in the loss of such things as sales tax revenue losses as well as increased costs related to COVID concerns. If and when federal relief money comes along those governments will be in a position to restore some of the budget cuts they have made.
- Not so with the City of Buffalo, which has been living in budget dreamland since this past spring when the city fathers approved a deficit-laden 2020-2021 spending plan that is at least $76 million in the hole. The Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority (BFSA) has pointed out that cumulatively, over four years from 2020-2021 through 2024-2025, the city may run up more than $200 million in deficits. Mayor Brown’s backup plan – borrowing money. No word on how that debt would be paid pack. The Common Council’s backup plan?
- The thing about the federal discussion concerning relief to state and local governments is that it is pretty hard this year, in the midst of the pandemic, to come up with some money. The aftereffects of the pandemic will in some cases linger for the next several years. Whatever state and local relief that is approved this month, if any, will likely not be replicated in the out-years of governments’ four year financial plans.
- While occasionally touching on things related to his job as county comptroller, Stefan Mychajliw has mostly been focusing on his Twitter storms of Trumpian propositions. I’ll leave it to the Twitter commentators to point out the nature of his diatribes there. It is hard to add anything, however, to the Buffalo News editorial about Mychajliw, which noted his “desperation… claiming authority he doesn’t have” while calling him “pathetic” and “dangerous.” Ouch!
- Wondering what role Deputy Comptroller for Communications and Public Affairs Lynne Dixon is playing in developing the Twitter storm of rage.
- With Mychajliw out of the race for comptroller, who, other than Dixon, is being discussed for the office on either side of the aisle; County Legislator Kevin Hardwick maybe?
- The race for sheriff may wind up as a rerun for retired FBI official Bernie Tolbert who came within 3,437 votes (1.5 percent) of defeating Tim Howard in 2017. As I noted in posts at that time, Tolbert would have been elected if only Buffalo Democratic turnout had matched suburban turnout that year. This is a continuing problem for Democrats in countywide races. Seems like someone should be working on a solution.
- With County Legislator Ed Rath headed to the State Senate there will be a new legislator in County Hall in January. The County Charter requires that the vacancy “shall be filled by appointment by a majority vote of the members of the County Legislature of the party with which the person last elected to such office identified…” This is interesting. There are currently four members of the Republican caucus but one of them, Rath, cannot vote for his successor. One of the caucus members, Joe Lorigo, is a Conservative. So that means that John Mills and Frank Todaro will select the new legislator. It should be easy to get the caucus together for that, although they will undoubtedly defer to
CountyState Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy who has already recommended Christopher Greene, currently a Clarence Town Councilman.
- Speaking of County Hall, the pandemic has forced many of us to depend to a great degree on internet information and transactions to conduct our business. I recently had the need to surrender some license plates to the Auto Bureau. The County Clerk’s website says “[m]otorists can now utilize our secure drop box station inside the front vestibules of the … Auto Bureaus… Simply fill out the plate surrender envelope with the required information …then just drop it in the secure green mailbox. This service is available to ALL motorists during each location’s normal operating hours.” Wrong. There are no envelops for the plates and you need to stand in line to return then. A Clerk Office staffer in the Cheektowaga location reports that that service is no longer available. Some staffers in that location were non-compliant with face-covering requirements.
- The race for mayor of Buffalo doesn’t appear to be attracting any attention except from the incumbent, Byron Brown and a newcomer, India Walton. With deficits that could exceed $200 million over four years, whoever is elected next November is going to have a pretty big headache coming. The election should focus on that potentially disastrous dilemma.
- Besides the three marquee races there will be nearly 200 local offices on the ballot in Erie County.
- The complication for all of the above is that the 2021 elections will be operating during a pandemic, which creates problems for petitioning and other electioneering matters. Petitioning will begin in February and it seems likely that such things as the number of valid signatures will need to be reduced, as was the case this year.