Two versions of taxes, budgets and fiscal responsibility; some facts and heard-on-the-streets; Grant tops Langworthy

The United States Senate this past Friday completed its version of their so-called tax reform legislation. The 500 page bill was prepared entirely by the Republican Majority in the Senate; no Democrats allowed. It was approved in the dead of night, with last minute amendments hand-written illegibly in some cases. Lobbyists had copies of the bill before senators did. The legislation will increase the national debt by one trillion dollars over the next ten years.

The Erie County Legislature later this week will likely unanimously approve a 2018 Erie County Budget. The budget will include some extra money for ECC as well as a few minor amendments that add a handful of jobs and provide funding to community organizations. The typed changes to County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s original proposal were offered by both the Republican Majority caucus and the Democratic Minority caucus. The meeting will occur in the middle of the afternoon. The budget will be balanced.

The United States Congress still has a few pesky things to do to finish up their fiscal work. They need to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the “tax reform” legislation, which they will wrap in a few days (just in case their pedophile candidate loses his Senate race in Alabama). They need to keep the government running for a few days. They need to fund Obamacare if they are true to the Republican commitment to Senator Susan Collins. They need to soon raise the national debt limit, plus a few other things like continuing health care for the nation’s poorest children. All of these things will be hard for the congressional majorities to do, since fiscal responsibility is only a slogan for them, not something they live by.

The approval of the balanced 2018 Erie County Budget is basically wrapped up, including tax decisions, spending priorities and capital projects for the year. It’s done that way because state law and county law require balanced, on-time budgets.

The so-called federal tax reform will do great damage to many taxpayers in New York State. The likely finished bill will, for example, limit deductions for state and local income and property taxes to $10,000. This is what is refer to as SALT – state and local taxes. The cutback in this deduction will take a lot of deduction dollars away from a lot of people, so what we will be left with will be a pinch of SALT.

Standard deductions will be raised, but personal deductions will be deleted, so a family with two or three children will probably lose out in the tradeoff. Reducing the attractiveness of itemizing deductions means hurting charities everywhere. Graduate school students, college employees and teachers will lose their tax breaks. Local governments and school districts will lose the ability to re-finance debt when interest rates fall, which will hurt taxpayers.

New York State is a revenue donor state to the rest of the country, so while New Yorkers are dealing with the consequences of “tax reform,” farmers in Nebraska will still be getting their subsidies and our cash will flow to places like Texas which needs to rebuild because they were careless enough to allow thousands of people to build homes and businesses on flood plains.

But in Erie County, which is bound to follow the laws which require fiscal responsibility, budgets are approved and taxes are being set in a rational and sane manner.

Congressman Collins and his allies in the White House and Congress have sold Western New York and the rest of the state down the river. I guess Chris learned nothing about fiscal responsibility from his time as Erie County Executive.

The Republican Party is serving as enablers to the mad man who sits in the White House. But the base, that famous base, the Trump base, is happy. So to hell with the country as long as the base is happy. Sad!

Some facts and some heard-on-the-streets

Final 2017 campaign financial reports have been filed. Some highlights:

  • Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw spent a total of $129,986 in his campaign, which he won by a comfortable 55-45 margin, the largest of the three contested countywide elections. His committee was left with a balance of $10,821. Expect a Stefan for County Executive organization to be put together in 2018, in preparation for 2019.
  • New Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns spent $118,859 in his campaign, which he won 52-48 with a plurality of 7,383 votes. His campaign balance is $7,691, which he will immediately need to build up for the 2018 election for a full four year term. He will face an election turnout in 2018 that will be larger countywide, but more importantly, larger in the City of Buffalo, than it was this year.
  • Sheriff Tim Howard was re-elected to a fourth term by a 51-49 margin and a victory by just 3,389 votes. He spent a total of $339,972 in 2017 and has a balance of $7,357.
  • County Legislature Majority Leader Joe Lorigo was re-elected by a 55-45 margin, with 2,574 more votes than his opponent, Michele Schoeneman. Lorigo spent $119,818, an extraordinary sum for a county legislative race. The race was highly negative.
  • County Legislature Minority Leader Tom Loughran was re-elected by a more impressive 57-42 margin (2,769 votes) against an opponent whose campaign was dominated by negative advertising. Loughran only spent $26,803.
  • Newly elected County Legislature John Bruso was elected by a small margin, 51-49 (453 votes) in another campaign that was marked by a load of highly negative advertising by incumbent Ted Morton.

Grant wins over Langworthy

While the elected officials noted above were the main features of the 2017 elections in Erie County, a secondary contest was playing out. Political consultants Chris Grant and Nick Langworthy were collecting big money in the local campaigns. Langworthy is, of course, also the Republican County Chairman.

During the 2017 election cycle in the County, Grant’s Big Dog Strategies collected $175,890 in fees and other payments from local candidates that included Stefan Mychajliw ($99,890), Joe Lorigo ($3,500), Dennis Gaughan ($37,500), Tim Howard ($20,000) and Acea Mosey ($15,000). Big Dog was also paid $107,236 by the New York State Republican Committee, which produced significant mailings for the Town of Amherst candidates.

Langworthy’s Liberty Opinion Research produced $154,129 in local revenues from candidates including Mickey Kearns ($91,815), Joe Lorigo ($20,000), Real Conservatives ($30,000), Michael Ranzenhofer ($8,814) and Dennis Gaughan ($3,500). I do not recall any local party County Chairman ever having campaign work paid to a consulting firm that he owns.

Speculation and rumors

  • The two prime candidates for Chairman and Majority Leader of the County Legislature, which will switch to Democratic control in January, are current Minority Leader Loughran and Legislator Peter Savage. Savage has the edge for Chairman.
  • The two prime candidates for Minority Leader of the Republican Caucus in the Legislature are rumored to be Kevin Hardwick and Ed Rath.
  • Stories are circulating that outgoing Hamburg Town Supervisor Steve Walters may be in line to be appointed attorney for the town, while defeated Republican candidate for Supervisor Dennis Gaughan could get a deputy town attorney appointment. Democrat Jim Shaw will be the new Supervisor but the Republicans will control the Town Board.
  • Perennial Town of Tonawanda candidate Kevin Stocker may be taking another shot at political office in 2018, once again challenging State Senator Chris Jacobs, but perhaps this time as the member of a different political party.
  • The Bills will be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs on Christmas Eve, which would seem to be very appropriate.
  • The Sabres were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs a couple weeks ago. Okay, that is not technically correct. The real date will be sometime in early February.

Campaign 2018 is right around the corner

In the next few days we will see the final documents of Election 2017, the post-election financial reports. Next up – federal and state elections, with a couple Erie County campaigns thrown in too.

The statewide campaigns will be the main focus, with the race for governor featured – or maybe not. Heading into his third gubernatorial campaign, Andrew Cuomo has lost the luster of a newcomer and has morphed into the role of defender of the administration record. Reports are that the 2019 state budget that Cuomo will file in January has billions of dollars of holes to fill. There are complaints about how the state manages the subway system in New York City.

Upstate’s economy is still anemic despite all the money that has been handed out. The $750 million Riverbend/Solar City project in Buffalo is, at the moment, a major sore thumb. That and other Cuomo economic development initiatives such as the college-related START-UP NY program, have been and will continue to be criticized in a bi-partisan manner by Assemblymen Robin Schimminger, Ray Walter and others.

And then there will be the corruption trials in 2018 related to Solar City and other economic development projects. Particular focus will be directed to the trial of close Cuomo associate Joe Percoco.

It seems likely that outgoing Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner or some other Democrat will challenge Cuomo in a primary. Cuomo has been very successful in stockpiling a gazillion dollars, or actually $25.7 million in his most recent financial report last July. The odds will be stacked in Cuomo’s favor, but it should be remembered that Zypher Teachout, a totally unknown law professor, received 33 percent of the vote in her 2014 challenge of the incumbent. There will be more issues to explore in 2018 than there were four years ago.

The real question here, however, is whether the Republicans will offer a credible opponent. The heavy emphasis will be on businessman Harry Wilson, who narrowly lost the race for state comptroller in 2010 against Tom DiNapoli. The year 2018 looks to be a good year for Democrats and New York is one of the bluest states in the nation. If Wilson passes on the race, the others contenders – State Senator John DeFrancisco, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro – are all “B” level candidates at best and a Cuomo primary win would probably unofficially wrap up the election.

As for the other statewide officials on the ballot next year, it would not be surprising to see a primary challenger for current Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who also had a primary opponent in 2014. The incumbent Attorney General Eric Schniederman and incumbent Comptroller Tom DiNapoli should cruise to victory. It will not be surprising to see one or more of the “B” list Republican gubernatorial candidates running for Attorney General or Comptroller.

 

Congress

The local congressional districts are pretty stacked to favor the incumbents. Brian Higgins represents one of the most heavily Democratic districts in the state and Chris Collins holds the most Republican-affiliated district. Higgins has a Republican challenger or two checking things out but he is in no danger of losing. Neither is Collins at the moment, unless his stock-brokering-related ethics investigation turns into something serious in the next several months.

State Legislature

Members of the Legislature are generally as secure as an elected official can be. Twelve months before the next election, the only local legislative seat in question is the one held by Mickey Kearns. Kearns will resign on December 31st to become County Clerk.

The names most prominently mentioned for the Kearns seat are Buffalo Councilman Chris Scanlon, County Legislator Pat Burke and Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanaki. Scanlon is the early favorite, but don’t be surprised if Burke emerges as the Democratic candidate. The Republicans went with Kearns for that seat, so maybe they would try the same thing with another registered Democrat in 2018. We will have to wait to see if and when Governor Cuomo calls a special election for the seat. There are several vacant state legislative seats at the moment.

County Clerk

Clerk-elect Mickey Kearns has to do it all over again in 2018. He will run for a full four year term in November. Democratic turnout will be much better next year than in 2017 with the statewide and congressional offices on the ballot. State Democratic Chair and Mayor, Byron Brown, will be expected to turn out a large vote in Buffalo for the governor, and that should have spillover value for other offices.

The 2017 candidate for Clerk, Steve Cichon, ran a professional and spirited race and might have a decent shot in 2018. He seemed to say on Election night that he wasn’t interested, but there is time to think about that. No other names have been mentioned thus far.

Judicial Offices

There will be two State Supreme Court seats on the ballot next November, along with a County Court Judge seat. The Supreme Court seats are held by incumbents Paula Feroleto and John Curran, so cross endorsements are a possibility. There are some rumblings among party-types about both candidates, but there’s plenty of time to work that out.

The County Court seat is presently held by Michael Pietruszka, who will retire. Susan Barnes is mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate. Interestingly, there have been three other County Court seats on the ballot in the past two years and there were no primary or general election challenges for any of them. It’s personally expensive to run for judge, and perhaps that is what has been keeping the interest down.

Call Chris Collins

There have been some robo calls flying around the Buffalo suburbs telling people how great the Republican tax bill is and asking folks to call Chris Collins to thank him. The calls are sponsored by something called the American Action Network, whose Board include former Congressman Tom Reynolds. If you are so inclined, Collins’ local district office phone number is 634-2324. He loves to speak with his constituents.

You can, if you choose, thank him for making it harder to go to graduate school or to be a teacher; or for sticking you for higher taxes by cutting back or eliminating the deduction for property and state income taxes; or for making your new tax rates temporary while corporate cuts will be permanent. Remember, be polite. And remember, he works for you.

Closing the books on the 2017 election

The numbers are in.  There are bragging rights for both parties. Here are a few observations about the 2017 elections:

  • The Republicans held on to what they had, with wins by Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard and Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw. They will fill the County Clerk’s Office for the completion of former Republican Clerk Chris Jacobs’ term by electing Mickey Kearns. There will be another race for that office next year for a full four-year term.
  • Howard’s margin of victory (51-49) was very small.
  • Kearns’ margin was also small (4 percent) while Mychajliw’s margin (10 percent) was the best of the countywide group.
  • None on the countywide victors ran anywhere near what was projected in private polling.
  • The election turnout was better than expected, but still an anemic 35 percent.  The turnout in Buffalo was just 27 percent.  If the Buffalo turnout had just matched the suburban and rural turnouts it is likely that both Bernie Tolbert and Steve Cichon would have been elected.  It wasn’t too long ago that turnouts of about 60 percent in local elections were common.
  • The Democrats won control of the County Legislature with impressive wins by Tom Loughran and John Bruso. Guy Marlette substantially outspent Loughran and used a lot of his campaign funds in a highly negative campaign, but it did not work.  Ted Morton also ran an incredibly negative campaign.
  • An ugly campaign also occurred in the 10th District when Joseph Lorigo was re-elected by a healthy margin. 
  • Democrats had some important victories in town elections. Jim Shaw will be the new Supervisor in Hamburg and Brian Kulpa will take over in Amherst Town Hall.
  • Republicans won three seats on the Hamburg Board but they lost the highway superintendent race.  Amherst will have an entire Democratic Board , with Democrats Jacqui Berger and  Shawn Lavin winning seats.
  • The Town of Tonawanda, under the Democratic Party leadership of John Crangle, once again elected all Democrats to Town offices.
  • Erin Baker raised $88,776 in her losing campaign for the Amherst Town Board. Of that amount, she transferred $30,750 to the Erie County Republican Committee which is chaired by her husband, Nick Langworthy. Transfers of funds to a County Committee from local candidates for things such as mailers and petitions are not unusual, but this is an extraordinary amount of money and obviously was not just for such things. Baker’s Amherst Council Republican running mate Joseph Spino, for example, only transferred $7,550 to the County Committee.
  • Oh yeah, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown was re-elected to a fourth term.
  • And oh yeah, several judges were elected without opposition.

That’s about it. The countywide turnout of 35 percent was better than the 25 percent in 2015 but still was not great. A review of the turnout by parties will show that the Democrats did substantially better than the Republicans in getting their people out.  That bodes well for 2018.

Elections, of course, provide bragging rights for political parties as well as candidates. There are two ways of looking at this year’s numbers.

Republicans won all the countywide offices, despite a huge Democratic enrollment edge. So yay for them.

But Democrats can and will claim that the Republicans already held all those offices and will point out the difficulty of removing incumbent non-executive officeholders in County Hall. There has only been one incumbent elected sheriff defeated in Erie County in more than fifty years. The last elected incumbent county comptroller to be defeated was in 1963.

So on to 2018. We could be in for a very competitive year for state offices. We could be in for a year where the Trumpification of the Republican campaigns might spread vitriolic campaigning from Buffalo to Montauk. The defeat of two Republican County Legislature candidates and the closeness of the countywide races may indicate that voters are turned off by the Trump negativity.  We’ll see.  The Trump-Bannon style was test-marketed here this year, but it came up short. Fasten your seat belts.

Heading into the home stretch — the final pre-election financial reports

The 2017 election is just a week away. Despite a generally very quiet campaign season, the TV ads are increasing and mailboxes are filling up with those oversized political postcards.

The candidates are spending lots of money but it will not translate into much voter enthusiasm. Look for a countywide turnout of less than 20 percent, with exceptions in the Towns of Amherst, Hamburg, Tonawanda and West Seneca. Continue reading

What if they gave an election and nobody came?

Tuesday’s primary elections were some of the most anticlimactive political events that I have ever seen – a very boring day. It was like Erie County voters collectively sighed, “whatever!”

The race for Mayor of Buffalo in the Democratic primary seemed pre-ordained for a long time. Mark Schroeder and Betty Jean Grant gave spirited efforts. Schroeder’s TV ads were very well done and he put the best effort into telling voters what he would do in the next four years. For the most part Schroeder and Grant’s attacks on Mayor Brown’s record were professional and controlled. Continue reading