A day in the life of the campaigns, less than two weeks out

Over a period of time I have found my way on to the email lists of a variety of national political candidates and their committees.  Being a Democrat, emails from that side of the aisle come naturally.  On the Republican side I trace the contacts to my travels around South Carolina during the Republican presidential primary in 2016.  At that time the process was to request tickets for an event, so I got on the email lists of the Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Bush and Kasich campaigns.  Many campaigns have a habit of loaning or selling their lists, so over time the contacts spread far and wide.

Needless to say, 2020 has been an unprecedented election year, starting with the crowded Democratic presidential primary and going through the conventions, the debates and other events.  Lately the emails and texts have been coming in like water from a fire hose.  In previous weeks I was seeing more Republicans emails from the likes of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich and a variety of House candidates, but those have mostly disappeared.  I wonder why.

I thought my readers might be interested in how these activities are being carried out by the campaigns.  This is money raising on a small ball basis.  Nearly all the communications request a donation, often starting at $2.70 (a Sanders’ favorite) or $5 or $10 and on up.  The trick, of course, is for a campaign to get a donor hooked on repeated small dollar donations.

In some cases the campaigns are selling their merchandise, which comes in a variety of stuff such as bumper stickers; signs; a personalized door mat; glasses (shot and pint size); hats; shirts; pins; autographed books; and on and on and on.  The Trump committee has done a lot more in the merchandise area than Biden or any other candidate that I’ve heard from.

Trump lately seems to be trying to run down an overloaded inventory by offering a variety of things that are FREE, FREE, FREE if only you will send them $45, which has become the new magic dollar amount for the campaign.

Some of the committees (again Trump leading the way) like to tell you that your contribution will be matched.  Early on in the campaign the matches were 200 percent, but they have creeped up to 900 percent.  They never do tell you who is providing the matching funds, if in fact, there really are matching funds.

To give you a flavor of the emails and texts, here is the results from one typical day (from 12:00 am to 11:59 pm) during the last two weeks of the campaign, when I received 99 solicitations:

  • Trump, including the candidate himself, Donald Jr., Pence – 22 emails and texts.  ‘Exclusive,” “CLASSIFIED,” “crucial,” “this is the TRUTH,” etc.  The number of contacts speaks volumes about their money needs.  My favorite, a text:  “THEY’RE ASKING ABOUT YOU!  Eric:  ‘We need Ken!’  Don Jr.:  ‘Have we heard from Ken?’”
  • Biden – including the candidate himself; actress Scarlett Johannsson; Harris; Harris spouse Doug Emhoff – 10 emails and texts.
  • The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, on behalf of various candidates – 13 emails.
  • South Carolina Democratic senatorial candidate Jamie Harrison – 7 emails.
  • Amy McGraff, Democratic senatorial candidate in Kentucky – 4 emails.
  • John Hickenlooper, Democratic senatorial candidate in Colorado – 5 emails.
  • The South Carolina Republican Party, twice asking people to volunteer for Lindsay Graham and offering a Trump sign.
  • Another 36 emails from the Voter Protection Project, a Democratic advocacy group; Senator Kristin Gillibrand on behalf of the Democratic candidates for Senate in Georgia; Tom Steyer; Nancy Pelosi; James Carville; the National Redistricting Action Committee; Chuck Schumer; Arizona Democratic senatorial candidate Mark Kelly; The Democratic National Committee; Team AOC; Beto O’Rourke; Amy Klobuchar.

Among the 99 emails and texts there were only two originating in New York.  Governor Andrew Cuomo’s political organization promoted a virtual fundraiser for Senate candidate Jacqui Berger and the New York State Democratic Committee sent out one promoting voting.

The volume of communications from Democrats promoting Senate candidates helps explain the extraordinary amounts of cash collected by the party’s candidates.  Money alone certainly does not win elections, but it can sure help.

Speaking of money

I have been working with Jim Heaney and Geoff Kelly of Investigative Post on a new feature on the Post’s website, “Money in Politics.”  The premier issue posted this week and it discusses State Senate candidate Sean Ryan’s fundraising activities.  The post is accompanied by a podcast where Geoff and I discuss the subject.  Check it out here.

And then there are the rallies

I attended two Trump rallies in 2016.  You needed a ticket to get in.  Things seem to be structured a little differently in October 2020.

Here are the rules of attendance to the recent Trump rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, with some of my editorial comments in bold type:

Arrival Information 
The suggested attire is casual. Official Trump Campaign merchandise is permitted. Please do not wear ANY OTHER campaign merchandise (i.e. local, state, or federal campaigns). 
We are not interested in promoting other Republican candidates.

All attendees will be temperature checked and security screened. 
We’ll decide what that means.

Masks and hand sanitizer will be available.  Please wear your mask for the duration of the event. 
Until given permission by fearless leader to ignore this rule which only caters to scientists like Fauci…

And here from the Trump email are the things you cannot bring into the rally, with a few of my editorial comments:

Prohibited Items List
• Aerosols
• Alcoholic beverages
• Backpacks, bags, roller bags, suitcases bags exceeding size restrictions (12”x14”x5”)
• Balloons
• Balls—fearless leader will supply them.
• Banners, signs, placards
• Chairs
• Coolers
• Drones and other unmanned aircraft systems—Damn, I can’t bring my helicopter.
• Explosives of any kind (including fireworks)
• Glass, thermal and metal containers
• Laser lights and laser pointers
• E-Cigarrettes (sic) and Vaping Devices—this must mean that cigarettes are okay because we might be waiting a long time for the event to begin.
• Mace and/or pepper spray

• Noisemakers, such as air horns, whistles, drums, bullhorns, etc. Fearless leader prefers that you just scream at the person next to you as loud as you can without wearing a mask.
• Packages
• Poles, sticks and selfie sticks.  Germans, Irish,okay, but no Poles.
• Spray containers
• Structures – like a small shed for camping out.
• Supports for signs/placards
• Tripods
• Umbrellas
• Appliances (i.e. Toasters)—How am I going to make lunch?  What about my George Forman Grill?
• And any other items that may pose a threat to the security of the event as determined by and at the discretion of the security screeners.—
Notice that guns are not specified on the prohibited list.  Maybe the security screeners will handle that.

EARLY VOTING IN NEW YORK STATE STARTS ON OCTOBER 24!












Trump and McConnell don’t have any interest in helping local taxpayers

Two weeks to go.  The Republican Party and their fearless leader seem confused, disoriented and running low on cash.  Perhaps the hydroxychloroquine is having an effect.

With the real possibility that the Party may lose power on November 3 you might think that that threat would help focus their attention on pandemic-related issues, but no, they’re too busy trying to pack the Supreme Court with another appointment squeezed in before the election.  After all, they got away with ignoring Merrick Garland to pack Neil Gorsuch onto the Court in 2017.

There are 11 million fewer jobs in this country today than there were in March.  Businesses are shutting down.  Unemployment insurance is running out for millions.  States, local governments, schools and colleges are laying off people who provide vital services.  Two hundred twenty thousand Americans have died.  Eight million have been infected.  The second wave of the virus appears to have arrived, but Republicans are focused on packing the Court.

Donald Trump has never shown any consistency in thinking, demonstrating daily that thoughts pop out of his brain and onto his Twitter feed in totally unpredictable and useless ways.  Mitch McConnell is more devious as he ignores the fact that his home state of Kentucky is basically on welfare while he harangues about “mismanaged Democrat states.”

The Republicans in Congress seem intent on passing a “skinny” relief bill, if they pass anything at all.  That basically means “we’ll take care of corporate America, buy some facemasks, and ignore people who are out of work.”  They don’t care if state and local taxes need to go up to maintain vital public services.  They won’t mind if schools have to lay off teachers and if cities and towns need to do the same with police and fire personnel and other vital services.

The Republicans, it seems, after increasing spending and reducing tax revenues for the past three years are beginning to morph into their basic right wing stance about government spending after just ending the 2020 fiscal year with a 3.1 trillion dollar deficit.  A third or more of that red ink relates to tax cuts they pushed through in late 2017.  Their election prospects have something to do with that change in attitude.

We are now seeing the consequences of the Republicans’ indifference to the state and local taxes and service cuts as county and town budgets get presented.  School district budgets were approved earlier this year, but cutbacks in their spending are likely as the “withholding” of aid from cash-strapped states more likely becomes actual cuts.

County Executive Mark Poloncarz last week released his proposed 2021 budget.  The county has taken a large hit from reduced sales tax collections.  His budget is a mix of eliminated vacant jobs, a few layoffs, a small property tax increase and some use of the county reserve funds.  Some road work and other programs have been deferred.  Considering the circumstances the budget seems appropriate to maintaining most county services while keeping the interests of taxpayers in sight. 

The large towns in Erie County have also been working to prepare workable 2021 budgets.  The towns have been impacted by lower sales tax revenues too.  Most are dipping into their reserves to keep taxes down somewhat.  West Seneca has in recent years depleted its reserves and is borrowing $600,000 on a short term basis.  Hiring freezes and the elimination of some positions are being used to reduce costs.  West Seneca is cutting five positions in their police department.

Budgets proposed by the supervisors of Cheektowaga, Tonawanda and West Seneca are all raising their tax levies by small amounts.  Hamburg’s taxes will go down $106,000 or 0.37 percent compared with 2020. 

Amherst, on the other hand, is looking to raise the property tax levy by 8.54 percent.  During the summer the town board asked the state for permission to borrow up to $8 million on a long-term basis to close their 2020 budget deficit.  Orchard Park is looking at a proposed 9.89 percent increase in their levy.  Town governments in Erie County do have the benefit of receiving the total amounts of their property tax levies, with any delinquent tax payments left for the county to collect.

And then there is the City of Buffalo, which is now nearly a third of the way through its 2020-2021 fiscal year.  All quiet there.  No announced efforts to cut city spending or otherwise deal with a budget that has a $76 million hole in it from planning on $65 million in federal pandemic relief and $11 million that is expected but has not been received from the Buffalo Casino.  Crossing your fingers does not usually work when it comes to municipal budgeting.

A Biden victory and a Democratic takeover of the United States Senate might in January or February produce some financial assistance for the states, local governments and school districts, but what the magnitude of the assistance would be is anybody’s guess.  In the meantime counties and towns are at least going through the exercise of budgeting for the revenue holes that the pandemic recession has created.  Buffalo is totally dependent on wishful thinking.

Even if federal relief comes in 2021 governments will need to take a look at their out-years too because federal relief might be a one-and-done proposition.  It is a challenging time.  Who is up to it?

Early voting starts on October 24th

Vote early – it’s an easy thing to do.

Early voting in New York State begins on Saturday, October 24 and runs for nine days.  Here are links to locations and times in Niagara and Erie Counties.

https://elections.niagara.ny.us/app/uploads/2020/08/Early-voting-hours-GE-20-Nov-3-2020.pdf

https://elections.erie.gov/Early-Voting

If you are voting by mail, consider the ballot on your kitchen counter a “time is of the essence” matter and get it to your closest mailbox now.

SUNY Erie’s financial issues come to a fork in the road

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Yogi Berra

As regular readers of this blog know, I have over the past several years written many posts detailing the financial problems facing SUNY Erie, aka Erie Community College or ECC. The problems have been long-term and very serious.

SUNY Erie is not unique among colleges in facing money problems. Most institutions are heavily dependent on growing or at least maintaining steady enrollment since in one form or another enrollment determines most of the financial resources of the schools. In New York State and elsewhere enrollment has been declining for several years. The pandemic has made matters worse.

Being in like company, however, is small comfort to any college. They must all work their way through their individual issues if they are going to survive and prosper.

ECC’s problems were made worse by management problems. Some poor decisions about how to use the school’s resources and how information was shared among the college’s constituencies had consequences. The former president has moved on and others in his leadership team are also gone, some voluntarily, others involuntarily. The challenges to the school remain.

In July former finance vice president and interim president Bill Reuter returned for a second stint as interim president. The roots of the college’s problems are financial, and Reuter is very well suited to help navigate those issues.

The Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority, (ECFSA or the control board), met virtually last week with Reuter and ECC Board Chair Danise Wilson to review the status of the school one month into the new academic year. ECFSA members said they were glad to have him back in the school’s administration.

Pandemic issues resulting in adjustments in on-campus work schedules greeted Reuter when he began work on July 1. A re-opening plan, approved by SUNY, was received that day.

Probably more importantly, the previous administration had made some major errors in preparing the school’s next budget, particularly in the calculation of state aid, which dramatically slashed the school’s 2020-2021 budget. Reuter went to work immediately to re-set the budget with more realistic assumptions about revenues and spending which the Board subsequently approved.

The college’s enrollment numbers for the fall of 2020 tell a scary tale. The full-time equivalent enrollment is down nearly 19 percent compared to the fall of 2019. The school made changes in their 2020-2021 budget which lowered enrollment expectations somewhat, but even with those adjustments the school is about four percent below the targeted enrollment, which has a direct impact on the bottom line. Those numbers might improve a bit when final enrollment activities are processed.

Compounding that problem is the matter of reduced state aid payments – a 20 percent reduction which is impacting both direct aid and the amount of money students are eligible for under the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), money that flows to the school in tuition payments. The state has described the aid reductions as “withholdings” rather than cuts, as they wait for federal pandemic relief funding. The prospects of receiving the aid are not good at this time, with Donald Trump unable to focus on a position while Mitch McConnell walked away from a new COVID relief package that would provide money to states, local governments and schools.

The proposed 2021 Erie County budget will be released this week but given the county’s own pandemic-related financial difficulties it seems that substantial additional aid for the college is unlikely.

In his presentation to the ECFSA Board Reuter noted efforts by the college to reduce expenses. He suggested that the college had been on a hiring binge even as enrollment dropped. More than 50 jobs were added to the ranks of the Administrators union in recent years. Salaries of existing administrative staff were raised as well.

Reuter is working with his Board to reverse some of those actions, resulting in layoffs. He told the control board that the college’s payroll over the first two pay periods of the 2020-2021 fiscal year was reduced by an average of $450,000 compared with last year’s costs.

Reuter has told County Executive Mark Poloncarz that the college would work its way through previously authorized but not completed capital projects and would not ask for new capital funding at this time, an acknowledgement of the fiscal issues facing county government.

At some point in time the college’s Board and SUNY must come to terms with the unsustainability of running a three campus operation. The South campus might be shut down. At the moment, however, the school is up to its eyeballs in alligators, so future planning will need to wait a bit.

ECC Board Chair Danise Wilson told control board members that the college’s board could have been more attentive to the school administration’s personnel actions. She said the board had been distracted by other issues such as the school’s accreditation but would be more involved in monitoring and controlling spending actions going forward.

At the end of the control board meeting the directors approved a resolution that lays down a marker for where things stand now and what needs to happen next:

[T]he ECFSA does not view the currently adopted 2020-21 budget as in balance and achievable at this point, based upon lower than anticipated actual enrollment subsequent to its adoption. In no more than 90 days from the passage of this resolution the ECFSA calls upon the College to revise its budget and implement steps to close anticipated gaps…

[G]iven the ECC submission does not include out-year projections, the College, when it does have relevant and timely information, or no more than 90 days from the passage of this resolution, whichever comes first, must submit a revised budget and 4-year plan for the ECFSA to review and opine on…

[T]he ECFSA recommends that there be a very public discussion about the future of ECC and how it fulfills its role in the region and within the network of higher education.

Reuter and his Board have their work cut out for them. They are at that fork in the road. Shining some sunlight on the college’s difficulties should leave all concerned with a clearer understanding of what needs to be done to get the school moving in the right direction.

Republicans want to take away health care protections

For many, many reasons Americans in October 2020 are focused on the pandemic and health care issues. The election is upon us. So let’s look at the record.

For the last ten years the Republican Party has promised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (aka, ACA or Obamacare). For the past four years Trump has promised the same. The Republican Party has failed.

This is how William Shakespeare might have described Republican plans if he was a 2020 network commentator rather than the 16th century author of Macbeth:

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow … It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Trump has many times said something about a great health care plan he will soon announce along with all the amazing improvements in drug coverage that he has in the works. Watch what he does, not what he says.

Here are the facts concerning health care legislation and litigation:

• Over the past four years the Trump administration has chipped away at the ACA protections through changes in federal regulations.
• There is a case before the United States Supreme Court that originated in Texas which would declare the ACA unconstitutional. The Court hearing is on November 10.
• The Trump administration supports that action, as do, it appears, all Republican elected officials and candidates.
• Trump has indicated that one of his motives in appointing Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court is to make it easier for the Court to declare the law unconstitutional. Barrett has criticized previous Court decisions that upheld the law.

This is important stuff. Here is a summary of what the end of Obamacare would mean to tens of millions of Americans if the Republicans are successful:

• There are approximately 11 million people who have their medical coverage via purchase on the health care marketplaces established by the ACA. The law provides subsidies to the great majority of these individuals, and it is likely that millions of them, in the face of the pandemic’s economic recession, will not be able to afford continuing coverage if the law is struck down.
• There are an additional 12 million adults who receive health insurance through the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA in states that agreed to participate in the program; about three million children also received coverage when their parents enrolled in Medicaid. The numbers have grown as people have lost their jobs. The federal government covers 90 percent of the costs. Absent support of the law, many, perhaps most of the states will not be able to pay the full costs of the extended coverage, leaving most of these Medicaid beneficiaries without health insurance.
• Protections for the 100 million plus people who have pre-existing conditions would be eliminated if the ACA is declared unconstitutional. Trump’s “executive order” about the subject has all the force of a tweet. Republican members of Congress and this year’s new candidates are running for cover on this critical issue. Insurance companies, removed from ACA responsibilities, will either decline to offer such protections, or will only offer the coverage at a substantially higher cost.
• There are now more than 7.4 million Americans who have been infected with COVID-19. There is much evidence to suggest that even for those who have recovered from the virus there are lingering negative health issues – the type of thing that defines pre-existing conditions.
• The ACA prohibits dollar caps on coverage protection. Prior to the law going into effect many private insurance plans had hard dollar limits on the amount they would pay for medical needs, exposing people with major medical challenges such as heart disease, cancer and transplants to huge medical bills that can lead to bankruptcy and the loss of homes.
• The approximately 60 million seniors and the permanently disabled who have their coverage through Medicare will be negatively impacted by the end of the ACA. Preventive care including wellness visits is currently free. Seniors who buy their drug coverage through Medicare will see the emergence of the infamous “doughnut hole” which required many people to pay for a significant portion of their prescription medications even if they have Medicare coverage. Obamacare has been narrowing the doughnut hole.
• If the law is declared unconstitutional then the 0.9 percent increase in payroll tax for high income individuals would be eliminated, which will reduce money coming into the Medicare trust fund, an account that is already running low.
• Adults under the age of 26 who have had medical insurance under their parents’ policies will lose that benefit, which will leave many without medical insurance.
• Medicaid assistance for those dealing with opioid addiction will be negatively affected as people lose their coverage provided through the expansion of Medicaid. The law requires insurance carriers to cover substance abuse treatment and that protection would be lost too.
• Hospitals that are currently dealing with pandemic-related lost revenues and added operating costs have had some relief for the costs of providing medical care for uninsured patients under the ACA. The end of the law would see spikes in hospital costs as people once again rely in greater numbers on emergency rooms that are legally required to provide services to people who cannot pay.

All of the above benefits of the Affordable Care Act will go away if Republicans are successful in totally eliminating the law. The attack on health care for tens of millions of Americans goes further than Trump. Republicans who hold public office or are running for office have remained mute as Trump, Republicans in Congress and some judges have worked to destroy health care coverage. They have offered no alternatives, even after ten years.

Voters have a whole lot of things to consider as they vote this year. The threat to health care is right at the top of the list. Another reason why your vote is so critical.

Register to vote
If you, your friends or relatives are not registered to vote, in New York State you still have until October 9 to do so. If you mail the registration form to the Board of Elections it must be postmarked by that date and received by October 14. Here is a link to registering.

Crunch time in local budget preparations as federal relief legislation stalls

As the leaves turn and the weather gets colder local governments in New York State shift into high gear in preparations for their 2021 budgets.  The leaves on the trees will look a lot nicer than those budgets.

Reduced business activity continues to cut substantially into local sales tax revenues, a major part of local budget funding.  Some government fee collections will also be affected as well as the payment of property taxes.  Things are better than they were in April and May, but pandemic restrictions on business activities make it likely that the situation will not improve a whole lot over the next several months, into 2021.

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Losers and suckers …

By Steve Banko

Originally published in the Buffalo News

Losers and suckers …

I can’t say this is the first time I’ve been classified thusly.  It is, though, the first time I’ve heard those terms in a while. The first time was on my first trip home from Vietnam. Two bullets had shattered my knee and I was making my way through the Greyhound station in Boston in 1969 when a young girl spit at me and said the VC should have finished me off.

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