December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

As 2008 comes to an end, we'd like to thank those of you who have enjoyed reading Niagara Times. Over the past year, we had over 76,000 page loads and nearly 56,000 unique visitors. Your support is greatly appreciated.

We will leave you with the immortal words of P.J. O'Rourke: The proper behavior all through the holiday season is to be drunk. This drunkenness culminates on New Year's Eve, when you get so drunk you kiss the person you're married to.

Have a safe and happy New Year, we'll talk with you in 2009.

December 30, 2008

Lead On, McDope

I'm not one to over-dramatize, but for the sake of analogy, let's say I am a general. Periodically, it's my responsibility to lead my troops onto the battlefield. Unfortunately, I am not a great leader. I make questionable decisions, show a propensity for cowardice, and repeatedly place my troops in a no-win situation. Despite my failure as a general, my troops love me. They say that I am a "troops general". I'm not overly tough on my troops and I don't go out of my way to discipline them when they do not perform at an adequate level.

Let's take the analogy and translate it into something we can relate to, our beloved Buffalo Bills. Of course the general is Dick Jauron. Every aspect of our above general can be attributed to Jauron.

What I can't seem to comprehend is why being a "players coach" is enough. Why is it enough for Ralph Wilson to keep Jauron, and more perplexing, why is it enough for all of the players to love him?

If your coach leads you into a situation that is repeatedly untenable, why is that acceptable? Do you not WANT to win? Would you rather play for a coach that is likable than a coach that puts you in a position to win every week? I can't imagine that there is a Bills fan that does not despise Bill Belichick. But every single one of them would love to see Spygate wandering the sidelines at One Bills Drive. Why? It's not because he's a likable fella. The guy wins. Over and over again with different personnel and despite changing circumstances. No one will EVER say that about Jauron.

In August, I predicted that the Bills would go 6-10. An inspired effort against Denver cost me my prediction by one game. That's now nine years in a row of no playoffs. This year, I had the opportunity to go to five Bills games. I declined every one of them. It's not because I don't like them, I simply refuse to support a team that pretends to care about winning. If they don't care, why the hell should I? I work all week; I'm not giving up a Sunday with my family to watch an organization, from the top down, who could care less about putting a winning product on the field.

Marshawn Lynch spent Sunday's game in a suite because he strained a jheri curl or something. Instead of being on the sidelines helping/guiding/coaching Fred Jackson and Xavier Oman, he was hanging out with buddies in a box. He then reportedly left the game early. Probably to go run someone down on Chippewa.

What kind of message is that sending to the team, Marshawn? More importantly, where the hell is Dick Jauron? How on earth can he let Predator sit in a suite? Does he not comprehend the "team" concept? I can damn well promise you, if Jerome Bettis was injured and not playing, Bill Cowher would demand that he be on the sidelines with his teammates. Not Jauron. He simply doesn't get it.

This team, no, this organization is a complete disaster. Personally, after years of supporting them, I care no more. Leave town. Go to Toronto or L.A. or wherever your little hearts desire. Or, make a commitment to winning. Fire Jauron. Bring in Cowher or Parcells, or better yet, find the next Mike Tomlin. Otherwise, you can write me off forever.

December 29, 2008

Paterson Plays Chicken

A new Quinnipiac University poll indicates that 46% of New Yorkers disapprove of the way that Governor David Paterson is handling the state budget so far. What's shocking is that 40% of us gave him positive marks on his budget work.

Paterson's budget is full of nothing but additional taxes and fees. There are no attempts to reign in the reckless spending that has plagued this state for decades. There is no indication of a willingness on the part of Paterson to reform the most expensive Medicaid program in the country.

While we have discussed the possibility of a tax on foods that make us fat, in essence doing so because of the costs associated with treating obesity and obesity-related illnesses, we never thought an "obesity tax" would become a reality. If Paterson has his way, it will.

So will increased fees. Eighty-eight of them in Paterson's budget proposal, including movie tickets, taxi rides, soda, beer, wine, cigars and massages. It also extends sales taxes to cable and satellite TV services and removes the tax exemption for clothes costing less than $110. All while proposing a $698 million reduction in school aid and $3.5 billion in health care reductions.

So what the hell is that 40% thinking when they support his budget proposal?

The Quinnipiac poll also indicates that an overwhelming majority would opt instead to boost state income taxes for households making $1 million or more per year, with 84 percent in favor of that proposal and just 13 percent opposed. That isn't in Paterson's budget.

It appears that Paterson is playing some type of "chicken" with the Senate and the Assembly. There is no possible way that any version of his current budget proposal will incorporated into the final product. The problem is that we, the public, are the ones who will be forced to blink. Paterson, when all is said and done, will continue to promote the status quo; just as he's done for his 20+ years in the Senate.

December 24, 2008

Christmas Gift Suggestions

To your enemy, forgiveness.

To an opponent, tolerance.

To a friend, your heart.

To a customer, service.

To all, charity.

To every child, a good example.

To yourself, respect.

---Oren Arnold

Merry Christmas to all, we'll talk to you Monday.

December 23, 2008

Bush

We've made no secret of our displeasure with the past eight years of George Bush. His Presidency has been shrouded in one controversy after another, and he has lead us into an extremely unpopular war. When you factor in the very harsh realities of the crashing economy, many believe that the legacy of W will be as one of the least popular Presidents in history.

Despite our belief that Bush has made some questionable decisions during his tenure, we've never disrespected the President. And although many have, the glory of our country is that we, the people, have been given that right by our founding fathers. We can say virtually anything we like about our leader, with the exception of threatening him, and not fear repercussions. This freedom is not universal. In many countries, you will be imprisoned or put to death if you speak against the leadership.

That freedom to question their leadership has recently been given to Iraq. Five years ago, should you have had the courage to question the leadership of Saddam Hussein, you would find yourself dead. No judge, no jury of your peers and no three hots and a cot.

With this freedom comes new found courage. The courage to question the decisions of your leaders, and apparently, the courage to be disrespectful to foreign leaders. Unfortunately, the supposed great people of this country find humor in that.

As most of us have seen, George Bush recently had two shoes thrown at him while conducting a press event with the President of Iraq. In their country, show throwing is a sign of great disrespect to the target. Bush, obviously stunned, did his best to maintain his composure while adding a little levity to the situation.

In our country, our citizens laughed heartily at the spectacle. Someone went as far as to create a flash Internet game where the participant can simulate tossing shoes at Bush. A young lady in my office sent me a link to the game, which apparently has become quite popular. She had added the commentary of "this is hilarious". Really? A game that is created solely on the basis of our President being humiliated and disrespected on the worldwide stage is hilarious?

I'm not sure if this is a sign of changing times, but if it is, it's a change for the tragic. If this is the mentality of the people of this country, it doesn't matter who is in the White House.

The shoe-throwing incident was not a sign of disrespect against Bush. It was a sign of disrespect against our country. If you think it was funny, you're an idiot.

When Iran held our hostages in 1979, there was no disrespecting our country. Not from from abroad and not from within. Can we return to the point where we feel good enough about ourselves to not find humor in our leader being disrespected on the world stage? I certainly hope so, but we've got a long, long way to go.

December 22, 2008

Family Court Consolidation A Reality?

I had the opportunity to catch the Niagara County Legislature's budget meeting from last week on cable. While sifting through the usual politicking, I did catch one very interesting nugget of information from Niagara Falls Legislator Dennis Virtuoso.

Virtuoso has been a critic of budgeting for assigned counsel (since he became a member of the minority and is no longer “responsible” for paying bills). But as any reasonably intelligent person knows, the County is mandated to pay for attorneys for poor persons involved in various family court matters, including custody disputes. Since the County has no control over the number of custody cases filed, it stands to reason that it has no control over the number of cases assigned.

But the County, in the last couple of years, has placed attorneys on staff with a salary to help reduce the number of cases assigned to private attorneys to avoid paying the mandated hourly rate.

One of the difficulties in controlling these expenses is the structure of the family court in Niagara County. There are three family courts in the county. Erie County, on the other hand, has one. We've touched on the need for consolidation of the family courts before, but were stunned to hear Virtuoso state that we have too many family courts and we should consolidate. Why? Because Virtuoso is so parochial in his thinking, we never thought he'd be willing to move family court out of Niagara Falls.

Realistically, there is no reason that we need a family court in Niagara Falls. Virtuoso knows this and I give him credit for having the backbone to acknowledge that consolidation is necessary. The family court in Niagara Falls is a drain on our resources. There is no reason that the people of Niagara Falls can’t drive to the County seat to resolve their family issues on the taxpayer dime.

With both the Minority Leader and the Majority Leader on the same page on this issue, we're hopeful that we see consolidation of the family courts moving forward soon.

December 19, 2008

An Ode To Budget Woes

T’was the week before Christmas,
and all through the city;
All the creatures were stirring,
not with joy, but with pity.

He had taken his oath of office,
as Client 9 fell from grace;
He came with great fanfare,
like the man he’d replace.

But his status was short lived,
his esteem, it had ceased;
As the numbers were crunched,
when his budget was released.

There were no reforms,
few cuts to be made;
Loads of new taxes and fees,
and a boost to welfare aid.

He’s going to tax your cable TV,
he’s going to tax your new shoes;
If you want to get healthy,
he’ll tax your gym dues.

He wants to tax your smokes,
it’ll cost more to drive;
One really has to wonder,
if our state can survive.

His budget gives little hope,
to those who’d like to stay;
In fact it’s worse than that,
he’s driving us away.

So tonight, David,
when it's getting late;
Please turn out the light,
but not on our state.

December 18, 2008

A Little Levity

Q. What do the Buffalo Bills and Billy Graham have in common?
A. They both can make 70,000 people stand up and yell "Jesus Christ .”

Q. What's the difference between the Buffalo Bills and a dollar bill?
A. You can still get four quarters out of a dollar bill.

And my personal favorite.....

Q. What do the Bills and a possum have in common?
A. Both play dead at home and get killed on the road.

December 17, 2008

Paterson's Sickening Budget

Governor David Paterson has preached his rhetoric of how we all must share the pain with his budget. Well, Paterson obviously forgot to include himself in his slew of cuts, but didn't forget to screw the people of New York with his stunning 137 proposed new and hiked taxes. The $121.1 billion plan represents the biggest tax hike in state history and slashes services across the board while, amazingly, still increasing spending by $1.4 billion.

Everyone will be touched by Paterson's sickening tax increases. The plan includes:

* An "iTunes tax" of 4 percent on videos, music or pictures downloaded from the Internet.
* A 4 percent entertainment tax on tickets to movies, concerts and sporting events.
* The tax on beer increases 24 cents per gallon, or more than double the current rate, which means about 30 cents a case.
* An 18 percent tax on nondiet soft drinks.
* A 4 percent tax on cable TV and satellite services.
* Hiking the cost of "personal" services - including haircuts, manicures, pedicures, massages and gym memberships - by 4 percent.
* A 4 percent sales tax on clothing and shoes under $500, except for two weeks out of the year.
* Elimination of the law that caps the state sales tax on gasoline at 8 cents per gallon.
* Boosting the average vehicle registration fee for drivers by $11, from $44 to $55. Fees for new or renewed licenses also would increase 25 percent, or increase from $50 to about $62 to renew a license over eight years.

In addition, all drivers would have to get new, "reflectorized" license plates at a fee of $25 each.

The plan also calls for the state to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores, which will drive small businesses out of business.

Paterson has been flying high with his approval ratings. After this fiasco of a budget, which will make the state even less competitive, we should all be getting a serious dose of reality.

December 16, 2008

Source: Big Changes Coming to Sewer District

Fresh over its resounding court victory that clearly established that the Sewer District is just another county department, Niagara County leadership is poised to drastically overhaul the district governing board.

According to sources, the Legislature will NOT just simply whack all the town supervisors and replace them with county legislators as some had expected. Instead, a plan is under consideration that would establish a mix of supervisors, legislators, perhaps civic leaders on the board and make sure there is a mix of Republicans and Democrats.

As one person said to me, "we want to restructure and reform the district and bring some sunshine to their operations, not create a political war between the towns and county."

That being said, creating a mix on the sewer board would still mean that at least some of the current supervisors serving would get the boot, which may not sit well with any of them. Yet, if the supervisors howl too loudly, they could all ultimately get replaced.

One thing is certain: the court decision leaves the supervisors with very little leverage other than try to place nice.

December 15, 2008

Where in the World is Greg Lewis?

All across the country, you are reading stories about how bad our economy is right now and the steps being taken to try to help companies, governments, etc. work their way through it.

Governor Paterson has been sounding the alarm bell for some time and is about to unveil a slash and burn budget. President-elect Obama is preparing the country for some hard times. Government leaders everywhere are parroting former Governor Hugh Carey's famous line: "The days of wine and roses are over."

Yet, here in Niagara County, County Manager Greg Lewis has been silent. Lewis continues his tweedle dee management style that is all about creating a fiefdom for himself while making sure all the really tough decisions get pushed to the Legislature. Lewis likes to tell everyone he runs government except when something controversial comes along. They he can't hide behind the Legislature fast enough.

If Lewis were any sort of leader, he'd be out in front with ideas and plans to significantly restructure the way Niagara County delivers services. Let's be honest, if not for petty politics, we could do major consolidation and save taxpayers a bundle.

But Lewis has yet to pitch one big idea since coming to Niagara County. Maybe, just maybe, I'll give him some credit for divesting the county of Mount View, but that's it.

He is content to rule over the status quo and look for opportunities to expand his kingdom (like his desire for a homeland security department.) The Legislature should be demanding that Lewis put together a list of potential cost savings areas for their consideration. They should demand that he reach out to city and town officials and begin talks on consolidation of services. They should require that his budget reduces departmental spending across the board.

Lewis' saving grace is that the Legislature doesn't do anything of these things. Lewis' contract is up next year and we are going to start zeroing in on his performance and let the people decide whether he deserves and extension.

If that decision had to be made today, the answer would be no.

December 12, 2008

Friday Ruminations

Over the past week or so, we've seen two reports that encourage the consolidation of local governments. First the Suozzi report, which addressed school districts, now AG Andy Cuomo is offering up a plan to eliminate some of the 10,500 local government bodies across the state — such as counties, towns, school districts, authorities and special districts — that can tax and assess fees for everything from town lighting to sewage systems. Erie County leads the state with 1,044 such entities. Niagara County has 92. Let's hope we're not getting more lip service from Suozzi and Cuomo. Of course, if someone would like to make an argument as to why we need two Wilsons and two Lewistons in the county, I'm all eyes.

Congratulations to the Niagara Falls School Board for having the guts to do what few other districts in the area, or in this state, have the stomach for: Cutting staff in light of declining enrollment. As opposed to my district, which has increased personnel significantly over the past 10 years while enrollment has plummeted.

National Dems are questioning the qualifications of Caroline Kennedy to Senate. Other than coming from the most corrupt political family in the history of this country, I can't quite see what would qualify her either.

I had to chuckle when I read the Buffalo News headline earlier this week. The headline read, "Bills’ Toronto venture fails to rouse passions of Canadian fans". I can assure you, the Bills disgraceful performance didn't do much to rouse passion in American fans either. Stop the BS, fire the most inept NFL coach since Rich Kotite, and try to do something to salvage this dying franchise.

Governor David Paterson now has 10 days to sign or veto a bill requiring the state to begin collecting taxes on sales of cigarettes by Indian retailers to non-Indians. It is estimated that the tax would generate $400 million in revenue for the much-depleted state coffers. Although signing the legislation is absolutely the right thing to do for so many reasons, we're going to go out on a limb and say Paterson doesn't have the will to pull the trigger.

Thank you to the Buffalo News for acknowledging us in Tuesday's "As Niagara Falls" section of the paper. The piece about Greg Lewis' politicking lead to a few email that may take this situation to entirely different level. Stay tuned.

Niagara County GOP Chairman Henry Wojtaszek is the guest speaker at the Albany County GOP's fundraiser next week. Wojtaszek also is part of a spread on the national egopnews website in the New York section.

From a political perspective the turmoil in Albany related to who will retain the Senate majority and the gang of three is fascinating stuff. Word now is that the Dems are planning a coup to oust current minority leader, and presumed to be majority leader, Malcolm Smith.

Rezko + Blagojevich = Obama. May the truth set you free, Barack.

December 11, 2008

What The Bleep?

An allegation that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich conspired to sell President-elect Barack Obama's seat in the U.S. Senate to the highest bidder isn't the only shocker contained in the 76-page criminal complaint unveiled by the FBI on Tuesday.

Excerpts of tape-recorded conversations between the governor, his wife and various advisers contained in the complaint showed Blagojevich frequently using language that would have made Chicago's own Al Capone blush as he allegedly plotted to use public office for private gain.
Patrick Fitzgerald, the poker-faced federal prosecutor heading the case, used the word "bleep" several times as he gave details of the expletive-laced conversations during a news conference announcing corruption charges against Blagojevich.

Talking about Blagojevich's alleged effort to get a person benefiting from a $1.8 billion tollway project to raise $100,000 for him, Fitzgerald said the governor told an aide: "'I could have made a larger announcement but wanted to see how they would perform by the end of the year. If they don't perform, bleep 'em.' That's a quote. And the word 'bleep' was not the word he used.'"
The document cited by Fitzgerald gave other details, this time using the word 'expletive,', rather than 'bleep.'

"I can drive a hard bargain. You hear what I'm saying. And if I don't get what I want and I'm not satisfied with it, then I'll just take the Senate seat myself," the governor allegedly said of filling the U.S. Senate seat, speaking with a person identified only as Advisor A the day before the November 4 election that Obama won.

A Senate seat, "is a (expletive) valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing," the document cited him as saying.

Blagojevich is meant to fill the Senate seat that Obama vacated soon after his election win. Both men are Democrats, although Obama had long kept his distance from the governor of his home state.

A week after the election, the charges cite a conversation with his chief of staff, John Harris, in which Blagojevich said he knew that backers of Obama wanted "Senate Candidate 1" for the open seat but "they're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. 'Bleep' them."
Fitzgerald said there was no evidence of any discussions between Obama and Blagojevich on the open Senate seat.

Obama also told reporters: "I had no contact with the governor or his office and so I was not aware of what was happening. But as I said it is a sad day for Illinois."

According to the document, Blagojevich was similarly forceful in his language when speaking about how he wanted to see his editorial critics on the Chicago Tribune newspaper fired.
The charges against Blagojevich weren't about the swearing, of course.

But it was all reminiscent of the transcripts of tapes of former President Richard Nixon's Oval Office conversations that surfaced during the 1970s Watergate scandal. The one phrase from those transcripts that everyone recalls?

"Expletive deleted."

From www.newsmax.com

December 10, 2008

Senate Dems Disastrous Start

For decades, the Republican Party has held the Senate chamber of New York state government. The Democrats have been just as dominant in holding the Assembly, and the Governor's seat has had its share of representatives from both parties.

But it was with a vengeance that the Dems sought to control all three legislative bodies, picking off Republican senators over the past several election cycles, until this year, when the Democrats finally got what they were looking for: A majority in the state Senate. Coupled with the Democratically controlled Assembly and a Democratic governor, they would now, heading into 2009, control the three bodies.

Election night was jubilant for the state Dem party. But over the past five weeks, that jubilation has turned to humiliation. The renegade "gang of three", who apparently have their loyalty for sale to the highest bidder, have seen their agreement with presumed Majority Leader Malcolm Smith fall to pieces in a most public way.

Smith, who as you may recall would not cross a picket line of women to enter a Niagara County Democratic Party fundraiser earlier this year after allegations of abuse by the party chairman, has failed miserably as a leader, before actually assuming his leadership position. Within his party, Smith is walking on thin ice. He brokered a deal with the gang of three before actually letting the other members of his caucus know the terms of the deal.

His ineptitude in guiding the Senate Dems through this transition period has been nothing short of disastrous, and there appears to be little relief in sight.

Some people are born into greatness, some people have greatness thrust upon them. Malcolm Smith promised the world, including Buffalo-area Bill Stachowski's appointment as Chair of the powerful Finance Committee. Not only has he failed to keep the most basic of promises that he made within his party, he has sold out his own caucus to retain his personal power base. That's not greatness, Malcolm, that's an egotistical man who is driven by absolute power. Get over yourself and start working for the betterment of the people of this state. We deserve that much.

December 9, 2008

This Is Tourism?

New York's $13 billion tourism industry is a critical part of our Upstate economy, providing jobs and paychecks for more than 150,000 workers north of the New York City line, according to the state Labor Department.

Tourism is already New York's second biggest industry and, according to one study, increased travel spending could actually rescue Upstate NY from its economic malaise brought on by the decades-long decline of our economic mainstay -- manufacturing.

So with tourism so important to the Upstate economy, why would newly empowered Senate Democrats choose a lawmaker from the South Bronx to be the industry's champion?

Presumed Senate leader Malcolm Smith of Queens yesterday announced that Sen. Jose Serrano will be the chairman of the Senate committee on tourism when the Democrats assume power on Jan. 1. The post is currently held by retiring (but tireless) Buffalo-area GOP Sen. Mary Lou Rath.

Serrano represents one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country - Mott Haven - industrial Port Morris, Manhattan's East Harlem and other tumble down Bronx neighborhoods. The only "tourists" to his district crowd into Yankee Stadium some 80 days each year, straying beyond the stadium perimeter just long enough to find their cars and escape after the game to Connecticut, New Jersey and points north and east.

Of course, with only five Democrat Senators living north of Westchester, Smith had a limited field of Upstate lawmakers from which to choose.

For a leader from Queens, to the south and east of the Bronx, Mott Haven (below) might just look like Upstate.

December 8, 2008

Black Caucus

This story starts out with, "Rep. John Lewis jokingly says he'll try to resist calling Barack Obama "Brother President" after he's sworn in as the nation's first African-American president on January 20." Lewis, obviously, is also black. Could you imagine if that comment was made by a white congressman? There'd be rioting in the streets.

The story goes on to say that "Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are still giddy that Obama, a caucus member when he was a senator, is about to become the 44th president of the United States".

Now, we've touched on this topic before, how we believe that it's disgraceful that blacks can get away with having a "black caucus", but God forbid if there was a white caucus, there would be hell to pay. When we discussed it before, someone by the name of John Restaino said I need to come explain myself on his show. Who he is and what show he has, I have no idea.

But with all of the articles I've searched, I've never seen anyone who can defend this. Whites are accused of racism all of the time, but it's blacks that have chosen create this divide by their multitudes of race-based groups. There is not a NAAWP. There is no United White College Fund. And there is no white caucus in Congress.

Why is this acceptable? Why is this blatant double standard of racism allowed to not only continue, but to grow?

We wish Barack Obama all the best in his efforts. But if he were truly a leader, he would address the black community and enlighten them to the fact that these race-based groupings only allow racism to become more pervasive. Dump Affirmative Action, Brother President. Oh shit, I can't say that; I'm not black.

December 5, 2008

Friday Ruminations

A word of advice to the Buffalo Sabres, go out and get Sean Avery. He is THE guy that you despise when he's on the other team, but love him when he's on yours. So he makes some bizarre remarks; it's better than being the most boring team in hockey.

I've taken my share of econ classes throughout my years. This masquerade of thousands of auto industry workers losing their jobs is ludicrous. The Big Three can file for "bankruptcy protection". This allows the companies to continue to produce while voiding those disgustingly overgenerous union contracts. I've seen no changes to the Big Three's business model that would entice me to support giving these people billions. So the union is giving up job banks. Woopdeefreakindoo. Bring your labor costs down to the $44/hour of Toyota in the U.S. from the current $70+. Otherwise, you'll be going the way of the dinosaur, and you'll have no one to blame but yourself.

As we've previously prognosticated, unions are already gearing up for the pending battle over the state fiscal budget for 2009-’10.

The Lockport School District, my school district, has been gouging taxpayers according to the results of an audit by the state comptroller's office. It's bad enough that they overtaxed the people of the community, but my biggest fear is what's going to be the union's reaction when they find out that the district has millions of extra dollars on hand. There is no doubt that they will be coming to the negotiating table with huge expectations. And Superintendent Terry Carbone needs to hire a PR specialist, because she is a disaster when it comes to dealing with the media.

Guv. David Paterson has named a panel of advisers to guide him through the Hillary replacement process. Shockingly, there isn't an Upstater among them.

Many of the local message boards are flooded with comments about NF cop Ryan Warme. If the allegations are true, I hope he gets what he gave 1,000 times over. He doesn't deserve the punishment that the average criminal would get. His violation of the public's trust requires that his punishment be significantly more severe. Personally, I say cut his nuts off, but that's just one person's opinion.

Have a nice weekend, enjoy the Toronto Bills.

December 4, 2008

No Hope in HOPE VI

There has been much discussion related to the HOPE VI project in Niagara Falls. We've posted about the fact that millions in casino revenue, dollars obligated to support economic development projects, will be diverted to fund this low-income housing project. In addition, there have been newspaper articles and radio shows dedicated to the fact that this land is currently contaminated with incinerator ash.

What hasn't seemed to gain traction is the fact that this project now has a price tag approaching $80 million. That would be $80,000,000 to build 282 low-income housing units at Center Court. Now, my momma didn't raise no math major, but a quick grab of my calculator tells me that those units will cost over $280,000 a piece to construct. That is simply staggering and appalling all rolled into one.

With that amount of money, the administrators of these funds could buy 282 $100,000 houses, invest $100,000 in renovations into those homes and have plenty left to furnish them. Better yet, instead of creating 282 low-income housing "units", how about utilizing that $80 million to buy 1,000 homes for low income families in Niagara Falls. Maybe inspiring people to take some pride in home ownership would reduce the sickening number of decrepit residences in the city.

With HOPE VI, there is no hope. It does nothing but keep poor people in a centralized area. Where is the hope in that? It's like the old saying: Catch a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Building low income housing units does nothing to build character and self esteem. Owning your home, in most cases, does.

Someone in the Cataract City, besides Ken Hamilton, needs to step up and say that the emperor is not wearing any clothes. This project is a disaster. Do something to inspire pride in your community. Give people real hope.

December 3, 2008

School District Consolidation

It was with much fanfare that the Suozzi report on school property taxes was released this week. Unfortunately, it does little to address real solutions needed to alleviate our tax burden. School districts continue to engage in runaway spending, while taxpayers have little or no control over these egregious spending habits.

What the Suozzi report does address is the merging of school districts. Suozzi recommends forced merger of school districts with fewer than 1000 students. Niagara County has none.

But the Suozzi Commission also favors giving the State Education Department the power to require mergers of districts under 2000. According to these 2006-07 enrollment figures from SED, 4 of 10 of Niagara's districts fit that bill: Barker, Newfane, Roy Hart & Wilson. Since it's safe to assume that each of their superintendent's compensation packages approach $200,000 per year, we're talking about saving the taxpayers of Niagara County millions of dollars over the life of these superintendents current contracts by consolidating districts and eliminating the duplication.

There are currently over 700 school districts in the state.






NIAGARA COUNTY
Enrollment


Barker
1,008


Lewiston Porter
2,327


Lockport
5,177


Newfane
1,966


Niagara Falls
7,518


Niagara Wheatfield
4,069


North Tonawanda
4,293


Royalton Hartland
1,567


Star Point
2,844


Wilson
1,450


10 DISTRICTS
32,219


December 2, 2008

Greg Lewis Plays Politics

We've done little to hide our disdain for Niagara County Manager Greg Lewis. He's aloof, unrefined and a public relations disaster. But, we have given him credit when deserved for the positive things he's done for the county. We also respect, at least the appearance of, Lewis' ability to not allow his personal political beliefs to become public fodder. After all, it's vitally important for someone in his position to not allow his personal political feelings to infiltrate his actions as county manager.

Now, there has been speculation that Lewis is either an Independent or a Democrat. He was hired by the Democratic majority in 2003. Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, when Lewis had threatened to leave his position in 2006, stated that “I think this is really going to hurt Niagara County. He’s a class act.”

Later in 2006, after Lewis stated he would not be back, the Leg moved on with their search for his replacement. Lewis backtracked and presented the Leg with his contract for their approval. The Leg, having prepared to move on without Lewis, would allow him to participate in the interview process. Virtuoso responded by stating, “I think they should make (Lewis) the offer first....it’s a slap in the face to Greg Lewis”.

It's been presumed that Lewis, if not a Dem, is certainly in the good graces of the Democrats. (As a side note, it is curious that the county unions continue to support Virtuoso and the Democrats in the Leg when Virtuoso so easily dumps heaps of praise on Lewis, the worst enemy the county unions have ever encountered.)

While the public may speculate on Lewis' political beliefs, it's been just that, speculation, which is exactly how it should be. That's why the discovery of Lewis' overtly political activities is so disconcerting.

As part of Barack Obama's campaign, he encouraged supporters to participate in community blogs. Greg Lewis, our supposedly apolitical county manager, has one. In it, he makes comments such as "I am proud to be a Obama person - I am with you Senator 110%!", "I am so proud of Barack and Michele and I am so proud of all Obama people - a United States of America people! The last time I felt so good was my college student campaign working in Nebraska for Bobby Kennedy in 1968!" and "I am compelled to act to do what part I can do for all of us to go with Barack".

Now, we believe in freedom of speech and everything that is associated with such rights. But if you are going to work on the public's dime, in a position that requires you to remain apolitical, in a position that you yourself have stated the importance of remaining politically neutral, you give up your right to engage overt political support. Stating that you supported Bobby Kennedy in 1968 is indicative of your political leanings. Creating and participating in a community blog for one candidate is a violation of the public's trust.

Even more disconcerting is Lewis' financial support. According to this site, Lewis has given $704 to the campaign of Obama, $704 of his taxpayer funded salary. Most offensive is that Lewis' occupation is listed with the contribution. So anyone, anywhere, can pull up that site and see that the County Manager from Niagara County donated $704 to Obama. It would not be a stretch for people to assume that, as the Manager for Niagara County, his beliefs are representative of the people of this community. This is far from an objective appearance, and an absolute impropriety for anyone who must, at minimum, exude the appearance of political ambiguity.

Possibly the most offensive statement made is "I am so proud of all Obama people". The problem with this declaration is the fact that John McCain pulled 49.5% of the vote in Niagara County. So if Lewis is so proud of the Obama people, what is he saying about the other half of the people of this county, the ones who also contribute to his significant salary, health insurance and retirement package? I'll tell you what he's saying: He's saying "you suck and you're a moron for not supporting my guy".

As we alluded to, when you take a position such as a county manager, certain things are expected of you. One of those things is to stay out of politics. Lewis, who often espouses that he despises politics, has not only not stayed out of politics, he's jumped in with both feet. This is unequivocally unacceptable. For some who supposedly prides himself on holding others accountable, it's time someone in county government starts holding Lewis accountable. We deserve no less.

December 1, 2008

Laptops For Legislators

We don't call out the Niagara County Legislature often because, despite the misdirected rantings of a couple of ill-informed newspaper people, the county is well run. Taxes are going down for the third straight year, services are being maintained and the Legislature is continuing to downsize county government. That is exactly what I want from my government.

When it comes to perks, the county is bare bones. We've alluded to the fact that in Niagara County, legislators only make $15,000 per year. There are no paid staffers, other than a couple in the legislative clerk's office who serve all legislators, as opposed to our neighbors to the south in Erie County who make $45,000, with taxpayer subsidized district offices and staff.

But the premise of supplying each legislator with taxpayer funded laptop computers, as being considered by legislator Pete Smolinksi, is ludicrous. While we commend the county's efforts to contain expenses, this is one that we cannot support.

Smolinski says that having a laptop will reduce the massive amounts of paperwork legislators get because they can pick and choose what they want to print. You need a laptop for that? Wouldn't a desktop serve the same purpose? And in this day and age, what legislator doesn't have at least a desktop?

If you need a laptop to make you a more effective and efficient legislator, go buy one. My employer didn't pay for a laptop for me, but I went and bought one myself. My laptop, case and jump drive came to under $600. With the 12 months interest free financing, it was $50 a month. Legislator's pay is $1,255 a month. Suck it up and buy your own.

With the state and country, as well as many of the people of this community facing significant financial crisis, now is not the time to even be considering this.

November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

This historic proclamation was issued by George Washington during his first year as President. It sets aside Thursday, November 26 as "A Day of Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer."

Signed by Washington on October 3, 1789 and entitled "General Thanksgiving," the decree appointed the day "to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God."

While there were Thanksgiving observances in America both before and after Washington's proclamation, this represents the first to be so designated by the new national government.

After their first harvest, the colonists of the Plymouth Plantation held a celebration of food and feasting in the fall of 1621. Indian chiefs Massassoit, Squanto and Samoset joined in the celebration with ninety of their men in the three-day event.

The first recorded Thanksgiving observance was held on June 29, 1671 at Charlestown, Massachusetts by proclamation of the town's governing council.

During the 1700s, it was common practice for individual colonies to observe days of thanksgiving throughout each year. A Thanksgiving Day two hundred years ago was a day set aside for prayer and fasting, not a day marked by plentiful food and drink as is today's custom. Later in the 18th century each of the states periodically would designate a day of thanksgiving in honor of a military victory, an adoption of a state constitution or an exceptionally bountiful crop.

Such a Thanksgiving Day celebration celebration was held in December of 1777 by the colonies nationwide, commemorating the surrender of British General Burgoyne at Saratoga.

Later, on October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for the observance of the fourth Tuesday of November as a national holiday.

In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday to the third Thursday of November (to extend the Christmas shopping season and boost the economy). After a storm of protest, Roosevelt changed the holiday again in 1941 to the fourth Thursday in November, where it stands today.

November 26, 2008

ECFSA Proves Impotent

After Erie County's financial meltdown, the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority arrived with much fanfare at the end of the Giambra regime. Business experts from the private sector were on their way to save Erie County.

But now after several years of little action, the ECFSA has finally acknowledged that there is no solution available to local governments other than tax and fee increases. The ideas proposed by the control board include increasing fees taken in by the county clerk (which is a tax increase), a reduction in spending for parks and infrastructure (which is a short-term fix), cutting the risk retention fund (which is a risky short-term fix) and by BORROWING money. That is their advice? Borrow money?

And what was their advice on controlling labor costs, Erie County’s biggest expense? Nothing. The board acknowledges that “re-engineering employee wage and benefit scales” will be a challenge. Erie County has no power to re-engineer anything connected with public sector employee contracts. Impasse, fact finding, mediation and arbitration.

Governor Patterson can’t promise any relief whatsoever to the beleaguered property taxpayer without giving the local governments power at the bargaining table, something we'll never see given the new make up of state government.

Remember, the state needs to cut $15 billion in spending. God help all of us when Paterson's cuts to school districts start funneling their way to our tax bills.

November 25, 2008

Granto Finances Deserve Further Scrutiny

By all accounts, Niagara Falls School District Superintendent Carmen Granto is a well respected and well liked gentleman. But the ongoing release of the sordid financial details of his tenure as the district chief cannot simply be excused with his resignation.

In an analysis by the The Buffalo News, Granto was found to have used his credit card at will, with no limits. His expenses included limousines, golf outings and expensive dinners, with alcohol.

Unfortunately, the most recent indiscretions are far from the first. Both the state comptroller's office and the state education Department cite improprieties in the handling of the district's finances.

Granto, upon learning of the comptroller's recent audit, promptly announced his resignation. But why should it be allowed to end there? Why should we, the taxpayers, reward Granto with what will likely be a six-digit pension? What he has done here, with taxpayer dollars, is no different than what we read in the paper every day. Greed. Corporate greed. School district greed. The only difference is that instead of the shareholder and customers paying, we, the metaphorically speaking shareholders and customers, have been the ones paying the bill.

Like a typical public sector employee, Granto has that sickening mentality of entitlement. I'm sure he thinks he's been entitled to every inappropriate expenditure he's ever made. I mean, he is the Super of one of the worst school districts in the state. Why shouldn't he shower himself with limos, golf outings and top shelf booze?

It's even more astounding that the members of the school board have known about the ongoing financial irregularities. Previous audits have been highly critical of the board for their lack of oversight. The board's response? Virtually nothing. How the hell any of them can actually be claiming to serve the public is beyond me.

Which leaves us with Granto. I have no idea what the law states is allowed when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars that one is charged with overseeing. But this whole thing flat-out stinks. The comptroller needs to get back in here to to determine if any laws were broken, and if so, an example needs to be made of anyone who knowingly allowed taxpayer dollars to be misused. Of course, you could just resign; apparently that exonerates one from facing the music.

November 24, 2008

Just How "Red" Were Those Blue States On Election Night?

When I think to all of our fathers and grandfathers who spent the 20th century fighting the spread of communism and its principles, it makes me sad that I have to be here for its spread in America. And it didn't get here through war or the nuclear bomb, like everyone expected and feared for decades - it came through our own election.

Now, that's not to say Niagara Times is jumping on the Obamunism bandwagon - this isn't a diatribe against him or his philosophies in general. It's about one piece of legislation that out there that he supports, though - the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). This legislation is as close to the Manifesto as America has seen, and the thing is - nobody knows it. We can understand the field day that organized labor is set to have with Democrats controlling everything, and we can respect the fact that union members and leadership worked very hard over the last decade to tip the scales in their direction. In that regard, the unions deserve to reap the fruits of their efforts.

But we should be very careful of what those fruits are. It's scary, because the House has already passed EFCA (which insiders pronounce "ef-ka"), and when then-candidate Barack Obama was asked if the bill would become a reality, he said, "The question isn't if, it's when." A Republican filibuster, which is not guaranteed, is the only hindrance left. America should be hoping that hindrance holds.

It astounds us that, regardless of how pro-union elected officials might be, they would throw their support behind this bill, as it is 100% against... Well, America. The American way. American values. Let me break it down for you:

First, it takes away an employee's right to a secret ballot when making the decision to unionize or not. Instead, employees working for a private company that are interested in unionizing would sign a card to denote their support. Sounds like a good time for those who believe in a "union-free" shop and don't put their name on a card right away - it's a good thing that union organizers aren't tenacious when it comes to this stuff.

Second - and if you thought the first part was bad, just wait - once the union collects enough cards and your employees unionize, your company has 10 days to begin negotiations. That's 10 days to determine what your employees' future will be and put an offer on the table. Wait, it gets better...

Then, you have 90 days to come to an agreement. You ask any CEO if you can come to an agreement with a union on a contract in 90 days and they'll tell you you're insane. Especially when the union doesn't necessarily want to come to an agreement, because...

If there's an impasse after 90 days, the negotiation goes into mediation, which has a 30-day deadline. After that deadline, the situation goes into mandatory arbitration, and if you know anything about arbitration... Let's just say the employer doesn't usually win.

So what does this mean? Essentially, the bill - in taking away the American institution of secret ballot from employees to ensure a smoother road to unionization - will force companies to be put through an expensive process that will ultimately end in the government telling private employers the parameters that they should be implementing in regards to their employees. That's right, under "ef-ka," the government will be dictating to private companies the wages they should be paying, benefits they should be offering, and every other aspect of their relationship with their employees. From what I know of American history, I thought in our country it was the market that determined those things.

"But business can't be trusted," you might say. "Look at the financial crisis and Wall Street corruption." Let's not forget that those abusing the system were headed toward a dramatic fall from glory before the government... yes, the government... stepped in to bail them out. We're seeing the same thing with the auto bailout - companies that have refused to change their ways are on the brink of devastation. There actually is responsibility out there in a market economy, and those who break the rules pay for their sins (Enron, Adelphia). Unless laissez-faire is actually truly dead.

You can argue that linking "ef-ka" to communism is a stretch. But Karl Marx believed in a system where control over industry was taken out of the hands of the bourgeoisie and given to the state. Without much spin, "ef-ka" seems to be a step in that direction.

November 21, 2008

Maziarz Backs Byron Brown

Ever wonder why George Maziarz is considered a political genius and is so well respected by both sides of the aisle? Because he's always out in front and isn't afraid to take chances. See below:

If Senator Hillary Clinton is named as the next U.S. Secretary of State by President-Elect Barack Obama, then Governor Paterson should elevate Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown to her Senate seat, according to New York State Senator George D. Maziarz.

"First and foremost, Governor Paterson has a moral obligation to pick someone from upstate for this key position," said Maziarz. "We must have someone in the hierarchy of New York’s political class who understands the unique and severe challenges that face our region and is committed to addressing them. I believe Mayor Byron Brown would be best suited for that role.

"When Mayor Brown was my colleague in the State Senate, he was always willing to work with anyone, regardless of political affiliation, to get the job done. We worked together on several projects important to Niagara Falls and I appreciate his intellect and his ability to problem solve.

"But more importantly, the Mayor has been working hard to turn around upstate New York’s largest city. He has done a tremendous job in advancing economic development projects important not only to Buffalo, but to the whole region – things like the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, waterfront development and, more recently – and perhaps most significantly, UB2020.
To advance these projects and so many others across upstate, we need federal assistance and who better to advocate for the right policies from the federal government in the U.S. Senate than someone who has been on the frontlines. That is Byron Brown."

Town Supervisors Should Be Removed from Sewer District

So, the courts have ruled that the Niagara County Sewer district is essentially just another county department that falls under the control of county leadership and is not some quasi-independent fiefdom of town supervisors who have treated it as their own little playground for decades.

With that issue settled, I believe the County Legislature should immediately remove any town supervisor on the board who voted to pay Attorney Bob Roberson the $17K he ALLEGES...cough cough...that he is owed.

By rolling over for Roberson (who is partner with one of our favorites, Fast Eddie Shoemaker) these supervisors ignored their fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers in favor of old-fashioned cronyism. It's that plain and simple and they should be made to pay a price.

Remove them from the Sewer District today and send a message that Niagara County is serious about good government.

November 20, 2008

Political Theatre

Here's a video clip, compliments of Kyle Hughes at NYSNYS.com & Liz Benjamin, of some of the more entertaining moments of Tuesday's 90-minute leaders meeting, which might have been a total bust from a substance point of view, but was some of the best political theater I've ever seen.

While the opportunity to see this type of politicking may be common in the Albany area, those of us in WNY rarely get the opportunity to see this type of interaction.

The video is just under 19 minutes long, so settle in.

At roughly the halfway point, starting at 10:50, look for the verbal sparring between Skelos and the man looking to replace him, Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith.


Nov. 18 Leaders Meeting from on Vimeo.

November 18, 2008

Casino Cash Accountability

An interesting story in the Niagara Gazette talked about how the $18 million is casino cash seems to be dwindling pretty quickly. Council members were shocked...yes shocked...to learn there wasn't much left in the kitty.

Now, to be fair, Niagara Falls doesn't control all of the cash. The school district, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, the NTCC, the NFTA (for the airport terminal) and Niagara County all get a scape. What bothers me is where is the public accountability for how this money is being spent?

I might be crazy, but I could have swore that part of the legislation required some sort of reporting back to the state on how the money was used and how that use is tied to economic development. Has anyone ever seen that report?

Isn't it fair to ask if casino money has been used for executive compensation at Memorial? Given the blistering state audit of the Niagara Falls school district, how about how the money was spent there?

Niagara Falls continues to just spend its money here and there with what appears to be little if any thought on how that money will actually produce jobs and economic growth. Mayor Dyster is not nearly the leader many thought he would be when elected a year ago.

So, does this report on use of the casino funds exist and if so, let's get a peek....then again, if you want to know where the casino cash is and prefer a visual aid, just go flush your toilet and all your questions will be answered.

Civic Facilities

The Buffalo News reports today that Tapestry Charter School is scaling back its plans for a grand expansion into an 88,000-square foot facility in North Buffalo. To most people – outside of faculty and families with students at Tapestry – this may not mean much. But the important thing that everyone should take note of is why.


Tapestry was in the pipeline for IDA funding vital to its project. But a component of the state’s IDA legislation that would allow incentives for “civic facilities,” such as schools, hospitals and nursing homes, expired in January, and has become the center of a debate on the merits of forcing wage mandates on private businesses.


Labor has made passage of the IDA legislation – only including prevailing wage requirements, which are currently not a part – its #1 state priority (at least until Paterson started slashing their precious programs). But in order to keep the debate alive, the State Assembly is holding hostage the ability of IDAs to offer incentives to “civic facilities” projects such as Tapestry. Which means that in order to get what they want, they’re holding up putting people to work. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.


We’re not talking pennies here....NYSDEC estimates that over $2 billion worth of civic facilities projects are being held up statewide. In this economy, where people are being laid off and there is great uncertainty about the future, is it worth it? How many jobs – most of them union jobs – would be created by a $2 BILLION investment in New York State?


The biggest irony is that the sponsor of the bill is Sam Hoyt. Why? Because not only is Tapestry Charter School in his district – but his children go there!!! Now, on one hand, perhaps Sam should be commended for not simply doing what’s best for his family (when has he?), but it seems there is a constituency that Sam should be fighting for. Parents and faculty, after years of fundraising and planning, should have plenty to say to Mr. Hoyt.


The state legislature needs to reinstitute the civic facilities piece, save the wage requirements debate for another day, and get people working. And hey – no programs have to get cut to make it happen!

November 17, 2008

Column As I See 'Em

Congrats to the Niagara County Leg for keeping spending under control. I don't know about you, but I could use a tax decrease. I just wish the school districts would follow suit. I know, I'm pissing in the wind.

The county's cost-saving measures will be fruitless when the lawsuit brought by a guy who was shot by a deputy is settled. The victim is facing no charges. Can you say "millions"?

Maybe the national GOP has taken heed of the results of the last two election cycles. They don't appear to be ready to bail out the auto industry. Many have said the Republicans need to get back to 'republican" values. Saying no to the bailout will certainly send that message.

Bills fans will be on display this evening as Buffalo hosts Cleveland on MNF. I'm not sure what the over/under is on arrests, but I'm going 35 (that includes game related DWIs, but most will come from idiot fans with beer muscles who start drinking just around the time this post goes up).

Whoever says that Buffalo is a dying city needs to take a ride on the 33 at rush hour.

Kudos to the Lockport Union Sun & Journal. All indications are that they are in fact literate, as two of their weekend editorials were directly inspired by Niagara Times posts. No need to cite us guys, we know who your inspiration is.

Sneak peeks of Black Friday are making their way around the Internet. So far I've seen nothing to indicate that retailers are slashing prices to encourage consumer spending. Saving $50 on a Garmin won't get anyone out of bed at 3a.m.

I know Blue is popular in WNY, but 50% of Labatt's U.S. sales are in Buffalo, Roch & Syracuse? That's stunning.

David Paterson is given credit in the local rag for being this "savior", but in reality, he's not proposing anything new. Among his planned "cuts": raising SUNY tuition and placing a "levy" on private health insurance plans. Nothing but a creative use of wording to cover up the use of the word "tax".

November 14, 2008

Friday Ruminations

All of this speculation surrounding Hillary possibly becoming Secretary of State under B.O. should scare the hell out of us Upstaters. After all, how could we replace her after everything she's done for us? Okay, if your colleagues at work are wondering what's wrong with you after you burst out laughing, I apologize.

Based upon the numbers, and not the results, from last week's elections, the Wall Street Journal believes that 2010 favors the GOP.

These bailouts, including the auto industry, are an absolute travesty. The market will, as it always has, correct itself. I didn't buy the house the bank said I could afford, I knew my limits. If you did, that's your problem, and now I'm bailing you out. You're no better than a welfare recipient sucking away my tax dollars.

B.O.'s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel apologized for his father's remarks. The apple doesn't fall from the tree. This guy is the epitome of a political hatchet man and will do little to be the advocate of change that B.O. won on.

Kudos to Lockport Mayor Mike Tucker for his choice of Niagara Hospice as the beneficiary of the proceeds from his annual charity ball. I've personally been touched by the care that Hospice provides; their organization is second to none.

We called it: the deluge of ads from public sector unions protesting Gov. Paterson's proposed cuts has begun. A pathetic sense of entitlement indeed.

Mayors from around the state have launched a website to fight cuts to local aid.

The Niagara Gazette is dead-on with its editorial calling on the members of the Niagara Falls School Board to resign. Today would be good. It's called accountability and you failed. Take Granto with you.

Somebody needs to explain to me the hoopla over the Aud. Okay, some games were played there. Woopdefreakindoo. It's a damn building. Another sign of WNYer's inability to put the past behind them. Get over it and move on with your life. This idiotic story is getting more play locally than the economy.

We would be remiss if we did not thank our veterans since Veterans Day was earlier this week. Thank you for all you do and all you have done.

Happy Friday.

November 13, 2008

Cuts vs. Cuts

Question for the day: If a school district is facing cuts, is it better to cut teachers or is it better to cut programs? More specifically, which is better for the students? With Gov. David Paterson's intention to cut state aid to schools, we're going to find out which option is better. Of course, there is always the fallback option of simply continuing to raise school taxes, but considering that our county is already the highest taxed county (when taken as a percentage of home values) in the country, and based on the fact that the overwhelming majority of that ranking is driven by our ridiculously high school tax burden, one would hope that raising school taxes even higher would not be an option.

Traditionally when a school district is facing cuts, well, we all know the song and dance. The teachers rally together and strike fear into the community. They spew their propaganda about how these cuts will harm the children, how they won't be able to take field trips, how the extracurricular sports will be slashed, how the biology club won't have frogs to dissect, how the school newspaper won't be able to afford the paper to print on and so on and so on. The school administrators will talk about the need to cut positions.

So which is the lesser evil for the kids? If positions are cut, the number of children in the classroom will increase. I'm okay with that. When I was in school, classes had 30-32 kids per class. These days, classes have 23-26 kids per class. The kids in the larger classes usually turned out okay. Do they get as much one-on-one attention? Of course not. But as those of us in the private sector know, and something those in the public sector are amazingly incapable of comprehending, organizations are being forced to do more with less. It's not by choice, it's the harsh reality of difficult economic times. On the flip side, some will advocate cutting programs.

What you will never hear is concessions from the teachers. Not a willingness to take a zero percent pay hike and not a desire to contribute a few bucks to their health insurance.

Either way, the kids will get the short end of the stick. In all likelihood, you can include us, the taxpayers, in there too.

With some of our recent posts talking about consolidation, I've never heard of any substantive conversations about consolidating school districts. As we've stated previously, there are more kids in the Buffalo School District, which is a small city district, than there are in all of Niagara County's schools, and we have what, 11 districts? Someone in education please explain the efficiency in that.

So, prepare yourself for the onslaught of information, ads and protests. The coming weeks will be just like election season when SEIU, CSEA, UAW, CWA, NYSUT, AFSCME, the WFP and every other glutton sucking off the public teet comes calling for more of your tax dollars.

November 12, 2008

Parochialism, Day II

There are so many disturbing aspects of this article about the state's plan to transfer the duty of keeping track of births and deaths from the towns and cities, I'm not sure where to begin. Let's try with the overall resistance to consolidation that once again has reared its ugly head. The entire world is in economic crisis and learning to do more with less, except, once again, our public sector.

Historically town and city registrars have kept track of vital statistics, including copies of death and birth certificates, for which they charge $10 per copy. A state commission on government efficiency has recommended shifting those chores to county clerks’ offices and raising the fee to $30 per copy to pay for it. County Clerk Wayne Jagow stated, “At first glance, this looks like a good consolidating move,” Jagow told the Community Services Committee. “But I’m afraid it would have some negative impact on the towns and on the county and constituents.”

It's just a completely absurd response. Every consolidation effort will affect someone, likely in a less than pleasing way; that's the nature of consolidation. But the long-term benefit, savings to the taxpayer, is the goal. How Jagow is unable to see the forest through the trees is beyond me.

Dennis Virtuoso had a similarly ridiculous justification for not supporting the consolidation effort: “This would be a tremendous...inconvenience for the taxpayers who would have to drive halfway across the county.” Really? People have such a frequent need to get copies of death and birth certificates that it would be a tremendous inconvenience? That is the mentality of a small-minded, regressive thinker.

As we've said before, we have huge consolidation opportunities staring us right in the face. There are three family courts in Niagara County. Why? If you live in Erie County, which is more than double the size of Niagara, you have one family court, and its in downtown Buffalo. We have four water filtration facilities in Niagara, all of which operate at less than 50% capacity. And three DMVs in a county the size of Niagara is completely idiotic. The average person goes to the DMV once every EIGHT years. How the hell is that a hardship?

Consolidation of these redundant operations would save the taxpayers of this county millions of dollars every year. Unfortunately, the parochialism that is so pervasive in this area will continue until someone who's not worried about his or her re-election has the courage to bring these consolidation efforts forward.

Don't hold your breath.

November 11, 2008

Parochialism Strikes Again

"Niagara Falls always seems to pay everyone else’s bills, “ said Niagara Falls Councilman Sam Fruscione in a recent story related to the NTCC and the fact that Niagara Falls contributes the largest amount of bed tax revenue.

Here we go again with the small-minded, parochial thinking. This agency was created to consolidate two tourism agencies duplicating each others’ work and save the taxpayers money. Although there are serious questions regarding the leadership of John Percy, the NTCC has accomplished just that.

However, when the crybabies running Niagara Falls feel as though they are not getting every penny they “deserve”, they like to play the victim and accuse others of living off their money.

First and foremost, I have never heard a single elected official in Niagara Falls acknowledge the aid they receive: federal, state and county. We all contribute, folks. But even more obnoxious is the fact that you, the county taxpayer, pays to house, feed and clothe their criminals, the county taxpayer pays to defend their indigent criminals, the county taxpayer pays to prosecute their criminals, the county taxpayer pays the Medicaid bill for every Niagara Falls resident receiving this aid, and the county taxpayers pay for the safety net welfare benefits, in their entirety, for every welfare recipient denied federal assistance.

But most offensive of all is the fact that the City of Niagara Falls is now receiving almost $20 million a year in casino revenues while the rest of the county shares virtually nothing. And while the rest of the county taxpayers wait for that money to be used for its intended purpose, economic development projects that will ultimately benefit the entire region, we have yet to see a single job created.

Eventually, somebody will be smart enough in Niagara Falls to demand an accounting of casino revenues and blow a hole in the City budget large enough to drive a truck through.

November 10, 2008

Legalized Gaming

Congratulations to the Seneca Nation for their success in casino gaming. They've created a fantastic environment for the gambling enthusiast, with a first-class hotel, a multitude of quality restaurants and all of the amenities that accompany a casino. In addition, they've committed to the construction of a 52 story hotel that would dwarf the current 26 story building, which is already the tallest hotel in Niagara Falls. Whether the construction of that hotel will be delayed given the current economic conditions remains to be seen.

We've always supported a casino in the Falls. There is a natural draw of over 10 million people every year. We're less likely to think that Buffalo should have a casino, since a casino in that city is much more likely to prey on the local residents, as opposed to the Seneca Niagara, which derives much of its revenues from gamblers from outside of the immediate area. The Senecas themselves have stated that they have no intention of marketing the Buffalo casino to areas outside of the region.

The Native American-run casinos in Western New York have been a great success for the tribal nation. They've reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues over the past several years. As part of the casino compact, approximately one-eighth of the slot machine revenues are given to the host community, which is Niagara Falls. From that revenue, various portions are given to the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, the Niagara Falls International Airport and the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp.

Here's the problem: We're fighting over scraps. No one disputes the success of the casino here in Niagara Falls. Many will argue the point that it should not be run by the Senecas. There is no logical reason that the State of New York should allow public corporations the opportunity to set up gaming in the city. It works, and we know it works, but we're left with a few crumbs after the Seneca Nation takes is massive profits.

In order for there to be legal gaming, the state would have to pass a constitutional change in two separate legislative bodies, then the legislation would go to a referendum. As the state faces a multi-billion budget deficit, many believe that the public would quickly authorize slots and table games to get state revenues and stimulate job growth.

Unfortunately, the soonest that such a proposal could be on the ballot is 2011, but the state can put the legislation in motion now. It only makes sense. Let's give the people of this state the opportunity to decide if they want legalized gambling. Donald Trump need not weigh in.

November 7, 2008

Friday Ruminations

The Niagara Power Coalition is close to settling a lawsuit brought by former Executive Director Mark Zito. We say it's about time. There would not be an NPC without the efforts of Zito, and the actions by the coalition towards Zito that precipitated the lawsuit are disgraceful.

For those who believe that Obama is non-political, his choice of Rahm Emanuel should be an immediate wake-up call. This guy once was so upset with a Democratic pollster during a congressional race that he mailed him a big dead fish. Let the political games begin; and it won't be for the faint of heart.

Some people love NCCC Prez Jim Klyczyk and some don't, but the fact that enrollment is at an all-time high is indicative of his leadership.

Congratulations to each of the winners in Tuesday's local elections. Now it's time to go to work.

The casino compact related to the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls contains very specific language on how casino revenues are supposed to be allocated. The crux of the language states that the revenues are to be spent on economic development efforts. How allocating $3 million in casino revenues to subsidize low income housing is economic development is beyond me.

I've got mixed feelings on federal prosecutors deciding not to bring charges against Eliot Spitzer. Yes, his punishment in the court of public opinion has been harsh, but if he allegedly broke the law, he should be tried accordingly.

This is a fascinating article detailing the infighting between the McCain and Palin staffs.

We've been saying it for a year and a half, but obviously some people in Western and Upstate New York didn't give much thought to how much we have to lose with the Downstate Dems gaining every power position in state government. The Buffalo News reinforces our position.

Today is of course TGIF, enjoy our last bastion of nice weather.

November 5, 2008

The Bush Legacy

I'm always annoyed that in today's 24/7 media we begin to write about legacies way to soon. After all, a legacy is something for history to decide once some time has passed and events in the here and now can be viewed through a less passionate prism. So, the ultimate decision on President Bush is still years away.

But politically speaking the day after the historic election last night, the Bush legacy is the end of at least this edition of the conservative movement and the destruction of the Republican party. It begins with the wrong information on the Iraq war, cascades into Hurricane Katrina and ends with the financial collapse and government bailout. In between, there were a host of other missteps....firing U.S. Attorneys, leaking Valerie Plume's name etc.

But more than that, it's the arrogance to change direction in the face of mounting criticism. There's a fine line between the courage of one's convictions and being unable to adjust when what you're doing isn't working. Bush is definitely more the latter.

Tie that together with the ultimate greed of Tom Delay and the corporate executives who lined their pockets while Rome was burning and you have the seeds of a GOP disaster...and disaster in so many ways that was well deserved.

The collateral damage of the rejection of Bush are things like the Senate Republican Majority in the Senate, Ernie Palmer locally (congratulations to Jim Voutour who will be a good sheriff) and several GOP Congressional seats in NYS that are gone forever.

There's losing and then there's historic wipeouts. George Bush wiped out the GOP.

November 4, 2008

Anything For Political Gain

Of course today is election day. As we stated yesterday, we hadn't planned to do much prognostication of today's results, other than the Lee/Kryzan race. Unfortunately that changed when, while driving to work this morning, I heard an interview that has me completely infuriated.

As most of us have most likely heard, three boys died in a tragic fire in Hartland last night. I cannot even begin to comprehend the depths of this loss to the family. May God look over them.

The problem is the interview on WLVL given by an individual by the name of Steve Wallace. Wallace stated the circumstances of the events with some detail. But then, inexplicably, he went on about Sheriff candidate Jim Voutour. Wallace stated essentially, "You should have seen Voutour out there (at the fire scene). The last thing on his mind was the election." Are you freakin kidding me? You are going to use the death of these three little boys to make a political statement? What kind of lowlife, piece of garbage are you?

To try to turn this tragedy into a political gain is without a doubt one of the most despicable and heinous acts I have ever seen in politics. Political races these days are filled with half-truths and misrepresentations. Unfortunately, we see more of this type of politicking than issue-oriented races. Media outlets were jammed with reports of attempts to mislead voters. But this is a new low. I literally am so enraged that I feel nauseous. I don't know who the hell this Steve Wallace is, but I hope I have the opportunity to cross paths with him.

When you die and are standing at the gates of Hell, Wallace, remember those three little boys whose deaths you diminished to mere political fodder.

November 3, 2008

Chris Lee For Congress

For the most part, we had planned to stay away from endorsing any candidates in this year's races, but we can't sit by and let the race for the 26th Congressional District seat go without interjecting.

Alice Kryzan won her Democratic primary against Jon Powers and Jack Davis because of one creatively produced commercial that took advantage of the testosterone-laced bickering between her two male counterparts. At no time did Kryzan articulate a position on any issues. But Kryzan, upon her victory, has completely and unabashedly become the antagonist that she so staunchly told to "take it somewhere else" in her previous ads.

Now, she may not have produced the attack ads on her opponent, Chris Lee, but she has not condemned them either. Lee, throughout the primary, had not stated a negative word about Alice Kryzan.

One of the most pervasive ads on behalf of Kryzan is the blatant misrepresentation of Lee employing people in China. This assertion is indicative of Kryzan's complete and utter lack of understanding of the global economy in which we live. From what we have learned, Lee's company made brake pads. Not for cars, but for major commercial machinery. His company, in their hopes of expanding in the global market, set up a manufacturing location in China. Not only is this NOT bad, it's the goal of every business in the WORLD that is looking to expand globally. Why? Because China is the most untapped market for goods and services in the world. With, what, 1.3 BILLION people, every company would savor the opportunity to tap this market. Not Alice Kryzan, because she has no comprehension whatsoever of what it is like to actually try to manage a successful business. (If I wanted to really get nasty, I'd talk about her law practice that failed and folded, but we won't go there.)

What Kryzan obviously is incapable of comprehending is that when a company expands its market, it becomes a stronger organization. Delphi is the perfect example. Because its U.S. operations suck so bad, it is only able to avoid bankruptcy because of the solvency of its international operations. By the way, if you think Delphi is an American company, you are delusional. They'd eliminate all U.S. production in a New York minute if they thought they could get away with it. That goes for all U.S. automobile manufacturers as well, but I digress.

As more "foreign" cars are made in America, in some cases more than "American" manufacturers, those staunch "buy American" folks always fall back on the claim of "yeah, but they take the profits back to their foreign country and invest it there". Really? So what if an American company sets up a manufacturing facility on foreign soil, would the same rule not apply? What if an American company sets up shop of foreign soil, expanding it's customer base, increasing profits, which leads to further investment in R&D, which leads to more jobs, etc, etc? Amazingly, Kryzan is trying to portray this as a bad thing.

I hope that my company goes out today and buys a subsidiary in another country. Why? Because I have enough business sense to know that if my employer is to compete in a global economy, we have to be GLOBAL. It's not rocket science, it's Business 101.

Kryzan has shown herself to be nothing more than a hypocrite who has little knowledge of issues other than those of a liberal trial attorney. We don't need anymore of those in Congress. Lee is a businessman who has successfully guided his company through the trials and tribulations that most growing organizations face.

Niagara Times proudly supports Chris Lee for Congress.