May 30, 2008

Typical New York State

For some reason, the article below struck a chord with me. A couple of Niagara Falls Schools that were underperforming have turned things around, thanks in part to some grant money from the state to run a successful after school program. But now that the schools are performing better, the State Education Department has cut off the funds.

So, we'll pay to help you turn things around and when are funds are actually doing some good, we'll cut you off so all the positive gain can be lost? I know there are a lot of need in the state and money is tight, but here's an idea....take money away from the myriad of programs that are failures and support those that are working. Just a thought.

The full article:

Improving schools not eligible for grant
By Paul Westmoore - NEWS NIAGARA BUREAUUpdated: 05/30/08 7:03 AM
NIAGARA FALLS — Because La- Salle and Gaskill preparatory pupils are doing so well academically, the state has denied the Niagara Falls School District the money to run a program that played a role in placing them in good standing.
The state Education Department on Wednesday turned down the district’s application for a grant to fund its “After School Program,” which provides Gaskill and LaSalle pupils the chance to remain in school for 2z hours after dismissal to receive academic assistance, participate in supervised activities and have nutritious snacks before being bused home by 5:30 p. m.
Superintendent Carmen A. Granto broached the subject at Thursday’s School Board meeting when Board Vice President Don J. King said he was proud to see seven city schools last week were named “high-performing, gap-closing schools” by the state Education Department. That means their pupils, even special education and economically deprived pupils, are performing up to state standards.
“Our schools were recognized for outstanding achievement” Granto said. “But that designation comes as a mixed blessing. Because of that success, we were not approved for a 21st Century [After School] grant. That’s because the state’s highest priority this year in awarding those grants is to schools in need of improvement, and we don’t fall into that category anymore. We got the money when we needed improvement. But now that we’re improved, the money is not going to be there any more.”
Ross said the original four-year After School Grant amounted to $600,000 a year.
“It’s a shame because the program really helped out a lot of kids who needed the attention after school,” Granto said.
But Granto said the district will not give up on the program since it has contributed significantly to the success of the district’s seventh and eighth graders.
He said he has already contacted the area’s three state legislators and asked them to help work out a program like the state did with the charter schools in that “once you’re successful, the state phases you out of the program slowly so you have time to build up the local money to keep the program going. They said they would support the idea.”
“I told them we understood going in that once you succeeded you’re not the highest priority any more when it comes to these funds,” Granto said, but he noted he did not want his seventh- and eighth-graders falling backward academically without the extra boost they received from the program.

May 28, 2008

Gay Marriage in California

I must admit I have conflicting viewpoints over the California Supreme Court's recent decision allowing for gay marriage in the Golden State. And it's not some sort of moral opposition to the concept of gay marriage....part of me harkens to the old line that I'm for gay marriage because gay men should be miserable like the rest of us. Seriously, though I'm not one of these people who has a reflexive negative view on the topic.

My split personality on this comes out of my own libertarian point of view. On one hand, if it doesn't cost me money, hurt me or my family or infringe on me....have it. On the other hand, the voters in CA via referendum voted to ban gay marriage in a fair election and the almighty judges in black who always think they are so much smarter than everyone else overturned the will of the voters.

Hmmm, quite the conundrum. After all, no one wants tyranny by the majority and hence referendums should not be used to take rights away from any group in particular. However, gay marriage is a legitimate open issue and cleary CA voters spoke for what they wanted. Where is the appreciation on the courts behalf for the will of the people.

OK, folks. I am officially conflicted on this. Which side is anti-liberty here?

Are Politicians Failing Our Lobbyists?

If you've never had a chance to check out The Onion, here is a link. The following is a video segment that is both hilariously tongue-in-cheek, while sadly not far off from reality.


In The Know: Are Politicians Failing Our Lobbyists?

May 27, 2008

Variety Check

One of the city of Lockport's most prominent attorneys says he and developer Dave Ulrich should be paid by the federal government for the defaulted mortgage they held on a recently closed whore house.

Niagara County Democratic Committee Chairman Dan Rivera gets crushed by a former NCDC Executive Board member in a story in the Niagara Falls Reporter.

Jay Gallagher writes an excellent piece about the little known but increasingly visible Public Service Commission, which oversees the companies that provide electric and natural-gas service to citizens of the state as it makes a crucial decision next month.

The era of the Clintons is soon to be over.

Niagara County Legislator Dennis Virtuoso's hypocrisy continues to run deep as he chastises the current majority for doing what he tried, unsuccessfully, to do in in December 2003.

The New York State Senate is to approve a ban on text messaging while driving.

Friends and family continue to reflect on the life of political icon Jimmy Griffin.

The Troopergate scandal continues to claim victims as a second State Police Trooper takes his own life.

How George W. sold the war in Iraq.

A well-written local blog with a variety of topics, blogonweck.

With Upstate economic development advocates expressing their concerns with the possible departure of Dan Gundersen, Downstate has a different take on their ESDC guy.

May 26, 2008

Coming Soon, Same-Sex "Marriage"

The New York Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling that mandated the state to recognize all same-sex “marriages” performed outside its borders.

The new measure became law after the court declined to hear arguments concerning the appeal of the decision by a State Supreme Court in February that recognized full marriage benefits of two state community college employees who legally “married” in Canada.

The February ruling, which threw out the State Supreme Court’s 2006 decision that state law "currently defines marriage as limited to the union of one man and one woman," argued that same-sex “marriages” performed legally in other states or countries be allowed barring legislation that would specifically prohibit it.

Alan Van Capelle, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda, said the recent ruling was progressive and a step toward the goal of giving same-sex couples full marriage benefits.

"Despite today's good news, the state of marriage for same-sex couples in New York is still unsettled," he said, according to LifeSiteNews.com

"Until a law is passed by the New York State Legislature, there will always be the possibility that another court decision could undo [this ruling] and strip away from otherwise legally married same-sex couples all of the 1,324 state-based rights and responsibilities that come with a marriage license in New York,” he added.

Currently, although Massachusetts is the only state to recognize same-sex “marriage,” several other states, including New York, recognize same-sex unions or “marriages” performed in other states or countries.

Since 2004, when the Massachusetts State Supreme Court made its ruling to recognize gay “marriage,” 26 states have passed a constitutional ban on the practice, while over a dozen others have passed laws limiting or outlawing it.

New York Governor David Paterson is expected to decriminalize same-sex "marriage" if the necessary legislation reaches his desk. Upon receiving the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Leadership Award on April 9, Patterson pledged to work to bring "full marriage equality to New York State."

"If you will join with me and if we work hard enough we can change the face of New York, which will be the catalyst to changing national policy," Paterson assured his listeners.

May 23, 2008

Friday Ruminations

Just some thoughts on things going on before the long weekend.

* The Gazette had an interesting editorial about whether we need a Lt. Governor. I get their point. My own take is yes we should have a duly elected second in command, but that person should also take on responsibility for running an agency or something like that. For example, pick an LG who could serve at your Department of Labor Commissioner and that's their day except on those rare occassions when they have LG functions (whatever that may be.)

* The NYTimes had a piece about Governor Paterson and Joe Bruno being in a state of detente and wrote in a way that made this seem amazing. Well, this is they way things used to be. Elections should be fought at election time and in between, the political warfare should at least tame down to get some stuff done. It was the Steamroller who thought that you could negotiate with your loyal opposition while you were trying to destroy them at the same time.

* Rumor has it that the Democrats will endorse Don Hobel of the so-called three-minute crowd to run against Senator Maziarz. While I assume you're expecting me to take a shot at the Dems here, I'm actually applauding Hobel for going from consistent critic to someone willing to step forward and try to do something about it.

* I read that the Fox Network (Channel 29 locally) is now the most watched network in the country, beating ABC, CBS and NBC for the first time since its inception in 1987. Wow, the network has come a long way since it's lineup included Herman's Head, the Tracy Ullman Show and Married With Children.

* There's just something that feels sleazy in Hillary Clinton's attempt to get Michigan and Florida delegates seated at the convention. If HRC had been a constant critic of disqualifying these delegates from the get-go then her argument would have some merit. Even one of her staunchest suppoters, Governor Paterson, called her out on this yesterday.

* In the midst of mowing your lawn, eating hotdogs and unpacking patio furntiture this weekend, take a second remember there is a reason for Memorial Day...from wikipedia...

Memorial Day is a United States Federal Holiday that is observed on the last Monday of May (observed in 2008 on May 26). It was formerly known as Decoration Day. This holiday commemorates U.S. men and women who have died in military service to their country. It began first to honor Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War. After World War I, it was expanded to include those who died in any war or military action.

May 22, 2008

McCain On SNL

Senator John McCain on Saturday Night Live. Pretty damn funny....

May 21, 2008

School Budget Vote

OK, while this board has many spirited opinions running the gamut on a host of issues, I think collectively we have all agreed that property taxes in WNY are a problem and that school taxes, as the biggest portion of the bill, need to be dealt with. Now, the disagreement would be on how that happens (consolidation, more state aid, switch to income or sales rather than property taxes, etc.)

So, against that backdrop, I'm a bit surprised that virtually all school districts in WNY had their budget adopted. I'm not saying that is a bad thing...far from it. But what is the disconnect (myself included) from complaining about property taxes and continuing to adopt these budgets? Is it because we all think our districts are doing OK? Is it the state aid kept the tax increases to a minimum? Have we all come to recognize these votes are a farce?

And while I'm on the topic, isn't it about time that the election of school board members got moved to November with the rest of the elections so a greater percentage of the population voted for these people?

May 20, 2008

New York's "Other" Senator?

Scanning the local periodicals this chilly Spring morning, a certain headline in the Niagara Gazette caught my eye. The headline is "SCHUMER: New York’s other senator talks WNY economy". What I found perplexing is the label of the "other" Senator, when referring to Senator Charles Schumer.

During the Schumer-Billary tenure in New York, Schumer has never been the "other" Senator, he's been the only Senator. He's been the most vocal, he's most definitely been the most visible, unless you count Hill's romp around the Niagara Falls airbase in her canary yellow jumpsuit after claiming her efforts saved it, and Schumer never promised 200,000 jobs to Upstate New York. Of course, when pressed during this year's Presidential campaign on her promise of the jobs, Hill added the newly found qualifier of "I meant it, but only under the right circumstances, i.e., if Al Gore had been elected Prez".

Right, and your life would have been in danger if there had actually been bullets flying over your head when you landed in Bosnia. You remember that death defying trip Hill took to Bosnia, after which she said, "I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."

Just in case you haven't seen the dramatic scene in Bosnia captured on camera, here it is:

That looks like a really harrowing scene. Good thing she kept her head down.

Schumer, on the other hand, simply goes about his business. No dodging hugs, errr, bullets on foreign soil.

Let us not forget that Hill has been a virtual no-show in Washington since her now-failed Prez bid was launched.

So Chuck, you keep doing what you do, let Hill have the spotlight for now. In a week or two, she'll simply be Hillary Clinton, the former Presidential candidate and still junior Senator from New York.

May 19, 2008

The More Things Change....

We at Niagara Times believe that the success of Niagara County rests, in part, with the success of the city of Niagara Falls. That's not to say that other parts of the county don't have great attractions, they certainly do. But even with Old Fort Niagara, Olcott Beach, the Lockport locks, the canal in North Tonawanda and so many other wonderful attractions in the county, our main draw is Niagara Falls. That is why we have had high hopes for first term mayor Paul Dyster, who promised a new and better way of doing things.

Unfortunately, we're not sure that much is changing. Photo Violations Technologies, the British Columbia company that installed 96 meters for a pilot program last summer, is planning to begin removing them at noon today. The fact that they're pulling the plug isn't a big deal. Companies and municipalities try experimental processes every day. What is a big deal is the reason PVT states for pulling out.

In a statement released Sunday, Photo Violations said it will pull the plug on the digital meter experiment, blaming criticism from Council President Samuel Fruscione and “mounting frustrations with an administration that seems unwilling and unable to follow through on its initial obligations.” Ouch. No sugar coating needed.

"An administration that seems unwilling and unable to follow through on its initial obligations". There is no reason to think that PVT has some political agenda. They're simply a company trying to be successful. What's the stumbling block, at least locally? Shockingly, it's Niagara Falls politics.

Councilman Sam Fruscione, who was named by PVT in their reasons for pulling out, had this to say, “I don’t get involved in operations. That’s not my job.” Hmmmmm. It sounds like you were plenty involved in operations, Sam, until the hammer fell and you went running for cover. I certainly wouldn't want to be in a fox hole with you.

Yes, this is parking meters we're talking about, but this situation is part of a bigger picture. If outside companies wanting to do business are going to be run out of town because of antiquated councilmen who are incapable of change, put a fork in the Falls.

May 16, 2008

Tucker Continues To Hit The Mark

Things have gone pretty well for Lockport Mayor Mike Tucker over the past few years. Some will argue that many of the successes enjoyed by Tucker were facilitated by previous city administrators. While that may have some degree of truth, there is no denying that Tucker continues to make his mark on Lockport. From the Canal Street restoration, to the rehabilitation of the former South Block, the Main Street beautification project, and the opening of the Discovery Center, Tucker has been very aggressive in his quest to turn the city around.

Is there more work to be done? Absolutely. The city housing stock has deteriorated significantly over the past 30 years. The good news is that the city Building Inspection Department has at last been given the resources necessary to, if nothing else, stem the deterioration.

That being said, the impetus for this article is not what Tucker has done, but what he may do. Tucker's ambitious plan to take down the eyesore of a parking ramp on Main Street in Lockport is simply wonderful news. The ramp has been a black-eye on Main Street for decades. Maybe it was a good idea back in the 70's, but the failure of city leader after city leader to invest in the maintenance of the ramp has lead the city to this point.

Congratulations to Tucker on a job well done. The city is flourishing in many ways, so take a ride down Main Street if you get a chance. If you haven't been there in awhile, you may just be pleasantly surprised.

May 15, 2008

Time For The Legislature To Act

We at Niagara Times have had enough of the Niagara County Legislature's inaction on several issues. First and foremost, global warming. The situation has gotten so bad that the Interior Department declared the polar bear a threatened species Wednesday, saying it must be protected because of the decline in Arctic sea ice from global warming. What has the NC Leg done about it? Not a damn thing.

Secondly, the earthquake in China. Chinese rescuers are taking relief supplies to the area of the epicenter. Meanwhile, flattened mountain villages are being searched for tens of thousands of missing and buried victims amid fears the death toll of nearly 15,000 would soar far higher. Not a single Legislator has offered to help out.

Lastly, the world crisis related to the price of gasoline. While Venezuela President Hugo Chavez continues to wreak havoc on the world oil markets, the Leg has done nothing to address this. Sure, they talked about eliminating the sales tax for a few months, but we're talking substantive, permanent change.

While I may be in the minority in believing that the Leg should act on the first two, it's good to know that I am not alone on the last one. You see, the Union Sun & Journal in Wednesday's editorial stated "the true assessment of how the county is doing is around us. It’s in the windows of shuddered businesses and even at the gas pumps". Finally, we agree with the paper.

The NC Leg's failure to enact substantive legislation to influence the world oil markets is inexcusable. Why they have not interjected themselves into this crisis is incomprehensible. Where is the resolution calling for the resignation of dictator Chavez? Better yet, why not send a dignitary from NC to Venezuela to negotiate a settlement?

Okay, enough tongue-in-cheek, let's get to the idiocy and hypocrisy of this editorial. To say that "the true assessment of how the county is doing is reflected in the gas pumps" has got to be one of the most heinous injustices of journalism ever printed. It shows that Tim Marren, the editor at the US&J, is so blinded for his disdain for the Leg that he is willing to blame a world crisis on the body.

Secondly, Marren stated that "Niagara County Legislators are bringing up the Business Council’s giving them a failing grade in economics. It’s only a year later, guys. Get over it and move on". Marren then goes on to congratulate wannabe legislator Richard Marasco for once again talking about the HSBC deal. So the Leg is bad because they are talking about positive developments in reaction to a year old story, but Marasco is good because he keeps repeating a year old story?

The fact of the matter is that the US&J is a "news source". To insinuate that the NC Leg is in a position to influence world oil markets, and thus the price we pay at the pumps, is irresponsible at best. We realize that this is an editorial, but people may believe what they've read. Is a purpose served by misleading the public?

It's one thing to be political and not shy away from the fact that you're political. It's another to hide behind a shroud of journalism while pushing your political views. Unfortunately, this has become the M.O. for the Union Sun & Journal.

May 14, 2008

Go Get'em Cuomo

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is on a mission to weed out those who don't belong in the state retirement system. He has been targeting attorneys who have claimed to be employees of school districts when they really are outside contractors. Now, he is going after school administrators who retire from one job in the system and then take another, essentially double dipping off of taxpayers.

We think the Attorney General needs to go even further and begin a review of the contracts that school boards are giving administrators. Let's be honest. Most school board members don't know the first thing about negotiation while superintendents are specifically trained in this area since negotiating contracts with teachers is one of their main functions.

So it is any surprise that these superintendents are able to run circles around school board members when it comes to their own contract negotiations.

Much of this came to light when it turned out Dr. George, the retired super in North Tonawanda, walked away with a $200K pension, more than he earned during his time there. All the perks and bennys tacked on to his contract gave him additional pension credits that made him the second highest paid retiree in the system in ALL OF NYS!!!!

Since this story broke, we have been hearing from many people across Niagara County about perks given in their district, which include:

1) So-called Evergreen contracts that automatically give hefty raises without any board action which hides it from public scrutiny.

2) Hefty life insurance contracts, the premiums which are paid for by the district.

3) Lifetime health insurance for administrators and their spouses

4) Huge balloon payment bonuses at the end of the contract which boost pension payments

5) Huge payouts for accrued time which also boost pension payments.

6) Contract that automatically tack on a year on each year so if you have a five year contract each year you get another year so you ALWAYS have five years left on your contract. This means a huge payout if the district tries to fire you.

It's time for Cuomo to reign in these contracts. Maybe all these contracts should merit review by the AG and/or the State Comptroller. Taxpayers are being robbed blind and something needs to be done.

May 13, 2008

The Politics Of Economic Development, Part II

Following up on yesterday's post about politics and economic development, a good test of whether the Niagara County Legislature is together in moving the county forward economically is whether or not they stand as one in fighting Governor David Paterson's plan to eliminate the position of Upstate Economic Development Czar.

The Upstate position was created by former Governor Eliot Spitzer, who divided the job of running the Empire State Development Corp. into two parts by creating equal upstate and downstate branches. Unfortunately for Western New York, Paterson is now being influenced by a downstate-dominated panel of business executives to end this system and appoint one director to oversee the entire statewide agency.

This cannot be good for Niagara County. Most Upstate economic development officials believe that current Upstate Chairman Dan Gundersen has been effective in his role, which is certainly a positive. But it's not about Gundersen personally, it's about Upstate and WNY losing a voice in economic development advocacy.

There should be no gray area when it comes to where the NC Leg should stand on this issue: As one, unified against this proposal by Governor Paterson. This is too important to let petty politics get in the way. If, of course, that's possible.

May 12, 2008

The Politics Of Economic Development

I must say, I'm a little bit confused about comments that Niagara County Legislator Dennis Virtuoso is making about economic development efforts in the county. Over the past year, the NC Leg has often talked about their marketing efforts and the successes that they have enjoyed through those marketing efforts.

But not Virtuoso. He takes every opportunity he can to bash the county's economic development efforts.

Here's where it gets a little confusing. Virtuoso is a Niagara County Legislator. One would think that Virtuoso would tout the successes of the county. By repeatedly saying that the county has failed, Dennis, you have failed. You see, you've been in the Leg for 20 years. Now you can point to the Majority caucus doing this and that, but as the senior member of the Leg, you wear both the successes and the failures.

That is unless you have rendered yourself politically impotent as a member of the minority. I know, we've heard it before, you can't do what you want because you're not in the majority. But there is nothing to stop you from bringing legislation that would enhance our economic development efforts. You are, after all, part of the same team, aren't you? Aren't all 19 legislators interested in moving forward with the best interests of the county at heart?

Let's hope so. We all enjoy the politics of Niagara County. If we didn't I wouldn't be writing this blog and you wouldn't be reading it. But really, does the politics of this area stink so bad that we want the other side to fail, and in doing so, want this county to suffer? God help us all if that's where we're headed.

May 9, 2008

Observations

Listening to 97 Rock this morning, they were interviewing the owner of a new bar in Williamsville called Black & Blue. The owner of the establishment went on to say that this new hot spot was patronized by Joe Mesi, which apparently makes it the "place to be". If the owner of every bar that Mesi goes to claims that his bar is the hot spot because Mesi has visited there, the number of places-to-be just went up by about 328.

Speaking of Mesi, his prominence with the fairer sex is well documented. Before he moves forward with his candidacy for the New York Senate, someone should pull him aside and really, really, really stress the importance of not sleeping with interns. As we have seen, just the appearance of impropriety can derail even the most promising of political careers.

The fact that Governor David Paterson is moving away from the year-old system giving equal powers to upstate and downstate job-creation czars should be of concern to everyone Upstate. Upstate Economic Development Czar Dan Gundersen has been very visible in our area and a strong advocate for WNY. If this does shake out the way Paterson is proposing, I can assure you that the one NYS Economic Development leader will not be focusing on WNY.

Hill Rod (sorry A-Rod fans) was slammed yesterday for suggesting in an interview with USA Today that she's the best candidate because blue-collar whites were fleeing Obama. "Sen. Obama's support among working, hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again," Clinton told the paper. "I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on." Hmmmm. That seems perilously close to Clinton playing the proverbial race card.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo predicted Thursday that "hundreds and hundreds" of attorneys will ultimately be implicated in his office's investigation of government entities improperly enrolling non-employees in public pension funds, something we've touched on before. I'm thinking there won't be a whole lot of sympathy for the lawyers that get busted. Keep in mind that these are taxpayer dollars, millions of taxpayer dollars, that were unscrupulously abused by these attorneys.

I'm a little confused about laws governing the media's release of a minor's information. We repeatedly see that a minor's name is withheld because he/she is a minor. But in the papers and on the news yesterday and today, there is the name and picture of 2 year-old Giana Bootes splattered all over the place. So it's okay to put a "young" minor's name and picture all over the paper but not an "older" minor? Bizarre.

I've found Kristen Donnelly a good enough reason in itself to watch Channel 2 News. She's intelligent and aggressive, but in a softer way than a Scott Brown-type. Hopefully she sticks around WNY for awhile. Sometimes I think WNY is like the Florida Marlins of news - we cultivate the talent here, but eventually they move on to bigger and better things elsewhere.
Lastly, condolences to the family and friends of Steve Niziol. Niziol, who recently served as the City of Lockport Community Aide, was one of the nicest guys I've ever met. Prayers to his family.

May 8, 2008

Erie & Niagara County Legislatures

My firm does some work with Erie County. As a meeting I was attending was wrapping up, the Erie County Legislature was heading into session, so I thought I'd stick around to see how things work at their Leg meetings.

While watching, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with an individual who regularly attends EC Leg meetings. Here are some interesting pieces of information I learned about the EC Leg and their members: 1) Meetings are held at 2P.M. Amazingly, there is no one whining about that and how difficult it is for the public to make the meetings at such an inconvenient time - for the public, not the Legislature. 2) All committee meetings are during the day. 3) EC Legislators make $42,500. 4) Every single Legislator has a District Office, which is staffed. 5) There are no public speakers. 6) There are no LCTV cameras, or any other local cable access outlet, televising the meetings.

Stunningly, there is no uproar in Erie County about the County Legislature's suppression of free speech. There are no cries of censorship. Amazingly, EC county government continues to operate without the nuggets of wisdom that the Niagara County Leg has the privilege of being party to twice a month via the public comment session.

Okay, so the last paragraph had a slight tinge of sarcasm in it. But in reality, there are some things that EC does better, and some things Niagara County does better. What was most interesting was what a professional and respectful manner in which the meetings are conducted. No bickering, no one-upsmanship and no accusations. Sure, there were plenty of proclamations, nearly 40 I believe, but the EC Leg conducts its business without, for a lack of a better word, the bullshit that so often accompanies the NC Leg.

I recall Greg Lewis stating something to the effect that every time he walks out for a Leg meeting he feels like he's walking into a war zone. It's truly unfortunate that he feels that way. That being said, it's understandable why he does.

May 7, 2008

Environmental Reality

Listening to the local radio station for the 7:30 news yesterday morning, they were talking about the new pot hole machines that the city of Niagara Falls will be renting to fix the massive pot hole problem plaguing the city. This will bring much needed relief to drivers and vehicles in the city. Although I live in Lockport, I was in Niagara Falls for a jaunt to the casino this past weekend. I can attest to the fact that there is a serious need for road repairs, not only in Niagara Falls, but in much of Western New York.

During the news, the radio station interviewed Lou Ricciuti, also known as "Nuclear Lou". Now, I don't know Lou, but I know he is well known in the community for his environmental advocacy. Ricciuti has previously raised concerns about radioactive contamination in the Niagara area and has created the Institute for Environmental Research and Oversight.

Ricciuti went on to say that filling the pot holes would be a bad idea because doing so would allow contaminates in the road to become airborne and be hazardous to the well-being of people in the community. Okay, I'll buy that. Knowing virtually nothing about environmental issues such as this one, it certainly sounds possible.

Here's where things get a little cloudy. When someone points out a problem, I expect a tangible, feasible solution to be presented. Unfortunately, this is where Lou lost me. His solution to the pot hole problem is not to patch them, but to take an alternate route. His rationale is that it's better to have some temporary damage to your car's suspension than to have permanent damage to your respiratory system due to the contaminates that you'd be breathing from the dust that would be stirred up by the pot hole machines.

Fundamentally, of course I'd rather have a minor alignment problem than a black lung, but it's a flawed solution. Cities need to fill pot holes. Cities need to maintain their infrastructure. To slough off a major infrastructure problem by simply suggesting people take another route is not a tangible solution. If there is an environmental concern, address it with a realistic solution, not "avoid the area". The solution of simply taking another route is simply ridiculous and unrealistic.

Unfortunately, this is where many environmentalists lose their credibility. It's easy to say that there are issues that need to be addressed, it's hard to come up with real solutions.

By the way, there are billions of gallons of oil reserves in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico and a shale formation stretching North Dakota and Montana may have an estimated 3 to 4.3 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil, according to a U.S. Geological Survey assessment. Of course, we can't tap them because we may disturb the mating habits of the Common Tern.

May 6, 2008

You Get What You Pay For

Regular readers of this site know that we are pretty hawkish when it comes to taxes and spending. But I want to be one of the voices who congratulate Niagara Falls for going out and spending what was required to bring in top notch talent for City Administrator. While some may blink at the price tag, $110,000, the fact is you get what you pay for.

Previous City Adminstrators made $60K which may help explain the state of government in Niagara Falls. Local foundations will kick in to help pay for some of the salary to ease additional burden on taxpayers.

Of course, a salary like this in a town as poor as Niagara Falls is bound to cause some stir...especially when huge numbers of citizens are on public assistance. But again, you get what you pay for and the city needs some good, talented people in leadership positions.

Now, the real question is will this woman bring fresh ideas, good management skills and the ability to work with others to the position or will she think she IS the chief executive like another out of towner who came to town....Greg Lewis, I'm looking at you.

Seriously, best of luck. The full story on her hiring can be found at: http://www.buffalonews.com/cityregion/niagaracounty/story/340083.html

May 5, 2008

Media Politics

On Saturday April 5th, the Union Sun & Journal had the following entry in its weekly "Cheers & Jeers" editorial section: "Speaking of traveling out to Indian reservations to purchase a too-highly taxed item, (county)legislators are looking into limiting the amount of tax the county collects per gallon of gasoline. Currently, the county collects a tax of 4 cents on every dollar spent on a gallon of gasoline. The proposed gas tax cap, introduced by Legislator Sean O’Connor, calls for the county to stop taking its share of the tax at $3 per gallon, thus limiting the amount collected to no more than 12 cents per gallon. Sure, it’s basically pennies were talking about — unless things go bad and gas does rise to $4 a gallon — but it all adds up. It should be a no-brainer for legislators, but it’s got one big factor working against it — it was proposed by Democrats. If we were you we wouldn’t expect even a small measure of relief at the pump any time soon."

Pretty innocuous stuff, simply stating that capping the gas tax would be a good thing.

Here is the problem: The next entry also appears in the Union Sun & Journal "Cheers & Jeers" editorial column, this time on May 3rd: "Again, don’t be fooled by what some politicians are proposing in a gas tax ‘holiday.’ The only holiday us motorists would see is if the supplier dropped the cost, not the state or county governments share of the tax. That would be all well and good, but the suppliers would need to fall in line with the drop in price for us to see any difference. What’s expected is that the local and state politicians would drop their end of the tax, but then the suppliers would bump it right back up."

Three weeks ago, the editorial board, in response to a resolution proposed by O'Connor, stated that the county Legislature capping the sales tax on gasoline "should be a no-brainer for legislators."

Their second position directly contradicts their first position. It's possible that they didn't take into consideration the supplier issue when they initially stated their position on this issue. But of course, they have not changed their position on the gas tax "cap". If they suddenly realize that the suppliers would not pass along the savings under gas cap proposal, they should have changed their position on the first proposal. They obviously assume that the public is too stupid to recognize this blatant inconsistency in their position.

However, I'm afraid that this something beyond ignorance,and I'm afraid that I'm over-complicating the position of the paper. In fact, it's worse than ignorance - it's partisanship. For a newspaper that repeatedly accuses the County Leg of being too partisan, the editorial board is using that forum to promote their own personal political beliefs, possibly at the expense of taxpayers.

How do I arrive at that conclusion? Simple: A resolution proposed by a Dem that would save a few pennies is wholeheartedly endorsed by the board. A resolution proposed by a Republican that would eliminate the sales tax altogether is opposed.

The media is a powerful tool with great responsibility. To use it in this manner is reckless at best, and the people of our community deserve better. Let's hope the editorial board starts taking its own advice; put the politics aside and start acting in the best interest of the people.

May 2, 2008

School District Spending Per Pupil

The Empire Center for New York State Policy has put out a report that details spending and tax proposals for almost all the school districts in the state. You can see whether the tax-per-pupil will be going up this year, and compare your district to others. Figures are projected for the 2008-09 school budget year.

District---Enrollment----Spending-------Tax Levy----Cost per student----Change

Barker--------973-------$19,863,640-----$3,571,858-------$20,415----------8.3%
Lew-Port----2,500------$40,426,958-----$22,114,897------$16,171----------4.1%
Lockport----5,263------$73,365,821-----$30,184,370------$13,940----------5.1%
Newfane-----2,081-----$31,949,691------$12,038,611------$15,353----------2.9%
NF-----------7,803-------$126,758,395---$25,076,688------$16,245----------6.3%
NW----------4,152------$68,000,699-----$26,566,488------$16,378----------4.1%
NT----------4,208------$63,671,079-----$24,978,180------$15,131----------6.2%
Roy-Hart----1,565-----$23,414,000-----$8,817,789-------$14,961----------5.5%
Starpnt-----2,851------$41,883,820-----$21,321,278------$14,691----------(2.0)%
Wilson------1,444------$23,250,044-----$9,792,192-------$16,101----------4.8%

Business First graded 97 districts in the eight-county region, using four years of test data compiled by the New York State Education Department. Each district's score reflects the collective performance of its public high, middle and elementary schools. Here's how our Niagara county schools fared out of 97 WNY school districts in the 2007 Business First rankings:

11. Wilson
20. Lewiston-Porter
21. Barker
25. Starpoint
28. Niagara-Wheatfield
38. Newfane
42. Lockport
43. North Tonawanda
60. Royalton-Hartland
93. Niagara Falls

So the question is, is there a direct correlation between school spending per student and student performance?

The other piece of information that sticks out on the chart of spending is how low the tax levy is in Barker, especially as a percentage of the budget when compared to every other district. In addition, Barker is increasing year-to-year spending per student 8.3%, far more than any other district. Obviously they haven't been hit as hard as they portrayed they'd be by the AES PILOT.

May 1, 2008

Happy Immigrant Rights Day

This one hasn't quite made it onto most calenders yet, but yes, May 1st is indeed Immigrant Rights Day. According to one web site, the day is celebrated because "Organizers in cities and towns around the U.S. are hoping to bring back the historical significance of May 1st in international labor and workers' struggles, and to reignite the labor movement by integrating recent undocumented workers' struggle for amnesty. Marches, rallies, and other gatherings on that date will focus on, among other things, amnesty for those who do not have current documents."

Well isn't that just fantastic. It's good to see that immigrants are stepping up their lobbying efforts of federal officials to protect the rights of those who shouldn't even be in this country. Simply amazing. At least gas prices and the economy have knocked immigration reform off the radar as the number one issue among Americans.

In other feel good news, ExxonMobil said record crude prices helped its net income grow 17% in the first quarter. Earnings for the first three months of the year rose to $10.9 billion up from $9.3 billion a year ago.

Thank God, I was was really starting to worry about ExxonMobil's viability to remain competitive in this dynamic world economy.