February 28, 2011

Niagara Falls: A Self Fulfilling Prophecy


After much debate, I've come to the conclusion that the City of Niagara Falls is closed for business. In fact, not only is the city closed for business, they are proactively doing everything within their power to let it be known that the doors are padlocked shut.

The city made its position perfectly clear on Saturday night, when Mayor Paul Dyster chose to skip the Niagara USA Chamber's annual awards dinner. The event, which was held in the City of Niagara Falls, had approximately 500 attendees. The county's two other mayors were there. A slew of county legislators were there. State Senator George Maziarz was there, as were State Assemblypersons John Ceretto and Jane Corwin, who also happens to be a United States Congressional candidate. Most importantly, there were dozens and dozens of the most prominent business people in the community there. Paul Dyster was not there.

Dyster fancies himself quite the orator. He also fancies himself the smartest guy in the room, no matter who else is in the room. One would think that such an audience would present the ideal setting for Dyster to work his magic. After all, we hear time and time again of his desire to bring business into the city. One would be wrong. If Dyster was truly interested in the aforementioned, he'd have been there. He'd have taken the opportunity to work the room. He'd have told his captive audience of all of the things he claims Niagara Falls has to offer to businesses who might be willing to take a shot on the downtrodden city.

I don't know where Dyster was on Saturday evening, and frankly I don't care. The fact that he chose to ignore this critically important event shows just how incompetent he is. His inaction is inexcusable, indefensible and a great big "fuck you" to everyone in the room.

Unfortunately for the city, this is part of a pattern for Dyster. As we know, he's regularly skipped the annual event at which the Buffalo Niagara Partnership releases its Regional Agenda. That event regularly draws many of the largest employers in the region, not just Niagara County. He's also failed to attend numerous other business-oriented events throughout his tenure. But, hey, he's gonna build a high-speed rail station. Talk about a sick sense of priorities.

The bottom line is that Niagara Falls has become a self fulfilling prophecy and Dyster is responsible. His unwillingness or inability to acknowledge anyone who might work to make Niagara Falls a better place is disgraceful. He has shown this time and time again in his refusal to acknowledge the county IDA's multitude of projects in the city - not once has he mentioned their work in Niagara Falls - that he is incapable of working to bring business to the city.

He also hated the idea of sending any casino revenue to the Niagara Falls International Airport. This is the same airport that now has three new carriers and, because of such a high volume of passengers, must build an additional parking lot to accommodate the huge influx of travelers.

Dyster is wrong for Niagara Falls. While we have never agreed with the sentiment "as Niagara Falls goes, so goes the county", it is important to the county to have a city leader that has a minimal sense of what's needed to bring business in. Dyster lacks that critically important skill. He needs to figure it out or pack his bags - we cannot tolerate his incompetence any longer.

February 25, 2011

Are the Unions Protecting Working Families?

With public-sector unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere telling us they’re standing up for the middle class, we had to ponder just who they’re really protecting.

For years, government workers have prospered, as their agencies have grown, and their union-negotiated contracts have lined their pockets, bought their homes with their two-car garages, and paid for their vacations to Hawaii. And, all along, efficiency (what in the corporate world they call “profitability”) has never been their goal.

As long as money kept rolling in in the form of taxes, this was never a big problem. In fact, regular, private-sector folks didn’t even notice the double-dipping pay scales with steps AND annual increases, even as their companies were giving smaller and smaller raises and laying people off.

The problem is, these government payrolls grew and grew and grew. Take, for example, our county government, which is continuing to pay out the raises promised to unions by former County Manager Greg Lewis during his “negotiations” with the CSEA, AFSCME, and other unions representing county workers. This year, Niagara County will pay out $113 million in salary and benefits to its employees.

You read that right. $113 million. This figure includes $70.4 million in salary and overtime. And health insurance and pension benefits are expected to exceed $40 million this year.

To put that figure in perspective, consider that the entire property tax levy for Niagara County is $69.3 million.

We’re paying more for salary alone to our county workers than we’re taking in. And that’s before we even pay a dollar out for government benefits, or gas for sheriff’s deputies’ squad cars. That’s before we pay a cent toward any of the projects our county has bonded. And that’s before we get to the high cost of insurance for people that work for us—and those who stopped working for us years ago.

The government-employee unions are drowning the taxpayers in a sea of red ink. Those are the stakes in Wisconsin, and those are the stakes here in Niagara County as well.

With the working class struggling to pay for these exorbitant union benefits, the question must be asked: who are the unions trying to protect? Because it sure doesn’t look like it’s the middle class.

February 23, 2011

Drafting Wegmans

As many have read, there is a movement to entice Wegmans Supermarkets to build a store in Lockport. Good for the folks behind the effort - everybody needs a cause. The reality is that Wegmans is never coming to Lockport.

While the fact that Lockport does not hold the demographic that Wegmans seeks is reason enough for them not to locate here, it is not the primary reason. In fact, you'll never hear Wegmans actually state their rationale, but it is as absolute as the day is long.

Wegmans has not forgotten their experience in building their lone Niagara County location, on Military Road in Niagara Falls. They ran into massive delays, cost overruns, and most problematic, huge union problems.

It was 1997 when the chain first announced its intention to expand into Niagara. If you are unsure of how construction projects got done in Niagara County in 1997, I've got two words for you: Local 91. As this piece from Buffalo News reporter Dan Herbeck from 2000 illustrates, threats, assaults, vandalism and sabotage were the way of life at Niagara County construction sites in the 90's, including at the Wegmans site in the Town of Niagara. Of the 19 former Local 91 leaders ultimately targeted in a federal racketeering indictment first handed down in 2002, 17 pleaded guilty, one died and one was acquitted of the charges.

While the landscape in Niagara County has changed from the not-so-long-ago days of thuggery, do not for one second think that Wegmans has forgotten about their lone experience doing business in Niagara County - they haven't, and they likely won't for a long, long time. Local 91, to their credit, has put this horrendous period in their history behind them, but the scars remain.

Wegmans is one of the most successful supermarket franchises to ever exist. They are consistently voted one of the best companies to work for and are a model of efficiency. What they were forced to endure in Niagara County will have everlasting effects on their perception of this county. Right or wrong, good or bad, that is reality. No petition is going to change that.

February 18, 2011

Wisconscious

In an attempt to get the massive costs associated with public sector unions under control, the Wisconsin state legislature is prepared to end the practice of collective bargaining for public workers. The legislation also would make public workers pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care coverage.
Unions still could represent workers, but could not seek pay increases above those pegged to the Consumer Price Index unless approved by a public referendum. Unions also could not force employees to pay dues and would have to hold annual votes to stay organized.
In exchange for bearing more costs and losing bargaining leverage, public employees were promised no furloughs or layoffs. Gov. Walker has threatened to order layoffs of up to 6,000 state workers if the measure does not pass. The moves are part of the state's efforts to address a $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
Democratic members of the Wisconsin state legislatures reacted to doing what they do best - fleeing the capitol, reneging on their responsibility to all of the people of the state, while placating members of the state's public sector unions who had descended on Madison.

In New York, we're facing a $10 billion deficit. The governor is proposing cuts that make the Wisconsin legislature's actions seem trivial. If you think things are rowdy in WI, you ain't seen nothing yet. The unions will be out in full force to protect everything they have - taxpayers be damned. We can only hope that Cuomo, the Assembly and the Senate have the will of Wisconsin's governor and legislature.

February 17, 2011

The Worst Bureaucrat in New York State

We realize that the title of today's post is like trying to qualify the trashiest Kardashian sister, but we are quite comfortable granting that distinction to Gladys Carrion.

Carrion is the commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services. A holdover from the Spitzer administration, she has become the face of what's wrong with the bureaucrats running Albany's byzantine state agencies.

Readers of this blog no doubt recall the vicious murder of Renee Greco, a group home worker in Lockport, by a pair of thugs imported from outside Niagara County. Carrion headed OCFS at that time, and made very clear that the agency wouldn't be making any changes to how it operates group homes, or determines which juvenile delinquents get sent to do easy time in our neighborhoods. Oh, she made all the right noises after the murder, vowing changes, but then did nothing.

At the same time, Carrion's agency also was bringing underage girls and strippers into a juvenile detention center and holding dances for the inmates.

Charming.

Well, yesterday, Commissioner Carrion let it be known her level of interest in Renee Greco's death, and preventing future tragedies, in a bizarre exchange with a Western New York senator:

Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, prodded the commissioner on why Greco’s killers were in a group home to begin with and why one female worker was assigned by herself to an overnight shift with six teen males.

“I can’t answer that question. I don’t run that particular facility,” Carrion said of the Lockport home run by a not-for-profit agency on behalf of the state.

She said the state does not make determinations about who is hired at the private facilities.

“Are you saying it was Renee Greco’s fault?” Young asked.

Like Young, we're flabbergasted by Carrion's give-a-shit attitude as well.

Young called for Carrion's ouster months ago, and we certainly agree with her.

Gov. Cuomo, it's time to rid your administration of this festering embarrassment from the past. Show Carrion the door before someone else gets killed.

February 16, 2011

NYSSBA Needs a Reality Check

According to a press release sent out by the New York State School Boards Association yesterday, "An overwhelming majority of school board members believe their districts should ask local unions to re-open existing labor contracts to freeze wages or make health care concessions, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed."

The release goes on to state, "The poll found that, overall, 89 percent of 663 school board members responding to the online poll said their district should seek concessions from employees rather than lay off teachers and other staff. More specifically, 76 percent of school board members believe their district should request to re-open existing collective bargaining agreements in order to freeze employee wages. Another 72 percent said the district should request to re-open contracts to seek health insurance concessions."

For the record, I don't have a problem with teachers' salaries - they do a job that I could never do. In fact, there way too many people out there who say "I should have gone into teaching" that wouldn't last one day in the classroom. My problem is with the massive increase in the number of school district hires, especially locally, while enrollment has plummeted. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of administrators who continue to try to tie the number of kids in a classroom to performance.

Now, in addition to walking five miles uphill both ways to school, we had 30+ kids in a classroom. We learned our subjects and we learned social interaction. We learned to respect our teachers and the behavior that was expected of us in that setting. Were there kids who created problems? Of course there were - but those kids would have been problematic no matter how many kids were in the classroom. And somebody who doesn't have a vested interest in the issue please show me one study that supports the notion that less kids in a classroom equates to a better education. I'd venture a guess that NYSUT has hundreds of studies affirming that misguided theory in their Albany office.

It's ironic that the NYSSBA is weighing in on this issue. For years school boards across the state have been far too generous in their very liberal hiring processes. They have never been part of the solution, only part of the problem. Now, in apparently seeing the light, they are asking local school boards a poll question about whether the local school districts should open existing contracts or if they prefer layoffs to stem the massive explosion in the school district's personnel costs that have drawn the ire of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his proposed budget. Shockingly, the local school boards prefer to open existing contracts over layoffs.

The funny part (funny as in sickeningly pathetic vs. humorous) is the mere fact that the NYSSBA would conduct a poll that includes the far-fetched concept of layoffs. I know opening the contracts is a good idea to avoid layoffs; you know that opening up the contracts for renegotiation is a good idea. The NYSSBA, however, is simply delusional if they actually believe that local teachers' unions are going to agree to opening up existing contracts for renegotiation. The fact that they are even discussing it shows just how disconnected they are.

Private sector unions have shown an increased willingness to open up existing contracts for renegotiation because they've come to realize that if they don't, their jobs will be lost. Public sector unions have never shown the same willingness because nobody in the history of this state has actually had the balls to follow through on the threats of layoffs. Even Cuomo, while talking the talk, has yet to walk the walk. Paterson certainly didn't have the balls, and Pataki was so in bed with the unions that the greatest explosion of state workers happened under his watch.

If local teachers' unions are willing to open up existing contracts and are prepared to come to the table with concessions, we're all for it. But we live in a place called "reality". We know better. The unions would much rather allow their newest members to be sacrificed in order to ensure the security of the older ones - it's how it is and how it will always be. There's not a poll on the planet that's going to change that.

February 15, 2011

"Fiscal Fairness" My Ass

Yesterday, I was really, really bored at work. So what did I do? I logged onto the New York State website to see what was going on. Lo and behold, I came across a budget hearing being aired live.

It was at this point that I came across the testimony of a gentleman by the name of Ron Deutsch from an organization which calls itself New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness. I was quickly astounded when this person who supposedly advocates for fiscal fairness came out swinging against enacting a property tax cap. More offensive, he went on this misguided diatribe on how devastating Gov. Cuomo's budget will be on those who provide services to Medicaid recipients. He wasn't as concerned with the Medicaid recipients themselves, just the potential job losses that would possibly occur if we cut the most bloated Medicaid program in the country.

I'm not sure what planet this guy lives on, but if he thinks his existence is justified by being part of a group that calls itself New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, he's dead wrong. I find it sickening that some left-wing labor organization shrouds itself in some cleverly misleading name when the reality is that it is only concerned with protecting the lavish salary and benefit packages of public sector employees in this state.

This Deutsch clown needs to get a clue. He obviously has no concept of what the people of this state are feeling. The most amazing part of his testimony was the statement that "New York doesn't have a spending problem, it has a revenue problem". The fact that he would utter such a massive distortion shows just how off-base he and his sham of an organization are. It's groups like New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness that are killing this state. Crawl back under your rock, Ronny - we don't need your kind of fiscal fairness.

February 14, 2011

Kudos to Maziarz

The news that Senator George Maziarz has decided to pass on the 26th Congressional District seat vacated by Chris Lee is great news for Western New York. In his announcement, Maziarz said, "As the leader of the Western New York delegation, I am focused on the issues that matter to me, my constituents and the region as a whole. I believe that issues such as creating jobs, enacting a property tax cap, implementing UB 2020 and getting a better deal from the New York Power Authority are best addressed if I’m in Albany." He's right.

There is no doubt that Maziarz would win the seat if he entered the race. But if he did depart, the Republican's majority would, at least temporarily, be 31-30. As we know, any legislation in the Senate requires 32 votes to pass. The vacancy would create havoc in the current legislative session, especially heading towards the April 1st deadline. More importantly, Western New York would lose its strongest voice in Albany.

A vacancy in the 62nd Senate District would also have cost the Senate Republican Campaign Committee a million dollars to run the special election to fill the Maziarz seat. Even though the SRCC has a couple mil on hand and the DSCC is three million dollars in the hole after the November elections, nobody on the GOP side would have wanted to drop that kind of dough on a special.

The bottom line is that Maziarz staying is good for WNY. While we we've seen a slew of new political faces in people like Grisanti, Gallivan and Kennedy, none of them have earned their Albany wings like Maziarz. His departure would have left a huge void in Western New York's voice in the state capital.

Passing up the opportunity to go to D.C. could not have been an easy one. That being said, Maziarz needs to be commended for his decision to stay in the Senate. That type of selflessness is all too rare in politics these days.

February 11, 2011

Self-Serving Virtuoso Strikes Again

With the impending departure of Niagara County Legislator Jason Cafarella several weeks away, Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso has once again made the very poor decision to open his pie hole on an issue he'd be better off leaving alone. Of course, Virtuoso is the same guy who thinks he is always the smartest guy in the room, so he is sure to think that his manipulations will go unnoticed. He's wrong again.

In the Buff News piece, Virtuoso advocates leaving the seat vacant upon Cafarella's departure, saying, "It’s an opportunity to downsize that seat. I’m sure myself, Renae [Kimble of the 2nd District] and Rick [Marasco] could fill in for any constituent problems from the 3rd District." The legislature is in the process of downsizing from 19 to 15 legislators.

First of all, Virtuoso can't handle the duties in front of him now, but that's another issue. While trying to sound so noble in his rationale of allowing him and his fellow legislators to handle constituent issues once Cafarella departs, his true intentions are nothing more than the same self-serving bullshit that we've become accustomed to during his useless time in office.

Virtuoso knows that he's got trouble on the horizon, and he's doing his best to head it off becomes a real problem. It seems that there is a well-known, well-liked Democratic woman in the Third Legislative District that has expressed significant interest in filling Cafarella's seat. Apparently she has been engaged in conversations with party leaders from both the Republican and Democratic parties for some time. (Remember, Cafarella has let it be known that he would not be seeking another term for several months now).

With the GOP's successful track record of recruiting Dems to run with GOP support, this makes perfect sense; the legislature majority appoints this woman to the seat, and with the upcoming consolidation of districts, she ends up in the same district as Virtuoso, setting up a head-to-head matchup with Virtuoso come November. He is well aware of this scenario, and does not like it one bit. Thus we have him advocating for leaving the seat vacant for nine months.

Nevermind that the district would have no formal representation. Nevermind the fact that Virtuoso, who serves as the city's building inspector, would have even less time to keep the city's many unblemished structures in their current pristine conditions. None of that matters. All that matters, at least to Virtuoso, is that he is protected - the rest of the city be damned. Is there anyone left in Niagara Falls who still doesn't understand why the city can't dig itself out of its own hole?

February 10, 2011

The Chris Lee Imbroglio

When news reports surfaced yesterday afternoon about former Rep. Chris Lee's unfortunate extracurricular activities, we were as shocked as everyone else by the matter. Lee, after all, had impressed this blog with a rather rapid rise within the ranks of the GOP, going from a freshman in a weak minority to a powerful member of the Ways and Means Committee's majority. Lee had benefited, of course, by being on the right team—a GOP majority led by a serious-minded Speaker in John Boehner and a tightly-disciplined Majority Leader in the form of Eric Cantor. But we had always seen that as a two-way street, with Lee bringing a certain savvy and real-world experience that had benefited his party, too.

So, we were saddened and shocked by his very rapid, very public collapse yesterday.

Frankly, we'd prefer not to comment at all on matters of this nature—no doubt Mr. Lee and his family are having a very difficult day, and we can only wish the entire Lee family two things: healing and forgiveness. But while we hate wading into the most intimate of human tragedies, we at Niagara Times know we would be remiss in our role as one of the most influential blogs in Western New York if we let the matter pass without comment and a bit of analysis.

First off, Lee's political demise is a blow to this region, which had, under the leadership of men like Senator George Maziarz, as well as Mr. Lee and his predecessor Tom Reynolds, finally become a real political powerhouse at both the state and federal levels. Losing Lee's powerful perch at Ways and Means is regrettable, to say the least. And, frankly, after the "tickle parties" of former Rep. Eric Massa, who hailed from the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier, this is a spotlight we'd rather not have thrown on Western New York. So, in both of those senses, we'd caution those would-be political pundits enjoying Lee's demise to contemplate what our region just lost.

Fortunately, the bad news ends there. Mr. Lee was, despite a promising start, far from irreplaceable. And, given the pro-Republican tilt of the 26th Congressional District, we will comfortably predict the district stays in the hands of the GOP—which is good, as regressing to representation by a member of the weak Democratic minority would ensure our region would be treated as a political backwater at the federal level.

That GOP tilt, which respected political pundit Charlie Cook sets at "R+6," is good, too, in another sense: the local Republican Party offers a well-oiled machine that can offer up a quality replacement for Mr. Lee. We have no doubt a capable consensus leader will emerge to stand for election to the 26th District seat.

One other observation, too, is in order: the rapidity of Mr. Lee's fall, from the emergence of the scandal to his resignation announcement, speaks volumes about the leadership of Speaker Boehner and Leader Cantor. The duo are a marked improvement over both Pelosi-Hoyer and the previous GOP team of Dennis Hastert and Tom Delay. The leadership didn't dither here, and Mr. Lee took his medicine and prevented scandal from weighing down the GOP's agenda—something for which, given the battle to stop Obamacare, we should all thank Mr. Lee.

In the end, though, we return to our first thought: Mr. Lee erred personally, something all too common these days. We consider it now a private matter between him and his wife, and would hope the media would do the same. We again hope for nothing but the best for the Lees in what will be a trying time for their marriage, and we hope that reconciliation and healing come quickly—because some things are far more important in this all-too-brief life than politics.

February 9, 2011

High-Speed Rail Unrealistic

I've got to admit, I think those that are advocating for a high-speed rail between Buffalo and Albany are delusional. There is absolutely no justifiable reason to spend what will amount to billions of dollars on a rail system that may transport a few thousand people each year.

In addition, there is already a train that runs from Albany to Buffalo and vice versa. There's also the New York State Thruway that, other than during an occasional snow storm, provides an excellent mechanism for travel between the two points.

People advocating for this massive misuse of public dollars seem to believe that the existence of a high-speed rail will all of the sudden drive gazillions of people to Western New York. They're wrong. What will drive people to WNY are lower tax rates, including stopping this practice of homestead versus non-homestead taxation rates, such as in Niagara Falls, and electing politicians who actually will stand up for our community and not allow us to get raped by "leaders" like Sheldon Silver.

Unfortunately, while some WNY advocates do exist in the world of Albany in people like Maziarz, Corwin, Gabryszak and Schroeder, they're counterbalanced by people like Peoples, Hoyt and Schimminger who have their noses so far up Silver's ass that they should be doing porn.

Let's be clear here: there is no panacea that is going to cure what ails Western New York. With Gov. Cuomo finally taking on Albany's unquenchable thirst of spending our money, there is going to be less available for funding special projects. We cannot afford to be spending money on pipe dreams that will do nothing to help WNY get out of its hole - especially some rail line that will do little except help those leaving the state for greener pastures exit just a little bit faster.

Let us not forget that there are thousands of bridges in this state and country that have not been properly maintained and continue to deteriorate every day - this neglect is putting lives at risk. What it will cost to make this hair-brained scheme a reality could go a long, long way towards making what is currently a quickly crumbling infrastructure much more safe. That's an investment that I can live with - literally and figuratively.

I understand that there is this "High Speed Rail New York Coalition comprised of mayors, chambers of commerce, and economic development organizations from the major metropolitan areas across Upstate New York that represents over 13,000 businesses that employ in excess of one million Upstate workers" pushing for this project. That sure sounds impressive. Unfortunately for them, the reality is that it's a bullshit cause banking on a bullshit outcome that should never come to fruition. Find another way to justify your existence.

February 8, 2011

Again, Paul?

Paul Dyster's failed administration is starting to go through department heads like Murphy Brown went through secretaries. (For readers too young to remember Murphy Brown, or Dan Quayle, for that matter, every week the title character, an abrasive TV news anchor, would walk into her office past a new--and often over-the-top--secretary.) It wasn't completely her fault of course, but then again, it never happened to any of her TV network co-workers, either.

Well, the hapless mayor of Niagara Falls, whose exhaustive nationwide searches for department heads have produced a city engineer who wasn't certified as an engineer in any U.S. state, an economic development czar who failed to create a single job, and now a fire chief who seems to have spent all his working hours making racially-inflammatory posts on Internet bulletin boards.

Of course, this is the same mayor who suspended his chief building inspector with pay for years.

And who hired a former sanitation worker as his city administrator.

Maybe human resources just isn't his thing.

Unfortunately, actually hiring capable department heads is kind of a big part of the job description of mayors.

This wouldn't all be so sad if it weren't for the fact that our favorite newspaper, the Niagara Falls Reporter, in each and every case spilled barrels of ink for months and months sounding the alarm about the sketchiness of the backgrounds of--and results achieved by--these inept Dyster appointees. And, while we enjoy the Reporter, we understand the paper's limitations. It's a small paper with a very small staff. And yet, somehow, they managed to forecast each of these shipwrecks even as Dyster, who mounted the costly national searches, failed to see the stormy seas ahead.

But, come to think of it, none of us should be surprised that a mayor so fundamentally inept at performing the basic duties associated with his job would surround himself with likeminded individuals.

Here's hoping the next major employee search in the Falls is for Dyster's replacement.

February 7, 2011

Happy Birthday, Ron

We could sure use him now.

February 4, 2011

Lebanon Lands Lewis

Alas, it appears the Greg Lewis era has come to an end in Niagara County. From today's Lockport Union Sun & Journal:

Former Niagara County Manager Gregory D. Lewis has been appointed the city manager of Lebanon, N.H. Lewis will begin the job Feb. 28, Lebanon Mayor Georgia Tuttle announced in a press release Thursday. Lewis, the first Niagara County manager, left the county’s employ Nov. 30, when his contract expired. After two terms and 7 years on the job, he did not seek reappointment.

The City of Lebanon received more than 100 applications for the city manager’s post, according to Tuttle.

“In the end we were able to attract a manager with the depth of experience we need for the future, who has worked both in a smaller rural and in bigger, more urban settings,” she said.

The release described Lewis as an administrator who “professionalized the management of county government in a notoriously complex political environment long marred by contentious partisanship, patronage hiring, union relations problems, and entrenched resistance to change.” It credited him with streamlining Niagara County government, standardizing labor contracts, improving efficiencies and staffing and “minimizing tax increases. While his accomplishments were not without controversy, he built a reputation for professionalism and accessibility to the public.”

The City of Lebanon has an annual budget of $46 million and 182 employees. The city manager is the only employee hired by the city council; the manager is in charge of hiring and supervising all other city staff.

I especially love the part about "Lewis as an administrator who professionalized the management of county government in a notoriously complex political environment long marred by contentious partisanship". Really makes you wonder what bullshit Lewis fed them - and their level of intelligence for buying into it.

Lewis now heads to his next "greatest" gig, where he's sure to don a "I
Lebanon" pin within the first week. Of course, after working in Kansas, Minnesota, New York and now New Hampshire, Lewis has shown a penchant for moving east for the next best thing. Maybe the next one will be smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic.

February 3, 2011

Up in Smoke

Thus far, we've been pleasantly surprised by new Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's stewardship of the state over the past month. He has proven himself more willing to push a fiscally-conservative agenda than even his last Republican predecessor, George Pataki. And his aggressive stance on Medicaid spending certainly warms our hearts, having concluded long ago that that particular give-away program was going to bankrupt either New York State or middle-class taxpayers before long.

So, when we heard that he was going to wade into the fever swamps of Indian cigarette taxation, we rolled our eyes. Then shuddered. Then felt a pang for nicotine we haven't felt since our misspent youth.

In case you lost track, the Buffalo News hasn't: this makes Cuomo the fifth governor to vow to collect taxes on native smokes. Maybe he sees it as unfinished business from his father's long-ago administration. Maybe he just sees the handful of Indian smoke shops around the state and the few remaining smokers that shop there as worthy of his attentions as governor. Regardless, it seems pretty stupid to us.

First, we'll readily acknowledge that New York State's government has the right to collect taxes on Indian cigarettes. But that doesn't make it smart policy. The Indian tribes are hostile to the state's collection efforts. So far, it has cost the state far more in lost casino revenue than non-existant cigarette tax collections—and in turn, has increased budget pressure on places like Niagara Falls, which can't survive without that casino revenue.

And then there's the whole tire-burning thing.

Cuomo should do what none of his predecessors have been smart enough to do, and realize that nothing good will come from pursuing this policy—before his administration's promising start goes up in smoke.

Chief Andrew would do better to bust out the peace pipe.

February 2, 2011

Voting Against the Taxpayers

Two days ago, the State Senate passed a tax cap that caps annual tax increases at no more than two percent above the previous year. While it's not tax relief, it will force local school districts and municipalities to start living within their means and not on the backs of us, the taxpayers. The cap passed the Senate by a vote of 45-17, with 13 Democrats joining all of the Republicans in supporting the cap.

The 17 who voted against the cap were Dan Squadron, Joe Addabbo, Bill Perkins, Tony Avella, Liz Krueger, Ruben Diaz Sr., Jose Peralta, Martin Dilan, Tom Duane, Adriano Espaillat, Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Carl Kruger, Velmanette Montgomery, Kevin Parker, Gustavo Rivera, Toby Ann Stavisky and Jose Serrano. We mention that because all 17 of the dissenters hail from, shockingly, New York City.

We've talked about the disconnect between NYC and the rest of the state many times. Despite the fact that the 17 knew the legislation would pass, they voted against it because that's what their constituency demands of them. The rest of the state is demanding relief from the state's crushing tax burden. You can't get further apart.

We are holding out hope that Andrew Cuomo's spending-slashing budget will pass. That being said, we're not optimistic. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is so beholden to lobbyists, special interests and welfare recipients that he, and his New York City brethren, is not going to take the proposed budget fight lying down. Meanwhile, the separation between downstate and upstate grows even wider.

February 1, 2011

"Take Him to the Promised Land"

This is simply astounding. Despite all of the calls for encouraging civil discourse on the issues facing this country by the Democrats, they insist on using phrases that promote violence. The video below shows another shining example of their hypocrisy. As the poster of the video states, "When Democrats incite violence through hateful rhetoric, it's 'beautifully phrased' civil discourse. When Republicans oppose Democrat policies and demonstrate peacefully, it's racist hate speech".

It is a sickening double standard that is not only fed by the mainstream media, but encouraged. If the shoe was on the other foot, if it had been Bill O'Reilly making the same comments about Joe Biden, there would surely be hell to pay.

Ed Schultz, by the way, calls Cheney a scumbag, an enemy of the country, a freakin' loser, and tells the Lord to take him to the promised land. And Richard Dreyfuss defends all of it. Very freakin' civil.