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Of Snow and Buffalo
By Michael Boyajian
The snows that recently hammered our region seem to be overwhelming with 100,000 losing power in the mid-Hudson Valley while politicians conveniently disappeared and ever frugal Mayor Bloomberg closing New York City’s schools for the seventh time in thirty two years but this is nothing compared to the typical snowy winter in Buffalo, New York.
Geoff Kelly has a great piece in Buffalo's alt-weekly, Artvoice, reviewing the book “Three Men in a Room”, written by former Democratic State Senator Seymour Lachman.
Combining personal anecdotes, historical background and a dismaying collection of statistics, Lachman makes the case for a sweeping revision of the way state government does business, by means no less dramatic than a state constitutional convention. His account also explains why, after four successful re-election bids, he resigned his seat in disgust in 2004. He had first won the seat in a 1996 special election. What he found in Albany was a legislature whose members had little or no say in crafting legislation; whose members traded obedience to their party and house leaders for perquisites, pork-barrel projects and easy re-election; which was in the sway of powerful, largely unregulated lobbyists; and which routinely failed to accomplish anything of substance, even its most basic responsibility to pass an annual budget on time. In short, he found a government that was controlled almost entirely by three men in a room, who run New York State with little accountability to most New Yorkers. A government, Lachman notes in the book, which in 2002 managed to pass only 4.4 percent of the 16,892 bills legislators introduced—the lowest achievement record of any statehouse in the country.
The blog Albany Media Bias recently expressed frustration at what appears to be a homeland security conundrum.
On the one hand, officials from major metropolitan areas are talking the talk, lambasting the Bush Administration's non-threat-based funding formulas that direct precious homeland security monies to far-flung locales in Wyoming (for example). But, on the other hand, it appears the same officials are not exactly walking the walk.
KT McFarland will be appearing on Buffalo's premiere weekly public-affairs radio show this coming Sunday. At 10:00 a.m., even you downstaters can tune in at WBEN's website and listen online. The host of the show is Canisius College Political Science Professor Kevin Hardwick. Hardwick is a Republican who ran unsuccessfully a few years ago to unseat a 20-year county legislator incumbent (he lost thanks to electoral fusion and the IP line).
I'll be calling in to ask KT a question at 10:30 and can't imagine what to ask her. Her website touts her foreign policy expertise, which is nice, but I'd like to know specifically how she'd be a different Senator than Hillary Clinton.
Last year, Comptroller Alan Hevesi came to Buffalo, audited Erie County's coffers, and declared that the County needed "adult supervision" with respect to its finances.
Adult supervision. From Albany. It is to laugh.
In any event, with the subsequent advent of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority (an advisory, "soft" control board), it seems that our state government, in its brilliant munificence, has merely added yet another dysfunctional layer of bureaucracy - and in this case an impotent one - to an already bloated, dysfunctional government bureaucracy.
Ever been to Niagara Falls? The cataracts themselves are gorgeous. The city on the New York side is mostly a depressing shadow of its former self.
A few years ago, politicians in Albany and the Falls decided that the best way to reverse decades' worth of disasterous policy blunders and economic decline (see urban renewal, Robert Moses Parkway, high taxation, et al.) would be to carve out a sovereign Seneca Indian Nation enclave out of 50-odd acres of prime downtown Niagara Falls real estate. Under a federally approved compact between the State and the Seneca Nation, the Nation could build three casinos in Western New York - one on tribal land in Salamanca, one in Buffalo, and one in Niagara Falls. (Buffalo's casino is weeks from starting construction. The other two are already open).
While New York City tabloids have had fun coming up with clever headlines to decry the steep decline in homeland security funding under a new "threat-based" formula, Buffalo's one paper has been a touch more subdued. People here are somewhat more numb to bad news, perhaps.
Today's headline: "Terror threat assessment of region may now consider border"
WNY's homeland security funds dropped from $10 million in 2005 to $3 million in 2006 as a result of a threat reassessment that saw the region plunge from 25th to 46th out of 46 urban areas.
Back in 1985, the Erie County Legislature, with Albany's permission and approval, passed an extra 1% sales tax - a “temporary” sales tax that has come up for - and passed - renewal every year since.
Originally passed to plug a County budget hole, the City of Buffalo didn't receive a share of that particular 1%. (To call it a “penny” is really facile propaganda).
In that 21 years, when the County was flush with cash, the call went out to share part of that particular sales tax with the municipalities in general, and Buffalo in particular.
In February, the Erie County Legislature voted 11-4 to allocate and share $12.5 million generated by that 1% "temporary" sales tax with the municipalities. This came about because Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz (D-Cheektowaga) held this year’s renewal of that 1% hostage.
Growing up in White Plains, I gave little thought to such esoterica as "upstate New York", or "county government" or "Buffalo". Or pretty much anything north of Poughkeepsie, for that matter.
Now, I live and breathe this stuff.
I'm an attorney by trade, and a centrist Democrat by ideology. I started my blog in September 2003 and cover issues affecting Western New York in general, and Buffalo in particular. In what little spare time I have, I'm President of a local civic organization called the WNY Coalition for Progress.