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Disclosing campaign transactions

It's politicians who usually complain the loudest when other politicians don't disclose all of their campaign transactions. You've probably heard their complaints:

   Hidden contributions. Indecipherable expenses. Campaign money spent for personal needs.

   And confusing transfers of money designed to circumvent State Election rule 14-120: "No person shall in any name except his own, directly or indirectly, make a payment or a promise of payment to a candidate or political committee..."


Read the full story.

   While it's politicians who usually complain the loudest, the laws belong to the public.

   The voters, more than the political class, deserve full disclosures of campaign donations and spending.

   By visiting www.elections.state.ny.us, anyone can monitor the special-interest money lavished on their politicians and make good guesses about the influence of that money on public policy.

   It works best, however, when campaign treasurers fully disclose their transactions. Unfortunately, the state Board of Elections is famous as a less-than-aggressive cop.

   So while Steve Pigeon's critics in the political world have howled the loudest about the once-secret transactions that the Erie County Board of Elections has uncovered with his two campaign funds, who's the victim here?

   Other politicians? Or the voters?

  - Matt Spina

Looking for cheap gas -- or nachos to go?

   On the bright side, we're not writing about record highs of $4 a gallon like last year's Fourth of July holiday travel.

   But the average price of gasoline has risen 60 cents since the start of May.

   Of course, exactly how much you pay for each gallon depends on where you drive.

   In the towns of Hamburg and Amherst, prepare to pay more.

   In Kenmore and East Aurora, where prices are lower, you might save enough to spend on a newspaper during each trip to fill up.

   The News analyzed nearly 8,500 daily gas prices at more than 300 retail gas outlets in Erie and Niagara counties throughout the month of May to figure out where a tank of gas costs more, or less.

   The Delta Sonics and Kwik Fills are among the cheaper brands, and so are many of the unbranded stations.

   So how does the most expensive station in Erie County, the Mobil on Boston State Road in the Town of Boston, compete with the lower-cost gasoline stations?

   With hot dogs, nachos, coffee, pet food, cigarettes, shampoo and hundreds of other items it stocks. Even red worms and night crawlers.

   In fact, assistant manager Darlene Weiss estimates only 40 percent of the customers come just for gas.

   It stays open 24 hours a day.

   It's got a convenient location just off Route 219, and its nearest competitor is more than two miles away.

   "Every day is getting to be the same: busy," she said.

   Apparently, enough people are willing to pay about 11 cents more a gallon at the Mobil than the price charged at most stations.

   Would you?

   And how far out of the way, if at all, do you drive to save a nickel or dime on a gallon of gas?

   -- Patrick Lakamp

An historic -- and controversial -- climate change bill

   WASHINGTON -- No matter what you think of the bill the House passed Friday, one thing is for sure: the approval of legislation combating climate change was an historic first.

   Never before had either body of Congress been able to agree on legislation aimed at curbing the emissions of greenhouse gases. And it took weeks of jawboning and favor-granting on the part of the Democratic leadership to win this particular victory for President Obama.

   However, any bill with 1,200 pages of details could be packed with devils -- and that's just what Republicans argued. They said the bill's complex system for trading pollution credits would amount to a new tax that would push energy prices higher.

   "Cap and trade" or "cap and tax?"

   That is the question.

   -- Jerry Zremski

The last day of kindergarten, kids are still kids


   Following a kindergartner through her first year of school was a way to find out what goes
on in the classroom, how lofty legislation like No Child Left Behind affects 5- and
6-year-olds, how the budget that residents vote on provides construction paper and paper
clips.

   It didn't quite go as planned, but we did learn a few things:

   You still clean your desk on the last day in school … and you still get to hear a story.

   It's hard work to make learning fun.

   Although the amount of academics in kindergarten has increased dramatically over the years,
kids are still kids. They confound and surprise, they are old before their time while younger
than ever, and still like to play silly games.

   Thanks to the Scharfs … Peter, Amy, Rebekah and Rachel … for giving us access to their
family over the past year so we could give others a glimpse of what goes on in the life of a
kindergartner.

   … Barbara O'Brien

New oversight on pilots: fast as a Babbitt?

WASHINGTON — Here's big news: the government is actually doing something
quickly for once.

Less than two weeks after announcing that it will develop new rules governing how much and when pilots can fly, the FAA said it will set up a committee to develop those rules by July 15, with recommendations to be drawn up by Sept. 1.

Also by July 15, FAA inspectors will review airline procedures for identifying and tracking pilots who fail test flights or demonstrate a repeated need for additional training.

Lawmakers and friends and family of the victims of Continental Connection Flight 3407, which crashed in Clarence on Feb. 12, said they were thrilled that the FAA is taking quick action.

It's an amazing thing, really, for an agency with a reputation for foot-dragging.

And it leaves you wondering: Is it all because of Flight 3407? Or how much does it have to do with the appointment of Randy Babbitt, a former pilots union executive, to head the FAA?

— Jerry Zremski

Read the full story.

Another day of rhetoric and recriminations

It was a new day in Albany Wednesday.

But by nightfall, these things occurred: A new round of confusion, finger-pointing, legal threats, mistrust, inaction, political bomb-throwing, soaring rhetoric, claims of reforms, claims of doing "the people's work," locked Senate doors, closed-door meetings, and enough media-spinning from both sides to classify as an F6 tornado.


Read the full story.

What started out as fascinating viewership of partisan politics more than two weeks ago is starting to run its course in Albany.

A reluctant state judge nearly begged the sides to get their act together and fix their own dispute. The most grizzled of Albany's lobbyists kept muttering a common refrain: "I've never seen anything like this." That was only eclipsed by the most-asked question in the hallways: "How is it going to end?"

When might be the better question.

Dozens of key bills — affecting everything from local taxing authority to energy programs intended to help the upstate economy to a Buffalo school construction program -- remain dead for now with the Senate partisan leadership fight.

Enter David Paterson. The governor called a special session for Tuesday to try to bring the sides together. Critics called the gathering, a best, a farce.

Wednesday saw no action.

Today, who knows?

But his fellow Democrats say the governor is mishandling things, both on the short and long term.

In the immediate time zone of Albany, Democrats say Paterson's is adding gasoline to the fire with his late-afternoon media gatherings. In the long term, they say his attacks on fellow Democrats will be well remembered next year when he tries to run for governor.

For his part, Paterson has said he does not care. And, he says he's willing to call out both sides — Republican and Democratic — for their role in the stalemate.

— Tom Precious

Andrew Cuomo's campaign

 The New York State Constitution spells out a variety of duties for the attorney general. But when you come right down to it, the attorney general acts as the state's lawyer.

   Apart from that, it's pretty much the prerogative of each attorney general to define how he or she wants to run the office.

   For Robert Abrams, consumer affairs topped his agenda. Dennis C. Vacco brought his experience as a U.S. attorney to the office and emphasized criminal matters. And Eliot L. Spitzer carved out a reputation as the "sheriff of Wall Street."

   Now along comes Andrew M. Cuomo, who has already established a penchant for opening up secret aspects of state government and advocating consolidation of unnecessary government levels.

   But he also seems to be seizing on the opportunity to clean up the debt collection industry, which has a heavy concentration in Buffalo. On Tuesday his investigators and Erie County sheriff's deputies swept into a Harvard Place residence and took out in handcuffs Tobias Boyland, 43, a convicted felon who had been operating a debt collection business in Buffalo.

   Cuomo called Boyland's tactics "some of the most egregious we have seen." They involved impersonating police officers to scare those with delinquent bills into paying up.

   In one instance, the debt collector identifying himself as a policeman told a woman to get care for her kids.

   "Get some clean clothes because you're not coming home any time soon," the debt collector
threatened.

   It appears that Cuomo is carving out his own niche as attorney general, picking and choosing spots that will, in all probability, resonate with New York voters.

   All of this becomes particularly relevant in light of the current stalemate surrounding the State Senate. As Republicans and Democrats bicker over who controls their chamber, and as Gov. David A. Paterson struggles to impose some semblance of order, Cuomo emerges as one of the few state officials actually in charge.

   And of course, speculation continues to mount over whether the attorney general will be the Democratic candidate for governor in 2010 — especially if Paterson's approval ratings continue to dwell at record low levels.

   How do you rate Cuomo's performance as attorney general? And do you believe he will be New
York's next governor?


   — Robert J. McCarthy

Godspeed, Daughters of the Heart of Mary

   Calling all Nardin alumnae -- and anyone else influenced, mentored, taught or scolded by a DHM.

   The Daughters of the Heart of Mary are departing Buffalo after being part of the city for 152 years.

   Please share your stories, insights and observations about this trailblazing group of women who established one of the area's finest schools.

 -- Jay Tokasz

So, just what airline are you flying on?


    If the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 has left you leery of flying aboard Colgan Air, the regional airline that operated that ill-fated flight, you better not fly USAirways to Albany.

  That's because Colgan operates USAirways' Albany-bound flights as well as Continental flights between Buffalo and Newark — except for the Continental flights between Buffalo and Newark that are not handled by ExpressJet and Continental itself.

   Then again, any qualms about Colgan should not keep you from flying Continental's flights from Buffalo to Cleveland. ExpressJet, Chautauqua Airlines and CommutAir operate most of those flights.

   Confused yet? You're not alone.

   "I think most people think they're flying on a major airline" when they stop on planes operated by regional subcontractors like Colgan, said William Vanecek, director of aviation at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

   Except in many cases, they're not.

   A Buffalo News examination of all the flights leaving Buffalo the week of July 19 found that 46 percent will be flown by regional carriers, even if the planes say USAirways or Continental or United or American.

   What's more, every flight that week from Buffalo to three top national destinations —New York's LaGuardia Airport as well as Reagan National and Dulles International in the nation's capital— is run by a regional.

   So how is all this going to make you feel the next time you have to book a flight?

—Jerry Zremski

Read the full story.

Making the grade on state assessments

   For years, eighth-grade scores on state assessments have been in the basement.

   The slump seems to strike just about equally, regardless of students' gender, race, geography -- or even how well they did on assessments in elementary school.

   By the time kids reach middle school, teachers say, they have figured out that doing poorly on a state test won't hurt them much. And they are too distracted thinking about other things to care much or try too hard on a state test, most educators say.

   Several local districts have decided to make the state tests more consequential for students. In some places, students who score high enough on a state test are exempt from the final exam. In other places, all students' grades on the state test is used as their final exam grade.

   In schools that have taken such steps, educators say scores have risen substantially.

   But some people say these sorts of strategies misuse the state tests, which were meant to measure school performance, not be used to determine student grades. What's more, critics say that sort of bribery does nothing to improve student learning.

   What makes sense to you?

  -- Mary Pasciak

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