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Things are tough all over.

   Breaking on The Buffalo News Web site today:
- Deficit grows to $3 billion as Paterson asks for ideas - Tom Precious/The Buffalo News
   ALBANY -- Fiscal officials in the Paterson administration and Legislature believe the state's deficit is at least $3 billion -- $900 million more than estimated in July.Paterson108
   In a letter today to his negotiation counterparts in the Legislature, Robert Megna, the governor's budget director, said the Paterson administration needs the help of lawmakers to close the red ink.
   The request came a couple days after Paterson ordered $500 million worth of savings in state agencies -- which is about as much as he can do on his own, officials say, without approval from the Legislature.
   Hours later, Paterson rejected -- before it was even made public -- a five-year capital program for roads and bridges work around the state, saying the state's precarious fiscal condition will imperil the projects
.

   Elsewhere:
- State's budget faces $415 million shortfall - The Des Moines (Iowa) Register
   State officials must ax $415 million in state spending over the next nine months, the most severe midyear cut in more than 40 years.
   It will mean trims and elimination of some government services, and some state employees will face layoffs.
   A projected nose dive in tax collections prompted Iowa Gov. Chet Culver on Wednesday to vow to cut at least 8.4 percent from the current budget, if not more.

- Heineman calls special session of Legislature to cut budget - The Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star
   The Legislature will meet in special session, possibly beginning Nov. 4, to deal with declining state tax receipts and revise the state budget, Gov. Dave Heineman announced Wednesday....
   General fund tax receipts through Sept. 30, the end of the first quarter of the two-year budget, are below projections for the quarter by $56.8 million, Heineman said. Gross general fund receipts for the month were $358 million, 9 percent below the forecast of $393 million.

- House approves state budget, accompanying tax bill - Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette
   HARRISBURG -- It looks like 100 may be the General Assembly's lucky number, as legislators near the end of arduous work on a long-overdue state budget.
   In a 107-93 vote tonight, the state House approved a state spending plan along with a tax code bill, which includes $1.7 billion in new revenue to fund it...
   The revenue bill raises the cigarette tax by 25 cents per pack, delays the phaseout of a tax on business assets, authorizes leasing of more state forest land for natural gas drilling, depletes the state's "rainy day" emergency fund and starts a tax amnesty program aimed at getting scofflaws to pay up.
   The new taxes, which accompany $2 billion in federal stimulus aid and $25 billion from the sales tax, income tax, corporate taxes and other state revenues, will pay for a fiscal year 2009-10 budget of nearly $27.8 billion. The fiscal year started July 1 -- 99 days ago.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Buffalo, you are not alone

Some news from elsewhere. And why it sounds familiar:

- Pavement to Parks Allison Arieff/The New York Times
   Last Friday, cities and towns throughout the world celebrated Park(ing) Day, an event created to bring awareness to the importance of using and enjoying public space.

- Why not turn vacant lots into gardens? Donn Esmonde/The Buffalo News
   Buffalo’s full-bore demolition policy has left in its wake thousands of vacant lots. Next to many of them are homeowners like [Roxanne] Chase, who would gladly turn an eyesore into a lawn for kids to play on or a garden to brighten the street.

- Jail conditions violate rights of prisoners, feds say Laura Maggi/The New Orleans Times-Picayune
   Conditions at the Orleans Parish jail "violate the constitutional rights of inmates," according to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice released Tuesday that focused on inmate safety and mental health care....
   Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who runs the jail, lambasted the report, saying it doesn't reflect the current reality at the complex or take into account difficulties his agency has faced since Hurricane Katrina. "This report is a terribly dated, fundamentally flawed work done by people who obviously have little appreciation of the tasks facing a city in recovery from the greatest national disaster in this country's history," Gusman said in a statement.

- State sues county over jail conditions Matthew Spina/The Buffalo News
   The State Commission of Correction charged in a lawsuit Tuesday that the Erie County Holding Center consistently violates state standards and that jail managers have failed to correct the problems, despite their claims. ...
   "This lawsuit is a blatant political attack in an election year to cast negative aspersions on the good work done by the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office,” said [Sheriff Timothy] Howard, the Republican incumbent.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News 

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

Additional gun control measures? Not under Obama.

WASHINGTON — There's no recession in the gun industry.

The most heavily armed stable democracy in the world, the United States of America, is arming even more in tough times. In Erie County, pistol permit applications are coming in at three times the 2008 rate, and the same sort of thing is happening all across the country.

Meanwhile, plugged-in political sources said the prospects for additional gun control measures — such as the return of the assault weapons ban — are about as good as the Sabres' recent chances of making the playoffs.

President Barack Obama may be a longtime proponent of gun control, but he's got at least a little something to do with the current practical reality of guns in America — where more and more people are buying guns in fear that Obama will try to ban them.

But on Capitol Hill, 65 pro-gun House Democrats have even more to do with the political reality of the issue, vowing to stop additional gun measures, thereby leaving gun control activists without the votes to pass anything meaningful.

Meanwhile, every few days another madman guns down a few more people.

What do you make of it all?

— Jerry Zremski

Lead feet at Buffalo stoplights will soon mean lighter wallets

   Sometime later this year, it could be costly trying to beat the yellow light before it turns red.

   Lawmakers this week are poised to approve letting several communities, including Buffalo, begin installing cameras at intersections to catch red light runners. It comes 15 years after New York City began such a program and a couple years after a Rochester lawmaker single-handedly stopped Buffalo and other cities from getting the cameras.

   For the city, it's about increasing safety at intersections; hundreds of people die each year in the United States at the hands of red light runners. So-called T-boning — front-to-side accidents — are especially lethal in red light running incidents.

   But it's also about money. The city will be able to charge $50 for every infraction. A year ago, the Brown administration estimated 1,800 drivers a day could be caught in the first year of the program. But that was if 100 cameras were used; the new measures in Albany permit cameras in up to 50 intersections at any one time.

   But is this, as critics say, Big Brother expanding again? Are cameras, which are increasingly popping up as surveillance tools, replacing cops on the beat? And how sympathetic will judges be to claims by drivers who insist the camera was wrong?

   And one thing is certain: expect some interesting conversations around the dinner table over who will take responsibility for driving the car when it went through a red light. Consider: the owner of the car — not necessarily the driver — is responsible for paying the ticket.

   Was that the father driving or the kid when it went through the light? The bill is silent on how families might resolve that one.

   — Tom Precious

School budgets: Numbing the pain, avoiding the reality


   Why do school districts complain so much about a possible loss in state aid?

   It's because they're so used to getting more that they've gotten out of practice with making due, or even cutting costs, says E.J. McMahon, director of the fiscal think tank, the Empire Center for New York State Policy.

   But school administrators say it's because the cost of items they pay for are going up faster than the rate of inflation, and they have no control over many of them, such as health insurance and pensions, or wage increases that have already been negotiated. And they've used the money to lower class sizes and help students increase academic success, they say.

   This year, federal stimulus money should mean districts won't have to make any painful decisions that would have resulted from less state aid. But you have to think that while they have delayed the pain, it isn't going away for good.

   — Barbara O'Brien

Read the full story.

State budget: any other ideas?


   What were you hoping for in the state's budget?

   That feeling that someone's reaching for your wallet?

   Or did you expect that state leaders would not waste a good crisis and finally take some meaningful steps toward right-sizing the government?

   Collapse a state agency, perhaps?

   Already, the governor is talking about having to address budget issues in the middle of the fiscal year.

   What would you have done? And give us some ideas for follow-up stories.

   -- Matthew Spina

Read the full story.

Putting a stop to red-light runners

   Are supporters of red-light cameras protectors of public safety or money-grabbing bureaucrats?

   Or maybe a hybrid of the two?

   Those backing the cameras insist their main motivation is to prevent injuries and deaths at busy intersections. Yes, they admit, a pilot project being eyed in Buffalo would raise an estimated $2.75 million a year for a city that will desperately need a new revenue stream in the coming year. But they claim their primary goal is to prevent red-light runners from putting the lives of pedestrians, bicyclists and other motorists in jeopardy.

   Rubbish, respond opponents.

   "The money grab is coming," South Council Member Michael P. Kearns warned as city lawmakers
narrowly approved a plan to ask the state for permission to launch a pilot project.

   Mayor Byron W. Brown has been advocating the initiative for three years. He said he's convinced installing devices at 50 of Buffalo's busiest intersections will cut down on accidents. He cites numerous studies from other regions to bolster his point.

   Kearns and other opponents point to different studies showing that red-light cameras actually increase the number of rear-end collisions. They worry that a surge in accidents could also drive up insurance costs throughout the area.

   The State Legislature still must approve the pilot project. Even then, the issue would have to return to the Council for a final vote.

   What's your take on red-light cameras?

   -- Brian Meyer

Read the full story.

Battling overtime in the Buffalo Fire Department

   Buffalo's overtime tab in the Fire Department was five times higher in 2008 than it was just four years earlier.

   The city doled out about $10.6 million in overtime to firefighters last year.

   City Finance Commissioner Janet Penksa says enough is enough.

   She thinks it's time to crunch some numbers and see how many new firefighters Buffalo needs to bring on board in a September class to virtually wipe out overtime.

   The fire union won't have official comment until next week. But firefighter Martin V. Barrett, the union's sergeant-at-arms, said he thinks it's good news the city finally appears ready to staff its firehouses the way they should have been staffed for years.

   In the past, some have argued that the city saves money -- even with sky-high overtime bills. They've said it would cost far more in salaries and benefits to bring the Fire Department's work force to levels that would avert the need for overtime.

   Still, long-term pension costs increase when firefighters receive tens of thousands of dollars in overtime in the years leading up to their retirement. The practice is called "pension spiking," and the head of Buffalo's control board is pushing for state reform. Paul J. Kolkmeyer thinks overtime should be eliminated in the calculation of pensions.

   In the shorter term, city budget officials will be working on a plan to try to wipe out fire overtime costs, or at least keep them to a minimum.

   Should Buffalo significantly beef up its fire force if it can eliminate overtime?

   -- Brian Meyer  

Odd pairing is food for thought

The jokes might be hilarious if people's livelihoods weren't at stake.

"I want a chicken sub, please. Lettuce, tomatoes, onions. Oh, and I want that chicken."

One can almost hear Jay Leno poking fun at a project planned on Buffalo's East Side.

Two Brooklyn men have been given the green light by city zoning officials to open a slaughterhouse at 1285 William St. at Babcock Street. They plan to butcher poultry, goats, lambs, rabbits and calves.

But there's already a tenant in the building -- a Subway sandwich shop. Owner Bobby Horton is worried that having a slaughterhouse in back could create offensive odors. Even if there is no stench, Horton's wife worries that some customers might be repulsed by the idea of having the two businesses under the same roof.

"If they're cutting up [animals], are you going to want to come up front an eat some meat?"  Felicia Horton asked.

But Mustasa Jaarah and his father, Yousef, insist their slaughterhouse will be odor free, won't cause rodent or insect problems, and will be an asset to the city. They will employ 25 people in a facility that will include a butcher shop and a farmers market.

The businessmen say there is no slaughterhouse in the region that butchers in a Muslim tradition known as Halal, which includes a prayer as the animals are slain. They added that they've operated a slaughterhouse in Brooklyn for 15 years and have not had any complaints from neighbors.

The Common Council will likely approve a license for the slaughterhouse, Council President David A. Franczyk predicted. He visited the Jaarah's business in Brooklyn and said the only thing he detected was a faint smell of poultry -- not unlike the odor one might detect in a butcher shop.

 What do you think? Can a slaughterhouse and a sandwich shop share the same digs and thrive?

-- Brian Meyer

Read the full story.

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